Showing posts with label web. Show all posts
Showing posts with label web. Show all posts

Clearing Out the Clutter

I've been reading Leo Babauta's new e-book Focus. Leo is the person behind the wildly popular website The Power of Less, which is essentially about how to be more productive by doing fewer things and with a particular focus on disconnecting from technology-driven noise. Although I subscribe to his website, I've always been quite skeptical about his premise; I am someone who works and makes a living primarily in the online space. It might be fine to tell a bank manager to disconnect from technology every now and again, but how can I possibly do it when almost all of my networking and work-related activities occur online. As a small business owner, it is even more challenging to disconnect because the more I put in, the more I get back. And I want a lot back.

This all means that I spend an incredible amount of time online. Seriously, I can't even really bring myself tell you how much time because it's embarrasing. I'm talking double digits. And I am always multi-tasking. At any given time I am simultaneously checking two emails address, following about two hundred people via Tweetdeck, checking in with Facebook every 15 minutes, replying to threads and networking on LinkedIn, responding to requests through a network of travel bloggers I belong to, connecting with people on Digg, Friendfeed, following dozens of blogs and websites via my RSS feeder .... This goes on all day long and even though I enjoy a lot of it, it is exhausting. This is in addition to creating content for four plus websites and doing the occasional stint as a guest blogger, taking and editing photos for iStock, and then there's the consulting work. Contrary to how it sounds, I'm really not complaining (at least not much). This is the life I wanted and I love the incredible diversity of my job. I love that I get paid to do the things I want to do and that because of these long days I am able live a location independent lifestyle. Right now I am staying in a lovely apartment in the middle of Shinjuku in Tokyo. How cool is that?

Knowing all of this and feeling the way I do about my life and my career path, I wasn't expecting to find much of value in Focus. Last night after spending a huge chunk of my day flitting around online, I picked up my Kindle and started reading. While I read my mind wandered: had I responded to that email, did I remember to write that Alexa site review, had so-and-so responded to me on Twitter? I kept looking over at my lap top, nearly picking it up once about every two minutes but telling myself, "just get to the end of this first chapter, then you can check in..." And then I read this:
Here's a little excercise that might prove useful: as you read this chapter, how many times were you distracted or tempted to switch to another task? How many times did you think of something you wanted to do, or check your email or other favorite distractions? How many times did you want to switch, but resisted? ... In an ideal world, the answers to all those questions would be "zero" - you'd be able to read with no distractions, and completely focus on your task. Most of us, however, have distractions coming from all sides, and the answers to this little exercise will probably prove illuminating.
He was completely right. Here I was, disconnected from my media devices for all of 15 minutes and instead of focusing on the book in front of me, my brain wouldn't stop firing, wouldn't stop obsessing about checking in. It wasn't a choice; I wasn't feeling the need to check Twitter, Facebook and email out of some real business need. I wanted to check these things because I've actually become addicted to them and that's a bad thing.

A really good example of where I see this behavior in a damaging light is my absolute OCD-like relationship with my Google Reader. For those of you who don't use a feedreader, it's something that allows you to import feeds from websites. When a website you follow gets updated, it shows in your feedreader and you can read the new content right there - all your websites in one place. It's a useful tool that allows me to keep up with what's going on without having to actually visit a bunch of websites. But I've become nuts about the thing. It's grown from a few dozen sites to close to 500 and every time I see a little dark number indicating that someone has added new content, I feel like I *need* to read it immediately. Some mornings I'll sit down in front of my computer and say to myself, "Okay, you only get half an hour with the RSS," and I'll still be sifting through it hours later. In a way that I can't really account for, I feel a bit like I've failed if I've got too many unread items - and yet I keep adding sites to it so that it is virtually impossible to clear it all out. Sometimes I feel actual anxiety about this.

So yeah, something had to give. Just because my career relies on me engaging with social media and keeping on top of what's going on in the online space doesn't mean that it has to consume my life and give me nightmares. Sometimes I have anxiety dreams about Twitter - the kind I used to have when I was a waitress ... All of a suddent the restaurant was really busy and I had a hundred impatient angry patrons to serve, oh, and I was naked! But I'm not a waitress anymore and I work for myself and part of building a practice that I love and find fulfilling means learning how to balance all of these things in a way that doesn't make my heart beat wildly. And although I consider myself to be productive - I mean, some credit please, we've built a lucrative location independent business in about six months and that's no small thing - I could be so much more productive if I could only learn how to focus a bit more on the things that matter, learn how to filter out the noise and stop treating social media like its heroin.

To address some of these things, I'm going to go on an online consumption diet of sorts. I'm not going cold turkey because it's simply not realistic given my lifestyle and profession; plus I think social media is valuable and exciting and I want to remain a part of it. But here's what I am going to do/have already started doing to be less of a junky and regain some control over my time:

  • Unless we have a big launch or client need at play (this happens rarely) I am going to limit my email checking to twice a day: once when I begin my work in the morning and once in the evening. I have also already configured my email inbox to filter certain content related to a lot of the networking I do to folders so that I don't have to see it until I am ready to deal with it - once a day during that second email check in.
  • I have spent a few hours today de-cluttering my RSS reader. I've still got a lot more in there then I probably should, but I've elminated about 100 sites from my regular stream. It was strangely similar to what I've experienced when moving house - at the beginning you get rid of things you don't need with a great deal of hesitation because you imagine that you'll miss them. As the process wears on you are madly throwing things out. I've never missed anything I've gotten rid of during these kinds of cullings and I'm certain that I won't miss the sites I've removed. I've also sorted my remaining items into folders that allow me to better regiment how and when I'm allowed to look at certain content. Instead of sorting feeds by topic, they are now divided into folders called: daily, weekly, monthly, blue moon and networking-related. I will allow myself 45 minutes every day to check the daily folder, one hour once a week to check the weekly folder, one hour once a month to check the monthly folder, I will rarely check the blue moon feed but it mostly consists of sites I couldn't quite bear to part with yet (yes, I'm this crazy), and the networking feed are sites that I don't really enjoy reading but are important to keep up with for other professional reasons. I'll check these once every few weeks or so. So my new schedule will allow me to open my Google Reader for about 45 minutes once a day. That's it. When I'm not actively using my allocated time, the Google Reader will remain closed.
  • I'm going to be a little less regimented about Twitter and Facebook, because in some ways I feel like these channels are the way I connect with people in the day - in the same way that other people work in offices and get to occasionally look up from their work and chat to a colleague. I've started using this free bit of Mac software called Slife that tracks the programmes you use throughout the day and tells you how long you've spent on them. Because I use Tweetdeck for Twitter, this should give me a pretty good idea of much time I'm spending there. If it starts to look like too much, I'll come up with a plan B. Facebook isn't as easy to track because it just counts as Internet browsing, but I also don't feel like it eats up too much of my time and I don't feel the same kind of anxiety about it that I've felt about my RSS feed and other time suck activities.
  • In order to really focus when I'm writing, I've started using Ommwriter, another free bit of software for Mac. It's a very basic word processing program that fills your entire screen with just a writing background and your text. Because it covers the entire screen, there are less distractions and therefore (hopefully) I'll feel less inclined to jump inbetween programs and tasks as much as I have been. I've written this in Ommwriter and will just copy and paste it into Blogger once I'm done. So far, so good.
  • When Dan and I decided to take this journey, he bought me a Kindle so that I could surround myself with books but not have to deal with the weight of lugging them around. There's a really great tool that can be used in conjunction with my Kindle called Instapaper. I have a little button installed on my browser and when I run into a longer article that I really want to read but don't have the time or inclination to focus on, I can click on it and it gets stored away. Once a week or whenever I choose, I can visit the Instapaper site and download the articles I've saved in my queue and put them on my Kindle. Then when I actually have a block of time to read, I can lay back and focus on what I'm doing. 

Those are the biggest changes I can manage at the moment, but I'm hoping they will make a big difference in having me feel a little bit more in control of what I choose to consume and where I choose to invest my time. I want to feel connected but I want to feel like I control the impulse - not as though I'm driven by some addiction to constantly be checking in with things, most of which are probably not where my focus is best directed.

Although I'm not done reading it yet, I do recommend Leo Babauta's Focus if you're trying to gain a bit more control over the priorities in your life. So far it's not at an an airy-fairy bit of self-help but actually has some really practical suggestions for how to understand and shift negative behaviours. He also links to practical tools and programmes you can use to make all this a bit easier. It's available on his website here as a free PDF download or if you want the Premium version with a bunch of additional features you can purchase it here.

Photo by me. 

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More Maggie


I know, I know... I've been talking, blogging, Facebooking and Tweeting a lot about her lately. But that's because the girl has completely transformed my life. About a month back I happened upon her Do Lecture talk (thanks @MrsPBoutique!) and watched it about five times. It made me cry, smile, laugh and mostly it woke up this bit of me that had been sleeping.

From the time I was a child, I was interested in doing volunteer work. I can remember having my grandparents drive me to the edge of town on Sunday mornings at 6 am where I volunteered at the local animal shelter, mucking out cages, feeding animals and then eventually bathing them and playing with them. When I was 16 or so I saw a documentary about the Aids infected orphans of Romania and I remember writing to a Catholic organization who was working to help care for them. I wanted to go there so badly, I wanted to help. Somewhere along the way, I lost this drive. I've always cared and maintained a strong sense of what I like to think of as justice but I didn't see a way into making anything really happen. I guess a kind of helplessness sunk in.

Then I watched Maggie's talk and she just totally woke me up. Here's this 19 year old girl from Jersey (she's 23 now) who ends up in Nepal founding and running a home for orphans and a school. No one told her how to do it or gave her permission, she just did it. And my goodness! She does it with humility, grace and despite seeing some heart-wrenching things, she does it with almost a childlike sense of optimism. And she makes me want to do things too!

Over the past few weeks, Dan and I have had the privilege of working with Maggie and her wonderful friend, activist, inspirational colleague and brilliant writer Megan to help refine some small bits of the website as they've prepared for the inevitable traffic and response the NY Times pieces were bound to bring them. We've received so many thank yous from these ladies, but the secret is that it's me who is completely overflowing with gratitude. These two amazing women have made me reconnect to that part of myself that believes that the world can be better and that we can be better in it. That all of these tiny moments, encounters and acts are serendipitous. And Dan, well, he's just the most supportive man in the world and over the past few weeks he did so much of his technical magic because he wants to make good things happen and because I think he sees how passionate I am about these ladies and what they're doing.

I really look forward to continuing to work with Maggie and Megan and who knows, maybe I'll find my way to Surkhet over the coming year, get my hands dirty and meet some of the lovely people Blinknow is working to support.

You can read the New York Times here: The D.I.Y Foreign Aid Revolution, view some stunning images of Kopila Valley Home and School on the Times Magazine slideshow and read more about how to change the world on Nicholas Kristof's NY Times Blog. I've put my favorite image from the slideshow below. Those beautiful girls remind me of an outtake from a Sophia Coppola film!

Picture 9

(Photo by Alessandra Petin for the NY Times)

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Print Is Not Dead

Print Is Not Dead from Anthology Magazine on Vimeo.

And if the new quarterly magazine Anthology has anything to say about it, it's also getting a really friggin' cute makeover. I'm a sucker for a catchy song and some vintage duds.

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You've Been Schooled

I am in love with The School of One. A girl from Cleveland, who graduated from university in 2001, has decided that in the face of a shitty economy and lack of inspiring prospects, she will spend her time learning about all the things she never had a chance to during her formal education. As a way of formalizing the process and sticking to her plan, she's created a syllabus, the above schedule and a blog to document her experiences and help her keep on track.

I think it's a beautiful idea and it makes me realize that maybe I should try to formalize some of the little projects and interests I'm cultivating during this year of travel. For so many people, the response to joblessness is to go back to school and spend a crap load more money. But it seems to me that the success of the endeavor really depends on what you're trying to get out of it. If the intention is to follow your interests and explore the world with curiosity, you don't need a professor or a piece of paper at the end; a library card, an Internet connection and a comfortable pair of shoes can be enough. The concept is totally non-elitist and it elevates a personal investment in learning into something tangible and meaningful. Creating and scheduling time for something makes it a priority, not just another hobby.

Formal education can be a wonderful thing if you are able to afford it, and it can provide the basis for a great community of people who are interested in similar subjects. But unless you have a specific vocation in mind that requires a certificate to prove your knowledge, I wonder if the bureaucracy of 'School' really feeds the desire to know and learn or whether it just stifles and tricks us into thinking that there's only one right way to understand the world, one 'valued' way of accumulating knowledge.

There's no one-size-fits-all answer. But I am already working on my own syllabus. :)

Image Credit: The School of One

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New Project - A Tramp Abroad

I've been toying with the idea of launching a travel website for awhile now; there are so many things that I learn every day, so many moments that remind me how far from home I am in both good and bad ways. There are a lot of travel websites out there, but most of them are either quite commercial or very personal. I am really excited for the new site,  A Tramp Abroad, to focus on helpful, quirky tips but also feature really outstanding longer form travel writing. Oh, and our tag line is 'Inspiring wanderlust." Perfect, no?

I'll still be writing here - this will always be the place I feel like I can unload about all the more personal experiences and feelings that are niggling at me and on occasion I'll post links to any longer form pieces I write on the other website.

We've got some shorter news pieces up already along with a few bits of original content that I hope you'll check out -

It's still very much a work in progress but feedback is very much welcome. Also, we're looking for guest bloggers so if you have any ideas, please let me know.

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The Linguistic Battleground is Alive and Well - My Post on the Guardian

Today the Guardian's Mind Your Language Blog published a piece I wrote called Canada - a linguistic battle ground between the US and Britain . People are passionate about language and politics as is evidenced by over 130 comments on the site. Most of them are quite interesting - people debating additional distinctions in language - some rightly correct a few errors I've made and some are a little bit mean and personal, but that's what you get with the web. As Dan says, "You should never read the comments." He should know as he caused the occasional shit storm when writing for O'Reilly.

I'm really happy to have been given the opportunity to contribute. Despite a few objections to my premise, with 60 shares, over 30 retweets and well over 100 comments, I would say it's been a success.

Image: Everybody Needs a Hero (isn't it lovely?!)

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Introducing Contentini!

 Over the past few weeks, Dan and I have been working on a site to formalise some of the freelance work we've become involved in. We've called our venture Contentini because our focus is really on content strategy and enabling people to create really exciting, on point online content for their websites.

Our four offerings fall into the categories of: Website Content Analysis, Web Content Strategy, Copywriting and Social Media Services. We aren't taking on a lot of clients and it's lovely to be able to make a decision to work with companies that we feel passionate about. It just feels like a new day and I can't wait to see what happens over the next six months to one year.

We are currently working on creating interesting content for our own site and have begun the slow process of building up our page rank; if people can't find us when they search for our services, we're not going to be terribly successful. This morning we posted a fairly extensive blog item called An Analysis of UK Parliamentary Language: 1935-2010 and were lucky enough to get a shout-out from Boing Boing, which is always great because they send through lots of engaged visitors. We posted the item about six hours ago and we're nearing the 1,000 visitors mark. Of course, it isn't all a numbers game, but it is gratifying to see that many people clicking through to read your post - especially as this one was fairly labour intensive.

Alright chickens, I'm heading to the pool to sit out this hundred degree heat.

PS: Our blog is going to be good - you can subscribe to it here. We're also on Twitter and would love some followers :)

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Draw Stuff and Share it with Penolo

My industrious other half Dan has created a nifty new creativity app called Penolo that allows people to draw and share their sketches on Twitter or by embedding them onto your blog or website.

It's still in beta, so there are some kinks to iron out, but it is a pretty great little tool. One of my favourite things about it is that it enables collaboration by allowing users to create hybrid sketches by adapting what others have created (the original also stays in tact).

You don't need an account and it's free to use - so give it a go!

Here are some of my favourite sketches from the last few weeks:
(for those of you viewing this on a reader - I'm sorry but you'll need to click through to the actual post to see the images... as I said, still working out some glitches.)

By studiobrazley

By bkcl

By bkcl

By Caro Wallis1

By Mearso

By Sianz

By Handy Bite Size

By Rich_R

By Speak Criptic

By Mark Turner

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Beautiful Sketches of Productivity

I can't completely articulate why I like this but I think it's related to the part of me that enjoys lists - especially the part where I get to see things crossed off at the end of the day.

IOGraphica is free to download. You turn it on in the morning, minimise the little window and forget about it. While you're working, it tracks your mouse movements, showing larger spotches when your mouse has stayed over one place for a prolonged period of time. If you are especially pedantic, you can pause the program when you leave your desk or during lunch breaks - but I tend to let it run. At the end of the day, you have a record of your mouse movements - a beautiful imprint of your productivity.

As Dan says, I'm sure I'll get tired of looking at these, but for now I think they're lovely. Click on any of the images below to enlarge them.

Day 1 - 3.5 Hours

Day 2 - 6.5 Hours

Day 3 - 7.7 Hours

Day 4 - 7.9 Hours

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The Etymology of Nerd and Geek ... And A Bit of Love

There are a lovely group of people in London who occasionally organise fun networking events around town. Networking can be scary. It can be difficult to feel OK approaching and making conversation with strangers, so instead of just arranging more boring meet-ups, they take it a step further and arrange activity-based get togethers. Recently, Dan and I went to the Geek Foosball meet-up at Bar Kick in Shoreditch.

Some people don't like the terms 'geek' and 'nerd' and I suppose many of those feelings of discomfort probably hearken back to when they were used like barbs by meanies in school. Until about a year and a half ago, I worked in the Canadian arts sector and have always been arty and into things like writing, photography, going to museums ... I was even in choir in high school. Think Rachel from Glee without the fantastic voice. Even so, I don't remember people using those words - geek or nerd - to cause me pain in school. Maybe they did, but if it was preceded by the word 'art' or 'choir' (as in "art nerd" or "choir geek") I don't think it would have bothered me, or at least not enough to remember.

The etymology of the words nerd and geek are indisputably negative. According to the book Word Origins: The Hidden Histories of English Words from A to Z by John Ayto, nerd "is a term for a dull, socially inept or otherwise obnoxious person." It was actually invented by the popular children's author Dr. Seuss in his book If I Ran to the Zoo (1950):
And then, just to show them
I'll sail to Ka-Troo
And bring back an It-Kutch,
A Preep and a Proo,
A Nerkle, a Nerd, and a Seersucker too!
Geek, which is not covered in Word Origins, is much older. According to Answer Bag, "it is a variant of geck, a term of German/Dutch origin that dates in English to 1511. It means fool, simpleton, or dupe." Later on, the word was assigned to mean "a carnival performer who does disgusting acts" and eventually just was used generically to describe and "eccentric, oddball or someone with an unusual or odd personality."

I find it interesting that when these words were most socially damaging was in the 1950s in America, a time after the war when the country was clamoring to rebuild the 'big dream'. Homogeneity was important - everyone was expected to fall in line and fulfill their roles in the same way. People who were different were a threat and words were used as a nasty way to identify non-conformists. The strange oppression of 1950s America ushered in the 1960s, where everything changed and being odd and different was ok, even encouraged. Angry words that had been used to punish difference became somewhat less potent.

All this is a very long introduction to where we are now - 2010 in London, at a very hip bar in Shoreditch, surrounded by a genuinely diverse and friendly group of people, none of whom were carnival freaks or simpletons. Everyone I met was a young(ish) professional - some of them worked in technology companies (developers, techies and such tend to be most closely associated with the terms geek and nerd these days), some worked in film studios, some were photographers and one is even a popular food blogger. Nobody fit into a stereotype.

I like the reclamation of words like 'geek' and 'nerd' by people who are proud to be a little bit obsessive, a little bit manic and completely, unabashedly passionate about what they do. I guess that's how I would separate the nerds and geeks from everyone else - for the most part, they are enthusiastic and head-over-heels in love with something - technology, food, film, photography, even choir ... and they are not afraid to wear their excitement on their sleeve.

Everyone should be so lucky.

To see more pictures from Geek Foosball, click here.

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Don't Pity Roger Ebert

Esquire recently posted a brilliant profile piece on film critic and writer Roger Ebert. I used to love watching Siskel and Ebert's televised film reviews on At the Movies but never really developed much of a sense of who either of them were as human beings. They had amazing chemistry and were fun to watch, but they didn't really exist outside of the most obvious character traits that were so predominant in their show. The one exception was when Ebert spoke of Gene Siskel's death on the first episode after it happened. In that moment it was obvious that the two men were more than two people simply doing a job and acting up for the camera.

Ebert has had a difficult decade. He developed various forms of cancer that affected his jaw, eventually resulting in its full removal. He can no longer talk, eat or drink and has suffered through a series of horrifying surgeries. But he is writing more than ever, much of it on his brilliant blog. He also has one of the most interesting feeds on Twitter. Like anything, technology can be misused and warped by malicious people. I love this story, this example of how it can enable wonderful things. It is inspiring, and if nothing else, it's an example of how significant social media can be and how important access is.

Ebert doesn't believe in God and he doesn't seem to want to be turned into a self-help guru. Nevertheless, he's learned a few things:
I believe that if, at the end of it all, according to our abilities, we have done something to make others a little happier, and something to make ourselves a little happier, that is about the best we can do. To make others less happy is a crime. To make ourselves unhappy is where all crime starts. We must try to contribute joy to the world. That is true no matter what our problems, our health, our circumstances. We must try. I didn't always know this, and am happy I lived long enough to find it out.
Ebert wrote the note at the top of this post during his Esquire interview. He's turned the act of making lemonade into an art. I'm going to try to keep this in mind as I head into Monday morning.

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