∞ Making Use of the First 5 Minutes of Class

There is an excellent series on the Chronicle on making small changes in teaching. I love this idea of retrieval practice. Rather than testing the students or you just giving them more content in the form of a review actually ask them questions. Make them think about it, write it down, then choose a couple to recap what has previously been learned. You can really make the most of the first five minutes of class.

“Instead of "testing effect," I prefer to use the more technical term, "retrieval practice," because testing is not required to help students practice retrieving material from their memories. Any effort they make to remember course content — without the help of notes or texts — will benefit their learning.”

In an online context this can be done in a simple discussion forum or even a short weekly video conference that is 10-15 minutes long. Students will find value in this as they will learn what content to focus on while also practicing a review in a non-pressure situation.

Source: Small Changes in Teaching: The First 5 Minutes of Class – The Chronicle of Higher Education

∞ Keeping Track of Books You’ve Read

Such a great idea…no review, no thoughts, just a list of books

“I’m only allowed to write in my Bob when I’ve finished a book, and not a moment before. I generally finish books, but if I don’t, I have to write a little empty square next to the title to show it’s incomplete. That’s it. There’s no book review. I don’t write thumbs up or thumbs down, or have a star system. I didn’t even number the entries until I was into the several hundreds. It truly is a list. But, of course, it has become more than that.”

The payoff…

“Looking back at my Book of Books tells me not only what I read and when, but also something about my decision-making process as I moved from book to book. Some of those decisions were very self-conscious, intellectual decisions. Some were more gut-level. Either way, I love the way those early entries show a young person’s curiosity at work: What did I want to know then? What did I feel I needed? Where did I want to be?”

Source: By Heart: Pamela Paul on 'My Life With Bob' and the Joys of Keeping a 'Book of Books' – The Atlantic

10.5” is the Ideal Size for the iPad Pro

Over the weekend I conducted some research for a writing project. My typical setup for research involving PDFs is PDF Expert on the left and Goodnotes 4 on the right hand side. On the 9.7” iPad Pro this was a somewhat cramped setup. The PDF text was just a little too small and the writing window in Goodnotes could stand to be a little bit bigger. Nevertheless, it still worked out.

PDF Expert 6 on the right & Goodnotes 4 on the left

The 20% bigger screen on the iPad Pros make it just big enough to make a massive difference. Reading my PDF on the left while taking notes on the right didn’t seem nearly as cramped. The text is larger enough to read easily and the writing window is plenty sufficient. This is a similar feeling I’ve had with the keyboard. Its just big enough, which, at the end of the day, makes a massive difference.

I think the new 10.5” size is perfect for the widest use case. Sure, 12.9” would be even better for reading a PDF on the left and taking notes on the right, but this ignores all the other benefits for a small size. And for me, the perfect combination of weight, size, portability, while running multiple apps at once at a comfortable size is the right choice for me.

∞ Two Persistent Myths in Teaching and Learning

These two myths are so prevalent in the education world, especially on blogs and other websites. I think the first one still has some truth to it but the statistics are misleading. Sure, if you teach or are actively involved in what you are learning most people will retain the information more. But that’s not to say that the lecture or other traditional modes are dead. People have been learning this way for years. If it wasn’t an effective method then this would have been throw out just by experience. The other myth should be obvious to anyone who thinks about it. We all learn in a variety of different ways. No one learns only by one method.

“If we have learners “practice by doing,” they will retain 75% of what they’re “taught””

“We all have one primary learning style that needs to be accommodated for in our learning”

Source: 2 Persistent Myths About Teaching and Learning – Teaching in Higher Ed

Rules for Brainstorming

I’m currently reading Claire Diaz-Ortiz’s book, Design Your Day. In chapter two she lays out some rules for brainstorming from Applied Imagination: Principles and Procedures of Creative Problem Solving by Alex Osborn. I’ve never been good at brainstorming (if that is even a skill). I often limit myself by automatically throwing out bad ideas. I know, in principle, that only good ideas come from pile of bad ideas but there is still a mental roadblock to me. Often times with my team at work I will put this front and center and force myself and others to come up with all ideas, both good and bad. I’m slowly learning the power of brainstorming and I found these four principles helpful and will incorporate them in my next brainstorming session:

  1. Focus on quantity not quality
  2. Withhold criticism
  3. Welcome unusual ideas
  4. Combine and improve ideas

This last point I think will might prove especially helpful. I think this probably happens naturally but it is still helpful to have this as a specific step to take in the brainstorming process.

∞ On Getting the Most Out of Your Work Day

If your day is filled with meetings and other miscellaneous tasks that aren't usually life giving, challenging, or creative it is easy to declare bankruptcy on the day. I found the advance below helpful (along with the rest of the article)

“The marginal meeting. It needs to be there, so I must figure out an angle to increase the value. I’ve got one hack that works consistently: assume they have something to teach you.”

Charging the Apple Pencil: Failed Design or Genius?

MKBHD recently mockingly tweeted about the way the Apple Pencil charges. True, it does look ridiculous out of context. True, when Apple first introduced this method of charging I thought it was insane. True, when charging it seems that it would be pretty easy to snap the charging end into the iPad. But, after using the iPad Pro + Apple Pencil since it was released almost 2 years ago I completely disagree that this is a flawed design.

https://twitter.com/MKBHD/status/875086596848144387

Sure, it does look of ridiculous but when you are out in a coffee shop or in a meeting and you need to charge your Apple Pencil the last thing you want to do is pull out a charger plus a dongle to quick charge the device. Plus, when I leave the house to do some writing I just want to grab my iPad, which has an all day charge. I never need to think about bringing a charger with my iPad. I really don’t want to think about bringing a charger or even making sure my Apple Pencil is charged before I go out. The genius of the design is that I can insert the Apple Pencil in my iPad and charge it. A 5-minute charge always gives me plenty of juice for the rest of my session (actually a 15-second charge gives you 30 minutes!). At the very least, if I get up to go to the restroom or take a quick walk I can plug in the pencil and when I return it is good to go.

Additionally, and this is often forgot, the Apple Pencil does ship with a dongle to connect to any lightning cable. So, if you don’t want to be embarrassed by using this ridiculous design then just plug it in like you would any other device.

So, when people make comments about the so called failed design and how it is ridiculous with charging the Apple Pencil, it just seems to be made by people who don’t actually use the device in real life. Because in actual use you wouldn’t want it any other way.

Saturday Recommendation: Deep Work by Cal Newport

How many times have you sat down to work on a project only to become distracted after 15-20 minutes. Maybe its even shorter than that! Cal Newport argues that in order for us to make a difference in the world and to excel in our jobs, school, or other extracurricular activities is to engage in deep, meaningful work. I’m sure that most of us know this but if you’re anything like me it is difficult to put this type of focus into practice. One point that was helpful to me is that fact that deep work, or, intense times of focus, is a skill to be learned. Focus is not something that we can just sit down and do, especially if we are prone to distractions in the first place.

Thus, in this book Newport gives the rationale for developing the skill of deep and meaningful work. After giving this foundation he lays out practical, scientifically-backed, and very helpful ways to incorporate this into your life. I’ve implemented a number of strategies in my own life and am seeing a noticeable improvement.

Purchase on Amazon

Other posts related to Deep Work:

Does the Apple Smart Keyboard fit in the Apple Leather Sleeve for the 10.5” iPad Pro?

I’ve had several people ask me this question and yes, it does fit in the sleeve. When you first slide the keyboard in the sleeve it is a nice snug fit. Not too snug but probably more than you would like. But after a day of use it slides in there no problem (as seen in the video).

If you’ve read some user comments and questions on Apple’s website for the Apple Leather Sleeve both some users and Apple people have said that it does not fit, which is causing even more confusion. It clearly does.

Review of the 10.5” Apple Smart Keyboard

This week has ended up being a series of quick reviews: Logitech Slim Combo, 10.5” iPad Pro, and the Apple Leather Sleeve. In this final installment I wanted to write some thoughts on the Apple Smart Keyboard.

The keyboard has a lot going for it. For one, the slightly bigger size compared to the 9.7” results in a massive different. The 9.7” was slightly cramped when writing. Although I did get used to this I still felt that the keys were too close together and my hands were never resting in a natural position but instead they were really close together. The added size of the iPad really does fix this. My hands rest in a natural position and I don’t feel cramped at all.

Apple is touting this as a “full size keyboard.” While I don’t think this is entirely accurate because, really, it is not a full size keyboard. But it is full sizish, which is enough. In actual use I forget that I am typing on a slightly smaller keyboard compared to the Apple Magic Keyboard or my massive-over-the-top-mechanical-naked-keys Das Keyboard.

As with the previous versions, the keyboard pairs via the Smart Connector, which, when you get used to this instead of Bluetooth you realize how truly great this is. You never have to worry about powering, batter, connection issues, or anything else. Just open the keyboard and begin to type.

The keyboard is really, really thin. When carrying the iPad around with the keyboard attached its basically like carrying a small notebook. One of the reasons that I love this combination is that it is so easy to just pick up and go then sit down and get to work. The whole process is basically frictionless. Additionally, the keyboard is waterproof so when you spill your coffee all over the keyboard in the morning you are good to go.

With all that said, I think this keyboard is adequete and gets the job done. It’s not great but its certainly the best option for a keyboard for the 10.5” iPad Pro that uses the Smart Connector. I am not thrilled about the typing experience. Since the keyboard is so flat there is not a lot of room for the keys to depress. After a while I do feel like that my fingers have been pressing down on a table for a while. This is definitely a personal preference as I know several that have no reservations about this. This is still better than the awful Microsoft Surface keyboard. Now that truly feels like you are typing on a table the whole time. I really prefer the Logitech Keyboard feel, but, well, you have seen my opinions on that.

Additionally, I really wish there was a way to carry the Apple Pencil as well. This is one of the reasons I ended up getting the Apple Leather Sleeve (plus some additional protection). Carrying the Apple Pencil around in my pocket made it prone to losing it, stabbing my leg, or just forgetting it when I go to a meeting or the coffee shop.

At the end of the day I really do like the iPad Pro + Smart Keyboard + Leather Sleeve. I think in the future there may be better solutions as other companies take advantage of the Smart Connector but for now this definitely gets the job done, and in my opinion, the best option out there.

Review of the Apple Leather Sleeve for 10.5″ iPad Pro

Apple released a leather sleeve for the new 10.5" iPad Pros. After my debacle with the Logitech Slim Combo I decided to purchase the Apple Smart Keyboard with the Apple Leather Sleeve. I was initially worried that the keyboard would not fit in the sleeve too but, rest assured, it does.

The sleeve comes with an integrated Apple Pencil holder, which was one of my hesitations with the Apple Smart Keyboard. After using the Logitech CREATE for my 9.7" I got used to not having to think about carrying my Apple Pencil with me. This allows me to do so.

The build of the sleeve seems solid and comes in four different colors (saddle brown, taupe, midnight blue, and black). I went ahead and picked up the black one and it feels and looks great.

Additionally, the sleeve can be used as kind of a workstation pad when laying the iPad flat to write on. The soft leather case will protect the iPad from being scratched on a table and presents an aesthetically pleasing workstation when taking notes.

Although it is on the pricier side I would still recommend it as a way to both carry and protect your new iPad. I love the form factor, its slim and feels good in your hands, and can be easily carried place to place without a lot of bulk.

Purchase here.

Using the Apple Leather Sleeve as a workstaton when taking notes

Using the Apple Leather Sleeve as a workstaton when taking notes

The leather sleeve + iPad Pro + leather sleeve

The leather sleeve + iPad Pro + leather sleeve

Love the Apple logo imprinted on the back

Love the Apple logo imprinted on the back

Side view of the leather sleeve + iPad Pro + Smart Keyboard

Side view of the leather sleeve + iPad Pro + Smart Keyboard

The Apple Pencil fits snugly in the case so it won't fall out but it is still easy to remove

The Apple Pencil fits snugly in the case so it won’t fall out but it is still easy to remove

Initial Thoughts on the New 10.5″ iPad Pro

Yesterday I purchased the new 10.5" iPad Pro (256GB, cellular) from Apple. Previously, I had a couple different iterations, initially the 12.9", then the 9.7" version. I found that I used the iPad in my hands much more than I realized and the larger iPad Pro was just too big to handle like this. The 9.7" still felt slightly cramped but the trade offs were worth it.

Screen Size

With the release of the 10.5" you get virtually the same form factor as the 9.7" with a 20% larger screen. On paper, the dimensions may seem minuscule but in actual use the larger screen is a welcome and noticeable addition. In split screen mode I find the larger screen more helpful. While the larger iPad Pro can fit two full side-by-side apps together, the smaller one still has an iPhone layout with much more real estate. I find myself having more room when reading a PDF and taking notes on the other side, which is one of my primary uses for split screen.

Screen Performance

Apple also updated the refresh rate of the screen to 120hz . Apple is calling this and other software integrations ProMotion. I'm not going to get into the science of it but lets just say that scrolling, switching between apps, and any other movement on the iPad is buttery smooth. The switch to retina screens several years ago was a vast improvement. ProMotion may not be as big as an improvement but it will completely change the way we view our devices.

In order to see the improvement see this video in a tweet by Matt Gemmell.

Apple Pencil

The Apple Pencil software also received some updates. With the first generation iPad Pro I really couldn't tell a difference between writing on paper and writing on the iPad. Now, there is no question, this is the best stylus out there. Absolutely no lag time when writing with the pencil.

Miscellaneous

  • The camera is now the same camera in the iPhone 7. I don't take many pictures on the iPad because I don't want to look silly but for scanning documents this is a helpful upgrade.
  • They also upgraded the fingerprint sensor to the lightning fast iPhone 7 sensor. It is a vastly noticeable improvement.
  • After having an iPad with True Tone its really hard not having a device without it. The screen looks more natural (not in a computer generated color switching way like night shift). Additionally, the screen is even brighter for use outside
  • If you hold your iPad with any frequency the 10.5" is the way to go. The 12.9" version is more of a desktop iPad and not as suitable for mobile use.

iOS 11

This iPad was really made for iOS 11. The hardware inside the iPad is more than I'll ever need but as Apple keeps improving iOS with more multitasking and other productivity features it will continually need more power and speed for users. I can't wait till the public beta is released as I will be testing it out at that point.

Should You Buy One?

If you don't have an iPad Pro yet and are interested in purchasing one I have absolutely no reservations in recommending this version of the iPad. The integration with the Apple Pencil is going to keep getting better, especially with the release of iOS 11. The iPad Pro has transformed the way I get work done. It's primarily become my main device that I use. Whether it is reading articles on the web, marking up PDFs for research, taking notes in meetings, browsing photos, watching St. Louis Cardinals games, and more it has become my go to device.

If you already have the previous iPad Pro the question becomes a little trickier. If you have the smaller iPad Pro and wanting some more screen real estate I think the upgrade is worth it. I found the 9.7" to be slightly cramped when running two apps side-by-side. Additionally, the keyboard also felt slightly cramped. The larger screen allows for a full on-screen keyboard and a larger keyboard for the Apple Smart Keyboard, which I am currently using. The typing on the keyboard alone feels much more comfortable. So, if you have the means, I think it is a welcome upgrade. If you are trying to save some money both the original 9.7" and 12.9" are still worth checking out, if not for the Apple Pencil alone.

Overall, the new iPad Pros are beasts of a device. There is really no comparison in the market for these tablets. If you want the best you can't go wrong.

More In-Depth Reviews

Here are some of my favorite reviews that have been released so far:

Review of the Logitech “Slim” Combo for 10.5″ iPad Pro

This review will be about as long as it took to test out the Logitech Slim Combo Keyboard for the new 10.5" iPad Pro. Quite frankly, this keyboard/case combo is just awful. Previously, I had the 9.7" iPad Pro with the Logitech CREATE. I much preferred this keyboard to Apple's Smart Keyboard for a number of reasons such as the keyboard itself, the shell protection, and an Apple Pencil holder. So, naturally, I wanted to try out Logitech's new keyboard for the recently released iPad's. Looking at their site it looked like they made some great improvements including allowing the back to couple as a stand for FaceTime calls or other just general viewing.

But then I tested this "slim" keyboard case…

Ugh.

Almost immediately I was put off by the bulky size. It has a roundish bulge on the back case. There is a reason why the iPads are now flat and don't have the protruding bulge in the middle of the back of the iPad. Aesthetically, it hurts the eyes. Functionally, it feels extremely bulky. There is nothing slim about this keyboard case. It feels as if I stepped back to 2008 and grabbing my HP laptop for class in college. Regardless of the dimensions, the feel of the case is just a bulky mess. But this was only the beginning.

I was originally excited that I could pop the back off from the keyboard and hold the device in my hand. Well, this isn't satisfactory either. For one, the case just feels heavy and bulky (remember, this is just the back). Second, the edge of the iPad snaps deep into the case so there are some awkward ways of holding the iPad. Third, did I mention the weight and bulkiness of it? Strike 2, I wasn't feeling good about this purchase.

I then set the iPad up in the keyboard portion as well. The first thing I noticed was that I had to reach around the back to pull out the stand portion to stand it up. Seriously? I have to do this every single time I want to use my iPad with the keyboard, which is 75% of the time. No thank you. Previously, I would just open up the case and I was good to go. Additionally, they added this nasty 2+ inch blank space on the keyboard in front, which extends the iPad away from your hands by quite a bit. I'm not sure on the actual dimensions but the feeling was that the iPad was sitting far away from me and I was going to pull my shoulder out of its socket just reaching to touch the iPad.

Well, that was enough for me. I promptly gave up and never trying this again. I ended up going with the Apple Smart Keyboard + Apple Leather Sleeve.

I guess I could add some positives of the keyboard but with the above complaints I can't in my right mind recommend this keyboard case.

  1. Holds your Apple Pencil. But in reality they screwed this up too. The Apple Pencil is on the outside of the case just waiting to get caught on anything in your bag. With the size and bulk of the slim case you'd think there was plenty of room (like the 9.7"!) for a holder inside.
  2. Shortcut keys for different functionality in iOS. I love having the volume control, brightness, and other shortcuts on the keyboard. Sadly, the Apple Smart Keyboard doesn't have this.
  3. Better keyboard. The keyboard itself, in my opinion, is better feeling than Apple's Smart Keyboard.

Well, that's it. I'm not sure why Logitech would release this keyboard case combo. Sometimes I am disappointed when trying out a new device or accessory and it doesn't work out but rarely do I get extremely frustrated. I am still baffled that this was released and touted as a slim keyboard. They say don't fix what ain't broke. Well, the previous keyboard was better than average. It wasn't broke so it shouldn't have been fixed. This one is broke; I wouldn't be surprised for it to be pulled for a new design later this year.

Brian Davidson was finally right.

CanvasCon 2017 in Indianapolis

Today I went to CanvasCon in Indianapolis for the first time. We recently made the switch from Moodle to Canvas this Spring. Its been a great success and I’m a huge fan of the platform. The simplicity, ease of use, visually appealing, and features make it a no-brainer for choosing a learning management system. I’d compare Canvas to Apple, a company that is consistently innovating, puts the customer first in feature decisions, and has created a community of excited users who help further develop the platform through how-to’s, answers to tough questions, presentations, best practices, and more. Needless to say, I was interested in seeing if this short one-day conference would be worth it. In short, yes it was.

I was expecting around 100 people for this regional conference put on by the learning management system company but was surprised to find there were probably 400-500 people in attendance. Jared Stein opened the conference with a talk about Canvas’s philosophy and what their goals are for the company. At the end of the day, Canvas’s goal is to help students succeed in the classroom. This happens through engagement between teachers and students with the LMS serving as a middleman aiding this engagement and make it easier for both the student and teacher to interact and communicate.

I went to five breakout sessions throughout the rest of the day. In each of them I found several helpful tidbits. Whether its how to undo deleted content in a course, ideas for a better online student orientation, improvements to course design, tricks on Canvas, and implementing a better flipped classroom. I was pleasantly surprised that the sessions organically utilized Canvas but they were genuinely pedagogically helpful. I will be revising and implementing several new things I learned in the coming months.

Overall, I found the conference to be short but packed with content. Not everything was revolutionizing but at the end of the day it was very helpful. I plan on taking our team to next year’s as well.

Saturday Recommendation: Coffee Shops in Phoenix

I have several friends going to the SBC this week so I thought I would recommend some coffee shops to check out in Phoenix. Personally, I’ve only been to one of these, Cartel Coffee Lab, but Michael Butterworth has several recommendations and reviews on his excellent coffee site, The Coffee Compass.

  • Cartel Coffee Lab (locations) – Last year I had a layover in the Phoenix airport and was pleasantly surprised to see them in the terminal and they also have several locations in Arizona, including downtown Phoenix.
  • Giant Coffee (location)
  • Kream Coffee (location)
  • Futuro Coffee (location)
  • Press Coffee (locations)
  • Peixoto Coffee (location) – this one has been in the Phoenix for awhile and is about 25-30 minutes from downtown

Here are some articles from the Coffee Compass about coffee in Phoenix

New iOS 11 Features That I’m Looking Forward To

MacStories, one of my favorite sites for iOS and app news, information, tips, and analysis wrote a great article on new iOS 11 features. I’ve pulled some of my favorites out with my thoughts below.

Handwriting

One of my favorite apps for the iPad Pro is Goodnotes, which has the best handwriting recognition that I’ve used. I am able to write sloppy cursive and somehow it is able to pick it up. I am excited that Apple is making handwriting recognition part of the operating system but I am interested to see how good it is. Even if the recognition doesn’t meet Goodnotes level of accuracy it will still be nice to search the Notes app and others through Apple’s integrated recognition. If a note more naturally fits in Apple Notes and I want to handwrite then this will be more efficient.

Maps

One of the more frustrating aspect of using Apple notes, for me, is the fact that I don’t know what lane to be in when I am taking an exit. While most exits are on the right side of the road the occasional left exit always gets me. Hopefully this will make it more clear.

iMessage

Finally! iMessage is notorious for being out of sync with multiple devices. Additionally, when I receive verification codes via text I will often delete these messages but then when I get to my iMac or iPad they are still there. This should improve syncing and begin to work like other messaging platforms such as Slack. What you do on one device will be synced across multiple devices. Additionally, you will not have messages out of order when you come back to any device.

iMessage Apps

I don’t use a lot of iMessage apps except for stickers and GIFs. Frustration ensues when it takes multiple taps just to get to the GIPHY app or certain stickers that I commonly use. This interface looks to be much better.

Person to Person Payments via Apple Pay

I generally use PayPal or Venmo to payback friends for a variety of things. Having Apple Pay payments within iMessage to directly pay those who have iPhones, which is most of my friends, will be great. It seems that this will work similar to other services. When you get paid it gets stored in the system then from there you can use those payments for other purchases or transfer to your bank.
If you haven’t been using Apple Pay you really should be. It is actually more secure than using a credit card because it uses a unique number for each transaction + you have to authenticate it through your fingerprint. I’ve had some people tell me they don’t use it because it seems less secure but the reality is that its the most secure (except cash I guess) for protecting your personal information and your bank account. Apple really strives to keep personal privacy at the forefront of what they are doing. Apple itself doesn’t even have access to this information.

Audio on the Lock Screen

This will be nice instead of having to pull up the control panel every time to pause something.

Do Not Disturb When Driving

Yes, this will be great. Don’t text and drive people. Stay safe out there.

Expanded Dock on the iPad

I’m really looking forward to testing this out on the iPad. While it may take some getting used to I think this will be a great new feature for productivity on the iPad. Additionally, this is how you will now invoke side-by-side apps. Better access to the apps you use the most plus smart suggestions for commonly paired apps that you use together. This is a major step in the right direction.

Conclusion

Well these are just some new features that I am excited about on iOS. There were many more that were shown and I’m assuming that we’ll find out more as people begin to test in the beta of iOS 11. I’ll be installing the beta when it is released to the public. 9to5 Mac has a nice video showing about a 100 new features that you should check out.

Eating Habits, Fitness, 100 lbs Down, and the Apple Watch

Recently I wrote about my journey of 200 days of walking at least 10,000 steps (now at 234 days) but the other half of the story is the eating habits, getting in shape, and losing weight. As I said previously, it all started one day when I was walking around a seminary campus and I was out of breath, sweating, and tired. I needed a change and I knew that it had to begin with eating. Anything you read about trying to lose weight says this as much. A healthy lifestyle begins with what you put in your body. At this point I hadn’t conducted any research but I decided that I was going to try to cut down on refined foods, fried foods, and sweets. This seemed like a simple way to begin to reduce my caloric intake without making drastic changes. In addition, I tried eating less, which was always difficult. So I did this for about a couple months until I was introduced to a guy named Phil Maffetone.

Eating Habits

Maffetone specializes on topics such as fat loss, fitness, and healthy living. Three key takeaways helped shape my eating habits that I’ve continued to this day:

  1. Sugar addiction is a real thing – at first, I would have said there is no way that I have a sugar addiction. I never really craved sweets (although when I did eat sweets it was entirely too much) and I wouldn’t say that I had a “sweet tooth.” But as I read and began looking at labels I realized that sugar is in everything. I was in an endless cycle of craving carbs, especially sugar. This craving leads to a further poor diet and consistently stores the carbs as fat.
  2. Carbohydrate Intolerance – Maffetone argues that carbs are actually the real reason for the fat epidemic in our society. Our high carb diet is actually making us gain weight. High carbs over a long period of time aid high blood sugar, fatigue throughout the day, bloating, lack of concentration and more. Eventually this leads to high blood, gaining fat, diabetes, and more. Looking at my way of eating it was extremely high in carbs, especially of the refined variety.
  3. My diet should consist of higher amounts of fat and low amounts of carbohydrates. This was the most surprising of all to me. How could a diet that is 60-80% fat be good. After doing further reading I realized that he is probably right. And, my experience after 6 months of eating this way I think he is correct. A high fat low carb diet has given me more energy than I’ve ever have. I don’t get sleepy anymore. Haven’t been bloated since eating this way. Headaches are almost non-existent. And overall, I’ve felt better than ever. Additionally, I’ve not worried about the amount of calories I intake but rather on eating the right foods. I probably eat about as much as I used to but it is the right foods now. This way of eating is also really easy when eating out. No bun on sandwiches, salads instead of fries, and grilled instead of fried foods. Overall, this has been the biggest change for me.

Whole Foods

It really is crazy how much sugar is in processed foods. Anything from spaghetti sauce, to juices, to “healthy” snack bars, to protein shakes, and much more. I’ve slowly learned that you have to read the label on everything plus the ingredients to see what and how much sugar has been added to the product. This has largely led to a mostly whole food way of eating because it is healthier and just easier to do.

Fats

My fats have largely come from a variety of nuts, olive oil, and coconut or MCT oil. In the morning, I’ll have a couple eggs, berries, 2-3 tablespoons of coconut or MCT oil, and a tablespoon of olive oil. Avocados have also become a staple in my diet. Still seems crazy to me starting by day with 300-500 calories of fat first thing but its been working really well.

Apple Watch & Fitness

When I first received an Apple Watch I basically used it for notifications. I basically ignored the fitness tracking and filling up my activity rings. But I decided it was a good time to start paying attention to the rings so I wore the watch when working out. I was so out of shape that filling the activity rings was fairly easy. As I progressed, my goals increased, and had to work harder and be more active throughout the day to hit them. I’ve always set my goals to be achievable by just being active throughout the day, generally by walking. I didn’t want to set unrealistic expectations (and unhealthy!) of having to do a formal workout everyday but I also need to be more active (this is wear the walking and 10,000 steps per day comes in).
As I continued, I realized I was piling on several days of filling up all my activity rings. This became motivation to fill up my rings every day. There are countless days that I know I would not have been active throughout the day if it wasn’t for the Apple Watch and the streak of days that I had built up. I remember several instances around Christmas with traveling that I was sitting a lot. A couple nights I would get on the treadmill and walk for 20, 30, or 40 minutes so I could fill up my rings. I know for a fact, that without this motivation I would not have done this at 11:30 pm at night! So, while it may seem ridiculous to say that my journey of weight loss and better fitness is attributed to the Apple Watch, I really don’t think I would be here without it.

Concluding Thoughts

Overall, this journey of weight loss and better fitness has been challenging but fun. At this point I’ve been doing this for almost 8 months (235 days to be exact) and have never felt better. I just hit the 100 lbs down mark a week or so ago, dropped several shirt sizes, and drastically reduced my pant size. I never would have thought that this was possible but now, the change in eating, habit of staying active, and reaching those daily goals to not break the streak is now part of my life. I wouldn’t say I am on a “diet” but rather this is just the way I eat now. Most of the motivation is how I feel. Its less about losing the weight (although that is certainly part of the goal) but rather feeling confident and energized throughout the day. Its been a great journey and fun to reflect about it in this post.

Deliberate Practice

Developing grit in your activities is a combination of several things such as passion, practice, and a feeling a purpose with what you are doing says Angela Duckworth in Grit. When it comes to practice you can’t merely go through the motions. Practice must be deliberate if you want to improve and get to a state of flow at your task. Deliberate practice allows you to “experience the thrill of getting better, and the ecstasy of performing at your best (137).” When you achieve these two aspects you are one step further in developing perseverance at your work.

So what is deliberate practice? Duckworth outlines three elements:

  1. Know the science. Why? Because without a reason for your deliberate practice too often you will just cruise through life and not improve. The science includes
    1. A clearly defined stretch goal
    2. Full concentration and effort
    3. Immediate and informative feedback
    4. Repetition with reflection and refinement
  2. Make deliberate practice a habit
  3. Change the way you experience and think about deliberate practice. If you are just going through the motions without the proper feedback and goals then you are likely to become less motivated. Deliberate work should be rewarding giving you a sense of accomplishment.

iOS 11 Wishlist Follow-up

Yesterday I posted a wishlist for Apple’s WWDC (Worldwide Developer Conference) keynote yesterday. The wishlist was fairly small and a safe bet. Today, I just wanted to follow up on what I was hoping for. In the future I will be writing my thoughts on more features introduced. To say the least, they nailed it on new iPad features along with other general iOS improvements. I’m really excited for the public beta to be released later so I can begin trying them out.

  • Better app switching – from what I can tell Apple introduced a redesigned and vastly improved app switcher for the iPad. Instead of just redesigning the side bar they introduced a whole new way of thinking about working with multiple apps.
    • /New dock/ – the dock is very similar to the desktop version. You can put as many apps as you would like there and additionally, on the right it includes contextual apps that appear based on what you are working on. Apple already introduced something like this last year in the Spotlight search where it would predict what app you are searching for based on time of day, location, and what you were previously doing. Personally, I find this pretty accurate when I am trying to find an app. You can also pull the dock up from the bottom of the screen wherever you are at.
    • /App switcher/ – the app switcher takes up the entire screen and sort of looks like Mission Control on the desktop. Additionally, as I stated above, you can pul the dock up from the bottom of the screen and then drag an app to either open a temporary window or dock it on the left or right. 9to5 Mac has a good video showing this feature.
  • Make a modern Mail app – I may have missed something, but sadly, I did not see any vast improvements. I’m holding out hope though that it just didn’t make the keynote but there are still some good improvements.
  • File Management – they did introduce a new app called Files. This is very similar to the Finder on the Mac but redesigned and thought through for the iPad. While Apple did have an app called iCloud Drive, it was really only for Apple’s cloud storage system, which quite frankly, is terrible compared to Dropbox and Google Drive. The new Files app integrates with other cloud storage solutions such as Google Drive and Dropbox. I am interested in seeing the integrated functionality with these third-party services. Will it include features such as sharing with others, copying a share link, enabling syncing to the iPad for specific files, or zipping/unzipping multiple files together? You can also drag and drop, select multiple files, and send to other apps. Some people think that a Finder like solution on the iPad is ridiculous but personally, I deal with multiple files on a daily basis. Whether it be for academic research or dealing with many files for work I am constantly searching, moving, sharing, and manipulating many files. Typically I would use a combination of apps to do this but I am hopeful that this will be a one-app solution.
  • Photos for family and close friends – no improvements 😦
  • Continued improvement of portrait mode – since Portrait mode is a combination of software and hardware they can make improvements without introducing a new iPhone. I’m excited to see that they are improving low-light photos in Portrait mode as this seems to be one of the biggest weaknesses in my own experience.

Overall, I’m pretty excited about all the new features. Like I said, there are many more features to look forward too as well.

**SOLD** iPad Pro 12.9″ (128GB) + Smart Keyboard – $600

I’m selling my 12.9″ iPad Pro (128GB) + Smart Keyboard for $600. The new one that Apple just announced starts at $799 for 64GB + $150 for the Smart Keyboard so this is a pretty good deal. It has general wear on the back with a small indentation on the bottom left corner (see pics), which doesn’t effect any functionality but is purely an aesthetic blemish. Let me know if you’re interested.

Twitter: @renshaw330

Email: brenshaw833@gmail.com

iOS 11 Wishlist for Apple’s WWDC Keynote

Today is Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference. This conference is geared towards the developers who make apps for the iOS and MacOS platforms but Apple does provide a live stream for the public, which over the years, has grown greatly in popularity. This conference will reveal the new operating system for the iPhone, iPad, and the Mac. Today, I just wanted to outline some features that I hope they reveal for iOS. Most of the items below will be geared towards the iPad. I’ve been using the iPad as a computer replacement about 50-60% of the time with the remaining time on my iMac

  • Better app switching – When Apple introduced split view on the iPad it helped getting things done on the iPad greatly. You were now able to place two apps side-by-side. Generally, I use this as reference, one app is my writing environment and the other is a document, website, or another app that I am referring to. The problem is switching the app on the right side. When you try to switch to another app there is just an endless list of app icons with a confusing order. The app that I want to use seems to never be right there. I end up scrolling and scrolling then missing it. What I actually end up usually doing it using CMD-SPACE to search for the app > open > close > open split view app picker > open app again. This might be the most clunky workflow ever but its better than cycling through the endless mess that is the app picker. I don’t know what they should do but really anything is better than what they have now.
  • Make a modern Mail app – every year I hope that the Mail app will improve and every year, despite their “excitement” it is still light years behind every other mail app that comes out. I try to use many of the default apps on iOS because it provides simplicity, the workflows are more deeply embedded in the operating system, and they just always tend to work better than a combination of many third-party apps. But seriously, the mail app is just terrible. At the very least add a share sheet option to email messages. This will allow sending to your task manager, Evernote, create a PDF, add a reminder, send to Notes, and more. It is maddening that this is not an option. Some other features that I would like to see added are some type of smart email folders, send later, and better integration with Gmail (that’s a long shot but I can still wish!) One feature I do like about the Mail app is the granularity of custom email notifications. I have email notifications turned off but for one person in my life who primarily communicates through email I have their notifications turned on plus there is an easy way to turn on a custom notification for a certain email thread. But the Mail app needs some massive improvement and I hope they deliver later today.
  • File Management – one of the biggest hangups on the iPad is dealing with multiple files either in one app or between multiple. Across the board there is not a good way to deal with multiple files, whether it be getting them in an email, sending to another app, or sharing with others. Additionally, when dealing with multiple apps getting one file to another app (without cloud syncing) is just a pain. Implementing drag and drop between apps would be a huge win. You could also drag text, images, files, URLS, and more from one app to another. This would be a huge win for the iPad. I know that Apple wants to make file management simple but I think they have sided with too much simplicity, especially when they are touting the iPad as the future of computing. There really needs to be better file management on the iPad. I don’t necessarily want a one-to-one copy of how the Mac works but rethink it for the iPad.
  • Photos for family and close friends – I would really like to see better photo management and sharing with those closest to you. My wife and I have a shared iCloud album, which works well but that doesn’t provide a good solution for all situations. Additionally, we are constantly sharing via AirDrop, which means that both are phones have to be open at the same time plus a good connection between them. For example, recently we were at a wedding and I took several pictures that I wanted her to have but I had to wait until we were both done with everything to get those to her. It’d be great if I could get the originals to her in a more simple way.
  • Continued improvement of portrait mode – I absolutely love portrait mode. It creates stunning photos on the iPhone that is hard to believe that they were taken on the iPhone. Outdoors, it works great, except with certain things in the background such as water from a lake or stream. I would love to see them improve it for lower light situations. Even in a well lit room the photo comes out a little grainy. Additionally, I would like to see improvements for depth effect with inanimate objects.

Well, there is more that I’d like to see at the keynote today but this is just a sample of some major features that I would like to see reworked. Using my iPad everyday for work, school, and personal activities has really given me an appreciate for the device but there are just some key sticking points that get me every time. I think they will really focus on the iPad for work and I am excited to see what they will come up with this afternoon.

If you haven’t seen it yet then you should check out Federico Vitticci’s iOS 11 concept video with some more ideas.

Here is how to stream Apple’s keynote today.

Saturday Recommendation: AeroPress

Saturday Recommendations are a brief highlight of something I enjoy that I think is worth you checking out.

The AeroPress is one of the most simple ways to manually brew a great cup of coffee. Unlike many pour over solutions you don’t need a special kettle for an even pour. Personally, I use the AeroPress for travel because it is durable, quick, and doesn’t take a lot of extra equipment. You just need some ground coffee (or whole bean + a hand grinder ) and hot water. If you’ve never tried an AeroPress, you really should get started. Plus, you can purchase one for around $30. There are several ways to brew with this device. Stumptown Coffee Roasters has some helpful videos, which you can find here.

Buy on Amazon

Following Your Passion

I’m currently reading Angela Duckworth’s book, Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, which explains how to persevere through your work. Too many people get started on one thing, switch to another, then another, then another, and so forth. Grit, according to Duckworth consists of three aspects: interest, practice, and purpose.

In the chapter on interest she discusses the popular notion of “following your passion.” At graduations everywhere numerous speakers will talk about how they followed their passion and love what they too while often being highly successful. Duckworth, agrees, in principle, with this advice but argues that there is more too this. Generally, people don’t develop a passion for something right away but developed it over time. Thus, following your passion is true but before you can follow your passion you must have one.

First, you need an interest, which contains three elements:

  1. Discovery – finding your interest and passion must first begin with that discovery. This can take time and you should be forced into one thing or another. She says that play should come before work. Find out what types of things interest you.
  2. Development – “interests are not discovered through introspection (104).” Interests take time to develop through a series of interactions with the outside world. When you get started on something you won’t know if you like it or not, it takes time to develop that interests through doing. “Crucially, the initial triggering of a new interest must be followed by subsequent encounters that retrigger your attention–again and again and again (104).”
  3. Encouragement – after discovery and development your interests often need encouragement from those closest to you. Your family, friends, and peers “provide the ongoing stimulation and information that is essential to actually liking something more and more…positive feedback makes us feel happy, competent, and secure (105).”

At the end of the day “follow your passion” isn’t bad advice but you first need to find out what your interests are and what drives you. This takes discovery, development, and encouragement from others.
In my own life, I’ve seen this play out in a couple of ways. I’ve always been driven by helping others improve what they are doing. Looking at something and saying we can make that better. This baseline interests has taken the form in what my current position is working in online learning at Southern Seminary. When I first saw this idea of education I wasn’t too familiar but I had ideas of how to make it better in this context. Its taken time to develop (and its still developing) but this interests is now what drives me. How can we improve what we are doing here. At the end of the day, I’ve had encouragement from friends and other peers, which has sparked further interest and passion in this. If you would have asked me four years ago if I had an interest or passion in online theological education I would have said no. But I’ve discovered, developed, and been encouraged in this interest to where now its become a passion that I want to continue developing and improving.

Mac Tip: Pasting as Plain Text and Using a Free Clipboard Manager

If you do any sort of copying and pasting on your Mac then you know what a pain it can be when you paste text that is formatted from its original location. This is especially frustrating when copying from the web, PDFs, or software such as Logos or Accordance. There are a several different options for fixing this problems. Here are two of them:

The first option is native to the Mac. It is simply using the keyboard shortcut Option+Shift+Command+V. This will paste as plain text stripping all the formatting.

Another option that I use all the time is through a clipboard manager called Flycut (its free!). This app stores everything you have copied and allows you to cycle through and then paste as plain text. This relieves the stress of going back and forth between apps to copy and paste. Instead, just copy everything you need then cycle through your latest copied texts and then paste. You can do all this by holding Shift+Command+V then continue pressing V to cycle through everything.

3 Simple First Steps for Overhauling Your Productivity System

Everyone has a system for getting things done. Unfortunately, for many, that system is in their head, post-it notes scattered around, or their email inbox. I can’t speak for everyone but my guess is that if this is your system then things you need to get done are either all happening at the last minute as something triggers you to remember or they are falling through the cracks. This is no way to live!

If you are wanting to overhaul your productivity system you can take some simple steps to make life much easier. I could tell you that you need to read Getting Things Done, purchase the best task manager, and sit for hours recalibrating everything in your life. Yes, this would work but for most people this is overkill when you are just starting. The best productivity system is the one that works for you. The trick is to find that balance of the simplest method for keeping track of everything without being unnecessarily complicated or burdensome. Being a productive and efficient person should give you clarity and time for the most important things in your life. Productivity is not about (necessarily) getting more accomplished but organizing your life in such a way that you have a good balance for everything.

I love these two quotes from Tim Challie’s book Do More Better (you can find my review here):

  • “Productivity is not what will bring purpose to your life, but what will enable you to excel in living out your existing purpose.”
  • “I don’t want you to do more stuff or take on more projects or complete more tasks. Not necessarily. I don’t want you to work longer hours or spend less time with your family and friends. I want you to do more good. I want you to do more of what matters most, and I want you to do it better. That’s what I want for myself as well.”

Below, I outline three first steps that you can take to help your productivity system. These are just initials actions that you can do in order to boost your productivity and free your mind for engaging in the most important aspects of your life.

3 First Steps

Perform a mind dump – this idea comes from the GTD system. At the most basic level the idea is to get everything off your mind. One of David Allen’s most popular quotes is “Your mind is not for keeping ideas but for having them.” If you are storing everything you have to do in your mind then you are not free to think through the most important ideas in your life. The only way to remember that you have to do something at the end of the week is to keep reminding yourself of that task. That’s just one task. Now think of everything you have to do and you can quickly see that this can become overwhelming.

So, my first suggestion, is to think of different areas of responsibility in your life. For me, this falls into 3 broad categories: personal (family, home, church, dog, etc), work, and school. Gather three pieces of paper and 15, 30, 60 minutes to sit down and just write down anything that comes to mind that you have to do in those areas of responsibility. I think you’ll be surprised about how much you are actually storing in your mind.

Just this simple process of performing a mind dump will give you clarity about what all you have going on in your life. Once you have done this, develop a plan with your most important tasks. If there are events you need to go to or prepare for then put them on the calendar. For projects, write down the next action that you need to do in order to move the project forward. Many tasks can be deferred until later. Keep a list of these on a separate sheet of paper that you can review at a later date.

This is just a first step in order to help you realize what all you have going on and to clear your mind. Unfortunately, this is not a one-time deal. I try to perform a mind dump every month or so because inevitably I forget to write things down. The next step, will outline what to do moving forward so you don’t develop a habit of constantly trying to remember things.

Create an inbox for your tasks – whenever something comes up that you need to do then you need to write this down in a consistent location. A dedicated task manager is best for this in my opinion (I recommend OmniFocus, Things, or Todoist) but getting started you can use anything such as the Notes app on your iPhone, Evernote, or even just go old fashioned and use a pocket notebook such as Field Notes or a memo pad.

You don’t want to just keep these tasks in your inbox though. You consistently need to clear this inbox and put the tasks in the right place. If it is a larger project then open a file or a separate note for the project and write down some next actions (Evernote allows you to set reminders for notes). For simple tasks put them in a reminders app such as Reminders or the Due app (this is what I use). For time sensitive material such as events use your calendar. By using an inbox it will give you one central location to review new tasks and deal with those appropriately.

The key is not to try to remember everything. This is not how your brain is designed to work! We are naturally forgetful. Don’t keep tasks in your email, brain, or post-it notes scattered around. One location will help you track everything you have going on in your life.

Review – finally, I recommend that you review your tasks on a weekly or bi-weekly basis. Personally, I do a Friday weekly review (see my post on this here) but you can do this anytime that works best for you. By reviewing your tasks and projects you will be able to see what is coming up and plan accordingly. The review does not need to be complex but you do need to take a 20,000 ft. view of your life and see what all is going on.

Conclusion

So if you are feeling overwhelmed by the barrage of tasks that you have to do I recommend starting with these three steps. In further posts I will talk about a more complete system but these three things will help you get started in creating your own system. Everyone’s system will be different but I think there are certain pillars that will improve everyone’s productivity.

If you are interested in more then I suggest looking at David Allen’s book Getting Things Done. Much of my productivity system is based on principles that he outlines in this book. As I said above though, I don’t follow it completely but it gives me a better vision of how I work and how I can track everything going on. The key is to develop a system for you and stick to it. You will have ups and downs. You will need to reset, perform the mind dump, and recalibrate what you are doing. At the end of the day, make your system work for you and you not working for your system. It should always work in the background helping you focus on the task at hand.

Sharing Items on the Amazon App

I’m not sure when Amazon began doing this but they’ve made it easier to share items from the iOS app. I just happened on this “trick” the other day when I wanted to share a book and its price with a friend. Once you take a screenshot a share button appears that you can now share it through the share sheet. It also will include a link to the book as well. I’ve found this helpful not only sharing books with friends but also adding a list in Evernote or my task manager to look at later.

Happy Amazoning

 

Writing 30 Minutes a Day

About a month ago I was lamenting the state of my blog with Brian Davidson. We were both wanting to write but hindered by the invisible forces of the blank page coupled with the wall of perfection. After talking for awhile we realized we needed to just simplify the process. Writing doesn't have to be perfect (because it never will be) nor does it need to be ground breaking. My favorite sites are the ones that post everyday about the topics they are interested in. So we decided to start a challenge: post every weekday. That's it. No length or topic requirements. Just write. Everyday.

My Routine

I don't have time to spend 60-120 minutes to craft a blog post everyday. So I decided to set a 30 minute time limit for each post. 30 minutes from start to finish, no more. Additionally, any topic is wide open. For me, this means that most will be either self-reflective posts, technology and apps, or productivity. But I am not trying to limit myself. If I have an idea of something I want to write about then I add it to the list, sit down, and write.

What I've Learned

One of the reasons that I've kept this up (besides not losing the challenge) is that I've found several side benefits of doing this:

  • Helping to avoid writer's block: I've noticed that the practice of forcing myself to write even when I don't think I have anything is getting easier each writing session. Additionally, I've been gaining confidence to overcome the blank page, which has helped my writing in more important areas of my life (academics and work)
  • Writing daily: I've written more words this past month than probably any other stretch of time in my life. Writing is becoming more natural and I slowly but surely am becoming a better writer. Its only been a month but I'm encouraged.
  • Learning by writing: Writing for this blog has helped me solidify my thinking on different topics. For example, I was finally able to reflect on writer's block and different other aspects of writing. Additionally, I was able to finally reflect on my weekly review that I've been doing for the past several months. Finally, its sparked conversations with friends and others about things I've posted.

At the end of the day, my writing isn't perfect nor will it ever be. The topics are somewhat eclectic and may appeal more to some but not to others. At the end of the day, I'm not trying to build a personal brand or gather a bunch of followers but become a better writer and share my thoughts on topics I'm interested in. Hopefully, you will find some that are helpful or cause you to ponder different ways of doing things as well. Writing on the web is fun but also challenging. Putting myself out there with imperfect thoughts is a challenge but I've been better for doing it.

So, thanks for reading and and happy Memorial Day!

Book Review: Do More Better by Tim Challies

I don’t want you to do more stuff or take on more projects or complete more tasks. Not necessarily. I don’t want you to work longer hours or spend less time with your family and friends. I want you to do more good. I want you to do more of what matters most, and I want you to do it better. That’s what I want for myself as well (5).”

Challies nails what should form the foundation of every productivity goal and system. The goal of productivity is not to add a another plate to your life with a bunch of “todos” but to rather arrange your existing todos to flourish in life. One of your goals might be to spend more time with your family. Or maybe you have a healthy work/school/family balance but you are always rushed at completing your projects. Being more productive in this sense would allow you to manage your time and more efficiently work to improve the projects at hand. Regardless of what your goal is remember don’t become more productive so that you can do more in you life but rather how can you do what you are currently doing better. The more aspect can come later when you have a grasp on your own efficiency with the tasks that you do have on your plate now.

One of my biggest complaints with productivity blog posts/articles/books with a theological foundation is that they become too “Christianized” and the advice ends up littered with out-of-context proof texts and twisting and forming scripture to fit ones productivity goals. Some do this better than others but on the whole I am continually disappointed with productivity advice from an explicitly Christian perspective.

Recently I was lamenting to a friend about this problem and I remember thinking why can’t someone just lay down some solid theological foundations and based upon those write a productivity book.

Finally, enter Tim Challies.

The first chapter serves exactly this purpose. He calls it a “productivity catechism” that lays out the foundation for the rest of the book. Hallelujah. Finally. I find the catechism to be a helpful primer preparing the reader for the practical and helpful advice that comes later without much of the cheesy Christaineeze.

Challies defines productivity as “effectively stewards your gifts, talents, time, energy, and enthusiasm for the good of others and the glory of God.” This simple definition fits with what I was arguing above should be at the heart of any productivity system: to learn how to use the time you have wisely.

A productive person is not about finding all the latest tools, tweaking the most intricate systems, or learning all the shortcuts but forming yourself into a new person (24). Productivity only happens with a life change in the individual. The way you go about your life needs to drastically change in order to transform into an efficient person. All the outside help in the world will not aid you in becoming more efficient if you are still a lazy and distracted individual.

The rest of the book comes boils down to a modified (and simplified) Getting Things Done (GTD) system. This includes figuring out what all your responsibilities are in your life and putting them on paper (ch. 3), stating your mission (ch. 4), picking the right tools (ch. 5), collecting your tasks (ch. 6), plan your calendar (ch. 7), gather your information (ch. 8), live the system (ch. 9), and maintain it (ch. 10). Challies’ writing is simple and clear. Each of these chapters is filled with sound advice and practical examples, solidifying the content of the chapter. He also includes two bonus chapters on email (don’t skip!) and 20 tips.

For this review it is not necessary to go into all the details of each chapter or even summarizing them. The book is already short and to the point (perfect for a productivity book). I would recommend this book both to those who are looking for a helpful guide for becoming more efficient in their life, or, if like me, you have read much on productivity systems (especially GTD based systems) you will find little tidbits of helpful pointers throughout the book. For example, a short section on expecting interruptions provides two potential pitfalls that one might run into when dealing with interruptions. First, the fear of man, which means that you are keen on pleasing people that you end up saying yes to everything. And second, pride, which signals that you already know best so you will say no to everything (95).

Is this the only thing you should read on productivity? Probably not. I imagine Challies would agree. This is a basic introduction and primer to get you started on your feet and it serves it’s purpose well. Another book I would recommend in conjunction with this is the classic Getting Things Done by David Allen. This book goes into more details and stands as the foundation of the GTD system. Remember, everyone’s productivity system will look different for each individual so don’t think that you will have to fit the mold of someone’s system. Take the best of what your read and hear from others and incorporate it into your life. But remember, knowing a lot about productivity won’t make you more productive. That takes the hard work of transformation, focus, and discipline. The tools and system just help you along the way.

Now get to work!

Purchase

Saturday Recommendation: Seth Godin’s Blog

Saturday Recommendations are a brief highlight of something I enjoy that I think is worth you checking out.

Seth Godin’s blog is one of the few sites that I read everyday. His short, to the point, and often times insightful writing have sparked so many thoughts and ideas in areas of writing, leading, communication with others, self-reflection, and more. He’s also been a guest on several podcasts and this is one of my favorite appearances ( link ).

Seth’s Blog & Twitter

My Friday Review for a Better Monday

Starting another week is often difficult because after the weekend any momentum you had during the previous week is gone. Monday is a time for restarting, Tuesday rolls around and you're back in the swing of things, Wednesday and Thursday can be productive days, and then Friday comes and its almost the weekend. So, in very general terms you potentially have 2-3 days of productive and efficient work.
I've followed a modified GTD system for several years now but I never really implemented one of the core pillars, the weekly review. It was always one of those steps that seemed nice in theory but I never made the time to actually try to do it. Several months ago I decided to implement the weekly review into my schedule.
I began to block out my Friday afternoons. The first couple weeks I tried doing it in the office but "better" things always came up, questions to be answered, and distractions challenging me every minute. I decided that I needed to get out of the office in order to focus. Now, shortly after lunch and wrapping things up in the office, checking with others to make sure any questions need answered before the weekend, and (generally) tidying up my desk so its ready for the next week. I then head over to a local coffee shop in Louisville, Quills Coffee, with just my iPad and headphones to get started.

  • [ ] For the following, I am just going to outline what I do in my personal weekly review. For canonical GTD methodology see David Allen's book.

    Looking Backwards

    First, I review my calendar from the past week. How many times have you had meetings or appointments, took good notes, maybe some action items, and then forget about them until a later date? When reviewing my calendar I write down all meetings, appointments, and other interactions I had with other people. I then briefly summarize what was talked about, collect any action items that need to be completed and add them to my inbox, and then finally, gather any notes and store/label them appropriately. If there are people I need to follow-up with I will usually make a separate list for this as well. This allows me to close the loop with others and not have that hanging over my head through the weekend trying to remember what happened in the previous week.

    Project Review

    The next action I take is to review all my projects and tasks that I have going on. Using OmniFocus for this is easy because it has a review function built in. But even if you do not have a task manager then you can still easily manually review your projects. Reviewing projects does not mean going through all the details. For me, the process is getting closure for the week and preparing myself for Monday. I've found extremely helpful to write down action items, or next steps, that need to occur on the project to move it forward. Most projects, just taking that next step can be the difference between delivering on-time or forgetting about it or delaying its completion.

    Clearing Inboxes

    Next, I begin to go through me email inbox according to the "two-minute rule." Basically, if an email can be taken care of in two minutes or less then I complete it right then. This allows me to move quickly through my email. Also, you would be surprised at how fast you can take care of several things when you employ the two-minute rule. At the end of the day I want my inbox to be clear. This doesn't mean that I have taken care of everything but I've either delegated the task, put the email in my task manager for a later date, stored it in reference, or, for many emails, just delete them.

    Looking Forward

    Finally, after looking back at the week, reviewing projects, and processing my email I am ready to make a game plan for the next week. The reason I do this last is because every other step I am adding tasks that probably need to be added for the following week. This is especially true of email. Being at inbox zero doesn't mean everything thing is complete. It just means that the task in the email is in the right location to be accomplished at the right time.
    I first open my calendar and on a separate piece of paper I begin to right down any appointments that I have to be at (note, I also look at my personal calendar to just verify if it will effect the work day and make note of it if it will) . If it is a meeting, I ask myself what level is my involvement, do I need to prepare anything, and who will be at the meeting. If I need to prepare anything I write this down with a note that it will take XX time to prepare for. I find writing everything down separately to be helpful.
    Once time-sensitive events are taken care of I look at projects and other miscellaneous tasks that I have going on. I usually think more big picture. What is my goal for the week? Where do I want to be next Friday. From there I write in tentatively what I would like to accomplish each day. This is always very fluid once the week starts but it helps having a reference point at the beginning of the week.
    I usually have a couple major projects that I need to devote "deep work" on. For these, I mark out specific times that I will work on these projects. I add this to the calendar as well (see this previous post on some ways I use the calendar). Additionally, I plan out time I need to prepare for any meetings so when Monday rolls around and there is a meeting Tuesday morning I know that sometime Monday I need to sit down and review for the next day.
    Finally, for my situation, I have a review meeting every Monday with my Instructional Designer's in the online learning office (they do a great job btw!). I make sure I have written anything down that I need to talk with them about, review the projects they are working on and make any notes or questions, and just make sure I am ready to devote the 1-2 hours with them. This process has saved so many potential future disasters. Finally, I review for our "continuing education" time after my Monday review with them.

    Conclusion

    This process takes anywhere from 1-4 hours. Often, it depends on the time that I can devote to it. If I can leave the office right after lunch then I have about 4 hours in the afternoon to devote to this so I will go through everything in more rigorous detail. Sometimes, things come up and I have 30-60 minutes so I review much more quickly. For Fridays that I don't do a weekly review the next week just seems like a disaster. I am ill-prepared, forget things, and Monday just seems like a freight train charging at me. Doing a weekly review will make your next week more efficient and productive. Taking the time to review backwards and forwards helps you stay on track, meet deadlines, and keep pushing ahead. Ultimately, it clears your mind to be able to think of the big ideas to change things.