Hey! What Are You Doing!? | 10 Ways to Optimize Your Time and Increase Productivity

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Being a webworker is a fun but challenging task. It calls for dedication, focus and the ability to not get distracted by all of the distracting stuff out there on the web.

Since taking on the challenge of working for myself, I’ve learned a few things about being productive online. If you’re struggling with productivity, or thinking of taking your work online, you might like these tips. If applied correctly, they’ll save you a lot of wasted time. If you’re your own boss, it’s sometimes difficult to keep on track. And more time is what you can get from working for yourself. That time is time spent traveling, or with your spouse or kids, or with your friends.

1. Make a To-Do list Before Using Your Computer

Before even looking at your machine, sit down with an analog piece of paper and write down what you really need to do. Organize these tasks into categories, like “time” or “finance”. Organizing the tasks will allow you to do all of the tasks related to finance at the same time, instead of switching around to different tasks. Do the easiest tasks first, and allow only one or two minutes for each. Tackle the most difficult tasks after taking a short break, or break up the difficult tasks into small pieces and attack those similarly.

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2. Set a Time Limit

If you’re jumping on a task, set a time limit for yourself. Say, “I’m going to only work on this for 20 minutes. Let nothing else distract you for those 20 minutes. When the time is up At the end of 20 minutes see how much you’ve accomplished the task.

3. Don’t Try to Do More Than 2-3 Big Things Per Day

When I first considered starting a blog, I wanted to do everything in one day. I later realized that doing small things would be more feasible and stronger. If a beach is made of a trillion particles of sand, then a powerful web presence is the accumulation of millions of tiny actions, slowly building themselves into something over time.

4. Use Paper to Organize Your Thoughts

Before tackling a blog post or E-mail, use paper and pen to organize the main points you want to achieve. It will allow you to understand which pieces you’d like to cover, vs. which pieces are not.

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5. Don’t Multitask

This is probably the most difficult piece. Multitasking comes naturally, but at a cost: the more fragmented a task becomes, the longer it takes to get completed. Pick simple tasks and do them in one sitting. Resist the urge to check E-mail. If you get stuck, walk around the room without looking at the screen. Try to keep thought processes in the realm of the mind, instead of externalized in Google. This will help the brain to stay agile when faced with problems that take critical thinking to solve. The activation energy it takes to complete a task is often higher than grabbing a search in Google, or a quick look at news feeds, but keeping that analysis internally will help to complete a task in a short period of time.

6. Don’t Bite off More Than You Can Chew

Many projects seem exciting at first blush, but turn into dull chores when actually tackled. Even the smallest of tasks can balloon into enormous projects if not organized correctly. Simplify and clarify before taking on a new task. Make sure to point out key deliverables and communication points. This keeps information from falling through the cracks. Be wary of clients who do not fully communicate their needs or expect you to do multiple processes you are not comfortable with. Simply your deliverables into a cohesive, actionable timeline, and let the client understand what the touch points are.

7. Turn Off the Internet

Forcing yourself offline will push you to reconsider your task list and what you’re really trying to get done online. Use an offline E-mail app like Outlook for PC, or Mail.app for Mac and compose E-mails and drafts offline. Use a piece of paper or a text document to organize tasks that you plan to do when you go back online. At the end of the offline working period, turn on the Internet and send out E-mails in bulk. Look at your tasklist and begin accomplishing tasks that require Internet access without checking E-mail, Twitter, or news feeds. If you need specific answers, feel free to ask your social network, but do not dwell there reading feeds. This is a goal that requires a lot of restraint. Feeds are created to be addicting, and it is often difficult not to sink into the fast-flowing river of news.

8. Don’t Compare Yourself to Others

While looking at what others are doing in your field good for informative or inspirational purposes, don’t dwell on what you’re doing in comparison to them. The Internet is a massive landscape, and it is okay to do things that aren’t as awesome as what other people are doing. If you’re not careful, comparing yourself to others can detract you from focusing on goals at hand. When it seems like every website or project has been completed in one day, reconsider. Success takes a while to accomplish, and the more you focus on your own goals, the more powerful you’ll become.

9. Check Your E-mail Twice a Day

Checking E-mail is one of the worst detractors from productivity.

10. Read the 4-Hour Workweek

Tim Ferriss might not be quite the master of what he preaches (I was told that he definitely works more than 4 hours a week), but he sure knows how to get things done and achieve his goals. If nothing else, his book is a great reference tool as well as an aid in creatively considering new avenues for innovation.

Tim’s ideas explain how to take normal tasks and compress the amount of time and space it takes to accomplish them. Although part of his book talks about outsourcing, the rest has a great deal of sound business advice that has really helped me out. And while it is often difficult not to constantly fragment my tasks and check my E-mail constantly, when I think before I act, the results are generally terrific. I highly recommend it.

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Get it: Paper Edition of the 4 Hour Workweek.

Or get this one: Kindle Edition of the 4-Hour Workweek.

Looking for more tips?

Last year, I interviewed Feroshia Knight of the Baraka Institute about how she stayed productive online. She related 5 tips that can be used offline as well.

Read Lifehacker’s Top 10 Productivity Basics Explained. It’s a great post full of useful tips, including how to employ and develop Ninja-like research skills.

Image Credits

1st image: petecarr
3rd image:  cijmyjune
2nd image: kompott

You can find many more here: FutureBuzz – 50 Stunning Creative Commons Flickr Photos.

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Amber Case is a Cyborg Anthropologist and New Media Consultant from Portland, Oregon. You can follow her online at @caseorganic

CyborgCamp 2008 | A Conference Born in an Afternoon

Note: Dates and venues are pretty much set for CyborgCamp!

You can now:

I never saw it coming

CyborgCamp occured at around 10Am from a shoutout by Kris Krug and Dave Olson of RainCityStudios. I met them both at Gnomedex and we got along really well.

The only problem was that they both lived in Vancouver B.C., and I live in Portland, Oregon. Normally, it is difficult for me to travel unless there is a conference. So I told them that.

To which Dave replied “just have a Cyborg Camp!”.

And CyborgCamp was born.

Once Kris Krug retweeted the news, 30 or so people immediately jumped into high gear. Nate Angell built a Wiki with all sorts of capabilities, and more people got on board to discuss all aspects of Cyborgs.

Meanwhile, the Twitterverse was coming up with all sorts of speaker and venue suggestions, and by 6Pm that night, the first planning meeting for CyborgCamp 2008 occured as an offshoot of an Android Developers meeting at the Lucky Lab Pub SE.

…Whew.

That was only two days ago. Now we have a venue, a sponsor, and some potential speakers. Also a @cyborgcamp Twitter account, which Bram Pitoyo has been handling amazingly, as well as a preliminary poster design.

Now what?

If you think this sounds like something you might be interested in, Sign up —> CyborgCamp2008 for Wiki access. Or follow the @cyborgcamp Twitter account for updates, general inquiries, speaker suggestions and sponsor ideas. Or you can directly E-mail caseorganic if you don’t use Wikis or Twitter.

What is a cyborg?

A cyborg (shorthand for “cybernetic organism”) is a symbiotic fusion of human and machine. Join in our pre-conference discussion about what is a cyborg?

What is CyborgCamp?

An unconference dedicated to exploring cyborg technology, anthropology, psychology, and philosophy.

Who should come to CyborgCamp?

Cyborgs, hybrids, androids, robots, and the people who love them!

When is CyborgCamp?

Nov. 21-22 2008

Proposed Topics

  • Space and Time Compression
  • Cybernetic Organisms – The emergence of technological systems, control and feedback in biological life
  • Online Presence and Boundary Extensions
  • What is Cybernetics?
  • The Future of Mobile Technology
  • Artifical Intelligence
  • Technology and Culture
  • A Brief History of Cybernetics
  • Cyborgs Around & Within – How humankind takes for granted our lives as, and among Cyborgs
  • Top 10 Modifications you can make to be a better Cyborg
  • Cybernetics and Morality
  • Wetware Hacking
  • Pimp My Avatar

Hyperorganization

This should be an interesting event. It needs a lot of film and audio coverage, as well as live casting and projection screens. As many channels as possible so we can exist in as many places at one time. Our minds can supply the rest.

You can follow along at CyborgCamp.org or on Twitter by following @cyborgcamp.

Productivity Tip: Using RSS as a Search Engine

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If you currently use them, RSS feeds are a great way to accumulate timely information from reliable and influential sources. RSS feeds are one of the best ways to keep up on social trends, new tech gagets, people, and business ideas. If you don’t know what an RSS feed is, there’s a 3.75 minute Commoncraft Video called RSS Feeds in Plain English.
Newsfire Categories

One of the most useful ways I’ve been able to use RSS feeds has been through the use of an RSS aggregator as a search engine. My favorite platform to use is NewsFire (click to download) for Mac, but other RSS readers exist for Windows, Linux and Gmail.

The best part about Newsfire is that it has a search feature at the bottom right corner of the screen. The search tool allows many blog posts to be searched through at the same time.

This search feature can be used to search through all aggregated RSS feeds.

Categorizing Data:

Newsfire makes it easy to categorize data into groups. I chose Lifehacking-type blogs, Tech News, Design News, SEO, Marketing, Business Development, Usability/Architecture, Local Portland Groups, and Mail/Personal. I grabbed mail my mail from Gmail and my @caseorganic Twitter ID from Summize.

The only limitation is that you cannot rearrange the categories. This will hopefully probably be fixed with NewsFire’s next release.
Newsfire Never Delete Items
The key to using RSS as a Search Engine is going out on the web and finding the best sources that aggregate the best data, and then storing it all in your NewsFire feedcapture device. Then, wait for the data to accumulate. Go to NewsFire –> Preferences –> Feeds, and set “Delete items” to “Never”. If you use Spotlight, you can enable indexing of content so that you can use Spotlight to search your feeds as well.
Newsfire search local SEO

With this structure in place, I can search my RSS reader for “local SEO”, to check news related to these terms. Another option for maxxing out your RSS reader is to subscribe to Twitter topic feeds via Summize. That way, you not only get the topics that are being blogged about, but what everyone in the world is saying about those topics.

Networking Power-Ups: Amping-up your Twitter-Experience

Twitter. Like any Web 2.0 app, it can be used productively, or it can suck the time out of your existence. (If you’ve never heard of Twitter before, check out the brilliant Commoncraft Video Twitter in Plain English).

If used wisely, Twitter can help you network like a jolt of amphetamines, keep you up to date on local news, traffic jams and construction work, and provide data on all the bars your friends are at. You can use it to get business advice, new clients, and joy and happiness.

Or, you can get lost in followers, following others, endless updates about tooth brushing and new hair colors without really getting much out of the whole experience.

For best results, follow Twitter Etiquette.

Provide Relevant, Descriptive Links to Awesome Resources

If you think the information is really useful, then provide a description of that information and a shortened link to that information. Else, you’re wasting the time-value of your followers and your own credibility.

Don’t Overmarket:

If you write 10 new blog posts a day, don’t post them all on Twitter. Don’t even say that your blog has a new post when you link to it. Just provide a useful description of what the post pertains to. If people want to click on it, they will.If they don’t, craft better posts. Posting objectively will allow you to rank your posts based on content, not coersion.

Use Short URL’s

Tinyurl, Snurl, and is.gd are all quick and easy url snippers.

  • is.gd is my favorite, because it provides the shortest url-length.
  • Tinyurl has a Firefox plugin that can be downloaded here, although it is not yet available for Firefox 3. The plugin allows you to right click to shorten the url, and it saves the url to the clipboard.

Real-Life Networking:

Tie your online experience into your real life. One head is good, but thirty are better. Using Twitter to network is all about shared resources and experiences. If you have a service to provide, provide it. You’ll undoubtedly be rewarded for your generosity.

Twitterers are known to be extremely friendly and social both online and off. It is just a matter of finding where they meet up, and then hanging out and having a good time. Use the Twitter in junction with local event calendars like Yahoo’s Upcoming Calendar to find events in your area. Attend the events, make friends, and  exchange Twitter ID’s, resources, and business cards. Following them on Twitter will allow you to learn about new events, parties, and bar meetups.

Patience:

Sometimes you lose followers. Sometimes you gain them. Sometimes people that follow 3,000 people but who are followed by nobody ask to follow you. Sometimes you don’t feel like Tweeting for a few days, and sometimes you make 40 updates in a day. The key to it all to have fun and enjoy. Tweet happily, and the whole Twitter world will benefit. Else, you might feel lonely on the powerline.

Want to come to Tweet-ups and other Portland networking events? Feel free to follow me on Twitter.

Quality Management, Information Prediction, and Pre-Optimized Resource Networks

One of the problems of this information-chocked world is that answer-seeking becomes too quick to be well-refined. Artificial Intelligence pioneer Herbert Simon explains this problem very well with his term “Satisfice”.

Satisfice: a hybrid word formed from satisfy and suffice, referring to the tendency of time-starved, information-overloaded users to select the first good-enough solution that crosses their path. Users often use satsificing as a triage strategy, based on the time and effort a more comprehensive search might entail.

How does one avoid making mediocre choices due to last-minute information needs? The solution is to predict what future information will be needed, and then create networks of experts based on those future needs.

Where to start?

  • A good place is Linkedin.com Answers (when people you don’t know answer your questions well, add them to your network).
  • Facebook notes (tag friends in a note and ask for experts, blog reccommendations, and books).

In this way, your network researches for you en masse, and you can simply wait for the information to return. In the future, your network may rely on you for your specific expertise in order to avoid their own Satisfice on the subject.

Definition of Satisfice taken from Bob Goodman’s Usability Glossary.