On Procrastination

PM Scare 2A couple of days I received a tip from a friend about a blog (wait but why) he had found. Today I got around of reading it, and it’s quite good. Definitely the type of blog I like, fun but with insights in to improving your self. After reading through the latest entries, I found an entry about happiness, which is a favourite subject of mine, having been unhappy for a large part of my life. I can really recommend the TED talk referenced in the post. And while that was a very good post, the one (or actually two) that really struck home were two posts about procrastination (one and two). Image belongs to Wait But Why Inc.

Procrastination have been a huge part of my life and one of the bigger reasons to my unhappiness. And while I have been able to get it somewhat under control thanks to the excellence of GTD, I could still improve even more.

The posts describe the situation very well by a couple of analogies: the Instant Gratification Monkey, Panic Monster, The Dark Playground, The Dark Woods and The Happy Playground. These coupled with the images paints a very good picture of how procrastination work (at least for me, but I would guess for most). I’ve never really done a detailed thinking about how procrastination works and what components it has, realizing now that as usually, the easiest way to solve a problem is to break it down. Being a programmer, I should have thought about that. A lot about what he writes about is very similar to GTD, especially the part of breaking down the tasks in to “bricks”, in the GTD book, David Allen uses “cranks”.

And when I analyze my own behaviour I can see that the tasks that gets left behind are the once that are not sufficiently broken down, so they are still “icky” because you don’t really know how to start with them. One of the concepts in GTD that I’ve had the most problems incorporating in to my life is the weekly review and part of that is to find and take care of the “icky” tasks and try to break them down to become non-icky. But that of course requires you to sit down and analyze the task, and here is where the Instant Gratification Monkey usually gets a hold of me. I guess I shouldn’t blame him too much, since I would never have read the blog posts… but… I then wouldn’t have needed to… hmm, yes, lets not go down that hole.

I really liked the analogue that you have a “Storyline” and you need to rewrite that. It’s very similar to the way Stephen R. Covey uses the word “script” in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. There Stephen also talks about the need to create new (or rewrite) your “scripts”. And you can’t do that with everything at once, you have to do it piece by piece, basically learning new behaviour.

I’m going to make an effort of doing the weekly reviews and integrating the thinking from these blog posts and 7 Habits. And start to rewrite my storyline.

Book clubs

stack-of-booksI have recently been part of a couple of book clubs, both at work and private. And while fun, I have some observations. Most people in these clubs (I know my sample size is quite small) don’t really discuss and analyze the book, they just repeat what the book said with no personal insights. While this behaviour were more prominent in the work book club, it was fairly common in the private once also. I think the reason this is happening at work, might be that they weren’t that interested in the book and just was part of the club because they think they had too.

As to why this is also happening in settings where everyone activly seeked out the club and joined, I don’t really know but I have some theories. It could be that people are perhaps a bit shy to share their insigts. I definately see this behaviour when I hold presentations and courses at work if the groups are too big. I’ve found that if you want discussions and good participation you can’t really have groups bigger than 5 to 6 people. The exact number can vary depending on how comfortable the group is with each other, but going above 10 will almost never work unless they have all known each other for a very long time. And the last non work book club I was in, it was over 25 people, and it was very seldom any good discussions going on most were just stating that they agreed with the book.

At work we did the club over phone, which doesn’t promote discussions at all, regardless what you are doing. I work for a company with developers in many different locations and having meetings over phones are almost always completely useless. Unless the meeting is just an information spreading meeting. If you don’t see the faces of the people you are talking to you will not get any good discussions going at all.

The last issue is that currently there is a “Meetup” craze going on where I live. Some of the meetups I’ve been to have members that are part of 50+ groups… there is no way you can be active in that many groups. It’s like having 500 “friends” on Google+ or Facebook. It seems that most people just goes to these groups to be social, not to learn, which I guess is fine, but that is not the reason I go. I do think “Meetup” is a good thing and when the craze dies down, the true potential of that will probably start to happen.

So in conclusion if you organize book clubs or presentations, keep the groups small if you want interesting discussions. I’ve started doing my presentation at work multiple times with smaller groups, while it’s a bit bad that you might miss out on discussions between people that are not in the same group. I think the benefit is much higher, since with all likely hood, you will not get any discussions at all if you have too big of a group. And I think the quality and involvement has become much better after I started doing this.

How names affect the way you think about things

Today I was talking with a friend about our work situation and especially the organizational structure. And we started talking about how different roles in the company are. In our company we have Project Manager, Product Manager, Department Directors and VPs. And I came to the realization that everyone is a manager of some type except the lowest level of employees. And is that really a good thing? I think not, because the word Manager or Director have a lot of in built meaning.

Take Project Manager, sure that person is managing the project, but my friend also pointed out that they also behaved like the were the manager of their team, which isn’t true. The team comes from different departments, which have Department Directors, which is the true manager of their team. Also I think that in companies that deal with knowledge workers (or parhaps all types of companies), there should be as little management as possible. Using more collabarative words would be much better. So we though a bit about that, and came up with the following list:

  • Project Coordinator
  • Product Owner (yes I know, this is quite common, especially in agile teams)
  • Team Lead / Scrum master
  • Department Manager

This I think are much better names. Project Coordinater sounds much better and gives the impression of a person trying to help a team deliver on goals. Product Owner, which is quite common, is also much better, because what does Product Manager really mean?

As for Team Lead / Scrum master, I would say that depends on whatever those persons wants to call them self. I personally prefer Team Lead, also, I think that maybe they shouldn’t really be the same thing. I can definately see that being scrum master might be a responsibility that is moved around in the team. But being Team Lead is a bit more fixed, since that is usually the one most experienced.

This leaves only one manager and that is the person with direct personel responsibility, which I think is good. It’s like in programming, try to give your object good clear name, that describe what they do, instead of making everything a manager. Btw, we have way to many managers in our code also 🙂

The importance of reading documentation and why we never do it any way

I recently updated my C++ compiles in Fedora 17 and all my software that I had written with QT started crashing. Which I though was very weird, since I didn’t change the version of QT. After a couple of hours of debugging, I found out that QT needs a reference to argc, since it for some reason saves that. And I was passing in a local integer instead. Which caused weird crashes all over the place, until I made a super simple QT application. And of course, that is documented in QT documentation:

Warning: The data referred to by argc and argv must stay valid for the entire lifetime of the QApplication object. In addition, argc must be greater than zero and argv must contain at least one valid character string.

But then again, reading every line of documentation of all software libraries that you use while developing is impossible. At least if you actually want to get some work done. What would have been nice was a warning from the compiler, that I’m passing in a stack object to a reference parameter, but that is also a very valid way of programming. So it’s not really a solution, maybe if we could get even smarter compilers, that will detect if that reference object is saved and used outside of the calling function. That would indeed be very nice. Or maybe have some way of adding meta data to the language where you can describe what you intend to do with the parameters. That way it would be even easier for the compiler to warn about using libraries the wrong way.

Why I don’t like Tablets

n7-playI was reading this article on Ars Technica about people that were ipad skeptics and now loved it. And it got me thinking about why I don’t use tablets that often, and when I do, it’s basically a waste of time. Over the years I’ve had a lot of different “small” computers, iPAQ, Palm, very early tablet computers (with pen) and such. I’ve spent a lot of money on these type of devices, because I really like the idea of having my computer with all my information with me. And I think I just figured it out why I’m never happy with them, not even the latest state of art tablets (iPad 3 and Nexus 7).

It all boils down to how they make you handle information, they are all basically a glorified TV. Sure, you can google on them, and write short emails or as I have tried save pages in Evernote. Tablets and small smart devices are excellent devices for consuming information, but not so much for actually doing something with information. And that is the problem for me, I like reading, perhaps a bit too much. So I started reading a lot, sitting comfortable in my sofa and a pot of tea close by. And after a couple of months my Evernote inbox was overflowing with snippets, links and web pages to be researched in more detailed. But it never happened, because these devices are not very good at that, just writing a short email or blog post was a such a hassle that I didn’t even do that.

So I decided I didn’t want to have devices that makes passive media consumption easy, I have the TV for that, and that is bad enough. So now I do all my reading on my laptop or workstation. I’m a big fan of GTD and there is a guide line in the book that I like very much. If you think of a task, and its 1 minute or shorter to finish, do it directly. What I do when I’m reading is that if I find something interesting, I do something with it immediately. I either write about it, or do the extra research directly, or file it in my archive, or if its something big that I want to research in more detail or write a longer blog post about I put it on my todo list.

So no more passive reading or any other type of media consumption, because its just a waste of time. That is, unless you want to waste your time, which can be nice sometimes. But then it should be a conscious decision to do so.

So hopefully my Nexus 7 is my last tablet/small computer that I buy until they perfect voice recognition or can hook it up directly to my brain. Because otherwise it will be to hard to input data fast enough to make it useful for anything other than consuming media.

In closing, I do realize that there are things you can do with tablets that aren’t just consumption, like drawing on them. The thing is I suck at all those, I write, either text or code, so I need a keyboard for my creativity. And I do hope the time comes when I can have all my information with me at all times and that I can work with that information where ever I am without lugging around a 2kg laptop.

Can body language affect how you feel

Interesting talk about how body language can affect your own behavior. I did try the poses and you do feel a difference, but the question is, will it last?

Pictures are from video and belong to Amy Cuddy

she-and-her-colleagues-put-together-a-test-in-which-they-asked-people-to-assume-a-high-power-pose-for-2-minutes-like-this-one-for-example or-these-the-one-of-the-right-is-called-the-wonder-womanor-thesethis-position-incidentally-is-the-lowest-power-pose-of-all    and-the-researchers-also-asked-the-subjects-to-assume-low-power-poses-for-2-minutessuch-as-these


Watch it at TED: http://www.ted.com/talks/amy_cuddy_your_body_language_shapes_who_you_are.html

My latests push to master GTD

I’ve been running on a pretty low level of GTD for the last couple of months. And I think it’s time to take charge of my life again. I’m in pretty good shape, the basics of GTD is going on automatically these days. What I’m the worst at are the weekly review, so my lists have a tendency to clog up with old crufty stuff that I don’t want to do any more. The last couple of days, I’ve cleaned up my system at work and I am now in the process of doing the same at home. For some reason, I have always found it much easier to be structured and apply GTD at work than at home.

One of the main project’s I want to do at home, is to get all my data back in to my control. Currently I’m using Google Reader for all my RSS feeds (a superb software), but I don’t really want google to have all that information about me. I also want to have a better personal email system, with both web-mail and IMAP.

Here is a list of the tools I’m currently using:

  • Toodledo with Ultimate To-Do List on my Android phone to handle all my lists
  • Evernote (running in wine on linux) – For all my reference material
  • Dropbox – To easily transfer stuff between work and home
  • My own FTP server – For all big reference files
  • Google Reader – For reading news
  • Thunderbird – For email, meaning, I can only work with my personal email at home
  • Media Wiki – I’m in the process of moving over that to Evernote
  • Firefox sync – to sync up all my bookmarks
  • Standard web hosting – This is just a regular web hotel for my blog, CV, wiki and email

Here is what I want to do:

  • My own server (virtual) hosted – So I can install and have better control over my data
  • Tiny Tiny RSS – To replace Google Reader
  • My own Dropbox like server – Examples: ownCloud.org or SparkleShare, problem with those are that they don’t have an Android client
  • HTTP based file server – Instead of FTP, much easier for people to download from
  • My own email server – Running horde as web interface

The biggest issue is going to be to replace Evernote and Toodledo. I have some ideas on how I want it to work… and since I’m a programmer, I’m considering of doing it my self. Let’s see how that goes. So the goal is to take 100% control of all my data, no 3rd party should control anything that I own or create.

How to make Dymo Duo 400 work in Linux

Dymo Label Writer Duo 400

  • Download the DYMO SDK for CUPS drivers from DYMO’s web page
  • Install cups-devel if you don’t already have it
  • run: ./configure
  • run: make
  • run: make install
  • Now you should be able to configure the printer under “system settings”
    • If that doesn’t work, cups service might not be installed or running.

One issue I have with the 1.4.0 drivers and Fedora 17, is that the second printer (for continues tape) is the orientation. In gLabels I had to switch the width and height properties in the template and then print vertically with the text starting from the bottom.

How much do companies spend to not allow us to know what we eat

I got a link to this page: California Secretary of State.

It basically have a list of donors that wants politicians to vote no on a bill that would ban deceptive food labeling. Basically they don’t want you to know what crap they put in to the food we eat.

  • MONSANTO COMPANY $4,208,000.00
  • E.I. DUPONT DE NEMOURS & CO. $4,025,200.00
  • PEPSICO, INC. $1,716,300.00
  • BASF PLANT SCIENCE $1,642,300.00
  • BAYER CROPSCIENCE $1,618,400.00
  • DOW AGROSCIENCES LLC $1,184,800.00
  • NESTLE USA, INC. $1,169,400.00
  • COCA-COLA NORTH AMERICA $1,164,400.00
  • CONAGRA FOODS $1,076,700.00

And of course Monsanto is at the top. That’s 4 million dollars spent in just one state in US to stop this. I wonder how much money they spend every year to stop regulations like this.

Malevolence – Kickstarter

Looks like very interesting technology. And of course it might also be a good game.