I have a few life goals written down, where I think if I would achieve them, would signify a very satisfying life for myself.
One I would like to share today, is that I would like to not need to set an alarm on a day-to-day basis. I want to be able to wake up naturally, and go about my day as I see fit.
The biggest and most obvious hinderance to me achieving this goal is my day job. And for most people attempting to achieve something similar, where they have more control over their day, this problem would probably be the same.
The essence of the goal is mostly based on having control over my own timetable, but at the same time, I don’t want this to mean that I can’t work. I’m happy working, but I want to do it on my own time. Maybe that’s expecting too much, but I have a feeling that many people would like to control their day a little more.
This actually came back into my head recently with the news that the U.S. Senate unanimously passed a bill to make Daylight Saving Time permanent, and also based on commentary from LD Stephens, and Mike Rockwell.
But the idea that triggered it the most was from LD Stephens, where he mentioned how it would more negatively affect the northern states, with darker mornings in the winter months. While I won’t pretend to understand the geography of the U.S. or the opinions of its citizens, it is interesting to me that even inside a time zone, not everyone experiences the same day. I haven’t quite figured out if I think this is a problem, or if it’s just a situation that we have to get on with. But intriguing to me nonetheless.
Where this ties in to my idea about controlling your day, is that because timezones are experienced differently based on where you are within that timezone. So while it may say 8 am on everyone’s clocks, maybe in one place the sun has risen, and in another it hasn’t. That’s probably not a big deal to most. But when you add the context of a normal day job starting at roughly the same time, then it has a more visible effect.
I have many questions in my head regarding why we need to start work at a certain time, and why working hours aren’t adjusted on a hyper-local basis. But I guess the answer is mostly that it’s simply easier this way.
When I think about Daylight Savings Time, it does at least attempt to counteract the varying sunset/sunrise times over the year. But I don’t think the “solution” to this is in the concept of time itself, but how we base our lives on it. For example, if you normally start work at 8 am, but now the sun doesn’t rise until 8:45 am, why can’t you just start work at 9 am instead? Why do we adjust time to compensate? I’m guessing because “it’s easier”.
I’m not sure that this would work for everyone, but I think a more flexible approach to working hours would be widely accepted.
Before the pandemic, I started coming into work earlier, starting at 7:30 instead of 8:30. However, while this may seem flexible, I’m pretty sure there would have been a bit of friction if I asked to start at 7:45 instead. It’s also not flexible, as in I have had to agree this new time, I couldn’t have just arrived one day at 7:30.
What, I think, would be a good solution for most people is if your starting time wasn’t fixed. But maybe there’s an hour window, and then your working hours start from whenever you arrived at work. Perhaps one day you woke up 15 minutes late, and therefore arrived “late” to the office. Why treat it as a problem of being late? Why is there not a general acceptance of the fact that you arrived 15 minutes later, and that you will just leave 15 minutes later as a result?
Personally, I think the best solution for people and companies (where the job allows), is if your entire working hours were flexible. For example, you could be contracted to work 8 hours a day, but you are free to fulfil those 8 hours between the hours of 7 am and 9 pm. Maybe one day you have plans later on in the day, so you choose to start at 7 am, and have a short lunch. But another day, you want to go have brunch with friends, so you could start later, or perhaps you just take a long break?
To go even further on this idea, what if the entire week was flexible? What if you could fit in 40 hours of work as you see fit throughout the week?
I think this idea of control, and having your working hours work around you, instead of everyone conforming to the same schedule, would result in a massive feeling of freedom.
While I have personally been working throughout the entire pandemic, I have now done so from home for two full years. I start going back to the office on the week starting 28th March, for 2 days a week. And I imagine a lot more people will be starting to go back to the office as well, if they haven’t done so already. It will certainly be very fascinating to see what cultural changes have happened over the period of the pandemic, specifically regarding commuting into a city to work after working from home for two years. Especially since it appears that people are at least attempting to “go back to normal”.
I guess the question is, “what is normal now?”. A while ago everyone was predicting significant changes to how people work, how they socialise, and their entire priorities and attitudes towards their lifestyles. But surely at some point we’ve got to see this take place? Or has it already happened, and we’ve already accepted it as normal?
I’ve had enough thoughts on this idea to span a short book, but I had a moment today where I was just occupied with my thoughts, and I started contemplating using an iPhone 5 again.
A quick bit of a context: the iPhone 5 is my favourite phone to have existed, and I’m also a fan (nostalgically) of older technology.
Whenever I think about an older product like the iPhone 5, or whatever old product or service that I used in the past, I always end up watching YouTube videos like “Does X work in 2022?”.
After going through a moment of nostalgia, I’m always left with the thought that “of course it should work”. Older products don’t magically stop working when newer versions come out. In the same way that if you buy a Game Boy Colour now, and Pokémon Yellow, you’ll have the same experience as you would have done 20 years ago.
Surely as long as the hardware of a product remains functional, and any software updates keep the product working as expected, then technology should theoretically last forever?
When the question whether an older product or technology is still viable in a certain moment, if the need/purpose is still the same, then it is as suitable and capable as it was originally.
Of course, there are more specific arguments that could be made against this. For example, if you have an old iPhone and update it to the most modern version of iOS, while you may have newer features, your device is most likely going to run slower.
There’s a potential argument here that keeping software updates isn’t always the best way to keep something working for a long period of time. But I’ll save that thought for another day.
All I’m trying to say, is that when you think about older products, their capabilities aren’t usually what has changed. They can most likely perform the same function as they did originally. But what has changed is your expectations of what a certain product should provide.
My answer to every “Can you still use X in 2022?” question, is that if your needs have not changed and there aren’t any software compatibility issues, then of course you can.
It’s getting close to the time where I think companies will be asking more and more of their employees to migrated back to office life. This has made me wonder what I personally expect will happen in regard to my own situation, and also what I’m hoping for, and willing to settle for.
Back in February this year, I wrote a post entailing reasons why I didn’t want to return to the office. I’d say that my feelings haven’t changed in that regard. But at the same time, there are aspects of office life that I wouldn’t mind getting back. Although I’m not sure how realistic those actually are.
As for my current work situation, I’m still working from home full-time, having started back in March 2019. The company I work for have started talking about flexible working in the future, although these plans were pushed back recently, as it was planned to be in action around September. But, it did seem that at that point, the balance was seemingly going to be a pretty even split of working at home and in the office.
Right now, my office is open for people to go in and has been for a few months. Except, it’s not open as usual (as you might expect). Instead, only half of our floors are open in the building, and are at a maximum 50% capacity, along with no one having an assigned desk.
If you want to go into the office, you need to book a slot online, and in the morning you have to get your personal items from a locker, pick up a fresh mouse and keyboard, and take everything to your desk.
Once you’re set up at your desk, that’s it for the rest of the day. Because most likely your teammates aren’t even in the building, let alone sat anywhere near you. So you’re basically remote-working from the office. Especially as meetings will continue to require a video call.
That situation is precisely why I haven’t returned to the office at all. Because the value I see in being in an office is the fact that your team is sat together, you can have quick discussions, a meeting can happen in person around a whiteboard, and you can generally socialise with other colleagues. But right now, none of these benefits are possible. And I’m starting to think that while I am open to returning to the office unless most people are more-or-less working from the office full-time, it’s not going to be the same.
For example, my ideal balance is that I work from the office 1 or 2 days a week and the rest from home. But what happens when each member of the team does the same and chooses different days to come in?
If a majority of the team are working most of the time from home, then is it reasonable to expect a permanent desk? Because if not, then you could be spread out all over the office. This means back to everyone sat at a desk connecting to a video call. So you may as well be sat at home.
Because of those reasons, I think a more realistic balance is that most people work 3 or more days in the office if we are to expect a return to normal. Otherwise, I’m not too sure what the benefits of returning would be.
What I think will happen is that some people will choose to go back, pretty much full-time, but it will depend on their role. For example, people on the phone all day might prefer to be in the office, whereas developers like myself will probably choose to stay at home. So I’m a bit pessimistic whether office life will ever actually be normal for me again.
Instead, I think that while companies are offering either flexible or completely remote working, then others will be pressured into doing the same thing. And to be honest, if the company I work at weren’t flexible in letting me work from home enough, then I’d probably look to move somewhere else.
I guess there’s only one way to find out, and that will be to simply wait. But I’m curious to see what will happen to office working over the long-term. And if it will have any effect on house prices, office locations, and cities in general, if they aren’t receiving the same level of footfall as they were before the pandemic.
Note: These are raw thoughts and not a PhD thesis, and therefore should be treated as such.
In my opinion, social media networks like Twitter, Instagram, and to some extent other microblogging platforms, are underutilised and I think we could gain so much more from using them.
In short, I think that social networks are more enjoyable for everyone when people share everyday life, opinions, ideas, life updates, progress, and real experiences.
I’ve noticed a few things that I think are misconceptions on how we should treat social media:
- Every photo needs to be perfect. The background can’t be distracting, you must be in an amazing location, with no mess, and you must also be a professional photographer.
- Your thoughts need to fit within the expectations of others.
- If you do not provide context, then it is wise to assume the worst possible scenario.
- You must treat yourself as a brand.
- Sharing a curated feed of your best moments makes you interesting.
While I don’t believe I’m the messiah brought to Earth to fix every problem with social networks, there are a few things that I think we forget when it comes to using them:
- We are all real people.
- Our lives in most caress are drastically different to what we share online.
- Real-life is what other people can relate to.
It’s always seemed fascinating to me how we all seem to understand that social media doesn’t represent real life, but we still get caught up in it. It’s like we’re all wilful subscribers to an alternate reality, where we get triggered by purposefully emotive headlines, opinions that differ from our own, and from people that we do not know.
But imagine if we used social networks to share our real-life experiences. We all have them. We can all see the distinction between what happens in real life and what appears on social media.
I think that is where Micro.blog has felt different to platforms like Twitter for me. In a sense, it feels slower, but at the same time, it feels like you are connecting with real people. Whereas when I use Twitter, most of the time it feels like I’m interacting with an online account rather than the person behind it.
I’ve definitely fallen into the trap before, where I’ve used Twitter as a place to share perfect photos, links to my blog posts, and anything else that can bring external validation. But I think I’m going to try and just use it like a normal person for a while, and see how it goes. Nothing I do is perfect, and it won’t ever become perfect. So the only thing I’d ask is that if you do see me on Twitter, please treat my public posts as coming from a real person, not someone simply out to cause havoc.
Over the past few months, I’ve noticed something change within myself, regarding my opinions on technology, and my preferences on what I’m willing to put up with.
For quite some time now, I’ve been a die-hard Apple user. I use a Mac, iPad, and iPhone at home, and also a Mac at work. My life is pretty much in Apple’s ecosystem. There’s a lot of pros and cons to that, some of which I wrote about in my piece: How Do I Know if the Grass Is Greener?, and also touched on when I was thinking about consuming media in Thinking Out Loud: What Is It To Be in Control of the Media That You Consume.
Most of those thought processes stem from the fact that before I used an Apple device, I was really into PCs, whether it was building them, seeing the latest technology, or just tinkering with them. But after I switched to a Mac, it felt like it wasn’t a device for tinkering, rather it was an off-the-shelf product that you used to get things done.
I don’t mean this to be an attack on Apple products, or just to be purely negative about them, because I think they’re some of the best technology products that exist today. But just like every other product, they come with their own pros and cons.
For example, I think that macOS is a better operating system than Windows in a usability sense, design, and overall cohesion with the Apple ecosystem. And the same also applies to iOS and iPadOS. However, there are times when I’ve felt like I’ve been wrapped in cotton wool, instead of having real control of my devices. That’s led to my recent thinking on Android phones, and imagining if I could ever make the switch.
These thoughts have been going around my head for a while, and one phrase came to mind yesterday that seems to sum up my overall opinion on technology: “I don’t want nice, I want control”. And whether or not this is the reality, I’ve always felt like the Apple world offers more niceties and a cohesive experience throughout all of their products, and not exactly one that offers an abundance of control to its users.
All of this has led me to very recently (a few days ago), purchasing a PC. I’ll write about that on my blog in more detail soon, but it’s a Windows PC, relatively cheap, which I built myself, and I’m now having some fun playing World of Warcraft at the max settings with a seemingly lack of struggle.
I don’t know if this makes me part of the “PC Master Race” or if I’m actually going to be doing more things in Windows than playing games. But one thing I’m going to be doing from now on is to keep an open mind about technology. Somehow I went from being interesting in technology and computing as a whole to then thinking Apple products are the only ones worth thinking about. Whereas I’m now starting to realise that products are contextual. And that the quality of a product is contextual, to the use case, users familiarity, price, what downsides a user is willing to put up with, etc.
Maybe this just means that I’m now an Apple user with a gaming PC, or maybe it’s the start of a wider appreciation for technology. I guess I’ll just have to find out.
Most people probably understand the concept of a weed - something that grows where you don’t want it to grow.
Well, maybe I’m odd for this, but this concept has been in my head for many years.
Mainly because of gardening reasons, but I also think my thinking can also be applied to more real-life scenarios. I’ll try to explain.
To start, here is the definition of a “weed” from the Cambridge Dictionary:
any wild plant that grows in an unwanted place, especially in a garden or field where it prevents the cultivated plants from growing freely
Seems simple enough. Things that appear where you don’t want them to appear.
Except throughout my life, I’ve noticed that here in the UK, “weeds” seem to be a fixed list of plants that people apparently don’t like on their lawn. So really they’re just native plants that sometimes spread relatively easy.
My problem is that the common meaning is seemingly a static list, rather than being subjective to the scenario. For example, in a small garden, you probably won’t want Japanese knotweed growing, as it’s an invasive species that can quickly overtake an area and is difficult to control.
However, I’ve never understood that dandelions, a small plant that produces yellow flowers, looks pretty nice, and is actually edible while also containing quite a few vitamins, is commonly classed as a weed. Whereas the daisy is exempt from the same criticism, even though it is too a small flowering plant that can appear in lawns and spreads relatively easily.
The only thing this has done for me is to further reaffirm my belief that weeds are subjective. But more importantly, that sometimes commonly held opinions (or definitions in this case) might not always apply to you.
For example, when reading a product review, whether it’s an app or a computer, it’s important to remember that a weed to them might not necessarily be a weed to you. So you need to take into consideration any biases that the reviewer might hold themselves, before applying their findings to your situation.
You could also apply to analogy to the common question of whether an iPad can replace your computer. Too many times, the fundamental parts of peoples arguments are what an iPad can do and what a “real computer” can do. And instead, the focus should be on three things:
- What can an iPad do?
- What do I want to do?
- What weeds am I willing to deal with to use an iPad?
You can apply these three things to a lot of decisions, and make them a bit more generic:
- What capabilities does X have?
- What actions do I want to perform?
- What am I willing to put up to perform Y on X?
Often it’s easy to see someone’s posts on social media and to try and apply their experiences and outcomes to your own life, but it’s important to remember subjectivity. And that their decisions could be based on beliefs that are different to your own, and that they may be willing to put up with a different level of “weeds” than you.
So about last night. England lost the Euro 2020 final to Italy. That was hard to take.
But what was worse than the loss, was the racial abuse that some young black English players received after the game. The primary targets were the 3rd, 4th, and 5th penalty takers, Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho, and Bukayo Saka, who are 23, 21, and 19 years old. Each of them had the courage to step up and take a penalty in a final when the entire country was watching them.
Whatever happened, happened, and Italy beat England 3-2 on penalties.
But what immediately followed were streams of racial abuse on those three players social media accounts. Most of them posted by freshly created accounts, that were created solely to abuse young players that were representing their countries at a major tournament.
And for as many arguments I see and hear about football players “taking the knee” before games, most of them based on being against the BLM organisation itself, and either not agreeing with their politician stances, or just insisting that politics should remain out of sport. Last night was a clear example of why footballers feel that they need to continue with the symbol. Whether or not the gesture is aimed at supporting the BLM organisation itself or a symbol against racism, it’s very much clear that racism well and truly exists within a group of football fans that quickly turn on players after a bad result.
It’s very easy to jump to the opinion that social media accounts should require some form of identification, to try and deter the level of abuse that occurs every day on the platforms. I’m torn because there are a lot of downsides to no longer having anonymity online, but when things like this happen, I start to think is the price that we need to pay? Because something needs to change.
Several organisations and high-profile people have already released statements condemning the abuse, but I’m not sure if they will actually be effective at stopping it from happening again. Sure, it will offer a level of support to the players, but something needs to be implemented so that it’s not that easy to post racial abuse on social networks.
Maybe some will say this is against some kind of free speech rule, but are social media companies not capable of not allowing racist comments to be made? Instead of relying on their reporting tools after such remarks have been posted.
I can only hope that the press that will no doubt be created because of the recent abuse will force the social media companies to start thinking about what else they can do to prevent it from happening in the future.
Something that has intrigued me for most of my life is how people react to what is perceived to some as imperfections. I have multiple reasons why I think it's an odd situation, but mainly as these differences are usually so benign and minuscule. Nevertheless, they can cause huge amounts of discrimination and even anxiety.
The entertainment we watch often includes aliens from other worlds and other strange creatures, sometimes human-like. We accept the blue skin of the Na'vi in Avatar, the various creatures in Doctor Who, and even a talking Racoon in the MCU. But this level of acceptance doesn't always exist in the real world.
For example, I have freckles over most of my body. I've never found this to be a bad thing myself, and I think it's actually pretty cool that I have effectively patterned skin. But I do know that some people will wear makeup to try and hide them. Not even because they don't like the look of them, but sometimes it's the pressure of society and the opinions of peers that persuade people to not "be weird". And when you're young, being weird usually just means not copying everyone else.
Weirdly, a common thing nowadays is to draw on freckles as if it's a fashion statement. But that's a whole other thing.
So while having freckles isn't a massive deal, as in it doesn't tend to incite violence in people. However, it's an example of something that sets people apart, and while obviously minor, it's another thing that our society can pressure people into trying to hide.
There are many more of these perceived imperfections, and they come in all shapes and sizes. There's having a beauty spot, different skin colour, hair colour, hair type, an accent, foreign language. The list goes on.
We seem to be very judgemental creatures, and maybe that's our tribalism coming out, or it's a byproduct of the fight or flight response where we need to judge and react quickly. But I'm not sure if I can totally believe that in 2021, they're more likely to be handy excuses.
It's incredible to think of the number of species on our planet and how we seem to accept their existence relatively well, but members of our own species can be seen as enemies because of their physical characteristics.
What's worse is that I think our current society, mixed with the media and so-called "influencers", make the problem of discrimination much worse. Because I think nowadays we've all been conditioned to expect judgment. So we don't write what we believe on the internet, put filters over our faces, and change our fashion to suit what's popular. And when we mask even the slightest of differences, we're telling ourselves that whatever difference that was, it's not normal. And I think it's this perception of "normal" that causes most of the problems.
If you really think about it, normal doesn't exist. Instead, we are all simply humans with our peculiarities, interests, perspectives, and priorities.
A common thing I see on social media are people asking for certain behaviours or characteristics to be "normalised". But again, I think this stems from the concept of normality. And how we can only truly be ourselves if we can do that within the confines of society's current definition of what normal is.
I personally think that the only thing that needs to be normalised is the fact that we all have the ability to be wildly different to one another in nearly all aspects. And while our differences can sometimes be interesting, we need to remember that it's not up to any one of us to be the bearer of acceptance for others. Nor should we require the approval of others for our own lives.
Depending on the community you live in, the people you interact with, and society at any point in time, it may be harder to be yourself. And that's something that I hope changes in the future. Not by everyone having an encyclopedia of the differences between us, and then actively accept others. Instead, people being accepting by default. Because we realise that whatever our physical characteristics, quirks, priorities, or beliefs that we have, aren't necessarily the standard that everyone else should be held to.
Sorry if this is seems like a bit of a rant, or too negative. It's just something I've been thinking about for a long time, wanted to get off my chest, and to see if it was anything that resonated with people.
Okay, so maybe productivity isn’t the best word. But instead, I want to talk about a few methods that I’ve found that helped me to get things done.
I’ll start with a tiny bit of background information, in that I am an incredibly lazy person. So you could say I need as much help as I can get when it comes to being productive. This is why I’ve started to learn ways in which I can trick myself into starting activities that my usual lazy self would definitely not want to do.
I’m not sure if this quote is actually true, or if Bill Gates was even the one who said it, but I do think there is at least a hint of truth in the following quote:
I choose a lazy person to do a hard job. Because a lazy person will find an easy way to do it.
I think that’s where I am right now. Although I’m not always finding the objectively easiest solution, what I’ve learned is that I need to find the solution that fits me.
A lot of the time, when people talk about productivity, they talk about the efficiency of getting work done and, in general, how you can fit the most value into the smallest period. And while this type of stuff may be helpful to others, my issue is rarely how efficiently I perform tasks or deal with deadlines. My problem is putting in the required effort in order to actually start something.
A tip I hear (and use) a lot when it comes to making tasks seem more bearable is to break them down into smaller tasks and tackle them one by one. It sounds totally obvious, and it probably is. But I, for one, tend to forget about it most of the time.
However, there is one idea constantly in my head: always try and make things easier for myself. Because when the time comes where I have a sudden burst of energy or that tiny bit of time where I feel like I have nothing else to do, I’m more likely to make a dent in a big task. Additionally, I’ve found my sudden bursts of energy and inspiration to be perfect times to make that start.
The thing that helps me the most in tackling a big task, whether it is writing a long blog post, cleaning the kitchen, organising my office, or anything that just seems like it would require too much effort, is that I give myself a goal. More specifically, I give myself an easily achievable goal. So if I want to tidy up the kitchen, I’d tell myself, “I’m just going to put away all of the rubbish in the bin and then I’m done”. If I’m writing a blog post, I’d probably aim to write either a first sentence or maybe even just to get an idea down somewhere. No matter what it is, I find forgetting about the big picture for a second can help. The goal is to get that one thing done, and then you can either finish or just one more thing. After a while, it creates a snowball effect, where after every small task you complete, you’re more likely to do the next thing and the next thing until you may as well just finish it.
I regularly use one trick on myself: when I’m waiting for something to happen, whether it’s waiting for something to cook or when I have a few minutes spare, I just start washing a few dishes. Then in a few minutes, I find myself doing a few more dishes, and then I’m cleaning the surfaces, and then the cupboards, and maybe after this time, the bin is full, so I may as well take that out. Most of the time, I just need to do something small, and then I find it easy to carry on with something else.
When it comes to longer-form writing, I find it useful to give myself a head-start there too. Usually, it’s in the form of a really rough outline of the fundamentals of what I want to write about. And if I have time afterwards, I might do some refining or add a bit more detail. So when it comes to sitting down and writing, my brain can use the outline as a trigger, and I find it a lot easier to get a load of writing done in one go.
My biggest takeaway from this would be that it’s far easier to continue a task than starting one. So by making a dent, no matter the size, makes it that much easier to then push yourself on.
Considering everything I said about starting being the hardest part, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the rest of it is always easy. Sometimes you still need a bit more motivation to keep on going.
I’ve found that not only simply breaking up tasks into more manageable chunks helps, but adding in regular rewards can make it even easier to get bigger pieces of work done. For example, while I was at university, I sometimes found it incredibly boring to write some of the reports. But I tackled that by giving myself rewards for a given amount of work. So after I’d written a certain amount of words, I played a game of FIFA. And then, after that game, I knew that all I had to do was the same amount of words again before I could play again.
It definitely relies upon a level of self-control, but it can be very effective once you’ve found the right balance. It can transform a task into being just smaller chunks, into an activity that you’re actually interested in, broken up with occasional tasks. Even with the added motivation, I’m sure that this method isn’t the most efficient way. But if it means doing something over doing nothing at all, then there’s got to be some value in it.
The last thing that I want to talk about when it comes to getting work done is further to the idea of making things easier for yourself. In that, you can create triggers to help put yourself into a certain mindset and to create environments where you’re more likely to be productive.
For me, I do my best work when I’m sat at my desk in my office at home, in front of a monitor, with my mechanical keyboard, lights dimmed to reduce distraction, and usually some kind of music or ambient sounds playing.
Having a good working environment is something I’ve slowly created, and it’s definitely taken some learning along the way to see what works for me.
When I’m doing work on a computer, I tend to find that even small luxuries can make a big difference in helping me focus on getting work done. This includes using a good looking app for my writing, typing on a keyboard that I enjoy, and generally having that extra bit of delight with my setup. It may sound rather silly, but if you make your environment comfortable and have tools you enjoy using, I’m sure that will only increase the likeliness of getting things done.
A few extra things I’ve found to help trigger myself into a work mindset:
- Putting shoes on (a recent one, not sure I understand it, though).
- Wearing comfortable clothes.
- “ASMR Room” videos on YouTube, which can create an environment with some background music, ambient sounds, and some visuals. I’ve found these keep me from having any major distractions.
- Fresh coffee.
- Opening the window and getting some fresh air.
Setting triggers is something I want to play around with in the future, and hopefully, it’s something I can develop with myself.
If anyone else has had similar experiences when trying to make working a bit more bearable and creating work environments, then I'd be really interested in hearing about them!
Inboxes can be wonderful things. They can be a source for news, communications, and more general notifications. But like most things, inboxes can become overgrown. And a little gardening is required to keep everything tidy and make the inbox as efficient as possible.
Most people call this a "triage", which is essentially a process where you analyse your inbox, either when new items arrive or regularly, and immediately do a form of manual filtering and sorting.
What About Some Real Examples?
The most common example would be the email inbox. Everyone seems to have at least one email address, and all email (without any automated systems) lands in your inbox. It's then up to you to deal with it. A triage process here could be regularly visiting your inbox, immediately dealing with junk email, filtering out any actions that need to be taken, and moving the rest of the emails to their appropriate place. Maybe you want to store email confirmations in a folder, or there's some news that you want to read.
This process can take many forms and can be used in a vast number of situations. Many of them can be narrowed down to a form of an inbox, be it for emails, RSS feeds, or even the notifications on a device. But I also think triage happens in life, especially when you need to deal with many decisions as you go through life.
In my opinion, we all need to do a bit more triage nowadays because of the abundance of choice. Whether it's content being thrown at you from various places, people/companies trying to get your attention or just a stream of decisions you're presented with. With a bit of manual triage, you can discard unnecessary choices early on, prioritise essential decisions, and leave the rest for when you're more interested later on.
How I Perform Triage
When I think about triage myself, I'm essentially sorting things into five categories:
- Anything that I need to do
- Actions that aren't urgent but maybe interesting
- Important information
- Everything else
The first action I do is remove the junk and anything else that I'm not interested in. I'm usually quite harsh with this part. Because I've noticed that if I think that I'm probably not interested in something, then it will just linger in my inbox until I've deleted it at a later date, so I may as well deal with it as soon as possible.
The second thing is to filter out any actions that I need to take. Maybe a bill needs paying, and I've received an email, perhaps a user of one of my apps has contacted me, and I need to get back to them. No matter what it is, if it's something I need to do, it gets placed in my task manager (GoodTask) and prioritised.
After that, I work out if there are any actions that I want to do but don't necessarily need to do. These things may be interesting newsletters, any interesting article that comes through RSS, or a notification that I might want to deal with soon.
At this stage, I've dealt with everything urgent and potentially interesting. The final steps are relatively quick because any important information is sorted into relevant places. For example, emails with account information go in a specific folder, order confirmations in another, etc. Everything else can then be archived or deleted depending on whether it could be needed in the future.
Of course, after this process, nothing is finished. I'm left with actions in my task manager, interesting newsletters, a trimmed down reading list in my RSS reader of compelling articles, and maybe a few notifications on my phone that I'll need to deal with. But at least for that moment, the triage process is finished. And everything is more prepared for when I actually want to deal with the tasks later on. It's essentially keeping on top of things, trying and please my future self, and ultimately saving time and effort.
A Few Tips
After dealing with inboxes of many kinds and slowly working out how to quickly and efficiently triage items, here are a few tips that I think may help people:
Delete all junk and anything useless straight away. This may sound obvious. Because, why wouldn't you delete junk? My point specifically is that you should do this first. Because filtering out nonsense is probably the least taxing part of this process, so I find it best to get this out of the way first before taking a bit more effort to sort items on things like urgency and importance.
Don't be afraid to remove something that isn't interesting. This follows the same aim as the above point, where the idea is to clean first and then deal with whatever is left. I found that I usually kept "interesting" articles in my RSS reader for ages, and while it bugged me that the kist kept growing, I was sure that these things might interest my future self. It turns out they never did. I've now learned that if I'm not interested in something, whether it's a newsletter, article, or anything, I archive it. My future self can search through the archive if it turns out to be important.
Try not to take too long. The purpose of triage is to filter and sort items that come in an inbox quickly. So the longer you spend on this task, the less valuable it becomes. Because if your triage process is lengthy, you may as well deal with the actual items properly.
Determining non-negotiable can cut down time. I think this applies to most life decisions and can apply to things like triaging email, cleaning your RSS feed, choosing a holiday destination, buying a computer... Because you can make nearly every decision faster if you can eliminate anything non-negotiable early on. Maybe it's that your holiday destination needs to be a certain distance from a beach, your computer needs to be light and easy to travel with, or that you're not interested in a particular topic. By eliminating these things early, you can reduce the mental load of a decision and spend more time on what remains or spend less time and make decisions quicker. One example that I have is that I'm not interested in US politics, so if I get a podcast episode in my inbox or an article in my RSS reader that's focussed on US politics, then I get rid of it without hesitation. I can then spend my energy on something more important to me.
Going a Step Further With Automation
I wrote about my experimentation with email a while ago, and a major part of my end solution was the addition of SaneBox. The main benefit of SaneBox for me was to act as an automated form of triage. So when emails come into my inbox, news gets moved into a specific folder, the junk gets filtered out, and some emails that aren't important are moved to a "Later" folder.
A lot of this functionality can be built up manually with email rules that most providers support, but the advantage of SaneBox is that you can teach it. So, for example, if I get a newsletter that it hasn't picked up, I can manually move it to the @SaneNews folder, which will inform SaneBox that this is a news item, and it will be automatically sorted the next time an email from that sender is delivered.
I haven't had a lot of dealings with email automation, but I have set up various sorting rules in a few email accounts before, and it can be a very valuable tool. And like I just said, SaneBox is a level up from that, so if you want even more power, I would suggest giving that a try. I know Hey also has some interesting automatic sorting features, so again, that's one to look at if you're interested.