Categories
Productivity

Ways I’m Trying to Increase Being Present

I value building strong, healthy, connected relationships with people I care about. I also enjoy using technology in a lot of different ways.

Sometimes it feels to me like technology and building these relationships are at odds with each other. If I’m not careful, I can find myself getting sucked into the infinite information stream my phone provides when I should be spending time doing activities that build those relationships, like playing with my kids or talking with my wife.

I’ve noticed this trend, and over time, I’ve been developing some ways to help me stay present while still using that technology to help me manage my areas of responsibility.

Carry a Pocket Notebook

Something I’ve started doing lately is carrying a pocket notebook and pen with me everywhere I go. I picked up a pack of Field Notes notebooks and a set of Pokka Pens, and every morning when I get ready, they go in my pocket.

The ability to capture any thought on my phone to allow for automation and processing is incredible, but I also find if I’m not careful, I’ll easily get distracted and lose the very thought I wish to capture in the first place.

Additionally, I almost immediately feel disconnected from the very room I’m in when I unlock my phone to do something even as menial as write a sentence in Drafts.

Don’t get me wrong. I still use the heck out of Drafts on my iPhone, but I try to use it more strategically such as when I am working or feel able to have a screen accessible.

Where the pocket notebook comes into play is when I want to have something available to capture ideas but don’t want to have the distraction of my phone anywhere near me.

Where technology seems to remove my mental presence from a situation, there’s something about paper which allows me to stay engaged with what I’m doing requiring my present attention, while still enabling me to process my thoughts out at the same time.

Set Phone on Airplane Mode

Most days when I’m done working I leave my phone in my office. I don’t know what it is about my phone because when that thing is on, I still feel like I need to check it every once in a while. I’m not sure if some mental process is still running in the background or what telling me there might be something I need to know.

The simple solution that’s helped me turn that itch off is to leave my phone in my office on airplane mode.

I have no clue why this works, but it does. When I switch my phone into airplane mode, this low level anxiety usually there when my phone is on and I’m trying to relax is all of a sudden gone, and that allows me to be more present and focused.

Perform a Mindsweep

Chris Bailey discusses the idea of attentional residue in his book Hyperfocus. Attentional residue is what happens when you switch what you’re focusing on.

Say I’m working on writing this blog post. I’m not quite finished with it, but I need to be done with work for the time being. When I exit my office to go play with my kids, most often I’m partially distracted by the task I was just working on. This usually lasts a few minutes and fades, but sometimes I get stuck on something for quite a while in my head, which makes it hard for me to be present.

To help with minimizing attentional residue when I want to be present, I try to perform a mindsweep as I’m switching modes. By spending 10 minutes writing down any open loops or thoughts that come to mind, I free my attentional space up from anything lingering so I can devote my entire attention to what’s next.

Have a Plan

Whatever you do to help yourself be more present when you need to, have a plan. Knowing what I want to do and what outlets are healthy for me ahead of time makes it much easier to keep my attention on the people around me.

At times, staying emotionally and mentally present can feel like a lot of work, but the rewards of better relationship and connection are worth it to pursue. The further you are in building the habit of staying present, the easier it gets. I encourage you to keep going!

Categories
Process

001: Welcome to Process

Our very first episode! Justin shares what you can expect from this podcast, how he got into personal productivity, and some of his favorite apps and books.

Categories
Productivity

Guide: Building a Journaling Habit in 2019

2019 is now upon us. While I think you can start a habit any time of the year, the beginning of the year is an ideal break point to start something new.

One habit I’ve found invaluable over the course of the last few years is journaling. It helps me tame distractions, get a grip on my inner world of emotions/thoughts/feelings, and gives me an introverted outlet for all my inner thoughts.

If you’re looking at starting a journaling habit in 2019, you may be wondering how to get started.

Well, friend, this guide is for you.

Know Your Why

The key to any long-lasting habit is knowing the reason for doing it in the first place. While you can get yourself to do things for a period of time out of sheer willpower, there will come a time where willpower won’t carry you through alone. That’s the moment you need to know the purpose of the habit for your life.

Journaling has countless health benefits, plus has the added value of creating a lasting historical record for yourself and your family.

I journal because I need it to help process my internal world. I have so many thoughts, feelings, emotions, and ideas that hit me in any given day. Without journaling (and honest, authentic relationships), I’d just bottle them up until they came out in ways I wouldn’t want them to.

So before you even set foot on the path journaling, spend time to figure out your why. Resting on this vision when you don’t feel like building the habit will give you energy to push forward.

Decide When

A habit without a scheduled time is just a good intention. If you intend to keep the journaling habit going, make sure you add it to part of your routine whether daily, weekly, monthly, or however often you choose. I recommend at least a few times a week, if not daily, as you can see patterns better when you choose to review your journal later on.

Having a scheduled time for a habit doesn’t necessarily mean you have to journal at 3:30pm every single day. I have my journaling set as a task in my startup and shutdown routine.

Find a place that works for you to fit journaling into your routine. Maybe it’s at 5:30am every morning, or maybe when you’ve put the kids to bed. Whatever it is, having a time will help you stick to the habit and make it part of your routine.

Pick Your Medium

This is usually the biggest question: how are you going to journal?

There are many roads to take when approaching journaling. Naturally, they break down into two categories — analog and digital.

Analog

When most of us think journaling, we think of notebooks, paper, and pens. Grabbing my trusty Leuchtterum1917 and a Lamy Safari is one of my favorite ways to journal. There’s something about the tactility of journaling on paper which makes the process of dumping out everything on my mind more effective than digital variants.

Paper doesn’t come with notifications, sync issues, or any other distractions which can plague digital journaling solutions, but a notebook can easily be lost or destroyed. On the bright side, a paper notebook will have no problems being read (if intact) 100 years from now for your descendants or stark raving fans to enjoy.

Digital

While the tactile process of journaling on paper is satisfying in one way, digital journaling offers so much that paper can’t, like sync between devices, searching, surfacing of old entries, and better organization.

Day One is the app of choice for most who journal digitally, but other note-takers like Bear, Evernote, Drafts, and Agenda offer ways to journal as well if you’re not ready to invest in yet another app.

The major downside of digital journaling is there is no guarantee the files will be available or even readable in the future.

Longevity

If longevity is something you desire out of your journaling but you still want to have paper copies, either hand-write your entries on paper and scan them into your journaling app of choice or print your digital entries every so often and store them safely.

Start by Experimenting

Once you have selected your medium, start experimenting with journaling. The experimental phase is the “dating” phase of a new habit. You’re not quite ready to 100% commit to the ritual, but you definitely want to see what it’s like.

People also handle starting something new in shorter chunks. In fact, I think most people give up on big goals because they leave them big. The best way to accomplishing a goal or building a new habit is one small step at a time.

Start journaling by taking your desired frequency and do that for two to three weeks. Then check in with yourself to see if it’s something you find value in or can find ways to improve. If you decide to keep going, do it again for another two weeks or so.

After a few cycles of experimentation, you’ll know if you for sure want to commit to journaling long term. From there, just go!

Review

One thing I forgot to do early on (and still sometimes forget to do) is review my journals on a regular basis. This isn’t something I’d recommend doing weekly or even monthly. I find journals have the best value to me when I’m reviewing them months later.

The biggest benefit I’ve found for reviewing your journals is to see how much you’ve grown. I love looking at old journals and seeing how I’ve overcome certain situations in my life and how those obstacles matured me into the person I’m into today.

One reason I like Day One for journaling is they make it super easy to review past journals through their “On this day” feature. You have the option to see journal entries from years past on today’s date when you go into the app. This makes reviewing journals a lot easier.

Are You Ready?

Journaling has the potential to be a powerful habit in your life. I know I wouldn’t have some of the mental and emotional clarity I do today without building a journaling habit years ago.

That being said, do I journal every day? No. I journal periodically, and largely only when I feel I need to. I started off by documenting lots of little details and things that happened in my day, but found that to be too laborious. Instead, I tend to note just what’s on my mind at that moment, from thoughts to feelings to experiences.

The practice of journaling can be anything you want or need it to be, as the habit is ultimately for you, not anyone else.

If you get your journaling habit going this year, give us a shout on the Effective Remote Work Community. Tell us how you’re doing, what you’re using, and how journaling has helped you grow.

Categories
Productivity

Dealing with Distraction is Complicated

Distraction is a hot productivity topic right now. You and I both battle it, and it feels like we’re dealing with it at a much higher rate than before due to the pervasive nature of technology in our lives.

Cal Newport, author of Deep Work, talks about eliminating distractions from life in extensive detail. Chris Bailey discusses this as well especially in the first half of his newest work, Hyperfocus.

Newport advocates for practically removing distractions as much as you can and only doing valuable work, while Bailey takes a more practical approach to embrace certain types of distractions and fight others.

While many authors have great insights on dealing with distraction, there’s one item I often see missing from the narrative of distraction: dealing with ourselves.

Every discussion on distraction tends to focus on the external forces of distraction, but rarely touch on the internal issues that lead you to biting on the tasty bait (and hook) of distraction in the first place.

Tools will only help you so much to avoid distractions without first dealing with the internal issues causing us to want to be distracted.

When I’m dealing with self-inflicted distraction, I’ve found three questions helpful to tame the internal issues ultimately at the root of the problem.

Are Your Needs Met?

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is a psychological theory of what motivates people. Visualized, the hierarchy forms a pyramid. At the very base of the pyramid are physiological needs (food, water, sleep, etc.). Going up the hierarchy are less physical and more emotional/intellectual/relational/calling based needs.

It’s easy to want to be distracted when some of your base needs aren’t met. Lack of sleep, being hungry, or needing water can cause you to be unproductive and unfocused, as well as more complex needs like not having enough social time or clarity in where you are going in life.

When I’m not aware of what I need (or choosing to ignore it), I find myself wanting to numb the pain of that unmet need. Because technology is easy to access, I often find myself in loops of looking at social media and community sites for new things to look at. So instead of taking a brief nap, I’m looking at my phone to try to feel better.

It’s kind of backwards, right?

In asking the question, “Are my needs met?”, I’m taking intentional time to be aware of what I need, then making time to meet it. I’ve even written a Siri Shortcut to help me check in with myself to act on it.

Most times once I act on the need, using my willpower to focus on what’s important to me is much easier.

Are You Clear?

Christmas week 2018 was a rough one on me. I had tons of things to work on, lots on my mind that didn’t end up in OmniFocus, a big snowstorm impacting our travel, and plenty of time with family.

Multiple times throughout the week I recall feeling stressed and overwhelmed thinking about it all. And multiple times I found myself in those darn loops of distraction again.

The clarity finally started to come again once I sat down at my laptop to start writing this post and work through reviewing OmniFocus.

Doing a down-home GTD mindsweep is the absolute fastest way to alleviate this kind of stress and get clear. I sit down with a notebook with some headphones on, and start writing everything down that come to mind. It can be feelings, stresses, tasks, ideas, or literally anything else I’m thinking about.

When my mind is spinning with things to do or ideas to develop, that’s when I need to be honest with myself, schedule some time to mindsweep, and get to a place of clarity. Once I do this, I find it’s much easier to focus because my brain isn’t trying to remember all the things I should, need to, or want to do.

Are You Hiding?

When I think of hiding in the context of productivity, I think procrastination. What’s another word for procrastination?

Fear.

Let’s just call that one out on the carpet today. I know I procrastinate almost always because I’m afraid. Afraid of the complexity, time investment, chance of failure, or my own perceived lack of ability to complete a task.

When I get scared, I often want to hide, and hiding comes under the guise of distraction.

When I hit those loops, it’s important for me to recognize if I’m feeling afraid. Recognizing and verbalizing that I feel fear (or any other negative emotion) is the best way I’ve found to limit its power to influence the decisions I make.

Give Yourself Space

It’s easy to fill our days so full with busyness that we forget to process and recognize what’s going on inside to cause us to get distracted, unfocused, and unproductive.

Usually, when I’m clear in all three of these areas, I don’t blindly choose to get in those distraction loops. It doesn’t take much time to engage with your internal world, and I find I deal with the root of most self-inflicted distraction by handling issues which rise up in these areas.

Schedule time to ask yourself some of these questions. Even if you only have 10 minutes, taking an internal inventory can help quell some of those impulses and stop allowing distractions before they come.

Categories
Productivity

Spending Some Time with DEVONthink for Mac

As I’ve mentioned previously, there are emerging classes of note-taking applications, one of which are reference libraries. I’ve always had some sort of a reference library in my workflow, but I never quite figured out how to use it well. Part of the reason is I didn’t have a clear enough use case for it.

Since becoming self-employed and a content creator, the reason for having a solid reference library became ever clearer. I’m finding it important to store and find research for items I’m working on quickly and easily.

The major player in this reference app market is Evernote. As a former Evernote user who didn’t like the feature bloat and direction of the company, I jumped ship a few years back. Still a little skiddish, though, I started searching for alternatives.

There’s one other major reference library app I found: DEVONthink.

What is DEVONthink?

DEVONthink feels like a local Evernote on steroids. Not only does DEVONthink offer web clipping, note taking, and OCR of documents and images, but it also allows you to store and sync your data locally and securely.

DEVONthink offers an extremely generous 150 hour trial, which runs a little differently than other applications. 150 hours comes out to be about six full days, but DEVONthink counts the trial timer while you have the app open. This is especially convenient if you’re going to try it with some light use cases like myself.

A quick note before we dive in any further. I only tried out the Mac version of DEVONthink, as my mobile use cases for reference software are currently limited.

Impressions of DEVONthink

Aesthetics

Upon installing and opening DEVONthink, I found myself thinking this is an interesting app. Interesting in multiple senses of the word.

The bootup process reminds me of applications in the early 2000’s with loading screens and the like. The interface definitely feels dated compared to other applications like OmniFocus and even stock apps like Mail.app. It’s clear this application isn’t meant to give you warm fuzzies by its design. Rather, DEVONthink is meant to do some serious heavy lifting for research.

Portability & OCR

Design aspects aside, I loaded my digital file cabinet up in DEVONthink first thing. A great benefit of DEVONthink is the ability to add local folders into a database without actually copying all the information. Doing so means files stay where they are in the file system. This makes porting data in and out of DEVONthink easy, especially if you need to keep files accessible by other apps.

Portability is a huge win for DEVONthink. The software keeps applications in their native file formats whether they are in a database or not. To extract a file, all you need to do is drag and drop it out of the app.

When I dropped my digital file cabinet in, DEVONthink immediately solved a problem for me. I had previously gotten behind on my scanning, filing, and shredding, so there were a numbner of documents I wasn’t sure if I had scanned yet. Instead of trying to manually sort this out by comparing PDFs and papers, I let DEVONthink’s duplication detection figure it out for me.

This is a pretty incredible part of the software. I clicked on the Duplicates folder in the database, and not only did DEVONthink find duplicate file names, but it also found duplicate content using the OCR software bundled with it.

PDF management is ridiculously easy, too. I accidentally scanned two documents into one using Scanbot on my phone. In DEVONthink, all I had to do to separate them is click and drag. This is how these things should work in 2018!

However, that doesn’t mean DEVONthink is without faults.

Shortcomings

No doubt there’s a lot of power hidden in this software. For most people I wonder if it’s a little too powerful. For someone like me who needs a moderately useful reference library that’s only going to store web clippings, bookmarks, and miscellaneous items which don’t otherwise have a home, the massive structure of DEVONthink seemed too bulky to have to learn.

The DEVONthink manual was well written and informative regarding the features and capabilities of the software, but beyond the manual, it was difficult to find other options to learn more. DEVONtechnologies has forums on their site, but reading through a few topics, I didn’t get the sense the forums were all that friendly.

Additionally, while using DEVONthink, I felt I had to really think about the process of capturing information to the three small databases I had set up. Web clipping didn’t feel intuitive to understand what it was doing, and the inbox system, while a great idea, didn’t click with the way I normally process information. This is a little nit-picky, but I also didn’t like how newly clipped items were marked as unread until I manually marked them read.

Ultimately, I ended up ending my experiment with DEVONthink intending not to continue. While it’s extremely clear even by some of the discussions on the Community that DEVONthink is the right software for some people, it didn’t turn out to be the right software for me.

You may be wondering what I’m using instead of DEVONthink. Well, I never thought I would say this again, but I’ve started using Evernote.