Too Many Ideas and Missing The Tree

Forest

Forest

I’m struggling again with productivity, I have too many proto-articles and as such when I sit down to write I get struck with something called Workload Paralysis which is basically the inability to begin because there are too many places to start. I also forget what I could write about as my notes app and notebook have too narrow a window to show me my options, I can’t see everything in one glance – I need an overview, a priority schedule – which is something that technology isn’t brilliant at.

As I can’t find space for a full size whiteboard I’ve bought a white clipboard and some fineline whiteboard pens – onto this clipboard I will write one-liners – article titles that is, not quips. This way I’m hoping to be able to get some inspiration without having to scan through pages of paper or lists of notes on a screen.

This is why I’m still a firm believer in the physical and tangible media in concert with technology rather than as a replacement across the board, just sometimes it’s easier to deal with words on paper, they’re often much quicker to access, handle or process. And in my case having the ideas list on a screen doesn’t just mean I can’t see the forest for the trees, I often can’t even see the tree.

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Procrastination and Deep Pockets

Stopwatch (image courtesy of Serif)

Stopwatch (image courtesy of Serif)

I had a problem, a big though not what you would call serious or important problem.  It was one that my psyche would not let me sweep under the carpet, or rather, delete.  For literally years I would just skim websites and rather than read articles I’d click “Read Later” – that’s how long ago it was, the Firefox extension (and later Android app) was still called Read It Later rather than it’s more famous current name of Pocket.

I just couldn’t be bothered to read stuff, I just wanted to passively watch TV even though I knew that I enjoyed learning and reading interesting articles.  I’d look at articles I thought would be too long to read, or watch, and I’d just again think “can’t be bothered” and clicked “LATER!”  I often made the mistake of looking at a news article that had links to more, each of which ended in a click on “Add to Pocket”.  So the Pocket became bigger.  Over 1,300 items bigger.

Like tomorrow, later never comes though so you eventually have to either read it all or delete stuff.

It took over a year of Saturday and Sunday mornings to read, watch and if necessary bookmark or log them in Evernote.  At Christmas last year I finally returned to the blank sheet and Pocket was sat there encouraging me to add things to it again.  I have vowed never to get there again – I use Pocket to transfer links from my tablet to the desktop to read or watch on the bigger screen and use it to put aside long articles, or complex ones that I’d want to absorb properly that I’d have more time to read at the weekend but never as a replacement for reading stuff, for procrastination.

As for link-heavy sites, well I either try to be disciplined and either not click on the stuff the site thinks I might be interested in, or I cheat and cover the links up with Windows Task Manager – set to stay in front of other windows.  Another help in this is Firefox’s Reading Mode, as long as you can click it before seeing the other articles.  Due to my earlier effort to reclaim my evening time I now know that I have time to read articles and do anything else I want, I don’t need to procrastinate and tell myself I’ll have to read it later.

It’s just as well I wasn’t buying newspapers between 2012 and 2014 I’d be buried in newsprint by now.

Poor Memory in The Internet Age

A woman thinking

A woman thinking (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have a ridiculously bad memory which is a problem in an age where we are bombarded with information that we have to remember for work or at home. This is why I’m writing this on a notepad in the bath, before I forget it.

My poor short-term recall is one of the main reasons I’m single. I am pathologically terrified of small-talk or rather my inability to spontaneously make it.

My last few relationships have been generally been with confident and, most importantly, talkative women as I am a good listener. I have however a limited list of subjects to start or continue a conversation with in those rosy early days of a relationship because I can’t remember what I’ve been previously told and can’t remember subjects to make conversations about such as things happening in the news or in a magazine I’ve read, or gossip about friends.

My problem is in my brain’s ability to tag memories as important, most things just enter and go straight to long term memory without being registered as being sufficiently important to remember a few hours or a day or so down the line. I can remember taking a photo of a scene when I’m in the same spot again or an obscure fact if I’m reminded of it but just picking out a random fact is just impossible.

My memory requires a prompt to recall anything and even then sometimes it takes a while to drag the relevant facts to the front, and if the event that I need to remember happened while I was very busy then recalling it becomes extremely difficult unless I’ve made some effort to definitely remember it.

It’s bad enough trying to remember what I’ve read in a magazine as the first article has been forgotten as I’ve read the second but the volume of information available via the internet makes it even worse and trying to remember facts to write into blog posts is a nightmare.  The anxiety of not being able to remember what I want to say is part of why I put off writing and instead employ decoy habits to distract me from what I want to do which is write.  Some say the internet will cause us to stop remembering facts and rely on Google instead but that’s a different problem, what if you don’t even remember what you wanted to find?

There are techniques to alleviate the problem, from focussing more on the information being received, thinking about it before moving onto the next thing, associating the information with an image in the mind, writing things down, and more that I, to be honest, can’t remember.  I have notebooks, both paper and Evernote- based, filled with disjointed information which I can, one day pull together into something interesting and useful but the first step is overcoming the fear of not knowing what to say.  Eating more healthily, exercise and getting enough sleep are also meant to be beneficial and I keep telling myself that my memory is getting better as with so many mind related issues often believing you can do something is half the battle.

Lunch At One

Birthday Cake

Birthday Cake (Photo credit: Will Clayton)

With today’s Lunch we’ll be nibbling a slice of birthday cake.  It was a year ago, at midnight on 1st April 2012 that I flicked the switch and released this blog to the public of the internet.  It was a nervous moment for an introvert like me – will anyone even look at it, will anyone like it, will I offend anyone?  I remember when I got my first follower a few days later and as I wrote shortly after it felt great and awesome to know that someone on the other side of the world had seen my words, liked them and wanted to read more.

It’s been an interesting year and I’ve learned much, there’s still much to do though.

Before diving into some of what I’ve learned I’d like to thank those who have liked my posts and followed my blog.  As others have said the WordPress community is a great one and I’ll look forward to seeing more of other bloggers’ work in the future too.

The Tools

I’ve begun using Evernote to organise information to put into future posts, using my Nexus 7 tablet to write up notes and posts while I’m watching tv or am otherwise away from the main computer.  I’ve bought a new Logitech wired keyboard because I can type faster on it  – sometimes it’s the simplest things that can make the difference.

I’m using the WordPress app on my Nexus to read posts on other blogs I follow as I can instantly reblog them or send them to Pocket for commenting of referencing later.

The Time

I’ve told myself to set aside a bit of time each day to do this otherwise I end up with a long list of unread posts that seems too daunting to tackle before more turn up the next day – I have the same problem at work, feeling like new tasks turning up will prevent me from finishing the ones I’ve already got, leaving me feeling anxious, stressed and overwhelmed; but that’s another story.  The fear of the so-called information overload, a decidedly 21st century ailment, has stopped me looking for suitable stories about modern life elsewhere too, ironically.

The Confidence

I’ve learnt to be honest and say how I feel, to not agonize too much about what to say and not to put off writing a post if I have all the pieces right there in my mind – one problem I have is I too often over-think a post, or to put too many things into one post that could perhaps be spread out over many.

I still get a buzz when I see the notifications telling me that people have liked my posts, I don’t feel I’ve failed if a post gets no likes at all.  Most of all I just enjoy writing these articles, gathering information, articulating thoughts and sending them out into the world.  I still though hoard more information, more bit of what could become posts than write actual posts.  Procrastination is still a problem; the feeling of sitting down and not feeling able to write anything (which is still,  for me, a lack of confidence in my own abilities) is still a problem.  But I’ve researched and found solutions to these things which I will be outlining soon.

So onto year two, with clear plans, determination to overcome what stops me writing and keeps me watching TV instead, a bag full of Cadbury’s Cream Eggs and one more day off work.

I <3 My Smartphone

Android 4.0.1

Android 4.0.1 (Photo credit: laihiu)

There, I’ve said it.  Ok, so I don’t love it, it’s not like I cuddle it, much.  But as someone who for quite a while didn’t bother to find out what was so smart about smartphones having one is a revelation.  I’ve written before about how useful it is to be able to share information across phone, tablet and laptop but this time I’ll share a few recommendations for apps that I’ve found invaluable to my life.

Interestingly I also found the other day that this little device even makes old fashioned phone calls.  Ha!

As someone who has intermittent memory Android’s notification bar is a joy.  For example, I have a checkup at the dentist next month, it was booked six months ago, I need to book a day off work to go – I don’t need to, it’s just a good excuse to have a lie-in on a Tuesday.  I opened up Google Calendar, added the appointment, added a reminder for the time then opened up Wunderlist and added a to-do list item for booking the day off complete with a reminder which will pop up on Monday morning.  The best thing about all these reminders – I also set them two weeks ahead for birthdays so I don’t leave cards until the last minute – is they persist in the notification bar until you remove them so every time I get a new email or app update I see the reminder too.  It’s pretty much foolproof.

Wunderlist is a well designed to-do list app which supports reminders, notes and nested to-dos and is cross-platform, i.e. it has apps on Android, iOS, PC, Mac and Linux all of which sync via the web – there is also website based access if you’re using someone elses computer.

Regularly is a tool for remembering events that happen predictably and regularly.  You set up a new event, set the interval that it needs to be done, each day, each month etc and then every time it’s due and you’ve done it you add an entry to that item’s log and the counter resets, if you don’t do it the app reminds you that it’s overdue.  Perhaps scheduling a chinese takeaway every month could be a bit too much, not that I have done, honestly.

There are many notepad apps for quick notes, the one I use is OI Notepad, in the end I chose it because it looked nice and had a colourful icon.  It’s useful for quick notes when the phone isn’t connected to the internet.  I could use Evernote which is also installed but I prefer to use that on my Nexus 7 where it has a bit more screen to play with.

Of course there are other apps I particularly recommend such as the Met Office Weather app which allows you to have multiple pages of favourite locations, includes five-day forecasts and even sunrise and sunset times; the Facebook app if you’re signed up which is pretty good now; the BBC’s News app is useful and finally Firefox which I personally prefer to the built-in browser because I use it on the laptop and I can sync the bookmarks between the two.

The always-on nature of smartphones and tablets is also particularly useful to me as I can just quickly look at a webpage or make a note without having to put the laptop back on – usually this happens just before I’m about to go to bed.

It has been said recently that people have now started to use technology to get round the problems caused by other technology, like carrying an always connected smartphone in order to always be able to get work emails, but for me my technology just helps me with my annoyingly poor memory.

Still a Place for Paper

English: Moleskine notebook and diaries. Белар...

English: Moleskine notebook and diaries. Беларуская: Нататнік і штодзёньнікі Moleskine. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Some time ago I wrote about a small notebook you printed out from your PC, now Moleskine and Evernote have buried the paper versus digital debate and produced a digital compatible notebook.

Previous attempts have involved clipboards that record your pen movements, pens that record, well, their own movements and entirely digital tablet-type virtual notebooks.  The new books however use specially formatted paper that can be photographed using the Evernote app and will then be instantly available in a searchable form in your digital notebook.  Stickers can even be used to instruct the app where to save the page.

Best of both worlds?  Could easily be.

[Techcrunch via Gizmodo UK]

Normal Service Will Resume Shortly

Information overload

Information overload (Photo credit: Martino!)

This blog is just over a month old and it’s not been the best month to start something this time-consuming.  I have also found though that although I have plenty of ideas for articles most of them require a bit of research and source material and this is where I found a problem.

I have thousands of bookmarks in Firefox and lists of information in various places but no cohesive structure to tie it all together so at the moment I’m doing my best headless chicken impression to copy all these various sources of information into one place and this is where modern technology comes into its own again.

I realised a few weeks ago that an elephant could help me.

Before you ask what I’ve been smoking this elephant is the logo of Evernote whose collection of apps for just about any platform and even a webapp that I can access from work or any other computer is making this task of organising my virtual box of scraps of paper manageable.

I have notebooks containing whole articles or collections of notes or links to webpages that will become articles while other notebooks contain information on wider subjects that will be useful for many articles or books.  All these notebooks can be grouped together to organise things further and pages in one notebook can be linked on other pages so you can create webs of information in one place, ready to be pulled together, mixed vigorously and foisted onto the web, baked to perfection like a chocolate gateaux.

Combined with resources such as search engines and online encyclopaedias this ability to connect, sort and utilise the huge amount of information at our fingertips is one of the true 21st Century wonders.