Category Archives: Lifehacks

Evernote (for Android) as a reminder system

I have a fickle relationship with reminder systems. Usually the drill is to discover something new, vigorously dump everything I can possibly think into it, and then slowly but surely get disillusioned with it as time goes on. The smell of a new system is seductive, and when something new comes along there's a tendency to look at its good side and to focus on the bad parts of whatever you were using before.

Thus my latest desire is to stop using Github as an issue tracking system for personal reminders, and to start using Evernote. I've written about Github before; the truth of it is that it's not a bad system, but it's set up enough for multi-person use that some of the easy affordances of single person use go to the wayside. Besides, my own use of it has tapered off and that's a sign that something new needs to take its place.

Evernote hasn't been written about much here, but there's a lot that I am starting to like about it. The Android support for reminders is new. Android support in general it lags a bit behind iOS. The level that I'm currently using it it's still free. Their reminder system is new, but still looks at least minimally functional enough to get the work done. Since it fits in my phone pretty well it seems as though I should be able to make the transition and not be pinned down in front of my computer screen when it's time to brainstorm what to do next.

Basically it's what every new system is, the new system smell, while it's still revolutionary and not the politburo. Enjoy the new system before you figure out how to routinize it into distraction.



Yesterbox: answer yesterday’s email, today

Yesterbox is a technique from Zappo's CEO Tony Hseih that redefines the task of email management. Rather than aim for an "inbox zero" for today's email (a never-ending task), he calls for answering today's mail tomorrow, and yesterday's mail today. Every message gets a one day delay unless it's so urgent that has to be dealt with right away.

The biggest problem with "inbox zero" is that it's impossible to be caught up for any length of time, since you need to be always on the alert for new messages. In contrast, "yesterbox" gives you a finite number of messages to work through from yesterday, and once you're done, you're done. There's no need to feel guilty, no need to feel like you're procrastinating, and no need to obsessively check today's messages. They can all be dealt with tomorrow.

Hseih estimates that it takes him three hours to plow through a day's messages, and he puts that time on his calendar in the morning to handle the previous day's correspondence. That's the world of a busy and successful CEO – you might well have a different time chunk that you'd need to commit to, probably a lot less.

Emptying the inbox is a Sisyphean task. Yesterbox tries to make it a finite problem to handle. As a bonus, every conversation becomes a slow conversation, and there's a lot of routine unimportant detail in everyone's inbox that can be ignored once a day has gone past.

(Filed under "Productivity", "Lifehacks". See also "Meaningless indicators of progress". I wonder how long it would take to process a day's worth of Twitter sent to you on one-day delay. In Greek mythology, Sisyphus was condemned to empty his email inbox each day, only to find it full the next day.  See Doug Mann, The Electronic Myth of Sisyphus, 2006.)


Related articles

Meaningless indicators of progress
Yesterbox: answer yesterday's email, today
Use the Yesterbox Technique to Regain Control of Your Email Inbox
How Tony Hsieh Gets to Inbox Zero
12 successful entrepreneurs share their best productivity hacks

Conquer the cold! Preparing for the winter commute

Conquer the Cold is a program for submissions and suggestions on how to best make your winter commute a good one. It’s run by get!Downtown, the Ann Arbor downtown commuter program, and there are fabulous prizes. Send in a 150 word essay and you could win a $500 shopping spree or one of many $5 gift certificates. To be eligible to participate in the Conquer the Cold essay contest, you must have a current go!pass, and the deadline for the contest is Saturday, November 12th, 2011.

Lack of discretion is the better part of Twitter

The input box on Twitter is very small, the user interface works on a cell phone, and it all feels so much like you are having a small intimate conversation with a few confidants. Something horrible is said and you and perhaps the world realize that this thing is not just a harmless lark. 

Twitter is a global communications infrastructure, with short meaningful names that replace carrier-assigned numbers for text and picture messaging. It's only a few short hops and some integration with shiny hardware to make that global namespace be the key to a lot more communications and publishing.

By all means, display your plumage on Twitter. Your indiscretions make up for the rest of us who are content to describe where we are eating a sandwich. We read along, fascinated, taking notes carefully on what not to say.

Notes from a construction project

An old bicycle wheel makes a good pulley wheel.

An old modem, of any sort, can be repurposed by attaching a single RJ-11 cord to both ends of it; you now have a loop, and the RJ-11 threads through the bicycle wheel.

An RS-232 cable should be thought of as a very strong wire rope with helpful screw connectors. 

A transformer makes an excellent counterweight.

There is no piece of old electronic junk that doesn't have some possible usefulness as a part of a kinetic sculpture, whether it works or not. Remember, kids, the connector is the artwork.

daily aliquot of love

A very brief writeup of a technique for doing online task management, in a world where there are so many social media channels that you need a spreadsheet to keep track of them all.

The software is Google Spreadsheet, used with a private sheet all for myself.

The structure of the worksheet is a set of columns, with column headings indicating the piece of software, online system, or media channel that you are tracking; the rows are dated or time stamped.

Each cell has a brief summary of events, activities, or other goings-on for that channel at that time. "Birthday deals" is my notation from Facebook for Jan 5, 2011, noting that on that day I wished people a happy birthday by sending them the Arborwiki birthday deals page (my customary greeting card). Keep it short, down to a name, a keyword, a tag, or anything else minimal.

The key technique is hyperlinking each of these (column header and activity cell) where possible, so that you can go back and re-animate your activity on a minimum notice. The syntax is


which is simple enough to make it not be a big deal to do.

The locus of activity moves. Rather than opening a new window, looking for page changes to the more frequent sites that you visit, and hoping mindlessly that there's something new, the unit of online activity becomes working your way across the columns and methodically filling in each of them with a daily aliquot of love.

The challenge is getting the column headers right, so that you focus on the correct systems, and ignore the irrelevant ones.

Why do I call it task sandwich? Darned if I know, that's what got typed in.

clean your dishwasher with the breakfast drink of astronauts

I’m sure there’s a cheaper way to clean a dishwasher than to put heavily marketed, sugary “breakfast drink” powder into it. Tang is citric acid and sweetener and artificial flavor that tastes like moon rocks.

The dishwasher is cleaner, though, which is a good thing.

Other suggestions for cleaners include vinegar, straight citric acid, borax, and baking soda. None of those have the astronaut cachet.