Progress Report

I’ve been using the technique I described in Procrastination Buster for most of this week now, and I’m finding it a very efficient way of processing stuff. Although it may appear to be very different from the techniques described in Do It Tomorrow, it is actually based on very much the same principles. It is essentially a method of converting an open list into a series of closed lists (in this case numbering two items each). The advantage compared with Do It Tomorrow is that it is more flexible and can be fitted a bit more easily into irregular time slots. The disadvantage is that some work items will take longer before they get dealt with than others. I’ve still got one difficult item which I put on the list at the beginning of the week and remains unactioned. That’s almost certainly a lot less items than would be left over with a conventional To Do list, but with Do It Tomorrow, I would have actioned all the items either the day they came up or the day after.

Here are a few pointers which have surfaced for me this week while using this method:

  • To Do lists always tend to suffer from list expansion - in other words they tend to grow faster than one can process the items. In order to avoid this happening it is important to keep the list well weeded by throwing out unnecessary items.
  • As a guide you should be able to complete at least one circuit of the list during the course of an average day (bearing in mind that you will be actioning about half the items on the list on each circuit). If you can’t do that, you should take some time to weed the list.
  • If you find yourself further from the end of the list at the end of the day than you were at the beginning, you are seriously trying to do too much! You need not only to weed the list, but look at your commitments too.
  • Just as with Do It Tomorrow, you don’t necessarily have to do the whole of every item. You can always do part of it and then cross it out and re-enter it at the end of the list. This achieves the little and often ideal which I recommend in my books for dealing with major projects.

I’d be interested to hear from you in the Comments or in the Discussion Forum if you try out this method - and how you get on with it.

Progress Report


From a book review of a recent biography of Beethoven by Doctor Mai: Diagnosing Genius: The Life and Death of Beethoven.

“The cause of Beethoven’s death was liver failure due to alcohol abuse. The autopsy was performed by Dr. Johann Wagner, who was assisted by Dr. Karl von Rokitansky. Rokitansky was a resident in pathology, and Beethoven’s autopsy was the first one he performed. He subsequently performed 59,786 autopsies in his outstanding career as a pathologist and became famous for his observations on the gross features of pathologic abnormalities of organs.

At Beethoven’s autopsy, Wagner and Rokitansky found — besides cirrhosis of the liver due to alcohol abuse — ascites, splenomegaly, pancreatitis, and thickened bones of the skull. The eighth cranial nerves were wrinkled and shriveled because they had been compressed by the thick skull bones, a finding consistent with Paget’s disease of bone, which can cause deafness. Other conditions that have been put forth as the cause of Beethoven’s deafness — including head trauma inflicted by his alcoholic father, syphilis, and otosclerosis — lack credibility. There is also some question of whether lead poisoning caused Beethoven’s illnesses. In 1996, a lock of his hair was found to contain high levels of lead. Lead poisoning was common in Europe during Beethoven’s time because wine contained lead that had leached from its containers.”


I'll Run It Off

Many of WW’s former co-workers, male and female, are runners. She often ate in the cafeteria with them and learned what they liked. It was CARBS CARBS and CARBS. One woman had pasta, bread rolls, and mashed potatoes on her tray for lunch. She was a doctor to top it off.

When the conversation got around to what WW ate and what they ate, many of these runners merely said: “I’ll run it off.” Of course they won’t and can’t. The 1200 calorie, high sugar muffin they have in the morning will take about 2 hours of cross-country running to run off. As for the doctor’s lunch, well there is no way for her to run it off and still do her work.

But, even if they could burn up the calories, this is a seriously misleading and incomplete picture of the problem. The high carb shock is still there and the deadened insulin sensitivity it produces is a lasting problem contributing to weight gain and poor blood sugar control thereafter. Burning off the calories is a good way to feed free radical damage to the mitochondria and other vital tissues, including your brain. You don’t burn this dangerous high sugar fuel without paying the price of oxidative damage. So, even if you do manage to burn off all those calories, you have done damage to your body in multiple ways.

This is a problem with the “calories in, calories out” theory of weight management. True as it is in a long-run thermodynamics sense, it misses the bigger picture of sustainable health. And many studies do show that the weight loss in low carb diets is greater than can be accounted for in the caloric reduction which they promote. This shows that the thermodynamic model is difficult to apply to the human body and that accurate measurement of energy expenditure is yet to be fully accomplished.

With all the promotion of “energy drinks” it is difficult for many to understand that the kind of fuel you are making your body burn when you eat these carb-laden meals or drink these so-called energy drinks is a sort of fuel that burns fast and hot and does real damage. And you do further damage just putting it in your tank because it wrecks your metabolic health.

You would not run nitrous oxide or alcohol in your car to double its power output without expecting to pay the price. Why do people fall for a theory just about that dumb when it comes to how they “fuel” their bodies?

I’ll Run It Off

Infinite canvas

“The infinite canvas is the idea that the size of a digital comics page is theoretically infinite, and that online comics are therefore not limited by conventional page sizes. An artist could conceivably display a complete comics story of indefinite length on a single ‘page’. Scott McCloud introduced the concept in his book Reinventing Comics.

Although McCloud asserted that this freedom was one of the most important qualities of the online comics medium, relatively few webcomics have taken advantage of it; most produce work in more traditional formats such as the serialized comic strip and the rectangular page, rarely exceeding two screens in height.”

Infinite canvas

Credit Card Survival Tool


I have two friends who’ve been carrying these slim, multi-tools for a few years now and swear by them. I’ve only used the mini-screwdriver and bottle opener, but those functions alone seem worth it. It’s stainless steel and will add some weight to your load, but no more than the average metal beverage pop-top. Why junk up your keychain when you can slip another “card” into your wallet? Added bonus: can opener, straight edge, knife edge, et al.

– Steven Leckart


Credit Card Survival Tool
Available from Fishboy

Also from Amazon

Manufactured by BCB Survival USA

Credit Card Survival Tool

Home Organization: Label your drawers next time you move

Frequent movers know that it’s a pain to get used a the layout of a new kitchen when you move into a new home, especially if you live with other people who are putting away objects willy-nilly because no one really knows where anything is supposed to go. Reader Jan suggests a smart solution:

We created a pile of post-it notes, one for each category of kitchen object: silverware, bowls, Tupperware, etc. We affixed these to the kitchen cabinets and drawers to establish a hypothetical organization for everything.
We then walked around and imagined working through different activities with this organization: making a sandwich, setting the table for dinner, cleaning up after a meal and storing leftovers, etc. We also considered whether a particular cabinet or drawer seemed sufficient in size and ease of access for the labeled contents. Problems could easily be remedied by simply moving the post-its around until everything felt right.

Once everything seemed right, we unpacked. It was easy to see where everything needed to go. And the best part? We left the labels on the drawers for the first month so everyone in the family could find everything while we got used to the kitchen.

The same idea could be extended to all corners of a new place. I can think of a handful of post-move household arguments caused by a why’d-you-put-this-there/that’s-not-where-that-goes debate that would have easily been avoided with this method.

Home Organization: Label your drawers next time you move

What It Takes to Be a Successful Coach

I wrote this article several years ago about coaching. However most of what I said applies to other businesses too, and bears repeating.

During the time I have been a coach, I have been regularly astonished by two things. The first is how little some quite well-known coaches are earning after years of being a coach. The second is how quickly some other people start earning large sums of money at coaching.

I have noticed that it is frequently possible to identify the people who are going to “fly” the second they come onto the scene, well before they start being successful.

So here is a list of things I think these people have in common. Not all of them of course will have all these qualities in equal measure, and I am sure there are other factors which I have omitted.

* They see coaching as a business, and take a business attitude to it.

* They are quite clear about what they want to achieve, and work to long-term (3-5 years) rather than short-term goals.

* They know it takes time and effort to build a business, and they start putting that time and effort in straightaway.

* They adequately fund their business.

* They are confident in their own abilities, particularly their business abilities.

* They concentrate more on improving their business than on improving their coaching (though obviously the two go hand-in-hand; it is a matter of emphasis).

* They see marketing as their number one priority.

* They find ways very early on of distinguishing themselves from the common herd.

* And without any exception I can think of, they are excellent public speakers.

It all goes back to what I’ve written before: our profession is coaching; our business is selling coaching services.

What It Takes to Be a Successful Coach

The dashed line in use

“I’ve had trouble justifying my excitement about this intricate visual detail, so I thought it would be good to collect a bunch of examples from over fifty years of information design history, to show it as a powerful visual element in ubicomp situations.

Even though the dashed line has emerged from a designer’s shorthand and from the limitations of monotone printing techniques, it has a clear and simple visual magic, the ability to express something three- or four-dimensional in two dimensions.” (Thanks Stephen!)

The dashed line in use

How To: Predict the weather without checking the forecast

How-to web site wikiHow offers a beginner’s crash course to predicting the weather with nothing but your wits and senses. For example:

Take a deep breath. Close your eyes and smell the air.

  • Plants release their waste in a low pressure atmosphere, generating a smell like compost and indicating an upcoming rain.
  • Swamps will release methane just before a storm because of the lower pressure, which leads to unpleasant smells.
  • A proverb says “Flowers smell best just before a rain.” Scents are stronger in moist air, associated with rainy weather.

In all, the post describes 10 different methods for predicting weather by observing smells, animals, the sky, and more using your sharp senses. If you’ve always wanted to pick up some grass, look up at the sky, inhale a full puff of air, and declare in your best down-home country twang: “Looks like there’s a storm a-brewin’, mother,” this guide should give you a good start.

How to Predict the Weather Without a Forecast [wikiHow]

How To: Predict the weather without checking the forecast

Piano prodigy on focus and flow

TED | Talks | Jennifer Lin: Magical improv from 14-year-old pianist (video)

This video from the 2004 TED Conference is extraordinary for a few reasons. First, the prepared performances by then-14-year-old composer and pianist Jennifer Lin are lovely and technically very accomplished. And — wow — the improvisation she creates on the spot (16:45) is really something.

But, I also wanted to draw your attention to her thoughts on creativity and flow — discussing how she tries to beat distraction and gain focus in both drawing and composition. Her discussion starts around 13:31, but do stick around after for her improv based upon randomly chosen notes.

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Piano prodigy on focus and flow

Self Improvement: How to change things in your life for the better

change.pngMaking changes, no matter how big or small, can be difficult. Psychology Today has put together the six principles of change that can help you accomplish what needs to be done.

Summed up, they look like this:

1) The belief that you can change is the key to change. 2) The type of treatment is less critical than the individual’s commitment to change. 3) Brief treatments can change longstanding habits. 4) Life skills can be the key to licking addiction. 5) Repeated efforts are critical to changing. 6) Improvement, without abstinence, counts.

Yes, a wee bit Dr.Phil-ish, but still intriguing. What is your principle of change? Please share in the comments.

Six Principles of Change [Psychology Today via SelfHelp Diva]

Self Improvement: How to change things in your life for the better

Taxonomy matters

It is my mission to correctly re-shelve books to the appropriate section of the bookstore. 

For example, “Darwin’s Black Box”, the famous psuedo-science book by the non-evolutionary non-scientist Michael Behe, should not be in the “Evolutionary Biology” section, but something more appropriate, such as “New Age”, “Religion”, “Christianity”, or even “Fiction”.  You get the idea.

Here is more, and the pointer is from the newlywed Jacqueline Passey.

Taxonomy matters

Gratitude tips

These are from the new and noteworthy Thanks!: How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier, by Robert Emmons:

1. Keep a Gratitude Journal

2. Remember the Bad

3. Ask Yourself Three Questions (What have I received from…?, What have I given to…?, and What troubles and difficulty have I caused …?

4. Learn prayers of gratitude

5. Come to your senses

6. Use visual reminders

7. Make a vow to practice gratitude

8. Watch your language

9. Go through the motions [of showing gratitude, thanking, smiling, etc.]

10. Think outside the box [TC: this one should have been left out]

I didn’t learn anything from this book, but in terms of both truth and importance it is one of the most significant books you can find.  Ever.  Provided you live enough above subsistence, gratitude is the single most important key to personal happiness.  And how commercial society affects gratitude is one of the great underexplored questions of economic science and sociology.

Gratitude tips

Tip of the Week: Create an Idea Bank

Angela Booth suggests that experienced writers can use journals as their idea banks:

If you’ve been writing for a few years, your journal acts as your idea bank. It’s best to maintain several journals: one for ideas, another for essays, as well as a journal for a long project like a book.

If you’re writing a novel, for example, your journal will keep you “in” the novel, even if you have to leave the project for a week or two.

An idea bank would be helpful for anyone who works with information and ideas. You don’t have to use a paper journal, because there are lots of desktop or online solutions too. You could use a wiki, a note-taking application, a desktop information manager like DevonThink or PersonalBrain, a password-protected blog (to keep your ideas under wraps while they’re gestating), or text files.

How do you capture your ideas?


Tip of the Week: Create an Idea Bank

Justifying Design Decisions

“The craft of graphic design is replete with ratios, rules of thumb, and math—all an attempt to rationalize decisions that otherwise fall to subjectivity. Finding justification for design decisions is important to me—I want to bring purpose and intent to my work and depend less on taste and opinion. But I often find myself designing on impulse or intuition—pushing pixels around the screen or lines down a sketchpad with no structure, no rationalization— just because it ‘looks right’. That haphazard and experimental process gives me a lot of freedom, but it isn’t really design.

I asked Mark Boulton, Andy Budd, and Jeff Croft, three designers I deeply respect, about designing on impulse versus intention. They each had something different to say, but they each presented a design process far more rationalized and justified than my own…”

Justifying Design Decisions


Let’s face it– artists love to draw faces. Penetrating eyes, distinctive noses, expressive mouths– these are often an artist’s richest lode.

But when that face turns away and you no longer have facial features with all their emotion and meaning– what does that leave? Just the simple line of a human cheek. What can an artist possibly make of that?

Well, my friends, that depends on the artist.

Look at the knowledge that Alex Raymond conveys with this sensitive drawing. This cheek demonstrates more wisdom than most artists could convey drawing a full face.

Next, Austin Briggs applies a cruder tool and a simpler approach to the same subject, yet still conveys just as much information. I think this is a thrilling piece of draughtsmanship.

In the following illustration by Robert Fawcett, the person drawn from behind was obviously a much tougher artistic challenge than the full faces drawn from the front.

Finally, the great Mort Drucker infuses personality and vitality into a face that is not only viewed from behind, but is also obscured by layers of scuba gear.

Despite the obvious drama of the human face, it can be a far greater challenge to draw the head using just the subtle contour of a cheek. Experienced artists recognize that it is difficult to draw the head from that perspective. For many, the result ends up looking like a dollop of pastry dough.

Sometimes it pays to look for artistic greatness in the simplest places. The philosopher Santayana wrote,

Miracles are so-called because they excite wonder. In unphilosophical minds, rare or unexpected things excite wonder, while in philosophical minds the familiar excites wonder also.
Lots of artists can dazzle you with flashing eyes or a dramatic face. But the artist who can find the miraculous potential in the humble curve of a cheek or a blade of grass, and who can convey that miracle to you– that is an artist worth watching.

How to Solve Problems

Here’s a relatively simple method of gaining insight into problems that face us. Often the reason we can’t solve a problem is that we don’t concentrate on it long enough to look at it from enough different angles or give our brains time to process our ideas subconsciously.

Step One

Take a sheet of paper and write across the top “Questions I could ask myself about this problem include…..”

Then write down as quickly as possible between six and twelve different ways of finishing that sentence. Don’t think too much about what you write — the aim here is quantity not quality.

To take an example (completely fictitious of course!), I have a problem keeping my desk tidy. So I might write:

Questions I could ask myself about this problem….

  • why is this problem happening?
  • why does it matter?
  • how could I overcome it?
  • what problems does it cause?
  • who could help me overcome it?
  • what benefit am I getting out of it?
  • why is it so difficult to be tidy?
  • and so on…..

Put the sheet of paper away and go through Step One again the following day on a fresh sheet of paper without looking at the first sheet. You will probably find that you can find another six or more endings without duplicating anything you wrote the day before.

Step Two

Take both sheets of paper and extract from them the four or five questions that you feel are most helpful, relevant or useful. Then rewrite them as sentences for completion. So for example I might end up with the following list:

  • Reasons this problem is happening might include….
  • This problem matters because…..
  • One way of overcoming this would be…..
  • The benefits I get out of being untidy include….

Then do a similar exercise to Step One but this time use each of the sentences you have just written. Again aim to write between six and twelve endings to each sentence. Then put your sheet of paper away for 24 hours and do the exercise again. You will probably find that your insights have developed overnight.

You can do this for several days running if you have the time and the problem is not too pressing.

Step Three

Examine all the ideas you have written out and decide which ones you are going to put into effect.

How to Solve Problems

Let Me Get Two Packs of Tolstoy and a Carton of Kafka

Every day Sarah sends me nifty things to read and see on my magic computer screen. Today’s stash included a post at Popgadget describing a plan to sell classic novellas in retro cigarette packs via cigarette vending machines after a U.K smoking ban in enclosed public places goes into effect. At least I think they’re going to (try to?) sell these in actual vending machines. Whatever the case, they’re called Tankbooks, and are being produced by Tank, a think tank, creative agency and publishing outfit. Dunno if this is a P.R. stunt, an art project, an honest effort to sell books in an interesting manner, or all of the above. Nifty-looking packages, whatever the case.



Let Me Get Two Packs of Tolstoy and a Carton of Kafka

Information Architect

Web Worker Daily posts a mini-profile of Dayna Bateman, an information architect for Fry Inc. Various education qualifications are listed, and hands-on experience (though education can help out there too). I don't find it a surprise that many shopping and interactive sites get it wrong and need help. Those are big projects and it requires a champion (maybe several) inside the company to push for what may be an expensive overhaul of an existing site. Also, if generals are fighting the last war, then retailers are chasing last year's trends.

What interested me:

  • Bateman is working on a master's of science degree in HCI from DePaul ("to formalize what I had learned in the trade"). For someone who's already got deep experience and a reputation in internet retailing, I thought it interesting that she feels the need for a degree. It would be interesting to know whether she wants the degree to provide an academic balance to her resume's real-world experience (she's probably solved problems that haven't occurred to most academics), whether her company encouraged it, or whether she felt she needed a mental change of pace. I'm going at my degree from the opposite direction: I'm hoping to gain some formal knowledge that can help me get experience.
  • Very impressed by her commitment to self-education: keeping up with conferences, surfing and shopping to stay on top of new trends and patterns. She soaks herself in her subject.
  • She predicts that "transactions will become increasingly simplified" as mobile phone use becomes more prevalent. Using a cell phone frees people from being tethered to their PC in order to shop and buy. (And it is all about shop and buy, isn't it?) I'll keep an eye on whether my coursework in the coming years even touches on mobile technology at all.

I'm all for simplification--spare me from having to create an account at every store I want to buy from. However, as someone who uses a Tracfone and practices one-way cell calls (I can call you, but you can't call me because I leave my phone turned off), I feel like a curmudgeonly grandpa snapping at new-fangled progress.

Absorb Information Like Never Before

Have you ever had the experience of reading a book, listening to a presentation or watching a TV programme and discovering at the end that you could hardly remember any of the points made? If someone had asked you to summarise what had been said, you wouldn’t have known where to start.

Well, if that has happened to you it’s nothing to be surprised about … it’s a common enough experience. It’s due to the fact that our brains are excellent filters of incoming information and only let through what is of interest to us. It has to be that way or we would be overwhelmed with information. But it causes a problem when the filter isn’t set quite right and filters out material that we really do need.

So say for example that we have a textbook to read for an exam. How do we set our filter so that the information goes in, rather than getting ejected because our brain thinks it’s dull or uninteresting?

The answer is to ask ourselves questions about it. Before starting to read the textbook, spend a moment or two completing the sentence “Questions I could ask myself about this material include…. ”

Then take the 4 or 5 best questions you have come up with and jot down some answers to them off the top of your head. Don’t worry about whether the answers make sense or not… the important thing is to get your brain engaging with the subject. Only then start reading the text.

Once you have finished reading, you can go through the same procedure quickly again. That will help to fix the material in your mind.

In this way you can engage with the material both before and after you read it. If it’s a really complicated document, like the textbook in my example, you could repeat this procedure before each chapter or section.

There are many other ways that you can use this method…. before a client interview, before taking a test drive on a new car, before visiting a famous tourist site and so on ….. use your imagination!

Absorb Information Like Never Before

the comic book industry


Econlog asks: why are American comics dominated by the super hero genre? Is it simply path dependence from an era when super heroes were popular? I don’t have the definitive answer, but here is some data:

1. Comic books in other countries focus on humor (Condorito/Latin America or Asterix in Europe) or historical drama (e.g., the Lone Wolf and Cub series in Japan).

2. Before the 1950s, there actually was much wider variety. It was not uncommon for kids to read comics about the wild west, war, romance, or crime. Some people claim that the McCarthy era Comics Code Authority encouraged “safe” genres like super heros, rather than political or socially charged genres like war comics or romances.

3. Throughout the post-war era, humor magazines - such as Mad - have been hugely popular and they are essentially comic books. Also, newspapers comics, such as the Far Side are routinely anthologized as larger comic books. These are rarely super hero books and they are even best sellers.

4. Since about 1990, there is a fairly serious genre of high art comics in America, such as Maus or Cerebus. Small market segment, but easily accesible to most people in cities or college towns. Some, like The Watchmen, are super hero, but most aren’t. [You ask, what is my favorite? Alex Robinson’s romantic comedy, Box Office Poison.]

What I gather from this evidence is that super hero dominance is partly a function of definition. If you expanded beyond “picture books sold at the supermarket,” you see that super hero books aren’t quite as dominant, even among youngsters. As you look over the years, you suspect that there’s a natural match between super hero stories, boys, and the visual medium of comic books, but you also realize that many other genres, especially humor and romance, have done very well. It’s also no secret in the comic industry that super hero books, while still the bulk of what’s bought by young American boys, are a declining genre. I’ll chalk this one up to historical contingency, not path dependency.

Bonus Round: Check out PhD comics - the only comic strip just for grad students!!

the comic book industry

Featured Windows Download: Edit PDF files for free with PDFill

pdfill.pngWindows only: Free utility PDFill can create, update and merge existing PDF files for free. Yesterday we posted Combine PDFs for Mac, and PDFill does the equivalent job on Windows, plus more. PDFill can also split or reorder PDF pages, encrypt/decrypt PDF’s, rotate and crop, add image or text watermarks, and convert images to PDFs and back. The downside is PDFill requires the Java runtime to work - but you still can’t beat the price for pretty advanced PDF manipulation. PDFill is a free download for Windows.

PDFill PDF Editor [via Rule the Web]

Featured Windows Download: Edit PDF files for free with PDFill