Mind Reading

Chad Fowler’s book, The Passionate Programmer has a chapter entitled ‘Mind Reader’. In it Chad talks about a colleague who was always turning in work ahead of it being asked for.

That’s where Rao’s magic trick came in. He didn’t talk much in those conversations, but he was anything but disengaged. He was listening carefully. And, giving away his secret as no magician would, he later told me the trick was that he was only doing the things that I had already said I wanted. I had just said them in ways that were subtle enough that even I didn’t realize I had said them.

I think we both agree on the fact this is no trick. It’s better than that. It’s someone listening intently, capturing ideas and suggestions no matter how small they are.

Based on experience this is a task in itself. I’ve been in many a meeting where suggestions have been banded about, but never followed up. Then months later when the team did get some time to implement these ideas, they were almost forgotten and so needed another meeting just to remind everyone about them. Despite this happening several times, there was little motivation from the team to record each of these ideas, let alone try these ideas out on their own.

The other day I refactored a bit of code that was duplicated across the code base a number of times. It was one of those little jobs that had been mentioned in the past by the client but never written down on the board as something we would like to have. As I was already working on changes in a nearby section of the code, I decided to refactor out the duplication. It took me just over a half hour to do. Happy that it was working correctly, I pushed my changes up for testing and moved onto the next card. The client might not spot it right away, but it’s there. A small improvement to the code that just took me an extra half hour to do. A duplication removed that means that any changes to those parts of the code can now be done in one place rather than four.

My problem isn’t that I don’t listen, it’s that I don’t capture enough during those meetings and what I don’t capture I end up forgetting. I don’t record the small things in favour of the big picture and while many might see that as a good thing, the small things give us small wins that contribute to the bigger picture.

From now on I’m going to make a point of capturing more details during my meetings with the clients and keep a list of minor changes that have been recognized but not formally requested. As long as these changes are small, tested and don’t impact the code base in a negative way then I say it’s fair game to be implemented.

Getting the Most From Feedbin

There’s been a lot of talk over the last couple of years that RSS is dead and it certainly didn’t look good when Google closed their RSS reading service, Google Reader. Since the news that it was closing though there has been a number of new RSS services that aim to fill the gap. Having tried a couple I evetually choose Feedbin. It looked promising from the start and I’m glad to see that today it has grown into an amazing application and makes managing and reading your RSS feeds easy.

Over the course of the last year or two, Feedbin has added a number of great features to the service. I thought I would round up some of my favourite features that I use daily to manage my RSS feeds.

Time To Unsubscribe?

One of the problems I had with Google Reader was that it was difficult to see when a feed was last updated and how active it was. Overtime people lose interest in keeping their site updated so eventually feeds start to stagnate. It was hard to see this in Google Reader. Unless you were aware of the decline in posts, which is easy if you only follow so many accounts, there wasn’t a way to check your feeds to see which were active and in-active.

Feedbin solves this problem on the feeds page of your account. Not only can you search and unsubscribe from feeds, you can also sort them according to when they were last updated and also how active the feed is. This makes it easy to spot the sites that are slowing down in posting and might be worth unsubscribing from.

Take A Shortcut

Google Reader had a great set of keyboard shortcuts. I even created a mind map for the shortcuts to help me memorise them. They were essential in allowing me to quickly scan through all my feeds and mark those that were worth reading later on in the day. You’ll be glad to hear then that Feedbin also has a great collection of keyboard shortcuts at your disposal. With these you can navigate around your feeds, search, action articles and even share them to your own connected services such as App.net and Twitter.

If you’re not a software developer then you might be more familiar with using the mouse when it comes to navigating your applications. For applications such as Feedbin, I say give the keyboard a try. While you might hit a few stumbling blocks at the start, trying to remember what key does what, keep at it. Using the keyboard is a much faster way of interacting with the computer and the keyboard shortcuts for Feedbin are minimal. There are only 20 sets of shortcuts to remember with most of them being a single key, but even learning just a quarter of these will make such a difference. And the best part, just press ‘?’ on your keyboard while using Feedbin and it will display all the shortcuts you need.

Action!

One of my early gripes with Google Reader was the lack of automation. Some feeds I subscribed too always needed a specific action or used for logging purposes. For these feeds I wanted them starred or marked as read as soon as they came in. In Google Reader this wasn’t possible, but it can be in Feedbin.

Feedbin has a section in the setting page called Actions. Here you can define actions that meet one or multiple feeds. The two actions available are starring an article or marking an article as read. There might be more in the future but for now these make automating the management of your feeds a lot easier. Why would you do this though?

Some feeds are always interesting. I subscribe to the Caesura Letters newsletter through an RSS feed. I star the article every day so that I can find it at lunchtime for further reading. It’s one less action to do on a daily basis but it still saves a bit of time.

Save Time, Save That Search

Searching your RSS feeds is a routine thing for me. Maybe I’m looking for a specific set of articles or articles that feature a specific keyword. What happens though when you want to do that search over and over again? Well you save it!

Feedbin has a great feature called saved searches that lets you save the searches you carry out over your feeds. These appear in your sidebar with the search icon beside them so that you can differentiate them from the rest of your feeds. One saved search I have is my ‘Recently Mentioned’ search.

I follow a number of blogs that are part of an relaxed circle of bloggers. We link to each other’s posts for other people to see. It’s not a traffic building thing, we just link the stuff we find interesting from each other on our blogs. I was getting mentioned a few times when I thought about having a search for this. With my saved search now, I can see when I was last mentioned. You might call it an ego thing, but I prefer to think of it as a validation tool to see what people find interesting. It helps to find out what people link to on my blog and whether I should publish similar content.

Use Your Favourite Reading App

Feedbin also has an API that allows other apps to connect to Feedbin. While Feedbin excels as a great application on the big screen of a desktop, laptop and tablet, I find the mobile interface not that easy to use for scanning feeds. My app of choice for checking my feeds on my iPhone is the wonderful Unread by Jared Sinclair. With simple gestures for quickly scanning and actioning articles, it is by far the best app I have found yet that connects to my Feedbin account.

Feedbin is a great RSS reader and I use it daily, often multiple times a day. The best part of Feedbin though is the automation. The actions and sharing to your favourite services are the best time savers for me. With feeds handled automatically in the background and one key press to share to other services like Instapaper, I can breeze through hundreds of articles on a daily basis.

Great Guide to That First Draft

Michael Wade has the best advice for getting that first draft done.

Fixie Friday - Colnago Master Pista

via FGGT

Small Is Good

Twitter and Facebook are huge in terms of the number of users they have, but is this always a good thing?

Not a week goes by where I’m reminded of the popularity of social networks. Whenever there’s a global event happening, you can be sure that there will be lots of updates about it. Not only that but when you turn on the television now every company and brand has a related Facebook page or a Twitter account. Twitter and Facebook are everywhere. It seems that everyone is on one or the other. Well okay, not quite everyone but it’s safe to say that most are.

Last night was the opening night of the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. Aside from the first part of the opening ceremony with the giant dancing Tunnocks teacakes, it went fairly well. Like most big events I wondered if anyone was talking about it on App.net. I fired open my App.net client to check. No one had mentioned it. Not one post. Up until the first hour I don’t think there was a single post about it. I breathed a sigh relief.

Why the relief? Well there was no negative comments, bitching or snide remarks. You didn’t have to cut through the negativity. In this case you didn’t have to cut through anything at all. It was refreshing to not have to filter through people’s views, posts, pictures and other stuff.

And that’s what I love about App.net. It’s a small community of people. Okay it might not have the millions of users that other social networks has but if the people in your timeline are not sharing in the same event as yourself then it’s okay. They might just be doing something else that matters to them. It’s a nice reminder that despite what happening around your part of the world, there’s other things happening around the rest of the world too.

If App.net continues to gain users at a slower rate than other networks then that’s okay. As long as it remains profitable and continues to serve it’s users I’ll keep on calling it my little part of the social internet.

Productivity Is About Processes

Dazzled by the lights of new task management app? Before switching, make sure you’re switching for the right reasons. Productivity isn’t about the apps.

Read any productivity book and you’ll find a common observation among them. Rarely is a specific tool mentioned that makes that specific productivity method work better.

I spent a good couple of years hopping from app to app in search of a task management app that met my requirements. It wasn’t a wasted journey, I did get to try out a number of different apps but I didn’t have a productivity method in mind that I would use with the app. I was simply trying some apps out. I was going about this the wrong way, you see it should be the other way around. Productivity is about processes not tools. The tools we use should compliment our preferred productivity method.

Look at any productivity method and it’s about the processes and workflows involved. Capturing, reviewing, planning and executing are the most common processes involved in most methods. I use all four of these processes in my own method which centers around a single list of actions. I then use projects and tags to group actions, filters to review and a calendar for scheduling those actions.

The processes I use means that I could use just about any task management app, but it’s in the details where you can find great task management apps. Here’s a list of requirements that I finally settled on.

  • I need to be able to capture anywhere.
  • I need to group related actions into projects.
  • I need to group actions by tags.
  • I need to see different views of my list.
  • I need my list available to me wherever I go.

Looking at these requirements I can think of a number of task management apps that could meet all these requirements. After reviewing a number of apps that I’ve tried in the past I found a couple that worked for me. I choose TaskPaper as it gave me the ability to keep my master list in one location in raw text. After a few months though my list became difficult to manage. I started looking for a replacement.

One task management application that I hadn’t tried up to this point was Todoist. I started moving my master list over to Todoist. That was eight months ago. Today I’m still using Todoist. It meets all my requirements and also provides a number of other features that I didn’t look for before in a task management app.

With a crowded marketplace of task management apps it can be easy to be dazzled by the new kid on the block, but productivity isn’t about those apps. It’s about the processes. If you’re on the market for a new task management app or you’re simply looking for a change, make sure you are looking for an app that fits your processes.

Fixie Friday - Trophy Bike

The Senior VPs get all the cool toys these days.

via FGGT

Mastery Takes Time

Yesterday I mentioned I was embarking on a last attempt to master a different text editor. If I’m to succeed at this, then one truth I must face is that this will take time, just like mastering any new skill does.

I always find that learning something new starts out to be fun. I have a clear goal in mind of what I want the end goal to be and with that in mind I start. Whether it’s a new programming language or an application, those first few days are where my positiveness is at a high. After a few days though, the stumbling blocks kick in. I don’t feel as productive as I did before. Even though I know I’m in unfamilair terroritory, I start to wonder if this is in fact the right time to be learning something new. A few days further on and I’ve only mastered a small subset of this new topic or skill. Questioning myself again, I throw in the towel and abandon the learning process. I’ve done this so many times in the past.

The recurring mistake I’ve made in the past is forgetting that learning takes time. Mastery takes even longer.

For the moment I’m content to simply learn Vim. This means getting to a stage where for most of my day I can write and manipulate code without resorting to looking up keyboard shortcuts. Finding files, finding text in files, managing files in different panes, navigating a file, search and replacing within a file and basic text manipulation represent groups of keyboard shortcuts that I need to learn in order to use Vim effectively. I’ve given myself a month to learn most of these shortcuts. After a month I should be able to assess what I can and can’t do in Vim. For all the things I can’t do, these will become the focus for the next month of using Vim. Repeating this process for six months will evenutally get me to the place where I want to be. To have mastered Vim.

Learning can take hours or days, but true mastery can take weeks, months, even years depending on what you want to master. This is the key to successful learning and mastery, you need to put the time in.

Another Attempt

I’m trying it again. I’ve made a number of these attempts over the years with my longest attempt lasting just a couple of weeks. Now though I think the time is right for a final go. You’re probably wondering what the hell I’m talking about. My fellow programmers might have an idea.

I’m talking about making the transition to Vim as my preferred text editor for writing code.

For years now Sublime Text has been my only text editor. Its flexibility, plugins and stability make it such a great editor to use. It made my job easier since I first started using it and continues to do so. So why would I want to upset my workflow and change to something else? Curiosity. For a long time I’ve watched other developers wield Vim with such ease and fluency. I’m fluent with Sublime Text but there’s something about Vim that makes me think I could be more fluent.

I’ve tried to make the move permanent so many times over the last few years but it’s never successfully happened. The main problem with each attempt to use Vim has been the initial stumbling blocks that make an impact on your typical work day. Sublime Text has worked for me so well since I first started using it and switching to Vim will take a while but my patience always takes a battering and then I move back to Sublime Text.

This time it feels different though. After a couple of days using Vim I’m making headway with the basic actions of managing panes, buffers and basic text manipulation. I’m taking notes as I’m using it and I’m practing some of the shortcut keys that I discover each day. There’s still a few teething problems with the setup I have but I’m prepared to see it out for another month at least.

We’ll see how it goes.

Fixie Friday - Paul Smith Mercian

via FGGT