Time and Task Management

Thanks to people like Chris Bowler and Ben Brooks, I’ve come across some articles recently about evil to-do lists and putting everything on your calendar instead. Ben thinks it’s stupid, and Chris wasn’t inclined toward it, but seems to think some of the arguments make sense.

The basic gist of the articles against to-do lists say they leave too much choice and allow too little commitment. Putting everything on your calendar forces you to make time to do it, allows you to see availability, and forces you to say “no” more often. I’m loosely trying it out, and I do like that I am more aware of my calendar and time allotments.

In school, everyone received a paper agenda, and we were trained to use it, to rely on it. A mix of calendar and task list worked well. I don’t feel like it’s so easily implemented in apps, though.

Task and Calendar Apps

I’ve tried both 2Do and Omnifocus when it comes to task apps. They each have things I like, but I didn’t work well with either one. I failed to check or add to them regularly. So what would happen? Most of my important stuff would get done, and the less important—or unimportant!—ones would be left to languish. Meanwhile, Fantastical 2 is the only calendar app I’ll bother using; it’s especially nice on Mac, but I’ll talk about it more soon.

Brass Tacks

Regardless of the method you use, the key is to get things done without delay. Use lists or don’t. Use a calendar or don’t. Use paper, or apps, or don’t. But when it comes to things you need to know, know what they are, when they’re due, and who’s expecting. And know when to say “no” to other things.

Book Notes: Creativity, Inc. (Part 1)

I'm about a third of the way through this book, which has tons of gems on successful management and personal growth. Here are some of my favorite ideas from what I've read so far.

Managers must loosen the controls, not tighten them.

People are talented; they want to do their best work and contribute to the success of the company. Managers should do everything in their power to facilitate this: they should clear roadblocks and address causes for fear without delay. Rather than keeping people from talking to each other, they should actively encourage direct communication between team members. They should willingly hire people that seem smarter than themselves, because,

Getting the team right is the necessary precursor to getting the ideas right.

In fact,

Getting the right people and the right chemistry is more important than getting the right idea.

Our primary goal in whatever we do must be quality, not efficiency. And we shouldn't toot our own horn.

Excellence must be an earned word, attributed by others to us, not proclaimed by us about ourselves.

And remember, just because you have a good idea, or a bad idea,

You are not your idea, and if you identify too closely with your ideas, you will take offense when they are challenged.

Why is this important to remember? Because you will have bad ideas, and your team members (including any subordinates) have a responsibility to be forthright about this. They need to know that when they tell you your idea is terrible, that you won't blow up at them, or quietly sulk, but simply be happy that you have avoided a bad decision together.

So what sort of people should we surround ourselves with?

Draft into service those around you who exhibit the right mixture of intelligence, insight, and grace. The people you choose must (a) make you think smarter and (b) put lots of solutions on the table in a short amount of time.

And,

Seek people who are willing to level with you and when you find them, hold them close.

Miscellany

Okay, those flowed together really well. Here are a few other points I appreciated.

You don't have to ask permission to take responsibility.

In fact, I'd say taking responsibility demonstrates you can be entrusted with responsibility.

What these forces are that make people do dumb things, they are powerful, they are often invisible, and they lurk even in the best of environments.

Coupled with that,

The good stuff was hiding the bad stuff. When downsides coexist with upsides, as they often do, people are reluctant to explore what's bugging them, for fear of being labeled complainers. This kind of thing, if left unaddressed could fester and destroy.

Just because things are peachy, or mostly peachy, doesn't mean we should ignore the bad. We have to be alert to tear it out before it's overwhelming and the whole thing must be thrown out. Rather than feeling like a complainer, we should be focused on improvement; offering specific solutions can help alleviate the perception of complaining others might have.

Apple Music and Spotify

I’ve been using Apple Music pretty much since it was released, with a couple short stints of Spotify sprinkled in. The other day, I decided to give Spotify a shot again.

There are two things in particular I really like about Apple Music:

  1. Siri integration
  2. Explicit filter

Apple Music Highlights

Siri Integration

Siri integration I won’t spend much time on because, 1) Spotify should be able to implement that with iOS 10 and 2) Siri still fails miserably a great deal of the time.

Explicit Filter

I prefer not to listen to music with explicit lyrics, and I highly value that Apple leaves that choice to me. This is one area where Spotify fails miserably and has for years. Customers have clamored for this option—usually because of their children, but sometimes because they too don’t like the lyrics. There’s even a page on the Spotify Community where you can vote for this feature. Nearly 6,000 people have voted for this. Songs on Spotify are already marked as Explicit; this should not be terribly difficult to implement. I’ll also mention here that it needs to be much easier to find Clean versions of songs, especially on mobile.

Apple Music Letdowns

Confusing Interface

Unfortunately there’s a lot not to like about Apple Music. Even with the iOS 10 redesign, it’s awful to get around. Up Next is still more complicated than it needs to be, and you the list currently can’t be re-ordered as it could previously.

Lyrics, though it’s nice to have them again (especially without me putting them in manually), are implemented in a strange way: opening them pushes the shuffle and repeat buttons way down, along with Up Next. Moving interface elements around like this isn’t cool, guys.

Poor Discovery

When it comes to music discovery, I think Spotify wins. I’m continually disappointed by the For You tab, including almost everything in the Browse tab. Meanwhile, Spotify’s Home and Browse tabs are much better, you get a weekly playlist of new music to try based on your listening habits, and they notify you of new releases by artists you follow.

Spotify Highlights

On top of these things, there’s two other things about Spotify that win over Apple Music in my mind: Spotify Connect and social features.

Spotify Connect

Control what’s playing on your computer from your phone, or vice versa. Change where it’s playing in the middle of the song if you want. This includes devices with Spotify Connect built in (or with Gramofon attached). It doesn’t require wifi, and a phone call won’t interrupt playback. This kind of control just doesn’t exist on Apple Music yet.

Social Features

Apple did a poor job of combining music and social features with both Ping and Connect. I like that I can find friends who use Spotify and see if there’s anything interesting they’ve been listening to. I also feel like I see many more public brands (The Tonight Show, or even the President of the United States) use Spotify to publish public playlists.

Spotify Wins, with a Caveat

Despite Spotify’s overall superiority, I’ve gone back to Apple Music more than once because of the Explicit filter. I strongly feel that Spotify needs to incorporate this feature into their product. Otherwise it really is a great product, and Apple has a lot to improve on.

Getting Good Coffee from a Stovetop Espresso Maker

A while back I found a small Bialetti stovetop espresso maker, or moka pot, at a secondhand store. It's a nice way to make concentrated coffee. You won't get the crema of modern espresso, but made right, you'll still get a very good product.

"Made right" is the key. Even after reading how to use it, my coffee was ending up very bitter. The beans were freshly roasted and freshly ground, and I was turning off the heat when I saw it bubble, so I couldn't see the problem. Then a friend whose work includes training baristas gave me a couple tips:

  1. As soon as you hear the coffee coming up, turn the heat down.
  2. Don't use a dark roast.

These two things made a huge difference in the quality of the brew. So when you want to make great coffee with a moka pot:

  1. Get freshly roasted beans, and only grind what you need when you need it. Grind a little more coarsely than you would for espresso.
  2. Fill the lower chamber just up to the pressure valve.
  3. Don't pack the grounds in like you would for espresso.
  4. Leave the lid open. As soon as your see the first bit of cofee come up, turn it to a low heat.
  5. When it's almost filled, you'll see the coffee coming out thin and/or bubble. Take the pot off of heat immediately.
  6. Serve promptly. The heated metal can cause the coffee flavor to change.

This method is great for iced coffee, since it results in a more concentrated brew. Buy one on Amazon and try it out!

Short Review: Breville IQ Kettle

I recently purchased the Breville IQ Kettle on Amazon. It's made of German Schott glass and has 5 temperature settings: 175F (green & white tea), 195F (oolong tea), 200F (French press), 205F (black and herbal teas, coffee), 212F (boiling). A glass-walled vessel with stainless steel accents, it's attractive.

It's well-constructed and visually appealing. The temperature settings are varied enough but not too much, and are well-labeled. It's fun to watch the water boil through the glass walls.

The only thing I can really find to complain about is that the slow-opening lid leaves a small mouth for putting water into the kettle. I feel like I'll break it off if I hit it with a faucet or pitcher one too many times. (I typically use a pitcher to pour filtered water into it, as it doesn't fit in the refrigerator water dispenser.)

Looks good, works well, one minor flaw, and fun. This kettle shows why, as my friend Andrew puts it, "Breville is the Apple of kitchen appliances." Buy it on Amazon.