(Re)Introducing Machine Methods

Just wanted to take a brief moment for some self promotion. This weekend, I launched a redesign of the website for my technical consulting business, Machine Methods. Once again, a tip of the hat goes to my web design partner, friend and all around code ninja, Michael Armstrong.

For the design of the Machine Methods site, the idea was “one page, many purposes” . The majority of the information is on a single page – who we are, what we do, and how to contact us. Not only would this design function as a web page, when printed it would become a one sheet (8.5 x 11 single side) brochure that could be part of a promo packet. Then, when folded three way letter style and slipped into an envelope, when removed, the top of the page (as seen below) will be the first thing people see…

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…Then, when unfolded, the page would be there in front of them appearing in the real world almost exactly as it does online. One page, many purposes.

As you can see, this site may be minimal and, therefore, may look easy to throw together, the idea I am going for and the execution of that idea are often complex. Because I often design for myself with a fairly limited and rigid constraint (i.e. only using text), a lot of thought and planning goes into how to make it look good and work well. It should not just be text thrown onto a page. And while the design may be minimal, the functions this design can serve are quite a lot. For instance, I could easily see a slightly modified version of the image above working as a quarter page advertisement in a newsletter or magazine.

So there it is, a little peek into my strange design brain. Take a look and, if you need some technical consulting, give me a jingle.

Getting Real With Your Lists

Here is what I want you to do…

Take out your lists. This may be one single big list of to do items like Princess Bethany likes to keep. If you are a Getting Things Done practitioner, you probably have several lists – all broken neatly into contexts, a someday/maybe, etc. For you, the someday/maybe might be a good place to start… But, I am getting ahead of myself. Go ahead, take them all out. Get them all spread out where you can see each and every task/project/hope/dream/etc.

OK, do you have them all out? Good. Now, take a long look at that pile. Really soak it all in. Got it? Great. Here is what I want you to do next. Go through each and every task and ask the following question:

> “Am I really going to do this?”

Seriously. Be honest… Get real.

If there is even a question in your mind about it. If it is something that would be better done (and actually done) by someone else get it to them like the hot potato it should be. If it is something that sounds good in theory but you know, deep down, will never happen, then kill it. Kill it dead.

Your to-do list should be a sacred place. It should be filled only with the things you really plan on doing, are consistently evaluating and are taking active steps move items forward and to get those things done.

Now I know what you GTD folks are thinking…

> “But that is why I have a someday/maybe list. It is for things I maybe, kind of, would like to do someday.”

Um… Well, yes, maybe that is what you think it is for. You would be wrong.

Here is the deal, if you are not including that Someday/Maybe list as part of a regular review (weekly or otherwise) and going through each item regularly, evaluating it, tying to figure out how and when to move it forward, put it into an active project state, or otherwise getting it done – it should be gone. If you are indefinitely deferring things there and are always saying “maybe”, “not now”, “someday” to those items – they are your weakest link. Are you really going to learn Chinese? Learn how to ski? Buy that big fishing boat? What are you doing to make those things happen? Is it possible to Call to enroll in a Chinese language class at the local community college? When? Today? Then do it. Don’t dream it. Don’t defer it. Don’t try to “hope” it into reality. Do it. Pick up that phone and make that call.

All I am trying to say here is be really honest with yourself about your intentions. If you have an item (or several) on that list that you always glance over, perhaps it should not be there in the first place. Don’t set yourself up for failure. If there is something you really want to do or need to do, then don’t half commit to it by parking the idea somewhere and never really looking at it again. Define what it will take to get that item to the next level and try to commit time to do just that.

Thoughts on “The Pleasures of Uninterrupted Communication” (and managing expectations)

Boing Boing’s Cory Doctorow, wrote a great article for Internet Evolution recently – The Pleasures of Uninterrupted Communication – detailing his strategy for dealing with interruptions and not having to deal with the mountain of e-mail one encounters after having returned from and extended break or vacation – “email apnea” as it has been coined.

So I eliminate the mountain: when I go away for an email fast (usually coinciding with a holiday), I set up an auto-responder advising correspondents that I’m away and that I “won’t be reading their email” when I get back, asking that they re-send anything urgent after my return (I make sure a few key people, like my business-partners, parents, and agent know how to reach me by phone). When I sit down at my desk again after the break, I download all my mail while I have a little walk or tidy up my desk. Once it’s all downloaded, I select every last message and delete them. No email apnea.

Cory does not delete the e-mails because he does not care about the people who sent them, he does so because he cares too much to not be able to respond due to the sheer volume.

You see, I love communicating too much to be interrupted. Whether I’m writing an essay or a novel, composing an email, or chattering with someone by voice, the last thing I want is to be given a jolt of useless adrenaline every time something new lands in my queue. Indeed, the oppressive weight of the knowledge that the queue is lengthening is enough to stress me out — any time I go away for a day or a week, all I can think of is that mountain of mail accumulating on my server.

One of the many things I love about this is that it is yet another wonderful example of managing others expectations, through simple and compassionate communication, in order to achieve your own freedom. Compassionate? Well, you see, if you let people know what to expect from you – that you only check your e-mail twice a day and at particular times, for instance – then they will not be disappointed that you did not respond to their e-mail as soon as they sent it.

For those of us old enough to remember, there was once a time when this kind of access and availability did not exist. Leaving a phone message is a good example. Once upon a time if you called someone, and they were either not home or on the phone, your only option was to call them back later. The responsibility was placed upon you to remember to take action at a later time, not upon the person you were trying to reach.

Now, all of this has changed around. Now, because there are so many ways for people to place the responsibility of follow-up upon us, even while we are “not available”, it adds up to increased workload and stress placed upon us. I think one of the many dangers of our growing “always connected” society is the idea that license is given to others to always have a way to interrupt others at anytime. The expectation has already been set by the sheer existence of tools that provide ever increasing ways to get our attention. People naturally assume that everyone treats these tools as they do. If they prefer (or are conditioned to) jumping on their email, mobile phone, “crackberry” every time it buzzes or blinks, then they, somewhat naturally, assume the same of you. The onus is therefore upon each us to manage those expectations to fit our needs.

Here is an idea, how about sending an e-mail to your coworkers that goes something like this?

Dear Comrades,

Because I value my communication with you and would like to make sure that I respond to your needs with the appropriate level of action, I have set up some basic criteria for handling my e-mail and mobile phone.

I check and respond to e-mail twice a day. Once in the morning at 9am and again in the afternoon at 4pm. I do this in order to give my responses complete attention at those times. Because of this, I would prefer all non-urgent communication to be e-mailed to me and it will be acted upon at those times.

If there is something that requires my immediate attention, please call me on my mobile phone at 555.555.5555. I assume that anything coming to me via phone is urgent and requires my immediate attention. Therefore, as a courtesy to those that truly require urgency, please do not call my mobile for non-urgent items.

To recap:

Urgent = Phone

Non-Urgent = E-mail

Thank you for your cooperation in helping me provide you with the service you desire.

Sincerely,

Patrick

As I have said before, Be Pavlov, not the dog…

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