INBOX ZERO. Merlin Mann, who cooked up Inbox Zero, said, "Just remember that every email you read, re-read, and re-re-re-re-re-read as it sits in that big dumb pile is actually incurring mental debt on your behalf. The interest you pay on email you're reluctant to deal with is compounded every day and, in all likelihood, it's what's led you to feeling like such a useless slacker today."

Tabula rasa

What better way to start the year than with a clean e-mail slate?

I went through my e-mail accounts on New Year’s Day to process it back to Inbox Zero – the state it was in weeks ago, which I wrote about in a blog post here.

INBOX ZERO. Merlin Mann, who cooked up Inbox Zero, said, "Just remember that every email you read, re-read, and re-re-re-re-re-read as it sits in that big dumb pile is actually incurring mental debt on your behalf. The interest you pay on email you're reluctant to deal with is compounded every day and, in all likelihood, it's what's led you to feeling like such a useless slacker today."

INBOX ZERO. Merlin Mann, who cooked up Inbox Zero, said, “Just remember that every email you read, re-read, and re-re-re-re-re-read as it sits in that big dumb pile is actually incurring mental debt on your behalf. The interest you pay on email you’re reluctant to deal with is compounded every day and, in all likelihood, it’s what’s led you to feeling like such a useless slacker today.”

It took me less than a day to process the e-mails that had accumulated in December. It took much less time because I had done the grunt work in September. For weeks after that initial work, I was able to maintain the Inbox Zero state of my main e-mail account with regular reviews.

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MANAGING TASKS. From the clipboard to phones and tablets, task management has gone digital. Above, my Galaxy Tab displays active tasks that I have to do right away. The clipboard, on the other hand, lists routine daily tasks related to my business section responsibilities.

My phone’s a slave driver

It was a gentle buzz at first, “You free? Time to finish TechNotes column.” I just glanced at the reminder on the phone while in a meeting last week in a coffee shop. The reminder was repeated on the tablet. I chose “snooze” in both devices and told the app, Astrid, to remind me again in three hours.

Then the reminders came in torrents and with more pressing urgency, “It’s time (urgent task here)” and “No more snoozing! (another urgent task here)” as my phone and tablet laid out a long list of things I was supposed to do and tasks that were nearing deadline. The klaxon of notifications (my alert tone is the sound of a modem initiating and completing a connection) provided me with the push to end the meeting on schedule.

From being a device to call people and later to send messages, the phone has increasingly become our main computer.

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Back to basics

I started working before the word processor as we know it today and the graphical desktop became mainstream. In fact, in my first few weeks on the job, I used a typewriter.

When I joined The Freeman, a Cebu City-based community newspaper, in 1996, its newsroom was using networked PCs running DOS. It took me a while to get used to writing using a “word processor.” I was scared at sitting in front of those green monitors and their menacing command prompts.

Back then, when reporters sat in front of the computers it was to write stories. The writing program occupied the entire screen and you could not multi-task. There were no games in our newsroom PCs and the Internet could only be accessed on one computer.

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I’m writing this post to avoid finalizing the design of a site

Here’s an interesting essay on structured procrastination by John Perry, a philosophy professor at Stanford.

In the essay, Perry points the way forward to procrastinators like me:

“The key idea is that procrastinating does not mean doing absolutely nothing. Procrastinators seldom do absolutely nothing; they do marginally useful things, like gardening or sharpening pencils or making a diagram of how they will reorganize their files when they get around to it.”

Structured procrastination, Perry said, is organizing your tasks to exploit the fact that “procrastinator can be motivated to do difficult, timely and important tasks, as long as these tasks are a way of not doing something more important.”

It’s a matter of picking the right set of tasks to be placed at the top of the list: tasks that “seem to have clear deadlines (but really don’t). Second, they seem awfully important (but really aren’t).”

Finally, I see method to my madness.

FEAC2006: technical notes

Since last year, I have been actively moving files that I need to access anywhere online, in an experiment to “make the network my computer.” This served me well during the recent Free Expression in Asian Cyberspace conference in Manila.

The greatest benefit is that the files I needed for things I was working on was accessible whichever computer I was using. I host all my files with Box.net, the best online drive I’ve tried so far. Streamload is a close second and I use it for backup.

I used one of the newsroom’s laptops in the conference and it was a plain vanilla installation. In a few steps, however, I turned it’s Firefox into the browser that I use at home and at the office. When I used one of the laptops set up by the organizers at the conference hall, I was also able to turn it into my familiar Firefox installation (after they installed Firefox): with the same bookmarks and bookmarks toolbar. I did this using Foxmarks, a Firefox bookmarks synchronizer. Foxmarks synchronizes all your bookmarks into a central server, so you essentially have the same set of bookmarks and bookmarks toolbar for each browser that uses your account.

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Wiki on a K750i? A txt file will do

I’m a huge fan of TiddlyWiki, a standalone web page that you can edit through a browser for just about anything: to-do lists, notes or any other text data. I’m an extensive user of one of its derivatives: the Zope server-based ZiddlyWiki but before that, I used GTDTiddlyWiki, a version that incorporates a getting things done menu and is formatted for easy printing on index cards.

ZiddlyWiki fits my need for a server-side notes taking and archiving solution that is accessible anywhere. I host my ZiddlyWiki on a free Zope hosting account with Objectis. I needed a server-side solution because I wiped out a lot of notes trying to synchronize the GTDTiddlyWiki in my home PC and in my office PC last year.

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Meditation increases attention span, sharpens focus and improves memory

Researchers using advanced brainscanning technology “are beginning to show that meditation directly affects the function and structure of the brain, changing it in ways that appear to increase attention span, sharpen focus and improve memory,” Time reported.

The magazine also reported that “one recent study found evidence that the daily practice of meditation thickened the parts of the brain’s cerebral cortex responsible for decision making, attention and memory.”

“The forms of meditation (scientists) are studying involve focusing on an image or sound or on one’s breathing. Though deceptively simple, the practice seems to exercise the parts of the brain that help us pay attention.”

Ive been trying out meditation breaks for a couple of weeks now and I find that it helps me deal with stress better. What I do is I listen to MP3 files from Zencast and follow its instructions. A couple of times I tried listening to Bedroom Radio, which has a great selection of songs, but its not a podcast for meditation, there are parts that can be distracting (in a not-for-meditation way), to put it mildly.

Get things done faster on your mobile phone and PC with FMA

If there’s one application responsible for an exponential boost in my productivity at the news copy desk it’s Float’s Mobile Agent (FMA). I wrote a short post about FMA earlier. FMA is an open source application that allows you to manage and operate your mobile phone through your PC via a data cable, infrared or Bluetooth connection.

Float's Mobile Agent

With FMA installed in your computer, you can just leave your phone in your desk and do all your mobile communications in your PC-from sending, receiving and archiving SMS messages, managing phone contacts, to-do lists and calendar entries to (for some phone models) taking and making calls using your regular PC headset. The program also allows you to easily back up important phone data like messages and contact numbers.
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