Posts tagged with: productivity

Pocket pro-tips — how to get the most of the read-it-later service from an addict

A Pocket Full of stuff

This year I’ve been working on managing my digital collections and consumption and trying to get more efficient and strategic about it. I’m addicted to Pocket, the read it for later saving service, and one of the dragons I had to slay was my insane 1,600-article Pocket archive that I built up over the years. (I’m floating around 200 articles now, most which are long-reads and videos, so getting through that will take some time.)

Here are some processes and tricks I learned from going through this massive de-cluttering and how I’m going to proceed in the future:

  • Don’t bother ‘Pocket-ing’ tech news unless you’re committed to frequently staying on top of your archive. I can’t believe how many articles on now-antiquated technologies I saved and only half read or didn’t read at all and no one died. Commit to reading it in the moment or commit to batching these sometime in the week. I was also shocked by how many dead links were in the archive. Digital decay is a huge problem not many people are talking about. Even institutions like Charlie Rose changed their CMS or archive process and broke a ton of links I’d saved.
  • Use some sort of system for tagging. Tagging and memorizing a complicated taxonomy can have diminishing returns on time saving when you’re on the run and just want to save something quick for later. So I say use as minimal tags as necessary. I’m trying out these currently (I might might modify them to tag a non-existing word so when I search the results will be more narrow):
    • “Soon” (Timely reading I need to finish this week, like tech and current news)
    • “Weekend” (Longer reads and such, ideal for Sunday mornings with coffee on the patio)
    • “Fun” (Non-deep stuff for lighter reading time, like on the metro)
    • “Work” (Jobbie job stuff)
    • “xHobby” (Topical around my current hobbies and interests)
    • “xMood” (For when you need happy/funny/emotional stuff and want to sort by the mood)
  • Use reverse chronological order mass batch your reading from the back forward. This also helps you move quickly, especially if you have an archive that’s half a decade old. Some things are just going to be out of date. The article about the launch of the Nexus One is nostalgia and not adding a lot of value.
  • Use multiselect and commit to finishing articles. On the web version, you can long click to multiselect several articles, when I knew I had an hour or so to dig through some of the archive, I’d batch about a dozen at at time, command-clicking them into different tabs for reading/watching and then multi-select archiving them. It’s kind of a Pomodoro for Pocket reading.
  • Search for topical keywords and then focus on chomping through that archive when you’re in a certain mood/focus. For instance, I was able to do all the background reading on responsive web design much more easily in this search mode. Rather than getting the randomness of my straight feed with an article about RWD, then relationships, then science, then Lifehacker, etc. The focused, topical reading list helped keep me in the zone. This can be used to sort by year fairly nicely too if you are looking for random ordering, but to clean up the older stuff in your archive.
  • Commit to dedicating weekly time to reading. The biggest factor in staying on top of Pocket and making sure your archive is manageable is finding regular, committed time to reading. Make it a habit. Either before bed, on the metro or Sunday mornings with breakfast. If you neglect and just keep piling up things to save it becomes a junkyard of randomness and you *think* you’re getting value when you’re just deferring learning to ‘sometime’ in the future (or more likely, never).
  • Backup / save your archive somewhere that’s searchable. I use and pay for Pinboard to keep archives of sites and web pages I want to save. Pocket offers a premium version that will do this for you too (I haven’t tried it since I have Pinboard, but if I ever lost Pinboard I would do it). I have an IFTTTT recipe that automatically saves new Pocket items to my Pinboard.
  • Automate an army of Pocket robots to help you out. IFTTT offers a lot of Pocket integrations that you can use to track topics, RSS feeds, social media and automatically save things to your Pocket for review. This can be dangerous and lead to careless overload, so I’m very targeted about this, but I definitely have Youtube “Watch Later” videos and keyword-driven RSS feeds from a few favorite blogs like auto added to my Pocket.

Pocket — One of my best purchases of 2011

Pocket logo

Pocket, the tool I use for my digital consume-it-later file. Previously known as “Read It Later.”

Once known as “Read It Later,” Pocket, the save-content-for-later-consumption tool is my briefcase of reading and watching resources that has followed me for almost half a decade and through at least 20+ mobile and tablet devices. This scrappy and lean startup had me from the beginning with their advanced sharing and tagging tools, and they hustled hard against many similar competitors, including the (at the time) more cleanly-designed Instapaper, one of the darlings of the tech world helmed by the brilliant Marco Arment.

They’ve changed their subscription model, but the $4 (I can’t even remember what the cost was originally) to support them back when it was Read it Later was well worth the value it’s provided me. It’s not just reading, btw, they support and segment out video and photos too, so if you’re looking for something more visual, you can chow through those archives separately, as well as lots of tagging options for building your own workflow. (I’ll post more on my Pocket Pro-Tips soon…)

They now have a premium service for $4.99 a month with archival features, which I would pay for if I didn’t already have Pinboard with that support. (Or if they created my dream media eBook and Audio Book library tool. Or bought PocketCasts or incorporated podcasts and high-speed playback (I know I could probably cobble together an IFTTT for flowing podcasts into Pocket, but native implementation would be awesome), I’d pay for that to have one go-to place for all my ‘news-ish’ / long form / timely reading-listening-watching to do.

It appears they are moving to be more social-focused though, with their new public feed features (which is understandable, social is so hot right now… private digital library collections are so OVER). The new Pocket recommendation feature introduced in August has been pretty freaking fantastic surfacing things I’m deeply interested in but haven’t seen (which is a challenge as much as I read and track my interests) so I’m looking forward to seeing how this develops!

Turn off “Unread message icon” in Gmail to be more productive

Unread messages

Gmail has an awesome, but deadly “Labs” feature (under Settings) available to turn on the favicon for showing the new message count on your email. I’ve used this for years but recently decided to turn it off and haven’t looked back to try and triage the amount of time I spend in email, and instead focus on batching emails at selective times throughout the day. I highly suggest if you turned it on and find yourself too distracted by the hundreds of emails that pour into your inbox, turn it off. The email can wait until you have a time-boxed time to knock it out.




Pro tip: How to turn on your TV through Chromecast (and some other connected devices)


I’m a Chromecast fanatic. Even just for background noise or playing music through my TV, I use it for several hours on most days. One feature that I discovered this winter while looking into HDMI technologies was HDMI-CEC (or HDMI Consumer Electronics Control). This allows an external device plugged into the TV to turn on the TV when the device is activated, saving you a step and warm-up time when you’re using something like Chromecast.

The awesome thing is this isn’t some revolutionary new thing that will take many years to adopt — it’s available on most modern TVs with HDMI — it just sometimes needs to be turned on in the TV options menu and most manufacturers unfortunately try and rebrand it as some fancy new proprietary feature, rather that just calling it the industry standard name. Here’s what to look for in your TV settings (depending on your manufacturer) from Wikipedia:

Trade names for CEC are Anynet+ (Samsung), Aquos Link (Sharp), BRAVIA Link and BRAVIA Sync (Sony), HDMI-CEC (Hitachi), E-link (AOC), Kuro Link (Pioneer), INlink (Insignia), CE-Link and Regza Link (Toshiba), RIHD (Remote Interactive over HDMI) (Onkyo), RuncoLink (Runco International), SimpLink (LG), T-Link (ITT), HDAVI Control, EZ-Sync, VIERA Link (Panasonic), EasyLink (Philips), and NetCommand for HDMI (Mitsubishi)

Not all external devices support this, but Chromecast certainly does, so I hope this saves you a few seconds, searching for the remote and some button pushing in your daily to make living more seamlessly and enjoyable. :)

Nine metrics to use to evaluate if you should take on a side-hustle project


Back in 2011, I hit at a breaking point in my life and needed to make a change. I’d took on too much across all my professional work, a fellowship studying mobile tech, co-directing the Society for News Design’s St. Louis convention, co-directing the NPPA Multimedia Immersion, working on the board of the Online News Association including several committees and as Secretary of the executive board, freelancing, plus more than two dozen speaking and teaching engagements. My health, stress and general well-being was way out of whack and I had to start making life changes and being more selective about what I take on, saying “no” to some opportunities. It took a couple years to wind things down and become much more selective (and I still fall back to my old ways and overload myself) but I developed a checklist system for evaluating projects.

I was reminded of this list last week at the 9th annual Multimedia Immersion (yes, this is one of the few things I didn’t wind down, yet) when the amazing, humble and world-famous photographer Greg Heisler was speaking on stage during our freelance/career discussion. He said he had a handful of tests/motivation points for making decisions about when he would pick up work and relayed some stories where he took less than the money he should have received for the opportunity to work with cool people or for future gigs.

Here’s my list that I developed (in no particular order) for deciding if/when to take on extra side-hustle projects:

  • Skills — To learn new skills.
    (It’s important to be constantly evolving your skills, living the kaizen way.)
  • Impact — For the impact it makes on the world, to do good.
    (I’m starting to be much more critical about what real and exponential impact some work can have and trying to find bigger/harder/more impactful things to take on after reading “Bold.”)
  • People — To be around and work with amazing people.
    (As many people say, ‘You are the average of your 5 best friends,’ so finding more awesome people to influence you and raise your awesome average is always good.)
  • Money — For the substantial money.
    (As in $100/hr rates or as an investment that will likely have exponential returns.)
  • Challenge — To be challenged, solve interesting problems.
    (This can take many forms and be a dangerous one because some challenges can consume you if you take them too far, but accomplishing difficult things can be very rewarding.)
  • Pleasure — For the pleasure/calling of doing the work.
    (Some things like maintaining a garden or brewing your own beer, may not be lucrative or extremely productive uses of time, but there’s a personal pleasure you can derive from the experience.)
  • Resume — For the future career opportunities that will grow from this.
    (Sometimes this is hard to gauge since it’s hard to know when a connection to make helping with a conference could lead to a job, but the line on your resume is a little easier to quantify.)
  • Reputation — To build character and status.
    (Especially building a reputation of serial start-up successes, so that when people think of you they know you’ll deliver and are good to your word.)
  • Appreciation — To feel appreciated.
    (Although this frequently doesn’t happen easily, openly or very clearly, so this should not be the primary motivator.)

Not everything I decide to take on has to hit all these points to get the green light, and some things might just be incredibly high value in one or two, but ideally, I try and only take on work that fulfills at least half of the items on the list.

If I work through this list and I’m still on the fence, I sometimes consider what a (soon to be former boss) Rob Bole, said something at a BBG staff meeting encouraging us to innovate and push the boundaries (which I have had scribbled on a Post-It note on my desk wall since): “When you have the choice between two different options, choose the most dramatic.” New adventures stretch and grow your character and experience more than doing lots of the same thing year over year over year.

Samsung 1 TB SSD hard drive one of the — One of My Best Purchases of 2014

Samsung SSD

In 2014, after many years of delaying, I took the plunge and switched out my mechanical hard drive for an SSD and will never buy another mechanical hard drive in my life. I went for one of the big ones too — a 1 TB Samsung SSD — so that I could travel with all my files on one computer (I still do external backups occasionally). There’s even a new “Pro” version with a 10 year warranty for those of you out there concerned about the longevity of this ‘new’ (not really anymore) technology.

This is definitely one of the greatest purchases of 2014 and has extended the live of my laptop at least another two-three years before I will probably have to upgrade. By that point, I suspect all most all computers will be running SSD drives. (After doing a bunch of computer shopping this past week for an upgrade for my mom, I found many companies are already switching over and the choice seems to be have an optical drive and traditional hard drive or an SSD-driven computer.

The major benefits:

  • Speed, by far, is the biggest benefit for everything involving memory or hard drive space
  • Productivity/efficiency (because of the speed)
  • Heat/weight/cooling are all supposed to be better, but I don’t notice
  • Cost is going down (still SSDs are much more than mechanical) but price has improved hugely over the past two years

Even if your budget only allows for a small hard drive or even one of the hybrid models, I highly, highly recommend getting in on this SSD party.

Save yourself packing time and prepare a travel ‘go bag’ for quick and easy digital tools on the road

packing for travel

One of the things I’ve been trying to do to focus and execute better in life is to automate and batch everything possible so you don’t have to deal with the cognitive load of making constant small decisions, especially when you have a lot of projects in motion and things to juggle.

If you travel frequently, you probably have a go-t0 toiletries bag pre-packed with all your supplies as needed, but in this digital day and age, it’s now necessary to start packing an electronics ‘Go Bag’ that waits in my suitcase in the closet so I don’t have to scramble to get everything together for each trip and do the packing, unpacking, repacking, planning each time.

On a recent trip to Iceland, I found myself missing a few items I needed (car adapters and chargers for a rental) and I’ve finally committed to buying/setting aside a pool of gear as my dedicated and relatively compact, travel ‘Go Bag.’

Here’s what I’m packin’ in my default digital travel kit:

  • Some sort of compact containment/organizer – A mini-dopp bag of sorts. I have a rectangular soft-side bag from Logitech that came with some sort of accessory I purchased a while ago (I can’t remember what it was) but this works great for me and the amount of gear I need. I’ve heard rave reviews of the Grit-It series of organizers, but I’m a little apprehensive about not having everything fully contained.
  • Gum – For chewing, relaxing, keeping fresh and keeping awake on late night drives. (I know this isn’t tech related but I keep it in this bag for some reason.)
  • Mini tripod (or selfie stick with some sort of tripod/steady option) – I bought a super cheap and easy aluminum one in Japan at an equivalent to a Dollar Tree store and it gets the job done. (This is another item I wish I’d brought to Iceland.)
  • Short USB cable – Compact and easy to pack up.
  • Long USB cable – I charge a lot of USB devices from USB, so I usually have a long cable from a Samsung S-series device but any will do.
  • Apple USB Cable – (Or get a USB combo cable like this to kill a couple of these in one cable — you can’t charge multiple devices at the same time though, which is why I carry the separate cords)
  • USB flash drive – A few GBs, just for quick computer-to-computer file transfers if needed. I just use a promotional giveaway drive from a conference.
  • Mini SD Card with Adapter – Most computers take SD cards and this is a great backup for file transfers, phone transfers (for those that take mini SD) and digital camera film backups.
  • External battery pack – I have an old one about the size of a deck of cards with two usb plugs so you can charge two devices at once from New Trent that is starting to show it’s age, so in the future I might upgrade to something with more space like this 10,000mah (!) Anker dual-usb unit or more compact like this Anker ‘lipstick’ 3200mah charger.
  • Some sort of headphones with microphone – I usually have a spare set of Apple iPhone headphones for Skype/Hangouts/phone calls, and also for sanity in loud places, but I sometimes also bring something with noise-canceling or bluetooth functionality for longer trips.
  • Monster 4 plug extension cable – A good option for compactness, multiple sockets and surge protection. It has this stupid blue light on it that can be annoying in a dark room when you’re trying to sleep but I’ve covered up with electrical tape. Belkin Mini Surge Protector with USB Charger is another good option (I prefer the Monster because of the space between the plugs so that you can plug in things with weird bricks that don’t block/collide like they would on the Belkin.)
  • Factory Apple iPad charger – Because it’s 2 amp and the metal plug prongs fold inside to keep it compact.
  • Factory Samsung charger – This doesn’t need to be Samsung specifically, but any 2 amp compact charger will work perfectly.
  • Lens cleaner rag – For cleaning glasses, camera lenses, phone glass, any give-away microcloth will work and should be compact and easy.

Car-involved Trip Add-Ons:

Conference Trip Add-Ons:

More Vacation-ish Trip Add-Ons:

  • Canon S110 Point and Shoot Camera – Great features and control with manual functions and a wide-wide lens. The zoom lacks, but zoom with your feet and you’re ok. I also have a spare battery from a previous Canon camera that uses the same system and chargers
  • Mini SD Card with Adapter – Most computers take SD cards and this is a great backup for file transfers, phone transfers (for those that take mini SD) and digital camera film backups.


Hold less meetings, get out of the way and ship more stuff.


One of the difficult things that I had to work on as I rose through the management ranks was managing communication. And specifically meetings.

When you move out of technology and into management your work creations are not a design or a website or a piece of documentation/white paper — they’re facilitating and expediting the teams that do that content creation.

Making that jump is really difficult for some — it was for me — part of me wanted to still be in code and design, and as I realized that I needed to get out of the way and step back and let the team do their jobs, I felt the need to have some sort of tangible ‘things’ for my time, and that started to become meetings. I started to feel that if I had a full schedule of meetings and was preparing and going to and leaving meetings I felt like I was doing my job well. It couldn’t have been further from the truth though, and luckily I learned this quickly thanks to some frank feedback and open communication lines with my team.

Discussing this with other young managers making the transition this seemed to be a common theme. The costs of chronic meetings isn’t just spent time not creating, it disrupts the energy of your day and your focus and ‘flow’, context shifting slows overall productivity and literally costs money by the minute like an Uber. We found solace and got better sharing our mastermind with each other about strategies and sharing amazing new management and work bible’s like Getting Real from 37 Signals:

Do you really need a meeting? Meetings usually arise when a concept isn’t clear enough. Instead of resorting to a meeting, try to simplify the concept so you can discuss it quickly via email or im or Campfire. The goal is to avoid meetings. Every minute you avoid spending in a meeting is a minute you can get real work done instead.

(Seriously, read the whole book, it’s a quick and awesome piece.)

Some people never grow out of this; one of the worst bosses of my life has a chronic problem with this and I tried to work with him on it, but he refused. (And thankfully is no longer my manager or anyone’s manager, luckily).

A recent HBR article reminded me of this challenge we all must fight — balancing doing productive work vs. holding many meetings — and they provided a great quick and easy test of four questions for deciding if it’s time to take everyone away from their work to hold a meeting:

  • Have I thought through this situation?
  • Do I need outside input to make progress?
  • Does moving forward require a real-time conversation?
  • Does this necessitate a face-to-face meeting?

And an easy flow chart of options for deciding if meetings are necessary:

Should I hold this meeting