Focus on one thing at a time

I believe that splitting your concentration and even – gasp – multitasking means you end up with lots of things not finished. Probably not as good as they could be, either, but chiefly unfinished. Writer James Clear argues that there’s more to this one-thing-only approach, though, and he starts with trying to prove its value:

If you want to master multiple habits and stick to them for good, then you need to figure out how to be consistent. How can you do that?

Well, here is one of the most robust findings from psychology research on how to actually follow through on your goals:

Research has shown that you are 2x to 3x more likely to stick with your habits if you make a specific plan for when, where, and how you will perform the behavior. For example, in one study scientists asked people to fill out this sentence: “During the next week, I will partake in at least 20 minutes of vigorous exercise on [DAY] at [TIME OF DAY] at/in [PLACE].”

Researchers found that people who filled out this sentence were 2x to 3x more likely to actually exercise compared to a control group who did not make plans for their future behavior. Psychologists call these specific plans “implementation intentions” because they state when, where, and how you intend to implement a particular behavior.

The Scientific Argument for Mastering One Thing at a Time | James Clear

The rest of the article is more about the philosophy of concentrating. Read the full piece.

Apple Music is good

As I write this to you, it’s about 5am and I realise I’m not in the mood to listen to any music. More often, though, if I’m here working away on my own and most especially when I have to really concentrate on the job, I will be playing music – and now I think that means I will be playing Apple Music.

Certainly for the next three months while it’s free, anyway.

Apple Music is like Spotify, Pandora, Rdio and many other services: you can listen to just about any music you like, just about whenever you like. Streaming music should be a familiar concept to me because that’s surely what radio has always been yet somehow I find it hard to get used to the idea. I’m so used to buying music, whether that is on vinyl, CD or download, there is the choosing and the buying and the playing.

Now there’s really just the playing as you don’t buy an album per se and I think you don’t choose in quite the same way. You explore, you sample, you don’t think about whether to invest some cash in this artist or that album.

I’ve liked the idea enough that I got a free Spotify account to try it all out and for over a year I’ve been playing it a lot in the car. Only, Spotify defaults to trying to recommend music to you and I always disliked or even loathed its choices. They made me feel very old and I don’t need any help feeling very old.

Spotify stops recommending stuff if you create a big enough playlist of favourite choices. I created such a playlist: 50 or so tracks that I like a lot. Only, I’ve ended up playing just those 50 over and over. I’m not unhappy: sometimes it’s perfect, sometimes it’s not.

It’s not as if I play the same 50 in the same order: unless you pay for a Spotify account, you can only play things on shuffle. It did just feel that some days Spotify got my mood exactly right and other days it didn’t.

You also get ads on Spotify every three songs or so. I got very used to those and, I don’t know, maybe I got close to paying for an account. That would remove the ads, that would allow me to play the song I wanted when I wanted, it would let me play an album in sequence.

I’ll never know how close I came, not now. For if I do end up paying for a streaming music service, it will not be Spotify. Not any more. It will be Apple Music.

I’m just trying to define why. Writing for about it, I concluded that I and we like it a lot:

We’d say love, but come on, the paint’s still wet, let’s take this affair a little slow for a time: we’ve got three months of dating before we have to make a commitment.

Hands On: Apple Music (iOS, OS X, Windows) – William Gallagher, MacNN (30 June 2015)

Read the full piece for more specifics about how it works and what’s good but after a night’s reflection, I think it comes down to two things that will help me while I work.

I think.

There’s the way I could just leave it running playing fairly random tracks but generally ones I like or am going to like: you give it some nudges about what you’re into as you set it up and it seems to do rather well with that information. That’s good.

But there is no question: the ability to just say aloud “Hey, Siri, play ‘Life is a Celebration’ by the Kids from Fame” and have it do that, that is startlingly great. Siri doesn’t work on Macs, which is going to be an issue as that’s where I spend most of my day, but using it via my iPhone and iPad for one day, I’ve become addicted to this feature.

They used to do this on Star Trek: “Computer, play some Bix Beiderbecke”. And it’s here.

My iMac returns home later today from having a repair done: when it’s here and I’ve updated iTunes, I’m going to see if I can use Siri to control it via my Apple Watch. My entire working day may change if it works.

NOTE: To play Apple Music, you need iTunes on your Mac or Windows PC, or an iPhone or iPad. Android stuff coming later.

Create something solely for yourself

We spend all this time writing for audiences – from real live audiences to commissioners and producers – but have a go at doing something just for you instead.

Building small, self-contained projects is a great way to learn and expand on your skills. When you learn by building something new instead of just through reading and theory, you learn implicitly rather than explicitly, and are more likely to retain and use the knowledge you’ve gained.

“Forget the rules, and learn from first-hand experience instead. There’s so much more to be gained from not knowing how to do things the ‘correct’ way, and learning to do them your own way.” Richard Branson

Why you should make things no one will use – Belle Beth Cooper, Crew blog (undated)

It’s not a long piece but there’s a lot in it. I’d not heard of the Crew blog: I got this via 99U.

It’s come to this: firms having practice Twitter meltdowns

Jacobs is the kind of Silicon Valley founder that makes the rest of them look bad. He gets drunk in public, gropes women at the bar, and is having an affair with an unpaid intern. And to top it all off, he’s scheduled to speak at South by Southwest tomorrow — at a panel about women and technology.

Fortunately, Jacobs isn’t real — he’s a simulation organized by a company named Polpeo. Polpeo, a subsidiary of the social media management firm eModeration, specializes in a novel new corporate exercise: the simulated brand crisis. Police officers train for various crises all the time; so do airline pilots. But most corporations don’t — even as the rise of social networks allows bad news about them to spread globally at record speed. More than a quarter of brand-related failures typically go international within an hour on social media, according to Polpeo, and a year after the crisis passes, more than half of companies haven’t recovered their share price.

Protect the brand or die trying: inside a fake social media crisis – Casey Newton, The Verge (20 March 2015)

Read the full piece to see whether you’re convinced this is a real thing. And if it is, maybe it’s a shame because when companies blow up on Twitter you feel they’re showing us their real sides.

Turn up

My personal favourite line of Woody Allen’s is from the book jacket biog he wrote for himself: “Woody Allen’s one regret is that he is not someone else”. But I’d like to offer you this alternative:

I think that the biggest life lesson I learned as a boy that has helped me and is still with me is that you really have to discipline yourself to do the work. If you want to accomplish something you can’t spend a lot of time hemming and hawing, putting it off, making excuses for yourself, and figuring ways. You have to actually do it. I have to go home every single day, no matter where I am in a world, no matter what I’m doing, and putting 30 to 45 minutes of practice on my clarinet because I want to play. I have to do it. When I want to write, you get up in the morning, go in and close the door and write.

You can’t string paper clips, and get your pad ready, and turn your phone off, and get this, get coffee made. You have to do the stuff. Everything in life turns out to be a distraction from the real thing you want to do. There are a million distractions and when I was a kid I was very disciplined. I knew that the other kids weren’t. I was the one able to do the thing, not because I had more talent, maybe less, but because they simply weren’t applying themselves.

As a kid I wanted to do magic tricks. I could sit endlessly in front of mirror, practicing, practicing, because I knew if you wanted to do the tricks you’ve got to do the thing. I did that with the clarinet, when I was teaching, I did that with writing. This is the most important thing in my life because I see people striking out all the time. It’s not because they don’t have talent, or because they don’t want to be, but because they don’t put the work in to do it. They don’t have the discipline to do it.

This was something I learned myself. I also had a very strict mother who was no nonsense about that stuff. She said ‘If you don’t do it, then you aren’t going to be able to do the thing.’ It’s as simple as that. I said this to my daughter, if you don’t practice the guitar, when you get older you wouldn’t be able to play it. It’s that simple. If you want to play the guitar, you put a half hour in everyday, but you have to do it. This has been the biggest guiding principle in my life when I was younger and it stuck.

I made the statement years ago which is often quoted that 80 percent of life is showing up. People used to always say to me that they wanted to write a play, they wanted to write a movie, they wanted to write a novel, and the couple of people that did it were 80 percent of the way to having something happen. All the other people struck out without ever getting that pack. They couldn’t do it, that’s why they don’t accomplish a thing, they don’t do the thing, so once you do it, if you actually write your film script, or write your novel, you are more than half way towards something good happening. So that I was say my biggest life lesson that has worked. All others have failed me.

Woody Allen Interview ‘Vicky Cristina Barcelona’ – Frosty, (15 August 2008)

It’s not possible to feature Woody Allen without thinking of the same things that make some of his films uncomfortable. Yes, this interview was done in promotion of Vicky Cristina Barcelona. It’s easy to say that this is the worst film ever made – so let’s. It’s astoundingly awful. Writer Ken Levine has a better take on it than I will ever manage because after five minutes I felt inspired to get on with my work.

So, you know, Allen is a productivity guru of a sort.

Though I’ve got to say that Midnight in Paris is as good as advertised.

Overwhelming technology and how to shrug about it

A friend posted this on Facebook today:

Dropbox, We Transfer, #, twitter, UHDTV, Clouds, uploads, downloads, TECHNOLOGY OVERLOAD!!!!!!!! Not a bloomin clue.

I want to tell you what I told her, just in more detail and hopefully more usefully.

Here’s the thing. If I work this out on my fingers – hang on, you should always show your working out. Okay. Today I have used…

Drafts 4, Mail, Word, Pages, Evernote, OmniFocus, OmniOutliner, Awesome Clock, TextExpander, Calendar, Fantastical, MailChimp, Twitter, Facebook, Buffer, WordPress, Safari, iTunes, live-streaming radio, Podcasts, iCloud, OmniPresence, Dropbox and probably more.

That’s nice. But I only know that because you asked me. If you’d just said oi, what have you done today, I wouldn’t have thought to mention the tech, I’d have said:

It’s been a good day. I wrote about 3,000 words.

There was an interesting profile of Jonny Ive in Vogue the other day that touched on how we feel about technology:

In 1985, the year [Steve] Jobs was forced out of Apple, Jony Ive was in design school in England, struggling with computers, blaming himself. “Isn’t that curious?” he says now. “Because if you tasted some food that you didn’t think tasted right, you would assume that the food was wrong. But for some reason, it’s part of the human condition that if we struggle to use something, we assume that the problem resides with us.”

A Rare Look at Apple’s Design Genius Jony Ive — Robert Sullivan, Vogue (1 October 2014)

I’ve seen this. I’ve had people wail down the phone, convinced they had a virus because actually Word did something to their text. And I think you can see the same assumptions in my friend’s Facebook post there: “not a bloomin’ clue” is there synonymous with her feeling she should, wondering how people do and, if I can put thoughts into her head, maybe even resentment that she has to deal with all this stuff.

Look at my day. I didn’t get up thinking oooh, I’ll start with Drafts 4. I thought god, I’m late writing this piece and have to get it done before I can do that. If I did get up thinking, right, I’ll use Drafts 4, I don’t think I’d be a writer, I’d be someone who likes fiddling with technology.

Plenty do, plenty of people enjoy the intellectual challenge of getting Windows to work, and that’s cool but I think that’s a hobby. I think that’s the tech being someone’s aim and interest where I and I suggest my friend there are more interested in our work. It happens that I use a lot of tech to do mine and she would rather not.

I enjoy these tools and I can’t make my friend do that but I can tell her to shrug. If you’re not using twitter, so what? If you are using OmniFocus, cool. If you are using Windows, we can get you the help you so badly need.

You will never learn how to use anything by sitting there with a manual in your hand and a song in your heart. You will learn how to use everything when you have a need for it. You want to get a huge file to someone, you’ll see how to use Dropbox. You want to take minute and have a chat but you’re working alone, you’ll find Twitter. You want to waste your life and become aggravated to the point of coronary, you’ll buy a PC.

I believe this and I know it to be true: you learn from necessity and you learn a lot, you learn everything. I would now say I know Photoshop well but it’s from fifteen years of needing to use it to do the smallest, tiniest things. There was a tiny, trivial, even tedious little task at the Radio Times website that meant someone had to use Adobe InDesign: I did it because it meant once a week for two years I was using InDesign to find more and more.

InDesign is a big, daunting application but that weekly dose of it was far more useful than a lesson would’ve been. Enough so that I later got a freelance gig specifically because I knew how to use InDesign.

So don’t study, don’t look at this as opportunity to learn or a requirement to catch up, just do your job. Maybe you could keep an ear out for tech that helps you because I promise it transforms my work. But in principle, shrug. Alright?

Practice like an expert, not an amateur

Creativity Post has an article about the methods successful people use for practicing whatever it is they do. The article is chiefly about sports success and what I don’t know about sport would fill every sports book, channel, magazine, blog and stadium. But the idea of having an aim, a purpose that requires practice to attain and to sustain, that applies to us all.

What do the fittest people do that I’m not? How are their workouts different? Are there key things they do while they’re working out that provide a bigger payoff than the things I do? In other words, are they extracting disproportionately greater results from their time in the weight room than I am?

The same can be said for our practice time. What do top performers do when practicing a skill? What do the less effective practicers do? Are there any differences?
Indeed, it appears that there are.

Two Things Experts Do Differently Than Non-Experts When Practicing – The Creativity Post (8 May 2014)

You’re wondering what the two expert things are. I feel if I told you both, it’d be stealing from them. Let me tell you the one that chimed with me: have specific goals. Now take a look at both the other thing and at more of the reasoning behind why they work.