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Identify Addictive Application Patterns

Permalink - Posted on 2018-02-05 00:42

As our environment gets more complex we need to be better educated to navigate it. For example, I think that people would be more protective of their privacy, if they learned all the ways the data is used to manipulate them. I have been considering lately that we need to better identify other patterns that are intentionally used to create addictive behavior in applications and websites. Knowing these patterns may allow us to understand certain features for what they are and avoid them.

Pull to Refresh

Bucket this in with any refresh mechanism that gives you that rewards when there is occasionally something new to see. Open your email and pull to refresh? Is there anything new? It is reward seeking behavior. It is well established that having a random award (new email!) appear after an action is an addictive pattern.

Infinite Scroll

This pattern ties into our desire to “finish” a set of activities. When we have read through all of the items, we get that reward of completion. Infinite scroll tricks us into reading more and more, waiting to get to the end. Eventually we realize that we will never get to the end and have to give up. Instead of the reward of being done, we have the shame of giving up.

Feedback Loops

These come in two flavors, public and private. How many likes did that post get? That is a direct feedback loop to reinforce some pattern of desired behavior. This is an obvious one to see and is present in all social feedback loops.

There is also Analytics as Addiction. Exposing the activity based on your content is on the surface a good intent to inform you on how effective your content is to some goal, whatever that may be. But it also reinforces a desire to check repeatedly and insidiously alter behavior to steer to more engagement.


I have also noted that some of these patterns show up in other places that I don’t think of as intentionally addictive. They become user paradigms that people adopt as best practices. Pull to refresh for example appears in nearly all email clients. There is no commercial benefit to us getting a reward for obsessively checking our email, but it’s presence can encourage it.


Forestry.io

Permalink - Posted on 2018-02-04 04:43

I have been happy having my blog hosted in Jekyll and built as a static site with Netlify. There is a wonderful calm to knowing you just have a bunch of HTML pages. It’s light and airy. But, and this is a big one, I’ve found authoring to be simply too hard. Writing using a source code workflow adds too much friction.

Tonight I’m trying out Forestry.io and I’m very impressed. 👍 There are a number of content management tools for static sites, but I’ve found most of them fail immediately since I have more than 1,700 blog posts and I put them in :year: folders inside of _posts and that simple part causes most of them to fail. Similar issues exist with where you host images. I was very happy to see that Forestry.io worked right out of the box with that. It even built nice front matter templates based on the content it found inside of my site!

I’m putting this post together to share how impressed I am, and also as a test of the posting interface. If you are using Jekyll or Hugo I would highly recommend you look at Forestry.io!


2017 in Meetings

Permalink - Posted on 2018-01-21 14:56

Manager and maker schedules is a relatively popular topic. The basic thesis is that maker schedules need to consist of large blocks of dedicated time on a goal. You need time to connect with the work, hopefully, achieve some period of flow and realize an objective. Manager schedule, however, is divided up into small segments of time to connect with people and topics, get information and make decisions.

In my position, I operate on manager time with occasional injections of maker time. I am deliberate about how I manage this. My objectives and goals are realized, in part, through my calendar. In recent years I felt I could better align my calendar and time with my objectives, so in 2016 I did an end-of-year one-time analysis of my calendar and made some changes. After reviewing that analysis, I decided the benefit was valuable enough that in 2017 I committed to collecting more granular data. My goal is to determine alignment and effectiveness of my schedule to my objectives. I developed a set of workflows that I run at the end of every day to collect this data.

Now that I’ve collected a full year I can look at an overall budget to actual analysis. In business, we always look at our financial budget and compare to actual. In managing my time, I find it helpful to consider a budget and measure the actuals as well. You cannot budget well if you don’t collect actuals.

I’m going to share some of the statistical information that I gathered while doing this in 2017. I’m not sharing any information about the content or context. You may consider this navel-gazing, but some may find it interesting, and perhaps it will encourage others to be more deliberate about managing their time.

This analysis refers to meetings on my calendar. These are meetings involving other people. I block time on my calendar for solo work, and that is excluded in this analysis.

In 2017 I had a total of 1,512 meetings. These meetings occurred over 223 days. That is an average of 6.8 meetings per day.

Meeting frequency is highest on Thursday. However, the largest cumulative hours are on Wednesday. Friday has shorter meetings on average. I would have thought that meeting count would spike on Tuesday and then trend down through the week.

2017 Meetings by Day of Week

Let’s look at how these meetings occur over the course of the year. The average of 6.8 meetings per day shows visually here. There are many spikes, with one notable day having 13 meetings. Weekends are shown here, and you can see the 2-week vacation I took in the summer.

2017 Meetings by Day of Year

Daily data is noisy, and it’s easier to look at the 52 weeks of the year versus the working days. Here we look at the meeting count by week along with a 4-week moving average.

2017 Meetings by Week of Year

I got curious about how much of the week is scheduled in meetings. If we use an 8-hour day as a baseline then consider the load to be the percent of those 8 hours that were scheduled what would my weeks look like? It isn’t uncommon for me to have all of my time scheduled, and occasionally be over scheduled. As mentioned earlier, I do block time on my schedule for solo work activities. As a result, 81.3% is fully scheduled. Whenever I am over 81.3% I’ve removed that block to allow for more meeting time.

2017 Meetings Load by Week

How about the start time, do more meetings start in the morning? I certainly feel like the morning is more frequently scheduled than the afternoons. Here is meeting frequency by start hour. My average day gets a fast start at 8 am with a dip at 12 pm. Most days I have meetings through lunch. There is a dip again at 4 pm. In our office, we are much more likely to start earlier than later, and you can see that with the frequency of 7 am meetings versus 5 pm. The meetings in the middle of the night were in Ukraine and are represented here in central time.

2017 Meetings by Start Time

I was curious to know the distribution of durations. What duration of meetings do I have the most often? The most common meeting for me is 30 minutes (37.3%) and then 60 minutes (29.1%). 45-minute meetings are also common (12.5%), that is the normal time I schedule for 1-1 meetings with my team.

2017 Meetings by Duration

This statistical data is most likely to gauge overall stress level or demand for my time. I also get this data in a weekly report and it is a nice check on my qualitative assessment of the week. The additional data I collect about topic and context is very actionable. I can see areas where I’m over or under budget on time and can consider structural changes to my schedule to align better. I like this act as the shift forces me to delegate some topics more, disconnect from some things and give more time and focus to the areas that I specifically need to focus on for success.

I would highly encourage anyone that has more than 50% of their time scheduled to do a similar exercise. It will provide some insight both to how you are feeling and the results you are getting.


2017 in Links

Permalink - Posted on 2018-01-20 21:26

For years I’ve been keeping all of my links on Pinboard and this year I decided to start publishing them at Link Thing. I also publish my links in common formats that can be downloaded. I thought it would be fun to look at all the links from 2017.

In 2017 I saved 913 links. I most frequently create links at 8pm and 10pm, with 7am coming in next. It’s interesting that I did a link in every hour of the day in 2017. Why I was linking something at 2am instead of sleeping is a different topic.

2017 Links by Hour

Friday is the day that I save the most links. This is a little skewed by my reading workflow which includes staging links in Safari Reading List to queue up often before reading. After reading I may save a link. I almost always clear my reading list out on Friday night, before I publish my Weekly Thing newsletter.

2017 Links by Day of Week

I definitely started linking more once I started publishing the Weekly Thing in April and my link blog. Prior to that the only links I would have saved were ones I would revisit, after that I started saving links for anything I felt was worth highlighting and sharing.

2017 Links by Month

I saved links from 523 different websites in 2016. That’s just 1.75 links per website on average. I like the diversity of sources that represents. The top 30 websites represent 298 links, or 32.6% of all links. I was surprised to see Medium at the top of the list.

2017 Frequenty Hosts

651 of the links I saved were secured with HTTPS, a full 71% of all links for the year. Hats off to everyone for making the web more secure and private.

I was curious how my links spanned various top-level domains. 85% of links are in the .com TLD. There are 29 top-level domains that I only bookmarked one or two links from.

2017 Links by TLD

It would be fun to take this corpus of data and do further analysis. Some graph representation of sites through domain names, analysis by countries or even sentiment and topic analysis of the links themselves would be cool. I’ll defer that to next years post.


What apps make you better?

Permalink - Posted on 2017-12-29 18:16

I’ve been very intentional about which applications I put on my iPhone and even where I put them. I don’t put any social media applications on my phone, and don’t put news applications on it either. I specifically seek out applications that have addictive patterns baked into them and remove them as well.

A while back I started keeping an entire page of applications that are all there to help me achieve my goals and improve as a person. Novel idea huh? This is what that screen looks like today.

Apps To Make You Better

YouAte

Keeping a food journal is a great way to eat better and YouAte does it all with photos. I had used Rise for a while which you typically use with a coach. YouAte can be used with friends for support or you can use it solo.

Day One

Journaling is a great way to reflect on things. This is by far my farvorite journaling application. It supports multiple journals and also has strong encryption.

stickK

When my book club read Nudge it referenced the work and theory behind commitments that has now been built into an offering called stickK. I haven’t used this for a commitment yet but I like the mechanics and think it’s a solid approach.

Happy Scale

This is a great application for logging and analysing your weight data. It applies smoothing to all of your data which I think is a far superior way to look at weight data.

Headspace

Meditation app with a tremdendous amount of options.

Streaks

Streaks is a habit tracker. I consider habit trackers to be very different from task management. Habit trackers tend to focus on streaks, and Streak does just that. I’ve also used Productive in the past and like it a lot. The built-in HealthKit hooks in Streak are a nice benefit to me.

Zones

Zones is a fabulous app for tracking the intensity of your workouts and letting you know what heart rate zone you were in for how long. If you have an Apple Watch and collect this data Zones can even tell you info on historical workouts.

SleepTown

Fun app that helps you keep consistent sleep patterns. This app helps me make sure I’m not staring at my phone too late.

Forest

Fun app for forcing yourself to not use your phone during the day. Great for keeping yourself from habitually checking your device.

Health Mate & Omron Wellness

Both of these are here because they support devices I have. The Health Mate app connects my Withings Scale to HealthKit so data flows automatically. The Omron Wellness app connects my blood pressure monitor to HealthKit as well. I like having as much automation as possible from measurements to storage.

What is yours?

What apps are on your mobile device to encourage good things? I’d highly recommend putting them in one place and making it a regular stop on your phone.


Removed Google Analytics

Permalink - Posted on 2017-12-06 02:45

I’ve never desired to put a lot of tracking code on my websites, but I had left Google Analytics. I’ve decided to remove that too. In fact, I’ve removed all third party resources. You can check for yourself by using Ghostery and going to my sites.

Ghostery with No Trackers

While I found the information on what you all read and look at interesting, there are three primary reasons I’ve done this.

Analytics as Addiction

I believe there is a clear trend to use analytics as an addicting feature. How many views, likes or comments something receives is a psychologically affirming tool that services use to addict us to them. Is there any social media platform that doesn’t use these feedback loops to encourage you to spend even more time using them?

If your goal is to addict a user then, by all means, use every means possible to create feedback loops. If your goal is to drive attention and engagement on content, then show writers analytics so they can optimize that. I don’t have these goals for my sites, so I don’t need it. I’m needlessly toying with an addictive substance that I don’t need.

Residential Zone

I’m a firm believer that we need a concept of zoning on the web. When I’m in someone’s house, I have a different expectation of privacy than when I’m in a shopping mall. When I’m in a park, I have different expectations of safety and freedom than when I’m in an industrial facility. We should be able to cue our expectations around privacy and freedoms off of our surroundings. On the web this is confusing. Facebook is a shopping mall, but it pretends not to be.

Visiting my websites should be closer to visiting me, personally. If you are having dinner at my house and comment on my espresso machine, I don’t send a note to a tracking service to let them know you might be interested in buying a coffee machine. I don’t think that should happen on my website either.

Don’t be a Hypocrite

I run 1Blocker and Ghostery in my browsers to protect my privacy. In those tools, I block hundreds, and perhaps thousands, of 3rd party services and scripts. I think you should do the same. It is hypocritical for me to embed a tracking service on my sites, that I block on other people websites, and encourage people to block themselves.


AWS re:Invent 2017 Keynote Notes

Permalink - Posted on 2017-12-02 00:50

My quick reaction to the notable announcements at AWS re:Invent 2017.

Compute

Databases

  • Amazon Aurora Serverless - What is a Serverless database? I’m not sure I know, but the idea of a database that has no cost other than storage when it’s idle is pretty amazing for certain workloads. Sadly this is only available for MySQL at the moment, but they promise PostgreSQL coming soon.
  • S3 Select and Glacier Select: Retrieving Subsets of Objects - Wow, this is pretty cool. Take a bunch of data and dump it into an S3 bucket and then execute SQL-like select commands against that data. This enables some very interesting capabilities.
  • Amazon Neptune: A Fully Managed Graph Database Service - Graph databases are a bear to pick, use and run. AWS offering a cloud hosted graph database will hopefully address all of these issues. There are a large number of use cases where graph databases make a lot of sense but so many people have been burned by them that they tend to solve a graph problem using a document or relational database. It’s cool to see that this supports RDF and SPARQL, core concepts of the Semantic Web. It also supports TinkerPop3 (really? can we get better names?).

Machine Learning

Other


Envisioning a Cloud Native Wiki

Permalink - Posted on 2017-11-26 22:37

A few years ago I dove deeply into the wiki ecosystem and learned all about MediaWiki, it’s plugins and various extensions. I started a wiki to index all of the other wiki’s called WikiApiary. The wiki movement was huge, and it still has a tremendous amount of energy and incredibly devoted users. Wikipedia, in my opinion, is one of the most amazing creations of the Internet.

However, the wiki movement has hit the skids lately. There was a significant rush of wiki hosting platforms early on, and those mostly didn’t work. Wikia is perhaps an exception however it’s driven itself into the hole of fandom in a big way. Sadly many wiki platforms continue to sit on top of ugly PHP code and MySQL databases, with old codebases and arcane syntax.

In recent years email newsletters have seen a resurgence. I’d like to see wikis make a similar revival but for that to happen, we need to have some new energy in the wiki ecosystem. We need a cloud-native wiki solution. What would that look like?

Cloud Native Wiki

First thing first wikis should enable communities of any size, so the cost of running a wiki needs to be as cheap as possible. A serverless approach seems to make the most sense. If nobody is using the wiki the cost of running it should be no more than the storage, and that can be very cost effective.

  • Store all wiki pages and objects in S3. Store the objects in an editable format, something like Markdown, but also store it as HTML as well so it can be served directly out of S3. Think of how static site generators work.
  • The wiki itself should live in Lambda functions exposed through API Gateway. All editing and modifying of objects in the S3 bucket should be done via this method.
  • The wiki should be self-managed by a central source to update it. Wiki’s have a history of being poorly maintained. You should be able to create an IAM credential and give the ability for the Lambda functions and infrastructure of the wiki to be updated automatically.

Let Millions of Wikis Flourish

Ideally, someone should be able to start a wiki by creating an AWS account and then creating the IAM account for provisioning and updating. That account should then do all the initial setup as well as updating over time.

The content would be held in Markdown files in S3, as well as rendered HTML. This content would be easily mirrored off of S3 so it could be taken somewhere else. If the Lambda functions were all removed, the wiki should still run in static mode with no editing.

If we had this kind of capability, perhaps we could see wikis reenter the landscape for all the good that they can provide.


Deer Strike

Permalink - Posted on 2017-11-21 00:44

On Friday night we were driving to the cabin, and in a split second, a deer 🦌 was in front of our Honda Pilot as we hit it at 45 mph. We had driven down to have dinner at Smoqehouse and were on highway 60 heading east, just a mile or so past I-35 right by the Dairy Queen there. Tammy was driving and just as the speed limit was going up to highway speed. Everyone is okay, and happily, the airbags didn’t go off.

Tammy slammed on the brakes, and the deer flew forward. It rolled and slid into the ditch about 20 feet and immediately leapt up and ran off when it stopped. Its legs were okay, and I’m hopeful that it either miraculously survived or didn’t suffer badly.

The car took a decent amount of damage but remained drivable. The radiator got banged up, and many parts of the front were damaged. All fixable but will be some expensive bodywork.

Honda Damage after Deer Strike


Driving Change

Permalink - Posted on 2017-07-26 11:43

The newest episode of Driving Change with Jeff Martin of Collective Genius is out with yours truly!

You may also like the episodes with Bala Subramanian, Loren Brown, Nate Ober and Lisa Schlosser.


Assembling the Weekly Thing

Permalink - Posted on 2017-06-24 02:38

I had been interested in creating a newsletter like the Weekly Thing for a while but I was worried it would be difficult to do and quickly turn into a chore. I wasn’t worried about the email part, I knew a service like TinyLetter could deal with that. The daunting part was getting the content structured the right way, even when I the bits of the content were mostly in other systems already.

I knew the main item I wanted to build it around were links to other sites that I use Pinboard to collect. But how to make that easy?

Workflow to the Rescue

As I thought about this I tried a number of options. I tried making an Automator workflow but that was weird, and even worse it meant I had to be on a Mac and I knew I would want to send this when I wasn’t near a computer. I started to look at Workflow and realized it might do the trick.

Workflow has a great feature to retrieve published metadata, such as description and date, from a URL (Get Article from Web Page). Sometimes when I stored URL’s I didn’t write a description so that would be nice. I pulled the data using Pinboard’s RSS feed, put it in a loop getting a variety of data and assembling the draft content as I watched. Voila! 👏

The entire process that I use to create Weekly Thing is based on RSS (mostly) and tied together with Workflow on iOS. I have a collection of workflows that I run, with one master workflow that kicks everything off. The master workflow is responsible for ordering the sections and setting the cutoff date for content, which in my case is midnight of the relevant Saturday. The master workflow spawns the other workflows for each content section, passing into it the cutoff date for content.

Each workflow is then free to do whatever it wants as long as it returns a valid block of HTML back to the main workflow. I can chain as many of these modules together in whatever way I wish. Some of them don’t use RSS, like the photograph one. That prompts me to look at my photos and pick one, then fills in all the appropriate template text for me to finish off.

At the end the workflow combines all these blocks of HTML into one fully assembled newsletter and gives me the option to copy it, share it, generate a PDF or anything else I wish. I’m very happy with this. From here I put it in TinyLetter, do a final review and hit send!

Extensions

Since this is extensible, I can easily add new modules by creating another workflow that is then stitched into the assembly process. And because I’m using Workflow in iOS, I can access a wide variety of data from different systems. RSS is a basic one that many services support, but Workflow can look at my Calendar, Address Book and many others. I’ve thought about weird things like calendar statistics for example. Or if I really wanted to overshare I could pull in recent data from the Health app.

I’ve found that it’s easiest to understand Workflow when you see what other people do with it. Perhaps this will turn some lightbulbs on for others on how they could automate use Workflow effectively!


Introducing the Weekly Thing

Permalink - Posted on 2017-06-17 04:00

A while back I tried a way of sharing links to things that I found interesting every week. I did it by making a link blog post and then sharing links to that blog post. I got more positive feedback on those posts than I expected. People really liked them and found value in what I was highlighting.

But I didn’t like the link posts cluttering up my blog. They felt different and I eventually decided to stop doing the posts mostly because I was frustrated with how my website was coming along.

Email Newsletters

I enjoy a number of weekly newsletters. I subscribe to MacStories for the members only Club MacStories newsletter. Patrick Rhone’s One More Thing is a very well written personal newsletter and a treat whenever it comes. Sitting down with an espresso and my iPad to casually read through weekly newsletters is a treat on the weekend.

Email newsletters are ‘old school’. There is something about the medium that feels more personal and more conversational than others. I wanted to try this out, and realized that those old link posts were the right foundation to build upon.

Next I wanted to see how hard this would be. I quickly looked into TinyLetter and realized it would be pretty easy. I like that TinyLetter exists as a way for personal email newsletters. It’s very easy to use.

Weekly Thing

With the basis of my links I decided to put together a newsletter. I went with the somewhat goofy name of the Weekly Thing playing off my last name. Total aside, but I used to own the domain thing.org in the mid 90’s. I was at the U of MN at the time and I got an email from The Thing, a museum in Germany, asking if they could have the domain. I transferred it to them, seemed the right thing to do. My future as a domain squatter was determined at that time.

I’ve been quietly publishing the Weekly Thing for a few weeks now to an invited group of friends. I’ve been testing out my automation and the structure. I’m very pleased with how it’s working and this week put the [subscribe] page live and started sharing it. My first goal is to get to 100 subscribers and continue to flesh out the content. I hope you all enjoy it!

Go to the Weekly Thing to subscribe!


OmniFocus Tip: Using Context Notifications

Permalink - Posted on 2017-06-09 12:04

I use OmniFocus as the core of my GTD system. I also keep notifications on my phone to a minimum, including for OmniFocus. OmniFocus on iOS has the ability to give you a notification when you enter or leave a context with a location. This is pretty handy and I’ve used it for some specific locations associated with my Errands context. Errands : Hardware store gives me a nudge if I am nearby and have tasks available. I’ve never used this feature with Home and Office contexts because it would be very noisy.

There are times however when I would like OmniFocus to be in my face at home or at the office. I may have a task in OmniFocus that I need to do when I get to work on Monday morning, or when I come home on Friday evening and a notification would help. I realized there is a really simple solution to this.

I have a Office context, and inside that context I created a Office with notification context. The context with notification has a location and notification with it.

Now I can easily put a very small number of tasks in the Office : Office with notificaiton context and know I will be notified when they are avialable. I’ve created a similar context for Home with notificaiton. This has already allowed me to not forget a couple of time sensitive things.


Thinking in Decades

Permalink - Posted on 2017-06-06 02:35

This week I worked with Yahoo! customer support and deleted my Flickr account. I had deleted my Yahoo! account a couple of months ago when they had their second massive security notice of compromised accounts. When I got a notice letting me know that the Privacy Policy for Flickr was changing in association with the sale to Verizon I wanted to delete my account. I have no interest in Verizon hosting my photos, and frankly I don’t use Flickr anymore.

That was when I realized I had no way to access my Flickr account since the Yahoo! account was used to connect to it. I was happy thought that Yahoo! customer support was quick and made this easy to get done.

My Flickr account is no more now. I created that account probably a decade ago. Long before it ever became part of Yahoo!, back when Flickr was amazing and cool. Looking back this is a good reminder of how long our content lives online. Yet another example of how companies come and go and services come and go. To all of you using Facebook to keep family photos and pictures of your kids, think about this. This is why I feel so strongly about owning my content. It really isn’t that hard.


Turing Tumble on Kickstarter

Permalink - Posted on 2017-05-30 12:06

My mother sent me a link to Turing Tumble on Kickstarter and the video totally got me. It is a super cool concept and a great way to explore the fundamental concepts of computing. The bits that can be flipped and other various objects are really neat.

I backed this and am looking forward (and hoping!) for the November delivery. This will be a great present for the kids (and me!) for Christmas.

The results of the Kickstarter are impressive. It has been live for less than 1 day and it’s very close to hitting it’s goal!


Speaker Suggestions

Permalink - Posted on 2017-05-27 02:35

Through my work and being an active member in the technology community, I have a chance to see a lot of people present. Some of these are formal presentations with slides and ceremony, many of them are demos. As a result, I get a lot of chances to see people lead an audience through a topic.

Here are some things I see speakers do that I would recommend never to do.

“Utilized”

I challenge if there is any place where utilized is a necessary word. In conversation, we may talk about how we use something, and if discussing systems, it’s common to discuss the utilization of something. But utilized? The most common place to see this word is on a resume. I tend to find this word starts coming out when people feel a need to formalize or make a topic bigger than it is. Speakers often talk about how teams utilized something to their benefit. You just used it.

Also, apply the above to leveraged. Keep your vocabulary simple and conversational.

This is worth the time

Sometimes speakers will start out by saying we’ll “get through it quick.” Maybe a reference to “I’m the only thing between you and happy hour.” The assumption is this is humor, but it immediately frames your listener to start thinking about the next thing, instead of you. Either your content is worth the time or not, whether it is before lunch or happy hour shouldn’t impact that.

Related to this is an even worse pattern of “I’ll try not to bore you too much.” Self-deprecation is a common thing from speakers, but I really can’t think of a worse way to start your presentation.

Don’t steal your thunder

An anti-pattern I see very often is a presenter giving a demo but before the demo showing a slide that has bullets for all the things they are going to demo. It’s immensely more powerful to show the demo! There are a handful of capabilities that you want to highlight, but don’t highlight those in a static bullet list beforehand. Your audience wants to see it working, and you’re stealing your thunder by highlighting the capability before people see it!

Imagine if before unveiling the iPhone Steve Jobs would have shown pictures of it in slides, highlighted all the key features and capabilities, all in slides. And then after you’ve seen all that, showing you the demo. You can’t imagine it because it wouldn’t happen. Show the product, hit your key value points afterward when the audience has taken in the awesome stuff you have created. Those are the items you want them to leave with, and they will care more about them after they see it working.

I believe there is a corollary to this. The more “slideware” and bullet lists that precede showing working software — the worse the working software is. The slides and bullets are compensating for a poor solution.


Using Project Templates

Permalink - Posted on 2017-05-20 01:31

I’ve seen and read about people using project templates for a while, but I’ve never adopted them myself until recently. Mostly I found many of the means of managing project templates to be bothersome and I never dug into it further. That has changed recently, and I think many systems now support robust ways of importing projects and using them as templates.

What is a Project Template?

A project template is a set of actions and tasks that can be brought into your task management application. It’s significantly more powerful if the templates allow for some variable substitution for words or dates so that it can be customized for each use. It is even better if you can do some minor calculations on things like dates and indicate that one task is deferred or due relative to the date of another task.

Use Cases

I have found project templates to be particularly useful for three types of projects.

Frequent Activities

The most obvious use case for project templates is for recurring, relatively frequent events. At the office, I have multiple meetings that happen on a certain schedule, such as a team all-hands. Each time I do one of these meetings, there are a set of tasks I need to do. Determine agenda, prepare a draft, get input from others, arrange a guest speaker. Using a template for these events is very helpful.

Business trips are another good example. Each business trip has a series of before, during and after actions. I put these in a template with the proper variables and relative dates to help with trip planning and preparation.

Multiple Instances

One area where templates can be great is when you have multiple instances of the same thing with a slight variation. The best example I have for this is doing performance reviews. I have to write several of them, and each one has multiple steps. They are mostly direct copies of each other, but the person is different and possibly the dates. To make this easier I create a template and then run it for each person and can quickly build the multiple sets of projects that I need to get done for this process.

Infrequent Activities

I have found project templates to be a good way to make improvements to things that I rarely do. In fact, this is probably my favorite use of templates. It feels like a way to apply continuous learning to things you do once a year.

The template I made for Daylight Savings Time adjustment is a great example. I do this twice a year, and every time I tend to forget one or two clocks. There are also a couple of clocks that are tricky, and I often end up searching the Internet each time for instructions.

This year I made a project template for this that helps in many ways:

  • I put them in walking order so that I can optimally move through the house and not backtrack.
  • I made sure to capture the clocks that I tend to miss, like the timer for the aquarium lights.
  • For a couple of clocks that are very confusing to update I put the relevant notes directly in the tasks so I don’t need to search.
  • We have some clocks that update themselves, like our thermostats. They are not on the list so I don’t have to try and remember which ones I can ignore each time.

Now that I have a template I can do it faster, more efficient and know I didn’t forget anything.

A similar example to this is a recent template I made for Apple OS Upgrades. I have Macs, iPhones, iPads, Apple Watches and Apple TV’s that all need upgrading. I now have a template so I can easily capture those activities when needed.

Another example that I’ve come to like a lot is project templates for major holidays. Christmas is a perfect example of a very fun time of year but also a complicated time. Sending Christmas cards out, traditions and getting presents add up to a lot of things to make sure you get done and don’t have a bunch of last minute things to do.

I created a template for this and was able to capture all of the main things that we do each Christmas. This let’s me have more confidence that I do not forget anything. The last item on these templates is usually a task that suggests to “Update template with any changes from this year” which is a great way to get better for next year.

Scheduling

Project templates are handy, but often you want them to get setup on a schedule. I’ve decided to keep this out of my task management system and instead I have a task list in the Reminders application called ‘Project Reminders.’ This is where I set the annual triggers to create various projects from their templates.

Next…

I purposefully kept this post independent of the tools that I use so I could just make a case for using project templates in your personal GTD system. In a future post, I’ll talk about the tools that I use to implement this.


Horseshoe Pits Completed!

Permalink - Posted on 2017-05-18 02:30

Last weekend we finished putting in the horseshoe pits at the cabin and I’m very pleased with the result!

We have a lot of yard games at the cabin and I though it would be a lot of fun to add horseshoes to the mix. I honestly didn’t think that much about it and put a horseshoe set on my wishlist for Christmas. After getting the set I realized I had bit off more than I realized.

I found a great site for horseshoe plans. My brother-in-law helped me get the wood and cutting done and unfortunately the winter came before I got it all done. We finished digging the pits into the ground this spring after the ground thawed.

I really like the throwing platforms and the backboard. This is a more complex pit than you absolutely have to have, but it’s really nice to play on. Now I just have to work on my game!


Minnesota Original: Layne Kennedy

Permalink - Posted on 2017-05-11 11:37

My friend and photographer Layne Kennedy was recently featured on Minnesota Original. I met Layne when I took his Wintegreen Dog Sledding workshop and he’s a great photographer, teacher and amazing story teller.


A Minnebar Ticketing Proposal

Permalink - Posted on 2017-02-18 23:00

I’ve recently put some thought into how tickets are managed for Minnebar and Minnedemo. I’ve been very close to these events for a long time, and on the board for several years now, while our ticketing process has remained relatively unchanged over that long time.

The Problems

Why spend cycles thinking about the ticketing issue? I think there are some large problems with the way that tickets are managed.

Timeliness

The ticketing process encourages people to act immediately upon issuance and get tickets since they will all be taken immediately. Often people will take a ticket before they have even made sure they can attend. This timeliness requirement unfairly penalizes people that are occupied and not watching Twitter at that exact moment.

Understanding Churn

The current process reduces our ability to understand how many people have stopped going to our events. We routinely see a high number of “first-time” attendees, and along with that a high amount of churn. Is the churn because people weren’t ready the second that tickets came out, or because they don’t want to come?

Redemption

Many tickets go unused. We manage around this by predicting what percentage of tickets will be unused, but it is more art than science. The rushed nature of ticketing may decrease redemption rate as people just jump on tickets as quick as possible.

Quantify Demand

All of these events “sell out” (to the extent a free event can sell out) within minutes. This removes our ability to know the true demand for the events. If 800 tickets are picked up within 15 minutes of release, how many people wanted to go? 900? 3,000? That is anyone’s guess.

Limitations

When considering how to better manage tickets, it is important to consider some limitations.

Identity Is Unknown

There are numerous ways to manage ticket redemption that would focus on reputation. Mainly this is a means to solve redemption and put rules in place such as not being allowed a ticket if you don’t use the last three tickets.

Cannot Be Complex

We’ve entertained some options that avoid identity and reputation but encourage careful assignment of tickets. The most commonly referenced one is to use some form of a cash deposit. For example, you would pay $5, $10 or $20 to get your ticket to the event and that money would be refunded back to you when you show up at the event. This would certainly reduce the number of unused tickets but at the cost of managing a significant amount of complexity and risk.

Requirements

Before looking at the proposal let’s recap from above what our requirements are:

  1. The solution must not require managing identity. You cannot know a ticket holder from one event to another.
  2. The solution would ideally allow us to understand how many people would like to come to an event.
  3. The solution would be able to manage preferential access for certain groups.
  4. The solution would allow for improving the precision of “no shows”.

It is important to note that while “no shows” are something to consider, I believe it is a lesser problem than understanding the true demand for the events, churn and making the ticketing process more equitable.

Proposal

Taking these objectives into place, I propose the following ticketing process.

Phase 1: Get in line!

First thing, get in line. Rather than distributing tickets in groups we propose everyone get in a line (or list) to attend. This line opens up at a prescribed date and time, and anyone and everyone that wants to come to the event would then get in line. The line will close at another prescribed time, but as long as the line is open more and, more people can get in line.

This line dampens the urgency to take immediate action. Please note though that Phase 3 does reward people for getting in line early. It is valuable to the organization to get a sense of demand quickly, so getting people in line sooner is a good thing. However, no matter when you get in line you may get a ticket.

Phase 2: Priority Access

Once the line is complete and closed we then deal with priority access. There are some groups that get priority access to the events and are guaranteed a ticket:

  • Volunteers: Anyone volunteering at the event.
  • Community Supporters: Individuals (not companies) in the community that have donated $100 in the last 12 months.
  • Sponsors: Packages get different numbers of tickets. If you are in line under one of those slots you get a ticket.
  • Students: We look to encourage high school students to attend our events, and wish to give them priority access.

Once these special groups have priority access, we’ve used some of the tickets and now have a smaller line.

Phase 3: Ticketing Groups

The remaining line is now divided into groups. This is where some further math and heuristics could be applied to better manage tickets over time. For now, just assume that all these numbers are potential variables and you could optimize the solution over time.

Take the remainder of the line, let’s say there are 1,000 people still left, and for easy math put them in 5 groups of 200 people.

Each one of these groups is then ticketed. Remember that these groups are in the order they got in line, so the early people are in the front and the last person to get in line is at the end in position 1,000.

We also at this point know how many tickets were assigned to priority access groups and can make a determination about their “no show” rate. Likely those groups have a very high redemption rate, so assume most are used. The remaining tickets will be assigned to the five groups of 200 people in a decreasing percentage. All of the people in group 1 get tickets. 70% of the people in group 2 get tickets. 40% of the people in group 3 get tickets and so on until we get to something like 10% of people in group 5 getting tickets.

Over time these groups may be able to provide more accurate data on redemption, and we may know that Group 1 people redeem tickets at a higher rate than Group 5 so we can assign more tickets in Group 5 knowing more will go unused.

Additionally, it is important that any tickets that get returned before the event, when people realize they cannot come and notify us of that, should be returned to the group it was assigned to. So, if a person in Group 3 returns there ticket, it should go to another random person in Group 3. This could be managed by creating different classes or types of tickets for each group. If there are no people left in that group without a ticket, like Group 1, then flow the returned ticket to the next group in line.

Summary

This may seem complex at first, but I think the implementation could be reasonable. Eventbrite could still be used to get in line but getting a “Line Ticket”. The list of registered email addresses could then be manipulated with a small program to do the rest.

I do think that this would meet our goals of:

  1. Understanding true demand for the events.
  2. Allowing special access to some groups.
  3. More fairly assigning tickets to the remaining people.
  4. Minimizing the urgency around ticketing.
  5. Optimize “no show” management over time.

Very importantly this would also help us understand people that stop coming to events. If you get in line we know you want to come, but if you don’t get in line many times in a row you are deciding our events aren’t worthwhile and we’d like to know that.

If you have suggestions or comments contact me. If you would like to help solution this that would be great too!