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Being Present in the Age of the Mind Outside the Brain

The other day, Celia and I were walking in Boston’s beautiful Arnold Arboretum when she asked me who’d responded to an email I’d sent. When I pulled out my phone to answer her question, she said she felt she was walking with a third person, a stranger.

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How I manage my life with Kanban and Getting Things Done

“The list is the origin of culture. It’s part of the history of art and literature. What does culture want? To make infinity comprehensible. It also wants to create order — not always, but often. And how, as a human being, does one face infinity? How does one attempt to grasp the incomprehensible? Through lists…”
—Umberto Eco, SPIEGEL Interview, 2009

Managing my life
Are you blessed with a perfect memory? Me neither! To avoid unpleasant consequences, everyone like us needs a reliable way to keep track of things we have yet to do. As I age, my memory slowly deteriorates but my life shows no sign of becoming simpler, so I expect that there will be entries on my To Do list until the day I die.

Over the years I’ve tried many different methods to implement effective To Do lists and I’m sharing here the system I’ve used successfully for the last 4 years.  I hope it will be useful information for anyone like me who has struggled to track and prioritize their personal life and professional work.

Creating a successful To Do list methodology
One of the reasons why it’s hard to track and prioritize To Dos is that we have a tendency to pick an available tool without first deciding what To Do list methodology will work for us. So many tools exist — simple written lists, elaborate day planners, electronic devices, software, apps, etc. — and most of them have built into them an implicit methodology as to how we should manage our tasks. Unfortunately, one person’s methodological meat may be another’s poison.

After much experimentation, I have settled on using a combination of Kanban and Getting Things Done methodologies to capture and prioritize my life tasks.

Kanban was originally developed in the 1940’s to schedule just-in-time manufacturing. In the 2000’s Kanban was adapted to manage and communicate software development. Recently, so-called Personal Kanban has become popular, and I’ve been using a modified version since 2014.

The simple yet brilliant Getting Things Done (GTD) methodology doesn’t prescribe a complete system for organizing your life. Instead, it encapsulates only the essential workflow processes you need to follow to clear and organize your work-life, plus what you need to know in order to choose tools and procedures that work for you. Each person’s implementation of GTD is unique.

Kanban and GTD — a winning combination!
The essence of Personal Kanban is the creation and continual updating of three lists: To Do, Doing, and Done. Tasks migrate from To Do –> Doing –> Done as we work. Most practical implementations (including mine) add a Waiting For list, to capture tasks that need to be kept top-of-mind but currently require action outside our control before they can be worked on.

To these core lists, GTD suggests adding separate lists for each set of project tasks. So I have a Brattleboro list (for things to do when I go into town), a Boston list (for when I am at our apartment there), a Book 3 list (for tasks remaining before I publish my next book) and lists for current client projects. Tasks from these lists get moved into and between the core Kanban lists through the review process.

Regular review and updating of your To Do implementation is essential for it to be useful. Scheduling reviews needs to be done in a way that works for you. I like to review my Kanban/GTD implementation at the beginning and end of each day, plus at any time when it’s not obvious to me what I should be doing next.

Implementation
Trello is a superb tool for implementing Kanban/GTD; check here for more information on how I use it. When I’m occasionally deviceless (yes, it still happens in this oh-so-connected world) I rely on good old paper and pen to capture ideas and build short in-the-moment To Do lists, e.g. shopping lists. My manpurse holds a Levenger Pocket Briefcase, always filled with 3 x 5 cards, a Reporter’s Notebook, plus a variety of reliable pens, ensuring I can always fall back on a two-thousand year old method of making lists.

Conclusion
Amazing methodologies and technologies are available to us. Effectively planning and managing a complicated life can be made easier and less stressful if you adopt approaches like Kanban/GTD and adapt them to work well for you. The choice is yours!

The importance of music in our lives

Adrian’s iPod

My ancient iPod now has only one job: storing my music library of 765 tracks. Some of these performances bring me to tears when I listen to them. Many are bound to experiences in my life, and hearing them connects me to those powerful memories in a way that no other sense — save perhaps smell — can equal.

You probably have this kind of relationship with music. Your taste may vary dramatically from mine, the intensity of your connection may be different, but there’s no argument that music is an important ingredient in most human lives.

Long ago, my father played drums in a dance band, Billy Merrin and His Commanders, on the weekends. A few years before he died, I tracked down a collection of old recordings of his band. I vividly remember his delight and animation when he began listening once again to music he had helped to create sixty years earlier.

“People haven’t always been there for me but music always has.”
—Taylor Swift

If/when I am old and feeble, unable to do much, I want to have my music at hand. (On shuffle, please.) I hope I will still able to listen and recall and remember. I want to sing along when the spirit moves me, and feel the intense wondrous emotions that music has the power to grant.

Idea: Develop products and services with clients at conferences

Did you know that at Axon’s annual user conference, Accelerate, participants help design new company products that address their needs? This is clearly a potential win-win for both Axon and its clients, and it surprises me that more organizations don’t use their events to improve their products and services.

Axon is better known under its old name of Taser International, initially a supplier of “weapons that are less lethal than firearms”, now the largest manufacturer of body cameras.

I’m not going to delve into any controversy around Axon’s products here, though this New Yorker article‘s nuanced perspective makes it well worth reading. Here’s an excerpt that focuses on the Axon-participants product development process:

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An innovative conference competition format

My Dutch friend and expert moderator, Jan Jaap In der Maur, recently shared an innovative format for an in-conference pitch competition he devised for the Conventa Crossover Conference, in Ljubljana, Slovenia:

“There were also the Conventa Crossover Awards. Traditionally, this kills the dynamics of every conference: there were 16 finalists, who all had to be given the opportunity to pitch. The initial, but rather traditional idea was to allow them all 10 minutes. This would have lead to 2 (!) hours of pitching, which wouldn’t have been fair to anyone.

At the same time, we didn’t want the pitches to be too short and we wanted the participants not only to vote, but also to learn from the projects. So this is what we did:

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Listening to the UPS guy

After dinner last night I heard a familiar sound — the growl of the UPS box truck driving up our 600′ rural driveway. I knew it was our regular driver, the guy who’s been delivering for years, because if he sees I’m in my home office he’ll stop and do a tight three-point turn outside the entrance, rather than driving past to reverse by the garage.

I heard the van door slide back and went to the door to meet the guy I’ll call Roger. Roger is tall and lanky, has a sweet smile and disposition, and is open to talk if the time is right. Over the years he’s met me hundreds of times in that doorway. Mostly, he smiles and hand over the delivery, I thank him and wish him a good night, and he jumps into his truck, finishes reversing and drives away. Once in a while, when the roads are bad, we talk about his day: how he’s handled the challenges of delivering along my rural town’s sixty miles of dirt roads plus the surrounding area.

For some reason I hadn’t seen Roger for a few weeks; the other drivers had been making deliveries. So I said, “Hey, you’re back!” as he strolled towards me, package in hand.

“Well, I’ve been off a lot; my mother just passed away,” he replied.

“Oh, I’m sorry,” I said. I stood and looked at him.

“Well” he said…

…and he started to tell his story.

Roger talked about his mom. He stood facing sideways from me, with an occasional glance in my direction prompted by my occasional responses to what he was saying. Once in a while he’d swivel to face me, sharing something that was especially important, and then he was back to telling me of his frequent journeys down south to see her since she’d fallen and broke multiple bones in June, how his family had done their best to cope, and her eventual decline and death.

He told me about dealing with “picking up the pieces” now she was gone. He told me about the last time he saw her in the hospital, when she was “all scrunched up” and seemed out of it, until he bent down and hugged her and told her “I love you mom” and she opened one eye and said “I love you too” “as clear as anything” and then closed her eye and “was out of it again”. He told me much more than I’ll share here.

Roger talked for over ten minutes, by far the longest conversation we’ve ever had. Now and again he edged away during our time together, but he couldn’t quite get himself to stop what he wanted or needed to say.

And that was fine with me. I was in no hurry, and he wanted to talk.

At the end I wished him well and he turned, got into his van, and motored off down my driveway.

It felt good to listen.

Breaking: CreateSpace is requiring all customers to move to Kindle Direct Publishing!

I logged in to CreateSpace (CS) last night to check on my author royalties (always a pleasant task), only to see this stark message:

Uh oh.

I’ve been a happy customer of CreateSpace for three years, and this was, to say the least, unexpected.

Perusing the differences between Kindle Direct Publishing and CreateSpace and Kindle Direct Publishing’s FAQ on the topic I was relieved to see that, for me at least, this is not a major upset, with one exception.

Namely: Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) takes twice as long to pay you your royalties!

“CreateSpace pays monthly royalties 30 days after the end of the month in which they were earned. KDP pays monthly royalties approximately 60 days after the end of the month in which they were earned. As a result, you’ll be paid in August for any royalties earned in July on CreateSpace and be paid in September for any royalties earned in July on KDP. Expanded Distribution royalties will be paid 60 days after the end of the month in which our distribution partners report their sales. Going forward, you’ll be paid on KDP’s payment schedule. “

Bummer!

There are numerous other small differences that don’t seem to affect me — but your mileage may vary, so check out the above links for a complete description of the differences between CS & KDP.

You can’t avoid this change. KDP says that they will start moving books from CS “automatically” in “the next few weeks”.

My experience so far
I took a deep breath and clicked on the link on my CS page to move my books over to KDP.

The process went smoothly and within a few minutes, my books had been removed from CS and appeared on KDP.

To my initial alarm, my books appeared with blank covers, and there was no way to order author copies! I sent an email message to KDP help, and they responded this morning with a generic unhelpful message repeating the website instructions on how to order author copies. However, when I checked my KDP page this morning, the book covers were shown, and the option to order author copies had appeared. Phew! Perhaps the full move takes a few hours, though this was not mentioned by KDP in the move instructions.

In retrospect, it might have been better to wait until KDP moved my books themselves. As my books are no longer on CS, I will now have to put up with the longer royalty payment times from now on. I could have continued to receive my royalties after 30 days if I hadn’t moved my books right away. In the end, though, this makes little difference, and I got to explore the consequences of this forced move on my own schedule rather than KDP’s.

I’m not yet ready to upload my next self-published book, so I can’t share what it’s like to create a new book on KDP versus CS. I expect someone will make this comparison before I’m ready to do so, but if not, I’ll write about it!

Have you made the switch from CreateSpace to Kindle Direct Publishing? What was it like? Share your experiences in the comments below.

Have I Met You Before? Three ways to minimize embarrassment when meeting people


An embarrassing incident
I was hanging out at the Marlboro South Pond Regatta, a whimsical affair where local sailors of all stripes and abilities casually “race” around a few buoys in the lake, sometimes stopping to chat mid-race with each other or watch our beautiful loons. (They carry their babies on their backs — see photo!)

A man passed, and our eyes met for a moment. “Have I met him before?” I thought. “He looks very familiar.” But I couldn’t make the connection, and said nothing.

A few minutes later, my wife, who was talking to a woman I didn’t recognize, turned to me and said, “You remember Lisa don’t you?” Memory flooded back, and I realized that I’d met Lisa on Anguilla 18 months ago when she and the familiar man, whose name I now remembered as Willy, had visited the island.

I felt a little embarrassed.

This happens all the time
As a facilitator of conferences and meetings, I meet and talk with hundreds of people every year. I used to be pretty good at recognizing people I’d previously met, and was invariably able to remember their name, the circumstances, and what we talked about.

These days, my memory for these things…well, it sucks.

While I’m with people, I remember them well and can be with them effectively, using the information they’ve shared to explore new areas and deepen the relationship.

But within a few days, my recollection starts to blur. Circumstances, names, and details of our conversations disappear from short-term memory, and if I later see someone again I often can’t put them in context. A reminder brings my memory back, but needing one can be embarrassing. I don’t want to forget the people I meet — but my aging brain is less cooperative.

What to do?
I don’t want to fake remembering someone when I can’t initially place them. Having an aide with flawless recall at my side wherever I go, ready to whisper “that’s Merrigan Pertussis; you met her at the 2012 Nutrition for Athletes; in September you water-skied with her younger brother Placido in Ibiza” would be nice, but, unfortunately, is not an option for me or, I suspect, most people.

So here are three ways to minimize embarrassment when meeting people whom you might have met before.

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How to trash your brand

If I could completely avoid flying American Airlines I would. Not because of the airline’s mediocre rankings in on-time arrivals, lost baggage, fees, and customer satisfaction. After all, there are some airlines that are even worse (Spirit, I’m looking at you).

No, it’s their infuriating habit of pitching credit cards to passengers on every flight. For example, while I was trying to sleep on the red-eye I took last week.

I find the two- to three-minute pitches really annoying. We are literally a captive audience, strapped into our seats with nowhere to escape.

To add insult to injury, The Points Guy reports that many of the claims made for the credit card are misleading or simply incorrect.

What the airline says
According to American Airlines spokesperson, Sunny Rodriguez: “We have found that in-flight is a great time to talk with our customers about airline credit cards.”

Actually, Sunny, you’re not talking with your customers, you’re talking at them. There’s a big difference.

Notice that this justification is 100% about what’s good for American Airlines. Not what’s good for its customers, as the following sample of customer complaints illustrates:

Why does American Airlines do this?
Besides annoying the heck out of me, I’m at a loss to understand how this is a good business decision.

—Is the revenue they receive when some hapless passenger signs up a significant boost to their bottom line?

—Are flight attendants so eager to supplement their salaries (apparently, they get ~$50 for every new customer) that they beg the airline to add extra work to their flight duties?

—And, most importantly, does American Airlines think that pitching their credit card on every flight to captive passengers improves their brand?

After all, this survey found that over 90% of airline passengers said they’d never apply for a credit card in flight. (And, of course, some of those who would have already got one—yet still have to put up with the same spiel on every subsequent trip!)

A creative alternative
Even if American Airlines truly believe that hawking credit cards to a captive audience is a good thing, they don’t have to do it in a way that annoys almost everyone on the airplane. Edward Pizzarello notes that United Airlines also pitches cards on their flights, using a classic marketing technique that is far less intrusive and, I suspect, far more effective.

Flight attendants walk through the cabin handing out free boxes of mints printed with a code for a United Airlines card offer. Yes, the classic give-away, good will marketing approach! Passengers are free to ignore the advertisement and, regardless, receive a small gift. Pizzarello concludes: “Mints versus speeches?  I’ll take the mints.”

Can American Airlines learn?
It amazes me that AA doesn’t realize (or doesn’t care) that customers are turned off by brands that spray unwanted pitches on trapped consumers.

Frankly, I’m pessimistic that American Airlines can change the culture that leads to this kind of clueless marketing.

A final piece of evidence: the American Airlines pitch for paying more for seats that are as roomy as those they provided standard five years ago.

I call it “The seat I used to have in Economy.”

Image attribution: Quartzy