The Weekly Review

by Chris Bowler

Medium Subscriptions

It’s appears to have been an interesting few months at Medium HQ. First they lay off a significant chunk of the team. Then they pitch their vision for content on the web (advertising is bad). Finally, they launch a membership service, offering premium content and and a handful of member only features.

And, of course, a promise to pay the writers who use the platform. Or, some of them.

It’s an interesting about face, moving away from ads & sponsorships to a pay-for-content service. The entire concept has some merit (and has been tried by other services). But if the NYT struggles to get enough paying subscribers, I’m skeptical that Medium will fare better.

So of course I had to sign up and see what they’re doing.

After a couple of weeks, my skepticism remains. There are several reasons that cause me to doubt the viability of this platform.

First, there is the issue of quality. While I like the idea of an affordable membership paying for the work of writers I enjoy, I have yet to see the quality reflected in the members only content. Perhaps time will see this improve, but there is a lot of fluff content on Medium. This was true before the membership plan, but it has not shown much improvement.

And so distribution is an issue as well. I have also enjoyed some great content on Medium (my Items of Note over the past year are comprised of about 50% Medium content). But I have no idea if my membership fee supports those people. I suspect not, as many of them are not full time writers. They have full time gigs and writing is just a part of their online activity & persona.

I would love to simply support these people. But $5 per month to my 20 favourite online writers gets a bit spendy. This is why I like the concept of micro-financing and what Medium is trying to do. If I could direct where some of the funds go to, this would be a win win situation.

Last, there is still the question of ownership. I continue to believe Medium only works as a social network, a place to syndicate my writing that primarily lives in a location where I am in full control. Premium, member only content only makes the ownership issue more of a problem. If an article I write on Medium is shared with members and I am paid for it, do I have the freedom to post that article on my blog, where it’s available to the world for no cost?

I have no conclusion to share here. But the changes are interesting and I’m very curious to see what the next couple of years have in store for this platform.

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Changing Desires

I’ve long struggled with putting people first, putting relationships ahead of the projects that are taking up my time and focus. As soon as I started writing online and learning about personal productivity, this theme was playing itself out in my life.

Almost 10 years ago, I was pondering how things were to fit together.

I started thinking again about what it really means to follow the concepts that make up GTD. And how that fits with being a christian. One is focused on tasks and the completion thereof (on the surface at least). The other is focused on relationships. My relationship with God, and my relationships with my fellow man. I started wondering if these two seeming opposites could be reconciled.

This is one reason I liked Matt Perman’s What’s Best Next. He states that God wants us to be productive, but the goal is so that we’re free to do good works that benefit others. We discipline ourselves and make the most of our time so that when unknown needs arise (someone else’s, not our own), we’re able to stop what we’re doing and lend a hand. But I find any time that you try to approach things systematically, I put my attention too much in the wrong place. The system itself.

Even my much younger self quickly realized the issue was not with the tools, but with me. I could tinker with software or productivity frameworks or notebooks all day long and it would not bring about the correct results. What is needed is a change of desire.

And this is also true for the Christian life.

The Chicken or The Egg?

For those of us who struggle to put the first things first, for whom the spiritual often gets swept aside by the things that seem more urgent, how do we make seeking him the top priority of our life?

Our current culture loves to discuss the systemization of life. “Life hacks” are a popular subject. This is why I mentioned GTD above — this is something I’ve struggled with for quite some time. And in the long run, discipline and productivity tricks and hacking your brain all fall short. The heart wants what the heart wants and you can only force a change in behaviours for so long before you “fall off the train”.

So while discipline has a role to play in this struggle, the actual goal is a change in our desires. We use the disciplines of the Christian faith to get us started, but the goal is to want communion with God so badly that discipline is no longer required.

Yet, Scripture calls us to work hard at working out our salvation (not working for). Discipline is the tool that can help us initiate a change in what we actually want. I often shake my head and wonder what comes first: my desire to change or my forcing myself to do what my head knows is right when my heart wants to be lazy?

This Applies to All Areas of Life

The funny thing is that this is not only applicable to our walk with Christ. It applies to all areas of life. Read any article about productivity and underneath it all the need to put routines and systems in place to enable and force us to do good work, rather than succumb to the siren call of busy work and social media.

But you first need the desire to change before that can happen. If you're going to learn to focus deeply rather than succumb to the desire to do the easy thing (check email, Twitter, or even take care of the minute, small duties of your job), you have to want it. If the desire is not there, change will not happen.

And when it comes to making the changes, whether in our work lives or in spiritual matters, the focus must be in the right place. The end product.

Again, I was thinking about these things 9 years ago. In analyzing a growing backlash against GTD, I stated:

GTD, or whatever your ‘system’ of choice, are merely tools to accomplish that which you want to achieve. When the tool becomes the focus — —the only focus— — then we've missed the mark of what GTD was intended to improve. Namely, completing work and our ability to do so … If you find yourself working on your system, rather than in your system (or better yet, your system working for you), then you probably know what I'm talking about.

And the recommendation I had at the time was that one has to change their priorities and habits in order to focus on what matters.

Back to The Christian Walk

This fits so well with the life of a Christian. In my work, I need to focus on the end result, to envision how I want to feel about my work and my career 10 years down the road. But as a Christian, I need to focus solely on Christ … for he is both my end goal and the means of achieving it.

The goal of the Christian life is to glorify God and enjoy him forever. And we glorify him when we do his will. What is his will for his children? For them to be conformed to the image of Christ, the firstborn over many brethren.

And this is a big reason why I always return to the classic disciplines of the Christian faith. They help me get my gaze pointed in the right direction. Yes, I can twist things to focus on the temporal, or on the tools themselves. But things improve over time. My study, prayer, meditation, and the like all get better as I get older. As I (slowly) lost my taste for the things of this world.

It’s a change of desires.

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Tracking Your Progress or Just Gaming?

It’s been a while since I’ve considered other task management tools than 2Do. Well, except for Basecamp at work. And well, it’s been less than a year since I switched from OmniFocus to 2Do

Hey, that is a long time for some of us, ok?

Whatev

Anyway, over the past year I’ve had coworkers singing the praises of Todoist. But it was never of interest to me. 2Do is far more visually appealing and I tend to dislike apps that are cross platform.

But there was one feature that kept me coming back and reviewing the app every 3,4 weeks. Karma. That’s right, a scoreboard. I’d keep checking out the service to see how it was progressing, would compare the UI with 2Do, then walk away. But I finally decided to give it a test run.

Keeping Score

Jokes aside, I’m a big believer of one of the pillars of 4DX. Keep a compelling scoreboard. The premise is that people play differently when they’re keeping score. And while that may seem childish when it comes to our own productivity, I believe the concept has merit.

But how does the feature pan out? Is it a gimmick, or can it improve one’s focus? I wanted to find out.

How It Works

Overall, the app is well designed. It’s not the most aesthetically pleasing, but that is likely intentional and it appears to be focused on providing a similar experience on the multiple available platforms. But for getting tasks into Todoist, then actually doing them, it’s a good tool.

My intention here is not to write a full review of all the features. I’m focused solely on the Karma feature. How does the karma in Todoist work? Details are available on their support site.

You gain or lose points in the following way:

Gain points

  • adding and completing tasks
  • completing tasks on time
  • using labels, recurring due dates, and reminders
  • achieve your daily and weekly goals
  • keep a streak of meeting daily and weekly goals

Lose points

  • have tasks that are greater than 2 days overdue

Simply put, completing tasks and projects contribute the most to your score. And you are able to set goals for your weeks and days: I want to complete 5 tasks per day and 30 per week. Doing so gains you points, and so does keeping a streak of days and weeks going. You can see this in the screenshot above.

Using Todoist IRL

It’s clever in many ways. Here are my observations in a month of usage.

  • Let me start with my biggest complaint, a very obvious one. It would be good to be able to differentiate between busy work and tasks that actually move your most important work forward. Unfortunately, a reminder to take some meat out of the freezer for dinner carries the same weight as writing a new draft of an onboarding email for the product I’m working on … this makes the statistics of far less value.
  • Tracking progress is important though. Perhaps for some people, certain methods are more useful than others. You can use use a journal (pen and paper even), a spreadsheet, or a wall or desk calendar to achieve the same purpose. But having this done automatically for you by your task management app is valuable.
  • Back to my first point, if you were to manually track your successes, you would not write down the fact that you took out meat for your dinner. It would be great if the app could recognize the difference. I want a tool where I can remind myself of items like prepping dinner, but also track the things most important to my life goals. With 2Do, I used it to track the latter, and set reminders for myself with Fantastical and Reminders on macOS.
  • Karma is not a great measure of your true success (or lack thereof). Since feature usage is included in gaining karma, it’s also fundamentally more about Todoist’s success than yours. Why should using labels increase my score?

All said, it is a good way to measure your cumulative activities. The streaks feature is fantastic. There is power in the habit of tracking your habits (see James Clear for more on that). So an app that keeps this in the foremost of your mind is a good thing.

You have to work hard to force yourself not to game it. Go ahead and add the little administrative tasks that are a part of your day. That's a part of life as well.

But more importantly, it helps you to really take your most valuable work, break it into discrete, concrete tasks, then work on those. Every day. This helps you to build confidence that you're making real progress and not just busy work. And it adds incentive to keep those streaks alive.

It’s clever overall. I’m not sure I’ll stick with it, but I appreciate this feature. If it was included in 2Do, I’d be a very happy man.

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