I’ve been thinking a lot about the IoT (Internet of Things) of late. If this is a new term to you, it’s simply a reference to all the connections between the devices we now use. Wikipedia puts it this way:
The Internet of things (IoT) is the inter-networking of physical devices, vehicles (also referred to as "connected devices" and "smart devices"), buildings, and other items embedded with electronics, software, sensors, actuators, and network connectivity which enable these objects to collect and exchange data.
I expand my own definition to also include the software services we string together. And most of the time, I feel like the entire thing is a just a jumbled up, tangled ball of yarn that has no hope of staying together.
I know, I know … get of my lawn, right?
I haven’t gotten into home automation to this point. But where I see the fragility is in the area of personal analytics. Strava and Fitbit are great examples. I use the former to track my runs, the latter to track a whole lot more. But do you think I could get the two to talk to each other? Nuh uh.
And my end goal is to get everything into Gyroscope. Why? This type of service is almost like a journal, showing future me what the days, weeks, and months for past me were like. The problem is I have very little confidence that Gyroscope (or Strava or Fitbit) will be around in 10 years. Or even 3 years.
How often do photo management services shut down? How hard is it to sync all your favourite services together? And if you happen to kludge together a workflow using Zapier, IFTTT, or several iOS apps, how long does it last?
In 2011, Cameron Koczon shared how in the future, rather than us gravitating around the sites/services we used, the content we create and share will gravitate around us. He nicely outlined the way things have been:
Most online content today is stuck. It has roots firmly planted in one of the many sites and applications around the web. Because content is rooted, we are forced to spend precious time recording its location in the hopes of navigating back. We bookmark websites. We favorite tweets. We create lists in text files.
And he opined about how things would be different in the future, where your content would be liberated and open:
The result is a user-controlled collection of content that is free (as in speech), distilled, open, personal, and—most importantly—useful. You do the work to assemble a collection of content from disparate sources, and apps do the work to make those collections useful. These orbital collections will push users to be more self-reliant and applications to be more innovative.
It was a great piece of writing and a lovely vision of how things should be. He described the software equivalent of the Internet of Things quite well, long before the term came into the public consciousness. Six years later, while each of the major social networks are doing their best to create their ideal walled garden, I’m still waiting for Koczon’s prediction to come true.
Until it does, I’ll be over here with the other old guys, smoking my pipe on the front porch and reminiscing about simpler days.
Pat Dryburgh has been a friend since … shoot, 2008 or so. He designed a lot of the ads for the Fusion Ads network, along with some of the other branding work for the business. And so I was excited when we met in person for the first time last summer.
During our visit, he mentioned he was leaving the agency he was working for to go on his own again. And this spring he took a huge step and left the comfy confines of the west coast of Canada to travel to Uganda. He wrote the post above in March this year and, if I’m not mistaken, he’s still there.
He took a chance to help on a product a friend and colleague was starting. Not surprising, right? If you work in the web/design/dev community, this is a familiar sounding story that we’ve all heard. Except, this one is different. And it starts with where it’s taking place:
All of this is simply to point out one simple truth: Uganda is unlike any country I’ve ever been. And as a designer that both excites and scares the shit out of me.
What I love about this story is that Pat was willing to forgo the regular road that so many of us take. He’s not working on the next photo sharing app. Instead, he’s willing to tackle a problem that will make a major impact on the lives of the people who may be able to use it.
As a product designer, it is my job to uncover the jobs for which a customer will “hire” a product. Through a discovery process that involves user interviews and discussions around business models and strategy, I try to help founders and product managers understand what their customers need and design solutions to bring that value to the customer. Perhaps I am a bit naive, but I believe a significant portion of our collective understanding comes from a familiarity with North American culture — people, for the most part, work roughly 40 hours a week and are looking for ways to save time and get more done, faster. Now two days into my time here in Kampala, I realize none of that familiarity applies.
I hope this a trend that grows, where more designers and developers have a desire to work on real problems rather than first world problems. This is the harder road to travel, even if compensation is good (admittedly, I have no idea what Pat is getting paid to work on this project. But it doesn’t matter). The problems people face in designing products in places other than North America are different. Bigger. Harder to overcome (in a later post, Pat gives a good example when conducting user research, with people who likely did not have Internet access at all).
Anyway, I’m excited for Pat and love to see him take this step.
This is something my friend Patrick Rhone talked about often over at The Cramped (at least, before he went nonline). He linked to this very post in fact. And I love the idea, even if it is one I have not adopted myself.
What is a commonplace book? Holiday explains it this way:
A commonplace book is a central resource or depository for ideas, quotes, anecdotes, observations and information you come across during your life and didactic pursuits. The purpose of the book is to record and organize these gems for later use in your life, in your business, in your writing, speaking or whatever it is that you do.
It’s a popular concept these days as the analog/paper revolution continues to gain momentum. Austin Kleon advocates the practice. Shane Parrish has mentioned the term only a few times, but I believe his posts on becoming a better reader reflect some of the concepts. And Shawn Blanc is currently on the hunt for the best setup for a digital commonplace book.
Personally, I have not yet adopted a paper journal for this purpose. And I may never do so. However, I do a similar sort of practice with a combination of tools and Day One as the hub.
I have not taken the time to really nail down my setup, but it is a hodgepodge of saved items from Pinboard, Instapaper, and my RSS reader (Reeder on iOS, Readkit on macOS). IFTTT pulls highlights and likes from Pinboard and Instapaper (and Medium, before they shut down their IFTTT integration) and auto-generates journal entries. Other times, I use the share iOS extension to add items manually (which is still easier than hand writing).
My one area that needs improvement is reading paper books. I have started highlighting a lot more as I read and making an index in the back of the book. But most of those items of interest are locked away in the book itself. I should take pictures of the passages, or something. Room for improvement.
The Discipline of Study
In God's Word, we are told to love Him with all our heart, mind, soul, mind, and strength. How have you differentiated between the heart, soul, and mind over your Christian walk?
For me, the mind is vital to my walk. For to be like God, I must think like God. Of course, His ways are higher than our ways, His thoughts higher than our thoughts. But the "new man" can think more like God than could the "old man" that was nailed to the Cross.
But in order for that to happen, we must apply ourselves. That is where the disciplines of study and meditation come in. I talked about meditation earlier, so let’s consider the importance of the Christian discipline of study.
Study is a specific kind of experience in which through careful attention to reality the mind is enabled to move in certain direction. Remember, the mind will always take on an order conforming to the order upon which it concentrates.
What’s he saying here? Simply this: you will begin to resemble the things you spend your time and attention on. This is why Paul exhorts us to think on those things that are true, just, honourable, lovely, and pure. Today we might say, “Garbage in, garbage out” to reflect this idea (and to be clear, we want to minimize the garbage).
The Scriptures repeat the importance of purposefully directing our minds, even to the point where it’s a mark of who we are. We see this a few times in Romans 8, and elsewhere.
For those walk according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who walk according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit.
Paul also expresses this idea well in 1 Cor. In chapter 1, he contrasts the wisdom of the world with the wisdom that comes from God. In chapter 2, he builds on this by comparing the natural man with the spiritual man (very similar to his point in Romans 8). This is summed up in 1 Cor 2:12:
Now we have not received the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things that are freely given to us by God.
God has a purpose for his children and he equips us to be able to fulfill this purpose. And one part of our purpose is to join him in battle against the spiritual forces of darkness that currently rule this world. Paul covers this in Eph 6 when listing the armour of God. And what is the Christian’s only weapon in this battle?
And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
His word is the weapon we use. But how can we fight this battle, both in the world and within ourselves, if we are not armed? Kent Hughes sums this up so very well in his book, Disciplines of a Godly Man:
You can never have a Christian mind without reading the Scriptures regularly because you cannot be profoundly influenced by that which you do not know.
As I mentioned last month, we cannot meditate on His word if we do not know it. Similarly, if we do not make regular study of the word a part of our everyday lives, we are essentially unarmed. Ineffective Christians. And we will think like the world and follow its patterns.
How can we think more like God?
We will have a worldly mindset if we do not study God’s word. We will think like the natural man, not the spiritual man. We will be conformed to the thinking of the world.
The church will look just like the rest of the world. And so we must come to the feet of Christ regularly and spend time in his word, learning all that he has revealed about himself to us.
Here are a few tips that have been helpful in my study over the years.
Listening to sermons and reading Christian authors are good uses of our time. But they cannot replace our own personal study of the Word.
Avail yourself to the entirety of Scripture. The gospels and epistles are lovely, but so to is the historical, poetical, and prophetic books of the OT.
Be consistent. Personal study is a habit.
Be systematic: this will make it easier to achieve both #2 and #3. A system of study, or following a reading plan, will ensure that you read all of the Bible and make it a habit.
Be spontaneous. In contrast to the last point, allow yourself to simply read as you're led from time to time. It's wonderful to have certain passages jump out at you.
As for how to go about studying the word, there are many options. Our own personal devotion time is one. I prefer to read through the Bible using a reading plan every second year. Every other year, I pick one book in the Bible and read through it 20 times in a row. Then move on to the next book.
Between those two options, my familiarity with Scripture has increased steadily in the 15+ years since I submitted to Christ.
But while those are a great start, an intimate and life changing relationship with God requires a little more effort. This is where times of purposeful study have helped me greatly.
As Cal Newport calls it, my times of “deliberate practice” have taken my understanding of the word to far greater levels than reading through a plan each day. How easy it is to just coast through our routines! I need to purposefully stretch myself at times.
For me, that has usually come through a small group Bible study or teaching adult Sunday school. Periods where my surface awareness & knowledge gained through daily reading was stretched and expanded as I dug deeper into a specific passage or Biblical concept.
And I so love those times!
And that is because the result is I'm better able to enjoy God for what he is. The deeper study results in a better view of him, a pulling back of the veil. As the old hymn puts it, "I in my saviour am happy and blest!
On the topic of habits, Jocelyn K. Glei makes the case for ensuring your have whitespace in your day (aka margin). She’s drawing from the design principle and applying it to every day life.
We need white space in our daily lives just as much as we need it in our designs because the concept carries over: If our lives are over-cluttered and over-booked, we can’t focus properly on anything. What’s more, this way of working actually shrinks our ability to think creatively.
The older I get, the more of this I find myself needing margin. This is a short post, but I refer to it here because she includes a few good examples of what this can look like.
As Shawn Blanc writes in Day 37 of The Focus Course, boredom is hard to come by these days. And that’s a problem …
It’s not so easy to be bored anymore. You have to choose to be bored. It used to be that boredom chose you — you were somewhere and you were waiting and there was nothing to do and you were bored. Now, you’re never bored. You can see pictures of some stranger surfing on the other side of the world, or get a live video stream of someone’s hike over Tokyo. This stuff is amazing.
But it means we have to be proactive about our boredom and down time. It means we have to be intentional about creating margin for thought. If 100% of our down time is filled with passive entertainment and bits of information, then when does our mind have a chance to be calm? When do we have a moment to think without needing to think?
Amen to that!
A Better Approach to Managing Tasks
Before I say a word about Things 3, I’ll address the elephant in the room. I switch between productivity tools … a lot. Likely, too often. There is a cost to switching from one tool to another.
However, I will say that it’s become a fairly quick and easy switch these days. Like email or Twitter clients, I find that I can move from one task management tool to another in a short amount of time these days. That may be partly because I keep my life’s list of tasks and responsibilities pretty lean these days. Much of my home and non-professional areas of responsibility are comprised of a consistent set of recurring tasks.
And so this past year I gave Todoist a try because I was curious about the long term affect of their karma feature. It was an interesting addition to a task management tool, but Todoist itself never felt like a long term solution for me. Its spartan UI was not endearing (like most cross platform apps) and the feature set was similar to all the other options.
So when I got a first look at Things 3, it sufficiently got my attention.
If you're not familiar, I did not start using a Mac until a while after Mr. Jobs made his return to Apple. It was 2004 or so when I started paying attention to the company, but it was not until 2006 that I got my first used Mac. And one of the critical aspects that drew me in was the well designed software. And the original version of Things was one of the most appealing apps.
But that feels like a long time ago. Since then, my pattern of managing my work has looked a little like this:
Things > Basecamp/Highrise > OmniFocus > 2Do > Todoist > Things 3
There were a few others in there (anyone recall Remember The Milk?), but these were the major players. One of the main reasons that I moved away from Things was the lack of a good sync solution (this was before Dropbox and working from multiple devices was so common) and how slow they were at improving the app.
But one look at the new version of Things and I immediately thought there was a chance I would give it another shot. Why?
Let me explain.
Things I like about Things 3
The most important aspect of Things 3, the part that immediately grabbed my eye, was how projects are treated. They feel somewhat like a document.
In all the services I’ve used over the years, there has been a gap between managing the actual tasks and the information that is required to work on those tasks. There always needed to be a secondary piece of software required. That might be apps like Yojimbo or Evernote or Ulysses, or it might be parts of the macOS (files/folders in Finder).
Things 3 is the first tool that made me think there was a chance I could handle it all in one place. First, any project or area can have different content types. You can add comments to a project or a task, including smart links to content in other apps. You can add tasks, sections, and checklists to a project or area. And best of all, you can easily move stuff around.
This is a big improvement for me.
Here are a few of the other things I like about this app:
• you can have checklists within a task
• it’s super keyboard friendly
• multiple windows make daily/weekly planning real nice
• and one unexpected feature that got my attention right away, how dates are handled
◦ you can have dates or deadlines or both
◦ when you want to work on something is different than when you have a hard due date
▪ the first allows you to include intention in your task list, where as the second still gives you the ability to set a hard line for yourself
▪ and so, incomplete tasks (without a deadline) just move to the next day
• plus, you can set reminders (alarms) at specific times
In Things, repeating tasks placed in the Today menu simply move to the next day when unfinished. No angry overdue colors, no need to rearrange dates. The Today list simply moves forward, ready to be viewed and accomplished.
The treatment of dates and how projects or areas feel like a document are what caught my attention. But this is also one of the most well designed, delightful macOS apps I’ve used in a while. It gives me a similar feel to Ulysses … a feeling that gets me thinking it’ll be in my dock for a long while.
Things I don’t like about Things 3
It’s not perfect though. Some of the vertical spacing is funny (see the calendar entries compared to a task). And although projects and areas feel like a document, they’d feel even more so if it supported Markdown formatting in the notes.
Last, it’s limited in terms of creating custom views. However, Things has always been an opinionated tool with less functionality. The overall experience of the third version is so solid, it overcomes any lack that I’ve felt in my usage.