You are currently browsing the monthly archive for March 2007.
As if they read my mind (perhaps they did), Google has created an application that, when combined with its Firefox plug in allows me to do what I’ve wanted to do efficiently for so long, but have heretofore had to take a byzantine path to accomplish; that is, grab little bits of information from web pages that I visit, and store that information in a centralized place so that when I’m ready to start assimilating the data, it’s all there, rather than all over the place.
Certainly this gathering of web ephemera can be accomplished without Google Notebook, and I’ve used everything from Quicksilver’s shelf and its append text to a text file action, to pulling urls into Word docs, to the Clip Firefox extension, but nothing has really done the trick….until now.
With Google Notebook and the Firefox extension, I have a little window in the bottom right of my browser (it can also be detached), where I can quickly and painlessly add whatever I want. This could be a URL, or an image, or some text, or an idea that I have…whatever.
Here’s what it looks like:
[click image to +/-]
Once I enter this info it gets (automatically) saved and uploaded to my Google Notebook homepage.
Now, I can gather information snippets amazingly quickly without interupting my work flow. When I’m ready I just go to my Google Notebook home page, and start using the snippets for whatever I’m working on.
This tool is huge for bloggers, students, researchers, etc. Now if only they’d make the Google apps play nice with Safari.
Kaizen is a management strategy that I turn to frequently to make sure that I’m centered in my approaches. At its heart, Kaizen is concerned with continual, incremental improvement. Part and parcel to continual improvement is elimination of waste. Kaizen is often associated with manufacturing, but I find it appropriate to virtually all projects. Waste, therefore, is not simply about making sure that you don’t make ill-fitting bumpers for your cars, but really about any unnecessary energy expended en route to achieving your goal.
Again, as is my wont, I find a lot of wisdom in the practices of programmers, and feel they often can be applied to productivity in general, and productivity for artists specifically. So, I was thrilled to read this article from the Kaizen Manifesto website that united a number of my interests.
Take a look at the principles put forth in this article:
1. Make continuous improvements in every aspect of the business.
2. Actively pursue a superior, complete customer experience.
3. Continually improve designs, code, and processes.
4. Strive to increase agility (binshou) while reducing costs.
5. Use the Deming Cycle to minimize disruption from change.
6. Prevent errors (poka-yoke), in software and in business.
7. Respect people, leverage expertise, and trust staff.
8. Reward suggestions, improvements, and progress.
9. Always move forward.
Beyond the fact that it’s fantastic that the Japanese term for errors is “poka-yoke,” I think there the list above has a lot of good wisdom for all of us engaged in becoming more productive in our artistic ventures.
Simple substitution of words allows us to take this out of the programming world and into the artistic one. For instance, “Actively pursue a superior, complete customer experience,” becomes relevant when we replace the word “customer” with “fan.”
Similarly, by replacing the words “design,” “code,” and “process” with the word “songwriting,” in the principle: “Continually improve designs, code, and processes”….well, you get the point.
Principle number 5 hits home because it references one of my favorite management thinkers W. Edwards Deming. It references the Deming Cycle, which I’ve written about before. The Deming Cycle, if you prefer not to click the link is: P, D, S, A. It stands for Plan, do, Study, Act.
I really believe that if more artists would adhere to Kaizen thinking (and, of course, Deming), they would be much more successful.
I recently wrote about Flow, and how it relates to GTD, but, of course, Flow is not just a productivity technique. It’s principal purpose is to enable people to focus on what gives them genuine enjoymentâ€”which is not contingent upon externalities in the way pleasure is.
Understanding what provides you with enjoyment allows you to focus on these aspects of your life, and those become more productive. Doing so also increases your chance of sustainable happiness.
Scientific American has posted an interesting article on sustainable happiness, and while I read it I couldn’t help thinking of Flow.
In the article, the authors posit that a chunk of our propensity towards happiness (or unhappiness) is hard-wired at birth. However, they also determine that there is a significant amount of our happiness that we have control over. They state that there is a sort of entropic pull that, if left unchecked, will drag us from our baseline happiness level.
In other words, it’s up to us to take action to maintain a higher than baseline (ie genetic) level of happiness.
The authors show that externalities tend to be short-term fixes in this effort to stay above the baseline. They point to experiments that observed the happiness of lottery winners. Basically, after the initial burst above the base line happiness that occurred immediately after winning the lottery, within a year of this victory the winners they were no happier than non-winners.
The authors use a Flow term, “hedonism,” to further examine this momentary happiness effect:
Hedonic adaptation helps to explain why even changes in major life circumstances–such as income, marriage, physical health and where we live–do so little to boost our overall happiness.
Flow teaches us that these external, hedonistic, pleasures does not lead to meaningful happiness. The authors of this study look for ways in which to sort of train ourselves to find internal enjoyment rather than external pleasure. Their ideas are interesting. In essence, internal enjoyment is a constant process that requires an outward-focused approach. This sounds like an oxymoron, but what it means is that in order to understand your internal enjoyment, you must be looking outward by attempting to do three things:
For each of these things to have an impact over the long-term, you must be relentless practitioner; you must find new ways to be kind, show gratitude, and be optimistic in the same way athletes vary their training regimes.
Of course, and this is how it really relates to Flow, in order to genuinely be kind, gracious, or optimistic, you must first deeply understand what drives your own enjoyment. From this point, you can turn outward. The net result is that a virtuous circle forms where your own internal enjoyment is impacted and made more profound from your external actions, which then makes these external actions more emphatic.
We know that happier people are more productive and creative people, so it’s worth the effort to give this a try, I believe. Is there a downside?
One of my favorite web app companies, 37Signals today took the scaffolding down from their most recent application, and opened it up to the public.
It’s called Highrise, and having fooled with it a little bit today, I can already tell that it’s another winner.
You use it by adding (or importing) contacts who you are currently working with. Once this is done you can then attach notes, and to do items to these contents. The free version limits you to 25 contacts, and also keeps you from using other features; such as file upload, and, most crucially to me, cases – which allow you to group contacts around projects.
Even with the limitations, the free Highrise account can really help you keep track of not only your contacts, but how and when you interact with them.
An artist, for example, who is booking a show might use High Rise to create contacts for all the relevant names of people associated with the gig. This would include the club booker, the press contacts who might write about the gig, the local radio DJs who will advance the show/have you on for an on-air performance, local retailers who you want to try and get to consign your records, perspective managers or booking agents who you want to get down to the show, etc.
All of these people’s contact info can easily be entered into Highrise, and then, as you contact them, you can add notes that detail the conversation (the press person, for instance, might want you to send a couple copies of your CD, etc.), and then add To Dos to make sure you follow up.
It all integrates will with the other 37Signals apps like Basecamp, and can be customized to your needs. For instance, Highrise allows for tagging, so you could tag all of the above mentioned contacts with the something specific to the gig (the name of the club, for example), and thereby organize your information easily.
I encourage you to give it a shot.
UPDATE: Highrise has increased the number of contacts at the free level from 25 to 250, andnow allows cases for free users too! Excellent!