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All opinions on this site are solely those of the author unless specified otherwise. All affiliations and endorsements will be disclosed if present. If no disclosure, no affiliation exists.

Christopher Ambler is a Principal Architect at GoDaddy who writes sleek, performant, low-overhead Java and Scala code. In his copious spare time he can be found playing poker or listening to progressive music not in 4/4 time. He recently relocated to sunny California from Seattle.

My Productivity Goes to Eleven

I'm often asked about my personal productivity strategies, and the number one tip that I like to give out is the benefit of making habits of the things that you find valuable. It is said that it takes 21 days for form a habit, and that one must be committed to establishing it. I could argue that if you can remember to do something for 21 days, you've already made it a habit. If the habit I want to create is eating delicious cake every day, I suspect I could do without help. When it's remembering to floss, on the other hand, I might forget if I'm in a hurry, or even blow it off. In this case, I find that checklists help.

My habits checklists on TodoistApplications like Todoist work for me, as they let me make a checklist of tasks and set them to repeat daily (or in some cases, on weekdays, weekends, or whatever schedule works for me). Initially, I had a single checklist, but I found this difficult to work with. Sometimes there are tasks that are expected on a given day but just aren't going to get done, often for very good reason. For example, one task I have is to make a daily journal entry about a particular topic. The problem is that the topic doesn't generate activity every day, so checking off this task when there is nothing to journal about is perfectly okay - but I get "credit" in the app for actually doing it. There is no way to mark it, as we'd say in the betting world, "no action."

My solution was to split out my list into two categories and then split those into two more. The two categories are health habits and all other habits. I treat health differently because many of the items are non-negotiable. Take my blood pressure medication, for example. That goes into the second split of "maintenance," which means that it's a "no excuse" task.

Tasks that aren't maintenance are improvement, and those are the ones that, more often than not, wouldn't get done if I didn't hold myself accountable. Improvement health tasks like working out or meditating (though that's becoming more attractive the more I do it). Improvement habits like committing to writing at least one sentence a day (hat tip to Stephen Barnes for this one).

In all cases, checking them off provides the dopamine reaction I'm after. I want to see, every day, 100% on maintenance tasks, and as close as I can get on the improvement tasks. If something can't be done regularly, I re-evaluate it to see if it must be dropped from the list or if I need to make adjustments to make it possible.

Bonus List: I have one for "Memorize." This is, obviously, anything I need to commit to memory. I put the text in a task and read it once per day and then check it off. After a time, the every-day repetition gets the job done and I can remove the task. Ask me to do some Shakespeare for you some time - this is how I memorized Dogberry's part in Much Ado About Nothing ;)

Do you think this would work for you? I'd love to hear thoughts and refinements! What would you add/change to this?

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A Nugget of Knowledge

I recently signed up for MasterClass, as there were more than just a few people giving courses that I'd love to hear from. I started with Steve Martin's course on comedy. I don't think I learned anything specific that I'd call out, but I did get a solid overview of his thought process and I found it very enlightening. I then took Shonda Rhimes Teaches Writing for Television, and found it even more useful, as I'm working on a television screenplay (don't worry, it's for fun. It's going to suck. But I want to do it).

I'm now on my third course, and have just hit on the first "gold nugget" moment. The course is Aaron Sorkin Teaches Screenwriting, and I'm finding that his viewpoints resonate. Of course, I've been a Sorkin fan for a while. The West Wing remains one of my favorite shows to this day, and his writing consistently impresses me.

The nugget he gave, at least to me, seems like such a simple yet powerful suggestion - he tells the story, in illustrating how an actor should be given room to expand a character, of how Richard Schiff, in playing Toby, wore a wedding ring from the beginning of the pilot. Sorkin said to Schiff that he hadn't envisioned Toby as being married, and asked why Schiff chose to wear the ring. Shiff responded that he didn't know, either, but it gave Sorkin room to find out.

This suggests to me, in writing, to add items like this in my scripts, to allow them to be explored later. Or not. For a television series, there is a lot of room to do this, or let it be a non-issue. Or keep people wondering until the time is right to address it.

Like I said, perhaps this is a small thing, but it really struck me. And made the course worth the price of admission right there.

MasterClass used to cost $90/course. It's now $180/year for all you can watch. To me, that's a heck of a bargain. Not trying to sell anything here (though if you click the link, above, and sign up, I think I get an extra month - I'll buy you a drink :-)), but I'm just really digging MasterClass.

 

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You're Already Connected

When I was in high school, in the 80s, I was part of a group that hacked into corporate voicemail systems so that we young hackers could communicate. Voicemail was pretty obscure then. You could find me, around lunchtime, at the payphone on campus, picking up and leaving messages. (Note for the young, look up "payphone" if you need to).

Around the same time, and for years after that, I also dialed-in to BBSs and made many good friends and had great conversations.

This was the 80s version of "connected" from a technology standpoint.

In the 90s and early 00s, the Internet was ramping up in terms of usage and growing beyond the tech corporations and universities. Even more connectivity.

Today, though? Everyone's online. Everyone has a smart phone with always-connected applications. And in the past decade or so, there's been a significant change that everyone takes for granted today but I rarely see called out: everyone has their connectivity on them at all times and pulls it out and uses it in all but the most rare social situations.

You see people on their phone all the time when, a decade ago, they may have had a newspaper, or a book, or would have just been sitting there taking in the passing landscape. Today, everyone defaults to "jacking in" when there's nothing else to do.

This, right now, is via hand-held devices. This will also change in the next few years, as wearables find an ergonomic niche that works. Things like Google Glass showed a hint of what's to come.

Within five years, everyone will remain connected, but you won't be able to tell.

How society will adapt remains to be seen. It's something I've been thinking about. I have some ideas. Some potentially even start-up-worthy.

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Does Uber Care? No, I Don't Think So

Uber

Uber's new CEO, Dara Khosrowshahi, has been all over the media trying to rehabilitate Uber's reputation by telling us that Uber cares and will make things right when they go wrong. This is great spin, but is it really true? If my experience with Uber, lately, is any indication, it's not. It's business as usual at Uber.

Have you ever contacted Uber's customer service? First, you can't do anything except send a message with the app, but even then, you are constrained in your topics and ability to do so. Often, to get someone to read your issue, you have to select an irrelevant topic.

Once making it past that hurdle, you then send your message and wait for the inevitable misunderstood response. I have honestly never sent a message to Uber in which the response was in any way relevant to my actual complaint. Once going back and forth for the better part of a day with Uber, one may get a response that is aligned to the subject, but there's no guarantee there.

In my latest interaction with Uber, I requested a ride while in San Francisco. The app told me the wait would be about 8 minutes, and I waited while watching the car make its way to me. Once it was near, it was clear that the driver was going the wrong way and would never be able to reach my location. Sure enough, as the app was telling me that the driver was arriving, the car disappeared and the app told me that the driver had to cancel. Just like that.

I had to start over, wait another ten minutes and then... same thing. Driver cancelled.

The third time was a charm, some half-hour after I'd requested my first ride.

I contacted Uber and explained the situation and the response to me was that I should be fine, I wasn't charged a cancellation fee.

Wait. What?

I explained that it was the driver who had cancelled and noted that had I cancelled, I would have been charged $5, but when a driver does it, there's no consequence.

The response I received asked me for a screen shot of the $5 charge I incurred.

After going back and forth, I finally managed to explain what happened and was then told that this is the policy and there would be no refund. Not even an apology.

So... Dara? How is this "making it right?"

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Sleestaq Logo!

The very talented Matt Zanzibar has delivered the logo for Sleestaq, LLC, my new company for all of the web development and properties I'm working on. Much more about all of this to come, along with my new goal of a daily blog entry here at Bit.Parts!

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