Deep Work… for Parents?

 

A working mom and productivity app publicist Tweeted, “How to do #DeepWork even when you have deep responsibilities (spoiler alert: that means kids) – by @lvanderkam.”

The accompanying image was Vanderkam’s right-on-the-money critique of Cal Newport’s Deep Work, which held up Carl Jung as an example for shutting himself off to do “deep work.” Translation: he neglected his kids?

Newport starts by writing (in a laudatory fashion) about Carl Jung secluding himself in a tower so he could ponder his breakthrough ideas. Newport notes that there were sacrifices involved in his decision. For instance, it “reduced the time he spent on his clinical work.” Not mentioned: when Jung bought this retreat property in 1922, he and his wife had five children. It’s safe to say locking himself off from the world locked himself off from those responsibilities. And while perhaps that was par for the course for a man in 1922 (and maybe especially for Jung, who was allegedly an unfaithful husband), someone had to be around the family.

Newport is a working father, but as journalist Brigid Schulte suggests in Overwhelmed: How to Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time, working fathers don’t carry the same load at home as working mothers. Maybe Newport has this all worked out with his family and work in a fair and agreeable way. But as I’m reading it, Schulte’s work is making a strong case that the ability to perform deep work is a gendered phenomenon. Culturally (in the U.S., at least) it’s still easier for dads than moms to get away and carve out large blocks of uninterrupted, focused time.

Be that as it may, “deep work” for any engaged parent can be hard to come by. Working from home is a beautiful thing, but how often have I felt tinges of guilt as I told my children I couldn’t play right now because I was working, barely glancing up from the computer to let them know? In that case both the work and (more important) the child receive less than what I would hope to give.

Someone needs to write a Deep Work for Parents book. Who knows? Maybe that will be Newport’s follow-up. And Vanderkam has great ideas here. (Her website is sub-titled, “Writing about Time Management, Life, Careers & Family.”)

How about you, working parents who read this blog? How do you get focused, high-level work done when your “job” isn’t your only job? How do you handle interruptions if you work from home? How do you find energy to cook dinner and do bedtime routines after working all day outside the house?

All ideas welcomed in the comments below.

The Busy Pastor’s Guide to Inbox Shalom

Screenshot 2017-07-24 14.58.10

 

I’ve recently had a new article published at CTPastors.com: “The Busy Pastor’s Guide to Inbox Shalom.”

It begins:

A ministry supervisor once told me a quick way to lose respect in ministry: Don’t return people’s phone calls. The same holds true for email.

The article suggests how pastors (or anyone) can reset to Inbox Zero in two minutes, and then recommends some strategies for keeping your Inbox in a state of shalom.

You can read the whole article here.

3 Months of Todoist Premium, Free!

 

This post is a giveaway of three months of Todoist Premium. First, some background.

While OmniFocus has been a constant task-tracking companion for the last two years, a couple of unacknowledged and then acknowledged-but-still-unfixed bugs have been just vexing enough to send me back to other productivity apps.

I mass exported all my data from OmniFocus to 2Do (easily the best aesthetic of any task tracking app), which has been my new go-to.

However, the pull of Todoist is strong. (See my review from fall 2015 here.) I can, for example, write:

Take out the trash every Thursday at 4 #church

And it uses natural language input to set up the time (and a recurring task, no less) and project.

 

No need to manually go through my projects or a date and time picker. It’s fast.

Todoist Premium adds more features: labels (which are tags, essentially), filters (which are saved searches that can help you sort your tasks in really neat ways), and a lot more.

My “Todoist Karma” (I know, cheesy… but I like having a continually rising score to track my productivity) got high enough that Todoist sent me a free code for three months of Premium. They also sent me a code to give away.

Here’s how you can get that second code.

I’ll randomly select a recipient from the comments below. For one entry, simply answer the question, “What app or system are you using now to track tasks and projects?” For a second entry, share a link to this post on Facebook or Twitter (or whatever the kids are using these days), and come back here to the comments to tell me you did. I’ll announce the winner on Saturday, March 25.

Laura Vanderkam’s Time Tip #48: If you dislike a particular task, time it.

I got this great advice in my inbox the other day from Laura Vanderkam:

If you dislike a particular task, time it.

Yea, verily. She explains:

While knowing that unloading the dishwasher takes you 6 minutes won’t get this chore of your plate, it will make it seem like less of a burden.

It’s funny that this is her example, because this (the kitchen) is really the ONE place where I’ve practiced this tactic already, and it really does help.

And when you do dishes for 25 minutes (because there are so many), your sense of accomplishment will be all the greater!

Habit List: A Sophisticated iOS Habit Tracker

I noted in September that the App Store has seen quite a few habit tracker apps of late.

Why not just use your task management app, you might ask?

Well, one can get tired of seeing the same “Update YNAB” task every day. Or the same “Study Greek” reminder. Habits and tasks aren’t the same per se.

This may be splitting hairs, but since getting past my initial skepticism, I’ve been using one habit tracker or another for much of the fall. The interface of Streaks is unparalleled, and Productive makes a cool sound when you complete a habit.

Habit List, on the other hand, is the most powerful and customizable of the three.

 

Options Galore

 

Habit List takes the cake in what it allows you to do with regard to scheduling your habits. Every potential use I imagined I could accomplish with the app.

You can set up a habit with just about any frequency imaginable, whether certain days or x times per week, and set a reminder. If I want to work out three times a week, I can set up a habit for that, without it having to be the same three days in a given week.

 

Habit Frequency

 

Set Habit Reminder

 

I came to Habit List from another app and could easily backdate edit my habits-in-progress so I didn’t have to start at zero just because I was using a new app. This was unexpected and a great touch.

This also means that if you are completing the habit but forget to track it for a few days, you can easily make the manual adjustment in Habit List.

You can view stats for individual habits, presented in a variety of ways:

 

Calendar Stats

 

Monthly Stats

 

There is no limit (at least that I could find) to the number of habits you can track. So, sure, why not go ahead and add, “Take out trash Friday mornings”?

Here is a look at more app settings:

 

App Settings

 

For Future Updates?

 

Marking the completion of habits in Habit List feels very much like crossing off a list. The interface is exactly that. You swipe your finger across a habit to signify you’ve done it. No filled-in circles, no animations, no sounds. This will be fine for many, but there may also be more aesthetically pleasing user interface options for future updates to explore–whether color changes, distinct habit icons, etc.

Maybe this is draconian or just Pavlovian on my part, but I found myself wanting more from the UI that would give me a sense of satisfaction when crossing off a habit. (I know… what do you want, people cheering??? Well….)

 

Final Words and Where to Get the App

 

TL;DR: Habit List doesn’t quite have the pretty layout of some other similar apps. But it has the most functionality of any habit tracking app I’ve tried. There are no limits on what you can track, as well as a great degree of flexibility. If you’re serious about tracking some specific habits and don’t mind a minimalist layout, you may have found your app.

Find Habit List in the App Store here.

 


 

Thanks to the good folks who make Habit List for the review copy of the app, given to me for this review but with no expectation as to its content.

MacSparky’s OmniFocus Video Field Guide

OmniFocus

 

Last week I finished watching every minute of David Sparks’s OmniFocus Video Field Guide.

 

OF In Action

 

The video is of professional quality. You don’t even really think about this as you watch, which is a good thing. It is just David Sparks, his OmniFocus (Mac and iOS, excellent explanations, and you.

Sparks covers all of the basics, and then some. You get in-depth tutorials on how to use Due Dates (sparingly!) or Defer Dates, navigating your way through Projects, what Contexts are and how to use them, keeping your Inbox clear, integrating OF with other workflows like email and TextExpander, and much more. From Capture to Review, the Field Guide has it covered.

There are two nice touches that I especially appreciated:

  1. Sparks is funny. You see him working on a project called Flat Earth Manifesto in the video. But he avoids the pitfall that some tech writers get into, which is being overly cute or annoyingly glib. He uses humor perfectly.
  2.  

    Custom Perspectives
     

  3. He shows you some of his unique Custom Perspectives in OF. This alone may be worth the price of the field guide. I have already copied his settings that he shows to set up my own Perspectives like his. Even though I have been using the app for a good while now, and consider myself fairly proficient with it, my productivity with OmniFocus has definitely increased since adding these Perspectives.

 
Chapter Titles
 

As you can see in the above shot, you can navigate by chapter, and scroll through all of them to see a sort of Table of Contents of the whole Field Guide.

Here is a short clip so you can get a feel for the approach and content.

Learning OmniFocus is an investment of time. Some people will balk at spending money to learn how to use the software they already spent good money on. But for $10, with well over two hours of top-notch content, the serious OmniFocus user should get to this field guide as soon as possible. Easily 5/5 stars.

Find it here.

 


 

Thanks to MacSparky/David Sparks, for giving me a download of the Field Guide for this review.

Streaks: Tracking Habits

Icon-1024-Rounded

 

A new breed of task management app seems to be proliferating in the App Store as of late: the habit tracker.

The idea behind a habit-building app is not just to help you cross things off your list, but to actually build the kinds of repetitive practices you’d like to be a part of your everyday life.

Streaks is one such app, and perhaps the one with the most aesthetically pleasing presentation.

 

What I Like About Streaks

 

The first thing to appreciate about Streaks is its layout:

 

home base

 
You can change colors from the default orange to 11 other options:

 
Colors and settings

 
As you complete (or miss) habits, the app makes it easy to access statistics from the main screen with just a tap. Check this out:

 
Some stats
 
More stats
 

The reminders are customizable, so they can be as obtrusive or unobtrusive as you want them to be, depending on what you need to get your habits in place:

 
Alt text
 
Checking off habits is satisfying. You just hold down the circle till it fills in:
 
Alt text
 
If you missed a day, Streaks knows it:
 
Alt text
 
There are a ton of habit icons from which to choose, and they look better than any I’ve seen in other comparable apps (some of which are just icon-less lists):
 
icons
 
more icons
 
yet more icons
 
Setting up habits is quite easy:
 
running habit
 

What I Found Lacking

 

Probably the biggest miss in the app is that there is no way to adjust a habit you forgot to check off more than one day ago. If you missed marking a habit yesterday, you’re all set, but you can’t check off habits you completed two days ago but didn’t note. I lost some streaks this way (at least within the app) when I was on vacation last month. I was completing habits, but not on my phone as often as usual; there’s no way to adjust to get your statistics to reflect such a reality.

I would love for future updates to Streaks to include some sort of sound when you fill in a habit circle. This is just personal preference, though.

Streaks maxes out at six habits that you can be tracking at a time. The developers have a reason for this–it’s hard to maintain more habits than that on a regular basis, but the limitation does not allow for as great user control as some other apps do.

One other lack: you can’t make a habit to do something, say, three times a week, without also having to specify the days. So I can have “Exercise” three times a week, but only if I assign days (Monday, Wednesday, and Friday)–I couldn’t set it up for any three days.

 

Final Words and Where to Get the App

 
Limitations notwithstanding, Streaks is easily one of the three best habit-tracking apps for iOS. It’s clearly designed with the user experience in mind, which makes charting habits through this app fun. As long as you can stay on top of tracking your practices each day, Streaks is a worthy aid in helping establish regular life patterns.

Find Streaks in the App Store here.
 

Thanks to the good folks at Streaks app for the review copy of Streaks, given to me for this review but with no expectation as to its content.