Using Todoist and Trello to beat Procrastination

A while ago I wrote a blog post titled Confessions of a Procrastinator. My goal was to do a follow up which I was going to attempt to post as YouTube video… but I found myself tripping up too much with the recording so it’s back to the written word. Besides, there are tons of good YT videos that exist already to showcase the features of both tools.

In this post I just want to cover off two free web-based tools which can really help to organise your day-to-day and more long term goals.

Todoist

Todoist is available on the web and on mobile and offers a very simple checklist with some powerful features. It’s a good place to start if you want to get better at organising the day-to-day things. I used to use Outlook folders and flags to manage everything and I have to say this is a crazy amount better with a more satisfying feeling to completing tasks.

Once you sign in, you can simply start adding tasks. You can schedule, reschedule, tag and assign to projects. There are some newer features I’ve seem some YT videos showcasing filters, but I don’t currently use them – for me the key is to keep it light and low pressure.

If you’re a serial procrastinator with a disorganised and messy mind like me, you want to keep it simple using the schedule and reschedule options. I can’t emphasise enough the importance, for me at least, of keeping it low-key, low pressure. The moment I start using too many features, and fall behind on one or more tasks, the more I’m going to drift away from the ‘rigidity’ of the platform.

The best thing about Todoist is the ability to reschedule – large checklists can become a massive demotivational driver. You actually want to use that reschedule feature in order to clear off the mundane non-urgent tasks… to prioritise the more urgent tasks.

If you’re trying use these apps to overcome procrastination and put some order in your life, keep it simple. Don’t pressure yourself, if you don’t get a task done, reschedule it for the next day, or even the next week. Of course, some stuff have hard deadlines- and for those, you can use the app as intended – to remind you of that deadline approaching and focus on getting it completed whilst rescheduling the others into the future.

The best thing about Todoist is the ability to reschedule – large checklists can become a massive demotivational driver. You actually want to use that reschedule feature in order to clear off the mundane non-urgent tasks (but still keeping them active somewhere) to prioritise the more urgent tasks. Using the “Today” view therefore allows you to feel a sense of accomplishment at the end of the day without the judgement of a list of stuff you didn’t get done.

But what about the larger tasks, or projects, that require multiple tasks to be completed?

Trello

When it comes to larger projects like writing and publishing a book, buying a car or setting up a website, you don’t want to add these to Todoist as a single task as it may likely take days to months to complete. If I find I have a task on Todoist which is sitting incomplete for a while, it’s usually because their are multiple steps associated, so I move it to Trello.

If you’ve been in business a long time you may have heard the question “How do you eat an elephant?” or the expression “boiling the ocean”. In both cases, trying to complete a monumentous task in one go is going to lead to failure and demotivation, particularly for the serial procrastinator.

As with Todoist, Trello offers a very simple, easy to use interface with some powerful features. It’s important not to get lost in those features and instead take a simple laid-back approach.

After saying I wasn’t going to create a YouTube video, I do think a demo says it best, so here’s how I have it setup. Having read some more professional blogs online, it seems I’m on the right track with the science and psychology of it.

After all that, I’m not perfect at this process by any means, but I’m a big believer in the advantages of technology to improve our lifestyles and standards of living, I just wish I could go back 10 years and introduce myself to this stuff earlier.

The next generation will never know the hardships of the Outlook To-Do list!

What’s in a Name?

Very soon I shall be making a deed poll change to my last name. After 11 years of marriage I will be taking on my wife’s current double-barrel surname, and adding her maiden name to my own – henceforth my full last name will be Moskal-Fitzpatrick.

As someone who’s never truly been comfortable with my name, the concept of identity has always been an interesting one to me. It’s not the first time I have changed my last name, in fact from around age 7 to 15 I was known as Woods. Before that my last name was Randle – and perhaps for a few months immediately after I was born I was a Fitzpatrick. In fact I seem to have a birth certificates for all 3, coming from my mother’s divorce, single status and subsequent remarriage.

At 15 I changed to back to Fitzpatrick, looking to undermine school bullies and reinvent myself to a degree. Name changes in order to reinvent yourself are nothing new. In fact there are many incidents in the bible of God handing out new names for those who he has anointed and called out for specific purposes. It’s not uncommon for people to do the same nowadays. Had I been bolder when I was younger, I may have chosen to go by my middle name over my first name – but my feeling now is that it would just cause too much annoyance and confusion to go through that… who knows maybe later when I’m older and bolder?

But right now I’m taking on my wife’s name. Why? I guess there’s a number of reasons:

1) My wife has it – seems logical enough – why should women be the only one’s to change their names after marriage?

2) I don’t really know the father who gave me my genes and name, I don’t have any connection to that side of my family – and by changing my name and taking his – I kind of disassociated myself from the family that I do know… as I’ve gotten older I had a little guilt over that. I guess adopting my wife’s families name doubles down on that – but in a way it makes it into something truly unique.

3) It sounds kind of cool, to me at least.

The interesting thing about names is that you don’t really need a deed poll. You can start referring to yourself as something else whenever you want – there is no legal requirement to go by your given, or family name. The deed poll is so that institutions like banks, councils etc.. will recognise it and accept it on documentation.

Another interesting thing. Your marriage certificate acts like a kind of deed poll. My wife legally changed here name to “Moskal Fitzpatrick” (no dash”-“) when we married.

Realising her mistake, she enquired as to whether she could change it to a “Moskal-Fitzpatrick” and was informed that she has to write it exactly like it is on the marriage certificate. If that’s the case, you could probably change your name to anything using a marriage certificate. Knowing that now gives me a lot of ideas – however I don’t really have the opportunity or desire to try it out for obvious reasons!

However the dash is so minimal, I said to my wife she could probably just start using it anyway and no-one would notice… because it’s so unusual not to have dash that people wouldn’t question it. Also when you don’t have a dash, people tend to assume it’s a middle name in some cases.

I will be using a dash.

So that’s why I’m changing my name. It may not be the last time I do so.

Confessions of a Procrastinator

Got the Boost, but not the Bottle

Many years ago, someone relayed a story to me of a friend of theirs who had fitted their Vauxhall Nova with an Nitro boost – this was back in the 80’s when Vauxhall Nova’s were the car of choice for boy racers and modders before the Corsa. He explained to me that the boost worked through plugging in a nitrous bottle, and that once you pressed the button you could get maybe 10-12 seconds before the boost ran out (or so that is what I recall). Either way, it was very easy to use up a full bottle very quickly and apparently the bottles were prohibitively expensive, therefore this friend hardly ever used the boost. Instead he got a sticker made for his car – “Got the boost, but not the bottle”.

Perhaps I’m not unique in this, but I feel like I squandered my 20’s on self-indulgence and FOMO.

I’m probably at the most productive time in my life right now, I’m doing a lot of self-study and implementation too. In the last 10 years a massive amount of opportunities through technology have opened up that never existed before. Many jobs of the past have been lost to automation, yes, and there’s no such thing as a job for life anymore, but the jobs of the future haven’t even been invented yet. The work I do now barely existed at the time I started university almost 20 years ago.

That said, I still look back on the last 20 years with a taste of bitter-sweet. Perhaps I’m not unique in this, but I feel like I squandered my 20’s on self-indulgence and FOMO. I had some of the best events of my life – I travelled, got married, started as a consultant – but at the same time many of the ideas I had in my head, and the opportunities to make money, passed me by. I had ‘the boost but not the bottle’ as it were.

Achieving Nirvana

Part of me blames my upbringing, I was given too much freedom growing up – not enough discipline or structure… I wasn’t made to do household chores and I outside a being sent to bed early on occasion, I was never grounded. These things I was proud of as a punk teenager… now all I see it tragedy and missed opportunity. However, I also firmly believe in revelation and mind-renewal, or brain rewiring. You can’t be blamed for where you’ve come from, and you can’t change that fact, but you can change your future. Once you have a realisation and reach the point of understanding, you realise it’s your responsibility from there, you can no longer lump it on your family, your friends, your school, your work. For me, it’s just that the realisations came long before the call to action.

One of the things I’ve come to understand about myself is that I’m a bit of a ‘big-picture’ thinker – I have many ideas – books, applications, occupations, games, political actions – but don’t necessarily like to bog myself down in the details. Consequently lot’s of ideas, for projects, for starting businesses, for investments, but the moment I sat down to plan on starting just one of those things, and doing some research into what it would take – I lost interest. Towards my late 20’s I started to force myself to focus on an idea and actually begin to work on it, but this developed into another problem. Once I got over the initial research and planning, I found I could focus intensely on a project for a great period of time, continuously working on it in all my spare hours… and then what would happen is I would become slowly seduced by other new interesting ideas, and it would only take one missed evening of productivity and bang, production would stop.

So I had put a major amount of effort into something, I had gotten to about 25% or 50% of the way through and then completely lost interest – it was back to the doldrums and lack of motivation. Too many ideas in my head, not knowing where to start, and not wanting to go back to this other thing I’d started. It’s thoroughly demotivating – if you’re a perfectionist, like my wife, you may understand the feeling of not wanting to start something because of your fear of not being able to complete it. But I did find a way out.

Working with Seasons

You’re probably familiar with the term ‘creature of habit’ – humans are creatures of habit. I notice that most people like to have routines, they form habits around things without even realising it – the way they eat, drive a car, what they do on their weekends. I think I may be broken in some way (being raised by a diagnosed bipolar schizophrenic can do that) and I can’t stand routines or habits. Once I start feeling comfortable in something, it kind of makes me uncomfortable – like when you’ve been sitting in one position for too long. I constantly seek new things.

Then another amazing thing happened, I realised that my mind is like a seasonal worker.

Part of my problem was that I recognised this as unconventional, I hated that I couldn’t focus on just one thing to completion. I thought for the a long that it was a problem that needed fixing (I just didn’t have a clue how), but instead I started to come to another realisation about myself -and it started with acceptance of how my mind works.

Once I had accepted that this massive burst of focus was a thing, and that the next project I start I was going to work as much as I could, but accept the fact that I will eventually lose interest – I could in a way plan for it. I could ensure that whatever I’m working on, I build in plenty of notes and break points so that if I decide to come back again and pick it up – it would be easier to do as I had prepared myself.

Then another amazing thing happened, I realised that my mind is like a seasonal worker. I haven’t quite figured out the logistics yet – but like a farm, or tourist destination – I started to refer to see projects as seasonal of intense bursts of activity. Not only did that free me from the guilt of abandoning a project (instead it’s just the end of the season) it gave me the motivation I needed to pick up a new project and continue to do something. It also meant that I found myself returning to older projects that were once abandoned, because I’d given myself permission to return to that project from ‘last season’.

Teaching myself Discipline

If we were to view the journey of my own self improvement as kind of a project in itself – this last section would be the bit that I haven’t quite finished. I did intend to write one post which would go into some of the methods and tools I use to avoid procrastination and inject some discipline, but I guess the writing took a different direction and I’ll have to do a follow up.

It is of course no good simply just to give oneself permission to engage all kind of projects and abandon them willy-nilly – all that will produce is clutter in your life and in your thoughts. So along with the freedom of treating my mind like a seasonal worker, it also means understanding seasons are cyclical. I give myself a break to leave a project for a season – but that means that I will come back to it. I haven’t got this perfected yet, but in the case of writing books for example (I have written a whole library of 1st chapters), the season is ‘writing’ and therefore rather than start a new book, a new story – I must return to the old one. By forcing myself into this seasonal mindset – I did manage to publish one book, I managed to self study and certify in ITIL Foundation, and I managed to start a company. I am currently the closest to finishing a new fictional novel than I have ever been and the company will be bringing out an online text editing platform soon.

So it’s like a bargain I’ve made with my grey matter – it gets to be a seasonal worker –  I get to determine the seasons in a way. In the next post I’ll follow up with some of the methods and tools that I use to keep myself on track.

New Startup – Traversys

I once asked a friend who had ran a few businesses in his spare time how easy it was to start up a company. He told me it was very easy, cost as little as £10. I was a bit taken aback. I’d always wanted to start a business, and had a few ideas here and there, but I was held back by my thoughts and fears about all the costs, the legal mumbo jumbo and how to market.

For many years I’ve had ideas for solutions, integrations that I’ve developed for my employers (sometimes in my own time) in order to solve a specific problem I was having. I wasn’t asked to do it, I wasn’t sponsored to do it – I did it because I needed something. The problem is that once you build something for your employer – the intellectual property becomes theirs – despite the fact they never commissioned it (and in some cases they don’t even care).

The best I got for my contributions was sometimes a pat on the head, the worst, would be that it was completely ignored or not understood. I can’t say what’s more frustrating but what I can say is that I’m ready to end those frustrations.

Fast forward a few years, and I’ve decided to partner with a long-time friend and start Traversys.

From now on, the tools that I need are going to be built on our own time, with our own hardware, and with free license for us to use them in our employment. Crucially, the IP will be owned by Traversys – and in many cases will be Open Sourced.

My friend was right. Starting your company is actually very easy, but starting a company when your business partner lives overseas, and you intend to keep working the day job (which influences and funds your ideas) is not.

The chance of success is there, but more importantly this is about finding a place for our ideas to become tangible products, that others may find useful, and be prepared to pay for.

Spooning with Pentaho Data Integrator

Pentaho Data Integrator is a neat open source, cross-platform tool for making light work of ETL. I have it set up on my Ubuntu laptop and can run it directly from the command line, or as part of a chron job.

However I found a couple of annoyances when running it from CLI, one was in having to keep a terminal window open, the other was having to run it from it’s install directory – particularly when it comes to relative path names for kettle jobs.

So I created an alias that runs PDI in an interactive shell allowing you to run it from one a word command, and it occurred to me that this might be useful to share. Here you go:

alias spoon='sh -c '\''cd /opt/pentaho/data-integration; ./spoon.sh&'\'''

 

Copy Files to Pogoplug Without The Pogo Software (using scp)

I recently picked up a Pogoplug on sale from John Lewis and thought I’d give it a whirl with my media.

Although it is a neat little device, one of it’s biggest benefits is also it’s biggest flaw in terms of design – and that is how it requires you to sign into pogoplug.com and maintain an account there. It also requires you to mount the pogoplug with their software for transferring and viewing files, rather than acting as a NAS.

Whilst it’s nice to have easy access to media outside of home (without having to fiddle with setting up port forwarding on your firewall and whatnot) it’s a bit of a drag when you’re on your own network. I noticed a severe performance degradation copying media to my pogoplug device using pogoplugfs rather than through a standard means. So I learned that Pogoplug does appear to have a Busybox install and along with that SSH access. In order to enable SSH access, Cloud Engines have been gracious enough to allow this through your my.pogoplug.com portal. You simply go to Security options and enable SSH, and change the password. From there it’s just a simple,

ssh root@<pogoplugIpAddress>

The problem is that there doesn’t seem to be any support for sftp and therefore I couldn’t use ssh in a file manager. Thankfully however ssh provides scp protocol and from there it was just as short script in order to zap files across over local lan without worrying about signing in.

When you attach an external harddrive to the Pogoplug, your files will be installed in a directory similar to ‘/tmp/.cemnt/mnt_sda2/’ where ‘mnt_sda2’ will be the mount point of your media device.

Be aware this script utilises “expect”, but you could use private keys instead.

ppsend.sh:
#!/bin/bash
#set -x
# Provide a list of media extensions to send to pogoplug
extensions=("mp4" "avi" "mkv" "jpg");
ppip="192.168.1.10" # The local ip address of your pogoplug
echo ""
echo "Sending video files to PogoPlug ($ppip) for the following extensions..."
for ext in "${extensions[@]}"; do
echo ${ext}
done
echo ""
for ext in "${extensions[@]}"; do
 expect -c "spawn bash -c \"scp -p *.$ext root@$ppip:/tmp/.cemnt/mnt_sda2/\"
 expect assword ; send \"mysshpassword\r\"; interact"
done

I think the next step for this is to translate it to another language and wrap it up in a GUI for easy access. So watch this space perhaps.

Live Backup of Minecraft

I use Minecraft on Linux, occasionally I find java crashes whilst I’m playing and I lose my world save. I think it has more to do with some buggy hardware currently than the OS after a discussion I had with someone in meatspace.

Anyway, yeah, no matter what’s at fault, losing a Minecraft world is no pleasant thing, so I created the following script to incrementally backup whilst I’m playing. I run it from my home directory:

#!/bin/bash

# Live backup of the game for java crashes
# Author: Wes Fitzpatrick

if ! [ -d .minecraft_live_backup ]; then
 cp -pr .minecraft .minecraft_live_backup
fi
if ! [ -d .minecraft_current_session ]; then
 cp -pr .minecraft .minecraft_current_session
fi
mv .minecraft_live_backup .mc_last_session`date | awk '{ print $1 $2 $3 $4 }'`
while true; do
 rm -fr .minecraft_current_session && cp -pr .minecraft .minecraft_current_session
 sleep 120
 rm -fr .minecraft_live_backup && mv .minecraft_current_session .minecraft_live_backup
done

What this does is first backups up your current .minecraft folder, so your last game is preserved, then creates two alternate backups. One is your current (minecraft_current_session) up to the last 2 minutes of play, the second is the previous current (minecraft_live_backup) in case the failure occurs during backup.

I’ve tested the backup copies and both work in event of a crash. This means rather than losing the entire castle, I’ve only lost the last few block placed.

Every time I use Skype

Skype 2.2 Beta is just a buggy piece of crap, but I have to use it because my family are on it, so here’s a small script I use when it blows up (which it does almost every chat session):

#!/bin/bash

proc_id=`ps -ef | grep "/usr/bin/skype" | grep -v "grep" | awk '{print $2}'`
kill -9 $proc_id
/usr/bin/skype &

Google+ vs Facebook

I have a G+ and Facebook account. Whilst I still log into FB to check on what friends are doing, I find the automatic upload feature to G+ incredibly useful so I’ve stopped uploading photos to FB. I think G+ is better than FB, like it’s circles feature, which FB badly needed for a long time. I don’t think the implementation is quite there, but it’s a logical and necessary feature.

I remember when most of the FB friends I have now were on MySpace and all had headache inducing, eye-bleeding home pages. I didn’t bother, but when FB came along and was relatively obscure I joined because it was a bit like LinkedIn is now, low key and mostly professionals.

Of course, G+ is always compared to this and I have also used the analogy when people say it’s not going to beat FB. However there are some key generational changes between now and then which put FB at an advantage to G+ now but the most important one is email.

Up until FB came along many of us were still communicating and relying on email for socializing and events. Whether you came from MySpace or were new to social networking, signing up for FB was made easy by the fact it would trawl your email address book and add your contacts as they joined – rarely have I had to look someone up in the last 5 years of using it. In any event if FB couldn’t read your address book, your address book was considerably smaller and more manageable than it is now and you could feed it in manually.

The difference now is that many people no longer store their contacts in their easily accessible email account – instead half of them are stuck in a proprietory FB directory because we reconnected with lost friends (and lost email addresses) this way. FB does not share emails and makes efforts to kill plugins that attempt to do this. FB knows that the key successful ingredient is email addresses, and being able to pair those up automatically.

This is the most likely reason why Google stopped sharing email accounts with FB, it’s the reason migrating out of FB is for the foreseeable future, difficult (I have family who don’t even log into their email accounts – my only way of digitital contact is via FB).

Facebook benefited from social networking virgins, and being able to trawl email. Email address books have migrated to Facebook accounts and therefore G+ cannot trawl for contacts in the same way. There are also less social networking virgins to plunder, and these people see it as a hassle to migrate all those photos and personal notes that they spent time uploading manually, despite browser tools that are available.

I really hope that G+ is successful in the long term, I hope it reaches that point at which the dam breaks and then all the FB holdouts rush to sign up because enough of their friends have left. But this is probably only going to happen when people stop sharing on FB. Even as a pro-G+er I have trouble not posting to FB directly – to get my friends’ reactions. We need more tools like Extended Share to come to fruition – and we need them to be automated, so that I don’t have to post something from my mobile or my tablet, and have to log in from a PC to click share.

Using PrivatVPN on Ubuntu Linux

After the Hide My Ass fallout and niggling doubts about AceVPNs logging policies, I’m trying out some recommended VPN services I found via TorrentFreak. The great thing about VPN providers is most of them allow you to purchase a limited time from 1-12 months, I decided to try out PrivatVPN who state apart from username and password, they don’t log anything.

PrivatVPN appears to be a small outfit operating out of Sweden offering servers in Sweden, US, UK, Switzerland and the Netherlands. I can’t tell if they are owned by anyone or just hosted by iLandsgruppen however their service is very barebones, with a small control panel, software download and instructions. The service is relatively cheap to – about £4 for 30 days.

They technically don’t have a Linux client, only configuration files to download, which seem to be outdated. Unlike that ‘other’ OS – where they offer a full client and countries to connect to, Linux only contains the address of their Swedish server and the wrong port number (21003). I found this out after the OpenVPN connection not working on Ubuntu so instead fired up my Windows VM just to see if it worked and it did. A quick gander at connection logs showed me the different port.

I notified their tech support, but for anyone who had problems like me with the following error,

read UDPv4 [ECONNREFUSED]: Connection refused (code=111)

Here are the correct IP address and Port numbers to connect to PrivatVPN servers. Let’s hope they update their documentation and config files:

Sweden: 80.67.10.138:21001
US: 108.59.1.216:21000
UK: 83.170.109.247:21000
Switzerland: 31.7.62.130:21000
Netherlands: 85.17.122.222:21000

PrivatVPN provide instructions for starting from the CLI, however if you prefer the GUI (I do purely for the networking icon to remind me I’m connected with a tiny lock) simply follow these steps:

  • Go to Network Manager, VPN Connections, Configure VPN…
  • Click on Import
  • Navigate to “/etc/openvpn” and select “privatevpn.conf”.
  • Then add your username and password
  • Check the IP address is the same as the one above and the port no. (under “Advanced” option)
  • You may want to configure multiple vpns so change the name too, to something like “PrivatVPN Sweden/US/UK…”
That’s it, you’re done. Enjoy your anonymity and freedom!