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Launch all the Pythons!!

Launch all the Pythons!

Launch all the Pythons!

  • If you own an iPhone, read on!
  • If you like making your phone twice as epic as it originally ships from Cupertino, read on!
  • If you enjoy programming, read on!
  • If you have even the teensiest interest in programming, read on!

Now at this point, if you’re saying “Jonathan, I don’t have an iPhone, and I hate anything that goes ‘1011001010001’ then please stop reading right now and instead check out this adorable video of baby pandas.

A little while back, I found myself with a problem to which I needed to find a solution. If you’re still reading, you can relate. If you’re not still reading, I hope you’re enjoying those pandas, but I still think you can relate.

I was doing my senior physics research project and was needing to recruit subjects to test a game that I had made. To be an ethical researcher, and in order to protect their privacy, I needed to dissociate their responses from their identities. To do this, I needed to generate a code for my test subjects, give it to them, and then store that code somewhere where I could access it while compiling my results.

Now, doing all this isn’t all that hard. The trick is doing this simple process 30 times in the course of two days, sometimes while a bunch of people need to run off to class, and you have 45 seconds to get all their codes generated, shared, and stored.

The folks over at Asian Efficiency practice a habit called the 3 times rule: Anything task that you do more than 3 times should have a system to it, and if you can automate it, all the better.

Here is where the iPhone that’s twice as awesome as Cupertino ships thanks to your teensy+ interest in coding comes in. There are two apps that I used during this time to make my life heaps easier. The first is called “Launch Center Pro” (or LCP for short) and the second is called “Pythonista.”

Launch Center Pro

Think of LCP as a place where you can make whatever “big red buttons” you want. These “big red buttons” are there on your phone right inside of either the LCP app, your Today widget, or if you’re really clever, on your home screen. When you tap this big red button, you’re phone blasts off to start a task that you might have otherwise gotten distracted along the way only to think after 45 minutes of scrolling, “Uhh…why did I open Facebook again?”

I use LCP to

  1. Text my wife cute little notes here and there (some of them are even pre-programmed, such as a heart, miss you, and “see you soon”)
  2. Post a tweet to twitter without getting distracted by my feed
  3. Scan QR codes
  4. Open my bluetooth settings right to the display where I can pair with a device, rather than weaving through menus.
  5. Quick-launch a Pythonista script (more below).

Pythonista

On the other hand, Pythonista is Python on your iPhone. It’s the editor and the interpreter, and you’re window into one of the best languages to start coding. If you’ve wanted to code, but are always on the run and away from your computer, typing out a few lines here and there on your phone may be the solution. I prototyped one of my senior research games on my iPhone using Pythonista.

Pythonista gives you under-the-hood access to so many features. And it’s developer, Ole Zorn is always adding new features to the [already extensive list]. To name a few really clever ideas you can script in Pythonista:

  1. Remind yourself to send a text message in 6 hours using the notifications library.
  2. Turn your phone into a morse code strobe light using the flashlight Objective C library.
  3. Perform robust image manipulation on your phone
  4. Generate beautiful (3D!) mathematical plots using data you capture from your phone’s accelerometer, camera, or manual input.

The list goes on. There is a rich community of enthusiasts over at

Pythonista’s forum.

3…2…1…

So here is where the magic comes together. LCP isn’t all that great at functionality. It’s just really good at kicking other things off. Pythonista is like this Swiss Army Knife with 100 tools on it, but they’re all power tools – but it’s a little clunky to launch.

Marry these two and you have a great way to handle these scriptable problems such as generating codes for research participants that I mentioned earlier.

Blastoff!!

If you want to create new functionalities for your iPhone that you didn’t think you could, I would highly recommend these two apps together. They are awesome complements other power-user apps such as Workflow and Drafts4.

If you’re not into automation and scripting, but are still interested in learning to program in Python, I would even recommend buying Pythonista by itself just for having a mobile python environment to fiddle around with. The best thing is that two days ago (at the time of this posting), Ole Zorn released Pythonista 3, and for a limited time is offering a 50% discount, so you can grab it for $5. There’s no better time to try it out!

Conquering the Email Beast with Filters and Forwarding

Email is a beast. Not the kind of beast where we say “so-and-so is a beast at getting things done.” No, email is the beast that keeps so-and-so from getting things done, by dragging him away from what matters most and inundating him meaningless CCs, spam, and offers. There is a small quiet voice of important information that gets spoken through email that is drowned out by a roar of unimportance and triviality.

Unfortunately, email is a big part of many people’s job, especially my job at the residence hall in which I work. Many administrators rely on email to communicate vital information, of which too much goes ignored. The problem many of us face is a problem of quantity, and a lack of distinction of importance. We don’t see the emails that we want because there is too much unimportant email.

The solution? Unsubscribing, filters, forwarding, and inbox zero.

Unsubscribing

At the bottom of most emails is a little link that you can click on to stop receiving annoying emails from annoying email lists. This single button alone, if you click it religiously with every email list you ignore all the time, you can cut out easily 30%+ of your inbox bloat. A great time to do this is around Black Friday, when everybody who has you on their mailing list tries to get your money.

Filtering

The next great trick is email filters. Most email provider services allow you to create little “if the email matches this condition, then do this with the email.” I currently have 44 gmail filters. Many of these sort emails from different retail companies into a folder called promotions, which I only check when I am actually in a store to see if there happens to be a sale.

Many other services will send you updates everytime something happens. You can create a filter that automatically marks these as read, and then archived.

Lastly, I have filters that automatically forward to other email addresses, but more about that in a moment.

Forwarding

There are a bunch of web services that allow you to send an email, and they do things with the contents of the email/the subject line. Two of my favorite free services are Instapaper and followup then.

Instapaper solves the problem of emails with a ton of text. When a verbose friend sends me a small novel, I forward it to an email account associated with my instapaper account (instructions exist on their website), and then archive it in my inbox. Within 10 seconds, the instapaper app on my phone has downloaded and formatted their email, and I can read it at my convenience at a later point in my day when I’m waiting in line at the cafeteria for example. I have filters that automatically forward newsletters to this account too.

Followupthen solves the problem of emails that you receive that you cannot deal with right now, but want to deal with in the future. Many of us use our email inbox as a todo list, and any emails that haven’t been dealt with just sit there. Followupthen allows you to defer emails that you cannot take action on immediately by bouncing them back into your inbox when you next have time. Once you set up an account on followupthen.com, for example, you can forward any email to something like sunday@followupthen.com or twoweeks@followupthen.com and then followupthen sends back the email at the appointed time. It’s a critical step towards achieving what many call Inbox Zero.

(Followupthen is a free service, that offers premium features for a cost. If you want a $5 discount, here is a $5 referral code: fut.io/a?38d6a48d01)

Inbox Zero

Inbox Zero is the process of clearing out your email space. It is a way of knowing that you are done with email for the day. The principle is that you want the peace of know that every email has been dealt with and there is nothing that is being overlooked.

To achieve inbox zero, you just create a couple folders, whether in your email browser, or in your todo list manager, or on your desktop, and so forth. Each of these folders will contain information related to a task or a category. When you see an email, you either act on it immediately, or move it to a folder to deal with later. The goal is to move every last email in your inbox into one of these folders, so you have Inbox(0). After you have cleared your inbox, you can then tackle your folders in order of priority or urgency, and not get caught up in being distracted by unimportant emails while an important one is in the bottom of your inbox. The whole process is better documented elsewhere online.

Recap

I hope that these tips are helpful for you, and help free you from the roar of the email beast. If you have ever found yourself missing important emails, give some of these ideas a try. If you already have an inbox with over a thousand emails in it, I’m afraid to make this work you might have to go through and delete everything first one by one. If you have google, you can use something like the Email Game. Best of luck!

How to Pray When You’re Too Tired to Pray

We all have faced times where we got super busy. High busyness correlates to low amounts of sleep, which in turn correlates to low amounts of energy. When energy runs low, relationships are frequently the first things to go. It’s unfortunate, because these relationships are he best tool for recharging and getting re energized and out of the ruts that drain us. The most important relationships that this affects are those with our close friends, our family, and most of all, God.

If you do not view yourself to be a religious person, I still think this is a noteworthy observation, because our busyness also affects our relationships with our close friends and family. I find when I get very busy, I employ many of these techniques to make sure my relationships with God and with those I care about don’t fall by the wayside:

In this article I am going to briefly describe three techniques you can use to keep up your prayer life when you feel too exhausted to pray:

  1. Having designated prayer time.
  2. Having a designated prayer journal.
  3. Having prayer lists.

I wrote in a previous post that I employ morning and evening rituals to help build habits that help me to be more productive. In both my morning and my evening rituals, I pray. Having a list helps me not to forget it, and by writing down that list, I remind myself that this is something that is important and should be neither rushed nor ignored. I also know that I need to allot  45 minutes every day for my morning ritual, though I expand this to 60 when I am not so busy, and spend a little time doing Greek word studies in my morning devotions.

When I get tired, I am tempted to graze over or completely neglect prayer time. But the rhythm and the habits are there and built up by being consistent with the rituals, which help me stay solid during my rough days.

I keep a small notebook with a list of names in my satchel next to my pocket Bible. When I stop for prayer or when people are asking for prayer requests, I know who in my life is needing prayer. Frequently going back to this list helps me to be consistent with people and let them know that I have been praying for them everyday.

But more then that, there are times when I am so tired that I think if things to pray about. Keeping a list like this helps me to keep a list of things to pray about so I am not at a loss when I am too tired.

And last of all, my prayer journal. I use it just for writing my thoughts down. By moving my pen across paper, I can keep myself from dozing off in the middle of prayer. Other effective strategies could be talking, prayer walks, sending God an email, and anything else that your body doesn’t confuse for sleep. Furthermore I have found that journaling while sitting down or praying in bed does not help my prayers to be more quality, rather the opposite, so I often pray sitting down, especially when I am especially tired.

These are three things that I do to keep my prayer life running when I am too tired. But just like any other relationship, when one person is struggling, asking the other to help always is the best way to make it through tough times. If you are finding yourself losing time for prayer, ask God to give you the energy and the time, and He will help you make time for prayer.

How I Keep Email from Ruling My Life in 3 Easy Steps

Email used to rule my life. When somebody sent me an email, they would entice me to read it, and then (most likely) get derailed from whatever I was doing. It was awful. If somebody malicious wanted to take over my life, all they would have to do would send me well-timed emails throughout the day, and I would never get anything done.

In order for productivity to work, the way I interfaced with email had to change. Nobody teaches you how to use an email before you get one, and so a majority of people misuse their email. I started reading some articles around the web, trying things, and here are these are 3 easy steps that I settled on that keep email from controlling my life.

I Don’t Check It All the Time

Once upon a time, I prided myself in the frequency at which I checked my inbox. I had it all down too. My browser would be default open up my gmail, my hotmail, and my university email account, and I had different people and mailing lists emailing according to their category and importance. I would respond to any and all emails within an hour or two.

What a waste of time!

When I check my email nonstop, whether it is on my phone, my tablet, or my computer, I spend so much of my time shifting gears between taking care of the here and now, and other people trying to get a hold of me. I struggled to stay focused on tasks (especially the important ones which required focus), because of a nagging feeling in the back of my head that I had something to check.

The fix: disable notifications and close the mail client. Check email maximum 4 times per day

The world won’t die if you don’t check your email every hour. Yes, you might be able to coordinate something in a day if you do send 20 small emails back and forward, but you can do the same thing with one email, and then a follow up phone conversation. Besides, many things do not need to be coordinated in a day, and if you’re good at planning you should be working out important details weeks in advance.

By checking in the morning, in the evening, and once or twice during the day (mealtimes) you can set aside whole hours of time in the middle where you’re working distraction free.

I Achieve Inbox Zero

Too many people use their email inbox like a todo list. The inbox is a striped column that extends thousands of messages down back to the previous decade. Urgent messages are mixed with blog subscriptions or general information emails CCed to dozens of people.

Offices that look like this look sloppy, but we don’t recognize the sloppiness on a computer because it’s digital, and therefore feels different. But it still is just as difficult for the human brain to process.

All of my emails forward to one account. And whenever I check it, I make sure that my inbox is empty when I’m done. I first quickly assign all my emails into folders: read-later, do-later, respond-to-now, or the archive. (The do-later is actually me forwarding them into my Todoist inbox.

Once my inbox is empty, then I know that everything is in it’s proper place, and that nothing is slipping through the cracks. Urgent things are getting done first, and other things are put in a list where they can be prioritized later.

I Keep Emails Short and Informative

Nobody likes rants (unless they’re giving them, but usually they’re frustrated at something and not enjoying their life too much anyway). So I don’t include rants in emails. I say what I need to say, and then finish.

When there are multiple things that I need to talk about, I send multiple emails. In the past, if I needed to tell someone a bunch of things that were sort of related, I would write a giant email with the subject line “stuff” and then put paragraphs of information in the text. I would get a reply that would say, “this is a lot of information, come to my office sometime later on to sort through all of it.” It didn’t work too well.

Now, when there are multiple topics I need to talk about, I put them in multiple messages. Each is short, too the point, and I know that the responses I get back will be more intentionally related to each topic, and usually I don’t need to show up at someone’s office to sort everything out (even though I still do this frequently when there is more to talk about than a paragraph or two over email).

I have found that I can keep my emails shorter by including more in the subject and less in the body. Many emails are so small that I can put the entire email in one subject and finish it with an EOM. This bothers people the first couple times they get it, but after getting acclimated to the shift, it becomes a time saver on both ends.

Conclusion

I don’t claim to be an email guru, but I know that I tend to handle more emails than the average person (maybe not the top 10%, but top 50%) and that there are bad ways and good ways to handle email. These are the methods that I have used for the last year and have saved me hours of time, and I hope they work for you as well.

Staying Productive with Todo Lists

I love lists. Lists allow me to write everything down in one spot so that I don’t need to remember everything. I realize that not everyone shares my enthusiasm for lists, but let me explain why lists help me to sleep better every night and keep me motivated throughout the day.

I’ve played around with Google Tasks, Any.Do, Wunderlist, Remember the Milk, but the ToDo list manager that I’ve come to love the most is called Todoist. It has a lot of features for premium users, and for about $0.08 per day, I can have a computer keep track of everything that I have to do and remind me what needs to be done, when it has to be done.

The workflow is quite simple. To keep myself from getting overwhelmed, whenever I remember that there is something that I have to do, I put it in my Todoist inbox. Need to drop off a form at the Administration building? I add it to the inbox. Homework due on Tuesday? Add it to the inbox. Need to email a professor about a conference, add it to the inbox.

At the end of the day, as part of my evening ritual, I take a look at what tasks are in my Inbox. At this point, I sort through them and categorize them:

  • Assigned- these have been assigned to a specific date, and should be done by that day or before.
  • Waiting For – these tasks cannot be done until a date has happened, or other paperwork has been processed
  • Someday/Maybe – these tasks are non-urgent, and are usually personal projects like “check out a book on body language from James White Library”

Something that I am doing this year that I did not permit myself to do last year was to leave tasks in my inbox. Historically, I have been optimistic about what I am able to get done, and when I finish the day with 4 unfinished tasks, I feel unaccomplished and drained. To overcome this feeling, I only write down tomorrow’s MIT’s (Most Important Tasks). So long as these things are completed, then the day is a success. Everything that needs to be done soonish but has some flexibility remains on the Inbox stack until there is a day where I know that I have a 90%+ chance of finishing it. When something leaves the Inbox, it does not come back, and if it goes into the Assigned category, then it gets completed on the due date.

Finally, the last thing that I do in my planning for tomorrow ritual is prioritize each task for tomorrow. Some tasks were assigned tomorrow’s due date perhaps a week ago. Others I have just assigned to tomorrow in reviewing my inbox. So now I make an order/attack strategy in how I am going to finish everything on the list.

And that’s it. I’m done. That’s all the thinking that I have to do about tomorrow’s tasks. At this point, I can go to bed without worrying about all the things I need to get done tomorrow, or how I’m going to fit everything in, because I’ve gone to the drawing board, written them all down, and in what order I’m going to do them. When I wake up in the morning, my list is there, ready to be executed in the prescribed order.

There are three main advantages to this system:

  • No more procrastination: Because I’m doing things in order, I don’t allow myself to do the easy tasks when I’m feeling lazy, leaving the most daunting tasks for later in the week. I tackle the highest priory tasks first thing in the morning, and important things are always finished by the end of the day.
  • No more multitasking: No two items in my todo list have the same importance. They may be marked on the computer has having the same priority, but because one shows up higher than the other on the list, each one get’s done sequentially. There may be the rare case where I start a process that requires me to wait for a few minutes (i.e., I’m installing MATLAB at the moment) where I temporarily start another task, but I come back to the other task as soon as I can to avoid multitasking.
  • No more worrying:  It is very liberating to know that I have everything written down and organized, and that when I am sitting down to plan my day, I have the whole picture in front of me. Everything is accounted for, nothing is forgotten, and I don’t have to worry about the unexpected occuring.

That’s about it. I hope that you can glean a few tips out of this email, and perhaps make your own days more productive.

Why I Take a Cold Shower Everyday

I first ran into the idea of taking Cold Showers from Joel Runyon’s blog  “Impossible HQ.” On his post on Cold Shower Therapy he says the following:

If you can’t do something uncomfortable and difficult for 5 minutes in the shower, how the are you going to do something uncomfortable or difficult in real life?

He has a point. The most important thing you can do to get any task done is to just do it. The bulk of the reasons why I don’t get things done when I need to is because I kept procrastinating, or talked myself out of doing something because it was uncomfortable, or didn’t sound like much fun at the time.

Cold Showers are the cure for this.

When I  was working at summer camp this last summer, I started taking cold showers in the mornings half-way through teen camp. I noticed a distinct change. When I started out a day telling my whining, sleepy-eyed self to get over it, and turn on the cold jet of ice-water, for the rest of the day I found it much much easier to do things that needed to be done, but weren’t the most enjoyable.

But it didn’t stop there. I think every teenage boy (and most non-teenage boys as well) want to feel macho, boss, masculine, etc… As a cabin, we did all the manly things we could think of together, including pushup competitions whenever we could. When they found out that I took cold showers every morning, and I explained reasons why it makes me “more of a man” when it comes to getting stuff done (and not being a sissy and coming up with excuses) they all wanted to try it to.

Well, after summer camp came August, with it’s ice bucket challenges. I watched video after video of my friends (some of which are pretty massive guys) wimp out from having a gallon of ice water was poured over their heads. Mostly because they were intimidated by something that looked really uncomfortable.

Anything worthwhile that you want to achieve is going to require some discomfort. The people who get the most done are those who put their big-boy pants on, and start doing the things they need to do to achieve their results. One of the ways that I discipline myself to get the uncomfortable things done is to turn my shower on to cold every morning when I get up. It takes zero extra time out of my busy schedule (and in fact saves time and water most days) and helps me to start out every day energized, and ready to tackle difficult tasks.

For another perspective on this topic, you can check out Asian Efficiency’s post Eat that Frog

November Resolutions

Here’s the problem with New Years resolution: momentum. Momentum is mass times velocity, and coming into a New Year, you simply do not have the time to build up speed on such massive projects. Therefore 2015 is getting a head start.

Since I returned from Lebanon, I have had a stack of items on my todo list I keep in Todoist that I just couldn’t clear. Just as I would finish everything I had to do for a given day, new scheduled tasks and projects would roll onto my list. However, I watched as the number of items started at 25 at the beginning of September, to about 10 a month later, and as of yesterday afternoon I am finally the proud owner (temporarily) of a clear todo list.

This November I’m aiming to achieve what is called a “perfect week” which is to finish every day’s tasks for a given week as well as any weekly goals.

This includes standards of cleanliness, personal goals like exercise, journaling, and blogging, as well as staying on top of studies and such.

Why do I believe this is achievable? Because up to this point, what I have been doing hasn’t been working out and its time for a change. Yes,any of these things I do already, but it isn’t 100% consistent. I’ve got a clean slate here at the beginning of November and I don’t want to let this opportunity pass by without making the most of it. With 60 days left in the year I hopefully will be in the swing of things fully by the time the new year starts, but I want to get at least one perfect week in before this month is out.

So my goals for November are:

Perfect day:

 

  • Read for Scripture reading schedule (New Testament in a month)

  • Make bed and clean room
  • Complete a lesson in Duolingo German
  • Memorize four verses in Scripture Typer and review 12+ verses
  • Spend 30 minutes on app for MENA
  • Exercise (running, pushups, swimming, etc…)
  • No overdue/incomplete homework
  • Drink 3 liters of water
  • Write in daily journal

And a perfect week consists of

  • 7 perfect days starting on Sunday
  • A blog post
  • 45+ minutes of dorm visitation prayer ministry
  • Not forgetting to call my parents

What goals do you have? Leave your feedback below.