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Monthly Archives: February 2013

Pomodoro Technique. Right? Wrong?

Published February 21, 2013 - 0 Comments

Let’s finish up this whole business of Time Management, and yummy pomodori, shall we?  If you missed the previous discussion, don’t forget to check out my explanation of what the Pomodoro Technique is, and my Pomodoro test run.

So after 100 mins of focussed house cleaning, and 4 breaks, half of the apartment looked fantastic.  There’s no denying it.  I had done a great job… far better than had I simply spent 100 mins cleaning on my own.  Probably better than had I spent 200 mins cleaning on my own!

But the Pomodori technique is only as good the person using it.  Like any system, you can’t expect to see results if you don’t put in the work.  It’s not a magical solution.  It’s an exercise to break me of some of my bad habits, and instill some good ones.  While Saturday was a good day, Sunday was not.  There wasn’t a time management system anywhere that could have salvaged Sunday.  I failed to use the Pomodoro technique, and the results showed.  It wasn’t the system’s fault.  I think the system works…  if you’re willing to work with it.  It’s not for everyone, but for those of us who are easily taken off-task by random distractions, I think that the Pomodoro Time Management Technique is certainly worthy of consideration.

 

 

My Pomodoro Experiment

Published February 20, 2013 - 0 Comments

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn the last post I talked about what the Pomodoro Time Management Technique is.  At its basic, the idea is to focus solely on one task for 25 mins, and then take a short break.  Train your brain to avoid distractions.  Seems simple enough, but how well did it work on my initial test run?

I started Saturday with a list of chores that I wanted to get through.  I’ve been using a check list for months, trying to get into the habit of making sure that everything gets done on a regular basis.  I’ve had varying levels of success with that check list.  Making the list isn’t difficult.  Sticking to it.. that’s where my time management needs work.

I brought up my list, which started with “Living room” and set my electronic timer to 25 mins.  I spent the next 25 mins picking up everything that didn’t belong in the living room, dusting, sweeping, and watering the plants.  To give you an example of how this is different from my regular routine…   I picked up a dirty glass and took it to the kitchen, where I immediately felt as though I needed to pick up something that I saw there…  I was totally distracted from the task at hand, which was to concentrate on the living room.  Several times during that 25 mins, I found myself getting pulled toward another room.. but the living room wasn’t totally clean yet.  Each time I realized what I was doing and went back to my goal until everything looked immaculate in the living room.  It didn’t take the full 25 mins, so I crossed living room off my list, and went to my next task, the bedroom.

The bedroom is a pretty big order, and my timer went off before I got very much done.  I sat down with a glass of Coke and enjoyed a 5 min break.  Let me tell you… 5 mins goes by super quick.

After 4 pomodori (25 mins of focussed attention) I rewarded myself with a 30 min break.  I looked around… 100 mins of focused cleaning had resulted in both the living room and bedroom looking at though they were being featured in a Canadian Living magazine.  They were really that good!  The kitchen was the third thing on my list, which looked considerably better than when I had started, but would require more time.

So that was the good.  My next post will discuss where Pomodoro fell flat.. or more precisely where I let it down.

Pomodoro Time Management Technique

Published February 18, 2013 - 6 Comments

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It’s no secret that I’m a bit of a scatter-brain sometimes.  I’m one of those people who lacks focus, taking on too much, and accomplishing very little.  Easily distracted.  That’s me.  It doesn’t even have to be something “fun” that distracts me… it might be something as simple as deciding to clean the apartment, and starting in the kitchen, but then noticing something that needs to be done in the living room, and going to work on that instead.  After an hour’s work things look better, but nothing looks great.  There is zero sense of accomplishment, and probably even a little “why bother?” frustration bouncing around in my head.

“Why don’t you just work on one room at a time?” I can hear people asking.  Absolutely that’s the best way to approach it.  I know that.  But this extends to all aspects of my life, and not simply cleaning.  Any sort of household chore.  Writing.  Exercising.  Even work, although I find that I’m considerably better at the office.  So while I know what I need to focus on, training my brain to do that is what this exercise is all about.

I’ve looked at a few different Time Management techniques, from Getting Things Done (GTD) to the Seinfeld Principle… There is only one that appeared to be a good fit for me and my brain… The Pomodoro Technique.

The Pomodoro Technique is designed to eliminate distractions by forcing you to concentrate on a single task for 25 mins.  At the end of that 25 mins, you take a 5 min break.  Then continue with the task for another 25 min block (called a pomodoro because of the use of a pomodoro kitchen timer, although any timer can be used and there are several free digital ones designed specifically for this technique).  After 4 pomodori, you reward yourself with a 30 min break.

Now if you’re thinking “This seems a little too structured… if you know that you have tasks to do, then just do them” then you probably don’t require any Time Management Technique.  Certainly many people do not.  I envy you.  But I’m 40, and I know that this is something that has hampered my efficiency for years.  Sure, I’ll get stuff done.  Eventually.  But there has to be a better way, and I haven’t come up with it on my own.  So I think that this is worth a shot.

This past weekend was my trial run of the Pomodoro Technique.  Curious how I did?  Stay tuned for my next post where I explain in detail what went right… and what could have gone better.

I Had Something Good Once

Published February 18, 2013 - 0 Comments

It’s after 1am. I can’t sleep. Maybe if I hadn’t fallen asleep at 7:30 I’d be ok right now. Maybe not. It’s storming outside. It’s storming inside. Two different types of storms but storms nonetheless. I’m watching House of Cards on my iPad in bed. Frank Underwood is ruthless. Ambitious. Afraid of nothing. Everything I am not. I have to get up and go to work in a few hours. It’s going to be a long day.

Who Do You Depend On?

Published February 16, 2013 - 0 Comments

I had an interesting conversation recently with someone about the topic of dependability.  Who can you depend on when you need to?  Who can you count on to be there when you need them most?  Who is going to let you down when you least expect it?  Can you really rely on other people?  Are you your own best friend, or are you just as likely to let yourself down as someone else?

You can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your family.  By this thinking, my family is stuck with me?  For better or for worse?  Yet my friendships are stronger because we have the choice whether to remain friends or not?

Blood is thicker than water.  Doesn’t this kinda contradict the previous one?  Bonds of family are stronger than the bonds of friendship?

The only person you can depend on is yourself.  Is this even true?  I know that I’ve certainly let myself down on more than one occasion.

I don’t think that there are any easy answers to these questions.  Whether you choose to lean on other people, or prefer the solo approach, chances are that you’re liable to be caught unaware at some point.  And when that happens… it’s time to re-evaluate the big picture, and your place in it.

Get Around Those Pesky Geo-Blocked Content Restrictions Easily With Hola Unblocker

Published February 15, 2013 - 3 Comments
Hola Unblocker

Consider these two scenarios:

 

  1. You are an American travelling on vacation. Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to watch your favourite Netflix show?  Sure would, but because of the way content restrictions are imposed by geography, you are limited to whatever local flavour of Netflix is available to you.  Swaziland sketch comedies, anyone?
  2. You live anywhere outside of the United States and wish that you could watch the “real” Netflix that you read about on the internet, instead of the local watered-down version that you are forced to watch because all the “good” shows aren’t available on your Netflix account.

Do either of these sound familiar to you?  Chances are the second one does, especially if you are in Canada.  It’s been a long-standing complaint of many of us that the Netflix we have here is inferior to that of our friends to the south.  Whether that’s true is entirely up to you, but there’s certainly no denying that programming is different between the two and American Netflix has a much greater library of content to choose from.Hola Unblocker

So what do you do if you find yourself faced with one of the above scenarios?  Well, there have always been work-arounds available… as long as you didn’t mind playing with network proxy settings, or subscribing to a monthly VPN (Virtual Private Network) service.  As for the rest of us, we’ve been forced to suck it up and be happy with what we had.

Not anymore!

Let me introduce you to the simplest, most-effective way of gaining access to content that is traditionally blocked because of where you are.  Hola Unblocker is a free Chrome extension that takes seconds to download and install and begins working immediately.  There is no configuring.  No subscription.  Nadda.  Download it from the Chrome store (free) and install.  That’s it.  That’s all.  The extension runs automatically, and fools Netflix into thinking that you are logging in from within the United States.  (NOTE: You still require an active Netflix account.  Hola is not designed to give you unauthorized access to content.  And yes, your Canadian Netflix account will work on the US Netflix site).

It only took me a couple of minutes to test this.  I downloaded and installed Hola Unblocker, and went to Netflix.com and logged in.  I could tell immediately that this wasn’t the Netflix that I was used to.  I was able to start watching shows that hadn’t appeared to me earlier.  Then I turned off and extension, and refreshed the page.  Suddenly I was in my familiar Netflix experience.  You can toggle back and forth between US and Canadian versions.  It truly is that simple.

All this time I’ve been talking about Netflix, but Hola Unblocker works with more than just that service.  Hola currently unblocks the following sites, with a promise to add more as its popularity grows:

  • Hulu
  • Netflix
  • Pandora
  • cbs.com
  • fox.com
  • BBC.co.uk
  • ITV.com

And good news for Firefox users.  Hola has an extension for you as well, although I haven’t tested it.

In the current internet age, content restrictions based solely on geographic location are becoming increasingly ancient thinking.  But until media conglomerations fully accept the new reality and open their massive content vaults to a worldwide audience eager to pay for that access, companies like Hola provide the best solution for all parties.

This Ain’t Yer Grand Daddy’s Anne of Green Gables

Published February 6, 2013 - 1 Comment

Anne - blondeAny time that you make changes to a classic, people are going to take notice.  Well… notice the picture to the left?  That’s the new cover on the latest edition of Anne of Green Gables.  As the news story points out  “(Anne) is now a busty blonde propped up against a bail of hay.”  Yup.  She sure is.

I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve never read any of the Anne of Green Gables books, but I think that I know enough of the story to have a somewhat different image in mind when I picture the title character.  What happened to sweet, innocent, red-haired Anne?  Is that not the real Anne of Green Gables in these stories?

I certainly don’t hate the new cover.  As far as covers go, it’s got a certain appeal.  But I’m sorry… that’s not Anne of Green Gables.  I’m disappointed that the publisher felt they needed to portray Anne like a country vixen.

In our current culture of hyper-sexualized media, beloved Anne appears to be  just the latest starlet to fall from grace.

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Netflix’s House of Cards is Good.. Very, Very Good…

Published February 4, 2013 - 0 Comments

When I first heard that Netflix had bought the sole distribution rights to Kevin Spacey’s House of Cards I didn’t really give it much thought.  But after seeing the first preview for the 13 episode political drama, I suddenly took notice.

I’ve watched the first 4 episodes so far, and House of Cards is simply amazing.   If your first thought is “Netflix? Bah… this will be a cheap, second rate attempt at a show that couldn’t get picked up on network television” let me assure you how very, very wrong you are.  There is nothing cheap about this show.  It is extremely well acted, and superbly produced.

Francis Underwood (Spacey) is a ruthless political figure who is promised a prestigious appointment in the President elect’s cabinet, only to have the new President renege on that promise.

From that point, Francis is quietly working against the administration and positioning himself for greater power.  This cut-throat behind the scenes power play is fast-moving and completely engrossing.  I was glued to the TV throughout the first 4 episodes, and can’t wait to get back to House of Cards tonight.

Great job, Netflix!

The Passing of an Era: The Little Farmhouse That Could

Published February 2, 2013 - 4 Comments

I wanted to see it for myself.  I needed to see if for myself.  I’d been told that “the farm” had been torn down recently, after it was decided that it was far too costly to renovate.  The new owner was kind enough to keep our family informed of the status of the property… but everyone knew what the eventual outcome would be.  The land was valuable.  The old farmhouse that sat atop it was not.  At least not to most people.

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But how do you put a price on memories?  This house had been in our family for generations.  As always seems to be the case, I never fully appreciated what that meant when I was younger.  I only knew that it was a long car drive, and I didn’t have my computer games there to play with.  It wasn’t until I became a father and started to take my own children to visit their great grandmother that I really started to see the farm for what it truly was.  The central bond bringing our family together.

Some families are extremely close.  Parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins… get together on a regular basis for BBQs, birthdays or reunions.  This is not my family.  Although we may see one branch or another throughout the year, the only time we truly came together was for Christmas or my Grandmother’s birthday.  And of course those gatherings took place at the farm.  Four generations of family under one roof, eating cold turkey, drinking ginger ale, and getting caught up on the previous months’ events.


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Eventually my grandmother could no longer stay at the farm. It  remained vacant for a period of time, until I was asked whether I would mind looking after it.  The answer was easy.  I needed a change, and despite the lengthy commute, the farm would be a perfect spot for me.  No one was really sure  how long I would be there.  Maybe a few months.  Maybe a year.  It ended up being three years.

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During that time I created many fond memories.  I cooked some fantastic meals.  I spent time with wonderful people.  I watched my children climb the beautiful trees.  I spent summer afternoons napping on my hammock.  I can’t even begin to put a number on the amount of times that I sat on those front steps late at night and watched the stars overhead.  The farm was peace and quiet.  It was everything that I needed.

 

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Despite all of this, the farm house was not perfect.  It was old.  There was no denying it.   Whoever was to live there permanently would be responsible for some pretty hefty improvements.  But I’ll be the first to admit… when the offer was initially presented to me, I did entertain dreams of purchasing the property and enjoying that peace and quiet for a very long time.  It killed me to say no, but I realize that was the only realistic decision.

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I’m sure that every member of my family weighed the pros and cons of purchasing that property, eventually coming to the same conclusion.  We were in no position to hold onto it.  Sadly it would have to be sold.  The likelihood of the farmhouse surviving that sale would be virtually non-existent.

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Today was a beautiful day for a drive to the country.  I stopped at my favourite little restaurant for lunch before winding my way along the river valley route.  With each passing point of reference I could feel the knot tightening in my stomach.  Maybe I shouldn’t see what’s there now.  Or what’s not there.  Maybe I should just leave my memories intact, and not taint them with the truth.  I reached the last bend in the road where I used to be able to see the peak of the house through the trees.  For three years it always signalled the same thing… I was home.

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Today there was no peak signalling me.  I slowed and turned into the driveway, holding my breath.  And there it was.  Nothing.  Hardly any debris.  Just a flat area where a once-beautiful farmhouse used to sit.  I saw an old picture of what the farm used to look like when it was well taken care of.  It was a sight to behold.  Sad to think of its decline and eventual loss. And now?  Nothing.

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