Tips for managing email as an academic

After a conference most academics probably face a fairly full inbox. In this post I share a few tips I’ve found helpful with managing my email. I am by no means an expert, but I’m happy with some of the strategies I use, which I share below.

Inbox zero

The idea of inbox zero is exactly what it suggests – once you process your email, ideally you should have ZERO emails left in your inbox. Following the “getting things done” system, I try to either handle an email immediately (if I can delete it or if I can reply quickly), or put it on my todo list for later (if I need to look things up first, can’t take action immediately, etc). Once an email is on my todo list, I archive it, so it’s not just sitting there staring at me. I can’t imagine how stressed I would be without this strategy.

I have a few things to improve though. A few emails do not fit into either category, for example if I read my email on the phone, but need to use my laptop to reply. This is not helpful since I am revisiting this email several times, instead of once.

Send later

I try not to email on evenings and weekends. The goal of this is to enforce boundaries on my work time and manage expectations of others, both with regards to when they can expect to reach me, and what I expect of them. I appreciate that people might have different working hours. Therefore, when I do email outside of my normal hours, I usually schedule the email to be sent later. I use the Streak plugin for Gmail, but there are others, like Boomerang, and Outlook has delayed sending functionality as well.

Snippets

Some of the emails I send are very similar to each other, for example with information about student positions. To avoid typing the same information over and over, I use the Snippets feature for Streak. The same functionality is possible with Canned Responses by Gmail, but I like the user interface of Streak more.

Skip inbox

For mail that’s not urgent to read, I have filters that skip the inbox, and deliver it to a folder I call “Snooze”. For me these are typically newsletters and announcements that are not personally addressed to me.

Although this type of functionality is offered by Gmail with automatically labeling emails, I prefer to define my own rules of what is important or not. This means that there is an initial time investment, every time I receive a newsletter, to create a filter for it.

Other tips?

These are the main strategies I use, but I would love to hear more of what has worked for other people – let me know in the comments below or on Twitter!

Ups and downs of habits

I recently read the book Superhuman by Habit – a quick read that I definitely recommend. The book got me thinking about what I’ve been doing with regards to habits the last two years or so, and especially what I have not been doing.

I started with the whole habit thing while struggling with anxiety and depression. I started organizing things Рfrom my todo list to my house Рas an attempt to reduce overwhelm.  Keeping track of habits was a natural next step. Being able to check things of a list gave me a feeling of accomplishment. One of the habits was blogging, which helped me a lot with starting to feel like I had a purpose.

I have a tendency to overdo things if I put my mind to it. For example, when I was 18 or so I decided to had to lose weight. I didn’t actually need to, but I thought I’d be more confident and people would like me better. So I started counting calories. I got really good at it and would never miss a day. I even started to decline events where I wasn’t in control of what I would get to eat – kind of counterintuitive if the end goal was to have more friends.

A similar thing was starting to happen to habits – I got stressed about doing them, and feeling like a failure if I wasn’t able to keep them up. Not great if the original goal was to feel better. I definitely was not feeling like a superhuman.

Thankfully I now have people in my life who say things like “be kind to yourself”. I thought that was good advice and let a few things go, and was enjoying this new “freedom”. A morning where I would just have breakfast and then play a computer game, but not exercise, meditate etc. suddenly felt like a luxury.

But, reading the book, I realized I’ve let go of too many things. A lot of them were really good for health, and I shouldn’t let those benefits disappear. So I’m giving habits another try – but hopefully allowing myself more space to NOT do them when I need to. This hopefully also means more blog posts again – please help me stay accountable ūüôā

Balancing responsibilities in academia

In this post I discuss how I divide my time as an assistant professor and whether it is any different from being a postdoc or a PhD student. This is inspired by this tweet by @jayvanbavel (the plot is from this presentation), that got quite a lot of attention. Since I also had a few questions from readers about how I balance my responsibilities, I thought this would be a good topic to talk about. Spoiler: I do not identify with the message of this plot.

The categories in the plot are very fine-grained, but I will just talk about the larger categories: research (which for me includes manuscripts), service, grants, teaching and advising.

https://twitter.com/jayvanbavel/status/980071519505338369

As a PhD student

It’s true, as a PhD student I spent most of my time doing research. I would have whole days just for my exploring papers, drawing things on paper, trying out things in Matlab, meeting with my supervisors and writing down my findings. I suppose that going to talks also counts as “research” in this categorization. But more often than not, I did spend time on other categories than research and manuscripts.

First there is teaching. In my department, PhD students did not have to do a lot of teaching, but would be expected to help out with practical exercises in various courses. I did that, and volunteered for other teaching opportunities. I gave a few lectures about my research topic – the first took me approximately 30 hours of prepare. I’m quite shocked at this number now, and think I must have miscounted, but I did blog about right when it was happening, so I should probably trust my past self.¬†I¬†also had an opportunity to help redesign a module of a course, which was very insightful, but was also time-consuming.

Then there were activities in the “service” category. I had started reviewing papers,¬†organizing workshops¬†and giving outreach talks. I also organized the lab meetings for a while and kept various websites up to date. I enjoyed these activities and never consciously thought of them as “taking time away from my research”, which is probably why my grant reviewers are complaining now about my publication record.

The only category I didn’t spend a lot of time on was “grants”. But even so, I did manage to get a few rejections in that time.

As a postdoc

Most of the activities I was doing as a PhD student, continued into my postdoc, so it definitely wasn’t mostly “research”. While teaching decreased a little bit, service definitely increased – not because of the obligations of my contract, but my perceived obligation to the community, for which I was reviewing etc.

The big difference was “grants”. I had a two-year position, but given the low probability of getting funding, I started applying for things 6 months into the position. Since most things were rejected, this did take a lot of time away from research, and further worsened my position with grant reviewers.

Sometimes I hear the advice “only spend time on research during your postdoc and don’t worry about grants”. It’s nice to think how things would be now if I did have more publications from my postdoc. But at the same time, if I didn’t do what I did, I probably would not have the job I have now.

As tenure track faculty

In my current position, I am for the first time expected/paid to do all the things I was doing before  Рresearch, teaching, advising, service and grants. I think if I had spent the previous years doing only research, this would have been a very difficult shift. But having a bit of experience in each area has helped the transition a lot, even though my research did suffer compared to my PhD.

I am not sure what % of my time I spend on each category because this varies per week. But I do – for the first time – consciously think about it.¬† I say no more often now (especially in the service category – while still doing my fair share). I try to group meetings, so that I have a few days without meetings, which I can then dedicate to research (although I do get distracted by other things I’m involved in).¬† My weekly review, where I write down what I did in different categories, also helps to see whether I’m spending too little time on research.

All in all, balancing responsibilities is difficult, but I feel that it’s possible to learn to do it better, which is one of the things (I realized) I’m exploring on this blog. I feel very fortunate to have the support – from colleagues, mentors and the community on Twitter – to do so.

I would love to hear from you – how do your spend your time, and has this changed throughout your career?

15 productive ways to use Evernote

15 productive ways to use Evernote | veronikach.com

If you are a reader of this blog, it’s probably no surprise that I love Evernote. In this post I summarize all my favorite ways to use Evernote – a few that I have written about before, and a few that still need to become blog posts. Enjoy!

15 productive ways to use Evernote | veronikach.com

15 productive ways to use Evernote | veronikach.com

15 productive ways to use Evernote | veronikach.com

1. Blogging

I write my blog posts in Evernote before transferring them to WordPress. I like this because I can use Evernote online, so I can write when I don’t have Wi-Fi, and I get less distracted in general.

2. Weekly review

I use Evernote in my Getting Things Done system, which I’ve blogged about here. During the weekly review, I use Evernote to write down a summary of what I have done each week for different goals, such as writing or exercise.

 3. No list

Also during the weekly review, I write down what opporunities I have said yes to, and what opportunities I have said no to. This has made me more aware of how many request I get and accept, and easier to say no.

4. CV

For the things I did say yes to, I might forward the invitation to Evernote and tag it with “my_CV”. When I need to update my CV, I can add all these items based on the tag. I do the same for any media that mentions me, just in case I need this for an annual review or a grant application.

5. Read later

The first thing I started using Evernote for was to save blog posts or articles to read later. I wrote about this in the “capture’ part of the GTD process. The saved posts go to my Evernote inbox. During the weekly review, I briefly look at the posts and either delete them, or add tags and move them to my ideas notebook. When I need information on a specific topic, I just search the ideas notebook for that tag.

6. Organizing literature

Evernote is great for saving PDFs, so I use it to organize the papers that I’m reading. I find the tags very helpful in finding the exact paper that I need. Read more about my system here.

7. Organizing travel

When travelling for a conference, I keep all the reservations and other important information in a notebook for that specific trip. Read more in this post.

8. Happy thoughts

I forward emails with that made me happy to Evernote and tag them with “happy”. This could be anything from getting a paper accepted, to a comment from a blog reader that my posts have helped them. The idea is similar to the “jar of happy” – review these notes when you are feeling down. Similarly, you could add photos, drawings, handwritten notes – anything that can remind you to appreciate life.

9. Journal

I have used Evernote as my 5-minute journal, although I have now switched to paper so that I don’t use my phone just before bedtime.

10. Text snippets

I have several notes where I store pieces of code I often use for my blog, such as:

  • hiding an image (great for attaching Pinterest graphics to the post)
  • shortcodes for WordPress
  • embedding newsletter sign-up forms

Of course I can always find these snippets from within WordPress, but I find it easier to keep these snippets in a single note.

11. How-to guides

I have started writing guides for myself, on how to do things that I have to do from time to time, but not often enough to remember all the steps. For example:

  • Installing essential WordPress plugins for a new website
  • Installing and configuring software if my laptop dies
  • Creating a yearly financial report

12. Meal planning

Evernote is great for keeping track of your favorite recipes! I have two notebooks (both shared with my partner) to plan my meals – one with recipe ideas, and one with recipes where we drag and drop recipes for the upcoming week. This way it becomes really easy to create a shopping list!

13. People

I do not really use Evernote as an address book, but I might keep important information about people I know, like food they don’t eat, their favorite beer, what gift I gave them last year, etc.

When people recommend me books or podcasts, I tend to add a short note to Evernote about it. This way if I check out and enjoy the recommendation, I can thank the person later!

14. Buy later

When I think I might want to buy something online, I often save the item to Evernote first and tag it with “buy”. From time to time, I go through this tag. Often I’m able to delete a lot of items – a few that I bought, but most that I decided I didn’t need. Great for keeping your place uncluttered AND saving money.

15. Gift ideas

No “best ways to use Evernote” list is complete without gift ideas! Similar to the “buy later” section, I save items that could be good gifts to Evernote, and tag them with “gifts”. The difference is that I don’t delete the note once I’ve bought the gift. Instead, I can edit the note to include who I gave the gift to.

 

If you like these ways to use Evernote, check out my Pinterest board where I’m always collecting more ideas:

;

 

How I manage my bibliography with Evernote and Jabref

Today I’m staying with the theme of managing bibliographies (see my previous post on syncing .bib files). Now I describe the process of how I actually add papers to my bibliography, and keep track of my bibliography with Evernote. This process is fairly recent so this post is rather an exercise in me thinking out all the steps, but perhaps it might be useful to somebody else.

Capture

Most of my ideas for which papers I should read come from Google Scholar Alerts or Twitter. When I think “this might be interesting”, I immediately save the PDF (if I can access it) or the link to my Evernote inbox.

Organize

As part of my weekly review, I go through all the notes in my Evernote inbox. When the note is a paper, I decide whether it’s really something I want to read, and if yes, I now definitely get the PDF and put it into the note. I also rename the note by its Bibtex key, for example “cheplygina2017transfer” for a recent paper of mine where the first word in the title is “transfer”. Then I tag the notes with different keywords, which tell me what topics the paper could be relevant for.

I then move the paper to either “Literature Inbox” or “NextPaper Inbox” notebooks, where NextPaper is the “codename” of the paper I’m going to submit next.

Process

OK, so now the papers are collecting in these two literature inboxes – what next? I need to actually read some papers. Recently I’ve been scheduling tasks like “Process 5 papers” on my calendar to get this done. When I do this I usually select papers which have similar tags, which I would write about in the same section of my paper.

Then I go through the paper and type notes in Evernote, in the same note that already has the PDF. This (the note writing) is inspired by Dr. Raul Pacheco-Vega’s “PDF to memo” method.

This should give me an idea of what I want to say about the paper, if I reference it later. I might also add or remove tags as needed. I can also add Evernote links to other related papers, although I don’t do this very often.

Once this is done, I move the note to “Literature Processed”. This is also when I get the bibliographic details of the paper (by searching the title on Google scholar), and add them to Jabref (by copying and pasting the .bib details). It is also possible to add a link to Jabref that will open the corresponding Evernote note, but unfortunately this uses the URL field, so you wouldn’t be able to have links to both Evernote and the online source of the paper.

Reference

I also schedule tasks like “Literature Processed to 0” which means I have to actually include the processed papers in the paper I’m writing. I go to the section where I want to reference the paper and write something about it, based on the notes I made before. This is also a good check to see if I really have the biliographic details – if I don’t, ShareLateX will not suggest me the reference.

Finally, I tag the note with “NextPaper” since that’s where I referenced it, and move it to the “Literature Reference” notebook. I should review these tags upon publication of the paper (I haven’t gotten to that part yet since I started using the system). But if the tag stays, I could even include a short snippet of what it is that I said about the paper.

Future projects

In a next project I might want to reference some of the same papers that are in Reference, and do not go through the process above. However, once I’m working on “NextPaper2”, I can just go to my Reference notebook, do a search for the relevant tags, and then tag those papers with “NextPaper2”.

Verdict

This is not a perfect system, since several things to be updated manually. Perhaps Mendeley or Zotero sort out these things for you – I’ve tried both in the past and was never quite satisfied, but this was before I had this process in place.

The process – not the tools – is probably what is helping me the most. But another advantage is that I’m using tools I already use a lot. Since I have Evernote open all the time, it’s easy to decide to read a paper, when I have a bit of time before my next meeting, for example. It also gives me a overview of how much reading/writing I need to do, based on the number of notes in each notebook, and it’s rewarding to see the “Inbox” numbers go down. I think I’ve got the ingredients to successful habit adoption right here – now hoping these will in fact translate to written AND published papers.

How to use a single .bib file with multiple ShareLateX projects

I’ve been using ShareLateX, which lets you edit your .tex documents collaboratively online, for years now. I’m happy with it, except one thing: you have to have a different bibliography file per project. In this post I explain a workaround I created for this problem. It’s not beautiful and requires that you use Windows and have ShareLateX premium, but if you have a similar problem, read on!

A better workflow

If you are like me, you generally “manage” your bibliography by the following method:

  • Copy-paste .bib file from a recent project
  • Copy-paste new references from Google scholar while writing
  • Clean up all the missing fields etc, when paper is ready for submission
  • Forget you did this, and do this all over again for the next project

Sure, it’s possible to have a single master bibliography offline, and then every time you add a reference, to export the bibliography, and import it in your current projects. But this is a bit time-consuming, so I decided to find a way to automate the process a little bit. There are four steps to this:

  1. Create a clean master bibliography in Dropbox
  2. Enable syncing between ShareLateX and Dropbox
  3. Set up script to copy master bibliography to ShareLateX folders
  4. Schedule the script

Master bibliography with Jabref

The first step to a better system is to actually have a cleaned up bibliography file that you will WANT to use. I do this in Jabref, because it is as close to “just editing .bib files” as I can get, has everything I need, and is free/open source.

To finally create a single bibliography,¬†I copy pasted the bibliographies from my MSc thesis, my PhD thesis and my papers since my PhD into a giant .bib file. This created lots of duplicates, but these can be edited in Jabref. This was quite neat, since it allowed to me to choose the “most cleaned up” version of the reference. This was a time-consuming process, but hopefully with this system I don’t have to go through it again.¬†My master bibliography now lives in a Dropbox folder called “Bibtex”.

 

ShareLateX – Dropbox sync

The next thing that I needed is syncing between Dropbox and ShareLateX. Unfortunately this is a premium feature at this time.

If you have the syncing enabled, each paper lives in its own Dropbox folder, under Dropbox/Apps/ShareLatex. Here are mine:

Each of these folders has a .bib file. Although locally I could ensure that the projects link to my main bibliography file in Dropbox/Bibtex, I cannot do this in the cloud.¬† (Or, there is a way to do this but I haven’t found it, which would render this blog post obsolete).

 

Copy bibliography to project folders with a script

My “genius” solution is to copy my master bibliography to the individual project folders. Of course I don’t want to do this manually – I want an “if this then that” solution that does it for me when the bibliography is updated.

In the end I settled for a slightly simpler solution of “copy every hour between 8 and 17” (when I’m most likely to be writing). Not as elegant, but (at least in Windows) it’s the 20% of effort that gives me 80% of results.

To copy files automatically, I used a Powershell script that says what to copy and where, and the TaskScheduler, which actually runs the script.

The Powershell script is called jobBibtex.ps1 and has the following contents (you can just create it with Notepad, but be sure to save it as “other” and not as a text file):

[sourcecode language=”plain”]

$SourcePath = "C:\Users\Veronika\Dropbox\Bibtex\refs_main.bib"
$DestinationPath1 = "C:\Users\Veronika\Dropbox\Apps\ShareLaTeX\Crowd2018"
$DestinationPath2 = "C:\Users\Veronika\Dropbox\Apps\ShareLaTeX\Survey2018"

Copy-Item ‚ÄďPath $SourcePath ‚ÄďDestination $DestinationPath1 -Recurse
Copy-Item ‚ÄďPath $SourcePath ‚ÄďDestination $DestinationPath2 -Recurse

[/sourcecode]

The script now has hard-coded in it which projects it should copy to. A better version would go through all the folders in Dropbox/Apps/ShareLatex – this is the next improvement on my list.

Schedule the copying script

The last thing is to schedule the copying script. I used this tutorial to get this done, but here is a short summary. From the start menu, search for the TaskScheduler program. Once there, go to “Actions” and “Create basic task”

 

In the menu that comes up next, you need to select a name for your task (“Copy bibliograhy”) and select a trigger, for example “Daily at 8AM”. As the action, select “start a program”.

The program that you are starting is Powershell.exe, and you need to add the following argument (replace the path with wherever you saved your .ps1 script:

[sourcecode language=”plain”]

-ExecutionPolicy Bypass C:\Users\Veronika\Dropbox\Scripts\jobBibtex.ps1

[/sourcecode]

Save the task and run it to see if your .bib files were really copied!

80/20 rule

Clearly this is not a perfect solution.

  • This is a one-way sync, so¬†editing a copied .bib file on ShareLateX will not reflect in your master bibliography. This is problematic for collaborative projects. My solution would be to have two .bib files in each project – one with the master bibliography, one with additional files your collaborators want to add (which you could later add to the master .bib file).
  • The projects which to copy to are now hard-coded in the script – it would be better if if the script would work for any new folders in Dropbox/Apps/ShareLateX
  • Copying every hour is too much, a “when updated” copy would be more neat

But, it is the 20% solution that gives me 80% of the results I wanted, and hopefully will save me time in the future.

 

Do you have similar solutions in place? Leave a comment below!

5-minute journal with Evernote and Zapier

5 minute journal with Evernote

All the productivity resources I’ve been consuming over the past year seem to agree that journaling is an essential habit that helps with everything else. See for example this blog post by Tim Ferriss or this podcast by AsianEfficiency (both my favorites).

 

There are lots of journaling apps, such as Five Minute Journal and¬†Day One. They remind you when it’s time to journal and offer prompts on what to write, such as “what are you grateful for?”. However, I didn’t want to add new apps to my list, so I decided to maximize the apps I was already using for this purpose.

 

Evernote

My journal simply lives in a notebook in Evernote. I currently have a single note per day, with the following template, which follows the 5 minute journal prompts:

It is possible to set a reminder in Evernote that will alert you when it’s time to journal, but I have a daily in Habitica that helps me remember.

 

Zapier

That’s great, but doesn’t this mean you have to copy and paste the template each time you want to journal?

No – that’s where Zapier comes in. Here I have a “zap” that automatically creates the note with the template each day, so on the day itself I only have to open it. Zapier takes you through the process of creating the zap, but here are the steps:

  1. Create a trigger using Schedule and set it to every day, or however often you want to journal.
  2. Create an action using Evernote and select the “append to note” action.
  3. Enter the name of the notebook (“Journal”), the name of the note (I use the date, this is provided as one of the defaults)
  4. For the content of the note, copy paste template below* Edit the text, formatting as you prefer.
  5. Test the zap and you are done! Happy journaling!

 

*I have tried to update the code so that it’s only needed to specify the border once, but this removed the formatting – let me know if you have a better/neater solution for this!

[sourcecode language=”plain”]

<table style="border: 1px solid black;">

<tr>
<td style="border: 1px solid black; min-width: 300px;">
<b>Morning</b>
</td>

<td style="border: 1px solid black; min-width: 300px;">
……………………………….
</td>
</tr>

<tr>
<td style="border: 1px solid black ; min-width: 300px;">
I am grateful for
</td>

<td style="border: 1px solid black ; min-width: 300px;">
</td>
</tr>

<tr>
<td style="border: 1px solid black ; min-width: 300px;">
What would make today great?
</td>

<td style="border: 1px solid black ; min-width: 300px;">
</td>
</tr>

<tr>
<td style="border: 1px solid black; width: 300px;">
Affirmation: I am…
</td>

<td style="border: 1px solid black; width: 300px;">
</td>
</tr>

<tr>
<td style="border: 1px solid black; min-width: 300px;">
<b>Evening</b>
</td>

<td style="border: 1px solid black; min-width: 300px;">
……………………………….
</td>
</tr>

<tr>
<td style="border: 1px solid black; width: 300px;">
Great thing #1
</td>

<td style="border: 1px solid black; width: 300px;">
</td>
</tr>

<tr>
<td style="border: 1px solid black; width: 300px;">
Great thing #2
</td>

<td style="border: 1px solid black; width: 300px;">
</td>
</tr>

<tr>
<td style="border: 1px solid black; width: 300px;">
Great thing #3
</td>

<td style="border: 1px solid black; width: 300px;">
</td>
</tr>

<tr>
<td style="border: 1px solid black; width: 300px;">
How could today have been even better?
</td>

<td style="border: 1px solid black; width: 300px;">
</td>
</tr>

</table>
[/sourcecode]

 

 

5 strategies for saying no more often

5 strategies for saying no

“I should say no more often”, I often say to myself, and I’m sure I’m not the only one. For me the hardest part is not actually declining the request, but deciding whether to do it. There are just so many interesting opportunities and I would love it if I could accept all of them! As a result, often other projects (cough writing cough) tend to suffer. Then I start feeling anxious and guilty about all the things that I need to do, and it’s a vicious circle from there. Since the demands on my time are increasing, I have been (proactively) thinking how to approach this. This post covers a few strategies I have found helpful so far for saying no.

5 strategies for saying no

 

1. Does it help or hurt my goals?

Sounds logical, right? If you can do this well, you wouldn’t even be reading this post. But for me this is the most counterintuitive strategy. The things I say yes to always end up being helpful, perhaps even in ways I cannot imagine at the time of the request. By that logic, I should say yes to everything, which is of course not a viable strategy.

I’ve started realizing that the problem is that my goals are not defined clearly enough. I recently read “The Productive Researcher” by Mark Reed, where he gives several examples of his goals. One goal is something along the lines of “[important research thing here] while not being away from home more than 2 evenings a week”. Very specific and actionable, so I’m definitely adopting this one.

 

2. Data, data, data!

Keep track of how much you are doing already.¬†For example, I always felt I couldn’t decline a review request – it was an interesting paper, an important journal, a nice editor, etc. Then I realized I was reviewing WAY more than my “share”, roughly defined as three times the number of papers you submit yourself. Now that I’m aware of this number, it is easier to say no.

It hasn’t been an issue yet, but I imagine that in future I might impose similar quotas on other types of activities, such as committees or travel.

3. Keep a list of things you’ve said no to

Next to my CV of Failures, this year I have also started keeping a list of opportunities I have said no to. This includes things I didn’t feel I should do (such as too many reviews), but more importantly, things I wanted to do but decided not to overschedule myself.

Just as the CV of Failures felt rewarding to put together, this list too helps me feel better about declining opportunities. Now, it is just a list of things I declined, but in the future, I might add “did I regret it”, to convince me myself it’s OK to say no.

 

4. No Committee

Get a few people together to join your own personal “no committee”. When you are doubting about something, your committee votes whether you should say yes or not! For a more in-depth explanation, see the post on Get a Life, PhD, where I first found out about this concept.

I find that it is not actually necessary to interact with your committee about decisions. You just have to imagine talking to them and think about the advice they would give.

 

5. If it’s not a hell yes, it’s no

Heard this one through Tim Ferriss (either his podcast or¬† “Tools of Titans”, which I highly recommend). Basically the idea is that if you are doubting already (it’s not a “hell yes!”), you should say no.

 

***

That is all I have so far – do you have any other strategies you find helpful? Leave a comment below or get in touch on Twitter!

Keeping up with habits while travelling

I just returned from MICCAI, where I had a great time, met some wonderful people and got lots of new ideas! But, other side effects include sleep deprivation and generally not feeling very healthy because I haven’t been keeping up with my habits on Habitica. In this what I’m aiming to be short post, I share some experiences of keeping up with habits while travelling.

In Habitica you can “rest in the tavern”, which pauses your daily habits. This means not doing your habits for the day will not hurt you and your party. However, you can still complete the habits if you want and get rewarded for it, but the reward only benefits you, not your party (i.e. you don’t do damage to a boss, if your party is on a quest).

I think this is the first trip since I started using Habitica, which was several days AND in a different enough timezone. On other trips, I would usually not use the tavern feature, but instead disable the 1-2 dailies that I would not complete. But with the time difference, and having to prepare things on top of the conference, I thought the tavern was the best choice.

What I noticed when filling in the habits when I would open the app, is that most habits fell into three categories:

  1. Completed, but without thinking about it, such as walking 10K steps (my average for the conference is 15K!)
  2. Did not complete, but could have done so, such as stretching
  3. Could not possibly complete, such as exercise with weights which I didn’t bring with me

Since I knew no habits were going to hurt me and others, I didn’t even really try to “check in” with myself and see if there were habits I still needed/wanted to do. That’s too bad, because several of them are really good for me, and can be done in under 10 minutes.

I think a better strategy would have been to disable habits in category 3 for a while, and still try to complete habits in category 2.¬†It would be great if Habitica had an option to “customize” you Tavern experience, but in the absence of that, here is how I think I will implement this next:

  • Create a tag “Off during travel”
  • Add the tag to all dailies which might fall into the “could not possibly complete” category
  • Before going on a trip, filter dailies to only see “Off during travel” list
  • Go through each displayed daily, and unselect all days Monday-Sunday, so the daily is never “on”
  • Select the days again after the trip

If you use Habitica, would you use this type of method? Or do you prefer the Tavern as it’s available now, without any pressure?

How to use Todoist and Habitica together

Recently I have written a few posts about how I use Todoist and Habitica, a habit tracker (check out my posts on decision fatigue, food, and exercise).

It can easily seem that there is overlap between the two. For example, if you want to run 10K, you could schedule a recurring task “go for a run” in Todoist, or you could add “go for a run” as a habit in Habitica. Or you could try to do both, and sync the two apps by hand – the horror! In this post I describe a few alternatives I have tried to use Todoist and Habitica together, and the system that I currently use.

1. Daily Most Important Tasks

My first attempt at using the apps together was a Habitica daily, “Add 3 MITs (most important tasks) to Habitica”. These are three tasks that advance your important projects, and, if these tasks are the only things you get done, you would be satisfied with the day. So every morning, I would go through Todoist, decide my MITs, add them to Habitica, and (hopefully) complete them by the end of that day.

I think I abandoned this system because I tried to add “actions”, like “Start working on task A”, to Habitica, since I knew that “Task A” was not feasible within a day. Breaking down tasks is something I need to improve in general, so while it didn’t work for me at the time, I think it is a good way to use Todoist and Habitica together.

My Habitica avatar from June 2017 – who wouldn’t want to complete tasks to be able to buy pirate gear?

2. Use Zapier

Zapier is a service that connects different apps together. It waits for a trigger in one app – for example, a new task in Todoist, and then performs an action in another app – for example, creating a new task in Habitica. This process is called a “zap”, and with a free account, you can have five free different zaps. Another zap could be, that if you complete a task in Habitica, Zapier checks off the corresponding task in Todoist. You can read more about setting this up on the Habitica Wiki.

There are a few options available, for example only syncing a single project. This is what I did, since I have 100+ tasks in Todoist, and I didn’t want to see all of them in Habitica. I chose an important, but not urgent personal project, and for a while, it was working great. But then I made a mistake – I added sub-tasks to one of the tasks in Todoist, which all showed up as individual tasks in Habitica. I disabled the zap shortly afterwards – way too overwhelming.

Another option is not to have a one-to-one correspondence between Todoist and Habitica. For example, when you complete a task in Todoist, you could increment a “Completed Todoist task” habit in Habitica. This is something I might try net.

3. Use Todoist for “will do”, Habitica for “should (not) do”

Todoist is great for keeping track of what I need to do when. I use it for both one-time (writing a paragraph for a paper) and recurrent (cleaning the kitchen) tasks. I will probably procrastinate on these tasks, but I will do them eventually. Another way to see these tasks is that they are more outcome-oriented, i.e. in the end they add up to a written paper or a clean house.

Habitica helps me finish the “will do” tasks more effectively, for example, by rewarding me when I write for 1 pomodoro (What is this?), or by cleaning the dishes right after dinner. These things are also a bit less outcome oriented – there are obvious benefits to them, but the reward (a paper or a clean house) is further away.

Habitica also helps me to NOT do things, such as checking email the first thing in the morning. Again, not checking email in the morning has benefits – see this post for some examples¬†– but it’s not a really a task, and simply not checking email will not add up to a finished project.

This system means that I end up never using the todos.  But, the todo feature is very motivating, so I came up with a way to use it anyway!

I use the todo feature to keep track of difficult habits that I want to do at least X times within a period of time. Let’s take reading as an example. “Read 10 pages” is a habit for me, but I don’t do it often enough. If I start reading, I never read just 10 pages by the way – but these bursts of reading should happen more often, if I want to develop the habit of “reading more”.

Habitica does have counters for habits, but these do not REALLY remind me I should do the “read 10 pages” habit more often. Instead, I create a multi-part todo “Read next book”, which I split up into five parts, based on the number of pages. Then each time I’m reading, I get a small reward for the “read 10 pages” habit, but I also have an overview of my how much I should still read. Over time, the “read next book” todo becomes red, motivating me to hurry up with the habit and get the much larger reward for the entire thing. I’m actually starting on a fresh book today:

4. Use Todoist for work, Habitica for personal

Perhaps another way to divide tasks between Todoist and Habitica is to split up work and personal projects. It is not the system I use, since there is overlap. For example, I’m reading a book that is helpful for my job, and interesting to me personally.

However, as you might have noticed from my posts, my Habitica is biased towards self-care. Not that that’s strictly “personal” – I need to be healthy & sane to be able to do my job well. But the types of habits I’m trying to build up, such as exercise, tend to be put on the back-burner a lot, especially when things are stressful at work. Adding these “should do” habits to Habitica helps me to prioritize them in a way that I wouldn’t be able to achieve with a task manager alone.

More examples?

Do you use a task manager and/or habit tracker? I would love to hear about your reasons to use only one or the other, and your approach if you are using both!

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