I’ve always had a slight obsession with organizing the paper and digital “stuff” of our family life. Only recently have I found a workflow of organizing all this stuff that I’m comfortable with and is easy to do. We’re now a ‘paperless’ house and here’s the system I use to keep that up.
I’ve recently added these three tools to my web developer tool belt. Two of them save me time now, and the other one saves me time in the future in the form of keeping bugs from shipping.
Two weeks ago I hit a cool milestone in my journey as a location independent developer: I actually started working from a different location!
Yesterday we went downtown to the county courthouse to submit our passport applications. We would rather make this trip to be able to submit them same-day with no line instead of making an appointment for three weeks from now at a post office.
On the drive we passed the downtown campus of the University of Texas San Antonio. I didn’t have a class that met at the campus, but one semester I had a teaching assistant job. For part of my job I held office hours. The downtown campus was very new at the time so the offices were fancy and it was fun ‘working’ downtown. Read More
For the past few years I’ve hosted my sites on a VPS (Virtual Private Server). I trust the hosting company and like their service. In four years I haven’t experienced any downtime and the tickets I’ve opened were answered in a timely manner. This setup left me very comfortable with my hosting. Cue foreboding music. Read More
The first time I took an overseas trip was a two week trip to Hungary, Austria and Italy. I had no idea how to pack and fell for in the travelers pitfall of packing for every “what if” scenario. I ended up taking a huge rolling suitcase that was about 4″ tall. I looked ridiculous fumbling over cobblestones while walking around Váci Utca with my humungous closet on wheels.
Since then I’ve taken more overseas trips and have adopted the digital nomad’s mantra:
Thou shalt not roll!
Don’t use rolling luggage.
Lighter is better.
Only pack what you can carry.
Don’t check baggage.
Drop all non-essential items.
This week I’m heading to Leiden, Netherlands for WordCamp Europe and the annual WooTrip. My Eagle Creek travel pack was getting long in the tooth so I purchased a new North Face Surge II. Below is a description of what I’m packing for an 8 day trip, but plan could easily be used for a longer trip.
Backpack: The North Face Surge II
The backpack fit very well on my body, and has high quality construction. It’s got a volume of only 1953 in³ (32 liters) so you’ve got to be very intentional about choosing what to pack.
The features I like about the pack:
- Comfortable, durable shoulder straps
- Waist straps
- Easy access front zip pockets
- Strong zippers
- Easy access separate pocket for laptop/tech
I’m borrowing Amanda’s laptop Galadriel for the trip. Nothing out of the ordinary here except I chose not to pack a separate extension cord and am going to use our old travel adapter which is bulky. In the future I’d like to get one that is smaller and has more options like the one Siobhan owns. I hardly ever wear a watch since I have a clock on my phone, but on long flights I like having a timer running so I can know the flight duration at all times.
- 13″ MackBook Pro Retina (Galadriel) and charger
- iPhone 5 (used to take picture) and charger
- iPad mini packed with movies for trip
- Moleskine notebook
- Joby Tripod
- Bamboo Stylus
- VGA adapter
- HDMI cable
- Apple Ear buds
- Europe travel adapter
- Timex digital watch
It’s supposed to be rainy this weekend in Leiden so I’m bringing a rain poncho that I got from Old Navy. I don’t normally travel with it, but I’m bringing it since there’s a strong change of needing it. I went for small travel sizes of toiletries even though I know the prices are gouging. The money belt is for storing my passport on my person day-to-day, and may not be necessary, but I’ve taken this money belt on all my international travels and almost lost it on an over night train in China. It’s like a travel buddy 🙂
- Rain Poncho
- Toiletries bag
- Nalgene water bottle
- Eagle Creek Eye mask
- Eagle Creek Money belt
Shirts are pretty basic. I’ll be doing at least one load of laundry while on the trip.
- 2 button down short sleeve shirts
- 4 t-shirts (one not pictured that I’ll be wearing while traveling)
Pants are a bulky item that I would want to reduce. But since I’ll be at a WordCamp I’m bringing one pair of khakis (that I normally never wear). Eventually I’d love to replace this stuff with lighter stuff that dries quickly.
- One pair jeans
- One pair khakis
- One pair cargo shorts
- One pair athletic shorts
Shoes are the absolute most bulky item I’m bringing. I’m packing one pair of dress shoes and wearing my other shoes while traveling. I decided not to pack flip flops and it is yet to be seen if I regret that.
I’ll post an update on how this turned out and if there is anything that I missed on the trip, or would have packed differently. Let me know if you have any packing light tips!
When we started homeschooling our kids last fall my wife bought an electric pencil sharpener. We had one around the house early in our marriage that was eventually sold at a garage sale or given away. Now the kids are learning how to write so it’s a very useful tool to have around.
A quick gist showing how to change the number of up sell thumbnails to display on the product page for WooCommerce 2.0.
I’ve got some lofty goals this year for my work and projects. I want to build at least three new products per month for Grow Development, build a platform over at Life With A Mission, and deliver happiness to the customers of WooThemes. My wife Amanda and I chose the word Hustle to represent 2013.
Hustle In The Early Morning
The last few weeks I’ve been focusing on waking up early (between 5:00 a.m. and 6:00 a.m.) in order to grab that early quiet kid-free time to get some quality productive work done. The kids normally wake up between 7:00-7:45 a.m., so I’m lucky to get two hours to myself. After this it’s breakfast time with the kids then time to start working for Woo.
While the early morning isn’t the ideal time to write code (for me that’s night time), this time is good for writing a blog post, revising copy, or doing a proof of concept on a piece of code. The danger of this time is that if I’m tired I’ll squander it reading Twitter, clearing my email inbox, or making a Spotify playlist. The way I’ve found to make the best of this time is to organize my tasks and have a list to open up and start executing on.
My To Do App Of Choice
I’ve used a number of apps over the years for tracking ideas and personal To Do’s. The list includes Basecamp, Things, Google Docs, Wunderlist, and the Reminders app. My current go-to app is Trello. I started using Trello when I was a WooThemes development collaborator and saw how well it did at organizing dozens of extensions and collaborators. The main benefits for me of using Trello are:
- It’s Free
- Looks great on any device
- Web based
- Data is exportable
How I Use Trello
We have a grind and brew coffee maker. I’ve found that my morning goes infinitely better when I take the time the night before to clean it out, fill the reservoir with water, and put in the beans. That way in my bleary-eyed morning state all I have to do is press the go button and in a few minutes I’ll have coffee. In a similar way I ‘prep’ my Trello lists at the beginning of the month, and again at the beginning of the week.
I have these lists defined:
- In Development – Extensions currently in development
- Writing – Blog post ideas and drafts
- Inbox – Non categorized ideas, tasks, blog post ideas
- Grow Development – GrowDev business or marketing tasks
- Live – Cards for extensions go here when they are shipped
- Ideas – List of random ideas for extensions
- Side Project 1 – This project isn’t public knowledge yet
- Side Project 2 – This project isn’t public knowledge yet
The two most important lists are the “In Development” and “Writing”. When I wake up and sit down at the computer I open Trello and pick the top item from one of these two lists and work on it. Then I can record my progress on the card, add to an in-card checklist, or mark the card as complete. This way I know that what I’m spending this precious time on directly impacts my goals. If these two lists become empty, then it’s time to brainstorm two ideas. I spent about two hours yesterday filling the lists with about six weeks worth of work.
I’m looking forward to a productive 2013 and am very excited about this new system of organizing my work time.
I was thinking today about how I appreciate people on the internet that are real.
I’m not saying ‘real’ in the ‘keeping it real’ sense. But, more of a keep it honest and no bullshit kind of way. I spend much of my time online and the people that I admire most are the ones that are able to run their business while being both professional and at the same time personal.
Being professional means that someone shares about the work they do or the projects they are passionate about, but each share doesn’t sound like it was cleared by PR and Legal first. No one enjoys listening to droll market-speak so I wouldn’t classify the buzz-word-mouth people as professional. I like hearing about people’s work, but also about their kids, travels, and books they are reading.
When I say personal I’m not referring to some cathartic method of over-sharing every insignificant detail of your life and looking for a sort of social validation by posting five different angles of each meal consumed to Instagram. When people share on the internet their personality comes through whether they intend for it to or not. It’s better to be honest about it and let people connect with you or move on.
Split Personalities Aren’t Real
I used to have two Twitter accounts – one for “business” and one for “personal”. The “business” account was intended to be for connecting with other developers, designers, business owners and web people. The “personal” account was for friends and family, most of whom I know and see in person. This was an exhausting situation. Whenever I had something to tweet, I had to go through the mental exercise of figuring out which audience it was for. I decided that instead of having this bifurcated stream of consciousness that I would reduce to just one account for all my sharing. If this resulted in friends going all possum eyed due to tech stuff or if web developers took offense to me sharing about Jesus or my kids funny statements that was going have to be alright.
I know some folks use a separate social network for this division of content, and Google+ even introduced the “Circles” feature to facilitate this (a feature Facebook then copied), but curating more than one social media account with any amount of thought is not something I’m interested in right now. Plus, cross-posting is the online equivalent of using a bull horn to have a close quarter conversation. Don’t do it.
An Email That Pushed Me To Be Real
Another incident that pushed me into the “be real” camp was that when I had the split Twitter accounts I had a client nudge me about a project. Nudge is the nice way of putting it when it was more like, “How can you be ignoring us and posting about doing other things! You are so unprofessional! GROWL! HISS! SCRATCH!!!” (ok, I added the animal sounds) My first internal reaction was indignation. “This is my personal account, go away!” Then I tried to see their side of the story. Although I was in no way ignoring them it was probably bad form to not set expectations or send an update and then carry on with social activities. After this incident I protected my tweets for a time, but then reverted since it is dumb to hide and tantamount to lying to say one thing but do another.
This was one reason I stopped doing client work. I’m not good at keeping up a front with clients appearing that I have a genuine interest in their project past the monetary reward. No client will come out and say they want you to be approving of their work, but they all want it and I do understand their point. I know some people enjoy and excel at client work, but being real with myself I had to acknowledge that I have a short attention span for it.
So now my recipe for being real is simple: Say what I think. Do what I love.
I enjoy reading an interview blog called The Setup. It answers the question: “What do people use to get stuff done?”. It actually answers four questions, but I’ll get to that later. It’s not only designers and developers that are interviewed, but novelists, artists, scientists, students, photographers and self described ‘hacker-philosophers’.
Who are you, and what do you do?
What hardware are you using?
My main machine is an early 2011 iMac 27″ i5 with 4GB RAM connected to a second 23″ monitor. (Writing this just reminded me I forgot to buy that RAM upgrade.) The display is simply amazing and I cringe using any other machine. I’m currently running Snow Leopard, but will upgrade to Lion soon. I like to be a late adopter of OS upgrades to let developers shake out the inevitable bugs and inconsistencies between versions. I use an Apple bluetooth keyboard and Magic Trackpad. I used to have an IBM (Logitech) keyboard that was physically split down the center that I loved since it allowed me to sit with my hands comfortably at shoulder width since I have broad shoulders. It was loud, had great tactile feedback and was all I ever wanted. The Apple keyboard has taught me that I really want the keyboard to be like a good waiter – work well, but barely be noticed. I used to be an avid trackball (thumb version) user, but switched to the Magic Trackpad last year. I’m a big fan of gestures now.
Since you will be ridiculed for taking you iMac to inappropriate places I also have a 2007 white Macbook that I bought when I started freelancing to escape cubicle nation. It is still powerful enough to be useful when I need to be mobile, but is starting to show its age. I use the Macbook at home and on the road.
I use a 16GB black iPhone 4 that I have with me at all times and feel naked without. I regularly ask my wife “How did we live before having an iPhone?”. My carrier is AT&T even though the entire tech world bemoans their service. Since I live in the city of their former corporate headquarters I think the service around here is just fine. However when I travel I do see the shortcomings of the service. Having survived a swim in the toilet and several drops I do believe my iPhone to be invincible.
My desk is an Office Depot “L” shaped glass desk. It looks nice, gets dirty easily, and serves its purpose. At home I work on an Ikea Expedit bookshelf/desk combo. My chair is a “Space Chair” I got from an office closeout store. I’ve also got a small Ikea couch that my wife and I call “The world’s smallest couch”. I use it for reading and afternoon naps.
I borrowed a Doxie to go paperless and will borrow it again to keep up with digitizing all the random documents that I receive right before they get shredded.
I don’t have my own iPad yet, but regularly borrow my wife’s first gen iPad. It has the perfect form factor/battery life/screen size for home and on the go use.
On my desk are some old JBL speakers, a Yeti Blue microphone that I use for recording screen casts and Skype calls, a Canon MP210 printer that is only used for scanning since I hate hard copies, a phone connected to a Vonage VOIP modem that has my business Google Voice number forwarded to it.
An essential in my office is a Honeywell Oscillating Fan. The air movement creates a sort of white noise that keeps me sane.
And what software?
On the mac I use MAMP Pro for local development installs. I have Eclipse and Xdebug installed but don’t use them nearly enough. My day to day IDE for the past several years has been Coda, but I’m planning a switch to PhpStorm. I use Navicat Lite (free version) for database queries and manipulation.
For source control I use a combination of SVN through a paid Springloops (which offers both SVN and git hosting) account with Versions as a GUI, but all new projects are going into git and github. I need to implement a deploy script as easy as Springloops’ one touch deploy to make the final switch. Github’s Mac GUI is useful and free.
I usually have at least one Terminal window open since the command line is still the fasteset way to get things done, especially for a toch-typer.
Productivity software is the multi-device syncing Wunderlist. I tried Things for a while, but no syncing killed that initiative. I manage my money with Quicken for Mac synced via Dropbox for personal finances and QuickBooks Online for business books. I tried a few other services (Mint, Less Accounting, Outright, Freshbooks) but none of them felt right.
Other software and web apps I use for business are: is Harvest for invoicing and time tracking and Google Voice for a phone number (seldom used). Google Docs and Google Calendar for their respective offerings. I have a minimal Basecamp account, but am getting away from running my own projects so this will be going away soon.
I use an old-school (pre Twitter buy out) version of Tweetie for Twitter. Something doesn’t feel right about the native clients, so I stick to 3rd party ones. Adium and Skype keep me connected to clients and friends.
I’ve uses a combination of Mail.app and web Gmail for email, but am now switching to Sparrow on the desktop.
On my iPhone home screen is Echofon (paid) for Twitter, Instapaper for catching up with all those articles I wanted to read, Kindle for books, Flipboard (the absolute best way to consume content on touch devices), Flixster, iBooks, Hipmunk for planning flights that I may or may not take.
What would be your dream setup?
Right now my dream setup would be the top-of-the-line Macbook Pro (for portability) with the largest SSD possible linked to multiple very large Thunderbolt displays. Also, I’d like a Dropbox-style Universal desktop to sync the entire desktop experience – so that when I leave my office and get home (or go to a coffee shop) I open the machine and it syncs with all open programs, all data from those programs, window positions, etc.
I’d love fiber to my home and office.
Finally, I’m a big fan of alternate input devices, and I can’t wait to see what is done with a combination of Siri (for voice), Kinect for (motion), and touch in the coming years. As these technologies become more ingrained in the OS of devices the way we interact with information and with the collective data available on the web is going to be exciting!