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Dumb Little Man

By Jay White

Supervising Your Productivity: Who Do You Answer To?

Written by Scott Belsky of Behance.

Action steps are worthless without a sense of accountability to complete them. In our jobs and daily chores, the oversight of colleagues, wives/husbands, and clients helps us stay focused. In the mishmash of daily life, we must feel accountable in order to stay productive and push ideas forward.

However, at some point, supervision backfires. Having a boss over your shoulder or constant nagging reminders will actually reduce our motivation. After all, we want to take pride in our own productivity. As such, the drive must start from within. But methods to support our drive for productivity are critical defenses in a world of TIVO, email, and countless other distractions.

From the Behance team’s work with especially productive (and creative) teams, here are a few of the tactics we observed:

  • Accountability via Photocopy & The Mailman. There is a non-profit board that has developed an interesting method for boosting productivity and ensuring that people complete their tasks. Everyone is given a sheet at every meeting to capture action steps, and then, at the meeting’s conclusion, every person’s sheet is collected, photocopied, and returned. You leave the meeting with your original copy, just as you normally would. However, one month later, you stumble upon a letter when opening your mail and – surprise – there is a photocopy of your action steps, in your own beautiful handwriting. It is a reminder from…yourself.
  • Action Step Recounting. Some teams have a quick “action go-around” at the conclusion of every meeting. Each person takes a turn reciting the action steps that he/she captured. After each turn, the rest of the group has a minute to comment on anything that may have been missed (after all, most ideas never happen because the actions required are not captured!). This verbal exchange that takes place is a powerful force of accountability. Magic happens when you state publicly that you are going to do something.
  • Public To-Do Lists. Imagine if your to-do lists were transcribed in 32 pt font on huge pieces of paper gracing your walls. This is a surprisingly effective method for accountability in a team environment. In fact, we use this strategy ourselves at Behance. The benefits we notice include:
    • Public disclosure of productivity – everyone knows where everyone is at.
    • Sharing of action steps – it is visibly alarming when someone has too much on their plate and needs help.
    • Efficiency in utilizing resources – we are more likely to provide assistance to our colleagues if we know what they are working on.

We all spend a lot of time focused on general productivity and too little time on the forces in our lives that keep us motivated and on track. While our instinct is to seclude ourselves into our own productivity cocoons, we must also incorporate the necessary pressures to stay on task. Most often, these pressures are external and must be tolerated, if not embraced!

Photo by Mikey aka DaSkinny BlackMan

Why Watching a Tank of Guppies Is Better Than TV

Written by Jules from Ikea Hacker.

Watching a tank of guppies is better than TV

So, fish can't do talk shows or save the world in 24 hours but they are surprisingly fun to watch. I know that sounds like I don't have a smidgen of life but I've just recently discovered the wonders of guppies.

And it all started when I gave up TV.

Okay, I still watch the news (and a wee bit of 24) but I don't feel the compelling need to crash in front of the tube every night and flip channels till I fall asleep. Not anymore.

1. Fish calm you down
According to this bit of research, people watching TV before bedtime reported "self-perceived, insufficient sleep". Now, watching guppies, or any fish, for that matter, is very calming and a perfect prep for bedtime. In my evening routine, I include 5 minutes to feed and just enjoy watching them fan their tails (see Zenhabits on establishing an evening routine).

2. Fish for the other side of your brain
Keeping fish and the activities involved in it (feeding them, washing the tank), triggers a different part of your brain which means, the part of your brain that has been at work the whole day gets to rest. This gives the passive area a chance to run, meaning you'll return to work more productive.

3. No such thing as too much fish
Unlike TV, there's no danger of getting hooked and overdosing on a whole season of 24 over a weekend. When I watch my fish, I may notice change like how they've grown, the female is pregnant, or there are new baby guppies. But you won't find me bleary eyed the next day because I just couldn't turn the fish tank off.

4. Fish look good
Some may find an LCD TV sleek and beautiful but itíll never beat a great looking tank of fish. When I have friends over, they never fail to look at my guppies, while ignoring the ugly one-eyed monster. Who can blame them?

I'm not a pro but I have kept my guppies alive and rapidly reproducing for the last few years. So, let me offer a few basic tips if you're interested in your own tank of fresh water fish.

  1. Get the right fish- Different fish have different needs. Some are very delicate and need lots of attention such as constant water temperature, special food, etc. I chose guppies because they are relatively hardy. A feed a day. A water change a week, which fits my schedule fine.
  2. Get a tank-
    * Once you know the kind of fish you want to keep, get a tank suited to the fish. Different fish have varying needs for space. If you're a first time
    aquarium owner, start small to keep your expenses low. Your fish shop may be able to advice you.
    * Measure the space where you want to keep your tank before you head to the shop.
    * Ensure there are power points nearby to plug in your pump, filter and lights, if any.
  3. Do not over feed fish- Drop in some fish food and see if they can finish it in 3 minutes. If they do, drop in a little more. If the fish doesn't bite, stop. Keep them a little hungry and they always do better. Overfeeding is one sure way to kill your fish. Leftover food also pollutes the water and creates an unpleasant environment for your fish.
  4. Change the water- Water to fish is like air to us. We find it hard to breathe in a polluted environment, same goes for them. Make it a routine to change the water at least once a week. Empty out no more than half the tank. Do not completely drain the tank. That will totally unbalance the existing ecosystem. Top up the tank with fresh water.
  5. Sit back and watch!
  6. For more expert fish care, visit http://www.aquariumfish.net/home.htm and

Why Your Coffee Sucks (and How to Drink Great Coffee for a Fraction of What You're Paying Now)

Written by Brett Kelly of the Cranking Widgets Blog

Your coffee sucks

For more than a millenium now, people have been drinking coffee. You can hardly drive down a major street (in the US, anyway) without encountering one or more Starbucks establishments. For all of it's forms and varieties, it's one of the most-consumed beverages in the world. I'm sure many of you reading this are probably doing so with a hot cup of joe within arms' reach - which is what makes what I'm about to say all the more meaningful and pointed:

Your coffee is, most likely, crap.

Yep, even you with the Venti Skinny Vanilla Latte (that probably cost you upwards of $5). The fact is, the vast majority of the coffee consumed, especially in the US, is either of poor quality or simply stale. The good news is, this is a fairly easy situation to remedy. And, if you're willing to invest a bit of time and elbow grease, you can save a whole heap of money in the process.

First, here's a couple of glaring facts about coffee that reinforce my claim that you're drinking bad coffee:

Roasted coffee beans are partially stale after 2 weeks

That's right - and you can bet your bottom dollar that the pound of coffee you bought at the grocery store or at your local Starbucks was roasted weeks (or perhaps months) ago. It was likely roasted in a huge roasting facility (where the batch size can be in the hundreds of pounds) several weeks before it even hits the shelves at your local store.

Ground coffee has lost much of it's flavor 20 minutes after grinding

You may think you're saving time by buying pre-ground coffee, but you're sacrificing what little flavor was left in the probably-stale beans.

But don't lose heart, fellow lovers of the brown nectar! In a few simple steps (and for considerably less money than you'd expect and quite possibly less than you're spending now), you can enjoy some of the finest coffee the world has to offer.

A quick aside - for those folks who drink coffee purely for the caffeine and don't care about it tasting good, you can stop reading here :) Personally, I think of coffee as so much more than just something to slug back in the morning to wake up. When prepared properly, it can be just as flavorful and nuanced as a fine wine or whiskey. That said, my point in making and drinking coffee is to create a fantastic beverage, and only secondarily a caffeine delivery system.

So, let's get down to brass tacks - how do you make a great cup of coffee?

First, you need clean water. I use bottled water to make my coffee - something that many people think is a waste, but whatever. Once you try this, you'll definitely notice a difference. Even purified water (using one of those pitchers you put in your refrigerator, for example) will do the trick. Water temperature is key here - you want it between 195F-204F for optimal extraction.

Second, you need good coffee. If you want to roast your own, a whole range of options exist from a coffee roasting machine (I use the iRoast 2, retails for about $180) all the way to using a frying pan on your stovetop. It's really easy, too - only takes about 15-30 minutes depending on the batch size and roasting method. I won't go into the finer points of homeroasting, but if you're interested please get in touch with me and I'll point you in the right direction. Suffice it to say, this is an option for just about anybody. Oh, and did I mention that the coffee will probably cost you between $2-$5 per pound?

If you don't want to spend the time roasting your own coffee, there are plenty of places to buy fresh roasted coffee. Personally, I'd look for local mom-and-pop coffeehouses in your area that might roast their own coffee. You'll get small roast batches probably roasted by people who really love it - and you'll taste the difference.

You can also buy your fresh roasted beans (surprise, surprise) on the Internet. Personally, I like to buy from Sweet Maria's. Tom, the proprietor, flies all over the world sampling different coffees from all sorts of different farms, hand-selecting what he thinks are the best coffees around. A pound of roasted coffee (shipped) will run you roughly $12-$13, about what you'd pay at Starbucks - but it was roasted the same day it was shipped!

Now, brewing methods - your first order of business is to pick up your $20 Mr. Coffee brewer and drop it into the trash can. Yep, I'm not joking - these things make truly lackluster coffee and can be replaced by a far-superior solution that'll cost you approximately $6. Next, head down to your local grocery and pick up a pour-over brewer and a set of paper filters - my local store keeps these supplies right near the coffee, I'd imagine yours will to. Read this excellent article by Mark Prince for more information on how to use a pour-over brewer.

My personal favorite (by a damn sight, I must say) is the Aeropress. This one is slightly more expensive at $25, but worth 10 times that, if you ask me. Makes a fantastic, smooth cup of coffee and I'm confident in saying that if you haven't tried it, you won't go back once you do. This thing produces small amounts of high-octane, perfectly smooth coffee concentrate and you just add some hot water!

The last thing we'll need to talk about is grinding. If you stopped to peruse the pour-over brewer article linked above, you probably got a taste of how important a grinder is to making a great cup of coffee. While this is true, please don't be dismayed if you can't spend the dough. A blade grinder, while definitely subpar compared to a burr mill, will still do the job well enough. The point here is good coffee for little money, right?

The grinder I use is called the Solis Maestro Plus (retails for about $160). It's a fantastic grinder for all types of brewing methods from espresso to french press. If you're lucky, you can get your hands on a Zassenhaus mill (accept no substitutes!). A manual, hand-crank grinder that produces a show-quality grind. A quick glance of eBay and Craigslist shows a few of these guys available.

Really, the only potentially big expense you're looking at for great coffee is a grinder - and really, the coffee nerds aren't going to take your coffee if you don't have an industrial-grade grinder ;) The important thing is that you enjoy it. Honestly, since I've become what my friends and family affectionately call a "coffee snob", I actively anticipate my morning coffee instead of just making it as part of a routine. Perhaps you might venture down the same path?

25 Ways to Savor the Last Days of Summer

Written by John Wesley of PickTheBrain.

Labor Day has passed, the kids are back in school, and summer is officially over. It's exciting to get back to the normal routine, but a bit depressing at the same time. Fortunately, the warm weather and carefree attitude should linger for another couple weeks, giving you one last chance to enjoy your favorite summer activities.

Here are 25 ways you can enjoy the summer before it disappears for 9 long months.

  1. Go to the pool.
  2. Go to a baseball game.
  3. Use as many vacation days as you can. Once the year gets back to full swing, you might not get a chance to use them.
  4. Take a day trip to a lake.
  5. Sit outside and drink a cold glass of iced tea or lemonade.
  6. Have a barbeque.
  7. Set off some fireworks.
  8. Wear sandals as much as possible.
  9. Go on a picnic.
  10. Go to the beach.
  11. Take a long walk with no particular destination.
  12. Go camping for a weekend.
  13. Take out your bike for a nice long ride.
  14. Go to a carnvial or fair.
  15. Have dinner at a restaurant and sit outside.
  16. Wash your car.
  17. Go fishing.
  18. Shoot hoops outside.
  19. Play tennis.
  20. Go out for ice cream.
  21. Set up a sprinkler for the kids to run through (or yourself)
  22. Eat popcicles.
  23. Go on a hike.
  24. Read a book in the sun.
  25. Fly a kite.

That's all I can think of, but I'm sure there's more. Add your personal favorites in the comments. I'm off to enjoy the last days of summer myself!

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