At about the same time I was rereading Getting Things Done, I was reading Reality is Broken for the first time. The full title of Jane McGonigal’s book is Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World.

Make us better? Does that mean that games can encourage us to get things done? Yes it does: for example, McGonigal and her husband compete in the game Chore Wars, each an adventurer seeking to outdo the other in tasks such as “conjuring the clothes” (doing the laundry).

That raises the question: can Allen’s GTD system be “gamified”? This question has been asked and addressed before (for example, by this fellow WordPress blogger).

Next question: has someone already developed a GTD game? The nearest thing I and Google could find was Epic Win, an ioS app that provides a role-playing interface to the familiar to-do list. Here’s the avatar for my character, which has recently leveled up (but only to 2).

To address first the question that led me to Epic Win: it’s not a close fit with GTD. For example, EW expects actions/quests to be assigned a date, whereas Allen specifically recommends against the daily to-do list. It would be more GTD-ish for quests to have locations on the EW map, just as GTD actions can be assigned contexts.

That said, it would be unfair to judge EW as an implementation of GTD, since it doesn’t claim to be one. So how is it as a to-do list flavored with quests and other role-playing spices?

I’d say that the (RPG) spices are done better than the to-do nutrition. I don’t find the interface to be intuitive. Part of this is due to organization by date, rather than by context, priority, or some other criterion my choice. But there are other things I stumble against.

There is integration with Google Calendar. But as far as I can see, there is no integration with Google Tasks. More seriously, EW made some strange (with respect to time of day) changes to my calendar.

Epic Win feels like a work in progress. To be fair, there is progress, in the form of updates to the app. But, at $2.99, it feels expensive for an iPhone app. Maybe we’re spoiled in terms of app prices, and maybe I’m judging EW as I’m using it, on the iPad, rather than on its native iPhone.

So I’m still looking for an iPad app to gamify GTD. Any suggestions? Or any reactions to my remarks on Epic Win?

Time to get more organized! I decided that a couple of weeks ago. This isn’t the first time I’ve made that decision. Neither is it the first time I’ve turned to David Allen’s book Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity. Here’s how David contrasts his system with other systems.

The big difference between what I do and what others do is that I capture and and organize 100 percent of my “stuff” in and with objective tools at hand, not in my mind.

That quote captures the first of the half-dozen points that struck me as I reread the book. Another basic point is that GTD is a bottom-up, rather than a top-down, approach to personal productivity. Each of those first two points is from the first chapter.

The Workflow DiagramThe second chapter is the most important in the book, and makes each of the remaining points. In particular, it includes The Workflow Diagram (that link is point three). The workflow is the process for filtering stuff, identifying actions (i.e. things that can actually be done) and putting deferred actions in the appropriate place (Next Actions list or calendar.

A couple of explicit contrasts with some time management systems provide points four and five. Such systems recommend that actions be given priorities, and the that highest-priority actions be done first. In GTD, other criteria trump priority. One of these is time available: when do you have to do something else, and what can you fit in before then?

Allen recommends against the daily to-do list. The calendar is for things that have to be done at a particular time, or on a particular day. Other actions, however important, belong on a Next Actions list.

The sixth and final point concerns the weekly review: a look through Next Action lists, Project lists, etc. Like most of the points made in Allen’s first two chapters, this one is revisited later in the book: Friday afternoon is, for many people, a good time for the weekly review.

So those are the half-dozen things about GTD that struck me. If you have encountered GTD and wanted to make a similarly brief set of points about it, how would your list be different?

I’ll follow up soon with some thoughts on tools for GTD.

2012 Q1: iPad

April 8, 2012

2012 is a quarter gone already, and I haven’t been posting here much. It seems like a good time for to review the year so far. I’ll do so with a few brief posts. I was going to make this first one a review of technology in 2012 so far, but that could get long, so we’ll focus here on one of the major tech events of Q1: the launch of the iPad 3.

Is the iPad 3 so good that it makes an iPad 2 owner yearn for it? I have a particular interest in this question, since I’ve had an iPad 2 for about a year. In March 2011, I posted that the iPad 2 overcame some of my objections to all things Apple.

I’ve been very pleased with the iPad 2, as subsequent posts show. Other members of the family have also been pleased with it, although not to the extent that there’s been a lot of tablet-grabbing conflict.

Differences between the new iPad and the iPad 2, as described on Apple’s comparison page, and as prioritized by me, include:

  • Display: twice the pixels per inch (264 vs 132). Most reviewers of the new iPad are very impressed with the difference. I have no problems with the display quality on the iPad 2, so I don’t yearn for this improvement. On the other hand, I haven’t done as much ebook reading as I expected to do on the iPad 2, and it’s possible that I might do more on a new iPad, with its crisper display.
  • 4G rather than 3G, if you have the data plan. I went for Wi-Fi only, to save money on the iPad itself, and to save a lot more money by not paying for a data plan every month, and haven’t had serious regrets.
  • A real (5 megapixel) camera. I suspect that an iPad would feel rather cumbersome and silly as a camera.

So far then, I have no envy of people with the iPad 3 (which is actually just called the iPad). But if I were taking the iPad plunge now, I would spend the extra $100 to get the new model, rather than the iPad 2. For Wi-Fi and 16GB, the new one costs $499 – what the iPad 2 cost a a year ago.

What do you think? Would I quickly wonder how I lived without an iPad 3, where I to spend some time with one? How will the iPad 4 be different?

I’m gradually putting together a Spotify playlist of 50 favorite tracks. I would be halfway through if every track I’ve tried to add was available on Spotify. But 5 of them are not. Here’s the missing handful, in what I perceive to be descending order of obscurity.

  • And Your Bird Can Sing, by The Beatles
  • Running Up That Hill, by Kate Bush
  • Walk Out to Winter, by Aztec Camera
  • As Soon as This Pub Closes, by Alex Glasgow
  • Sharon Signs to Cherry Red, by the Kamikaze Pilots (previous post, including the track itself)

You can find what was meant to be the 50-track playlist at Spotify. It currently has 20 tracks, not including the 5 I can’t include.

I’m surprised that 25% of my selections aren’t available on Spotify. I think I was hoping for something under 10%.

If you use Spotify (or another music service) what is your “unavailability percentage”?

When I listen to the radio in the car here near DC, I’m usually tuned to WAMU on 88.5. That’s one of the local NPR stations. For readers outside the USA, NPR stands for National Public Radio. That may be misleading: NPR is not run by the federal government (or by any government). Neither is it only about radio.

NPR is also behind one of my favorite music sites. NPR Music includes such features as First Listen, which previews albums in the week leading up to release. Although there are only a few albums previewed each week, there is usually at least one to which I’m looking forward (e.g., Shearwater’s Animal Joy) or that I enjoyed, but might not have listened to had it not been featured (e.g., Grimes’ Visions).

NPR relies to a large extent on contributions to fund its programming, on the airwaves and on the web. So I’m glad to say that I did get round to contributing recently. Or rather, when told that I was difficult to buy presents for, I suggested a donation to WAMU. What do I get for the $120 the present cost? A non-lousy t-shirt. And the knowledge that I’m helping to keep NPR programs, stations, and websites going.

Do you use NPR? Do you contribute?

For years, I’ve used two of the paid upgrades offered at WordPress.com: domain mapping and custom CSS. Domain mapping is the reason this is changingway.org, as well as changingway.wordpress.com. Custom CSS is the reason you see the date under the post title in small type, rather than large type, and the reason that the category names in the sidebar aren’t separated from each other by lines.

Those two upgrades came up fore renewal a few days ago. I renewed domain mapping, but not custom CSS. The main reason I didn’t renew custom CSS is that it no longer exists. It is part of the custom design upgrade, which also includes custom fonts, and is twice the price that custom CSS used to be.

I regret the passing of custom CSS, but there are a couple of reasons why the regret isn’t strong. One is that I understand that Automattic, the people behind WordPress.com, seem to be moving toward a simpler and more profitable menu of upgrades. The other is that my custom CSS is still in effect as of now. Perhaps it’ll stay in place as long as I don’t try to make further CSS changes. If so, I’m not sure whether that is by accident or design. Either way, I’ll take it for as long as it lasts, but may seek another (clean) theme if it goes away.

There’s a big difference between free of charge and any charge, no matter how small. That’s on observation often made about e-business. When it comes to the web, part of the difference arises from difficulties with micropayments. Another part arises from the way we think about costs; this part applies to even to the most tangible and familiar of objects.

Consider, for example, the plastic or paper bags given away by many stores, including supermarkets. They are no longer given away for free in Montgomery County, Maryland, where I live.

Montgomery County passed legislation… that places a five-cent charge on each paper or plastic carryout bag provided by retail establishments in the County to customers…

Montgomery County’s legislation, similar to Washington DC’s Bag Law, is designed to create an incentive for the public to reduce use of disposable bags by bringing reusable bags.

Will it work? I have evidence that it does. And by evidence, I mean anecdote: stories of my own behavior, and conversations at cash registers. I have gone back into the house to get shopping bags as I am about to drive to the store, then remembered that I’ll be charged if I get new bags. I am trying to keep a stock of bags in the car for the inevitable occasions on which I forget to grab bags from the house.

This effect isn’t due to the size of the difference: the five-cent difference between free and a nickel is bigger than five cents. Moreover, the directions of the five-cent difference matters. The local Giant supermarkets used to give five cents back for every bag a customer brought in. But the gain of five cents per bag wasn’t enough to make me bring bags to the store.

So there are two five-cent differences involved here. The loss of five cents per bag used affects my behavior, while a gain of five cents per bag rarely did. Those familiar with the concept of loss aversion shouldn’t be surprised. That said, I’ve been familiar with the concept for years, and I am surprised at how effective the five-cent penalty seems to be.

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