Posts tagged: smartphone

How to be more productive

By , December 30, 2014 11:57 am

A few weeks ago @BobWalsh asked on twitter how to be more productive.

I dashed off a simple reply about turning various things off. I thought I’d expand upon this topic.

Productivity isn’t just one thing. It’s many things and they all need to be aligned to allow you to be productive.

Know your topic

Seems obvious, but how many times have to tried to do something that you aren’t that good at and it’s taken forever? And the result was OK, but you know it could have been better. Would this particular task have been better delegated to someone else or even outsourced to a trusted third party?


You have limited willpower. Concentrating on a task, or many tasks requires effort. You only have so much energy available for that effort before your energy reserves are depleted and you either need to eat, rest or sleep. Choose what you spend your energy on wisely.

Don’t multi-task

There is this myth that some people can multi-task and some people can’t. In particular this myth is biased in favour of women. However in neurological terms, humans are not wired to multi-task. We can appear to multi-task (just as single core CPUs did) by context switching. Context switching in humans is slow and consumes energy. If your blood sugar is low you will not be good at this. This StackExchange question discusses the penalties associated with context switching.

Remove distractions

Every distraction is a request to context switch to attend to that distraction. And then context switch back to the previous distraction or on to a new distraction. This is why the job of receptionist in a hotel, a hospital or a veterinary surgery is not as simple as it seems. Each micro task isn’t hard. But it’s the sheer volume of them and often multiple balls in the air at the same time – this takes energy.

In terms of your working life, if you are tech then the chances are you have these things around you:

  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
  • Smart phone
  • Text messaging
  • Wired phone
  • Email
  • Other productivity tool
  • Work colleagues
  • Open plan work environment
  • Office politics
  • (and possibly minority/sexist micro-aggressions)

But you’re actually trying to workout how to write some software for your company to meet the company product release deadline. Or you’re trying to debug someone else’s software and you need to get your head into their software space to understand what’s happening, or it’s a code review, or you’re examining the DNA of this interesting cancer, or something equally taxing. In short what you really want to be putting your energy is this interesting task but you are constantly pulled away from it by all these other sources of distraction.


Turn off your twitter client. You don’t need to be on twitter all day, every day. You can always check in when you have a break or at the start/end of the day.


Log out of facebook. Same as twitter, but it’s even less realtime so you definitely don’t need this open in your browser all day.


Log out of LinkedIn. Same as twitter and facebook.

Smart phone

Turn it off. Completely off. No notification pings, no vibrates, no calls, nothing. So many apps on your phone to distract you and pull you away from work.

Text Messaging

Seriously. I know people under 25 seem to live in their text messaging world but I have news for you. If you turn off your phone the world will keep spinning. And your friends will still be there when it comes to lunch time and you can check up on what hasn’t happening in the (gasp!) last 4 hours.

Wired Phone

Unplug it. Turn off the ringer. Turn down the volume on the answerphone.


You don’t need your email client open all the time. Check it once per hour, or once every two hours. For an extreme take, do it like Noah Kagan. Twice a day – once at the start of the day and once at the end of the day. OK, so some conversations won’t go as fast but everything will get attended to. And you might even focus on those emails a bit more because you’ve dedicated time to them rather than trying to time slice them with everything else in the day.

Trello / Other productivity tool

There are loads of planning/scheduling tools out there. Trello has taken off in a big way. Great. I have nothing against them. But you don’t need to fixate on it all day. Close the browser page. You can check the status of something when you actually need the information, not just because something has moved and you need to know, RIGHT NOW, what that was.

Work colleagues

Not a lot you can do about these. They need your help. You need theirs. If you can’t interact nothing will get done. But you can give strong hints as to when it’s OK to talk to you and when it’s not. Some folks put a red flag on their desk (or something equally unusual) to signify “I’m busy, don’t bother me”. Try it.

Open plan work environment

Yes, these are great. And they can be awful. Good for fostering openness and communication. Bad for controlling noise. For some tasks you may be better trying to get an office for an afternoon or take the work home.

Office politics

Er, not sure how to turn this one off.

Go for a walk

I’m serious. If you can’t get your head around a problem. Go for a walk. Preferably in the countryside. I live in a small country village. An average house on a housing estate. But I’m surrounded by farmland and the largest wetland in Europe (The Ouse Washes). Lots of the engineering problems at Software Verification have been solved while walking on this farmland enjoying the scenery, letting my brain wander and then out of nowhere a solution or partial solution appears. Back to the office and usually have a working demo by the end of the day.

Alternatively, a long soak in a hot bath (optional bottle of wine) often does the same job. Don’t try this one at work!

Alternatively, learn to meditate.

If it’s not obvious the key thing is getting your mind to relax and wander. Turn off the concious problem solving part of your brain and wait.


Get Caffeine out of your life. I really enjoy Caffeine (when provided by Tea, but not by Coffee) but I’m glad I stopped consuming Caffeine. It’s a myth that it makes you better at your job. I should probably also do the same with alcohol, but I have considerably reduced my consumption of that as well.


Make a list of all the things you need to do today. Identify the order of importance and how big/small a task it is. If you have lots of short tasks that are easy to do, do them. This reduces the list size and gives you a sense of progress, which is a good emotional boost. Then tackle the important and big tasks first. Cross each task off the list as you complete them. It’s trivial stuff to do, but this is emotional recognition of progress. Surprising what such simple tricks can do to your inner sense of “getting stuff done”.

If you find that you are not comfortable with the list on any given day that’s a good indicator that the tasks on the list – you haven’t fully decided how each task will be completed. So work on understanding each task a bit better. This may mean breaking the task into subtasks, or it may mean you just need to think about the task a bit more.


The days when I feel the most distracted, the least at ease, can’t decide what to work on it’s when there is nothing on the list that interests me and I have all these distractions turned on. The solution is to remove the distractions and then work on the contents of the list.

I’m not saying twitter, facebook et al are bad. I’m saying that they need to be used with care. So turn them off when you are working and turn them on when you need to plug in.

The Six Waves of Computing

By , March 2, 2011 12:15 pm

Last year I was lucky enough to be present in the audience when Hermann Hauser gave the keynote speech for the Discovering Startups talks presented by Cambridge Wireless. Later in the year, during the SVC2C event Hermann Hauser again gave reference to his Waves of Computing idea.

I’m going to cover what I remember of his Waves of Computing idea in this post. I think the basis of the Waves of Computing idea was that there have been five waves of computing. I’ve expanded this to six, as it makes a bit more sense to me. I think you could argue that a few other waves could also be added (analogue and valve computing at the beginning and home computing in the middle).

I’ve recently read some incredible books about innovation (“Innovator’s Dilemma”, “Seeing What’s Next”), disruptive ideas (“Blue Ocean Strategy”) and alternative thinking (“Different”, Youngme Moon). The ideas in these books dovetail nicely with the Waves of Computing idea.

Six waves of computing

The image is for illustrative purposes only. I’ve made approximate attempts to get date ranges about right, but you can argue about them either way. Likewise, the performance scale is relative. I’m not presenting on any particular performance metric (MIPs, memory, disk size, disk speed, I/O bandwidth etc), just the overall “is the consumer satisfied” metric (which is why the PC and laptop dates start so late compared to the technology, you could have a laptop 15 years earlier than I’ve drawn, but it wasn’t up to much).

What you can see from the graphic is that over time the technology of the day is replaced by a newer technology. Mainframes get replaced by minicomputers. Minicomputers get replaced by workstations. PCs get so powerful they become workstations. Miniturisation allows laptops to go from being luggable (1980s) to portable, powerful and ubiquitous (2000s). Smartphones, introduced by the Apple iPhone in 2007, are starting to make inroads into the laptop market. Not as powerful yet and the software and compatibility issues are yet to be ironed out, but you can see it could happen. I’ve met people with a HTC Desire and when I’ve questioned them about their use of it, their answer is “I do nearly all of my work on this, hardly ever use my PC anymore”. Thats a pretty emphatic statement of where they are going with their usage.

What is implied by the graphic is that after three decades of dominance by the x86 platform and its many variants, during which the x86 killed off nearly every RISC processor and also Motorola’s excellent 68000 platform, the x86 is under attack by what many people would have thought an unlikely attacker: The ARM processor. Its low power (by design, unlike the x86) and its very efficient (I’ve met several people in Cambridge that have told me about their RISC PC that could emulate DOS and still run faster than a real PC). Could it be that if this graph is drawn in 2020, the x86 is on the way out and the ARM is on the ascendent (after a very long wait).

The irony is that Intel is indirectly responsible for the creation of the ARM chip. You’ll need to ask Hermann Hauser about that though. Its a good story.

Imagine if you could take your smartphone home, plug it into a dock and it can then display on a nice high resolution screen, has a keyboard, mouse, external peripherals (printer, DVD player, etc) and the screen is also a touchscreen (OK, so why do I need the mouse?).

All you need for smartphones to replace PCs and Laptops is:

  • Universal docking standard to allow smartphone hardware to dock with a keyboard, mouse, high resolution touch screen and external storage.
  • Universal software standard so that smartphone software can recognise external hardware and use it when available.

I can see with Apple, the above two conditions will never happen. With Apple, its the ‘i’ way or the highway. Thus we have to look to Android, Microsoft and RIM for this ideal docking solution for a smartphone.

An early attempt at this future is the Atrix 4G (Android) smartphone and dock, available in the USA.

After smartphones, what will be next?

Some people are working on computing embedded in clothing. Others are working on computing embedded inside humans. There is already a miniture sensor that can be embedded in a patient’s eye to monitor eye pressure. But that is hardly personal computing is it? I think for computing embedded in humans you run into a variety of health related issues (cooling, radiation, toxicity of construction, rejection) and form factor issues. For embedding in prosthetics most of these issues go away, so perhaps that is a future for some people.

Looking forward 10 years or more this poses some interesting questions for developers of processors, hardware, operating systems and software applications.

I hope you found the graphic interesting. If you have any comments or think I omitted anything please let me know.

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