Paper productivity

25 Mar 2019

I discovered David Allen’s Getting Things Done (GTD) back in 2005, when my wife and I had just become parents for the first time. We lived in a rented apartment i Malmö back then and I was busy doing my internship in psychiatry. If I remember correctly I discovered it through Merlin Mann’s website 43 Folders and it seemed to be the favourite computer nerd pastime of that era. In 2005 there were no computer applications available for GTD. The closest you got was by using a collection of AppleScripts together with Omnigroup’s OmniOutliner (that collection was Kinkless GTD, which heavily influenced the development of Omnifocus). There were no smartphones either (I had a Motorola Razr, which could hold MP3 files!). GTD seemed awfully convoluted to me, but I decided to give it a try, and I bought myself a Filofax slimline Finsbury and marked up a few dividers with appropriate labels.

This first setup worked well. I had problems with GTD of course, the same problems I think many people have, namely doing the actual work involved with collecting, clarifying, processing, reviewing and doing the tasks. For some reason I always got anxious when it was time to sit down and make decisions on all the stuff I had collected, which meant I did not do these reviews nearly as often as I should have. My brain likes to rebel against any structure imposed on it, even when it comes from itself.

When the digital systems matured and smartphones entered the equation I jumped on them in the hope that they would fix my troubles. I have flirted with Omnifocus and Things these past ten years and I can confidently say they never fixed anything for me. While they are wonderfully fun, and while they make it so much easier to collect information arriving digitally, they obviously do not do the actual work for me. I quickly realised one of their greatest strengths also was one of their greatest weaknesses: since you can toss an unlimited amount of stuff in them, things quickly start to pile up. They are all Tardises—small on the outside but big on the inside. When things pile up, my mind tends to go numb and I stop seeing the important stuff. I tried to fix that by setting deadlines and flagging (or staring) things, but if skipped checking in on my GTD app for a few days all those missed deadlines started piling up too. All those Peters crying wolf made my mind grow even more numb.

In the end I simply do not want to be too dependant on digital systems to support my memory and decision-making. I strive to keep it as simple as possible. For the past few years I’ve relied on a paper diary I make myself and a few lists that holds my projects, action lists and my someday/maybes. I keep all this in my ring binder, that goes with me most places. Sending my future self information is no more difficult than placing a post-it note on the appropriate diary page, or if it is far, far in the future on a sheet if paper that I put in the binder section that I review for future projects. When I have crossed of all the actions on a specific page I get to physically tear it out and toss it, which is an immensely satisfying feeling. I never had that feeling with digital systems, where lists fill up as quickly as you check items off and simply seem to go on forever. I also find my analog system more forgiving than Omnifocus or Things. Things stay where I put them, even if I do not check in on them for a few days.

There are difficulties with an analog system too, of course. The biggest one is handling all the emails, texts and other digital information that comes your way. I have not found a satisfactory way of dealing with this yet. For the most part I just leave the digital information in their system and write a reminder in my binder.

All in all, my paper based system has proved itself to be more robust than all the digital systems I have tried. It supported me throughout my thesis work a few years back and if it can handle that it can handle anything.

Punkt MP02 not ready for use?#

Reddit user u/obrien654j:

“Because the phone has no left/right buttons, you sometimes encounter (android) dialogs that you cannot make a choice on (without the use of a computer and adb to inject keyevents). […] Standby time is surprisingly bad. emailed punkt about this. they told me that there’s a known issue with an app that is not closing properly and they have a fix in the works. […] The t9 engine appears to be re-ordering words based on usage using an unknown algorithm. […] Randomly t9 will stop completing the word I’m typing and start a new word.”

I think I’ll hold on to my MP01 for a while longer.

Punkt MP01—in pursuit of a smarter phone

03 Feb 2019

As part of my attempt to moderate my use of social media and mindless surfing I researched current not so smart (or minimalist) phones on the market. I eventually found the MP01, introduced back in 2015 and made by Swiss company Punkt, to be an intriguing proposition.

This phone only operates on 2G (GSM) networks, which is a dealbreaker in many countries where 2G never got built, or is being dismantled. However, 2G is still going strong in here in Sweden and will do so for the foreseeable future. I am told the Internet of Things mostly run on 2G here.

This is not a cheap phone by any means, but the price has dropped considerably with the introduction of the new MP02, their brand new 4G model. As I understand it, the MP01 will be offered alongside the new model.

Let us get the bad news out of the way first. Punkt states that the MP01 is made of “premium” materials, but I must say this phone does not have a premium feel to it. Unlike an iPhone, that feels like a solid—tightly engineered—object in your hand, this phone feels like a plastic casing surrounding a few electrical components. They do not quite rattle around inside, but it is not far from it. The light source for the backlit buttons is visible through the hatch that covers the USB-C port, as well as through the tiny hole in the SIM card tray, where you put the pin to eject it. This makes the entire phone seem hollow inside—insubstantial even. If you squeeze it in your hand it squeaks. If you drop it, the plastic comes apart at the seams. I have involuntarily witnessed that.

Also, the plastic hatch over the USB-C port only attaches to the body of the phone via two tiny rubber hinges, which just are waiting to break. This is the worst part of the entire execution of the phone and cheap solutions like this makes me worry for the longevity of it all.

The gorilla glass covered screen is very hard to read in day light, even thought it supposedly has anti-reflective coating. The vibration engine is terrible. While the phone has Bluetooth capabilities, it is not clear to me if it works. I can say that while it will connect to an iPhone, you cannot really do anything useful with it, like transferring contacts. Maybe it connects to a car.

Now for the good (or mostly good) news. I will be honest—it was above all the look of the phone that got my attention. It was designed by Jasper Morrison and has a very Dieter Rams kind of feel to it. The size and wedged shape of it is just brilliant. It fits perfectly in your hand and just disappears in your pocket. The buttons are tight and gives you very nice feedback. It comes in three colors: dark grey, brown and white. I chose brown, as a homage to my beloved HP 20S calculator. It looks really nice!

The operating system (OS) on the phone (adapted from an OS by MediaTek) is adequate in most instances, although it requires a bewildering number of clicks to send a text to a contact in your address book. I really recommend reading through the operating manual, in order not to miss things like the shortcut menu, how to silence a call or how to set a reminder to call someone back. Some parts of the OS are even genius, like how you can set an alarm by just start typing the time like you would a phone number, without first going through a menu. I wish you could do simple calculations the same way, but unfortunately this is not possible. The OS is entirely text based and seems really stable, which is lovely. The typography, not so much.

The ringtones are a mostly a collection of lovely sounds from nature (pigeons and cuckoos!) and make you happy every time someone calls or texts you.

You compose texts using T9, which I find really, really hard since I have not practiced since 2008 when I got the iPhone 3G. Text conversations are not threaded, which I imagine is a problem for some. I also believe the MP01 does not handle group conversations with any sense.

Sound quality is fair, and possibly as good as it gets using a 2G network. It is nowhere near as good as the sound quality of my iPhone, though.

The real star of this phone is the battery time, which promises 500 hours of standby and 290 minutes of talk-time. Glorious! All the little grievances mentioned above are forgiven! This standby time is 200 hours more than the new MP02—one of the advantages of using a 2G chip set. The importance of not having to charge your phone all the time simply cannot be overstated. This is freedom at its finest. This is what it was like back in 1999, when I got my first mobile phone (an Nokia 3210, which I still have in a box somewhere, with a swollen battery).

The Punkt MP01 has become my weekend phone—my get-away-from-it-all phone. The pigeon hooting when I turn it on immediately feels like a relief. That is no small thing. That is no small thing at all.

Smartphones like cigarettes#

GQ Magazine published an interview with Cal Newport, leading up to his new book Digital Minimalism, due out any day now. As usual, Cal says a lot of thoughtful things, but this in particular gave me pause:

“You’re gonna look at allowing a 13-year-old to have a smartphone the same way that you would look at allowing your 13-year-old to smoke a cigarette.”

I suspect it is because I have my very own thirteen-year-old with a smartphone here in my household. Ouch.

Is social media really causing mental health issues?

28 Jan 2019

It is not clear to me how social media use is connected to mental health issues. This review article, published in 2018, looked at nine studies published in the English language since 2014. They were all cross-sectional survey studies. Cross-sectional means that while they may find associations between phenomena, they have nothing to say on the causal link between phenomena. Is social media really causing mental health issues, or are mental-heath-issue-sufferers simply more prone to problematic social media use? Survey studies are notoriously hard to do right, due to the massive risk of reporting bias. Nevertheless, this review concludes that there indeed is an association between mental health issues (depression and anxiety above all) and problematic use of social media. Maybe it is the social comparison that is at the heart of the problem? It would be very interesting to see randomized trials that investigates the effects of limiting social media use on depression and anxiety, like this one.