The Philosophical Apprentice

“Only one who devotes himself to a cause with his whole strength and soul can be a true master. For this reason mastery demands all of a person.” Albert Einstein

Archive for the category “Productivity”

Epic Put Down of Windows 8

This has got to be the funniest tech review ever. What was Microsoft thinking? All I can say is long live Linux!

Keeping a Reading Log

Lately I have had good success in spending more time reading every night instead of wasting time on the internet. One of the tools I have used to good effect in this endeavor is to  keep a reading log.

I keep it as simple as possible. I have a favorite chair where I do the majority of my reading. At the side table I keep a notepad where I write down the date and the titles of the books I am reading along with start times and end times. I ‘ve also decided to start adding the pages I read each time. And that’s it.

I’m shooting for 20 hours a week and I hope that keeping better track of what and when I read will help. So far I’m pleased. I have been doing it for about a week so far with some success. I’ve noticed that when I’m goofing off on the computer it’s on the back of my mind now to log off the e-meth machine and settle down to read for my quota.

I may adding some features like plot summaries or my reactions to the book int the future. Better yet I might one day start keeping my daily notes of my reading material on this blog  but for the time being I want to stick with what I’m doing. Right now I’m so happy that I came up with a good idea of my own.

If you’d like more information on the value of keeping a reading log  read this article by Cynthia Crossen.

You will also enjoy a great little blog Kaizen Reading. The author Dolly Garland has a very good post on 9 Reasons to Keep A Reading Journal.

I hope you enjoy  the articles and I hope you will also start your own reading log.

A Great New Resource for Web Reading

Reading on the web is one of my favorite things to do. And I mean favorite since I subscribe to at least 200 or so feeds on my Feedly account. Of course, most of what I read is the ephemera of a summer’s day. But occasionally I want to save an article that I find particularly interesting. This is why I’ve been so fond of Microsoft OneNote. I could with one click either send the article or website to a OneNote page or, if I wanted, I could print it directly into OneNote. Life was good until I started using Firefox exclusively. I could still send a webpage to OneNote but it was a bit of a hassle due to the number of steps involved. Then at work where I try to do most of my internet reading during my lunch break the IT people upgraded to Windows 7 which does inhibits the print to OneNote feature in OneNote 2007.

Since I have very little flexibility over my computer at work I’ve been using the web version of OneNote. It works and I can access my saved material on any computer with access to the web but it is a cumbersome process and so my search continued.

Thankfully I’ve come across a great new free resource – Readability.  It works with Firefox so you can add it to your browser so when you come across a good article that you would like to save and read at greater length and leisure you only need to hit the red readability button and it saves it your read list. Once there Readability strips all the crap away and leaves the text and pictures in a nice clean interface. It also includes a link to the original article which I find very useful.

So far I’ve come to really rely on Readability. So far it has helped me become a more efficient blogger since when I come across an article I want to blog later on I can access it quickly on my Readability page and go on from there.

I haven’t played with all the features of the program to date and I would like to explore how much I can store on it and whether I can create folders and archives on it and so do away with OneNote altogether.   I will blog my result later on but in the meantime taking readability out for a test drive is well worth your time.

More Bad News for Night Owls

Over at the PsyBlog, Jeremy Dean writes about some new research into the differences the morning people and the night people.

For the first time differences in neural structures have been shown between people who are night owls and early risers.

In the new research on 59 participants, those who were confirmed night owls (preferring late to bed and late to rise) had lower integrity of the white matter in various areas of the brain (Rosenberg et al., 2014).

Lower integrity in these areas has been linked to depression and cognitive instability.

This research doesn’t tell us what the relationship is, but the authors guess that it may be related to ‘social jet-lag’.

Social jet-lag comes about because night owls are forced to live–as most of us are–like early risers. Work, school and other institutions mostly require early rising, which, for night owls, causes problems.

As night owls find it difficult to get to sleep early, they tend to carry large amounts of sleep debt. In other words, they’re exhausted all the time.

As a result, they tend to be larger consumers of caffeine and other stimulants, in order to counteract their sleep debt.

Oh dear. What to do? I for one have had enough. I am thinking about starting my own group to deal with this. I am thinking about calling it the ‘Night Owl Liberation Organization’ or NOLO, for short.

Seriously, this is a big problem for many people. I know it is in my life and I don’t know how to solve it. When I do I’ll let everybody know. In the meantime,, everybody should make it point to read the PsyBlog which is a fantastic resource.

 

Say Hello to my Little Friend

There is a law in computer science that the newest version of Windows will run smoothly for about one week before it begins to behave like molasses in January. I bought a new laptop a year or two ago with Windows 7. I have it set up in my study cave and I only use it for schoolwork and for the odd occasion when I travel. Still, for what little I do use it it’s been running really slow, twiddle your thumbs slow.

Ubuntu

Enough of that I decided. I’d installed Ubuntu on it last winter and played around with it for a while but I had forgotten my password.  I still had my installation thumb drive so I decided to reload it again alongside Windows.  Time for decisive action you see. It reloaded fine and it even prompted me to upgrade to the latest variation 13.10 Saucy Salamander.

I’ve been using Ubuntu exclusively for the past two weeks now and I have been very impressed. The speed and responsiveness have been extraordinary. When I use Windows at work it feels like I’ve downgraded from a Ferrari to a Yugo. I can also browse the internet confidently knowing that I’m immune to most of the crapware and viruses proliferating in the digital commons. And best of all its free.

Of course there is a bit of a learning curve with using a system as different as Ubuntu. Loading software not located in the software center  is a hassle. And so far I have been unable to use TOR with it.  But overall I have been adjusting just fine.

Speaking of software, I’ve been pleased with the range of variety. It comes with Firefox and Thunderbird which gives you the flexibility to adjust the tools people use the most. The only real drawback so far has been the lack of an open source alternative to Microsoft OneNote. As much as I hate Microsoft, particularly its CEO, I have to say that OneNote is one of the best programs ever created. I could probably run OneNote with WINE but I don’t really want to fool around with it. As a work around I have been using the web version of OneNote but it lacks a lot of the functionality that makes the installed so great. I am currently exploring open source alternatives OneNote but while many are called few are chosen. I have faith that one day I’ll find an alternative to OneNote that’ll allow me to cut the cord to the Microsoft Empire. In the meantime me and my little friend Ubuntu are going to get to know each other a lot better.

Descend into the Cone of Silence

I’ve taken Leo Babauta’s advice and decided to start cutting out the distractions at my job by wearing headphones and listening to relaxing music. It works. I’ve been able to cut out a lot of the gossip and jocularity that are a constant source distraction to me and that prevent me from concentrating on my work.

It’s also been a lot of fun discovering a whole new range of music such as space and ambient. Here’s a youtube clip from a group called the  B-Tribe. The name of the song is The Sun. If this doesn’t calm your blood pressure nothing will. Enjoy.

Productivity and Philosophy

For a blog that ostensibly exists to cover the travails of a middle aged man attempting to arrive at a working knowledge of the western philosophical tradition, I write about a lot about productivity and time management.

In my opinion, learning about time management  is a lot like learning logic in philosophy. Just as it is really hard to do philosophy without a solid grounding in logic so it is difficult to do philosophy whatsoever if you do not have the time to invest in it.

What I strive to do with all the time management skills I’ve picked up over the years is to free up the time to read and write philosophy. It is a critical skill set for me since I’m married with kids and working a full time job.

I know from past experience that if I do not set aside at least 10-15 hours a week then my studies suffer and I have to struggle in the back end to get up caught up. Getting caught up usually means a lot of late-nighters which I’m really trying to avoid.

An make no mistake, philosophy is a difficult subject to learn. As the London Philosophy Study Guide expresses it

At no stage in one’s career is reading philosophy easy. Some people claim to read philosophy for pleasure. Wittgenstein is reported to have said that he found reading some philosophy ‘a kind of agony’. Many people are inclined to agree with this. Whatever good intentions philosophers have to make their works clear, accessible, and fun to read, the result is rarely any better than more dull and dense prose with a few corny jokes. Remember that you read philosophy not for the pleasure of the moment, but for what you can come away with.

It is important, then, that you make your reading of philosophy as efficient and rewarding as possible.

 

Here’s How to Tell if You’re an Official Nightowl

A favorite blog of mine, Mark’s Daily Apple. has a good post on what he calls ‘Chronotypes’.  According to Mark

A growing body of research has identified something called a chronotype: a sleep phenotype, determined by slight alterations to the “Period 1″ gene, that influences your sleep and wake time. Genetic early birds have an AA nucleotide base and will be naturally inclined to go to bed and wake up earlier. They make up roughly a third of the population. 16% of people are genetic night owls with a GG nucleotide base; they tend to have later bedtimes and wake times (about an hour after the early birds). And the middle ground – which is almost 50% of people – have an AG base and a tendency to wake up “between” the two extremes. You can affect your sleep habits by changing things like light exposure at day/night, electronic media consumption, caffeine intake, and so on, but the genetic chronotype will always underline your response. It’s the baseline, and recent evidence in live humans confirms this.

Worse, according to Mark’s research being a nightowl is associated with a host of health problems

Well, mornings tend to be tough for folks with the night owl chronotype. That’s to be expected, since going to bed later than society expects while having to wake up earlier than your biology “wants” means inadequate, lower quality sleep. We all know how a night of poor sleep feels. Imagine a lifetime!

But that’s not all. A quick trip through the literature reveals numerous connections between the night owl chronotype and poor health outcomes. It all seems quite dire:

In type 2 diabetics,  having a night owl chronotype is independently associated with poor glycemic control. Shift workers were excluded from the study so as not to confound the results.

Among fibromyalgia sufferers, night owl chronotypes are more affected by the syndrome than other chronotypes.

Night owls tend to eat unhealthy food, have more sleep apnea, and secrete more stress hormones.

”Evening types” (does this sound derogatory to anyone else?) are more likely to be depressed than other chronotypes.

Why would a chronotype that confers a higher risk of just about every negative health malady be selected for by evolution? How did the GG nucleotide even survive?

Because it’s only in a society with a standard universal workday that begins at around 8 AM that the night owl is an unhealthy, lazy malcontent worthy of our disdain. For every one of the “negative health effects of being a night owl chronotype,” I can link it directly to a lack of sleep:

Poor glucose tolerance? A lack of sleep will lead to it.

Fibromyalgia? Strongly linked to a lack of sleep.

Unhealthy eating? A bad night’s sleep makes junk food more enticing.

Prone to depression? Bad sleep could be causing it.

The good news is that there appears to be an accurate test to determine a person’s chronotype. According to Mark it is “widely considered to be just as accurate as the genetic tests, so anyone who’s wondering about their own genetic chronotype should go on and take it.” You can access it here.

I have not taken it myself and probably won’t since I am pretty damn sure I am an extreme nightowl. But I would be curious to know it anybody has taken it and what their reaction was?

Focus, Focus

The latest obsession of mine is to increase my ability to focus and get more work done. This ability is affecting me not just in my job but in my school studies and, increasingly, in my personal life.

It seems as if the modern world is nothing more than a giant conspiracy to distract us away from what is important. We want to read and what do we get, the internet, where there is an infinite amount of material, vast amounts of which are junk. We start reading here but then something else comes along and we drop what we are reading to read something else. Of course while you are doing this you, if you are like me, probably have about 20 tabs open. The end result is that we really only skim and browse through the ephemera of our nebulous online universe.

My complaint is compounded by the fact that my job requires me to read and write all day long. In addition, I work in a cubicle farm where there is, I have counted, close to 3 million different distractions. The continuous all day long stream of information often leaves me almost dizzy and short of breath.

And it is taking its toll on my personal life. Like many people I am discovering that I am finding it increasingly difficult to sit down and read a traditional book. I still read a lot mind you but I have noticed it only being done in the in-between times. I will read if I am eating by myself or when I’m having my morning bowel movement. But it is becoming rarer by the day that I can sit still for a couple of hours and simply read. I remember fondly when I first got out of the army. I lived by myself in a small cabin in the woods. i did not have a television much less a computer and all I had to entertain myself was to read. So read I did. Usually three or four books a week. Oh happy times.

For a long time I have wanted to recapture that magic.

So it what somewhat fortuitous that I came across Leo Babauta’s free e-book Focus. Babauta is a well-known blogger at the popular Zenhabits. Babauta’s contention is that we have become addicted to our digital connectivity. He is on to something here. You cannot go a day without reading something about studies showing people displaying depression like symptoms if they go a day without their facebook. Babauta recommends we put strict limits to our internet usage for our own sanity if we are to reclaim our focus on what is important in our lives. Babauta’s book includes some good tools and techniques to limit the distractions that serve as attention thieves. They are all very simple and workable and I recommend the book thoroughly. Best of all it is free and you can download it at the link above.

If you read it you may be able to reclaim the magic of slipping into a good book and losing yourself completely every night before you go to bed. Just as I hope to once again.

 

If You Want to Get More Done, Get more Sleep

Obviously, sleep has become a big issue for me lately. The conventional wisdom of cutting sleep to get more done appears to be counterproductive. Paradoxically, if we attempt less we accomplish more. Here’s some god tips from a recent article on this theme from The Unclutterer.

Stop hitting the snooze button

 Though it’s intended to be helpful, the snooze button on your alarm can interrupt your sleep cycle which will in turn make you feel more tired and groggy (this is known as sleep inertia). You’ll feel this way because your body may not be ready to be awake (depending on the stage of the sleep cycle that it’s in) when the alarm sounds. This can translate into poor performance during the day. Instead, implement a consistent sleep schedule so that you are not dependent on the snooze button. Get up and go to bed at the same time every day so that you create a pattern of restorative sleep (you can even use a sleep cycle app on your phone to help).

Schedule recovery time during the workday

Recovery time can include planned breaks from working on your projects. It can also mean taking power naps during the day (whenever possible), particularly if you didn’t sleep well the night before. You’ll want to take relatively short naps so that when you wake up, you’ll feel more alert and energized. Though napping longer than 20 minutes has benefits (like better decision making and being able to recall directions more easily), if you get into a very deep sleep, you may wake up feeling more tired. Consider experimenting with shorter or longer nap times to find the right amount of time that will help you to recover.

Schedule time for energizing movement

While everyone needs downtime, exercise has been proven to have a positive effect on how well you sleep. In fact, according to the National Sleep Foundation, “just 10 minutes of exercise a day could make a difference in the duration and quality of sleep.” The good news is that you don’t have to carve out several hours to exercise, but rather build in a short stints of energetic movement throughout your day to reap the benefits at night.

Keep your sleep space uncluttererd

 When there’s clutter build-up in a room, there’s likely to be a good deal of stress felt when you’re in that particular area. So, set the stage for a restful night by uncluttering your space. Put away clothing and keep your nightstands neat and organized. Be sure that you don’t keep receipts, mail, or any other (non-sleep) related items hanging about. One thing you can keep on your nightstand: a sleep journal. Use the journal to track how well you’re sleeping, how much sleep you need to function optimally, as well as specific things (soft music, completely dark room, bath before bed) that help you achieve restorative sleep.

Do less: Practice single-tasking

 So, this isn’t a sleep tip specifically, but it’s good to put it into practice as it can have big results. Though I’m suggesting that you should do less, please don’t throw your to-do list out the window! Doing less doesn’t mean that you should ignore your responsibilities. It simply means that you should focus on one thing at a time, instead of trying to wrap your mind around several tasks and projects simultaneously. This can be tricky at first, but after a bit of practice, you’ll begin to notice that you can get more done and, perhaps more importantly, you’ll have a greater chance of getting things done more completely (and with less stress, too).

 Getting enough rest should be at the top of your list if you want to improve your ability to be productive. If after trying some of today’s suggestions you find that there has been no improvement to the quality of your sleep, consider talking with your doctor to see if there are other things that could be having an impact (like certain medications) on your performance.

Another good article from the same website.

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