Tag Archives: time limits

Back in the Kanban Flow!

This is an interesting way to organize the flow of your work life.

KanbanFlow is an interesting way to organize the flow of your work and home life.

I’m back like the Phoenix from the ashes–or the busy teacher in graduate school.    Summer is here and I’m in Japan for the summer.   I am taking two online graduate classes through Syracuse University as I slog along the path to becoming Juan the Samurai School Librarian.

My Samurai Mind notebook is still a lifeline.   I pour everything in there now, including my graduate classes.  Normally, I would suggest keeping separate notebooks but this school year I have been in time survival mode.   The boring-est of graduate class notes are mixed in with inspirational quotes.   Sometimes the graduate stuff overwhelms the inspiration, but the inspirations are like little nuggets that keep the process fun.   Once the unit or class is finished, if the information from the classes are not inspirational, I put a huge X across the page once the class is finished.

This is my Writing board.   I've written a lot more since I started this board.

This is my Writing board. I’ve written a lot more since I started this board.

My newest summer toy is a website called KanbanFlow.    It is my latest time management tool.  I’ve just had it for a week.    Basically, I can add tasks to several columns:   to do, do today, in progress and  done.    I can move the tasks you create from one column to the other.   The “in progress” column just has room for three tasks, because in reality it’s hard to do more than three tasks at once.  For me, it serves as a reminder of what I am actually doing.  In the world of Facebook, notifications, text messages, etc I really need the reminder of what I am doing.   When I start to wander to Facebook, I look at the chart and remind myself of what I’m actually supposed to be doing.

A Pomodoro counts down from 25 minutes.  This is the stopwatch option that allows you to measure how much time you are working on a task.  It can be motivating.

A Pomodoro counts down from 25 minutes. This is the stopwatch option that allows you to measure how much time you are working on a task. It can be motivating.

If I really want to get fancy, the site lets me set a “Pomodoro” for the task that I am currently on.   Usually it sets a countdown timer for 25 minutes.   At the end of the time and the effervescent ring, I can claim the time or “pomodoro” if I’ve been on task or I can deny it if I have been off-task (i.e. looking at Facebook).   The nice aspect of this is that the time you claim adds up and gets added to your task card.  This way you can track the amount of time you’ve been on a certain task.   Kanban is  a nice way to ”gamify” productivity and creativity.

When I create cards, I can create subtasks within the task.   This is a great feature that allows me to guide myself through various projects.  For example,  I am currently studying three languages:  German, Tagalog, and Japanese.  When I click on the study Japanese card, I can check off little subtasks: study IKnow, surusu, Jpod101, read fun manga/book, watch fun Japanese stuff on Youtube, etc.   The checklists lets me know where to go and also where I have been.   When I get done with a task, I can move it to the “Done” column.  In the morning or when ever I look at my kanban board again, I can move the tasks that I do repeatedly back to the “To Do” column.

The kanban board encourages me to accomplish more while being more flexible.   There is something very pleasing about moving a task to the Done pile.  I’ve studied a whole lot more of the different languages this way.   On the other hand, having a board to look at gives you a lot of options to choose from depending on your energy level and interests.   If I get tired of writing my blog, I can move to do a teeny, tiny language lesson.   KanbanFlow allows you to create several boards.  I call one the Masterboard, where I can see the various kinds of task that I am interested.  Then I have other boards for the different contexts I find are important to me: School (everything from planning lessons to individual student concerns),  Library (graduate studies and planning to create a school library), Writing, Union/Advocacy, and Family/Home.

I have the Premium (5$/month) version but you can just play around with the free version to see if it helps you with your productivity.  I also didn’t shop around a lot, so this isn’t an endorsement.   I needed something to help me harness my time and options and I ran with it.    I also have an app called Kanban for One which works on a similar principle but I didn’t like that I couldn’t synch it across devices.  However, I still use it for times when I can’t access the internet–long plane rides, etc.  The whole kanban process was originally done on paper strips. Yay sticky notes! and white boards!

I have 5;47 remaining to finish a snappy conclusion.  Move it to the right and get it done with kanban!

Reset Samurai: Start Your Morning with A Power Hour

Take time every morning to create, take a little dip into the "impossible" skill, brainstorm, dream, and create.  I promise it will be good for you, the people around you, and even the earth.

Take time every morning to create, take a little dip into the “impossible” skill, brainstorm, dream, and create. I promise it will be good for you, the people around you, and even the earth.

I knew I was getting closer to my Kentucky home when I started to notice the limestone shouldering the edges of the relatively lonely highway.  I was there to visit friends and family and be social but one of the first things I did every morning was to go to the Common Grounds quiet cafe and spend a little samurai hour, writing, studying, and spending a little time re-creating myself.

One of the best things you can do for yourself, your loved ones, and the earth in general is to find time for your samurai self to create.   Spending some time brainstorming, writing, playing, studying, or even walking or running in the morning works on several levels.   In one way it is like hitting the reset button.  It’s a fresh start to create and imagine.   Or it’s a chance to put another brick in whatever fun project you are up to in your mad labs.

What I’ve also discovered that this time is also good for the other people around me.  They may never be exposed to anything that I’ve written or studied, but they are exposed to the real me.  (In a non-creepy way. 🙂 ) If I’ve taken even just a few minutes to create, I am more present.  I am more pleasant.  It may seem selfish to spend some time away by yourself but the best thing that you can do for your friends and family is spend a little time re-creating yourself.

Back when I was doing an Japanese immersion service called Silverspoon, I did suggested morning “sprints” that included an affirmation (in a non-new-agey non-creepy way) and a pretty intense burst of Japanese study/play.   There’s something great about waking and baking in the freshness of a new skill or just heading in a new direction with brainstorming or writing.

Whatever you do, don’t get caught up in how this morning time is supposed to look.  Don’t wait for the perfect office space to get started.  Head to the cafe.  Head to the quiet hallway.  If you don’t have an hour take fifteen minutes.  If you don’t have fifteen minutes, take five.

Do it for yourself.  Do it for the children.  Spend a little morning time in your mad labs and power your day.


Samurai Addiction: Become A User

This book is huge but I like it.  Reading it on an iphone breaks it up into bits.  I skim until I get to the interesting parts.  I use it as a treat to keep pushing.  Yes, nerd alert.

This book is huge but I like it. Reading it on an iphone breaks it up into bits. I skim until I get to the interesting parts. I use it as a treat to keep pushing. Yes, nerd alert.

I’m reading on the cloud these days and loving it.  I bought a Kindle from a friend and am enjoying the fact that I can read a book “on the cloud.”  I can read on various computers, my ipad, and my iphone.   Ironically, it is not available on the actual kindle.  I am reading The Making of Modern Japan, a massive book that I actually own a print version of.    The estate of the author, Marius Jansen, is probably enjoying a few extra cups of coffee thanks to me.  Reading on the cloud has become addictive but I am learning to use the addiction.

The Making of Modern Japan is not in Japanese and thus takes me a little bit away from my goal of Japanese fluency.  But reading on the cloud has become addictive enough that I have learned to use it.  When I noticed how much time and attention I was putting into the book, I decided to use the energy.  In order to turn the page, I do a rep of electronic surusu flashcards.   (What I really appreciate about these cards is that pretty soon after you do a few, it congratulates you on “repset finished” or something like that.  You feel a sense of accomplishment and can move on.)  You can substitute any short 2-3 minute “push” activity.  After you finish you can briefly return to your non-harming addictive activity.

So the next time you find yourself complaining that you just wasted a bunch of time looking at Facebook, think about how you can use the addictive pull towards healthy pushes.  After checking a screen full of statuses, slide over to your guitar, tune it, and do one little exercise.  Hey, don’t blame me if you end up practicing for half an hour.  🙂  You don’t have to practice for half an hour.  Just five minutes and you can go back to your virtual paradise.

Of course, I could hybridize my crack and find a really addictive book in Japanese and double the pleasure.  But this book has been beckoning me for years but because of how large it is and how I have perceived time, I have avoided it.  Now that I can read it in so many places, I am enjoying it.  (I gloss over the mind-numbing stuff about bakufu administrative structures).   So instead of being pissed off at myself for reading in English, I am surfing the pleasure wave and using it as an incentive to push a little more in Japanese.

Use your non-fattening, non-harming mini-addictions.   Become a pusher.

Keep on Hacking, Samurai!

When I first tried to start immersing in Japanese, I carried around a CD player and an electric Japanese dictionary.  (Yes, I was one of those guys who refused to get the latest technology.)  I ditched the CD player many moons ago and when I bought an iPod and then an iPhone.  I left the denshi jisho at home and started using the Midori app.  My arms and my back thanked me as I dropped all the weight.

Midori allows you to create different lists in addition to allowing you to view your history. I started lists of vocabulary from a few books but these days I just try to enjoy books and immerse in vocabulary through context.

Midori allows you to create different lists in addition to allowing you to view your history. I started lists of vocabulary from a few books but these days I just try to enjoy books and immerse in vocabulary through context.

Midori is a robust little Japanese-English dictionary app that allows you to look up Japanese and English words and names, either by typing or drawing the kanji.  One nice feature is that Midori allows you to create word lists and also allows you to create flashcards from those vocabulary.

I have a couple of “rules” when I look up and study vocabulary:

  • I have to be genuinely interested in the word.  When it comes up again on flashcards, I like to have some pleasant association.  Like when I went on a hiking trip with three Japanese folks in their 60’s.   We stopped at a souvenir shop and discovered bags of candied rice grasshoppers (いなご).  Pleasant.
  • I don’t have to “finish” studying vocabulary on my list.  Midori is mainly an option when I don’t have internet access, I don’t have easy access to a book, and have a little “crack” of time.  I just take a little off the top each time.  When it stops being fun or starts feeling like work, I stop.

However, I’ve added a little change to my vocabulary games.  Learning vocabulary by studying words in isolation is not the most efficient way to learn vocabulary.  Both antimoon and ajatt have both clearly laid out why using sentences and engaging content are the best way to acquire vocabulary and another language.   (Informallanguage goes as far as saying “Disregard grammar …acquire vocabulary.  Kind of unrelated but a fun post.)

It's great to look over the history of which words you've looked up.

It’s great to look over the history of which words you’ve looked up.

Lately, I realized that I was falling into the learning vocabulary by isolation “rut.”   So I’ve added a step to Midori flashcard reviews.  Once I come across a word I’ve forgotten, I look up the word again.   Most definitions include sample sentences. I read those sentences aloud (or mumbling if I’m in the subway–just another New Yorker talking to himself in tongues 🙂 ).   I stop before I’m bored.  I “own” a few more words because of that.

The bigger point is to keep inventing games for yourself. Daniel Coyle, author of The Little Book of Talent, writes that when you get in a rut you need to shake it up:

Research by Dr. K. Anders Ericsson, a professor of psychology at Florida State University and co-editor of The Cambridge Handbook of Expertise and Expert Performance, shows that the best way past a plateau is to jostle yourself beyond it; to change your practice method so you disrupt your autopilot and rebuild a faster, better circuit.

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Khatz, the dude that turned me on to that little book, recently wrote “Dude. Do It. It Will Work.”  He explains why you should keep on following your mind and trying new methods:

Because I just know. It’ll work.
And even if doesn’t work…it’ll work.

Because when you do it, you become a doer, a tryer, a player1. You become the kind of person who:

  1. Has crazy ideas, and
  2. Actually acts on them

I know, doing flashcards differently is not shaking up the world but it’s all part of how I am moving in ways that I wasn’t two years ago.  Party on. Excellent.

Use Time Limits: Samurai Time is On Your Side, Part 3

“Prepare yourself in the subject so well that it shall be always on tap: then…trust your spontaneity and fling away all further care.”” William James

“A man grows most tired while standing still” Chinese Proverb

‘Deadlines and things make you more creative…’  Jack White of the White Stripes

Check in slip from manga cafe. If you exceed your time, there are extra fees. Often I am most productive when my time is running out. That’s what time boxing is all about.

I am at a mangakissa in Japan and I have 45 more minutes left on a three hour package.  I am on day 439 of a 595 day Japanese immersion experience through Silverspoon.   I have fourteen more days in Japan.   I don’t know how many days I have on Earth, but as far as I know they are not limitless.   I have just enough time to tell you that Time Limits Work!  Here are some reasons why:

  • limits have the power to turn tasks, goals into a game
  • time limits can turn things into a Mission Impossible thriller …how much fun would it be if Tom Cruise had all the time in the world to defuse a bomb, jump on a couch, etc?
  • limits have a way of increasing rather than decreasing creativity . . . can you say haiku?
  • time limits are a way to work through fatigue, perfectionism, procrastination and a seeming lack of inspiration

Confession.  This post did not begin in inspiration.  I arrived exhausted at the manga kissa.  I decided to just take a nap and check my emails and not expect or push much.  I clicked on an article from brainpickings.org on Tchaikovsky, the work ethic and inspiration.  Mr. T basically explains that you can’t wait for inspiration.  You’ve also have to put in the work.

Brainpickings also includes a youtube vid of Jack White talking about not waiting for inspiration.  White also talks about how the and White Stripes make limitations part of their work, to force creativity.  Though White is very wealthy now, he limits the studio time that they purchase to record an album.  He also continues to use old guitars even though he could buy a thousand better ones.   White does this to force himself to work within limits.

White talks about how creativity can come about by working within the box.  Time is the ultimate box and as any two year old will tell you, boxes are for play.  Khatzumoto introduced me to the concept of timeboxing and led me to other people like Steve Pavlina who use it as a productivity tool.  Basically, timeboxing involves using timers to set small limits to start or finish tasks.   Time boxes as small as one or five minutes can be powerful little tools for smashing through procrastination and opening up creativity and competence.

Spending a shorter time at the manga cafe allowed me to have time to walk around and see Fuji fully revealed. A lot of the times it is hidden by clouds.

I once took a drawing class at the Art Students League.  The class began with little one minute timed sketches of a model.  (no clothes, whatever).  You had to draw fast and loosen up because the (nude!) model would change positions once the time was up.  Then the poses became longer.  However, having those little drawing sprints helped loosen me up and I began to draw better.

Are you stuck on any big project or idea?  Take out a timer and play around with timeboxes.   Work with your limits and let it be your inspiration. The fact that I had limited time at the manga kissa today actually made it easier to start and keep moving.   I didn’t finish but I probably got more done than if I had all the time/money/breath in the world.

Get your timers and continue to let samurai time be on your side!

Structured and limited “push” time allows you to have more unstructured activity that can also help you learn and grow. I spent some time at a Book-off and found this cool book about angels, demons, etc.