// Internet Duct Tape

The World’s Stupidest Productivity Tip: Open All in Tabs

Lifehacks and Productivity

Here’s a stupidly easy tip for web browsing that can be a real time saver. It works in Firefox or Internet Explorer (and maybe even Safari). The trick is to bookmark all of the websites you commonly visit as one group so that you can open them all at once when it comes time for your daily maintenance.

For me, the list is:

Step 1: Open your favorite sites in tabs

Keep using Ctrl-T or middle-click to open sites in a new tab until you have a list of all the sites you normally visit at the start of a day.

Step 2: Bookmark the open tabs as a group.

This is where the magic happens. Instead of individually saving the bookmarks, you save them as a group/folder so that you can open them all at once.

In Firefox, use Bookmarks >> Bookmark All Tabs (Ctrl-Shift-D)

Hot Tip: Save to group under Bookmarks Toolbar so that they’ll be accessible from your Firefox toolbar.

In Internet Explorer, use Favorites >> Add Tab Group to Favorites

Step 3: Organize your bookmarks

If you want to remove a link from your group (because Facebook is a timesink) then you can use the organize feature of your web browser to add or delete bookmarks, or to reorder them.

In Firefox, use Bookmarks >> Organize Boomarks (Ctrl-Shift-B)

In Internet Explorer, use Favorites >> Organize Favorites

Step 4: Opening the group all at once

In Firefox, you can navigate to your bookmarks using the toolbar or the Bookmarks drop-down menu (depending on where you saved them in step 2) and choose Open All in Tabs.

In Internet Explorer, it’s a bit more complicated.

  • Click on the Star (for favorites)
  • Click on the arrow beside the tab group you just created

After that’s all done, you’ve probably saved yourself a few minutes a day of having to switch between sites you check out very often. Because they all start loading at the same time, it’s pretty quick to jump between them and grab the information you need.

To Jott or Not To Jott

In my efforts to actually get off my ass and get things done, the Remember the Milk (RTM) to-do list software has been a life saver. Two weeks ago I decided to try out a bunch of 3rd party extensions to RTM like Jott.

Jott is a speech to text service. You call up a phone number, say something, and what you say will be emailed back to you (along with the voice message), send to a contact, or send to another service like Twitter or Remember the Milk.

My first experience testing the RTM integration blew my mind. I could call the number and say “job interview tomorrow at 9am” and it would show up in my Remember the Milk todo list as “job interview” with the due date set as tomorrow at 9am.


But all good things must come to an end, and after less than a week of trying out the free service (that admittedly, had been around for over a year before I tried it) Jott switched to a pay service. You can still record 15 second voice mails for free, but to get the Remember the Milk intergration will cost $4 a month (well, $3 a month if you were using the service while it was in beta).

Is it worth $40 to $50 a year worth it to be able to Jott my to-do list to Remember the Milk?

Judging by the way my girlfriend rolls her eyes every time I try to Jott something, the answer is no. When you add to the fact that I’m likely paying airtime fees when I Jott from my cellphone [1], then we’re talking around $150 a year for a service that isn’t even my main to-do list application.

It might be my cellphones fault, but often Jott would have trouble understanding me. Having to prefix my messages with “me” or “remember the milk” gets old fast when I have to say “remember the milk” five times before I can start recording. Why can we set up a speed dial hotkey for services so we can hit a number instead of saying a name?

One of my non-tech friends summed it up well when I tried to explain Jott to him over breakfast: “isn’t that something you can just do with an app running on your cellphone?” Yeah, or with a pen and a piece of paper.

Really Simple Syndication

Lifehacks and Productivity

What is RSS and what can it do for you?


Delete It – Tips for Managing Information Overload

Lifehacks and Productivity

We’re deep into the beginning of the Information Age, as you can see from the propagation of information aggregators like Google Reader and the meta-aggregators like Friend Feed. There’s only one tip for handling information saturation that has any success: delete it.


CoinStar — Is It Worth It To Convert Your Spare Change?

Posted in Increasing Productivity and Simplifying Your Life, Technology by engtech on January 25, 2008

Lifehacks and Productivity

When I was a kid rolling up the spare change to take in the bank, I always wondered why there wasn’t a machine that would do it for you in bulk. Sorting coins mechanically isn’t rocket science; all you need is holes of different sizes. Now we’re in the 21st centuary. We might not have jetpacks but I see these CoinStar sorting machines in every supermarket I go to. According to their website they are free if you use them to buy prepaid gift certificates for sites like Amazon.com (US only) or there is a small service fee of 8.9% US or 9.8% CDN to get cash.

They say it can count coins at a rate of 600 coins per minute. It’ll definitely save you time (provided you’re going to the grocery store already). But is it still worth it with that service fee that us Canucks are stuck with? It’s pretty easy to figure out on the back of an envelope.

How Much Is Your Time Worth?

I’ve said before that one of the best ways to gauge productivity is to know the net value of your time.

  • If your net time is worth is $6/hour then the 9.8% fee is worth it if you roll less than $1 worth of coins a minute. (100 pennies, 20 nickels, 10 dimes, or 4 quarters a minute)
  • If your net time is worth is $12/hour then the 9.8% fee is worth it if you roll less than $2 worth of coins a minute. (200 pennies, 40 nickels or 20 dimes, or 8 quarters a minute)
  • If your net time is worth is $24/hour then the 9.8% fee is worth it if you roll less than $4 worth of coins a minute. (400 pennies, 80 nickels or 40 dimes, or 16 quarters a minute)

So using CoinStar with larger coins (quarters, loonies, twoonies — yeah, we have weird money up here) isn’t worth it at all. Even the nickels and dimes aren’t that good a deal. But the pennies? For sure. It’s a different story if you can use CoinStar to get gift certificates without the hefty service fee, but that isn’t an option in the Great White North.

The good news: your bank might already have a coin counter that is free for use of its members. Give them a call to find out.

Photo by superrabbit

People Are Computers Too – How Improving Applications Can Improve Your Life

Lifehacks and Productivity

This week I’ve been talking about code profiling and how if you want to analyze the performance of your application you need to work with large sets of data. Application efficiency isn’t free, it requires measurement, analysis and change. Unsurprisingly, performance analysis for a software application and performance analysis for aspects of your life have a lot in common.

Memory Management

When people ask me how to make their computers faster, my answer is always “more RAM”. The biggest reason why software applications run slowly is because they don’t have enough memory to operate efficiently. People work the same way. You can improve your memory by getting enough sleep at night and by mind-dumping.

Mind-dumping means write things down instead of trying to keep it in your head. Human memory works like computer RAM where it needs constant refreshes of remembering something to keep it from becoming forgotten. By writing down lists of what you have to do in the future you free up your mind and your attention to focus on the present.


Another reason why computer programs run slowly is because there are too many other things going on at the same time. When I’m trying to figure out why a Windows is so slow the first thing I do is look at the task manager or system tray to see what is running at the same time. Context switching between multiple programs adds additional overhead of saving and restoring state information, and if too many things are happening at the same time then nothing gets done.

Like how a computer program will run faster if it’s the only program running, you’ll be able to complete tasks faster if you are focused on only one at a time. Maintaining a list of what you want to accomplish means that when you’re done one task you’ll easily be able to check your list to find something else to work on. Having a list of everything you want to do also makes it easier to prioritize and focus on what’s most important to you.

Profiling and Measurement

It’s easy to read advice on what to improve, but unless you look at your own life and where your time goes you don’t have a clear idea of how your time is wasted. There are several ways to track how your time is used. David Seah’s Printable CEO has print templates that let you easily measure where you are spending your time. I like to use GTDWannabe’s version.

There are a few tools out there that will automatically monitor your computer usage and generate reports about how you spend your time on the computer: TimeSnapper and RescueTime. I’ve been a RescueTime beta tester for a month now and I have to say that I really like the service.

Rescue Time time management screenshot

You can see from my chart that I wasted about 2.5 hrs on personal tasks at work that week. There may be a correlation between working too much overtime and goofing off. Because I know where I’ve spent my time, I know what I can stop doing to free up more time.

Heavy Load

“If you want something done, give it to a busy person.” Nothing makes you more aware of how you are spending your time like when you have no free time at all. Testing your application in a worst case scenario where it has to deal with large sets of data will help you find performance problems. It works the same way with other aspects of your life.

Coming back from a vacation where you haven’t checked mail, email or RSS feeds for two weeks will help you identify the chaff. It’s a great opportunity to unsubscribe from newsletters and set up filters for the major time offenders. You can turn off email notifications when you get messages from Facebook. That relative who always emails you jokes can get their own special folder that you’ll never check. When you have to deal with handling a lot of data it forces you to get rid of the unimportant information.

Do Less

As you measure how your software application performs, you’ll find features that seemed like a good idea but drastically consume resources.  Quite often it is easier to cut those features out rather than spend time improving them. As you measure where you spend time in your life, you’ll find that at their are time consuming activities that seemed like a good idea at the time, but don’t contribute to any of your goals. Don’t spend time on activities with no benefit.

Idle Time

Efficiency for efficiencies’ sake is one of the worst trends of the 20th century. But efficiency in the tasks you have to do frees up time for the tasks you want to do. Every thing you spend time on has an opportunity cost for other things you could be doing with that time. Having idle time in your life frees up room for the unplanned and unexpected.

Distraction Free GTD: 32 Todo List Web Applications

Web Browser Tips & Tricks

The fine folks at LifeHacker have forced me to tip my hand with their post on using Web Runner as a distraction free browser. Web Runner is a tiny site-specific web application that runs using less resources than Firefox or Internet Explorer.

The whole idea behind a site specific web browser is that you want to access a web application without being tempted to access other sites. You want to access a site without being distracted by the rest of the Internet. A good example is an online todo list or GTD application. You want to be able to quickly access your todo list to add or checkoff items without getting caught in an Internet black-hole.

internet is a big distraction

(via Coding Horror)

To make things easier for everyone I’ve created a huge bundle of Web Runner web applications centered around accessing ToDo/GTD web sites. This is a list of the supported sites.

Want more sites added? Leave a comment.

Step #1: Install Web Runner

  1. Go to this page on the Mozilla Wiki
  2. Choose the Windows, Linux, or Mac installer
  3. Run the installer

Step #2: Download My “Distraction Free GTD” Web Bundle

  1. Download this zip file (Update 2007/10/10)
  2. Unzip the contents to a folder
  3. Click on a .webapp file to launch the web application you want

Every web app has hotkey history navigation (ALT+LEFT, ALT+RIGHT and ALT+HOME).

Leave a comment if you have any problems.

How Procrastination Dashes Made Me a Better Worker

Posted in Increasing Productivity and Simplifying Your Life, Software, Technology by engtech on September 06, 2007


The biggest problem with the Internet is that it’s entirely too easy to get distracted. We’ve all wilfed at one time or another — what started as an innocent task-related web search ended up down some rat hole of links until you’re reading a web comic about falling into a couch and confronting the dark nebulous force of Lost Things. Stupid internet, so bright and shiny and full of useful and entertaining information.

43Folders recommends setting a procrastination dash to attack tasks you’re having trouble getting started on. The (10+2)*5 system suggests doing 5 intervals of 10 minutes of work, followed by 2 minutes of “me time” as a way to get yourself on a groove and find your flow. It’s a great system, and it really works, especially if you use the Instant Boss software.

Instant Boss procrastination dash productivity dash 5*10+2

Instant Boss is a tiny software app that will let you know when your 10 minute / 2 minute timers are up. If you want to take a longer break than 2 minutes (because you’re saving an interesting article, or writing an email to a friend) then it will keep reminding you to get back to work every minute on the dot.

Instant Boss procrastination dash productivity dash 5*10+2

It’s one of those great little applications that works exactly as specified. I highly recommend it.

14 Tips to Get More Done in Less Time

Posted in Increasing Productivity and Simplifying Your Life, Technology by engtech on April 26, 2007

Time Management

Productivity, efficiency and effectiveness are the buzzwords fueling the information age. Entire industries have been created around our obsession with efficiency and productiveness. We have more and more time for leisure activities but we use less and less of it for “leisure”; there are too many “work-like” things to do — maintaining social internet accounts, leveling up in online video games, sorting photos and mp3s…

We forget that time is the only true luxury in life. Being more productive doesn’t make you a better person, the essence of being productive is to put your attention where you get the biggest returns and get more done with less investment of your time. Use that extra time to get more enjoyment out of your life.


Getting to Simple – Engineers Have No Idea How Normal Human Beings Interact With Their Environments

One of the best known programming axioms is KISS — Keep It Simple, Stupid [wiki].

It is something I have incredible difficulty with.

kiss - keep it simple stupid - simplicity - gene simmons

This past weekend was filled with reminders of KISS. There were multiple comments on the complexity of my blog design. I was putting together a GUI for a WordPress.com tool even though I usually exclusively program for the command line. I finished off the weekend by reading Cory Doctorow’s “Eastern Standard Tribes” where the main character is a user experience guru with nothing but distain for engineers and computer scientists and their inability to grasp how non-geeks think:

“I spent the next couple hours running an impromptu focus group, watching the kids and their bombshell nannies play with it. By the time that Marta touched my hand with her long cool fingers and told me it was time for her to get the kids home for their nap, I had twenty-five toy ideas, about eight different ways to use the stuff for clothing fasteners, and a couple of miscellaneous utility uses, like a portable crib.

“So I ran it down for my pal that afternoon over the phone, and he commed his boss and I ended up eating Thanksgiving dinner at his boss’s house in Westchester.”

“Weren’t you worried he’d rip off your ideas and not pay you anything for them?” Szandor’s spellbound by the story, unconsciously unrolling and re-rolling an Ace bandage.

“Didn’t even cross my mind. Of course, he tried to do just that, but it wasn’t any good-they were engineers; they had no idea how normal human beings interact with their environments. The stuff wasn’t self-revealing-they added a million cool features and a manual an inch thick. After prototyping for six months, they called me in and offered me a two-percent royalty on any products I designed for them.”

It would be funny if it wasn’t so painfully true. I’d happily add features until I ended up with a monstrosity like this. My subconscious is a hamster in a wheel inside my head. He’s wearing black-rimmed coke-bottle lenses and a pocket protector. This is what he’s thinking:

I like coding.

Adding features means more coding.

Tweaking existing code that already works fine means more coding.

If I let something be finished then that means I’ll have to stop coding.

I like coding.

usb kiss hamster wheel keyboard geek

My favorite post I’ve ever read on the subject of simplicity is Joel Spolsky’s critique of the Windows Vista start menu: “each additional choice makes complete sense until you find yourself explaining to your uncle that he has to choose between 15 different ways to turn off a laptop.”

But even he notes that the answer to simplicity isn’t having less features. Having a sparse highly usable design is a feature in itself. The key is to have robust features without confronting the user with multiple choices. Simplicity is actually quite complex — which makes sense because otherwise Apple and 37signals would be the rules, not the exceptions.

John Maeda’s Laws of Simplicity provides some rough guidelines for Getting to Simple:

  1. Reduce – The simplest way to achieve simplicity is through thoughtful reduction.
  2. Organize – Organization makes a system of many appear fewer.
  3. Time – Savings in time feel like simplicity.
  4. Learn – Knowledge makes everything simpler.
  5. Differences – Simplicity and complexity need each other.
  6. Context – What lies in the periphery of simplicity is definitely not peripheral.
  7. Emotion – More emotions are better than less.
  8. Trust – In simplicity we trust.
  9. Failure – Some things can never be made simple.
  10. The One – Simplicity is about subtracting the obvious, and adding the meaningful.

Part of the reason why I blog is because it forces me to work on soft skills like this. It’s a subject I need to learn more about.

Related Posts

Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience

Posted in Increasing Productivity and Simplifying Your Life, Links, Technology by engtech on November 11, 2006

Matt from 37Signals has a definitive post on “Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience” by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. The comments are as good as the post.

I went so far as getting “Flow” from the library a few months ago when Kathy Sierra recommended it, but I couldn’t get past the first chapter. It reminded me too much of the Celestine Prophecy, and that’s never a good thing. But writing style aside, it’s the information that matters.

Flow is that state all programmers love where we’re head deep in the code and things are progressing beautifully. It’s when we’re at our most productive, and the best way to increase your work performance is to learn how to enter and remain in flow as much as possible. It’s also one of the reasons why interrupts are so disruptive; once you’ve lost that state you cannot easily regain it.

>> All About Flow @ 37signals
>> Life 2.0: The Little Book of Flow (online e-book)
>> Reviews of “Flow” at Amazon
>> Video game based on flow

Getting to Deadline – Programmer Productivity Tips At Work (Getting to Done)


I am my own worst enemy when it comes to achieving my deadline goals. These are tips / reminders I’ve found useful through work experience.

Most of the tips are general, but some are specifically suited to programmers/engineers in situations with long compile/simulation phases (compiling is the act of building an executable, simulation is the act of running it to completion).

Do I follow these? Of course not. But I should.


Time Tracking Software: Painless Estimation Tools Evaluated

Joel Spolsky talks about Painless Software Schedules in his book “JoelOnSoftware“. Accurately estimating how your much time it will take to complete a task is one of the fundamental skills of any professional. Joel’s approach is simple:

  • Keep a spreadsheet with Feature / Task / Priority / Original Estimate / Current Estimate columns.
  • Track effort in hours, not days/weeks. Tracking in hours forces you to do a straw man analysis of the tasks that are needed upfront. Tracking in longer intervals of time encourage more “rough guessing”.
  • Use Excel. Mind you, Joel was the project manager for Excel once upon a time.
  • See original article for the other guidelines.

After the break, evaluating different programs.