A New Year's Wish

It's customary to make a resolution at New Year's. I have mine and will be encouraging my family to make theirs, but this is not another "my resolution is.." post. Instead I have a New Year's wish for all BubbleTimer users (so that includes me).

My wish was inspired by a blog post by David Tate with the provocative title, The Dangerous Effects of Reading. What could be dangerous about reading? Isn't reading one of the classic "good for you" things. Shouldn't we all be resolving to watch less TV and read more? Yes. Sort of. As a form of consumption, reading (most things) is better than watching (most) TV and David doesn't have anything against reading, it's over-consumption that he's cautioning about. I'll quote David at a bit of length here:

Reading and learning are great – but over-consumption changes the way that you think:
  • I need to quickly judge things
  • I need to use other peoples work to make myself look cool through sharing them with my friends
  • I need more and more faster – the more you read blogs the more you think you need to read to get “The Top 10 Productivity Tips”
  • I need to hear what others think before I form an opinion (If you have ever read a review of a new gadget before it launches: think about how ridiculous this activity is)
  • I should accept the world as it is and just offer my opinion on it
… You stagnate at work for fear of everything you do being judged like every [book], news article or viral video that you view.

So what's the alternative to consumption? Creation of course. Back to David:

So how do you break the power of consumption? By creating your own things. All the things you consume - somewhere somebody is making all this stuff, right?
...If the world overwhelms you with its constant production of useless crap which you filter more and more to things that only interest you can I calmly suggest that you just create things that you like and cut out the rest of the world as a middle-man to your happiness?

I'm a voracious reader. I watch a little TV. But the key is in balance. I also strive to be a voracious creator and to make time each day to create things that I think are wonderful. If other people think so too, that's great of course, but it's not why I do it.

So that's my New Year's wish to everyone that reads this. Make some time each day to create whatever it is you think is wonderful (write, blog, code, compose, draw, paint, sculpt, construct, design, {your favorite creative verb here}). Don't worry about what you create being judged. Create for yourself. It helps your flourish. It makes you more human.

Posted by Sean Johnson 31/12/2011 at 14h23

Missing Everything

Linda Holmes wrote a fantastic article for NPR called "The Sad, Beautiful Fact That We're All Going To Miss Almost Everything". In it, Linda talks about the calculation of how much human culture there is in the world to be experienced and how little could actually be experienced by any of us in our finite lifetime. (A realization I made as a pre-teen that really rocked my world.)


We could do the same calculus with film or music or, increasingly, television – you simply have no chance of seeing even most of what exists. Statistically speaking, you will die having missed almost everything.

She goes on to offer us a two pronged prescription. Surrender and culling.

Culling is the choosing you do for yourself. It's the sorting of what's worth your time and what's not worth your time. It's saying, "I deem Keeping Up With The Kardashians a poor use of my time, and therefore, I choose not to watch it." It's saying, "I read the last Jonathan Franzen book and fell asleep six times, so I'm not going to read this one."

Wow! Read that 3 times and really internalize it. That's powerful stuff, and it's the reason I created BubbleTimer.

Surrender, on the other hand, is the realization that you do not have time for everything that would be worth the time you invested in it if you had the time...

As much as I liked her praise of culling, Linda makes an interesting case that often too much emphasis is put on culling and not enough on surrender, and that excessive culling can lead to a snobbish and elitist perspective on the world, and what in it is worth our time. 

The same goes for throwing out foreign films, documentaries, classical music, fantasy novels, soap operas, humor, or westerns. I see people culling by category, broadly and aggressively: television is not important, popular fiction is not important, blockbuster movies are not important. Don't talk about rap; it's not important. Don't talk about anyone famous; it isn't important. And by the way, don't tell me it is important, because that would mean I'm ignoring something important, and that's ... uncomfortable. That's surrender.

Culling is easy; it implies a huge amount of control and mastery. Surrender, on the other hand, is a little sad. That's the moment you realize you're separated from so much. That's your moment of understanding that you'll miss most of the music and the dancing and the art and the books and the films that there have ever been and ever will be, and right now, there's something being performed somewhere in the world that you're not seeing that you would love.

It's sad, but it's also ... great, really. Imagine if you'd seen everything good, or if you knew about everything good. Imagine if you really got to all the recordings and books and movies you're "supposed to see." Imagine you got through everybody's list, until everything you hadn't read didn't really need reading. That would imply that all the cultural value the world has managed to produce since a glob of primordial ooze first picked up a violin is so tiny and insignificant that a single human being can gobble all of it in one lifetime. That would make us failures, I think.

It's an insightful essay, and well worth the quick read. My only reservation is with its emphasis on consumption of culture rather than creation of culture. We often spend so much timing consuming culture (watching, reading, listening, etc.) that we cheat ourselves out of time to create.

You don't have to write as well as Dostoyevsky to have writing be a more personally valuable use of your time than reading. Dostoyevsky didn't always to write as well as Dostoyevsky! You have to give yourself the time to create poorly, it can be more rewarding than consuming others' greatness, and its the only chance you've got at achieving greatness of your own. 


Posted by Sean Johnson 30/04/2011 at 06h03

I Love Edoocation

And I need some too.

All kidding aside, I do love education, so now all students and educators that signup with a .edu email address will get a 40% discount on BubbleTimer for the year. Enjoy! I hope it helps you stay focused on the things that matter to you as a student or teacher, and as a person.

Thank you to Dr. Tang of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical  for prodding me to do this.

Posted by Sean Johnson 16/03/2011 at 11h10

Purpose of BubbleTimer

I recently fielded an email from a BubbleTimer user (a Bubbler?) asking about filling in more than 1 bubble for a given 15 minute time slot. Long time BubbleTimer users will remember that BubbleTimer launched without this feature, but it has it now, so my answer was to hold down the modifier key (Alt or Option) when selecting the 2nd and subsequent bubbles.

I didn't include this feature originally because I didn't want to encourage multi-tasking and I didn't want to encourage obsessing on getting time tracked to a fine precision. I was later convinced to add it by a compelling argument from the user community. Despite all the scientific research on the folly of multi-tasking, there are a relatively small number of cases where multi-tasking is a reasonable and good behavior. Listening to an audio lecture while exercising was the example that finally swayed me.

The emailer replied back saying the multi-asking worked, but asking why the 15 minute time slot wasn't subdivided between the tasks that got the simultaneous bubbles. If you bubble the "Listen to Lectures" activity and the "Exercise" activity for the same slot, they each get 15 minutes rather than one getting 7.5 minutes and the other getting 7.5 minutes. The reason for this, is the multiple bubbles are meant to represent multi-tasking. You did them both for 15 minutes! The feature is not meant to be a way to cheat and track your time in increments of less than 15 minutes.

It's an often asked question, but I don't have any plans to support tracking time in less than 15 minute increments. BubbleTimer is intentionally opinionated software, designed for helping you get the big picture on how your time is being spent with the absolute minimum amount of fuss and time spent on time management. It's not a good tool for obsessing over the details on whether you spent 15 min. on something or 7.5 min or 3 minutes on something. There are lots of good time management apps that focus on precision, accuracy, and timing activities down to the minute or to the second, but that's not the goal for BubbleTimer.

So... in summary... if you spend a fraction of 15 minutes on an activity instead of 15 minutes... it's not going to change your opinion on what's important:

How did I spend my time this week?

Am I happy about that? How does it compare with how I said I wanted to spend my time?

How will I spend my time next week and what needs to change to make me happier about how I'll spend next week?

And that my friends, is what BubbleTimer is all about!

Posted by Sean Johnson 03/03/2011 at 07h32

Happy Holidays

"Typically the thought of death may be expected, first to usher us towards whatever happens to matter most to us (be it drinking besides the banks of the Nile, writing a book or making a fortune), and second, to encourage us to pay less attention to the verdicts of others — who will not, after all, be doing the dying for us. The prospect of our own extinction may draw us towards that way of life of which our hearts place the greatest value." - Alain de Botton in Status Anxiety

It's Christmas today in many parts of the world. It's a day that is often tinged with sadness as we remember Christmases past, and the loved ones that used to be a part of this day with us, but which are no longer living. Alain reminds us of a positive way to channel our grief and our fears of our own demise. Not the cheeriest of holiday thoughts, but one I hope you'll benefit from anyways. Happy holidays to you.

Posted by Sean Johnson 25/12/2010 at 13h02

Keep Going Until You Stop

This presentation by Scott Stratten at TEDxOakville is important. Please watch it.

I don't want to steal any of Scott's considerable thunder, so I'll just say that it's about questioning the unspoken and unconscious values that define our goals and our outlook on the world, which in turn define how we spend our time. It is amazing that as our lives change so radically: we get married, we have career success, we have kids, we get divorced, we get sick, loved ones pass; but none of these cause us to really change, to pause and consider the "values" we have that are nothing more than cliche's and catch phrases that we internalized as young kids from a baseball coach, a grand parent and a 3rd grade teacher.

It's 15 minutes long, but Scott is an arresting speaker. 15 minutes is just 1 bubble. Think of 1 bubble today that you can cut out, and invest it in watching this presentation instead. You might shed a couple tears, but you won't regret it.


Posted by Sean Johnson 04/11/2010 at 10h04

The Internet's Dark Side

The Internet has been a transformative presence in most of our lives. I know it has been to my wife and I and our friends and family. My kids have grown up not knowing a world where a constant digital connection to all human knowledge and to many billions of the planet's people is not a given. But for all its good, and I fall very firmly on the good side, the Internet has a very dark side too.

Instant access to an astoundingly vast quantitiy of information and discourse on every conceivable topic is an amazing resource when pulled on demand to support our important pursuits. When it supports depth of thought and action, it's a force multiplier like no other the world has known.

Instant exposure to an astoundingly vast quantitiy of information and discourse on every conceivable topic is a crippling drain on us, and derails our important pursuits when it is pushed at us in a never ending torrent of emails, tweets, Facebook updates, SMS's, instant messages, Skypes and mobile alerts. The allure of the fresh and new is almost irresistible and all possibility of depth to thought and action is drained in a never ending sea of distraction.

Balancing mindful access and mindess exposure will be one of the toughest challenges of the 21st century. As technology professionals, we've let the rest of the world down. We must begin to create the solutions to this problem rather than just continue to make the it worse.

Posted by Sean Johnson 25/10/2010 at 10h00

Why Bother?

Sometimes obsessing over time management and spending your time thoughtfully and wisely can seem important, but at other times it can seem like just a chore. Why even bother when no one else you know is obsessing over where the minutes in their days are going. Why are you? And if your best friend can still be happy if their Sunday evening is spent watching television or mindlessly surfed away on Youtube or Facebook, why can't you?

Like all of us, my own personal pendulum swings back and forth on this issue and sometimes I stumble onto something that gives the pendulum a boost in one direction or the other. Today I ran across a great post by Doug Muder that works backwards from death as a motivating boost towards living well, and is also not unrealistic or naive about what age will really mean to all of us. Doug is religious, and so he frames his insight in a religious context, but I think the lesson he learns from his parent's and wife's mortality applies to us all, regardless of our religious views. I'd like to share a choice selection with you:

The real sting of death is the thought that it wasn’t supposed to be this way, that I was supposed to be immortal, and all life’s possibilities were supposed to wait until I got around to paying attention. In that frame of mind, every drop that escapes or evaporates is tragic.

But when death is accepted, as I remember clearly, the focus shifts from what is being lost to what is being saved. Today, for example, I kept many parts of myself alive. I wrote something other people will read. (Sixteen-year-old me would appreciate that.) I played with children. My wife and I walked amidst the changing fall colors.

Someday all these droplets of life will be gone. Today they were here, and my cup could still contain them. That’s something to celebrate.

Please read the full thing here. You'll be glad you did. Nice work Doug.

Posted by Sean Johnson 20/10/2010 at 18h02


Some inspiring words for all of us struggling to make the most of our time:

"What you actively spend time on, and (far more difficult) what you choose not to do, who you choose not to spend time with, and who and what you decide to say no to — what you choose, then — is how you mark time. And that is all there is.

Time is the most valuable and finite commodity that any living thing has in this world... 

Therefore, treat it as the most precious thing in existence, because it is. Don’t squander a single second. Perhaps, even more importantly, don’t waste time regretting the time you do squander. Instead, look to how you are going to use this very moment to do something… Anything. Make a mark. Don’t worry about the next until the next comes along. This moment is far too important."


Posted by Sean Johnson 31/08/2010 at 08h49

The Graveyard of Dreams

A 2009 Nielsen study reveals that "the average American television viewer is watching more than 151 hours of television per month".

A full-time job is just 160 hours a month. Don't have time to realize your dreams? Turn off your TV until you do.


Posted by Sean Johnson 17/08/2010 at 15h25

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