Category Archives: Blog

Blog posts

How to set New Year Resolutions That Work

Once again, that time has come to start tracking resolutions for the year ahead…. or at least the next month!  I, like the majority of people, have a tendency to set them and then follow them for a few weeks before slowly “re-prioritising” them.  Usually because I don’t track them within my to-do list!

Another thing that I have had a tendency to do, is not set S.M.A.R.T. objectives.  S.M.A.R.T. doesn’t mean clever, or sharply dressed (although a few of the “S.M.A.R.T.” objectives I’ve seen in the past have had a certain façade around them!  What it actually stands for is:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Attainable
  • Realistic
  • Timely

Specific

The specific part, really summarises the whole objective.  “Get in shape” is not specific – how do you know when you are in shape?  A more specific goal would be “Get into a pair of size 34 trousers”.  In order to make a goal specific, it helps to ask yourself the 5Ws:

  1. Who – is involved?
  2. What – needs to be accomplished?
  3. Why – does it need to be accomplished?
  4. Where – does it need to take place?
  5. When – does it need to be accomplished by?  How often? Etc.

Measurable

If you have no measure against your goal, then you have no way of knowing whether you have achieved it, or how you are performing against it!  Taking the previous example, by giving yourself a target trouser size, you have your target!  If you wanted to be uber-geeky, you could track your weekly waist size against a graph, to track your performance!

Attainable & Realistic

This is another deal breaker!  If you set yourself an unobtainable goal, not only will you not achieve it, but you’ll dishearten yourself and probably fall short of what you could have achieved if you had set yourself a slightly less ambitious goal!  The old adage of “Aim for the stars” doesn’t always ring true!  However, it is important to set yourself targets that stretch you.  For instance, I know that I won’t be able to build this blog up to get 10,000 unique visitors / month within a year, no matter how hard I try.  However, I think 1,000 could be within my grasp.  It would be a stretch, and I would be happy with half of that.

Timely

Putting a timescale on your goals is just as important as a unit to measure them against.  Sure, I may want to improve the SEO on the website so that I get 1,000 unique visitors a month, but unless I set myself a deadline, then I’ll just keep putting it on the back burner.  By giving myself a timeframe to work in, I can plan appropriately.

Its only through setting goals with all of the above attributes that you can build your goal list to become something that is achievable and that you want to achieve.

With that in mind, here are my goals for 2013:

  1. Write a minimum of 600 words a week for leisure.  This would either be for this blog, guest blogging, books or short stories.  I’ve wanted to improve my writing and communication for some time now.  Not just for the obvious communication skill development, but in order to research and share some of the things that interest me.
  2. Publish on average, one photo a week to the internet.  Either onto my own website, into competitions or to stock photo sites.  Photography and digital art is one of my passions, but I only tend to do stuff ad hoc.  This year I’d like to build a bit of a framework and workflow into my photography and by setting this goal, it’ll drive me into bigger and better things.
  3. Complete a 50+ mile cycle ride within 2013.  The furthest I have ridden so far in one go has been 25 miles.  I have plans to complete one of the big cycle rides in our area next year with a friend, and hopefully make some money for charity in the process.  I’ll need to build up my training beforehand though, otherwise I’ll have a very sore bum!

So, these are some of my personal goals for this year.  There are a few others, which I am keeping to myself for the time being, but will hopefully become apparent throughout the year!

What are everyone else’s goals?

5 Favourite Android Apps of 2012

Over 2012 I have really pushed my productivity system.  A big part of that has been to make the most out of my android phone – helping me stay productive, wherever I may be.  I’d like to share 5 of my favourite apps that I have used the most over 2012, and a little bit about how I use them.

Waze

Website
Google Play: free

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Waze is a free social sat nav app.  I started using this not long after it first launched, and the maps neeed a lot of work before they became useful.  However, over the past couple of years, the app has really improved, and whilst it can’t compete quite so well with the likes of Tom Tom, it still does a hell of a job.

The key to this app is in it’s social functionality.  You can report pretty much anything – hazards, such as objects on the road, accidents, floods etc, traffic jams, speed traps etc and even record new roads.  The app also automatically notices if you are going slower than the average speed and asks you if you are stuck in traffic.  It then records the average speed down the road, so you can see at a glance where the traffic hot spots are.  I use this for my daily commute to look for alternative routes or optimal times to leave.

Speaking of commutes, there is a really good widget included that uses previous data for the traffic on your daily commuting journey, coupled with current data and recommends the optimal time to start your commute.

If you notice something that isn’t quite right with the maps, then you can go into the map editor on your computer and edit the map.  True integration!

Dropbox

Website
Google Play: free

Dropbox with memories floating out to user

Dropbox is an absolute lifesaver!  This is more than just an app – the app is simply another way of accessing the whole service.

Essentially this is a cloud storage solution.  You get 2GB for a free account.  However, for every member that you refer, you get a further 500mb of space.  You can often get deals giving you more space too.  There is also the option to purchase more space too, should you need it, for quite reasonable prices.

There are plenty of ways to use it.  Keeping reference books synced on my phone, sharing files with collaborators, keeping in-work documents handy, ensuring preference files are synced across your computers, the list goes on.  For more ideas, have a look here and here!

BeyondPod Pro

Website
Google Play: free | paid

Beyondpod logo

As well as music, I enjoy listening to Podcasts.  Theres nothing like catching up on radio shows such as The Infinite Monkey Cage at a time that suits me!

I used to use the traditional iTunes & iPod route, but that involved me having to regularly connect up my aging iPod to my computer in order to update it – and making sure I turned my computer and iTunes on regularly…. far too much hassle in this day and age!

Along comes BeyondPod to save the day!  BeyondPod is a podcast manager for Android.  I subscribe to all the feeds I want.  By registering for the Pro version, for a measly amount of money, I can set my podcasts to update automatically whenever I want and however I want.  I set mine to use my free overnight broadband bandwidth at home, so it doesn’t eat into either my mobile allowance, or my home broadband allowance.  The free version lets you update manually though, so if you are happy doing that then there is no need to fork out…. but it is nice picking my phone up in the morning to find I’ve got a new podcast to listen to on my commute that day!

Pocket

Website
Google Play: free

 

As well as my healthy addiction to podcasts, I also like to read.  Be it feeds from websites and blogs, or articles people have tweeted about.  However, finding the time to read them is often limited.

Pocket (formerly read It Later) Pocket logolets you save articles for offline reading.  So, wherever I am I have a whole bunch of articles ready for reading.  I actually have a bit of a system going when it comes to keeping up to date with my reading, which I will post about in a future article.

Evernote

Website
Google Play: free

Evernote Logo

Evernote is new to me.  I’d been using Springpad previously, but I think Evernote is just about pipping it to the post now in terms of usability for me.  Springpad has lots of bells and whistles, like scanning a barcode to add a product to a list, but Evernote’s strongest feature for me is the OCR functionality.

I can scribble notes in a meeting, photograph or scan the page into Evernote and behind the scenes, the notes will be scanned for any words and I can then search within the picture.  An absolute genius feature!

There are plenty of ways to use Evernote.  For some ideas, check out this post, focussing on blogging, and this post on photography.

So there you have it.  My favourite apps of 2012.  What apps have you been using in 2012?  And what features in apps would you like to see in 2013?

Cyclist in a tunnel silhouetted against the sea

New cycling goal

As I previously mentioned, I’ve recently started cycling.  After a bit of down time due to a virus, I realised how much I missed not being able to cycle.  That has spurred me on to new goals!

My intent is to ride in next year’s Manchester to Blackpool bike ride!  That’s a whopping 60 miles cycling in one sitting!  Bearing in mind that the furthest I have done in one ride so far has been 15 miles, I’m going to have to do some work!  I need to have a plan!!  First of all I have to build up my stamina, and the only thing for that is to build up my cycling miles.  Looking at my previous workouts, I’ve only managed about 30 miles a month….. that needs to increase.  So first target is 30 miles in a week.

Chart showing Matt Acton's cycling distance and average speed for each month

This is very much achievable through commuting.  However, if I don’t manage to cycle in to work then the distance can be made up in the evenings and weekends.  Once I’ve sustained 30 miles a week, I intend to up it by 10 miles until I reach 60 miles in a week.  From that point on I need to focus on extending my ride length.

The other thing I’m noticing is my average speed is quite low.  Some of that could be attributed to fitness and some of the terrain I ride on (gravelly paths and poor quality roads), but some could be down to my bike setup.  Currently I’ve got semi-slick 700C x 42 tyres on my hybrid bike.  Picking up some slimmer tyres would certainly help reduce my rolling road resistance and I’m not convinced that my seating position is at its optimal, so I’ll look into that.  But for now, its time to get my miles up!  I’ll keep my blog updated with how I am progressing!

 

 

hand holding a bundle of usb cables

Are you using the right lead to charge your phone?

I recently purchased the brand new HTC One X. What a beast of a phone! I love my gadgets and I love being able to tweak the hell out of my gadgets! This phone is ideal for me. It has a great camera, for impromptu photo shoots, a fast enough processor so I don’t have to wait half an hour to change screens, but most importantly it has a HUGE screen! A whopping 4.1″ of huge screen! However, as with most things in life, this comes with a price….. Battery life!

The HTC One X doesn’t do too badly in this respect and manages a just-about-acceptable once a day charge, but the first time I used it in the car as a sat nav I got a message telling me that I was using more power than the charger was supplying. This worried me, as I had already upgraded to a 1a car charger, so at first glance I was providing as much juice as I could.

A few days later, I had got back into the routine of putting the phone on to charge overnight and picking it up the next morning, when I noticed that the battery wasn’t quite full. This was odd, as it had been charging for at least 7 hours! I checked the charger and that was fine. I then started doing a bit of research and discovered that a cable is not just a cable!

Experiment

I devised an experiment. I charged my HTC for a while with my generic cable and then switched to the HTC cable that came with the phone. I could then look at the rate of charge in the power usage section of the settings.

Results

image

The results speak for themselves. A clear increase in charge rate can be seen for the lastfew minutes, which is the time the stock HTC lead was in place!

So, the message might appear to be “Don’t skimp on your leads”, but not so fast….

Slow charging can actually benefit your battery life and capacity! It is known as “trickle charging”.

So, I now have my HTC lead in the car, where I use more power due to GPS use and the screen being on, whilst at home I use a generic cheap lead which benefits the battery more.

The tricky thing now, though, is that there is no way to tell the standard of the lead when you buy it, and the majority of reviewers still believe that a lead is just a lead.

Bike in puddle by side of the road

Cycling

I’ve recently taken up cycling.  Nothing serious, just as a way of getting a bit of exercise in an enjoyable way.  As Lancashire County Council and Preston City Council have developed the Guild Wheel, this has given me a lovely, picturesque route into work, without having to worry about crazy drivers, having been stuck in a traffic jam for the past 30 minutes, needlessly cutting me up!

Anyway, as I live some 15 miles away from work, I decided to pace myself by starting off driving part way, parking up and cycling in from there.  I’ve built up the distance and finally, last week, I braved the full journey in!  I over-ran my target time by a grand total of 7 minutes (1 hr 37 min I didn’t feel was too bad a post to stick in the ground, and I can only improve from there), but I blame this on being careful on the wet, muddy conditions – especially on some of the steep slopes I have to negotiate.

To celebrate this achievement, I thought I would share some of the lessons I have learnt getting to this point:

  • Cycling any distance is an equal split of a well maintained bike, fitness, state of mind and good gear management.  You need all four!
  • If you’re out for more than 30 minutes, put sun block on!
  • Don’t go around with your mouth open – flies taste funny!
  • State of mind (again!) I’ve really realised how much this matters when you think you are starting to flag!  You might feel like you have no more energy left, but by talking yourself up (yes, I do cycle round talking to myself at times!) then you often manage to find that extra burst of energy!
  • One of my colleagues at work warned me that by taking up cycling, you are taking on 2 hobbies: cycling and bike maintenance!  Unless you want to spend loads of money in the bike store, you need to learn how to maintain your bike properly yourself!
  • When cycling any distance, build up your stamina first and then focus on improving your time.

For a good guide to a lot of topics on cycling, including maintenance and cycling techniques, check out Bike Radar.  I also highly reccomend Cyclecraft: the complete guide to safe and enjoyable cycling for adults and children, for learning to ride safely in plenty of different situations.

My next goal is to cycle more miles per week as well as improve my speed over the 15 mile journey.  I’ve recorded my journeys, along with performance stats and at some point in the future I intend to share my performance stats to show how I have (hopefully!) improved.

Notebook with "To Do" written with roller ball

Productivity in my Personal Life – 1. Introduction

Productivity, as a self-confessed geek, is something towards I take more than a passing nod.  Having looked into many different ways to track what needs to hold my attention, I seem to have settled on David Allen’s GTD methodology.  Whilst at first glance, this seems like a lot of hard work, once it becomes completely natural to your life, it really does pay for itself.

Whilst trying to pull my system together, I had several requirements that made things a little more awkward than most set ups.  The following were my requirements

Productivity Requirements

  • Needed to be able to keep my lists available to me wherever I am
  • Couldn’t install any extra software on my computer at work
  • Needed to be able to “inbox” tasks wherever I am – work, home, in town etc.
  • Unlike most “geeks”, I don’t have a computer on at home 24/7, so turning my computer on would be an obstacle to overcome when at home.

It looks like relying on a computer program such as Outlook is ruled out, as whilst I have Outlook at work, I couldn’t sync my work computer to my phone or my home computer as I am on a secure PC.  Several other mediums sprung to mind.

Potential Productivity Solutions

  • Paper – a notebook is easy to carry round, however, it is yet another thing to carry around!
  • Phone.  Two ways to use this:
    • App on phone
    • Web app

The advantage of using a web app is that I can access my lists wherever I have internet (my own PCs, phone, library etc).  However, having been caught in situations where I have no data on my phone, this method isn’t without it’s risks.  Similarly, using a phone app means if I forget my phone, or the battery dies (which it frequently does!) then again I am stuck.

The solution I settled on was a combination of Android App Ultimate To-Do List synchronised with web app Toodledo.

Over the coming weeks I will talk you through exactly how I set these up for my particular needs and hopefully you will gain something from it.


Series Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. How I use Ultimate To-Do List
  3. Supplemented by Toodledo
  4. Improvements that could be made

Image by stock.xchng by Mattox