Productivity Hacking: Notifications as Distraction-by-Default

This is the fifteenth post in a series on productivity1. This article adds to content from a workshop I led at The Makers Summit.


In college I had a professor who, for many years, held an executive position at one of the largest advertising agencies in the world. Everyone loved his class because theory collided with decades of experience and practical advice.

Several lessons he taught us probably skimmed the surface initially because of our lack of age and experience, but, looking back, were they were extremely valuable bits of wisdom that I wish I’d paid more attention to. One story I’ll never forget. As he rose in the ranks at the agency, my professor had made a promise to his family: “no matter when or where or what meeting I’m in, if you call and ask for me, I’ll be available to you.” The man walked out of the most important meetings with the most important clients to take calls from his family.

I’m not such a luddite that I would exchange the powers of modern communication and technology for an age of landlines and secretaries, but part of me envies a clear way to separate signal from noise (if these three people contact me, answer, always).

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1. You can read the story behind this blog series and find links to all of the resources here.

Facebook, Photos, Privacy and Parenthood

This upcoming week is a big one for me and my wife: we will welcome our first child into the world. As you might know (or would expect), there are a myriad of ways becoming a parent challenges the way you think about the world you live in. When we first found out we were pregnant, one thing that surprised me was how uncomfortable I felt about photos of our child being posted on social networks.

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Quick Takes: Humans Beat Robots at Mercedes

Headlines about big data and algorithms as the infrastructure for modern companies seem commonplace in a world being eaten by software. I was surprised, then, to run across an article titled Pink slip for robots2. Here’s a brief summary:

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1. You can read the entire article, Pink slip for robots, on World Magazine’s website.

Quotes from the Team at The Iron Yard

Over the last few weeks I’ve been culling through a gigantic pile of links, articles and ideas that I’ve saved up for this blog. One of the files contained quotes from team members at The Iron Yard (the company I help lead). I’m not exactly sure who said what or when, but I do know that I copied them from Slack or other internal tools.

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Quick Takes: Do Stores Benefit from Offering Cash Back?

Being asked if you want cash back at a grocery store or convenience store is one of those experiences you don’t really question—it’s just part of the normal shopping experience at many places. I couldn’t help but think, though, that there had to be more to the story than only convenience for the customer. There’s no fee collected by the store and it’s likely most of the competition offers the same service, so what’s in it for the store? I had a few theories, but decided to figure out what was happening behind the scenes.

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Context for Quantity in Online Reading

In 2014 I wrote about the problem of ‘quantity perception’ that many online reading interfaces present. Here’s an excerpt:

Many formats (or interfaces) through which online copy is delivered make judging the amount of content difficult. Simply put, indicators of quantity (or length) are vague and inconsistent. In many cases, the scroll bar is our most commonly available point of reference…

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Quick Takes: Reinventing the Mail Business with Lawn Care

The United States Postal Service is one of the largest civilian employers in the country4, but has been plagued with financial struggles, making news headlines several times over in the last decade. In 2010, for example, the organization posted a mind-blowing 8.5 billion dollar loss5. I remember the debate over ending Saturday service only a few years ago.

The causes of these problems (and their solutions) are large and complex, but the decline in usage of traditional ‘snail mail’ (due to digital communication) and the logistical transport efficiencies achieved at the demand of massive retailers like Amazon and Wal-Mart have no-doubt shaken the foundations of historical postal services.

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1. You can read about the top 10 employers of civilians in the USA, including the USPS, on USA Today’s website.2. You can read more about the USPS’s 2010 losses on the ABC News website.