Readings: 28 Feb 2016

When you’re driving, talking to a passenger is safer than talking to someone on the phone. Why? The passenger shares your situational awareness and knows when the conversation has to slow down for the sake of safety.

Malcolm Ocean considers this as a metaphor for working with an instant messaging client open.

Whereas if someone were talking to me in person, they might pick up on the physical cues of my situation, and see that I’m in a rush. Lots of people are pretty tactless, but to a large extent they can still tell if you’re busy, or stressed, or in a rush, etc.

Talking to people on instant messenger loses a ton of those cues.

Instant messaging has some ways to provide those context cues, but they aren’t automatic: I have to remember to turn on “Do Not Disturb” mode in HipChat before I try to get down to focused work.


I started following Malcom Ocean’s blog after reading about his web appplication Complice on the Beeminder blog. Complice is a bit hard to explain, but I like how Malcom put it on the Beeminder blog:

The first obvious difference is that Beeminder is a quantified self app, where Complice is more… qualified self.

In GTD terms, Complice is for staying in touch with your areas of responsibility. I don’t have a project in OmniFocus for “fitness”, because fitness is a pursuit, not something that has a definitive end state. But it’s the perfect fit for Complice – my Complice goal “Pursue physical fitness” reminds me to do something every day to either get some exercise or support future exercise1. After my weekly OmniFocus review, I open up Complice and do a personal retrospective for each of my goals (hence the qualified self): What worked well? What didn’t work well? What do I want to differently this week?

My first reaction to Complice was pretty much “It costs how much? I know all these techniques already. I could do this with some scheduled tasks and Evernote.” And that’s true. But I’ve known about the self-management techniques that Complice supports for years and not applied them2. After two months with Complice, I’m doing a better job at keeping my health, family, work, and personal interests in balance than I have in years – that’s money well spent.


Here’s my confession about these “Readings” posts – they’re a release valve to let me publish something even if it’s not a polished or coherent article. Right now, I’m focusing on consistency. I’ve let perfectionism get in the way of the actual practice of writing3 for far too long. I’m using Beeminder to get myself out of that trap: If I don’t publish a new article once a week, Beeminder gets my money. So far, so good!


  1. For example, I would count researching stretches to help deal with knee pain from running. 
  2. The Healthy Programmer suggests a similar approach for managing health goals, which I read about in 2012 and then never applied. 
  3. Writing in public, anyway. I’ve been journalling consistently for years, but I need the potential or others to read what I’m writing to really drive myself to improve. 
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