Octane Launches New Site with New Services

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“It has been a long time coming” says Adam Fisher, founder of Octane Software. Today Octane is excited to announce a new site highlighting new services that clients not only desire, but require in today’s competitive online world.

New services include comprehensive professional web design packages, search engine optimization (SEO) to drive traffic, copywriting, photography, and cloud hosting solutions. Octane consultants work with each client on an individual basis to identify their needs and research their industry to offer the best combination of services to achieve their online goals.

In the past, 90% of Octane’s services revolved around web design but with the rollout of today’s new services, that’s all slated to change. All too often, we had clients asking us for a website and were disappointed to find out there was more to it than just building a pretty website.

A comprehensive marketing plan and social media strategy are just some of the add-on components we offer as part of every service to help our customers reach their online goals.

New specials, discounts, and promotions will be rolling out over the next several months to celebrate and highlight Octane’s new products and services to consumers. Stay tuned and you might get in on the action!

How Many Days Can You Go Without Checking Email or Social Media?

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Several weeks ago I decided to try a simple experiment. I opted to check email and social media accounts only three times in a week. I wanted to see what effect this less frequent, non-daily checking would have on my productivity and social connections.

Many years ago when the web was a lot smaller and email was less popular, this would have been no big deal. In the mid 1990s I could get away with checking email a few times a week, even in business. People often didn’t expect a fast turnaround via email. If they needed a fast response, they’d use the phone.

Today it’s become common, especially in the world of small business, to check email and/or social media several times per day at least. In some situations this seems justifiable. More frequent checking means faster turnaround for clients. Speed is classy, especially for customer service. Faster response times can give a business a competitive advantage.

But this frequent checking doesn’t come for free. If you’re the one doing all of this checking, some of the drawbacks include:

  • reduced ability to focus
  • becoming urgency driven and losing sight of what’s important
  • dealing with frequent distractions
  • constantly having the thoughts of others floating through your mind
  • becoming addicted and checking excessively, often without conscious thought
  • reduced productivity
  • diminished in-person social life
  • losing the ability to properly prioritize messages
  • spending much more time on messages than is reasonable
  • weakening the connection to your own personal goals
  • wasting time that’s better spent elsewhere

Here are some of the key benefits I experienced with less frequent checking of online accounts:

  • I found it much easier to maintain focus on my own goals and projects
  • I got more done, having some of my most productive weeks in years
  • I enjoyed a greater sense of time abundance, like I had more space in each day to work, live, and play
  • I lost the desire to post status updates just for the sake of posting something
  • I experienced a significant drop in how important email and social media felt to me; they receded into the background of my life
  • I spent less time thinking about email and social media each day
  • I went to bed at a more consistent time (no late night communication) and had an easy time getting up at 5am seven days a week
  • I posted fewer status updates and answered fewer emails and private messages
  • I received significantly fewer replies and comments (I gave people much less to reply to, so less for me to read)
  • I found it easier to prioritize messages intelligently by seeing them in the context of a few days’ worth of messages
  • I saved several hours per week that I was able to spend on more rewarding and productive tasks
  • I exercised more frequently (5-7 days per week)
  • I felt more relaxed and less stressed but also more motivated
  • I completed some projects with nary a status update about them (does anyone care that I had a new water heater installed this month?)
  • The mental and emotional itch to do frequent checks at random times has faded significantly
  • I became less aware of what my online “friends” were doing but more aware of what I was doing as well as the people closest to me
  • I enjoyed the time I spent with my kids more and felt more engaged with them

Here are the negative consequences I experienced:

  • I missed a timely email invite to play disc golf (my regular group plays on Saturdays, but this was an extra invite for a game on Sunday)

Seriously that’s the only negative consequence that comes to mind — not exactly an apocalypse.

There have been some adaptations to make as well, but I wouldn’t call them negative consequences. If someone wants to schedule a phone or Skype call with me or an in-person meet-up, I just have to schedule it further in advance to allow enough time for the back-and-forth messages to agree to a time.

I may miss out on some time-sensitive invitations. Those “Hey, guess what! I’m in Vegas tonight. Let’s meet up!” messages may go unseen until the window has passed. But that isn’t a huge deal relative to all the benefits.

Time of Day

I found that the best time of day for me to handle email and social media is in the evening. I found that when I checked it early in the day, it was too tempting to feel curious about it again a few hours later. But when I checked around 5-8pm, that worked very well. First, this keeps my daytimes free to focus on other items. Second, there’s no incentive to spend excessive time on messages as a way of procrastinating because by then I’ve already done my work for the day if it’s a workday. Third, I feel more relaxed when answering personal messages since it’s not going to push back any of my daytime activities; it might simply mean eating dinner a little later.

Which Days?

I think my favorite pattern is to check email on Sundays, Thursdays, and Fridays. This gives me a solid four-day (96-hour) block to get some real work done at the start of each week since I can go through Mon, Tue, Wed, and Thu without doing email or social media till Thursday evening.

What if someone emails me on Monday and doesn’t get a reply till Thursday evening? My business isn’t so urgency driven that this would likely be a problem. The people who may need to get in touch with me more urgently can call or text me. I told such people about this experiment when it began, so they know what to expect. This is working out just fine so far. In fact, some people have been curious about it and are reconsidering their own online habits as a result.

At first that stretch of going for four days without checking email seemed a bit much, but now I really like it. It’s so nice to feel that I have this abundance of offline time to get my work done and live my life without worrying about what’s happening in my online communication circles. I always know I can catch up on it later.

Exceptions

Checking email and social media three times a week is becoming a new default pattern for me. I think I’ve done this long enough now (this is week four) that I can maintain it with relative ease. My goal here was to break the pattern of unnecessarily excessive checking and replace it with something more productive and sensible, not to replace it with something impractically rigid. If I feel it’s warranted due to particular circumstances, I can always add an extra check. For instance, when I post a new blog article, it makes sense to share a status update to let people know about it; in some cases I can do that without actually visiting the site.

Suppose you sign up for a new online service and need to click a verification link in an email, which means you have to bring up your email to do this. Do you give yourself permission to check email just to click that verification link and not handle anything else? Do you click the link and process whatever email is there too? Or do you just decide it’s best to finish the opt-in process during your next scheduled email check?

These kinds of decisions can be made on a case by case basis initially, and then if you notice any patterns happening there, you can come up with a more general and consistent way of handling them. A stray check now or then won’t hurt your productivity once your new patterns are well established. However, a stray check can definitely hurt your ability to get the new pattern conditioned during those vulnerable first 2-3 weeks.

Key Lessons

Here’s a summary of the key lessons I learned from this experiment:

  1. Processing online communication more frequently makes it seem more important with respect to your other goals, projects, and desires, and this can lead to an unbalanced prioritization of how you spend your time, not to mention addictive behavior. And conversely, checking less frequently makes such communication appear much less significant and can also break a prior addiction.
  2. The more often you reply to messages or post status updates, the more replies and comments you’ll receive, which means more reading and potentially more replying (and then more replies to your replies, and so on). The less often you check messages or post status updates, the fewer responses you’ll receive, which means less reading and less replying for you; this can save you hours per week.
  3. If sound time management practices are important to you, it’s wise to rationally decide in advance when and how often you actually need to check messages. Then stick to your schedule. If you find yourself triggered to check in more frequently, it’s likely that the old habits are still too strongly ingrained, so you’re going to need to weaken those neural pathways first by checking in significantly less often for a while (4x per week or less). Otherwise you’re going to waste a lot of mental energy exerting your willpower NOT to check in so often.

Keep in mind that good habits run on autopilot and do not require serious willpower to maintain. Neurologically speaking, self-discipline is a limited resource. If you have to exercise your self-discipline every day to get yourself not to do what you’re tempted to do, you’re burning up this resource unnecessarily, and then it won’t be available for other areas where you need it. Your brain can only handle so much self-discipline (and its limits are normally quite low), so use your discipline to establish sensible habits that can be self-maintaining after the first 2-3 weeks. Sometimes this requires distancing yourself from the old habits for a few weeks to give them a chance to fade.

Further Refinements

Checking email three times per week feels about right for me, and the short-term results have been promising to say the least, so for now I intend to continue with this. Twice a week could work too (probably Thursday and Sunday), and I may test that in December. I might even drop it down to once a week, but that would mean longer delays for certain things, like scheduling phone calls, so I think 2-3x per week would be about the right balance.

What about checking on your cell phone while you’re out, such as in those spaces of extra time while waiting in line? I found this to be a bad idea in general. While it seems efficient at first glance, it also strengthens some bad mental habits, like constantly thinking about what’s going on online, and potentially reinforcing a distracting addiction. I find it more sensible to read a few extra pages of an ebook or to simply think about some of my own goals or upcoming decisions to make.

I’ve shared what’s working for me based on my personal testing. Your situation may be different of course. The point of sharing this is to stir up your experimental side to discover what works best for you, especially if you feel you’ve been checking in way too often.

How often you check in is completely your choice. Even if you have a job that “requires” frequent checking, you chose that job, and you’re free to quit if the job is conditioning bad habits. If you think frequent checking is expected of you at work, you can renegotiate those expectations and encourage people to use other communication channels for truly urgent messages. Or you can set up one email account for urgent communication that you check often, and use another account for non-urgent messages that you check less often.

If you’re currently in a pattern of checking email multiple times per day, I’d encourage you to test a non-daily schedule to see what it’s like. Try going every other day (and just once on those days, preferably in the evening) to see what it’s like. It may be tough at first, but you’ll get used to it. If you do that, it’s going to rewire your thinking and allow some of your other goals to rise in priority.

When was the last time you went 72 hours (3 days) without checking any email or social media? If you suspect it’s been a year or more, or only due to extreme circumstances like an illness, then I challenge you to attempt this. Make email wait for your goals. Don’t make your goals wait for you to finish your email.

33 Rules to Boost Your Productivity

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Heuristics are rules intended to help you solve problems.  When a problem is large or complex, and the optimal solution is unclear, applying a heuristic allows you to begin making progress towards a solution even though you can’t visualize the entire path from your starting point.

Suppose your goal is to climb to the peak of a mountain, but there’s no trail to follow.  An example of a heuristic would be:  Head directly towards the peak until you reach an obstacle you can’t cross.  Whenever you reach such an obstacle, follow it around to the right until you’re able to head towards the peak once again.  This isn’t the most intelligent or comprehensive heuristic, but in many cases it will work just fine, and you’ll eventually reach the peak.

Heuristics don’t guarantee you’ll find the optimal solution, nor do they generally guarantee a solution at all.  But they do a good enough job of solving certain types of problems to be useful.  Their strength is that they break the deadlock of indecision and get you into action.  As you take action you begin to explore the solution space, which deepens your understanding of the problem.  As you gain knowledge about the problem, you can make course corrections along the way, gradually improving your chances of finding a solution.  If you try to solve a problem you don’t initially know how to solve, you’ll often figure out a solution as you go, one you never could have imagined until you started moving.  This is especially true with creative work such as software development.  Often you don’t even know exactly what you’re trying to build until you start building it.

Heuristics have many practical applications, and one of my favorite areas of application is personal productivity.  Productivity heuristics are behavioral rules (some general, some situation-specific) that can help us get things done more efficiently.  Here are some of my favorites:

  1. Nuke it!  The most efficient way to get through a task is to delete it.  If it doesn’t need to be done, get it off your to do list.
  2. Daily goals.  Without a clear focus, it’s too easy to succumb to distractions.  Set targets for each day in advance.  Decide what you’ll do; then do it.
  3. Worst first.  To defeat procrastination learn to tackle your most unpleasant task first thing in the morning instead of delaying it until later in the day.  This small victory will set the tone for a very productive day.
  4. Peak times.  Identify your peak cycles of productivity, and schedule your most important tasks for those times.  Work on minor tasks during your non-peak times.
  5. No-comm zones.  Allocate uninterruptible blocks of time for solo work where you must concentrate.  Schedule light, interruptible tasks for your open-comm periods and more challenging projects for your no-comm periods.
  6. Mini-milestones.  When you begin a task, identify the target you must reach before you can stop working.  For example, when working on a book, you could decide not to get up until you’ve written at least 1000 words.  Hit your target no matter what.
  7. Timeboxing.  Give yourself a fixed time period, like 30 minutes, to make a dent in a task.  Don’t worry about how far you get.  Just put in the time.
  8. Batching.  Batch similar tasks like phone calls or errands into a single chunk, and knock them off in a single session.
  9. Early bird.  Get up early in the morning, like at 5am, and go straight to work on your most important task.  You can often get more done before 8am than most people do in a day.
  10. Cone of silence.  Take a laptop with no network or WiFi access, and go to a place where you can work flat out without distractions, such as a library, park, coffee house, or your own backyard.  Leave your comm gadgets behind.
  11. Tempo.  Deliberately pick up the pace, and try to move a little faster than usual.  Speak faster.  Walk faster.  Type faster.  Read faster.  Go home sooner.
  12. Relaxify.  Reduce stress by cultivating a relaxing, clutter-free workspace.
  13. Agendas.  Provide clear written agendas to meeting participants in advance.  This greatly improves meeting focus and efficiency.  You can use it for phone calls too.
  14. Pareto.  The Pareto principle is the 80-20 rule, which states that 80% of the value of a task comes from 20% of the effort.  Focus your energy on that critical 20%, and don’t overengineer the non-critical 80%.
  15. Ready-fire-aim.  Bust procrastination by taking action immediately after setting a goal, even if the action isn’t perfectly planned.  You can always adjust course along the way.
  16. Minuteman.  Once you have the information you need to make a decision, start a timer and give yourself just 60 seconds to make the actual decision.  Take a whole minute to vacillate and second-guess yourself all you want, but come out the other end with a clear choice.  Once your decision is made, take some kind of action to set it in motion.
  17. Deadline.  Set a deadline for task completion, and use it as a focal point to stay on track.
  18. Promise.  Tell others of your commitments, since they’ll help hold you accountable.
  19. Punctuality.  Whatever it takes, show up on time.  Arrive early.
  20. Gap reading.  Use reading to fill in those odd periods like waiting for an appointment, standing in line, or while the coffee is brewing.  If you’re a male, you can even read an article while shaving (preferably with an electric razor).  That’s 365 articles a year.
  21. Resonance.  Visualize your goal as already accomplished.  Put yourself into a state of actually being there.  Make it real in your mind, and you’ll soon see it in your reality.
  22. Glittering prizes.  Give yourself frequent rewards for achievement.  See a movie, book a professional massage, or spend a day at an amusement park.
  23. Quad 2.  Separate the truly important tasks from the merely urgent.  Allocate blocks of time to work on the critical Quadrant 2 tasks, those which are important but rarely urgent, such as physical exercise, writing a book, and finding a relationship partner.
  24. Continuum.  At the end of your workday, identify the first task you’ll work on the next day, and set out the materials in advance.  The next day begin working on that task immediately.
  25. Slice and dice.  Break complex projects into smaller, well-defined tasks.  Focus on completing just one of those tasks.
  26. Single-handling.  Once you begin a task, stick with it until it’s 100% complete.  Don’t switch tasks in the middle.  When distractions come up, jot them down to be dealt with later.
  27. Randomize.  Pick a totally random piece of a larger project, and complete it.  Pay one random bill.  Make one phone call.  Write page 42 of your book.
  28. Insanely bad.  Defeat perfectionism by completing your task in an intentionally terrible fashion, knowing you need never share the results with anyone.  Write a blog post about the taste of salt, design a hideously dysfunctional web site, or create a business plan that guarantees a first-year bankruptcy.  With a truly horrendous first draft, there’s nowhere to go but up.
  29. 30 days.  Identify a new habit you’d like to form, and commit to sticking with it for just 30 days.  A temporary commitment is much easier to keep than a permanent one.
  30. Delegate.  Convince someone else to do it for you.
  31. Cross-pollination.  Sign up for martial arts, start a blog, or join an improv group.  You’ll often encounter ideas in one field that can boost your performance in another.
  32. Intuition.  Go with your gut instinct.  It’s probably right.
  33. Optimization.  Identify the processes you use most often, and write them down step-by-step.  Refactor them on paper for greater efficiency.  Then implement and test your improved processes.  Sometimes we just can’t see what’s right in front of us until we examine it under a microscope.
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