Pomodoro timers

I’m a big fan of productivity. You could also say I’m lazy; I want to get as much done as quickly as possible so I can move on to other things. One of the best tools I’ve found that helps me do this is a Pomodoro timer.

You can read a bit about the Pomodoro technique here. In short, here’s what you do:

  1. Set the pomodoro timer for 25 minutes.
  2. Work on the task until the timer rings.
  3. Take a short break (3–5 minutes), then set the timer for 25 minutes again. This is one pomodoro.
  4. After four pomodoros take a longer break (15–30 minutes).

Simple, right? The reason I’ve found this so helpful is because it helps me break a task down into a manageable chunk. When I have a load of emails to answer or a huge project to tackle, it’s easy to feel like the job is too big. Luckily, I’ve always been able to talk myself into working for 25 minutes. My internal conversation goes something like this:

Just 25 minutes Adam! Anyone can do that much work! You can give up afterwards.

What ends up happening, of course, is that three minutes into the pomodoro I’m happily working and the task gets done. The hardest part for me is always starting; once I start the rest seems to take care of itself.

You can use just about any tool to do this, such as a kitchen timer or the timer on your phone. I enjoy using a software solution that sits in the menu bar of my Mac, such as Pomodoro Timer for Mac. An online option that I often use is Focus Booster. (It also has an app you can download.) If you’re looking for a more complete list of software options check here.




Fixing 404 errors in WordPress after changing server settings

While making some changes on my hosted server account today, I ended up breaking all the links in this blog. For about 30 minutes every link I clicked on returned a 404 (page not found) error. Here’s the fix I used:

  1. Log in to WordPress
  2. From the left-hand navigation menu in the Dashboard, click Settings > Permalinks. If you have a custom setting here, make sure to copy it and paste it in another window. Once the fix is done you can change it back.
  3. Select  Default.
  4. Click Save Settings.
  5. Change the settings back to the previous configuration (before you selected Default). This is where you’ll paste in your former custom permalink settings. If you had previously selected one of the other permalink choices, select it again.
  6. Click Save Settings.

Easy, eh? The links in your blog should now be back to normal.

If this didn’t work for you, it might be necessary for you to edit the .htaccess file on your server. That’s pretty far outside the scope of this post, so if you think this is what you need to do you should contact support at your hosting company for help.

Also, keep in mind that this fix is only for self-hosted WordPress blogs (i.e. WordPress.org blogs); it won’t work with WordPress.com. If your blog is on WordPress.com their support folks are great and can help you out if you contact them.


Fixing the Send to Kindle Mac app in OS X 10.10

The Send to Kindle app is great; it allows you to simply drag and drop a .mobi file (or other compatible file type) to an icon in the Mac Dock, and the book will be sent to Amazon and then downloaded to your Kindle. There’s a problem with the app that prevents it from successfully installing on OS X 10.10 Yosemite. Here’s what the error looks like:

send to kindle error

Today on the Amazon forums I found a handy workaround that got it up and running on my system. It takes some Terminal work, but it’s not hard to do.

Step 1: Download Send to Kindle for Mac


Step 2: Open your Terminal

The easiest way to do this is by either clicking the Spotlight tool or typing ⌘+Space and then typing Terminal

Step 3: Direct the Terminal to the Downloads folder (where the Send to Kindle installer is)

Type the following into the Terminal, then hit Return:

cd ~/Downloads

Step 4: Edit the pkg

You’ll now enter a few different commands into the terminal. These commands will open the package so you can edit the code, edit the code, then repackage the pkg so you can run it successfully. Enter these commands one at a time in the Terminal.

pkgutil --expand SendToKindleForMac-installer.pkg sendtokindle.unpkg

nano sendtokindle.unpkg/buildroot.pkg/Scripts/preinstall

The second command will open the pkg contents in a Terminal-based text editor called Nano. You will need to search for the line that looks like this:


and change it to


This tells the pkg that any version of OS X larger than version 0 can install the package. Normally you wouldn’t want this, but the way the logic in the original was set up it saw 10.10 as less than 10.6. (I’m not a programmer, so I don’t get computer logic. I just know this fix worked for me.)

Once you’ve done that type CTRL+X to exit, and be sure to save. Then you can run the final command:

pkgutil --flatten sendtokindle.unpkg SendToKindForMac-installer-fixed.pkg

Step 5: Run the updated .pkg

In your Downloads folder you should now see a new .pkg that will run successfully.

send to kindle fixed

Let me know if you have any questions in the comments!

Kudos to the original poster for the solution: http://www.amazon.com/gp/help/customer/forums/kindleqna/ref=cs_hc_k_tv?ie=UTF8&forumID=Fx1FI6JDSFEQQ7V&cdThread=Tx1QLTNJ3AISSD6



What to do when you start to flinch

The closer we get to real change, the harder it gets to actually make the change.

This might seem to be painfully obvious to most people, but when you’re in the middle of a huge change and this happens to you it can be a shock. In the past few weeks I’ve started to find myself freezing in the middle of work. I really like the work I do, and once I get into it and stop thinking so much I feel much better, but when it’s time to sit down and get to work it is increasingly hard to do so.

Why would I do something so counter-productive to myself? I don’t know. But there have been quite a few days in the last few weeks that I find myself thinking how nice it would be to scrap the entire plan to move to the other side of the world, live off my own business, and pursue a dream of playing music. The argument in my head tends to go something like this:

It’s way too much work to do all of this. My life now is fine! I’m leaving behind guaranteed healthcare for my family, a job that I don’t love but that I certainly don’t hate, and the life I’ve been quite comfortable in for the last eight years. Why mess with a good thing?

This feeling, the feeling of drawback before an uncomfortable change, was called “The Flinch” by Julien Smith. (It’s a free eBook and a great read, I really recommend it.) I don’t want to flinch. I think that in life we largely make our own luck by doing things that matter, and I don’t want to miss out on this chance.

How to avoid ‘the flinch’? Practice. Julien says to start by doing things such as jumping into a cold shower, something that is physically uncomfortable but not harmful in any way. It’s something that you can get used to, something that can be a springboard to doing other uncomfortable things.

Perhaps I’m harder on myself than many other people, but one of the best ways I find to get in gear and start working when I feel like flinching is to psych myself into it. I use the Pomodoro technique, not because I particularly love it, but because I can say to myself “Just work for 20 minutes. Any old fool or faker like you can work for 20 minutes. You can quit after 20 minutes.” And of course once the first section of the pomodoro ends after 20 minutes, jumping into the next 20 minutes isn’t even an issue. After that the problem is stopping for the breaks.

Tim Ferriss published a wonderful call that he received from Paulo Coehlo in which Paulo says he goes through the same thing. Not only is he a international best seller, he finds himself flinching too. (It’s comforting sometimes to hear that our heroes have feet of clay.) He uses a similar method to get started – berating himself until he gets started – because once you start it’s hard to stop. You can hear his interview here.

What do you do when you feel like pulling back or flinching? How do you get through times when you feel inadequate?


100,000 Arrows in Three Days: A Problem Solving Lesson from Chinese History

zhugeliangMaking changes, especially big changes, takes creativity. How hard you look for a solution shows how much you want to solve it. Here’s a great example of that.

Zhu and the 100,000 arrows

The other day my son Emerson was in the toy room playing and he started telling a story about Zhu Ge-liang, a famous general and scholar from ancient China. Zhu was one of the emperor’s advisors in the time of the warring states, there were many different kingdoms at war with each other, and all were vying to control all of China. He was smart, but he got on a lot of people’s nerves as well, and so one day his enemies within the court laid a trap for him.

An advisor to the emperor called Zhu into see him and told him that the army needed 100,000 arrows in ten days time, and that it was Zhu’s responsibility to make them. This was an impossible task, something that even a large group of craftsmen wouldn’t have been able to finish in such a short time. Zhu said he would do it, and finish in only three days. The first day went by and all Zhu did was think. The second day rolled around and he was still thinking. His friends, already worried because of the impossibility of the task, started to plead with him, asking him to flee so that he wouldn’t be executed when he couldn’t deliver the arrows. He just smiled and told them not to worry.

On the evening of the third day, Zhu went to the docks and asked the shipmaster to prepare a number of ships for him. Zhu and some helpers then bundled together stacks of straw and placed them upright on the ships. When the ships were prepared they were sent into the river with the crew hidden behind the straw.

On the other side of the river was the enemy. As they saw ships coming across the water in the thick mist, they thought an invasion had been launched, and so they lined up their archers and began to fire on the ships. The crews on the ships stopped them in the middle of the river but still inside of arrow range. The enemy army pelted the ships with arrows for an hour until they began to withdraw. When the ships returned to the shore, Zhu and his helpers took all of the arrows out of the straw, bundled them up, and took them back to court, over 100,000 of them. Not only did the army get the arrows it needed, the emperor promoted Zhu to be his primary advisor.

Solutions that make a difference aren’t necessarily obvious

If success were easy, everyone would be successful. If the problems that hold people back were simple to solve, most people wouldn’t have them in the first place. Don’t settle for failure, and don’t stop looking for solutions until you’ve tried everything you can.

When our family made the decision to move to America, we had some huge problems facing us – no job prospects and no easy way to save money for the move. The solution didn’t jump up and bite me during the first night of thinking about it, it took two years of learning and preparation to appear. I didn’t study about eBooks in school, I didn’t even know what an eBook was when I graduated from the history department! (And Amazon hadn’t even invented the Kindle at that point.) No one pushed me to learn HTML, to study details about eBook formats, or to spend my free time reading technical documentation that seemed to be 90% hieroglyphics.

My point is not that I am an amazing intellect or somehow better than anyone else because I’ve learned a skill that I’ve been able to turn into a job that will take my family halfway around the world. If I can do something like this, then anyone can, including you.

Fear is our greatest enemy and greatest helper in problem solving

If Zhu Ge-liang had looked at his situation logically or listened to his friends he would have ended up a penniless outlaw without a country. No one in a million years would have suggested the solution he came up with to him as the best course of action. Perhaps that’s why his solution worked, it wasn’t the solution that anybody expected him to come up with. With hindsight his plan is clever, even logical. Who has 10,000 arrows? The other army. All he needed was a way to get them to hand them over. In the moment, however, I’m sure it felt like a Hail Mary pass with the clock running out. Whatever Zhu’s feelings at the time were, one thing is for sure: legends aren’t made out of people who allow fear to win.

Whatever the problems you are facing, don’t underestimate the effects of fear. It can paralyze, or act as a springboard that will catapult us to new heights of creativity.

What do you do when you’re in a difficult situation? How have you overcome challenges? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.