Keeping email inbox clean: block the noise

Email is an important tool. It is hard to imagine our daily life without it. However, email too often becomes the source of distraction. Our brain likes to get things done. So it is so tempting to trick it that we are doing some actual work when we check the email. However, very often we are dealing with emails that we should simply ignore.

To be more productive, we must, among other things, to know where to pay attention and what to ignore. Many things consume our attention and mental energy without providing anything useful in return. One kind of such useless things are informational/marketing emails. You probably saw such emails:

  • “Summer sale, 20% off”
  • Warehouse Overstock Sale – Going On Now
  • Get Over 60+ HDTV Channels Without Paying A Dime
  • Need some travel inspiration?
  • Earn 80K Bonus Points and bring your travel dreams to life

I am not saying that email marking is pure garbage. I am saying that signal to noise ratio is very low. I found that it is very rare that marketing email arrives at the right time, with the right product that I am willing to buy (because I actually need it vs just impulse buying), at the right price from the right seller.

My solution: I maintain my email Inbox and aggressively cut the noise. One of the things that I do is I unsubscribe from mass-emails. This way I am saving my limited cognitive energy on the things that really matter.

Where to find “Unsubscribe” link?

Most of the emails contain information about how to unsubscribe from the mass email notifications. Search for “unsubscribe”, “stop”, “opt out”, etc

Here are few examples:

What are the techniques that you use?

Spotify playlists to help with focus and concentration

Every person on this planet has the same amount of time on a given day, it is 24 hours. There are multiple ways to accomplish some results within that time: we can work longer or we can use time more efficiently.

One of the techniques to use time more efficiently is deep work. According to the book with the same name, deep work is the ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task. It’s a skill that allows you to quickly master complicated information and produce better results in less time.

As a software engineer, I need to focus on cognitively demanding tasks, and I try to do the job in a state of deep work. I found that I can much easily to enter the “flow” when I listen to easy, relaxing music. It establishes background noise that guards from the outside fuss and helps me to concentrate on the task, to mentally focus and get together.

Spotify already prepared playlists with such music. Here are couple of playlists that I listen:

I also highly recommend to buy good noise cancelling headphones. I personally use Bose Quite Comfort 35 and they are great, I was blown away by the noise cancellation

Do you try to enter the state of the deep work? What techniques do you use?

How to read books and listen to audiobooks for free

Do you like to read books? Or maybe you’d like to make your commute more productive (like listen to audiobooks)? Then you should check out the app called Libby.

Some features that I like:

  • Libby is a free app available for Android and iOS devices. I was using it when I had Android phone and now use it on iPhone
  • It lets you to check out the ebooks and audiobooks from your local library instantly and for free. All you need to have is the library membership.
  • It can pre-download books over Wifi so it does not drain data plan during listening.

I have been using Libby for more than year now, and it complements my Kindle reader. I was looking for a ways to make my commute more productive. I tried to do some work from my laptop or read books, but soon I realized that I would need a pair of spare eyes due to the shaking. And then on my library’s website I found Libby. Since then I just put my headphones on and listen to the audiobooks.

Here is the short promo video:

How to install Libby

You can find instructions and links to the app stores on Libby’s official website: https://meet.libbyapp.com/

How to find titles to read?

Since this app borrows books from the library, some of the most popular books may not be available. My algorithm of picking the book to listen to is the following:

  • If the book or books that I want to listen right now are not available, I place the hold on it so it will be automatically borrowed for me once it becomes available
  • I prefer reading non-fiction business books. So to find the next title I browse all business books, filter to pick audiobooks only that are available right now, and sort by popularity. Usually I can find few interesting titles this way.

How do you make your commute productive? Please comment!

How The Economic Machine Works by Ray Dalio (video)

I started reading Tony Robbins’ book “Money master the game“. The book is Okay, still working on it. On multiple occasions book mentions Ray Dalio, founder of hedge fund Bridgewater Associates and the author of famous book “Principles: Life and Work”.

After some reading about Mr. Dalio I found one of his websites, EconomicPrinciples.org. There you can find 30 minutes video in which Ray Dalio describes cyclic nature of the economy. There are three major processes that explain expansion and contraction of the economy:

  • Productivity
  • Short term debt
  • Long term debt

This simple but not simplistic video by Ray Dalio, Founder of Bridgewater Associates, shows the basic driving forces behind the economy, and explains why economic cycles occur by breaking down concepts such as credit, interest rates, leveraging and deleveraging.

Checkout the website to see this video and read some in-depth research papers: https://economicprinciples.org/

SOLVED: How to view community information/details on new Reddit website?

Community Info on Reddit has disappeared after the redesign. This has caused frustration among the users, and many are trying to find it

According to some comments, each sub needs to build a sidebar to show this information:

Yes, each sub will need to, and are responsible for, building a new sidebar using the tools available in the redesign.
Since reddit is trying to move away from CSS, mods are expected to do as much as they can with the existing tools and reach out to the admins with things that aren’t available using those tools, in order to hopefully build something that will fill those specific use-cases outside of relying on CSS. At least, that’s my understanding on the matter.

Community info was previously available if we go to /about page of the sub, for example: https://www.reddit.com/r/todoist/about. However, if you try to go there from the desktop browser you’ll get the error “”

Sorry, this is a moderator-only pageYou must be a moderator of r/todoist to view this page

Community info was previously available if we go to /about page of the sub, for example: https://www.reddit.com/r/todoist/about. However, if you try to go there from the desktop browser you’ll get the error:

“Sorry, this is a moderator-only pageYou must be a moderator of r/todoist to view this page”

However, there is a solution, just follow these 4 simple steps.

Solution

Step 1: Open the subreddit and add /about to the URL

For example: let’s say you want to see Community info for https://www.reddit.com/r/todoist/

Then you need to go to: https://www.reddit.com/r/todoist/about

Step 2: Open Chrome Developer tools

Step 3: Click “Toggle Deice toolbar” button

This will bring up the menu with various device emulation options

Step 4: Refresh the page and close developer tools

Done: you can now see the Community Info tab:

So, that is the workaround that I use. Do you know any other ways?

One simple step to prevent distractions: disable Outlook email notifications

Our daily life is filled with distractions: received a new instant message, boss just stopped by, urgent task appeared on our radar. And emails, emails keep arriving. Dealing with distractions may trick our brain into thinking that we are constantly doing something important, like solving problems, making some progress. However, distractions are the ultimate productivity killers. Whenever we need to switch to the different activity we need to go through the lengthy context switching process. And it takes time to go back to the previous activity.

Hardly any office job now can be done without use of an email. And most of email clients will gladly notify us that some email arrived using notifications on our computers. Those email notifications are yet another source of distractions. Personally I had a problem with those notifications: whenever I saw notification about new email I felt immediate urge to open Outlook and check what is the message is about. It was happening even for not important or not urgent emails. And then it took me 15 or more minutes to get back on track (“Ok, now, what the heck I was doing?”)

I solved this problem by simply turning off the email notifications. As a result I was able to stay more focused, get more things done and feel less stress.

How to disable email notifications in Outlook for Mac?

Step 1: Go to Outlook menu, then click Preferences

Step 2: Select “Notifications & Sounds”

Step 3: Uncheck “Display an alert on my desktop”

That is it! You will no longer be bugged by annoying alerts that were preventing you from getting the work done.

So when to read those emails?

In some sense software is controlling us with constant notifications: “ding” and we are rushing to check what’s new just happened. But things should be in reverse: software is our tools, not our masters.

Same with email. We should be deciding when to check new mail, reply, etc.

I found that few things work for me best:

  • I check emails only few times per day
  • In the morning I just glance through the emails to check whether there is something really urgent that I need to drop everything and do right now. Otherwise I don’t want to spend time reading/replying to the emails as it can easily sidetrack me from accomplishing whatever I planned to do that day.

Lets be honest here: how often do we get an email that we need to reply or act upon the very same minute that we received it? One email every year? So should we always be on the lookout for it and sacrifice our productivity and work-life balance? I’ve answered this question to myself: no.

Microsoft Flow’s Todoist connector is broken, no workaround available

Microsoft Flow is a free tool that can automate some routine operations, like automatically adding calendar events, forwarding emails, and so on. I have been using it for many years now, since it just launched. And Todoist connector is one of my most used building blocks.

Unfortunately it recently stopped working. Todoist developers deprecated legacy API and Microsoft didn’t update the connector in time. Now all the jobs are failing with this error:

Action 'Create_a_task' failed
Error Details: The response is not in a JSON format.

{
  "error": {
    "code": 410,
    "source": "flow-apim-msmanaged-na-centralus-01.azure-apim.net",
    "clientRequestId": "fa463f14-500d-4ca2-8350-e4f4646ab93a",
    "message": "The response is not in a JSON format.",
    "innerError": "<!DOCTYPE HTML PUBLIC \"-//W3C//DTD HTML 3.2 Final//EN\">\n<title>410 Gone</title>\n<h1>Gone</h1>\n<p>This API endpoint is no longer available. Please refer to our documentation to upgrade your client to use the latest API version: https://developer.todoist.com</p>\n"
  }
}

Fix: no, ETA: no

There is no fix or a workaround that I am aware of. I have reported the issue here: https://powerusers.microsoft.com/t5/I-Found-A-Bug/Todoist-connector-no-longer-working-due-to-the-API-endpoint/m-p/355721#M5216

It was acknowledged, but there is no information whether the fix is in progress or when it should be deployed.

Do you use Microsoft Flow? What is your workflow setup? Please share it in comments.

Hello and welcome!

Hello and welcome everyone to my blog! My name is Vitalii and I hope that you can find something useful here.

A few facts about me:

  • I am a software engineer working in one of the FAANG companies
  • I am a father of two wonderful girls
  • My family is originally from Ukraine, but currently we live in the USA, in the beautiful state of Washington

What you can find in this blog? Well, there is not going to be a single topic, but here are the few things that I have in mind:

  • Various tips and suggestions around technology, Internet and so on
  • Productivity and self improvement. I am by no means enlightened guru that figured everything out. No, I’m just trying to do the best I can during the time I have left to spend on this planet; all while trying to be a good father and a husband. I have read many books and tried my tools and approaches and I think I have something to share with the world.
  • Many other topics that I’m struggling to predict now.

So please subscribe if you are interested!

Why is this blog called Lifelong Freshman?

The answer is simple: there are so many interesting & exciting things to learn and try that I believe that learning process will never end. The more I live them more I realize how much stuff I’d like to try to accomplish and experience.

So do I know it all? Hell no. I am figuring stuff out as I go and have many more things to learn. In fact, quite often I come up with ideas for the blog posts after I just learned how to do or improve something. But I believe that this information can be useful for others.