Tune in, turn on and drop out – using apps to unplug.
Let me preface my first post on The Good Men Project, by saying that I can’t tell you anything about being a good man, but what I can tell you is that I do know a bunch of apps that could help you to become a better man.
By “better” I mean purely in terms of being better at stuff—these apps can’t improve your ethics. And by “man” I mean purely in the terms of personhood – these apps can’t make you good or manly.
Yet, what they can do is make you better at actually doing sh*t, within the context of all the social responsibility that implies, at your work and with your family life. Nonetheless, despite making such a lofty claim, I write this solely for your entertainment, so I hope you take my recommendations as such!
Developing Good Habits
A good man develops good habits, right? Or at least, tries to develop good habits. I am sure you have heard that something becomes habit forming if you repeat it daily for at least 21 days. The theory sounds great, but if you are anything like me, you do okay for a few days and then stop counting or lose track.
You might have heard the phrase “what gets measured, gets managed.” It’s a useful truism to follow when it comes to managing personal changes in behavior. Yet how do you measure this stuff to get it managed? Keeping a list can be tedious.
(1) Lift (https://lift.do/) is a very very simple app that helps you track your habit-forming activities and supports you in developing new habits. Simply download and sign up, and then start entering the habits that you want to develop – whether that be drinking more water or doing more press ups.
What’s great about the app is that you can define the habits however you like. You can write them in your own terms, or you can draw on suggested habits that other people are trying to develop. You can write your own unique one or join a group of people who are working towards a common goal. Personally, I found it useful to get suggestions about what other people are doing and how they are defining success – such as writing for 30 minutes a day.
Once you’ve chosen your new habit, simply click ‘start tracking’ and then every time you do it, open the app and check into your habit. It plots every time you do it on a calendar, keeping count of every time you do what you intended and also highlighting when you make it a regular daily thing. There’s something satisfying about knowing when you are onto a winning streak.
The merits of developing mental acuity seem too obvious to state, but a daily mental workout can scratch an itch and remind you that you’re not born any particular way.
You’re not just a maths person, or just a wordsmith, and your learning styles are not simply visual or always auditory. You’re probably a mix. Slightly better at some things than others, but pretty much capable of any bunch of high functioning mental tasks. You might be great at sudoku or crosswords, but a true test of a sharp mind is being able to mentally adapt to exercises outside of your routine.
Yet it can be a slog to constantly invent new challenges that sit outside of your comfort zone and similarly, not every challenge has to be of Everest proportions.
Brain training games have been a fad for a while—ever since that game on Nintendo DS. However, most of us don’t walk around with a DS in our pocket, so brain training games on your phone are the next best thing.
(2) Lumosity (http://www.lumosity.com/) has a fantastic brain training mobile app which gives you a daily set of brain teasers that test different aspects of your mental abilities. Three daily tests help you measure your speed and perspicaciousness, memory and recall, ability to focus and adapt or solve problems.
The app is great because it limits you to playing just three games a day, which contributes to an overall score, called the Brain Performance Index (BPI) which, in Lumosity’s own words is a “measure of cognitive performance.” Every game takes minutes and there is a huge variety of games. You can even have the app to customize the game suggestions according to the specific cognitive abilities you want to develop. If you get really hooked, you can also have it set reminders to play the game each day – but nicely, it does not default to do this.
Stay More Up to Date
Personally, I think live TV sucks nowadays, but I still need it for the news. However, I don’t want to invest time on the couch to catch up with the days happenings and certainly don’t want to endure 30 second commercials for the privilege.
More often than not, being perfectly honest, I don’t necessarily need to read every report or watch every segment to feel at least a little in tune with the world outside. Just knowing the headlines is sufficient, and like unread books on shelves, I am under the illusion that I can absorb their content through mental osmosis.
(3) Push.co (http://push.co/) is a smart little app to get real time updates from some of the more well known blogs and traditional news sites.
Push.co enables you to subscribe to the latest headlines from major news sources like the BBC in real time so that they pop up on your phone’s home screen.
For the newshounds and social content curators out there, an added bonus of Push.co is that you can instantly share to your Twitter and Facebook friends.
Be warned, if you’re utterly sick of Facebook notifications pinging your phone, then this is not the app for you. However, if you can endure a few more in the name of staying more generally up to date, then give it a go. If you subscribe to too many sources, it can become an annoyance, but limiting it to a select few sources can provide just enough to stay abreast of the days headlines.
Make Web Browsing Distractions Work Better For You
The downside of the information economy is that there is too much information and, like the rest of us, you probably experience being bombarded with reading suggestions on a daily basis.
Whether you are following your favorite RSS feeds, or a friend has emailed you some a link or someone just shared something vaguely interesting on Facebook, the problem of keeping up is not a lack of information, but of an over abundance. The question of managing it becomes, not how, but when you are going to get a chance to digest the information.
As most of what you read is now online, you’ll need an internet connection to make use of it. Yet, when you have a connection, you’re likely either on the move or sitting at your desk, trying to do actual useful work. If you read what you just got sent now, you are going to be less effective in this moment, but if you don’t read it now, you risk not getting another opportunity. Conversely, the downtime you have to actually digest all this stuff is usually when you’re cut off from the cloud – like on the subway.
(4) Pocket (http://getpocket.com/) is an absolutely brilliant app for storing all your reading suggestions for reading offline. When you are stuck underground due to signal failure, Pocket means you no longer need to endure a failure of signal. Just open the app and everything you have saved to pocket is there, for instant consumption with no internet/data connection required. Browser plugins mean that you can save anything you find whilst browsing the web to Pocket for later reading.
There are many other similar apps, like Instapaper for example, and even the native ‘add to reading list’ functionality on iPhone, but in my opinion, Pocket wins hands down because of its integration with other useful apps like Buffer (bufferapp.com), Evernote (http://evernote.com/), and in particular, If This Then That (IFTTT) (https://ifttt.com), which enables you to set up a bunch of automated routines to help you work smarter rather than harder.
By way of an example, you could have IFTTT setup with Pocket so that every time The Good Men Project updates, you can have it automatically saved for offline reading without so much as the click of your mouse.
Be More Effective in More Places at Once
Social media being as ubiquitous as it is, puts pressure on everyone to be more visible in general. This pressure is felt especially acutely if you are running your own business as you need to be more visible and managing many more networks beyond your day to day social circles.
Whilst Seth Godin is totally right that you should only use the networks that work best for your work and your style (in Godin’s case, none suit him apparently), we are not all published marketing gurus with a naturally huge following (http://askaaronlee.com/youre-not-seth-godin/). So, the chances are that you’re still trying to get a feel for which social networks you can be most successful on.
Whether you are uploading videos to YouTube, maintaining a Facebook Fan page, Tweeting or connecting with people on Linkedin, each of these social networks have both different and overlapping functionality. This means that there are unique reasons to use each one, but more often than not, a lot of duplicating effort.
All of which adds up to a ball ache. Too many distractions and wasted time.
(5) IFTTT (https://ifttt.com) can trim valuable seconds off the time it takes to keep all your social networks updated and simultaneously makes them more useful.
Short for, “If This Then That,” IFTTT enables you to create a set of If/And switches between a variety of web apps, by having the different tools talk to each other via software APIs. Using an interface that is so simple your gram could use it, IFTTT enables you to create a set of If/And ‘recipes’ based on what each API is capable of.
Essentially IFTTT gives you a bunch of two-for-one actions across your favorite social networks. For example, you can:
- Have selected Tweets automatically update your status on Facebook or Linkedin (https://ifttt.com/recipes/73009), simply by adding an #fb or #li hashtag. And vice versa (https://ifttt.com/recipes/101374).
- Automatically share your new YouTube upload to Facebook (https://ifttt.com/recipes/10822). Or automatically turn your latest favourited YouTube video into a blog post (https://ifttt.com/recipes/3171), Tumblr (https://ifttt.com/recipes/670) or Facebook update (https://ifttt.com/recipes/3171).
- Automatically invite new contacts to connect on Linkedin when you add them to your address book (https://ifttt.com/recipes/123313).
- Automatically save updates from your favorite blog to Pocket.
- Send reminders by text when your rent is due.
There is absolutely tonnes of automated switches you can create with IFTTT and the portfolio of apps it can talk to is growing every day. Fitness fans should look out for all the cool recipes you can create with Jawbone’s UP wristband (https://jawbone.com/up) around logging sleep, meal and weight data (https://ifttt.com/jawbone_up).
Remember: the aim of plugging in these apps is to help you unplug.