Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Want to Help Your Teenagers Do Chores With Better Attitudes

What is Steve doing writing about Teenagers on a Productivity Blog? Honestly, one of my biggest productivity challenges has been GETTING MY TEENAGER TO DO THINGS. Here are some thoughts...

You are probably saying, “You’ve got to be kidding.  There are a few impossible things in this world, and teenagers happily doing chores is near the top of the impossible scale."  But wouldn’t you like to know a few tips to help make life easier for you and more productive in your home?  Let’s explore a couple techniques that are effective with teenagers.

Doing The Boring Chores

In our house we have two different lists for our kids.  There is a list that is printed that has recurring tasks that must be done around the house everyday and it’s boring and repetitive.  Here’s a sample of the daily chore list for our house.  We have three lists similar to this that cover all the regular chores (one list per kid). The list are rotated each week to reduce the boring factor just a little bit.

Achieving The Household Necessities
Then there is the all the things that are one time things like painting the garage door trim or hall the tree stumps to the fire pit.  These jobs are little more involved and there are dozens of them.  I’ll bet you could name a few of your own...
  1. Clean out refrigerator
  2. Clean living room windows
  3. Clean bathroom floor grout with tooth brush
  4. Paint window sill
  5. Clean oven
  6. Mulch the flower bed
Note that teanagers are, “Not as smart as they think they are and much more capable than they believe.”  I’ve coined this phrase as an axiom for life and it applies just as much to me as it does to my teenagers.  And since they are much more capable than they believe, they can do very difficult things and tedious things and overcome some of their fears about household maintenance.

Improving The Attitude

I’ve been doing experiments with my kids for years to figure out how to make chores and house maintenance a regular part of childhood and an accepted part of the weekly routine.  This is very challenging, but I’ve hit upon a couple things that seem to work pretty well.

  1. Boring chores will be boring, but they are the gateway to TV, iPod Touch, computer and the like.

Creating a routine where all digital things are unavailable until the boring chores get done can be an excellent way to enable your kids to achieve doneness before moving on to their most prized adventures. After several sessions of re-do’s for different jobs that were not quite right, this system worked out well for just keeping pace with the mess we make everyday of our lives.

  1. Home maintenance chores require a little more creativity, but a similar reward structure.

I have engaged technology to help me manage my list of home maintenance activities.  I mounted a tablet on my kitchen wall and named it “Gimli” (We are big fans of Lord of the Rings). Little gimli hosts only a couple apps: Calendar and Trello.  The calendar is synchronized with the family’s google calendar and Trello is a web app that provides a beautiful interface for hosting a pictorial tasks list.

My kids don’t love the fact they have to do chores and home maintenance, but they are now in the habit of doing 1-trello task per week during the school year and 2-trello tasks per week during the summer. They also do 1-trello task on a Saturday after cleaning their rooms.  I also have some tasks that I’m willing to pay for and the dollar amount is listed in the item description.  I find that it’s not very motivational for them to make money, so I let them pick either a paid item or non-paid item.  


What helps your teenagers attitude...
  1. Regularly scheduled work
  2. A pick list instead of specific assigned tasks (for extra maintenance items)
  3. A very accessible list of items
  4. A graphical list of items vs. just word for word description
  5. Getting the fun you want after you do the work

Please let me know if you’ve tried other things that work for you. If you have some specific questions about implementation of any technology or tips, please post a comment or send me an e-mail.

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-Best Regards, Steve.

Monday, September 21, 2015

How to Get a Higher Education While you Commute

I’ve looked at the statistics for commuting duration and decided that I can get the equivalent of a master's degree while I commute to work and back home.  Master Degree programs vary widely in terms of credit hours, but according to my research an average master's degree usually requires about 36 Credit Hours.  Credit hours are measured as Contact Hours with a professor and then you add another 3 hours of homework.  That’s 4 hours or your personal time per credit hour.  Now multiply by 15 weeks (length of the semester) and your grand total for master’s degree is 2160 hours.

Now that we know how much a typical master degree costs in terms of hours, how long will it take me to get the equivalent education hours while I drive down the road? I’m glad you asked…

Let’s assume that you start your education at the moment you jump in the car and stop when you arrive at work.  We’ll assume the same scenario for the trip from work to home.  

Daily 1 Way Commute in Minutes
Years to Get Master's Degree

Based on the numbers in the table above it could take you anywhere from a little over 2 year to 8 ½ years to get the equivalent hours of education for a master’s degree.   You might be asking yourself a few questions…

  • Where am I going to find a college professor to ride along with me for the duration of my commute?
  • And how will I convince him or her to show up at my house right when I leave for work?
  • Can he or she find a way back to the college or university so I don’t have to drop them off?
  • How much is this going to cost me for the convenience and quality of this education?

Fortunately you don’t need to find that special college professor.  You’ve probably already hear of by Amazon.  Audible is a subscription service that holds a vast amount of material for every kind of reader/listener.

For our use case of getting the equivalent of a master’s degree, I researched audible’s collection of “The Great Courses” audio books. I determined that Audible has approximately 400 titles “The Great Courses Titles” that sum to 6,300 hours of educational listening. NOTE: This is ONLY “The Great Courses” material which is a fraction of the content on Audible. Many of these titles are recorded by University Professors who hold Ph.D’s is the subject of interest. just found the professor that will ride along with you every day.

Caveats include
  • No face time with a real professor
  • No office hours
  • No homework
  • No accreditation for all your work
  • No group projects that are core for many master's degree programs

Nevertheless, you can learn a ton and apply a amazing amount of what you learn by consistently listening day after day.

Check out  Find some courses of interest from “The Great Course” or other self help or business.  DO NOT get a novel...unless you are pursuing Creative Writing or Literature. You need to be learning on your commute to invest the time.

Please leave comments and let me know about what kind of “Master’s Degree” you would like to get while you drive?

-All The Best, Steve.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Put Siri to Work For You While You Walk, Run or Drive

I have a love hate relationship with Siri. Sometimes she really helps me and sometime she infuriates me.  After several years of training she’s finally learned how to listen to me closely then find my wife in my contacts and dial the number...all this while using only my hands free device in my car.

But what can Siri really do for you...let’s consider the many things…

  1. Answer stupid questions..."Siri, what is 0 divided by zero?"
  2. With two iPhones face-to-face she can have a goofy conversation with herself
  3. Siri can mispronounce my last name and hundreds of other people's names
  4. She can also completely louse up my voice to text translation so badly that I curse. that wasn’t a very helpful. Let’s try again...this time with positive energy...

  1. Create notes on the run or while driving to capture important thoughts or actions, "Siri, take note I figured out a way to solve world hunger".
  2. Create calendar, "Siri, schedule meeting with Elon Musk tomorrow at 11:30"
  3. Simple research, "Siri, who is steve teske?"
  4. Open an App, "Siri, please open evernote"
  5. Play Music, "Siri, shuffle all music"

Everyone pretty much knows how to use Siri these days, but let’s see if we can get some more mileage out while we are on the road or on the run.  Honestly, my number one productivity boost from Siri is (drum roll)...Creating notes with voice commands.

As a Getting Things Done (GTD) fanatic (i.e. supreme productivity process create by David Allen) I believe in the methodology of capturing everything that I think about.  Yes that’s right, I try to capture everything I think about.  That is rather scary I know.  And I don’t succeed at it because I guess I don’t necessary want to remember EVERYTHING I think about.  So let’s reduce ‘everything’ to ‘everything inspiring or energizing or that needs done’.  

This is where Siri comes in.  GTD creator David Allen suggest that you have pen and paper available everywhere so you can capture “everything”.  When I run and when I commute (a long commute), I don’t have paper or pencil, but I do have lots of inspiring and energizing thoughts as do you.  So instead of capturing inspiring thoughts on paper, I ask Siri to help.

Me: “Make Note” [cease talking]
Siri: “I can take that note for you”
Me: “I want to have a conversation with my boss about a raise this year”
Siri: “I’ve created that note for you.  It’s says, [insert Siri’s mis-translation here]”

I’ve linked my iPhone and MacBook to gmail account and guess what, that means my Apple Notes (iOS and OSX) are stored in my ‘Gmail’ account and they are synchronized across all of my devices.

And for the black belt users, you can add an extra twist...

Using a service called IFTTT (IF This Then That) [], you can synchronize your Apple Notes (stored in gmail)  to evernote or Trello or many other applications. So if you are an Evernote user, you could take notes with Siri, and IFTTT forwards those notes to Evernote and then you can review them later. This is great for people constantly on the go.

Wow.  I love it when Siri can do my transcribing for me.  She doesn’t always to a great job, but it’s usually readable enough to make sense later.  

This is especially handy in the car.  I have a JABRA Freeway hands free device.  I push a button on the JABRA (which is attached to my visor) and Siri is activated.  I then put my inspirational thought into a note or record my next action or dictate a critical project status or capture vacation ideas and I can review them all later. Now that I can effortlessly and quickly take important notes and seamlessly integrate them across my other productivity tools, I am able to get the most important things done quicker and be more productive in my professional and personal life. Thanks, Siri.

Let's have the dialog. Please leave a comment.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

What is your commute costing you?

I’m a busy human and a Software Development Professional.  My passion is to seek out ways to create more effective ways to manage time and achieve goals.

One of my biggest irritants is wasted time in traffic.  I work in the Washington DC area which according to Forbes is 8th on the list of worst rush hour traffic.

So what.  SO WHAT!? Let’s measure the impact on this in terms of our productivity, scientific advancement and financial impact.  Look at this statistic…

“The Texas Transportation Institute estimated that, in 2000, the 75 largest metropolitan areas experienced 3.6 billion vehicle-hours of delay, resulting in 5.7 billion U.S. gallons (21.6 billion liters) in wasted fuel and $67.5 billion in lost productivity, or about 0.7% of the nation's GDP. It also estimated that the annual cost of congestion for each driver was approximately $1,000 in very large cities and $200 in small cities. Traffic congestion is increasing in major cities and delays are becoming more frequent in smaller cities and rural areas.”
Yipe!  So, doing the math, if you work in DC for 20 years and commute you could be costing yourself $20,000. And that’s just the financial impact.  We haven’t yet calculated the cost in lost innovation, lost time with family, and lost time to live life.

Hah. Not to worry.  I have some ideas that can help us all achieve better results personally.

  1. Find an alternative route
  2. Utilize public transit … many suburbians (like myself) don’t have this option.
  3. Do something productive with your time...educate yourself with audio books, safely makes some hands-free mobile calls
  4. Work at home … ah the dream.

Let’s tackle some ideas from #1

Route finding...having an adventure in your daily commute.

The first step here is to break out the google map and find some interesting way to get to-and-from your current destination.  I recommend travelling down just about every road possible to find alternatives. It could take some time, but you might just enjoy the adventure.  In the eastern United States it’s easy to find multiplicity of route options because the roads wind here and there. In the western US I think it is probably more difficult.

Try everything.  You’ll probably find that most roads are not faster than the main highway on average.  However, some smaller, back country, roads can be a lot less stressful.  If they are not less stressful...then it’s probably not a good alternative.

There are a couple mobile apps that you can use on your commute to determine real time if the main route is better or worse than your alternative route:  ‘Commute” and ‘INRIX’.  I’ll talk more about these in a separate post.

So your homework is to check out some new routes to the office.  Also check out some commuting and traffic apps.  Maybe if you reduce your stress or enjoy the beauty of your commute, you might find the drive better.  Although that is helpful for your health, we still need to capture back some of the waisted $1000/year.  More on that later.

Please leave comments.

-All the Best, Steve