Ricky Spears’ Blog
Empower. Challenge. Advance.


How a Chromebook Improved How I Work in Windows 10

I’ve been curious about Chromebooks for a long time but didn’t take the plunge to try one until a couple weeks ago. I bought a 11″ Acer Chromebook for $150. Overall, I’m very well pleased with the device. Much of my time is spent working in browser apps, and all of this can be done on this inexpensive, lightweight device with 10-hours of battery life.

One of the first things I needed to learn how to do was to pin things to the Shelf (this is the Chrome OS equivalent to the Windows Taskbar). This turned out to be super easy, but certainly not intuitive.

  1. Navigate to the web site you want to add. In this example, I’m pinning Weather.com.
  2. Click on the menu button (I call it the hamburger icon), and select More Tools > Add to Shelf…
  3. A dialog will open where you can rename the shortcut. You can also check a box for Open as Window. Checking this box opens the web page, or “App”, in a new window without any menus, tabs, or other browser controls–it’s much more like a Windows program. Click thae Add button.
  4. Notice you now have the icon on the Shelf (taskbar). If you selected the Open as Window checkbox, it will open as a Window from the Launcher too. Notice this window only has the minimize, maxamize, and close controls and none of the other browser controls like tabs, menu button, address bar, etc…

I wondered if I could do the same thing in Windows. It turns out you can!

  1. In the Chrome browser, visit a page to which you want to add a task bar icon.
  2. Click on the menu icon and select More Tools > Add to taskbar…
  3. You get the same prompt with the same option to open as Window.
  4. This doesn’t add it directly to the Windows Task Bar, but it does add it to the Chrome App Launcher. Not only that, it adds it for the Google User you were logged into the browser as.
  5. When you click on the icon, it opens the web site as an “App”. That is, it opens it in a new window without any browser controls.

Solving the Problem of Too Many Browser Windows and Tabs for Critical Web Applications

I usually have at least 2 Chrome browser sessions open when I’m at my computer–one logged into my personal Google account and one logged into my business Google account (yes, Spears Technologies, Inc. uses Google Apps for Work). I often have other instances of the Chrome browser running that are logged into other accounts. Within these browser sessions, I had tabs opened for Gmail, Google Calendar, Trello (which I use for task and project management), and Slack (which we use for internal communication at work). I would also have several other browser windows and tabs open too. It had become quite a hassle switching between all these all day.

With this new discovery, when I log into my computer, I:

  1. Open the Chrome App Launcher and select my personal account.
  2. Click the icons to open Gmail, Google Calendar, and Trello. This opens all of them as ‘apps’.
  3. Switch the Chrome App Launcher to my work account.
  4. Click the icons to open Gmail, Google Calendar, Trello, and Slack. This opens all of them as ‘apps’.

My computer has three monitors and I have my Taskbar properties set to show the taskbar on all displays and show to taskbar buttons only on the display where the window is open.

I drag all these windows to my left monitor. This means that those icons only show up on the taskbar of my left monitor. So, all of my productivity tools are in their own window with their own task bar icons so they are quickly accessible while also being out of my way. Sweet!

This method has made my daily work much more pleasant and efficient. If you have several web apps that you keep open in different browser tabs, you might want to try this too. If you do, be sure to let me know how it works for you!


A Printable Caloric Ratio Chart to Make Hitting Your Target Easier to Calculate

Printable Caloric Ratio Chart in Microsoft OneDrive.

Printable Caloric Ratio Chart in Google Docs.

For the past year, my doctor has been trying to get me to try to eat a 30-30-40 diet. In a 30-30-40 diet, 30% of the calories come from fat, 30% of the calories come from carbohydrates, and 40% of the calories come from protein. I’ve written before about how my body and mind respond well to a high-protein / low-carbohydrate diet. When I am eating that way, it’s probably more of a 60-5-35 diet—a lot of protein, even more fat, and very few carbs.

Because each patient is different, the caloric ration your doctor recommends for you may be different than 30-30-40. The most common is probably 33-33-33—equal amount of calories coming from fat, carbohydrates, and protein.

Self magazine’s NutritionData.com site has a huge database of foods and their nutritional value and they even have a Caloric Ratio Search tool that allows you to find foods in their database that meet the caloric ratio you need. Unfortunately, in the search for 30-30-40 foods, there is only one that is exactly 30-30-40 and only seven that are within a 2% variance of these values. Combine that with the fact that most meals are composed of a variety of different food items, and this tool offers very little help.

You don’t have to be a mathematical genius to calculate caloric ratios for yourself—but you’ll probably find it easier if you are. All you have to do is:

  1. Look up the grams of fat, carbs, and proteins of the food or foods you are considering eating
  2. Add all the grams of fat together and multiply by 9 to get the total calories from fat
  3. Add all the grams of carbohydrates together and multiply by 4 to get the total calories from carbohydrates
  4. Add all the grams of protein together and multiply by 4 to get the total calories from protein

Doesn’t that sound easy? Well, you’re not done yet. There are a few more steps:

  1. Add all the calories from fat, calories from carbohydrates, and calories from protein to get the total calories
  2. Divide the calories from fat by the total calories to get the percentage of fat calories
  3. Divide the calories from carbohydrates by the total calories to get the percentage of carb calories
  4. Divide the calories from protein by the total calories to get the percentage of protein calories

Here’s an example of what that looks like. This is for a ham and cheese omelet with a side of Raisin Bran in 1% milk.


So, after all that, I know that this is a 35-39-26 meal. That’s a long way from 30-30-40. So, the next thing to do is to take out some foods or add some foods and then do the whole thing all over again. Of course, you’re doing this while you are hungry, so it can be quite a challenge. Yes, there are apps that will do the calculations for you, but it’s still quite a bit of hassle.

After my last visit with my doctor, I was thinking that here had to be an easier way to do this. Maybe even a way that I could eliminate the multiplication and division entirely. As I thought about it, I realized that I didn’t really care what the percentages of each were. What I really cared about was how close they were to my 30-30-40 target. Shifting my thinking from calculating percentages to aiming for a target was just what I needed.

With a target ratio in mind, I created a printable table of the grams for various calorie amounts. This was something I could keep in my wallet and refer to it as needed. In the example above, I can stop after adding up the total grams of fat, carbs, and protein, look at the table to see where 25.6 grams of fat falls. It’s roughly right in the middle between 23.3 and 26.7.

With this amount of fat, my target carb grams should have been about half-way between 52.5 and 60. 64 grams of carbs meant that I had too many carbs. I needed about 75 grams of protein, so I was way low with only 43 grams. It didn’t really matter which number I started with, if I zeroed in on the protein, I could see that both carbs and fat were too high to meet my target.

I realized that this might me a little more useful if I allowed a percentage of variance, since few meals are going to be exactly 30-30-40. I created a spreadsheet to do these calculations for me. I also added the option to change the targets for each one as well as the variance. While I was at it, I added a chart with targets for total grams per day based on the number of calories per day you should consume. I also added a chart to show target calories for each meal, based on the number calories you want to eat each day and the number of meals you eat in a day. There is a lot of information in this chart. Here is what it looks like for a 30-30-40 ratio wtih a 1% variance.


This is the chart I keep in my wallet now.

I’m making this spreadsheet available for anyone who might want to use it to print their own chart for their own.

Printable Caloric Ratio Chart in Microsoft OneDrive.

Printable Caloric Ratio Chart in Google Docs.

If you find this useful, please leave a comment below to let me know!

Note: Most other resources refer to the caloric ratios in the order of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. I use the order of fats, carbohydrates, and proteins because that is the top-down order on most Nutrition Facts labels.


You Appreciate Me!

You appreciate me! Seriously. You do. Whether you know it or not. You appreciate me. In fact, you’re doing it right now. You’re appreciating me right now! The truth is, you appreciate me far more than you’ll probably ever even know.

If you’ve continued to read to this second paragraph, you’re probably thinking, Who is he to tell me what or who I appreciate? In fact, I don’t appreciate him telling me I appreciate him. F@&$%#ing Jerk!

Let me explain…

The way you define the word ‘appreciate’ varies depending on your mindset at the time. Unless you’re a really negative person most of the time, if I were to ask you what the word ‘appreciate’ means, your first thought would probably be that’s it’s an expression of gratitude—and I wouldn’t disagree with that. If I were to ask you what that word means as you were preparing for your final exam in your Art Appreciation 101 class, you would probably say it means to hold in high regard. If I were to ask you to define it after we had a discussion about the office of the President, you might say that it’s a term of respect—such as you may appreciate the office of the President even if you don’t appreciate the person in that office at the time.

Those three meanings of the word ‘appreciate’ are correct and proper in their context, but I think all three of them are extensions of another meaning. If I asked you to define the word just after you had made a financial investment, you would have told me that it means to increase in value. When I use the word ‘appreciate’, this is the definition I mean most of the time because I think all the definitions are just different facets of this definition.

When I tell you, "I appreciate you,” what I’m saying is that, “You have increased my value. I’m more valuable as a person because of some investment that you’ve made in me.” Therefore, you appreciate (increase in value) me.

Think about your own interactions with other people. As our lives touch other people’s lives each of us is affected in at least some small way. The effect may be positive or negative (it may be neutral, but I think that’s incredibly rare). If one person considers an interaction to be a positive thing, then that person has increased in value—he may be a little happier, may feel more energized, may feel more relaxed, may feel more empowered, etc… If the interaction is seen as negative by one person, then the net result is that the person feels his or her value has depreciated—she may feel a little more sad, may feel more angry, may feel more hurt, etc… I say that neutral encounters are rare because even simple eye-contact or a smile while passing someone on a sidewalk could have a net positive effect–and the absence of eye contact or a smile could have a net negative effect.

How would our world change if we saw every interaction with every other human being—either directly or indirectly—as an investment in that person? An investment that either increases or decreases his or her value? Hmmm… Now there’s a thought to ponder for a while!

So, when I say, “I appreciate you,” or “I appreciate you inviting me to lunch,” or “I appreciate you praying for me,” (or any other time I use the word appreciate) what I’m really saying is you’ve made an investment in me and the investment you’ve made has increased my value. ‘Appreciate’ becomes a term for expressing gratitude only when I recognize that you have made an investment in me and that investment has increased my personal value.

When you tell me you appreciate something I’ve done, something I’ve said, something I’ve written, something I’ve created, or some quality about me, what I’m hearing is the ching-ching of your internal self-image-cash-register indicating that I’ve made some investment in you and that it has had a positive result. You’re telling me, “You appreciate me.”

I appreciate you reading this blog post. What I mean is that my personal value has increased because you invested your time in reading the words I’ve written. You do appreciate me—and for that, I’m very grateful.

There’s a never ending cycle here. As you invest in me, I invest in you, you invest in me, and the cycle goes on and on.

See? I told you so. You appreciate (increase in value) me!


My Fifth Week on Ritalin

I’m hesitant to say this is my final post on my Ritalin experiment, but unless something drastic changes, I expect it will be quite a while before I write more on the topic. For those that missed the earlier posts, here are links to the ones for week 1, week 2, week 3, and week 4.

The new thing I added last week was a second med-day dose—that’s one 20mg tablet in the morning and a second 20mg tablet about six or so hours later. I’m not consistent the times I take them, but the idea is to take the second one about an hour before the first one wears off so I don’t experience the crash, but do continue to have the positive effects throughout the afternoon and into the evening. My schedule isn’t the same every day–although I do try to get up at the same time every day, my routine can vary greatly, so I can’t really have cues built into my routine for when I take my medication. It needs to be taken with food (or about a half-hour before eating), and meals are one of those routines that varies greatly.

I was in Redmond, Washington last week teaching SharePoint to Microsoft employees. Regardless of which time zone I’m in, I now try to keep my body clock on my regular East Coast time–yes, this means that I get up at 3am and go to bed around 9pm when I’m on Pacific time. Since I feel like I’m on top of my game when I’m front of the classroom, and I didn’t want to risk still having a lot of stimulant in my system at bed time, I skipped the afternoon dose on those days. However, I did take the afternoon dose the other days.

The afternoon dose has been a very positive thing. The positive benefits do in fact continue throughout the afternoon and into the evening. Before the afternoon dose, as well as before I even started the medication, I was usually exhausted by 8pm or so. I wasn’t sleepy, but just didn’t have energy to do much of anything except read and the regular base things that interested me. With this second dose I can easily do housework, do other creative work, and I’m more fully engaged with the people who are with me.

I do still experience the crash, but it’s typically around 10pm or 11pm. I’m usually not doing much at that time except winding down anyway, so it’s not too bad. I just experience a sudden and immense tiredness that lasts for about an hour.

I have noticed that a couple evenings I had a harder time getting to sleep than usual. I would lie in bed, I was tired, but it took me a while to get to sleep. This doesn’t happen every night, but it has happened some. I also don’t think it’s happened two nights in a row either. Perhaps it’s because I’m back on getting a regular 5- to 6-hours of sleep each night instead of 8-hours (you’ll remember this is where I function best). If I don’t sleep well one night, I don’t seem to have a hard time getting to sleep the next night.

Concerning my physical health, I continue to find that I have more willpower to consistently make high-protein/low-carbohydrate food choices. I reduced my weight by three more pounds. If you’re not keeping up with that, that’s a total decrease of 14-pounds in 4 weeks (although this was my fifth week on the medication, I didn’t start making diet changes until the second week). Exercise (or rather ‘physical activity’, since I hate the word exercise) has gone well too. When I was in Seattle, I had one free afternoon after I had everything set up for my class and I went for an hour-and-a-half hike in Bridle Trails State Park. I brought a redeye flight back home Friday night and I had about an hour to kill in the Charlotte airport, so I went for a 3-mile walk around the airport. I felt really good from all that too. Last night I went hiking on the trails around Radnor Lake in Nashville, TN. Although the physical benefits of regular physical activity have never motivated me, the mental benefits do. I had an especially stressful day yesterday and I really needed to expend some energy and spend some time in nature as well. Although I didn’t ‘feel’ like doing it, I think the Ritalin does strengthen my willpower and ability to say ‘yes’ to the right things.

I’ve been both humbled and amazed at the people that have connected with me through reading these blog posts. A lot of people have opened up and shared about their experiences with Adult ADHD and their experiences with medication too. Everyone isn’t as comfortable sharing publicly about their mental disorders as I am. I’ve vowed to keep their secrets though and I have no intention of breaking that. I’m very much enjoying those friendships (both old and new) and the fact that we can talk about the trials and triumphs associated with this disorder. I mention this as a public way of thanking those people for connecting to me, and also to let others who are reading this know that you can contact me privately to talk about your Adult ADHD experience and you can know that I won’t judge you, nor will I share anything you share with me. Life’s journey is much easier and more enjoyable when we don’t feel like we’re on the path alone.

I’ll close with a book recommendation. If you are an Adult with ADHD, the book More Attention, Less Defecit: Success Strategies for Adults with ADHD by Dr. Ari Tuckman (visit his blog for lots of great articles and his podcast)  is something you should definitely read. It’s written as a collection of many short articles, written and organized in a style for readers with ADHD. There is an entire section in that book on ADHD medications. If you’re not yet taking any medication for your ADHD, I want to suggest that you pick up this book and read that section so you have some good background information. Don’t depend on your doctor to know everything about ADHD medication or to share everything she knows with you—this is your life, your body, and you mind, and you need to empower yourself with as much knowledge about how it all works as you can.


How to Make End Tables for a Wooden Garden Swing

For many years, I’ve had a metal swing frame with an upholstered seat next to the garden pond in my back yard. Unfortunately, they only seem to last a few years. This year, I decided to purchase a wood swing and a wood frame in hopes that these will last much longer.

I chose the Great American Woodies 5’ Cypress Mission Swing and the Cypress A-Frame (also by Great American Woodies) from our nearby Lowe’s Home Improvement store. After adding a seat cushion, I’m mostly happy with the swing.

The Problem and Proposed Solution

There was one thing that bugged me though. It was the same thing that bugged me about all the other swings we’ve had in years past. There was no good place to sit our drinks, phones, books, tablets, or anything else we might have taken out there with us. Sure, we could sit it in the swing seat, but that’s just an accident waiting to happen.

Swing frame cross piece is too small to set anything on without it falling off.

Being the hacker that I am, I decided to make end tables (or side tables) for the swing. I’m well pleased with how the hack turned out. Before I show you how to make your own, here is the swing with both end tables in place, so you have some idea of what I’ll be showing you how to build below.

Completed Project - End Tables on Wooden Swing

Design Inspiration

My inspiration for how to attach the end tables came from the Side Table or Phone Shelf that is designed to fit over the guard rail of  OP Loftbed loft bed or bunk bed. If you’re interested in the plans for this, you’ll find them on the Free Loft Bed Plan Accessories page of the OP Loftbed web site. This table just sits over the guard rail and can be slid to any position or quickly removed entirely. It’s held in place by gravity and friction. This was designed by my good friend Charles Cranford, who also designed the OP Loftbed.

Telephone Table for OP Loftbed


I knew that the two tables needed to be approximately 2-feet long since that’s about how long the cross piece is that would be supporting them. I also knew that I needed two table support support pieces to fit on either side of the cross piece. I bought one 1 x 8 x 8’ Kil-Dried Cedar board and one 1 x 3 x 8’ Kiln-dried Cedar Board (Note: this link is to the 1 x 2 Kiln-dried Cedar Board because they don’t have the 1 x 3 on their web site). I chose cedar because the color of the swing is really close to the color our building is stained, our building is cedar, and I still had some of the stain left; cedar also seems to be really similar to the cypress the rest of the swing is made from. I also bought a box of #6 x 1-1/2” Flat Head Phillips Wood Screws to assemble everything with. I think I had around $25 in all the materials combined.

Initial Measurements

There were only a couple important measurements to consider on the swing.

The first is the overall length I wanted the table to be. I decided to make them the same length as the top of the cross piece on the swing: 26-1/2”.

The second dimension to consider is how long to make the pieces that would support the table and fit on either side of the crosspiece—I decided to call these pieces “squeezers”. The opening at the top of the crosspiece is 20-1/8” long. I couldn’t make them this long because they had to be able to slide in from the top. The cedar 1 x 3 actually measures 3/4” x 2-1/2”. The cedar 1 x 8 measures 11/16” x 7-7/16”. This meant that I needed a width measurement about 3-1/2” above this. This measured around 18-1/2”, so I decided my squeezers should be about 18” long.

Important Swing Measurements

Cutting the Pieces

The cuts were all really easy to make.

For the squeezers, I just cut four 18” long pieces of the cedar 1 x 3. This gave me two sets of two. Here is a finished set. Note, this is after staining. I didn’t take pictures of anything until I was finished, then I took them apart for the pictures.

Squeezers and Measurements

To make the table top, I first cut two 26-1/2” pieces of the cedar 1 x 8. The notches in the back measure 4-1/4” x 3/4” (the width of one of the squeezers and half of the overall length minus the length of the squeezer (26-1/2” – 18” = 8-1/2”; 8-1/2” / 2 = 4-1/4”)). The angles at the top are just 45° angles cut from the center of the width of the board (about 3-3/4” from one edge).

Swing Side Table Tabletop and Measurements

Here are the finished pieces for one side table without all the measurements on them.

All Cut Pieces for Wooden Swing Side Table

Assembling the Tables

Note: I don’t have pictures of the assembly process, so you’ll have to use your imagination and I’ll try to make the narrative as clear as possible. If you do have any questions, just ask in the comments at the end.

I drilled three pilot holes in the table top, 3/8” from one edge (half the width of a 3/4” wide squeezer) at the center of the board and 6” off center. This spaced the two other holes at 3” from the end of the squeezer. After drilling the pilot holes, I used three #6 x 1-1/2” Wood Screws to fasten this one squeezer to the table top.

I wanted the squeezers to fit snugly on each side of the crosspiece. Rather than measure the thickness of the crosspiece and possibly have the tables fit a little loosely because of a 1/32” difference in measurement or something, I decided to fit the table in place, hold the second squeezer tight against the crosspiece and against the table, and draw a pencil mark along the outside top edge of the squeezer on the bottom of the tabletop piece.

On the bottom of the tabletop, I marked for the three screw holes using the the same linear positions and measurements as before, except these were 3/8” off the line I had just drawn (to be where the center line of the second squeezer would be). I drilled three pilot holes in the table top at these marks. I screwed three more screws into these pilot holes, but left the points just barely protruding.

To attach the second squeezer, I held everything in place again (just as I did before when I drew the line) and screwed the three remaining screws into the second squeezer board. At this point, I was done with one table and I repeated the process for the other one.

Here is what the finished end tables look like from the bottom.

Finished Wood Swing End Table from the Bottom

Here is whatone looks like from the top.

Finished Wood Swing End Table from the Top

Attaching the Table

Since the tables are just held on my gravity, no fasteners are needed. You just simply slide the notched edge of the tabletop between the frame supports and press down so the squeezers fit on each side of the crosspiece. This is the best picture I could get of putting one into place.

Setting the Wood Swing End Table into Place

The Finished Product

Here is what itlooks like from the inside of the frame.

view of Wooden Swing End Table from Inside the Swing Frame.

His what it looks like with a drink and my Xoom tablet on it. I think it’s the perfect size.

Wooden Swing Side Tablet with Drink and Tablet Computer (Motorola Xoom)

Once again, here is the the how the swing looks with both tables in place, just so you don’t have to scroll all the way back to the top to see it again.

Completed Project - End Tables on Wooden Swing

Final Words

This entire project cost less than $25 and probably took less than an hour to make. I probably have another 15-minutes in staining them (which I did on a different day). I think it would also be quite easy to make tables like this for other models of swings as well. I didn’t spend a lot of time making sure that every cut was perfect, nor did I sand anything before I finished it. I’m not a really good wood worker, but I generally understand how power tools and wood engineering and design works. The swing and frame has a slightly rustic look to them and I think the tables compliment it well.

If you have any additional questions, just ask the in the comments section below. If this inspires you to do something similar, please post a comment to let me know and I would love to see some pictures of your finished work as well.


How to Change the Time Zone in Windows with a BAT File Script

Because I travel back and forth across the United States a lot, I frequently have to change the time zone on my work laptop. This requires several steps:

  1. Click on the Date and Time area in the System Tray.
  2. Click Change date and time settings…
  3. Click the Change time zone… button.
  4. Find my current time zone in the Time zone drop-down list and select it. This is the single most frustrating part.
  5. Click the OK button on the Time Zone Settings dialog.
  6. Click the OK button on the Date and Time dialog.

That doesn’t sound like much, but when you’re doing it a couple times a week it it get’s old. Here is what that looks like:

I’ve replaced this 6-click process with six BAT files that sit in a folder on my desktop. I double-click to open the folder and then double-click on the BAT file for the time zone I’m in. That’s two steps and I also don’t have to scroll through a lot of options to find the time zone I’m in. Here is what that this new process looks like:


The script code in each BAT file is very simple too. Here’s the code to switch to the Eastern Time Zone:
TZUTIL /s "Eastern Standard Time"

That’s it. That’s all. Just a single line in a a text file named TimeZone-1-Eastern.bat.

The only thing you have to know is the internal name Windows uses for the time zone. Here are the scripts for all the time zones in the United States:


TZUTIL /s "Eastern Standard Time"


TZUTIL /s "US Eastern Standard Time"


TZUTIL /s "Central Standard Time"


TZUTIL /s "Mountain Standard Time"


TZUTIL /s "US Mountain Standard Time"


TZUTIL /s "Pacific Standard Time"

If you need to figure out more of the time zone names, you can use the TZUTIL /l command and switch from a Command Prompt. You may also want to read the TechNet page for TZUTIL.

Happy travels!


My Fourth Week on Ritalin

If you’re new to this series and want to start from the beginning or you want to catch up on any updates you might have missed, here are links to my updates on my first, second, and third weeks on Ritalin.

Generally speaking, this week’s experience was the same as previous weeks and I seem to have settled into a bit of a groove with it. At first I thought that some of the benefits I was experiencing may be due to the placebo effect, but now I think they really are due to the medication’s physiological effects of Ritalin on my brain chemistry.

Because I had experimented with taking two pills on three mornings (by my doctor’s direction), my prescription was for 30-pills, and there were 28-days between doctor visits, I had to go one day without taking a pill at all. Since I feel the most “in the zone” when I’m teaching, I decided to make one of those days my day off the medication. The day went well, but I did notice that in the evening I was feeling more lonely and generally down, especially that evening.

I had another successful week eating a high-protein/low-carbohydrate diet and reduced my weight by another 3-pounds. That’s a total decrease of 11-pounds in 3-weeks. The Ritalin seems to strengthen my willpower and makes it much easier to make better choices, even while traveling.

Yesterday morning I had my follow-up doctor appointment. He was well pleased with my progress too. My heart rate and blood pressure was fine, he was really excited about my weight decrease, he was glad I was happy with the positive changes in my thoughts, and he was glad the people around me were happy with the changes as well.

My doctor has asked me to add a tablet in the afternoon, about an hour before my usual crash to keep the medication in my blood stream longer. Neither he nor I want the crash to happen in the middle of the work day and neither of us want it to happen in the early to mid-evening either when it may interfere with social activities.

Yesterday was my first day taking an afternoon dose and it went well. I was really productive and focused all day long, even into the evening. I experienced my crash around 10pm and it seemed to be a harder crash than ones I experienced in the afternoons.

My doctor asked me about my sleeping patterns and I told him that has been fine. In fact, I’ve been able to get back on my 5- to 6-hours a night schedule which is typically where I function best—however, left to my own I can easily sleep (or rather lay there) for 8- or 9-hours just thinking and wear myself out for the day. I don’t think I slept much at all last night. I resisted the temptation to look at the clock and I think that for most of the evening I was in a state almost somewhere between awake and asleep but not entirely in either one. This is something I’ll need to continue monitoring.

This week I’ll be in Redmond Washington teaching SharePoint to Microsoft’s employees. I try to stay on my East Coast time schedule regardless of which time zone I’m in, so that means that I’ll be getting up around 3am. I’m not sure when I’ll eat breakfast or have my first caffeine, or when I’ll take my pills. I’ll just have to see how things work out. Also, I’ll be coming back on a red-eye flight. Those are always tough as well, especially since I don’t usually sleep well on planes. I’ll end up with about a 30-hour day between waking and getting to nap in my bed. So I think the time zone challenges and the cross-country travel will be huge things to deal with this week. I’ll let you know how it all went next week!


My GTD Tickler File: 17 Folders Instead of 43

Regular readers of this blog know very well about how I read David Allen’s book Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity back at the end of 2002 and how it radically changed my life and how I work.

One of the tools David recommends for in the GTD system is a set of 43 manila folders—thirty-one of them labeled with the numbers 1 through 31 and twelve of them labeled with the names of the months. It’s a system that allows one to easily file a piece of paper so it will be seen at a later date. Each morning, the worker opens the folder for that particular day (and also opens the month folder on the first day of the month), empties the contents into the desktop inbox, and puts the folder in the back. Whenever you have a piece of paper or a note you want to see later, you just file it in the correct numbered folder (if you want to see it in the next month) or in one of the month-named folders if you want to see it up to a year later. I set up a tickler file like this and I’ve been using it for many years.

For the past several years I haven’t been checking my tickler file every day; I’ve only checked my tickler file about once a week, usually on Monday, when I would check the 7 folders for the upcoming week. Part of this is probably due to the fact that I travel so much, but I’m almost always at home on Monday morning (or at least Sunday evening) and another part is probably due to the fact that I don’t use much paper and therefore don’t have a lot of paper reminders I need to see.

A month or so ago I made a change to my tickler file system. I put away the folders numbered 1 through 31 and created five more folders labeled Week1 through Week 5 (see photo below). This has been working very well for me. It still works exactly the same, except I only need to check it once a week instead of once a day. When I do my weekly review and plan, I know what paper needs to be handled for the entire coming week because I’ve seen it already. When I file a piece of paper, I just put in the week or month folder in which I want to see it.

It’s still not practical for me to go totally electronic for some of these things, but for those pieces of paper I do want to see later, this works very well. I expect that before long I’ll be moving this tickler into Evernote where I’ll just use it for scanned (or photographed) paper things I want to see at a later time. Even in Evernote I don’t think I’ll return to 43 folders (or labels) for a tickler because 17 accomplishes the same thing, coordinates with the weekly review and plan better, is easier to maintain, and is less overwhelming to check and use.

Are you still using a 43-folder tickler file (either paper or electronic)? Do you think a 17-folder tickler might work better for you? Are you going to try it? Are you already doing this or doing something similar?

Update [May 13, 2012]: There was some discussion on Twitter about how weeks that span months are handled. Although I use the words “Week 1″, “Week 2″, etc…, a more correct terminology might be “1st Monday”, “2nd Monday”, “3rd Monday”, “4th Monday”, and “5th Monday”. So, if a week does span multiple months, it doesn’t really matter. However, for some people I could see where there could be some confusion with this method, especially in a month like the current month (May, 2012) where the first day of the month is on Tuesday and the last day is on Thursday. The first and last weeks are each only lacking one day being a regular full work week. I emptied my Week 1 folder on Monday, May 7th, and I’ll enpty my Week 4 folder on Monday, May 28th. Since there aren’t five Mondays in the month, I’ll empty the Week 5 folder on Monday, May 28th as well, just in case I put something in there by mistake. Also, since June starts in the middle of that week, I’ll also empty the June folder on Monday, May 28th. I’ll always empty the month folder before the first day of the month unless the first day of the month is a Monday (at which time I’ll empty the Week 1 folder and the month folder at the same time). I hope this helps clarify some things.


My Third Week on Ritalin

If you haven’t already read them, you may want to begin with my posts about My First Week on Ritalin and My Second Week on Ritalin.

The big experiment for me this week was to try taking two pills in the morning—my doctor prescribed either one or two each morning. I did this for only two days and didn’t have a good experience at all. I felt very nervous and kind of light-headed all morning long and my afternoon crash was much worse than with only one. One day I had no caffeine and the second day I consumed my regular amount of caffeine and things were about the same both days. I couldn’t function well at all on that level of medication so I decided to go back to just on 20mg tablet a day.

In general I continued to have the same experience as in previous weeks. I was able to focus better and generally felt more positive and outgoing–the “subtle but significant” changes I’ve blogged about before. One day had some contracts to read and I noticed that I was able to focus and understand them much more easily than usual. I typically have to read, re-read, and sometimes re-read a paragraph yet again in a contract to understand it. A coworker even told me he had a hard time with those contracts so I felt that was a very positive thing.

On Sunday I didn’t feel like I took a pill at all. I woke up hyper-focusing on some negative things and noticed it was easier to ignore them right after taking my pill. Then it soon started back again. I wasn’t able to focus much in church either and I felt very frustrated most of the day. I didn’t experience the afternoon crash either. It was as if I hadn’t taken a pill at all that day.

I didn’t get in much exercise this week, so that could have been a factor on Sunday as well. I did work outside around the house installing new shutters and window boxes on the house, so that was physical, but not as exhausting as my usual hikes.

I was able to continue strictly on my high-protein/low-carbohydrate style of eating this week. I only reduced my weight by two-pounds, which was a little frustrating after the six-pound reduction last week, but that’s OK. We’ll see how next week goes. I do think the Ritalin strengthens my willpower in that area.

I’m teaching a SharePoint training class in Dallas, TX this week, so next week’s post may be brief as well since I don’t feel like I need any extra help when I’m teaching. I go back to my doctor next Monday and we’ll see if he wants me to stay on the same medication at the same level, wants me to add an afternoon dose, wants me to try a different medication, or wants to do something else. So I should at least have that to report.


RSS Feed of The Latest Items from the Psychology Today Home Page

I just used the Feed43 web site to create an RSS of all the items that appear in the “The Latest” section on the home page of the Psychology Today web site. Theoretically, this should contain all the latest content from across the Psychology Today web site. If you just want to subscribe to it, here it is:

Why Did I Do This?

I really enjoy a lot of the blog posts and articles at Psychology Today. There must be many thousands of articles in 776 individual blogs organized into 45 topics (as of today, assuming my counting is correct) and several dozen new ones are written each week.

The Psychology Today home page aggregates all the articles across all the topics and blogs and displays the 30 most recent items from across the site in the “The Latest” section.

I wanted to be able to easily stay updated on new content across the site. I could have subscribed to all 45 Topic feeds in Google Reader, but I really didn’t want to add 45 new feeds; I only wanted to add one single feed.

My Preliminary Research

First I searched around on the Psychology Today web site for an RSS feed like I wanted, but I couldn’t find one. Then I turned to Google to see if I could find one mentioned there, and I didn’t find anything. So I then turned to investigating the Psychology Today web site more closely. Here is what I discovered.

Each topic has an RSS feed for it, and each blog has an RSS feed for it as well. For example, you can view the most recent articles by the writers in the Procrastination topic at the Procrastination topic page at
and access the Procrastination topic RSS feed at
One of the blogs in the Procrastination topic is “Don’t Delay” by Timothy A. Pachyl. You can view the most recent posts on this blog at
and access the Don’t Delay RSS feed at

If you look a those URLs, you’ll notice they use a very simple naming convention for the URL paths for the the topics and blogs. The RSS feed can then be accessed by simply appending /feed onto the end of the topic or blog URL.

Unfortunately, you’ll get a 404 error page if you just append /feed onto the root URL like so:
http://www.psychologytoday.com/feed. There also doesn’t seem to be a single RSS feed that aggregates all the content from the entire site.

Rolling My Own Psychology Today RSS Feed

At this point, I determined that if I wanted an RSS feed of all the items from the Psychology Today home page then I was going to have to do it myself. i thought about writing my own PHP script to periodically parse out their home page, but I decided that before I did this I would see if there was a good service that could do this more easily.

A quick search uncovered a few services that will create an RSS feed from the content on any site. I experimented with a few of these and none of them worked to my satisfaction. Then I discovered Feed43. This site let me essentially write a script that parses through the Psychology Today home page, extracts the content in the “The Latest” section, then I could mark up how that extracted content would get rendered in an RSS feed. In just a few minutes I had a working RSS feed of the Latest Items from the Psychology Today Home Page. Here is the results:

Warnings and Limitations

I really do like the Feed43 service. One thing that you’ll need to keep in mind though is that they only scrape the home page and rebuild the feed once every six hours (they will scrape it once an hour for $29/year) but since this is currently the only site I’m using this for I can’t justify that expense. Another thing you’ll need to remember is that if they redesign their web site and the code on their home page changes then this feed may no longer work. As long as I’m interested in aggregating their content in this way, I’ll try to maintain this feed and keep it working, but I’m not making any promises.

Final Words

So, if you’re a psychology geek like I’ve become in the the past couple years, enjoy your new Psychology Today Home Page RSS Feed! If you find this useful, let me know in the comments. As for me, I’ve got some Sunday afternoon reading to do…

All content copyright © 2000-2007 by Ricky Spears