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This week's sponsor: Asana

A List Apart - Thu, 09/18/2014 - 18:28

Asana’s new iOS 8 app now available! Use Asana to organize team tasks and conversations on web and mobile. Sign up free.

Categories: Mobile learning

Getting Started With CSS Audits

A List Apart - Thu, 09/18/2014 - 12:30

This week I wrote about conducting CSS audits to organize your code, keeping it clean and performant—resulting in faster sites that are easier to maintain. Now that you understand the hows and whys of auditing, let’s take a look at some more resources that will help you maintain your CSS architecture. Here are some I’ve recently discovered and find helpful.

Organizing CSS
  • Harry Roberts has put together a fantastic resource for thinking about how to write large CSS systems, CSS Guidelines.
  • Interested in making the style guide part of the audit easier? This Github repo includes a whole bunch of info on different generators.
Help from task runners

Do you like task runners such as grunt or gulp? Andy Osmani’s tutorial walks through using all kinds of task runners to find unused CSS selectors: Spring Cleaning Unused CSS Selectors.

Accessibility

Are you interested in auditing for accessibility as well (hopefully you are!)? There are tools for that, too. This article helps you audit your site for accessibility— it’s a great outline of exactly how to do it.

Performance
  • Sitepoint takes a look at trimming down overall page weight, which would optimize your site quite a bit.
  • Google Chrome’s dev tools include a built-in audit tool, which suggests ways you could improve performance. A great article on HTML5 Rocks goes through this tool in depth.

With these tools, you’ll be better prepared to clean up your CSS, optimize your site, and make the entire experience better for users. When talking about auditing code, many people are focusing on performance, which is a great benefit for all involved, but don’t forget that maintainability and speedier development time come along with a faster site.

Categories: Mobile learning

Client Education and Post-Launch Success

A List Apart - Tue, 09/16/2014 - 14:00

What our clients do with their websites is just as important as the websites themselves. We may pride ourselves on building a great product, but it’s ultimately up to the client to see it succeed or fail. Even the best website can become neglected, underused, or messy without a little education and training.

Too often, my company used to create amazing tools for clients and then send them out into the world without enough guidance. We’d watch our sites slowly become stale, and we’d see our strategic content overwritten with fluffy filler.

It was no one’s fault but our own.

As passionate and knowledgeable web enthusiasts, it’s literally our job to help our clients succeed in any way we can, even after launch. Every project is an opportunity to educate clients and build a mutually beneficial learning experience.

Meeting in the middle

If we want our clients to use our products to their full potential, we have to meet them in the middle. We have to balance our technical expertise with their existing processes and skills.

At my company, Brolik, we learned this the hard way.

We had a financial client whose main revenue came from selling in-depth PDF reports. Customers would select a report, generating an email to an employee who would manually create and email an unprotected PDF to the customer. The whole process would take about two days.

To make the process faster and more secure, we built an advanced, password-protected portal where their customers could purchase and access only the reports they’d paid for. The PDFs themselves were generated on the fly from the content management system. They were protected even after they were downloaded and only viewable with a unique username and password generated with the PDF.

The system itself was technically advanced and thoroughly solved our client’s needs. When the job was done, we patted ourselves on the back, added the project to our portfolio, and moved on to the next thing.

The client, however, was generally confused by the system we’d built. They didn’t quite know how to explain it to their customers. Processes had been automated to the point where they seemed untrustworthy. After about a month, they asked us if we’d revert back to their previous system.

We had created too large of a process change for our client. We upended a large part of their business model without really considering whether they were ready for a new approach.

From that experience, we learned not only to create online tools that complement our clients’ existing business processes, but also that we can be instrumental in helping clients embrace new processes. We now see it as part of our job to educate our clients and explain the technical and strategic thought behind all of our decisions.

Leading by example

We put this lesson to work on a more recent project, developing a site-wide content tagging system where images, video, and other media could be displayed in different ways based on how they were tagged.

We could have left our clients to figure out this new system on their own, but we wanted to help them adopt it. So we pre-populated content and tags to demonstrate functionality. We walked through the tagging process with as many stakeholders as we could. We even created a PDF guide to explain the how and why behind the new system.

In this case, our approach worked, and the client’s cumbersome media management time was significantly reduced. The difference between the outcome of the two projects was simply education and support.

Education and support can, and usually does, take the form of setting an example. Some clients may not fully understand the benefits of a content strategy, for instance, so you have to show them results. Create relevant and well-written sample blog posts for them, and show how they can drive website traffic. Share articles and case studies that relate to the new tools you’re building for them. Show them that you’re excited, because excitement is contagious. If you’re lucky and smart enough to follow Geoff Dimasi’s advice and work with clients who align with your values, this process will be automatic, because you’ll already be invested in their success.

We should be teaching our clients to use their website, app, content management system, or social media correctly and wisely. The more adept they are at putting our products to use, the better our products perform.

Dealing with budgets

Client education means new deliverables, which have to be prepared by those directly involved in the project. Developers, designers, project managers, and other team members are responsible for creating the PDFs, training workshops, interactive guides, and other educational material.

That means more organizing, writing, designing, planning, and coding—all things we normally bill for, but now we have to bill in the name of client education.

Take this into account at the beginning of a project. The amount of education a client needs can be a consideration for taking a job at all, but it should at least factor into pricing. Hours spent helping your client use your product is billable time that you shouldn’t give away for free.

At Brolik, we’ve helped a range of clients—from those who have “just accepted that the Web isn’t a fad” (that’s an actual quote from 2013), to businesses that have a team of in-house developers. We consider this information and price accordingly, because it directly affects the success of the entire product and partnership. If they need a lot of education but they’re not willing to pay for it, it may be smart to pass on the job.

Most clients actually understand this. Those who are interested in improving their business are interested in improving themselves as well. This is the foundation for a truly fulfilling and mutually beneficial client relationship. Seek out these relationships.

It’s sometimes challenging to justify a “client education” line item in your proposals, however. If you can’t, try to at least work some wiggle room into your price. More specifically, try adding a 10 percent contingency for “Support and Training” or “Onboarding.”

If you can’t justify a price increase at all, but you still want the job, consider factoring in a few client education hours and their opportunity cost as part of your company’s overall marketing budget. Teaching your client to use your product is your responsibility as a digital business.

This never ends (hopefully)

What’s better than arming your clients with knowledge and tools, pumping them up, and then sending them out into the world to succeed? Venturing out with them!

At Brolik, we’ve started signing clients onto digital strategy retainers once their websites are completed. Digital strategy is an overarching term that covers anything and everything to grow a business online. Specifically for us, it includes audience research, content creation, SEO, search and display advertising, website maintenance, social media, and all kinds of analysis and reporting.

This allows us to continue to educate (and learn) on an ongoing basis. It keeps things interesting—and as a bonus, we usually upsell more work.

We’ve found that by fostering collaboration post-launch, we not only help our clients use our product more effectively and grow their business, but we also alleviate a lot of the panic that kicks in right before a site goes live. They know we’ll still be there to fix, tweak, analyze, and even experiment.

This ongoing digital strategy concept was so natural for our business that it’s surprising it took us so long to implement it. After 10 years making websites, we’ve only offered digital strategy for the last two, and it’s already driving 50 percent of our revenue.

It pays to be along for the ride

The extra effort required for client education is worth it. By giving our clients the tools, knowledge, and passion they need to be successful with what we’ve built for them, we help them improve their business.

Anything that drives their success ultimately drives ours. When the tools we build work well for our clients, they return to us for more work. When their websites perform well, our portfolios look better and live longer. Overall, when their business improves, it reflects well on us.

A fulfilling and mutually beneficial client relationship is good for the client and good for future business. It’s an area where we can follow our passion and do what’s right, because we get back as much as we put in.

Categories: Mobile learning

CSS Audits: Taking Stock of Your Code

A List Apart - Tue, 09/16/2014 - 14:00

Most people aren’t excited at the prospect of auditing code, but it’s become one of my favorite types of projects. A CSS audit is really detective work. You start with a site’s code and dig deeper: you look at how many stylesheets are being called, how that affects site performance, and how the CSS itself is written. Your goal is to look for ways to improve on what’s there—to sleuth out fixes to make your codebase better and your site faster.

I’ll share tips on how to approach your own audit, along with the advantages of taking a full inventory of your CSS and various tools.

Benefits of an audit

An audit helps you to organize your code and eliminate repetition. You don’t write any code during an audit; you simply take stock of what’s there and document recommendations to pass off to a client or discuss with your team. These recommendations ensure new code won’t repeat past mistakes. Let’s take a closer look at other benefits:

  • Reduce file sizes. A complete overview of the CSS lets you take the time to find ways to refactor the code: to clean it up and perhaps cut down on the number of properties. You can also hunt for any odds and ends, such as outdated versions of browser prefixes, that aren’t in use anymore. Getting rid of unused or unnecessary code trims down the file people have to download when they visit your site.
  • Ensure consistency with guidelines. As you audit, create documentation regarding your styles and what’s happening with the site or application. You could make a formal style guide, or you could just write out recommendations to note how different pieces of your code are used. Whatever form your documentation takes, it’ll save anyone coming onto your team a lot of time and trouble, as they can easily familiarize themselves with your site’s CSS and architecture.
  • Standardize your code. Code organization—which certainly attracts differing opinions—is essential to keeping your codebase more maintainable into the future. For instance, if you choose to alphabetize your properties, you can readily spot duplicates, because you’d end up with two sets of margin properties right next to each other. Or you may prefer to group properties according to their function: positioning, box model-related, etc. Having a system in place helps you guard against repetition.
  • Increase performance. I’ve saved the best for last. Auditing code, along with combining and zipping up stylesheets, leads to markedly faster site speeds. For example, Harry Roberts, a front-end architect in the UK who conducts regular audits, told me about a site he recently worked on: I rebuilt Fasetto.com with a view to improving its performance; it went from 27 separate stylesheets for a single-page site (mainly UI toolkits like Bootstrap, etc.) down to just one stylesheet (which is actually minified and inlined, to save on the HTTP request), which weighs in at just 5.4 kB post-gzip.

    This is a huge win, especially for people on slower connections—but everyone gains when sites load quickly.

How to audit: take inventory

Now that audits have won you over, how do you go about doing one? I like to start with a few tools that provide an overview of the site’s current codebase. You may approach your own audit differently, based on your site’s problem areas or your philosophy of how you write code (whether OOCSS or BEM). The important thing is to keep in mind what will be most useful to you and your own site.

Once I’ve diagnosed my code through tools, I examine it line by line.

Tools

The first tool I reach for is Nicole Sullivan’s invaluable Type-o-matic, an add-on for Firebug that generates a JSON report of all the type styles in use across a site. As an added bonus, Type-o-matic creates a visual report as it runs. By looking at both reports, you know at a glance when to combine type styles that are too similar, eliminating unnecessary styles. I’ve found that the detail of the JSON report makes it easy to see how to create a more reusable type system.

In addition to Type-o-matic, I run CSS Lint, an extremely flexible tool that flags a wide range of potential bugs from missing fallback colors to shorthand properties for better performance. To use CSS Lint, click the arrow next to the word “Lint” and choose the options you want. I like to check for repeated properties or too many font sizes, so I always run Maintainability & Duplication along with Performance. CSS Lint then returns recommendations for changes; some may be related to known issues that will break in older browsers and others may be best practices (as the tool sees them). CSS Lint isn’t perfect. If you run it leaving every option checked, you are bound to see things in the end report that you may not agree with, like warnings for IE6. That said, this is a quick way to get a handle on the overall state of your CSS.

Next, I search through the CSS to review how often I repeat common properties, like float or margin. (If you’re comfortable with the command line, type grep along with instructions and plug in something like grep “float” styles/styles.scss to find all instances of “float”.) Note any properties you may cut or bundle into other modules. Trimming your properties is a balancing act: to reduce the number of repeated properties, you may need to add more classes to your HTML, so that’s something you’ll need to gauge according to your project.

I like to do this step by hand, as it forces me to walk through the CSS on my own, which in turn helps me better understand what’s going on. But if you’re short on time, or if you’re not yet comfortable with the command line, tools can smooth the way:

  • CSS Dig is an automated script that runs through all of your code to help you see it visually. A similar tool is StyleStats, where you type in a url to survey its CSS.
  • CSS Colorguard is a brand-new tool that runs on Node and outputs a report based on your colors, so you know if any colors are too alike. This helps limit your color palette, making it easier to maintain in the future.
  • Dust-Me Selectors is an add-on for Firebug in Firefox that finds unused selectors.
Line by line

After you run your tools, take the time to read through the CSS; it’s worth it to get a real sense of what’s happening. For instance, comments in the code—that tools miss—may explain why some quirk persists.

One big thing I double-check is the depth of applicability, or how far down an attribute string applies. Does your CSS rely on a lot of specificity? Are you seeing long strings of selectors, either in the style files themselves or in the output from a preprocessor? A high depth of applicability means your code will require a very specific HTML structure for styles to work. If you can scale it back, you’ll get more reusable code and speedier performance.

Review and recommend

Now to the fun part. Once you have all your data, you can figure out how to improve the CSS and make some recommendations.

The recommendation document doesn’t have to be heavily designed or formatted, but it should be easy to read. Splitting it into two parts is a good idea. The first consists of your review, listing the things you’ve found. If you refer to the results of CSS Lint or Type-o-matic, be sure to include either screenshots or the JSON report itself as an attachment. The second half contains your actionable recommendations to improve the code. This can be as simple as a list, with items like “Consolidate type styles that are closely related and create mixins for use sitewide.”

As you analyze all the information you’ve collected, look for areas where you can:

  • Tighten code. Do you have four different sets of styles for a call-out box, several similar link styles, or way too many exceptions to your standard grid? These are great candidates for repeatable modular styles. To make consolidation even easier, you could use a preprocessor like Sass to turn them into mixins or extend, allowing styles to be applied when you call them on a class. (Just check that the outputted code is sensible too.)
  • Keep code consistent. A good audit makes sure the code adheres to its own philosophy. If your CSS is written based on a particular approach, such as BEM or OOCSS, is it consistent? Or do styles veer from time to time, and are there acceptable deviations? Make sure you document these exceptions, so others on your team are aware.

If you’re working with a client, it’s also important to explain the approaches you favor, so they understand where you’re coming from—and what things you may consider as issues with the code. For example, I prefer OOCSS, so I tend to push for more modularity and reusability; a few classes stacked up (if you aren’t using a preprocessor) don’t bother me. Making sure your client understands the context of your work is particularly crucial when you’re not on the implementation team.

Hand off to the client

You did it! Once you’ve written your recommendations (and taken some time to think on them and ensure they’re solid), you can hand them off to the client—be prepared for any questions they may have. If this is for your team, congratulations: get cracking on your list.

But wait—an audit has even more rewards. Now that you’ve got this prime documentation, take it a step further: use it as the springboard to talk about how to maintain your CSS going forward. If the same issues kept popping up throughout your code, document how you solved them, so everyone knows how to proceed in the future when creating new features or sections. You may turn this document into a style guide. Another thing to consider is how often to revisit your audit to ensure your codebase stays squeaky clean. The timing will vary by team and project, but set a realistic, regular schedule—this a key part of the auditing process.

Conducting an audit is a vital first step to keeping your CSS lean and mean. It also helps your documentation stay up to date, allowing your team to have a good handle on how to move forward with new features. When your code is structured well, it’s more performant—and everyone benefits. So find the time, grab your best sleuthing hat, and get started.

Categories: Mobile learning

New to Mobile Learning Development: 3 Big Problems and 7 Solutions

Mobile learning from MLearnopedia - Mon, 09/15/2014 - 16:40
New to Mobile Learning Development: 3 Big Prob- lems and 7 Solutions Mobile Learning is Here to Stay With the introduction of the Apple iPhone and iPad, a mobile computing revolution. began. With competition from Google, Blackberry (RIM), Microsoft, and HP heating up. from all sides, smart phones and tablets are here to stay. devices? issues. Rapid.

Brought to you by: Mobile Learning
Categories: Mobile learning

This week's sponsor: Stack

A List Apart - Fri, 09/12/2014 - 18:48

Stack is a simple task management system for devs and designers. Fully customizable and flexible to suit your workflow.

Categories: Mobile learning

Mobile Sales Enablement And Big Data: A Marriage Made In Heaven?

Mobile learning from MLearnopedia - Fri, 09/12/2014 - 13:50
'There are upsides and downsides to the information age and the ubiquity of mobile devices. This post explores how sales professionals and companies are striking a balance. Mobile Devices big data books predictive analytics sales enablement

Brought to you by: Mobile Learning
Categories: Mobile learning

Rian van der Merwe on A View from a Different Valley: Work Life Imbalance

A List Apart - Thu, 09/11/2014 - 12:30

I’m old enough to remember when laptops entered the workforce. It was an amazing thing. At first only the select few could be seen walking around with their giant black IBMs and silver Dells. It took a few years, but eventually every new job came with the question we all loved to hear: “desktop or laptop?”

I was so happy when I got my first laptop at work. “Man,” I thought, “now I can work anywhere, any time!” It was fun for a while, until I realized that now I could work anywhere, any time. Slowly our office started to reflect this newfound freedom. Work looked less and less like work, and more and more like home. Home offices became a big thing, and it’s now almost impossible to distinguish between home offices of famous designers and the workspaces (I don’t think we even call them “offices” any more) of most startups.

Work and life: does it blend?

There is a blending of work and life that woos us with its promise of barbecues at work and daytime team celebrations at movie theaters, but we’re paying for it in another way: a complete eradication of the line between home life and work life. “Love what you do,” we say. “Get a job you don’t want to take a vacation from,” we say—and we sit back and watch the retweets stream in.

I don’t like it.

I don’t like it for two reasons.

It makes us worse at our jobs

There’s plenty of research that shows when employers place strict limits on messaging, employees are happier and enjoy their work more. And productivity isn’t affected negatively at all. Clive Thompson’s article about this for Mother Jones is a great overview of what we know about the handful of experiments that have been done to research the effects of messaging limits.

But that’s not even the whole story. It’s not just that constantly thinking about work makes us more stressed, it’s also that our fear of doing nothing—of not being productive every second of the day—is hurting us as well (we’ll talk about side projects another time). There’s plenty of research about this as well, but let’s stick with Jessica Stillman’s Bored at Work? Good. It’s a good overview of what scientists have found on the topic of giving your mind time to rest. In short, being idle tells your brain that it’s in need of something different, which stimulates creative thinking. So it’s something to be sought out and cherished—not something to be shunned.

Sometimes when things clear away and you’re not watching anything and you’re in your car and you start going, oh no, here it comes, that I’m alone, and it starts to visit on you, just this sadness. And that’s why we text and drive. People are willing to risk taking a life and ruining their own because they don’t want to be alone for a second because it’s so hard.

Louis C. K. It teaches that boundaries are bad

The second problem I have with our constant pursuit of the productivity train is that it teaches us that setting boundaries to spend time with our friends and family = laziness. I got some raised eyebrows at work recently when I declined an invitation to watch a World Cup game in a conference room. But here’s the thing. If I watch the World Cup game with a bunch of people at work today, guess what I have to do tonight? I have to work to catch up, instead of spending time with my family. And that is not ok with me.

I have a weird rule about this. Work has me—completely—between the hours of 8:30 a.m. and 6:00 p.m. It has 100 percent of my attention. But outside of those hours I consider it part of being a sane and good human to give my kids a bath, chat to my wife, read, and reflect on the day that’s past and the one that’s coming—without the pressure of having to be online all the time. I swear it makes me a better (and more productive) employee, but I can’t shake the feeling that I shouldn’t be writing this down because you’re just going to think I’m lazy.

But hey, I’m going to face my fear and just come right out and say it: I try not to work nights. There. That felt good.

It doesn’t always work out, and of course there are times when a need is pressing and I take care of it at night. I don’t have a problem with that. But I don’t sit and do email for hours every night. See, the time I spend with people is what gives my work meaning. I do what I do for them—for the people in my life, the people I know, and the people I don’t. If we never spend time away from our work, how can we understand the world and the people we make things for?

Of course, the remaking of the contemporary tech office into a mixed work-cum-leisure space is not actually meant to promote leisure. Instead, the work/leisure mixing that takes place in the office mirrors what happens across digital, social and professional spaces. Work has seeped into our leisure hours, making the two tough to distinguish.

Kate Losse, Tech aesthetics Permission to veg out

So I guess this column is my attempt to give you permission to do nothing every once in a while. Not to be lazy, or not do your job. But to take the time you need to get better at what you do, and enjoy it a lot more.

As this column evolves, I think this is what I’ll be talking about a lot. How to make the hours we have at work count more. How to think of what we do not as the tech business but the people business. How to give ourselves permission to experience the world around us and get inspiration for our work from that. How to be flâneur: wandering around with eyes wide open to inspiration.

Categories: Mobile learning

presentation on eLearning and #mobile influences for #ICT4D

Mobile learning from MLearnopedia - Thu, 09/11/2014 - 11:07
'Sharing a presentation I gave for the Deutsche Welle Akademie in Bonn, Germany. It was a wonderful talk thanks to all the input and questions the attendees shared, and the wonderful facilitation provided by Holger Hank and his team. The questions were multiple, and gladly sharing those that are posed frequently.

Brought to you by: Mobile Learning
Categories: Mobile learning

MobilED is closed (but the dream shall never die)

Mobile learning from MLearnopedia - Tue, 09/09/2014 - 07:03
'Straight talk keep an eye out out the pops into crowded music market Pandora Necklace UK. Th age category service plans dubbed ins take advantage of music”Might possibly offer some two hundred ad burn r / c to american customers with straight talk samsung universe devices:D. General

Brought to you by: Mobile Learning
Categories: Mobile learning

Awkward Cousins

A List Apart - Mon, 09/08/2014 - 14:00

As an industry, we’re historically terrible at drawing lines between things. We try to segment devices based on screen size, but that doesn’t take into account hardware functionality, form factor, and usage context, for starters. The laptop I’m writing this on has the same resolution as a 1080p television. They’d be lumped into the same screen-size–dependent groups, but they are two totally different device classes, so how do we determine what goes together?

That’s a simple example, but it points to a larger issue. We so desperately want to draw lines between things, but there are often too many variables to make those lines clean.

Why, then, do we draw such strict lines between our roles on projects? What does the area of overlap between a designer and front-end developer look like? A front- and back-end developer? A designer and back-end developer? The old thinking of defined roles is certainly loosening up, but we still have a long way to go.

The chasm between roles that is most concerning is the one between web designers/developers and native application designers/developers. We often choose a camp early on and stick to it, which is a mindset that may have been fueled by the false “native vs. web” battle a few years ago. It was positioned as an either-or decision, and hybrid approaches were looked down upon.

The two camps of creators are drifting farther and farther apart, even as the products are getting closer and closer. John Gruber best described the overlap that users see:

When I’m using Tweetbot, for example, much of my time in the app is spent reading web pages rendered in a web browser. Surely that’s true of mobile Facebook users, as well. What should that count as, “app” or “web”?

I publish a website, but tens of thousands of my most loyal readers consume it using RSS apps. What should they count as, “app” or “web”?.

The people using the things we build don’t see the divide as harshly as we do, if at all. More importantly, the development environments are becoming more similar, as well. Swift, Apple’s brand new programming language for iOS and Mac development, has a strong resemblance to the languages we know and love on the web, and that’s no accident. One of Apple’s top targets for Swift, if not the top target, is the web development community. It’s a massive, passionate, and talented pool of developers who, largely, have not done iOS or Mac work—yet.

As someone who spans the divide regularly, it’s sad to watch these two communities keep at arm’s length like awkward cousins at a family reunion. We have so much in common—interests, skills, core values, and a ton of technological ancestry. The difference between the things we build is shrinking in the minds of our shared users, and the ways we build those things are aligning. I dream of the day when we get over our poorly drawn lines and become the big, happy community I know we can be.

At the very least, please start reading each other’s blogs.

Categories: Mobile learning

How to Manage Your Work Force With Mobile Apps

Mobile learning from MLearnopedia - Mon, 09/08/2014 - 13:50
'See some early examples of using mobile to manage retail employees. Then, find out what brands are doing to stay innovative in this area. Mobile Strategy retail sales enablement

Brought to you by: Mobile Learning
Categories: Mobile learning

Why Online Education May Drive Down the Cost of Your Degree

UBI-Learn - Fri, 09/05/2014 - 15:37

usnews.com | Article Link | by Devon Haynie

As the price of higher education continues to skyrocket, some universities believe they have found the key to keeping tuition costs down – online education.

Recently, for example, Georgia Institute of Technology announced it would be offering an online master's degree in computer science for $6,600 – about $35,000 less than its on-ground program. The University of the People, an accredited, online-only school, is now offering degrees with no tuition. And massive open online courses, or MOOCs, have been hailed as free educational resources that people could eventually use to complete a degree.

Although these developments in online education may influence the overall price of college eventually, students might not see dramatic changes soon, experts say. And as people test out different models, some argue that the cost of providing a quality education makes it difficult to offer online learning at discounted rates.

In the minds of people like Ben Nelson, it's obvious that online education should be easier on the pocketbook than attending an on-campus program. At his program, called the Minerva Schools at KGI, students take all of their courses online while living together in the world's largest cities. Tuition isn't cheap, but at $10,000 it is less than out-of-state tuition at many state universities, he says.

Students pay less because the school doesn't have to maintain facilities like libraries or cafeterias, subsidize sports teams or pay for amenities like climbing walls, Nelson says. The school also trimmed its budget by eliminating tenure and mandating that faculty receive research funding through outside sources rather than through tuition.

Read more...

Image Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons / Tomwsulcer

Categories: Mobile learning

Watch: A New Documentary About Jeffrey Zeldman

A List Apart - Thu, 09/04/2014 - 13:30
You keep it by giving it away.Jeffrey Zeldman

It’s a philosophy that’s always guided us at A List Apart: that we all learn more—and are more successful—when we share what we know with anyone who wants to listen. And it comes straight from our publisher, Jeffrey Zeldman.

For 20 years, he’s been sharing everything he can with us, the people who make websites—from advice on table layouts in the ‘90s to Designing With Web Standards in the 2000s to educating the next generation of designers today. 

Our friends at Lynda.com just released a documentary highlighting Jeffrey’s two decades of designing, organizing, and most of all sharing on the web. You should watch it.

Jeffrey Zeldman: 20 years of Web Design and Community from lynda.com.

Categories: Mobile learning

You + students + free entrepreneur courses = seed $

Mobile learning from MLearnopedia - Wed, 09/03/2014 - 00:07
'I’m super pleased to announce that my E20 group (‘make education better’ – E20.net.au) has been chosen by the New Media Consortium (of Horizon reports fame) as one of only 10 NGO’s worldwide to help bring global-life.org free entrepreneur short courses to school! Would love your support please!  Use the E20.net.au/contact

Brought to you by: Mobile Learning
Categories: Mobile learning

Git: The Safety Net for Your Projects

A List Apart - Tue, 09/02/2014 - 14:00

I remember January 10, 2010, rather well: it was the day we lost a project’s complete history. We were using Subversion as our version control system, which kept the project’s history in a central repository on a server. And we were backing up this server on a regular basis—at least, we thought we were. The server broke down, and then the backup failed. Our project wasn’t completely lost, but all the historic versions were gone.

Shortly after the server broke down, we switched to Git. I had always seen version control as torturous; it was too complex and not useful enough for me to see its value, though I used it as a matter of duty. But once we’d spent some time on the new system, and I began to understand just how helpful Git could be. Since then, it has saved my neck in many situations.

During the course of this article, I’ll walk through how Git can help you avoid mistakes—and how to recover if they’ve already happened.

Every teammate is a backup

Since Git is a distributed version control system, every member of our team that has a project cloned (or “checked out,” if you’re coming from Subversion) automatically has a backup on his or her disk. This backup contains the latest version of the project, as well as its complete history.

This means that should a developer’s local machine or even our central server ever break down again (and the backup not work for any reason), we’re up and running again in minutes: any local repository from a teammate’s disk is all we need to get a fully functional replacement.

Branches keep separate things separate

When my more technical colleagues told me about how “cool” branching in Git was, I wasn’t bursting with joy right away. First, I have to admit that I didn’t really understand the advantages of branching. And second, coming from Subversion, I vividly remembered it being a complex and error-prone procedure. With some bad memories, I was anxious about working with branches and therefore tried to avoid it whenever I could.

It took me quite a while to understand that branching and merging work completely differently in Git than in most other systems—especially regarding its ease of use! So if you learned the concept of branches from another version control system (like Subversion), I recommend you forget your prior knowledge and start fresh. Let’s start by understanding why branches are so important in the first place.

Why branches are essential

Back in the days when I didn’t use branches, working on a new feature was a mess. Essentially, I had the choice between two equally bad workflows:

(a) I already knew that creating small, granular commits with only a few changes was a good version control habit. However, if I did this while developing a new feature, every commit would mingle my half-done feature with the main code base until I was done. It wasn’t very pleasant for my teammates to have my unfinished feature introduce bugs into the project.

(b) To avoid getting my work-in-progress mixed up with other topics (from colleagues or myself), I’d work on a feature in my separate space. I would create a copy of the project folder that I could work with quietly—and only commit my feature once it was complete. But committing my changes only at the end produced a single, giant, bloated commit that contained all the changes. Neither my teammates nor I could understand what exactly had happened in this commit when looking at it later.

I slowly understood that I had to make myself familiar with branches if I wanted to improve my coding.

Working in contexts

Any project has multiple contexts where work happens; each feature, bug fix, experiment, or alternative of your product is actually a context of its own. It can be seen as its own “topic,” clearly separated from other topics.

If you don’t separate these topics from each other with branching, you will inevitably increase the risk of problems. Mixing different topics in the same context:

  • makes it hard to keep an overview—and with a lot of topics, it becomes almost impossible;
  • makes it hard to undo something that proved to contain a bug, because it’s already mingled with so much other stuff;
  • doesn’t encourage people to experiment and try things out, because they’ll have a hard time getting experimental code out of the repository once it’s mixed with stable code.

Using branches gave me the confidence that I couldn’t mess up. In case things went wrong, I could always go back, undo, start fresh, or switch contexts.

Branching basics

Branching in Git actually only involves a handful of commands. Let’s look at a basic workflow to get you started.

To create a new branch based on your current state, all you have to do is pick a name and execute a single command on your command line. We’ll assume we want to start working on a new version of our contact form, and therefore create a new branch called “contact-form”:

$ git branch contact-form

Using the git branch command without a name specified will list all of the branches we currently have (and the “-v” flag provides us with a little more data than usual):

$ git branch -v

You might notice the little asterisk on the branch named “master.” This means it’s the currently active branch. So, before we start working on our contact form, we need to make this our active context:

$ git checkout contact-form

Git has now made this branch our current working context. (In Git lingo, this is called the “HEAD branch”). All the changes and every commit that we make from now on will only affect this single context—other contexts will remain untouched. If we want to switch the context to a different branch, we’ll simply use the git checkout command again.

In case we want to integrate changes from one branch into another, we can “merge” them into the current working context. Imagine we’ve worked on our “contact-form” feature for a while, and now want to integrate these changes into our “master” branch. All we have to do is switch back to this branch and call git merge:

$ git checkout master $ git merge contact-form Using branches

I would strongly suggest that you use branches extensively in your day-to-day workflow. Branches are one of the core concepts that Git was built around. They are extremely cheap and easy to create, and simple to manage—and there are plenty of resources out there if you’re ready to learn more about using them.

Undoing things

There’s one thing that I’ve learned as a programmer over the years: mistakes happen, no matter how experienced people are. You can’t avoid them, but you can have tools at hand that help you recover from them.

One of Git’s greatest features is that you can undo almost anything. This gives me the confidence to try out things without fear—because, so far, I haven’t managed to really break something beyond recovery.

Amending the last commit

Even if you craft your commits very carefully, it’s all too easy to forget adding a change or mistype the message. With the —amend flag of the git commit command, Git allows you to change the very last commit, and it’s a very simple fix to execute. For example, if you forgot to add a certain change and also made a typo in the commit subject, you can easily correct this:

$ git add some/changed/files $ git commit --amend -m "The message, this time without typos"

There’s only one thing you should keep in mind: you should never amend a commit that has already been pushed to a remote repository. Respecting this rule, the “amend” option is a great little helper to fix the last commit.

(For more detail about the amend option, I recommend Nick Quaranto’s excellent walkthrough.)

Undoing local changes

Changes that haven’t been committed are called “local.” All the modifications that are currently present in your working directory are “local” uncommitted changes.

Discarding these changes can make sense when your current work is… well… worse than what you had before. With Git, you can easily undo local changes and start over with the last committed version of your project.

If it’s only a single file that you want to restore, you can use the git checkout command:

$ git checkout -- file/to/restore

Don’t confuse this use of the checkout command with switching branches (see above). If you use it with two dashes and (separated with a space!) the path to a file, it will discard the uncommitted changes in a given file.

On a bad day, however, you might even want to discard all your local changes and restore the complete project:

$ git reset --hard HEAD

This will replace all of the files in your working directory with the last committed revision. Just as with using the checkout command above, this will discard the local changes.

Be careful with these operations: since local changes haven’t been checked into the repository, there is no way to get them back once they are discarded!

Undoing committed changes

Of course, undoing things is not limited to local changes. You can also undo certain commits when necessary—for example, if you’ve introduced a bug.

Basically, there are two main commands to undo a commit:

(a) git reset

The git reset command really turns back time. You tell it which version you want to return to and it restores exactly this state—undoing all the changes that happened after this point in time. Just provide it with the hash ID of the commit you want to return to:

$ git reset -- hard 2be18d9

The —hard option is the easiest and cleanest approach, but it also wipes away all local changes that you might still have in your working directory. So, before doing this, make sure there aren’t any local changes you’ve set your heart on.

(b) git revert

The git revert command is used in a different scenario. Imagine you have a commit that you don’t want anymore—but the commits that came afterwards still make sense to you. In that case, you wouldn’t use the git reset command because it would undo all those later commits, too!

The revert command, however, only reverts the effects of a certain commit. It doesn’t remove any commits, like git reset does. Instead, it even creates a new commit; this new commit introduces changes that are just the opposite of the commit to be reverted. For example, if you deleted a certain line of code, revert will create a new commit that introduces exactly this line, again.

To use it, simply provide it with the hash ID of the commit you want reverted:

$ git revert 2be18d9 Finding bugs

When it comes to finding bugs, I must admit that I’ve wasted quite some time stumbling in the dark. I often knew that it used to work a couple of days ago—but I had no idea where exactly things went wrong. It was only when I found out about git bisect that I could speed up this process a bit. With the bisect command, Git provides a tool that helps you find the commit that introduced a problem.

Imagine the following situation: we know that our current version (tagged “2.0”) is broken. We also know that a couple of commits ago (our version “1.9”), everything was fine. The problem must have occurred somewhere in between.

This is already enough information to start our bug hunt with git bisect:

$ git bisect start $ git bisect bad $ git bisect good v1.9

After starting the process, we told Git that our current commit contains the bug and therefore is “bad.” We then also informed Git which previous commit is definitely working (as a parameter to git bisect good).

Git then restores our project in the middle between the known good and known bad conditions:

We now test this version (for example, by running unit tests, building the app, deploying it to a test system, etc.) to find out if this state works—or already contains the bug. As soon as we know, we tell Git again—either with git bisect bad or git bisect good.

Let’s assume we said that this commit was still “bad.” This effectively means that the bug must have been introduced even earlier—and Git will again narrow down the commits in question:

This way, you’ll find out very quickly where exactly the problem occurred. Once you know this, you need to call git bisect reset to finish your bug hunt and restore the project’s original state.

A tool that can save your neck

I must confess that my first encounter with Git wasn’t love at first sight. In the beginning, it felt just like my other experiences with version control: tedious and unhelpful. But with time, the practice became intuitive, and gained my trust and confidence.

After all, mistakes happen, no matter how much experience we have or how hard we try to avoid them. What separates the pro from the beginner is preparation: having a system in place that you can trust in case of problems. It helps you stay on top of things, especially in complex projects. And, ultimately, it helps you become a better professional.

References
Categories: Mobile learning

Running Code Reviews with Confidence

A List Apart - Tue, 09/02/2014 - 13:58

Growing up, I learned there were two kinds of reviews I could seek out from my parents. One parent gave reviews in the form of a shower of praise. The other parent, the one with a degree from the Royal College of Art, would put me through a design crit. Today the reviews I seek are for my code, not my horse drawings, but it continues to be a process I both dread and crave.

In this article, I’ll describe my battle-tested process for conducting code reviews, highlighting the questions you should ask during the review process as well as the necessary version control commands to download and review someone’s work. I’ll assume your team uses Git to store its code, but the process works much the same if you’re using any other source control system.

Completing a peer review is time-consuming. In the last project where I introduced mandatory peer reviews, the senior developer and I estimated that it doubled the time to complete each ticket. The reviews introduced more context-switching for the developers, and were a source of increased frustration when it came to keeping the branches up to date while waiting for a code review.

The benefits, however, were huge. Coders gained a greater understanding of the whole project through their reviews, reducing silos and making onboarding easier for new people. Senior developers had better opportunities to ask why decisions were being made in the codebase that could potentially affect future work. And by adopting an ongoing peer review process, we reduced the amount of time needed for human quality assurance testing at the end of each sprint.

Let’s walk through the process. Our first step is to figure out exactly what we’re looking for.

Determine the purpose of the proposed change

Our code review should always begin in a ticketing system, such as Jira or GitHub. It doesn’t matter if the proposed change is a new feature, a bug fix, a security fix, or a typo: every change should start with a description of why the change is necessary, and what the desired outcome will be once the change has been applied. This allows us to accurately assess when the proposed change is complete.

The ticketing system is where you’ll track the discussion about the changes that need to be made after reviewing the proposed work. From the ticketing system, you’ll determine which branch contains the proposed code. Let’s pretend the ticket we’re reviewing today is 61524—it was created to fix a broken link in our website. It could just as equally be a refactoring, or a new feature, but I’ve chosen a bug fix for the example. No matter what the nature of the proposed change is, having each ticket correspond to only one branch in the repository will make it easier to review, and close, tickets.

Set up your local environment and ensure that you can reproduce what is currently the live site—complete with the broken link that needs fixing. When you apply the new code locally, you want to catch any regressions or problems it might introduce. You can only do this if you know, for sure, the difference between what is old and what is new.

Review the proposed changes

At this point you’re ready to dive into the code. I’m going to assume you’re working with Git repositories, on a branch-per-issue setup, and that the proposed change is part of a remote team repository. Working directly from the command line is a good universal approach, and allows me to create copy-paste instructions for teams regardless of platform.

To begin, update your local list of branches.

git fetch

Then list all available branches.

git branch -a

A list of branches will be displayed to your terminal window. It may appear something like this:

* master remotes/origin/master remotes/origin/HEAD -> origin/master remotes/origin/61524-broken-link

The * denotes the name of the branch you are currently viewing (or have “checked out”). Lines beginning with remotes/origin are references to branches we’ve downloaded. We are going to work with a new, local copy of branch 61524-broken-link.

When you clone your project, you’ll have a connection to the remote repository as a whole, but you won’t have a read-write relationship with each of the individual branches in the remote repository. You’ll make an explicit connection as you switch to the branch. This means if you need to run the command git push to upload your changes, Git will know which remote repository you want to publish your changes to.

git checkout --track origin/61524-broken-link

Ta-da! You now have your own copy of the branch for ticket 61524, which is connected (“tracked”) to the origin copy in the remote repository. You can now begin your review!

First, let’s take a look at the commit history for this branch with the command log.

git log master..

Sample output:

Author: emmajane Date: Mon Jun 30 17:23:09 2014 -0400 Link to resources page was incorrectly spelled. Fixed. Resolves #61524.

This gives you the full log message of all the commits that are in the branch 61524-broken-link, but are not also in the master branch. Skim through the messages to get a sense of what’s happening.

Next, take a brief gander through the commit itself using the diff command. This command shows the difference between two snapshots in your repository. You want to compare the code on your checked-out branch to the branch you’ll be merging “to”—which conventionally is the master branch.

git diff master How to read patch files

When you run the command to output the difference, the information will be presented as a patch file. Patch files are ugly to read. You’re looking for lines beginning with + or -. These are lines that have been added or removed, respectively. Scroll through the changes using the up and down arrows, and press q to quit when you’ve finished reviewing. If you need an even more concise comparison of what’s happened in the patch, consider modifying the diff command to list the changed files, and then look at the changed files one at a time:

git diff master --name-only git diff master <filename>

Let’s take a look at the format of a patch file.

diff --git a/about.html b/about.html index a3aa100..a660181 100644 --- a/about.html +++ b/about.html @@ -48,5 +48,5 @@ (2004-05) - A full list of <a href="emmajane.net/events">public + A full list of <a href="http://emmajane.net/events">public presentations and workshops</a> Emma has given is available

I tend to skim past the metadata when reading patches and just focus on the lines that start with - or +. This means I start reading at the line immediate following @@. There are a few lines of context provided leading up to the changes. These lines are indented by one space each. The changed lines of code are then displayed with a preceding - (line removed), or + (line added).

Going beyond the command line

Using a Git repository browser, such as gitk, allows you to get a slightly better visual summary of the information we’ve looked at to date. The version of Git that Apple ships with does not include gitk—I used Homebrew to re-install Git and get this utility. Any repository browser will suffice, though, and there are many GUI clients available on the Git website.

gitk

When you run the command gitk, a graphical tool will launch from the command line. An example of the output is given in the following screenshot. Click on each of the commits to get more information about it. Many ticket systems will also allow you to look at the changes in a merge proposal side-by-side, so if you’re finding this cumbersome, click around in your ticketing system to find the comparison tools they might have—I know for sure GitHub offers this feature.

Now that you’ve had a good look at the code, jot down your answers to the following questions:

  1. Does the code comply with your project’s identified coding standards?
  2. Does the code limit itself to the scope identified in the ticket?
  3. Does the code follow industry best practices in the most efficient way possible?
  4. Has the code been implemented in the best possible way according to all of your internal specifications? It’s important to separate your preferences and stylistic differences from actual problems with the code.
Apply the proposed changes

Now is the time to start up your testing environment and view the proposed change in context. How does it look? Does your solution match what the coder thinks they’ve built? If it doesn’t look right, do you need to clear the cache, or perhaps rebuild the Sass output to update the CSS for the project?

Now is the time to also test the code against whatever test suite you use.

  1. Does the code introduce any regressions?
  2. Does the new code perform as well as the old code? Does it still fall within your project’s performance budget for download and page rendering times?
  3. Are the words all spelled correctly, and do they follow any brand-specific guidelines you have?

Depending on the context for this particular code change, there may be other obvious questions you need to address as part of your code review.

Do your best to create the most comprehensive list of everything you can find wrong (and right) with the code. It’s annoying to get dribbles of feedback from someone as part of the review process, so we’ll try to avoid “just one more thing” wherever we can.

Prepare your feedback

Let’s assume you’ve now got a big juicy list of feedback. Maybe you have no feedback, but I doubt it. If you’ve made it this far in the article, it’s because you love to comb through code as much as I do. Let your freak flag fly and let’s get your review structured in a usable manner for your teammates.

For all the notes you’ve assembled to date, sort them into the following categories:

  1. The code is broken. It doesn’t compile, introduces a regression, it doesn’t pass the testing suite, or in some way actually fails demonstrably. These are problems which absolutely must be fixed.
  2. The code does not follow best practices. You have some conventions, the web industry has some guidelines. These fixes are pretty important to make, but they may have some nuances which the developer might not be aware of.
  3. The code isn’t how you would have written it. You’re a developer with battle-tested opinions, and you know you’re right, you just haven’t had the chance to update the Wikipedia page yet to prove it.
Submit your evaluation

Based on this new categorization, you are ready to engage in passive-aggressive coding. If the problem is clearly a typo and falls into one of the first two categories, go ahead and fix it. Obvious typos don’t really need to go back to the original author, do they? Sure, your teammate will be a little embarrassed, but they’ll appreciate you having saved them a bit of time, and you’ll increase the efficiency of the team by reducing the number of round trips the code needs to take between the developer and the reviewer.

If the change you are itching to make falls into the third category: stop. Do not touch the code. Instead, go back to your colleague and get them to describe their approach. Asking “why” might lead to a really interesting conversation about the merits of the approach taken. It may also reveal limitations of the approach to the original developer. By starting the conversation, you open yourself to the possibility that just maybe your way of doing things isn’t the only viable solution.

If you needed to make any changes to the code, they should be absolutely tiny and minor. You should not be making substantive edits in a peer review process. Make the tiny edits, and then add the changes to your local repository as follows:

git add . git commit -m "[#61524] Correcting <list problem> identified in peer review."

You can keep the message brief, as your changes should be minor. At this point you should push the reviewed code back up to the server for the original developer to double-check and review. Assuming you’ve set up the branch as a tracking branch, it should just be a matter of running the command as follows:

git push

Update the issue in your ticketing system as is appropriate for your review. Perhaps the code needs more work, or perhaps it was good as written and it is now time to close the issue queue.

Repeat the steps in this section until the proposed change is complete, and ready to be merged into the main branch.

Merge the approved change into the trunk

Up to this point you’ve been comparing a ticket branch to the master branch in the repository. This main branch is referred to as the “trunk” of your project. (It’s a tree thing, not an elephant thing.) The final step in the review process will be to merge the ticket branch into the trunk, and clean up the corresponding ticket branches.

Begin by updating your master branch to ensure you can publish your changes after the merge.

git checkout master git pull origin master

Take a deep breath, and merge your ticket branch back into the main repository. As written, the following command will not create a new commit in your repository history. The commits will simply shuffle into line on the master branch, making git log −−graph appear as though a separate branch has never existed. If you would like to maintain the illusion of a past branch, simply add the parameter −−no-ff to the merge command, which will make it clear, via the graph history and a new commit message, that you have merged a branch at this point. Check with your team to see what’s preferred.

git merge 61524-broken-link

The merge will either fail, or it will succeed. If there are no merge errors, you are ready to share the revised master branch by uploading it to the central repository.

git push

If there are merge errors, the original coders are often better equipped to figure out how to fix them, so you may need to ask them to resolve the conflicts for you.

Once the new commits have been successfully integrated into the master branch, you can delete the old copies of the ticket branches both from your local repository and on the central repository. It’s just basic housekeeping at this point.

git branch -d 61524-broken-link git push origin --delete 61524-broken-link Conclusion

This is the process that has worked for the teams I’ve been a part of. Without a peer review process, it can be difficult to address problems in a codebase without blame. With it, the code becomes much more collaborative; when a mistake gets in, it’s because we both missed it. And when a mistake is found before it’s committed, we both breathe a sigh of relief that it was found when it was.

Regardless of whether you’re using Git or another source control system, the peer review process can help your team. Peer-reviewed code might take more time to develop, but it contains fewer mistakes, and has a strong, more diverse team supporting it. And, yes, I’ve been known to learn the habits of my reviewers and choose the most appropriate review style for my work, just like I did as a kid.

Categories: Mobile learning

This week's sponsor: LessAccounting

A List Apart - Thu, 08/28/2014 - 19:30

Thanks to our sponsor, LessAccounting. You deserve simple bookkeeping to help you avoid the stresses of accounting.

Categories: Mobile learning

The Modern Classroom: Students, Teachers and Data-Driven Education

UBI-Learn - Thu, 08/28/2014 - 17:01

mashable.com | Article Link | by James O'Brien

The days of paper textbooks seem destined to become as distant a memory as cursive handwriting. In 2014, big data is reshaping the way students receive curriculum and learn, and the tools of the new and digital classroom are changing the dynamics for educators.

"Data is changing the way people think," says Eileen Murphy Buckley, founder and CEO of ThinkCERCA, a company in the data-driven education space. "From critical accountability to teacher accountability to the way we arrange time, our learning spaces, technologies — data is disrupting everything."

The inclusion of the computer in K–12 classes is nothing new; they've been on desks since the days of Texas Instruments. In more recent times, however, pupils aren't turning to their screens to learn a little BASIC or play a round of Oregon Trail — they're increasingly experiencing data-driven teaching as a fully integrated part of a post-textbook, personalized academic process.

If you think about the impact of technology on our lives today, algorithms are analyzing our behavior — both on and offline — all the time. They shape what we do in the moment, and they often steer us toward what we do next.

Read more...

Image Courtesey of Wikimedia Commons / Camelia.boban

Categories: Mobile learning

Rachel Andrew on the Business of Web Dev: Getting to the Action

A List Apart - Thu, 08/28/2014 - 12:30

Freelancers and self-employed business owners can choose from a huge number of conferences to attend in any given year. There are hundreds of industry podcasts, a constant stream of published books, and a never-ending supply of sites all giving advice. It is very easy to spend a lot of valuable time and money just attending, watching, reading, listening and hoping that somehow all of this good advice will take root and make our business a success.

However, all the good advice in the world won’t help you if you don’t act on it. While you might leave that expensive conference feeling great, did your attendance create a lasting change to your business? I was thinking about this subject while listening to episode 14 of the Working Out podcast, hosted by Ashley Baxter and Paddy Donnelly. They were talking about following through, and how it is possible to “nod along” to good advice but never do anything with it.

If you have ever been sent to a conference by an employer, you may have been expected to report back. You might even have been asked to present to your team on the takeaway points from the event. As freelancers and business owners, we don’t have anyone making us consolidate our thoughts in that way. It turns out that the way I work gives me a fairly good method of knowing which things are bringing me value.

Tracking actionable advice

I’m a fan of the Getting Things Done technique, and live by my to-do lists. I maintain a Someday/Maybe list in OmniFocus into which I add items that I want to do or at least investigate, but that aren’t a project yet.

If a podcast is worth keeping on my playlist, there will be items entered linking back to certain episodes. Conference takeaways might be a link to a site with information that I want to read. It might be an idea for an article to write, or instructions on something very practical such as setting up an analytics dashboard to better understand some data. The first indicator of a valuable conference is how many items I add during or just after the event.

Having a big list of things to do is all well and good, but it’s only one half of the story. The real value comes when I do the things on that list, and can see whether they were useful to my business. Once again, my GTD lists can be mined for that information.

When tickets go on sale for that conference again, do I have most of those to-do items still sat in Someday/Maybe? Is that because, while they sounded like good ideas, they weren’t all that relevant? Or, have I written a number of blog posts or had several articles published on themes that I started considering off the back of that conference? Did I create that dashboard, and find it useful every day? Did that speaker I was introduced to go on to become a friend or mentor, or someone I’ve exchanged emails with to clarify a topic I’ve been thinking about?

By looking back over my lists and completed items, I can start to make decisions about the real value to my business and life of the things I attend, read, and listen to. I’m able to justify the ticket price, time, and travel costs by making that assessment. I can feel confident that I’m not spending time and money just to feel as if I’m moving forward, yet gaining nothing tangible to show for it.

A final thought on value

As entrepreneurs, we have to make sure we are spending our time and money on things that will give us the best return. All that said, it is important to make time in our schedules for those things that we just enjoy, and in particular those things that do motivate and inspire us. I don’t think that every book you read or event you attend needs to result in a to-do list of actionable items.

What we need as business owners, and as people, is balance. We need to be able to see that the things we are doing are moving our businesses forward, while also making time to be inspired and refreshed to get that actionable work done.

Footnotes
  • 1. Have any favorite hacks for getting maximum value from conferences, workshops, and books? Tell us in the comments!
Categories: Mobile learning
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