maximalist productivity, or: ikaruga and radiant silvergun

Ikaruga and Radiant Silvergun are two Japanese shoot ‘em up games. Both games are beautiful, but strikingly different in their implementation, commonly referred to as “minimalist” and “maximalist” shooters, respectively.

Ikaruga has fairly simplistic gameplay: ships and bullets have two polarities, light and dark, and only bullets of an opposite polarity can hurt you. Bullets of the same polarity make you stroooong. Technique involves deciding when to store up energy, when to do double-damage on enemies, etc. Still: one weapon, two modes.

Radiant Silvergun, in contrast, has seven weapons, all of which you can equip from the start. The game is designed such that almost any scenario has a “best” weapon — one that will make the job easier or more elegant. The technique, then, is switching between all of these to get your job done.

While I admire minimalist design and the ideology of simplicity, I’m a maximalist. I’m capable of using many tools to do the same job in various situations, and that works for me. I think it makes me flexible, optimal. I don’t get caught up trying to force tools into jobs they’re not made for. I might have a hammer, but not everything is a nail because I also have a screwdriver and a saw. I use no less than four tools to read websites I want to keep track of and five different methods to track my to-do lists in work and life. It sounds onerous, I know, but really it’s all the same once you learn a tool and settle into a process of doing something.

All of that to say, hey! Here are some cool services I use you might wanna know about! Previous tools (Mendeley, the Pomodoro Technique, Feedly, the mighty Evernote) were covered here, in “productivity and the tools thereof.”

Keeping up!

My Morning Coffee. “Why do you need four tools to keep track of websites!?” you say. “Can’t you just use an RSS reader like everyone else?!” you say. Well, yes, and I do! I use three of those! Feedly, Reeder (see below), and FeedDemon. But I don’t always want information pushed to me, and I don’t always want to forgo the experience of visiting a site in its digital incarnation. My Morning Coffee is a great Firefox add-on that will load up several pages on demand or even at the start-up of the browser. You can customize by day. It’s fantastic. As you can see, Tuesday is my Arts & Letters Daily day. Otherwise I’d never get anything done. Also useful for simply loading up websites you know you’re going to need during the day (in my case, the library website and the stats tracking page). Plus, I really enjoy its name. Mmmm.

Reeder is an iPhone/iPod/iPad/iThing app. It syncs with Google Reader and does a fantastic, elegant job of organizing and displaying posts. Easily worth the $2.99, and I’ve never seen anything better for mobile RSS reading.

Rumor has it a Mac app is coming soon! I don’t have a Mac, but I hold out hope for a Windows release someday.

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Getting things done!

I know, obsessing over tools and techniques to get things done often results in not getting anything done. It doesn’t have to be that way!

The Hipster PDA. It started out as a joke, I know, but it’s really useful. Pictured here are my Hipster PDA (the clipped notecards), a recycled notebook that’s a stand-in for when I forget my Hipster PDA, and a beautiful Moleskine notebook my dear friend Ray Henry made for me. The point of the PDA is that when you’re away from your devices, you jot things down on disposable, re-usable, give-away-able notecards. When you get to your main method of to-do-listing, you input the items. The cards are clipped — infinitely refillable, not bound in some form that’s difficult to keep together. You’re not attached to them like you’re attached to your Moleskine. And aren’t you attached to your pretty journals!? You know what I use that notebook for? Very important things, only, like hilarious phrases and band names. I might carry my iPod everywhere, but sometimes it’s just easier to write something on paper.

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NirvanaGTD. Nirvana! Hooray! My official GTD application for work-type-things. It’s stylish, web-only, easy, and it works. I take the items off my Hipster PDA and input them into my Nirvana inbox whenever I’m at my desk. Then I process my inbox and put items into timeframes, into categories, into contexts, into whatever I’ve come up with for a particular type of activity I do at work. You can schedule due dates or schedule a task to be done ON a date and forget about it until that day. There’s no corresponding app for any platform, but the mobile web interface works fairly well. I won’t lie, I’m anxious for an app. If you’re curious, I still use the Pomodoro Technique to actually schedule tasks I know I’ll need to be taking care of. I can round up a whole bunch of items for “today” (see the starred ones?), assign Pomodoro values to them, and get crackin’.

Errands. So I use Nirvana to get things done at work, but not for shopping lists, packing lists, lists of foods I need to try and things I need to do around the house. For that, I use the free Errands app, and it works perfectly. It’s not as slick as many apps, but it really does its job. You can contextualize, set due dates and priorities, etc., but I use it bare-bones for its list ability. I can make a big list of everything I generally shop for. I can mark and unmark items at will, rather than checking them off as “done” forever. I haven’t made a shopping list manually in months. Similarly, I have a big list of items I frequently pack for trips, so I don’t have to re-remember everything I’m going to need.

43things. You may have noticed that my “someday” folder in my Nirvana system is empty. I don’t put things in Nirvana until they’re actionable. For “someday” items, I prefer something more social. With 43things, I can make my big long-term goals public and add entries within them that show how I’m progressing. People can cheer my goals and I can see everyone else’s goals and maybe find some inspiration. I think it’s really cool. I don’t fret about whether these are SMART goals or the actual progress I’m making on them. That’s the point of “someday,” right? These are things I don’t stress over putting on a to-do list. I don’t think every life goal is a box that needs to be checked.

So that’s some of what I do to keep my life in order. How about you? Do you take a minimalist or maximalist approach to managing your work/life? Do you know of even better apps? Do you just love Ikaruga and/or Radiant Silvergun?

Written by Michelle Hudson

Michelle Hudson is a science & social science data librarian at Yale University's Center for Science and Social Science Information.