Aviate, the reinvention of the Android launcher

I’m often looking for the ultimate launcher for my Android phone and while in holidays I stumbled upon Aviate. A launcher acquired by Yahoo! for $80M (the only way for Yahoo! to get in the mobile ecosystem apparently).

I was quite surprised by this launcher, and after a couple of weeks using it, I have to say I’m pretty convinced.

The Aviate home screen, neat. I only added a weather widget and changed the icon pack to Belle UI.
The Aviate home screen, neat. I only added a weather widget and changed the icon pack to Belle UI.

What I like is that Aviate provides a real alternative to launchers. In Aviate, you don’t get messed with dozens of workspaces with manually organized app icons and widgets.

You basically have only 3 workspaces:

  • Your home screen (with a dock and a widget area)
  • The left screen, providing the “context” panels
  • The right screen, providing your apps, sorted by categories

This is simple, clean and efficient. On top of that, Aviate uses some contextual information to automatically adjust your context panel: your location, or the time of the day will change things.

For instance, your “Work” panel will be the default screen when you’re at the office (providing you told the launcher where it is obviously).

In the same way, you’ll find the “Morning” panel when sliding left first in the morning. Each context panel can be customized with widgets and launchers.

It looks Aviate provides a very good balance between being customizable and yet remaining simple to use. That’s my feeling after a couple of weeks.

The Aviate right-panel launcher : automatically organized by categories. Definitely way better than multiple screens.
The Aviate right-panel launcher : automatically organized by categories. Definitely way better than multiple screens.

Regarding customization, you can use any icon pack (I use Belle UI) you wish and use Musei as your wallpaper app (which I love, by the way).

Looks like I’ve found my perfect launcher. Time will tell if that’s true.


ClearFocus or working with Pomodoro

If you’re into productivity, there’s a chance you know about Pomodoro, the method of organizing your working tasks in small phases of focus, split by short breaks. If you don’t, PomodoroTechnique is a good place to start.

Pomodoro Main Principles

The idea behind the Pomodoro Technique is very simple: you cannot work effectively on a task (whether it’s for work or not) in a continuous flow. Your brain needs to stop, between sessions of focus. It appears this is the best way to stay effective.

During the phases where you are “on focus”, you should also disable all distractions and have only one thing in mind: get that task you’re working on done.

The focus phase is limited in time (20 or 25 minutes), and that means, you have to make sure what you want to work on fits into that time window. If not, you’ll have to split the task in as many subtasks as needed. Which will help to clear your mind and have an even better focus.

A new study in the journalCognition overturns a decades-old theory about the nature of attention and demonstrates that even brief diversions from a task can dramatically improve one’s ability to focus on that task for prolonged periods.

Any time you reach the end of a “focus” phase, you have a short break (5 minutes). You have to stop what you do, and get relaxed. It can be switching to another workspace with your social media or news feed, going outside for a fix of fresh air, drink a coffee or even have that phone call with your friend you needed to contact. You get the point, the idea during that break is to get out of the “working bubble”.

Once the short break is over, you’re back to another focus phase, and so on. Once you’ve done 3 or 4 focus phases, you enter a “long break” (20 minutes).

The only thing you need: a timer

When on focus, your task is ticking, get things done!

Of course you can’t work like that without a timer: you need to control your time. That’s actually where the name of technique comes from: Pomodoro is the Italian word for Tomato and is the name of the cooking timer that represents a tomato. The technique was made using one of those, setting the timer to 25 minutes for measuring a focus phase.

If you’re an old-school purist, nothing prevents you from grabbing a real Pomodoro at work (would that be freaky?), but you can also install a dedicated app on your phone (much more discrete), which, turned in landscape mode below your screen will become a great timer.

There are many Android apps out there but the one I like the most so far is ClearFocus.

The timer settings, convenient to disable the notifications when on focus mode.

The app is simple, clear and does what it’s supposed to. I also like that the settings allow you to disable all your phone’s distractions (and even cut down the WiFi connection) while you’re in focus mode.

The fact you need to name the task you’re working on is also a very good idea: it suggests to define precisely the purpose of the next 25 minutes to come.

This will also help clear you mind and make the focus even better.

We’re human, by nature, we’re very vulnerable to distractions and interruptions (phone calls, emails, colleagues chatting, etc).

On the other hand, our brain is not good a paralleling things, to be efficient, we need to have all the resources of the brain focused on a single target, just like if you want to burn a paper with a ray of light, you need to make sure the light stream is as narrow as possible.

The Pomodoro technique is a great and simple tool to use to meet a better productivity.

You’ll enjoy working on your tasks, and even more realizing that you now have to take a 5 minutes break. This is pleasant.

By the way, my timer shows 0:39, and my blog post is finished, I have a break to take.


The subtle challenge of becoming a manager

I’m not really used to speak about my job here, but it’s been some time since I had this blog-post idea, and I guess I need to write it down.

When I joined Weborama in 2010 it was as a software engineer, responsible for some backend developments of the advertising platform of the company. It’s been five years this summer that I joined the company and my role evolved a lot since then.
One thing after another I eventually became CTO of Weborama. Of course it didn’t happen in one day and I’d be lying if I told you I had that in mind in 2010. Life really took me by surprise there. I became CTO because the people and the team I worked with allowed me to.

I met wonderful people during those five years, some of them are still working with me today, others don’t, but I really had the impression my role evolved with the team.

When the opportunity of handling the CTO position came, my main concern was to question myself about my ability to deal with the expectations of such a role.

Will I be able to be a good CTO? How do you train for such a position?
Will I cope with the pressure of delivering working releases of and adserver and a DMP while maintaining a good team spirit within the team?
Could I handle crisis situations or manage to keep hiring people at a good pace?

All those questions jumped from everywhere. But the most important one didn’t.

When you build a high-availability platform for a multi-million-euro company, technical challenges are tough and not uncommon. That’s your daily job to deal with them, and to make sure the right people are working on the right priorities.

This is not something a school can teach you, as this kind of role comes with different expectations depending on the company you are working in. But you can deal with it. If you’re motivated enough and focused on your job, you’ll deal with it.

What I really didn’t see coming was the sort of solitude this role brings. You cannot avoid that: the minute you become the manager – the “boss” – of your previously co-workers, you become different to them. You cannot be the same as before, as you are their boss. You are the one that will decide if they get a raise or not, a bonus or not, if that new comer is going to be confirmed as an official employee or not.

No matter how much energy you put into being as fair as possible in such touchy decisions, you’ll always be seen as the one under the authority hat. And nothing you can do will change that, it is a fact.

In one hand, you are expected to be a good manager, and that means making sure everyone in your team is effective and motivated. On the other hand, remaining seen as a friendly manager is an asset you want to keep. But sometimes, those are opposite targets. Either you’ll be “too kind” and your management won’t be strong enough, or you’ll be too severe, and people will start being upset with your decisions, becoming less motivated at the same time.

This is clearly the most difficult challenge of becoming a manager: being able to play with those opposite forces, as if you were trying to mix fire and water.

Finding the right tone just in the middle of a strong and a friendly management seems to be the key. This is not an easy task.

I did my best so far, but I also realize that the more (positive or negative) pressure the company gets, the more expectations you put on the team, the less friendly you become.

I think the real challenge is there: being a good manager and remaining friendly to your team, as much as possible. I strongly believe in the “friendly” management (over the management by fear, that I’ve seen elsewhere), but I start to wonder if it’s even possible to keep such a strategy in place for a long time.

I hope so.

f.lux a great idea for night walkers


During the day, computer screens look good—they’re designed to look like the sun. But, at 9PM, 10PM, or 3AM, you probably shouldn’t be looking at the sun.

This app is just a very good idea, it is simple in design, but beautiful in its concept. I tried it, and I cannot work without it anymore.

With f.lux, the color of your computer’s display adapt to the time of day, it can sounds silly, but give it a try.

During the night, the color of your screen is altered to look very soft to the eye, no more flashy ultra bright white, a soft yellowish white instead.

This is a very simple yet super good idea. I cannot live without it now. And yes, it’s available for Mac OS, Windows and Linux.

Try it.

How productive are you? Rescuetime knows

rescuetime dashboard
Rescuetime dashboard

I’m a GTD freak and while I use Nirvanahq everyday, I regularly look for alternatives.

As I was looking for native GTD apps (that’s really what I miss with NirvanaHQ) I ended up visiting RescueTime. OK it has nothing to do with a GTD app, but wait, it’s really worth a look!

The idea is very good and the implementation as well, let’s see what this is all about.

Rescuetime is a service that collects transparently all your activity on your workstations. Don’t be afraid, you control that entirely and we’re speaking about your office workstation, not your smartphone or your private laptop. And if you use the same device for home and work duties, you can define hours when RescueTime logs information and other period of time where it doesn’t.

To do so, all you need to do is to install their program on your desktop and the browser extension on your browser. Of course, if you have more than one device, you can install their software everywhere, all the metrics will be merged nicely.

From this point, you’re all set. After some time (15 minutes is a minimum) you can go to your dashboard and see by yourself how you used your devices.

Did you visit Twitter or Facebook? That’s a “distractive” activity.

Did you use Thunderbird or Outlook? That’s a “communication” activity.

You get the point.

The tool comes with very sane defaults (even for well known websites) but you can very easily classify any unknown activity.

On top of that, you can define objectives like “being productive for at least 5 hours a day” and your dashboard will help you keep track on that.

They also provide a premium version ($9 per month or $72 per year) with interesting features like the “Focus mode” where you choose to get focused for an expected amount of time and during that time you won’t be able to run applications or visit websites that don’t fit the productive category. Very good idea… What about that presentation you need to finish? Focus mode for 2 hours!

That version can also log the amount of time you spend away from your desktop, like… meetings.

Of course using such an app is a massive intrusion to your privacy as everything you do is logged and saved on their websites, but the service is great and if you install that only on your workstation it’s not really an issue, to my opinion.

I’m curious to see my first weekly report and see how much time I spend writing or reading emails…

Well thanks to Rescuetime, I’ll know, apparently, it should be around 30% of my time, according to their stats.

Well, RescueTime, definitely worth a try, the Premium version? Why not giving it a try as well. We’ll see!