I've been trying to implement daily habits over the past couple of months. Writing, push-ups, taking a walk, writing a diary. Those are my key habits that I want to practice every day.

Initially, I committed myself to writing before noon, while never checking my email until later in the day as well. As my days started getting slightly more chaotic, I lost track of writing, and it'd slip.

The further into the day my writing would slip, the more stressed out I would be about it. At the same time, all the impressions I collected during the day would cloud my head, keeping it busy thinking about other things rather than focus on writing, or focus on anything.

This is only natural. As colleagues wake up, as work and communication in the team and with customers progresses throughout the day, lots of topics are touched, making you think about other things than what you wanted to write about.

I've been trying the Pomodoro technique a while ago. It definitely helped me focus on writing, when I was working on the Riak Handbook. I found it not so helpful for my every day work in a team though, as work seemed to bubble up more than I could plan for it.

But what I figured out does help is to timebox some of your routine tasks. Daily habits can be fostered by setting a schedule. I already started doing that by setting my email processing schedule to be no sooner than noon.

Why not apply the same to writing, reading and push-ups, those things I want to do every day?

My day now starts with reading, I even get up slightly earlier for it. I get the push-ups out of the way before breakfast, and I focus on getting my writing done before 10:00. Boom, that's already half of my daily todo list done. On top of that, the day started with a quiet moment with just a book and a cup of coffee.

In the evening, I close my laptop no later than 20:00, so I have time for myself, and for my family. My goal is to go earlier than that.

Setting daily schedules for those routines, whether they're things you really want to do or they're things that you have to do, helps reduce the impact of them. You can focus on getting them out of the way without getting too stressed out about them.

Tags: productivity

Every product out there is riddled by a thousand customers' requests for a thousand features. Every single one of them has an idea on what would make your product better, what would make it more suitable for their purpose, for their daily work.

As a business, even as an open source project, it's too easy to get swamped by feature requests. But even worse, it's too easy to fall into the trap of feeling the need to implement all of them, or at least as many as humanly possible.

After all, the customer is always right, aren't they?

When you want to tackle a thousand little feature requests, it's very easy to lose focus. Even worse, with a small team, they'll all be busy fixing and improving small and big things, but may be missing working towards a bigger picture, a broader mission.

Look at the Leatherman, it's a testimony to tools with multiple functioning, doing a somewhat reasonable job at every one of them. Ops people and roadies swear by it for their every day work in data centers and on stage.

The Leatherman is a prime example of lots of features molded into a single tool that's useful to a broad audience. It's even sold at a premium for the purpose.

Now look at an Opinel knife. It's the mark of a simple knife. It has one blade, and depending on which one you buy, it even rusts when you don't take care of it.

One blade, nothing more. But that single blade is incredibly sharp, and it stays sharp, is easy to maintain. It's a tool with a focus, to give you the best knife you'll have at hand, something the Leatherman won't be able to achieve.

It has a very narrow focus, but it excels.

Your product probably isn't as narrow in scope, but you should ask yourself, what's it closer to, a Leatherman with lots of options or an Opinel, solving one problem in the best and simplest way possible?

Getting there unfortunately involves saying no to a lot of those feature requests you're getting. Figuring out what you don't want to do is just as important as thinking about what you want to do.

It gives you focus, it helps to stop thinking about the features you're not going to build. It helps you to instead focus on what you want to build.

A product is defined by what it can do just as much as it is by what it doesn't do. If a feature turns out to be important enough, it'll bubble back up later. Saying no now doesn't close doors forever.

Tags: featuritis

I've been practicing my latte art at home as of late. I have a Rancilio Silvia machine, which packs a decent punch regarding pressure and steam, much better than the Gaggia Classic I had before.

The Gaggia had a nozzle that pulled in air to steam to make up for the lack of pressure, which lead to foam that's still far from that glorious micro foam you need for pouring that nice rosetta on your flat white.

Pressure is an important part of getting that micro foam action at home.

Beyond that, though, the most important ingredient for great micro foam and the essence of latte art is: fresh, whole milk.

None of that low fat crap, unhomogenized full fat milk. Unhomogenized is rather important, as homogenized has a different taste, overshadowing the aromas coming from the espresso. Plus, the foam it creates is stiffer than what you need for good latte art.

That makes pressure and fresh, full fat milk the two most important ingredients.

But how do you steam the milk, in a cup? No, you need a nice jug, one that lets the milk flow gently into the cup. In Berlin's coffee shop, the steaming milk jugs from Rattleware are fairly standard. So I got one for myself, and it makes a big difference.

Now that you have the main ingredients in place, how do you make the actual latte art? Steaming the milk is an art on its own, so I ended up asking my local baristas for some advice on how they're doing it.

You start by getting some air into the milk. How much air depends on the amount of foam you want to have. I only put in a little air for a flat white, as it only has a thin layer on top.

While foaming, you want to keep the nozzle right underneath the milk's surface. Initially, you can pull it out slightly to get air in. Make sure to not do that for too long, as the foam gets stiffer and the bubbles will be bigger the longer you let air in. If you hold the pitcher at a slight angle, you'll notice that it only takes pulling the nozzle out a little bit to let air flow in on one side of it. Nifty!

Then, once an initial amount of air is in the milk, keep the nozzle on the side of the pitcher at an angle that lets the milk swirl around. That way, you fold the air that's now in the milk over and over, building a nice layer of microfoam on top while reducing the size of the bubbles more and more.

That turned out to be the one secret and tip that I needed to start pouring some nicer rosettas at home.

Three steps:

  • Get some air into the milk by keeping the nozzle just at the surface
  • Keep the nozzle right under the surface for the remainder of the steaming
  • Keep the nozzle close to the pitcher's wall at an angle to cause a swirl

The colder the milk initially, the more time you have to fold the milk.

Repurcussing the initial requirements for a good microfoam:

  • Cold, fresh, whole milk (no low fat, unhomogenized, in short: real milk)
  • A pitcher that supports pouring the milk flowing thinly
  • Steam with good pressure

When is the foam done? I keep one hand under the pitcher while steaming the milk. When the pitcher gets too hot to hold in your hand, that's when the milk is done. The longer you'll leave the milk to steam, the hotter the foam will be, eventually not making for good microfoam pouring material anymore as it's too stiff. If I'd want a burnt latte I could go to Starbucks instead. Make sure to knock the pitcher flat on a surface a few times to get rid of the bigger bubbles.

Once you have the foam ready, the last step is the pouring into the cup.

Another trick I learned from my local barista friends is to pour the milk in a swirl, ever so slowly in the beginning. That way you don't pour your entire foam into the cup initially, but you spread a nice layer on top of the espresso. When you're close to filling the cup, leave the pitcher on the opposide side, shaking it to and fro with a steady hand, letting the milk swing into the beverage while slowly moving your hand back. The movement of the milk should move white milk stripes through the cup as if by magic.

Finishing off the master piece, you take one swing across the rosetta to give it that nice little finish.

You need to practice the above quite a bit, so be ready to pour lots of milk in the near future. But heck, who doesn't enjoy drinking one good coffee after another? Helps to have your friends or colleagues around too.

One more thing I've learned: crema matters less for a good microfoam experience than I thought. In fact, it doesn't matter at all. A good espresso stands on its own, whether it has a thick crema or not.

Tags: coffee