To Do List Iterations

When I worked as a journalist, I loved my notebook. It didn’t just hold my notes and interviews for stories, but my to do list items for each day and week too.

Granted, that may have been a requirement given it was a major tool of the trade. But as digital equivalents became more popular, and I switched careers, I used real notebooks less. In the past few years, I’ve tried a bevy of different methods and apps for managing my to do list. Recently though, I’ve landed on something that works for me and might stick.

I use both a digital task list (Google Tasks) and a small notebook. Google Tasks holds everything I need to do. I turn to the notebook each day to plan out the most important things to do, plus any meetings and other small items that need attention. I plan out the entire week the same way in the notebook. I pull out major items I want to get done that week and note them on a page using the same formula. I never break down big items, because that happens naturally each day. This combination of digital and analog provides the perfect mix for me.

So a day might look something like this:

MIT (Most important task)
- Finish accessibility review for new interface.

Meetings
- Check-in with Steve.
- Check-in with Carol.
- Check-in with Lauren.

Other
- Reply to thread on theme work.
- Look over data on customer sites.
Handwritten to do list showing most important task, meetings and other items.

I think it’s the physical act of writing the day’s activities down rather than typing them that makes it work better. I’m a few weeks in, and this has helped me be and feel more productive than most anything else.

Why I Care About Accessibility

Hands formed together with red heart paint.

Many people don’t know that I’m a twin.

Born two-months premature with many health challenges early on. I was a small kid who wore thick glasses and had a visible scar on my head from a surgery. My twin, Darrell, had a different fate. He didn’t fully develop because of the early birth. He never spoke or walked and required around-the-clock care. When my family visited him, he’d always light up when you gave him a kiss, a hug or whispered in his ear. From an early age, I had this real example that some people’s bodies or environments trap them. Their voices go unheard. Every time someone asked me about the scar on my head, I thought of my brother.

I still do. That’s why I care.

In my first web-related job, I worked for The Arc. The United States-based nonprofit serves people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. I felt connected to the cause because of my brother, of course. While there, I saw firsthand how much harder people with disabilities had to work to be heard. To be included. To live. They always reached for opportunity, often limited only by the world around them.

That’s why I care.

When I was a teenager, I told my mom that I felt like I had to live for two. I still feel that way. Darrell died September 23, 2012. I think often about how my journey, my life’s work, wouldn’t be as meaningful without his influence. In a way, he wasn’t silenced at all. I’m lucky.

You don’t need to have a personal connection to accessibility to care about it as deeply, of course. You just need to be open to the world around you. What’s different? Who doesn’t have room to flourish? How can you help? Be curious. Grant the space for people. Help each other.

I wrote a bit about this story, and told it on stage for a recent talk. I wanted to share it here too since it’s shaped a big part of who I am and how I operate.

Image courtesy of Tim Marshall.

Good Accessibility Means Quality

Cracked concrete with green tint.

WebAIM recently released a report about how accessibility errors permeate the Web. The report states, “the results paint a rather dismal picture of the current state of web accessibility.”

If you’ve ever tested sites for accessibility, the results may not surprise you. I can tell you in my own work, I see a lot of the same mistakes repeated. Depressing, indeed.

Eric Bailey wrote about the results eloquently. He compared inaccessible websites to structurally unsound bridges. Would you use a bridge with possible known faults? No. Yet, we ask people to do this every day with inaccessible sites.

Ethan Marcotte issued a call to action in his post about the results. He asked us to ask ourselves, “What’s one thing I wish I understood better about accessibility?” He even recommended my own Accessibility Weekly as a way to learn. That question rattles around in my brain constantly. So much so, I wrote a few blog posts about questions I get around the topic.

But one of the questions that I keep coming back to the most?

Why is accessibility not as exciting as say some new JavaScript hotness, CSS technique or [insert web thing]? If it were, maybe we wouldn’t be in this sorry state?

I don’t have the answer there, only some hypotheses.

Hypothesis number one: Inclusive design and/or accessibility shows a sign of quality. For some web workers (myself included!), you can ignore quality at times. Like a concrete slab being laid level and smooth. If it isn’t level or smooth, many may not notice. Some will though, and over time, that slab will break down quicker than one laid right. Ignore accessibility, and your experience will deteriorate faster.

Karl Groves has written about quality problems related to accessibility before.

Marcy Sutton’s A11y Wins blog has great examples of paying attention to quality.

Hypothesis number two (related to one): Most accessibility challenges come down to three factors: decisions, people and details. I wrote about this in the past in a series I called Everyday Accessibility. We won’t make all the right decisions. People won’t always know enough about how to design or build an accessible experience. Details come and go so fast in projects that we may not pay attention to enough of them. These factors help drive quality.

Let’s focus on making the concrete a bit more level every time way lay a new slab. Anyone can make the Web more accessible one change at a time.

Image courtesy of Mahdis Mousavi.

Accessibility Answers: Is Safari Better than Chrome for Accessibility?

Woman sitting and raising her hand beside another woman.

When I give presentations on accessibility, I usually get one or two questions I’ve fielded before. I’ve collected a handful for an ongoing series of posts with my answers. I hope they help you understand accessibility better.

Is Safari better than Chrome for accessibility?

No.

That’s the short answer, but let’s go deeper. People often ask this type of question because Apple has developed a good reputation around inclusive design and accessibility. Maybe its browser has an edge? They also wonder what browser and screen reader combination work best together.

All valid questions, but in today’s “modern web” most browsers are comparable when it comes to accessibility features. If you’re testing your design or development work in a browser with a screen reader, you’ll want to stick to a few combinations:

  • VoiceOver with Safari on MacOS and iOS.
  • NVDA with Firefox.
  • Edge/Internet Explorer 11 with Jaws.
  • Talkback with Firefox or Chrome.

This post from Maxability on screen reader and browser combinations has more information. And if you want some survey data on screen reader usage, WebAIM has puts together some on a regular basis.

Follow the series Accessibility Answers. Ask me a question via my contact form or Twiter.

Image by rawpixel.

Better Conversations About Accessibility

I published another post about accessibility over on the Automattic Design blog. This one focuses on why almost everyone can call themselves a designer, and how to have better conversations around design and accessibility.

My favorite piece of advice from the piece: design with them (whomever needed). Too often, accessibility gets hard because it’s viewed as an immovable obstacle, but it’s just another design constraint. Embrace it.

2019

Red fireworks over Lincoln Memorial.

I started January 1st like I have the past few New Year’s days. I listened to David Foster Wallace’s commencement address, This is Water. You can get it in article formbook form or on YouTube (blogged about it last year and in 2015).

I love its message. Pay attention, Be aware. Support others. Every day. Beyond that annual reminder, I’m thinking about what to focus on this year. I say that instead of goals because “focuses” last year helped me make substantial progress. I set one professional and one personal priority.

Last Year

Professionally, I wanted to be a better leader. I’m happy with the efforts here. I started working with a leadership coach, and it’s made a huge difference for me. I’m more aware of how I want to operate as a leader, how I actually operate and how to cross the delta between the two. I have to keep growing of course, but I’m more mindful of the journey, not just the destination now.

Personally, I wanted to read more. I did that in a big way, reading 22 books. I spent a lot more time reading more consciously rather than thumbing through feeds. I’ve gone back to using a feed reader for articles on the web. My favorite read from 2018 was Silence in the Age of Noise.

This Year

The priorities I decided to aim at this year skew more toward objectives. They’re broad, and I need to decide exactly how I’m going to work toward them, but having a direction versus no direction means I can start somewhere.

Professional: Thanks to a new professional growth focus at Automattic, all our designers wrote mission statements. Mine is:

David Kennedy works to make the Web fast, accessible and beautiful. He brings empathy and persistence to tackle problems customers and colleagues face that block their path to the future.

I’m looking forward to focusing on the craft of those areas, and helping others grow there too.

Personal: I want to find better balance in how I approach the things that require my attention and energy. I did a poor job of finding space from pressing matters in 2018. I let challenges consume me rather than me consuming the challenge. I read a few books to help with that, and have one exercise (spending 30 minutes doing nothing) to help here. I want to make “doing nothing” a stronger habit so I can gain clarity faster.

Happy New Year! Let’s do this.

Previous years: 2018, 201720162015201420122011.

Image by Sharosh Rajasekher.

A Distraction-Free Phone

Several people looking down at mobile phones.

Lately, I’ve wanted to be more intentional instead of more productive.

Why check off another item on the to-do list when you can focus on completing the right task? Getting there means improving habits, and creating the space for the right things. The biggest opportunity for making that space sits in my pocket or next to me almost 24 hours a day. My phone.

Inspired by the book, Make Time, which I finished recently, I decided to radically alter my phone, a Pixel 2 XL. I disabled all the apps that prove most distracting. The ones that lure you in with a feed that goes on endlessly. These apps remove you from your place in life. They put you half in, half out, like some sort of spirit caught between two worlds.

No more. Here’s how I did it.

I downloaded the Digital Wellbeing app from the Google Play Store. This will be released later this fall as part of Android. The app allows you to set timers for all your apps. Once you run out of time, it locks the affected app. I set a zero-minute timer for all the apps that distract me the most. They are:

  • Chrome
  • Gmail
  • Twitter
  • Slack
  • YouTube
  • ESPN

That way, if I want to use these tools, I have to be intentional about it. I can’t just mindlessly click into them and lose time.

So far:

  • Having an extra barrier does help. I’ve spent a bit more time on my laptop, but I’m being more intentional there as well. Getting a task done and moving on.
  • I’m spending less time fiddling with email or opening up an app without a strict purpose.
  • I have more mental space for thinking and writing.

This isn’t my first foray into a more distracted-free lifestyle. I started reducing the number of apps I use on my phone two years ago, and have mostly stuck to that.

Image by Robin Worrall.

Time and Decisions

Seth Godin has written a lot of classic posts, but this one is my favorite. He talks about how time and decisions become interlinked. He says:

But…
That’s our work.
We don’t make stuff as much as we make decisions.

Seth Godin

As a leader, I do this every day. I used to produce code, but now I produce decisions. If it’s a good day, I make clarity. That clarity often comes if I put the right amount of time into the needed problem. If I don’t, I start to lose momentum and the clarity becomes more elusive.