September 18, 2006

OmniPlan – Gantt Outlining & GTD

Posted in FountainPens, GTD, Mac Software, Procrastination at 5:31 pm by a11en

A quick tip of the hat to the OsX software producers OmniGroup for tackling the Gantt chart project planning in their new beta-product OmniPlan. But first, some discussion of one of the difficulties in GTD the way I implement it…

Sibling/Children Tasks in GTD (a difficulty?)
One of the things about David Allen’s Getting Things Done which has been slightly off-beat for me, is that it’s somewhat difficult for me to determine related tasks (especially when resorted into context views). Now, don’t get me wrong, GTD is absolutely fantastic, and it’s changing the way I deal with my work and projects. For nuts and bolts of how to organize and think properly about tasks, GTD is where it’s at. Currently I’ve been using Kinkless’s kGTD to do my sorting etc., of my tasks, and printing them out onto 3×5 cards for use in my Levenger‘s Ballistic Shirtpocket Briefcase. I love the flexibility of 3×5’s, and the ability to take my hi-Fi to my lo-Fi world is nice. [Going the other way is a bit more difficult, just to warn you.]

I find that in my simple task or project view, in kGTD and surely other apps- it can be somewhat difficult to understand children/sibling tasks when viewed all in a single context. In other words, in one project I may have @research, @lab work, @analysis on a microscope, and finally @writing in regards to the research done. All these may lay under a project tab- like “Determine 3D plane of grain-boundary 1.” Nice- it’s in a project, so they’re related, and it’s in a subproject (my thesis), etc. Now, the good thing about GTD is having a task list based on context- i.e., @lab-work. So, I page over to my @lab-work task list. All the labwork I need to do is there. BUT- what it doesn’t show me, is the fact that in the real-world, I need to do my @online/library research first before going into the lab. So, technically, that task of “grow bicrystal @lab” shouldn’t be in my task-list yet- as the library research hasn’t been completed. So, when moving between context lists, I tend to loose some serious information- the order and pre-requisites or parent tasks.

I strongly suspect some sort of pending task indication in kGTD or other GTD implementations is needed. Perhaps context lists should be only current actionable items and not include any of these parent-pending tasks. In GTD words, the context lists would include only “next actions”… not all actions, as kGTD currently is setup. This in itself may solve this problem.

I highly value GTD for freeing up my mind (I’ve slacked a bit lately, but I’m getting back on the horse with organization). So, I am grateful to D.Allen [2] [3] for his work. As well, as to S. Covey [2] [3] for his work. I’m just wondering if we’re missing another level of mind-stuffing information here: namely the proper order and relation of tasks. In my current mode of organization, I seem to lose this information, or am required to remember it. In the project view, usually I have things organized in such a way that I can see this natural parent/child relationship, but when contexts are used, my brain must remember these things- which seems to go against the basic tenant of GTD. At least *I think* it does. [Lord knows I’m not an expert here.]

Gantt Charts, Procrastination and Tasks
Back to our discussion of Gantt charts. A long time ago I found Gantt charts. Even though they are painfully structured (not loose in scheduling or linking etc.)- they do allow you to very quickly see the tasks required to complete a project. In some ways, producing even a Gantt-Chart fake (structured todo list with fake times), you can see/walk through a project’s progression to completion more clearly. It’s very easy to see sibling/child/parent relationships in Gantt views. So, it intrigues me that OmniGroup chose a task-list and a Gantt project view for their OmniPlan application. Their app appears to be more focused towards small business or units within an organization, but it may prove to be interesting for personal project planning as well. So, I will begin to play with it a bit and see what can be determined. If I find it good or bad, I’ll let you know!

BTW, the Gantt project view may be useful for those of you working through the Now Habit. The idea of the reverse-schedule works quite well with Gantt planning. Starting with the required completion time, and working backwards through tasks to complete, you get a better feel for how much time is required for a project, its related tasks, and what needs to get done in a timely manner to achieve your goal. I’m not sure OmniPlan is good for GTD. I’m still playing. As I find out more, I’ll be sure to post.

GTD Evangelism (sic)
In describing GTD to my brother (the consummate devil’s advocate at times) he asked me: “Why- how has it helped?” The one comment that gave him pause was when I mentioned the ability to leave a project alone and jump back in right where you left off. It’s true. One of the great things about GTD, is that when you have your tasks and projects all in the system, and all the items are properly filed, you now can flip over to your project list/folder, and see what needs to be done immediately. Even if it’s been a month since you last got to that particular project. This is a serious benefit, as usually project switching requires you to spend quite a bit of downtime determining what needs to be done next. The methodology of filing/processing items from your projects into next actions and reference material means that you have all the necessary tools for completing your project at your finger-tips. Even if you leave it for a short time period to work on another necessary project. So, those of you who find it difficult to flip between various items when left for periods of time (almost a weekly event in grad-school), may find implementing GTD to be helpful.

Fountain-Pen Friendly Notebooks
A quick blurb about fountain-pen friendly notebooks: Barnes and Nobels has spiral bound Miquelrius as well as the faux-leather journals. Miquelrius paper is fantastic with fountain-pens! Love it- love it. My m400 has been writing so well lately, and on Miquelrius paper, it’s a dream. 🙂 (almost as good as Clairfontaine for smoothness)

I hope your week turns out to be great!

September 12, 2006

Maigret and bookstore musings…

Posted in Books, FountainPens, Pipes, Rants at 2:00 pm by a11en

I have a confession to make- I love books. I love books so much that I have a number of books currently being read in parallel, and often a large number of books on my shelf that are wanting to be read, taunting me, asking me to open their covers… There are a number of things I’ve figured out about books, and I’ll spare you a good deal of them in this post.

Allow me to digress slightly into the land of ex-girlfriends. I promise we will find ourselves out on the other-side of this digression back in the land of book-talk. I have to tip my hat to an old girlfriend of mine, Sigrun. She came around at a time in my life when she was desperately needed. I had finished a very crazy relationship with a very troubled, but wonderful, woman who is still in my prayers (as is Sig of course). Sig, however, was like a ray of blinding light coming through a recently swept-aside bedroom curtain after a 4 year storm. The darkness giving way, Sig was my therapy. Among other wonderful things, she showed me simple kindnesses I had forgotten that were a part of a good relationship based upon mutual love and respect. For that she will always be a dear friend, no matter where she travels. Another wonderful thing Sig taught me, was that there are actually places where old books go to find a new home: used bookstores. I can almost guarantee to you, the reader, that there is at least one used bookstore near you- possibly two or three. They are wonderful safe-havens for books that, as I will describe shortly, have been lost to some, but remain available to be found…

A lot of these wonderful and lost books can be found at libraries (another great invention). I, however, figured out a long time ago that libraries are wonderful things, but not if you read books like I do. I have the tendency to make them draw on for ages- and having the ability to set a book down, and not feel under the gun to finish it, allows me to have numerous “friends” on my bookcase that aren’t yelling at me to get them back to their Dewey-allocated shelving units before the guillotine drops.

And so- I brave the world of crazy old houses turned into used-book-safe-havens with rickety steps and crazy soft-spoken (and obviously way too peaceful to be human) cash-till-attendants, who somehow manage to remember which books they have on their shelves even when a good portion of them are actually in piles on the floor. I rummage around through covers of sometimes faded lettering, and funky 70’s pinks… all on the elusive hunt- that book which the major sellers no longer stock or print. Or at least, can no longer be found in town. And there, my friends, is the rub…

For a book, being good and old often isn’t enough for you to get printed much. Even if you are printed, being good and old often isn’t enough to find yourself on a shiny bookstore shelf awaiting the ipod-toting masses. [Peace, friend, I too tote an iPod.] Now, you may be able to suggest that there are so many good books, that it’s impossible to keep them on the shelves at all- by sheer mass and volume issues. Ok, I’ll agree a bit here… but what I hate, is that I know I’m not into esoteric authors, and often, a book I’m looking for isn’t to be found anywhere in town! So often, that I’m wondering why in the world I even go to the bookstores, when there is Amazon. (Granted, with it’s own problems.) The most hilarious thing in the world to me is when the “fill-in-name”-bookstore attendant says: “Well, sir, it looks like we don’t carry that book, but we can order it for you.” I smile the smile I’m sure they’ve seen a hundred times that day- “No, that’s ok. Thank you.” Why the hell would I want them to order it for me, when I can get on average 10-30% off on Amazon and often with no shipping if I lump my orders together? (I can even get groceries at the same time.)

But, then, I’m reminded that Amazon, as well as allowing you to get groceries, also puts you in touch with a seriously large used-book marketplace. See, I told you a used-book store was near by! 😉 Personally, I like to hold and examine the used books I buy, so I tend to not use this option. I have had friends who have purchased books that I’d swear weren’t used and were in excellent condition.

What authors have I had a Dicken’s of a time finding of late? (sorry for the (oliver)Twist-ed pun) Why the musings? Lately it has been the great author and apologist, G.K. Chesterton. On my first search, I was on the hunt for The Everlasting Man. C.S. Lewis, another apologist, perhaps most important of his century, said this particular work baptised his intellect as George MacDonald baptised his imagination. He called it the best popular apologetic he knew. So, we can surely say the work influenced one of the greatest authors of the time. Can you find it at any local bookstore today? I bet you can’t- I certainly couldn’t. In fact, I couldn’t even find it in my local used bookstore haunt! So, I will have to get a new or used one from Amazon. Now, don’t go getting the idea that Chesterton only wrote about Christianity. Not at all. His Father Brown mysteries are fantastic stories. I did find one of them at one of the locally-owned bookstores, and snagged it. So far the stories have been very enjoyable, and I have another compilation of more of the Father Brown stories waiting for me in my bookcase that I snagged from the unusually-peaceful used-book-store attendant. [Seriously- he’s EXTREMELY PEACEFUL- it’s disconcerting… take Garrison Keillor and slow him down a notch or two… and perhaps lower his volume by half, and you can see what I mean…]

Speaking of mysteries, another very important mystery writer is very hard to find these days. Only a few of his books are available recently: Georges Simenon. An amazingly prolific writer, Simenon’s work includes nearly 200 novels, 150 novellas, and numerous other writings. The most memorable, perhaps is the great pipe-smoking superintendent of the Police Judicaire, Commissaire Maigret. Many of the Maigret stories are nice short mystery novels, which to me harken to Sherlock Holmes in length and enjoyment. Many times I enjoy the Maigret novels more than Holmes, perhaps because I’ve read too much of Holmes all in one sitting. I have to admit, the knowledge of pipe-smoking that Simenon has lends very well to his pipe-smoking character Maigret, who is almost never without his pipe. One memorable scene even has Maigret enjoying a much needed bowl of tobacco to help him think and relax while bed-ridden with a nasty cold during one investigation. His covers were up to his neck, while his wife was out on an errand; just the pipe sticking out. (Of course after being told he was not allowed to have a pipe that day.) When I can find the Maigret novels, and can afford them, I snag them up like they were candy. Hmm… maybe I shouldn’t be sharing this secret… on second thought- Maigret sucks horribly- you’ll do yourself an injustice if you buy any of ’em, so just pass them by, thank you very much…

Talk of Holmes brings us around to one of the most well-loved mystery writers, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Here again, we find that a few of his books have at least up until very recently been extremely difficult to find in bookstores as well. In fact, Doyle’s Sherlock mysteries were outsold by a non-Holmes book in England: The White Company. The White Company is a truly heraldic tale. Taking us back to the days of knights and chivalry, it’s easy to see why young and old minds alike loved the tale of the White Company, headed by the great Sir Nigel (whose stories are available separately). The book was a great refreshing read after not finding much like it in popular writing. Reading the White Company gave me a very serious respect for Sir Doyle’s work. Wonderfully written, and much more descriptive than the short stories of Holmes that were published in The Strand. The White Company is definitely worth a read, even if you were unsure of Doyle after a long bout of reading Holmes.

Don’t be afraid to dig a bit to find those old books, perhaps even used books that are hard to find on the shelves of the mega-book stores these days. Very often, they’re superb but are in the public domain and don’t make a serious amount of money for the store. It’s harder for them to sell these just because they’re not being made into movies, or not very well known. I’m finding wonderful gold-nuggets in my digging, and just felt the need to share ’em with you. (Not to mention buying a book for $2 is a seriously fun experience.)

Added benefit: A good portion of these works may have been written with fountain pens!! 🙂 He he he.. (ok, I know, I’ve got a problem)… certainly the writers used fountain pens at one point, perhaps not to write their novels. Speaking of fountain pens- here’s a beauty that I snagged at Levengers for a steal- a Pelikan 400 tortoise I believe (some call it “Honey”). Beautiful white plastic accented with gold trim and a dual-tone irridium accented gold nib. Piston filler of course- has a fantastic ink capacity, and will surely last for a very long time. If you haven’t tried any Pelikans, I highly recommend them. Excellent writers, and the piston-fill system is wonderful to use. The picture below is from my huge Miquelrius notebook which is used for my research notes. Ink is Noodler’s Legal Lapis available through Pendemonium.

Pelikan 400

Oh- one last thought: The Harvest. Every year when this season comes around, I’m reminded of how wonderful fresh food straight from the farmers/orchards are. We have in my fridge at the moment, some fresh green beans, fresh super-sweet corn, a half-peck of Honey Crisp Apples, and a bunch of freshly picked ripe from the tree peaches. It’s amazing to me that too many of us have settled with store produce. It is certainly important to us, that’s a given, but to taste fresh fruits and vegetables- one wonders why in the world we eat anything else! When an apple or a peach makes you a bit weak in the knees (and you have no other serious medical conditions) you have to be thankful for the harvest-bounty. A friend of mine has shared his fresh oranges, grapefruit and tangerines from Florida in the past. I used to never really crave any of these things- that is until the day I tasted his family’s tree-ripened fruit. Oh man- I hate to say it, it’s a bit cliche- but as I bit down into a tangerine- I thought- hell, this should be “adult-only” it’s so damned good. When things calmed down a bit, I realized it was just good fruit! 🙂 When your oranges taste like orange-sherbet but juicier, you know you’ve got it good. So, my hat’s off to all the growers out there. I’m very thankful for harvest season- and I’m doing my best to enjoy it while it lasts!

I hope everyone is having a wonderful week, and I hope to be back soon with productivity oriented snippets to share. I’ve been swamped a bit, so the blog has taken a bit of a back-seat, my apologies!