December 20, 2006

3×5’s As A Capture Tool…

Posted in GTD, Lifehacks at 8:52 am by a11en

Merlin today has a great post that you may have noticed a while ago at Lifehacker about Merl Reagle’s capture tools. Merl is the creator of the Old Grey Lady‘s Cross-word Puzzles. [Regardless of what you think of the NYTimes, you must respect a puzzle-maker. 😉 ]

Merl uses soft reporter books as well as 3×5’s or perhaps they’re 4×6’s as a capture tool. He explains how he’ll get inspirations at the oddest moments and doesn’t want to loose those inspirations by forgetting to jot them down. Hence, the need for an anytime-anywhere capture tool. Enter the hPDA.

What is interesting to me about the lowly 3×5 is that it seems that every old guy I meet has a stack of these in their breast-pocket. My landlord, great guy BTW, always has a stack in his pocket, as well as some more in his minivan. Frequently he can be seen rummaging through them to find a piece of info he needs. I even had a professor give me the suggestion that I needed some place to jot down notes/organize myself, and out popped a pen and a 3×5 stack. He saw me smile, and I don’t know if he know why I did or not, but already in my backpocket was my Levenger Ballistic Shirt Pocket briefcase with a set of 3×5’s already in place. I was tempted to ask: “Do you know GTD?” 😉 I doubt he did, but one thing is for sure, he’s successful and my guess is his 3×5’s get good use. [Another kind fellow, BTW.] Aside:Holy Cow- the BSPB is no longer available at Levenger. EEEK. The world has stopped spinning? Their leather versions are nice, but they are missing a third pocket.

The thing that intrigues me about the 3×5’s is what in particular makes them easy to use? Personally, I think it’s the ease of the search/sort ability, as well as the size. That probably boils it down right there. Now, while I like the hPDA, I don’t print out many cards myself, mainly because it takes time. I just can’t bring myself to print my own card blanks. I can however snag 10 off the blank stack and shove them in the middle of my briefcase. But, I think that there are some issues with the 3×5’s, and potentially all paper capture tools that are inherently difficult.

The one section of that talk with Merl that I’d love to have seen, is how in the world does he use his captured thoughts? In the video snippet, we hear Merl talk about a particular puzzle he didn’t use for years. Looking at the captured thoughts and their seemingly randomness (it’s ok, mine are often random), I practically screamed at the video: “And then what?! And then what?!” How do you use those stacks? My theory? Like many musicians, when inspiration is needed they go back to a pretty disorganized slew of notes. Rummage in there, and out pops inspiration. A huge tickler/inspiration file. Not particularly an organized ordered “need to do this:” type stack. A slew of ideas jotted down for future work.

I found this next step to be the critical pathway to an idea which either stays an idea, gets lost in the stack of ideas (for me ideas are a dime a dozen at times), or gets acted upon. This is where the physical capture tool of the 3×5 starts to break down. Organization and subsequent use. Those 3×5’s are good for a day, perhaps a week… but then, what happens? How do *you* use them?

What I’ve tended to do, and it’s not working so well right now (a need to redo this process is much needed- but must wait until this Christmas break), is to peruse these cards for data every week or so. I also keep a running “Inbox” 3×5 card which gets filled slowly from top to bottom with action items. These Inbox cards get looked at with high frequency, as well as get combined/whittled down about once a week.

Now, this works to some extent, but there are some serious flaws in it. For one, the tasks aren’t put into context as they should be at this present time… they’re not that bad, but they’re just glorified ToDo lists at the moment. The primary reason this is the case, is that the 3×5’s are easy to use, but not easy to organize. Not to mention they’re not easy to search contextually like on a computer. I’ve heard some folks have luck scanning in all their 3×5’s and using meta tags etc., to help them locate info on them. Wonderful idea, I may try it sometime, but wow- what a lot of work.

So, if you use 3×5’s, and if you have similar problems, or want to share how you overcome them, let me know below in the comments. I’d love to chat about this more, time allowing. Either the end of the 3×5’s usefulness, or the lo-fi/hi-fi disconnection are also wonderful discussion points.

Finally, a comment about the venerable notebook. I love blank notebooks. Lordy do I have enough of them. 😉 Being a fountain-pen user, I tend towards the soft-back Miquelrius notebook. I’m intrigued right now by the cloth-bound Clairfontaines, and hope to have a few purchased soon. Smythson is also intirguing due to their feather-weight paper and fountain-pen friendly quality- but, well, I’d have to sell a small kingdom to buy them, and honestly, I suspect that their product is priced mostly because it’s a new “fashion” accessory these days. Somewhat like Burberry’s fall from outdoorman’s fame with the adoption of the Chav-hat. Hell, Burberry used to outfit Shackleton and Amundsen. Anyways, I digress… The benefit of a notebook is that it keeps everything in order. You could imagine a big table-of-contents at the beginning of the notebook and numbered pages marking each important thought upon weekly review. This to me screams future usefulness. Perhaps I’d only need to input my table-of-contents for each book I have and search this when I’m looking for info. I guess a similar approach could be done with 3×5’s, but the very nature of them mean that they are very very easy to disorganize. [BTW, I’m quite gifted at that last word.] Problem with the notebook- 1) too thick to keep in the back-pocket, 2) brain-farts carry equal worth to nobel prize winners, 3) inability to pitch/sort/organize on the fly- inboxes inside notebook generally require constant re-writing, 4) same issues with action sorting into contexts as 3×5’s.

Interesting stuff none-the-less. Almost every old guy I meet (I’m fast becoming one) has a stack of 3×5’s surrounded by a rubber band and a pencil/pen hanging out somewhere on him. I think this shows that this method of capture spans the generations and is inherently useful. I’m intrigued by the possible breakdown of use of these tools on a higher organizational level much like the disconnection between ToDo’s and NextActionContext lists. But, in the end, it’s about being able to put pen to paper anywhere you are. For that, the 3×5 has been a God-send.

Here’s wishing you a fantastic Christmas! Perhaps Santa will have a stack of 3×5’s under the tree for you! 😉

A little gem I just found:  Merlin as “That Phone Guy”

December 18, 2006

LOTR: A New Christmas Tradition?

Posted in Pipes, Uncategorized at 12:53 am by a11en

Well, tonight I happened across TNT on the Sat. It turns out that they were playing at least two of the Lord of the Rings Trilogy. It has prompted this small post. I completely love LOTR and Tolkien’s amazing work. Of course I also love the work of Lewis. But, we’ll talk Tolkien today…

Have you found that reading or viewing the LOTR movies/books has become a new Christmas tradition? Since the movies were out for the past 3 years or so (they weren’t out last year if I remember correctly), I’ve found that I’ve enjoyed the LOTR movies along with having my Christmas Tree up. I received the extended versions each Christmas they came out. I also re-read the books at least twice now. Amazing books after each read. Luckily, the gal who’s quickly stealing my heart away also totally loves the stories. Unfortunately, she has yet to read my nice leather bound copies. Each year I try to shove one in her hand and explain that the books are even better than the movies. I think their size is daunting to her.

It was a bit of a surprise to me that LOTR became a part of my Christmas. Certainly it deals with many topics that a Christian would be interested in, as well as many other non-Christians. Such a wonderful story. Tolkien was a master at his art. Creation of races and languages. It’s a joy to read about how Lewis and Tolkien shared their thoughts on mythology and fantasy. They felt that fantasy stories could be made more “adult” and that it was a shame they were not already. Their work together was an attempt to bring out their loves of the early mythologies and the way those stories were told into readable stories that adults would love. While Lewis didn’t spend most of his adult life creating worlds in which to explore this aspect, he did spend a considerable amount of it doing so, and we find his wonderful works for us to enjoy in his Space Trilogy and Narnia series. [Darnit, I said I was only talking Tolkien, eh?] Lewis and Tolkien were dear friends, however, and often shared each others’ stories and thoughts on them with each other. So, it’s very difficult to separate the two.

I have found in my experience, enjoying LOTR beside the gilt and old world charm of the Christmas tree and it’s baubles, has heightened the joy of this season. Curling up with a book in my lap and a venerable Briar weed in my pipe has brought the warmth of an English library to me during the colder winter months. Imagining the struggle across the land towards Mordor, and the goodness of the small Hobbits… thrown into peril completely unknown, completely out of their thoughts, and how they rise to the occasions required of them, to be a great joy to read. It’s no wonder that this great literature has spawned such a new and strong following. And it’s to Jackson’s credit that a whole knew generation is finding LOTR that might have passed it by- a wonderful making of the books. However, there is so much left out… and to those who have not yet read these fantastic stories, I strongly urge you to do so. Tolkien’s mastership of langauges and story-telling is apparent immediately.

On a more productivity minded note- since some of my readers may be in this mindset more frequently… I find that I am often a “Steward of Gondor”… seeing the battle coming to my door on the plains near my stronghold, I often turn in fear, throw up my hands and start the funeral pyres. Woe is me! Never to accomplish my goal in the face of the onslaught surely to come. That my friends is not what heros are made of. The heros of this wonderful tale are much shorter than you or I, have come from small hobbit-holes that were comfy, and where 2 square breakfasts could be had before Elevenses and Luncheon. Not to mention a never ending supply of Long Bottom Leaf. These 4 adventurers were asked to complete a challenge they didn’t even know the depths of. They rose to that challenge even during horrible peril on the backs of Orcses or beneath the stomachs of Oliphants during battle. Even when they didn’t think they would have what it would take. They didn’t turn from the path that laid out before them. The small and meek accomplished much when asked. In many ways they were better stewards than all the Stewards of Gondor combined. They did it all not knowing what the outcome would be, or where the future would lead.

In many ways, this is our experience in life. We don’t know our futures, or how they will turn out before they arise. We each hold something dear to us, even if it is intangible. The question is, when we see the battles awaiting us, how will we respond? Funeral pyre, or meekness and humility in facing the tasks before us? “Woe is me,” or “maybe I can’t do this, but it must be done.”

December 4, 2006

My work and my pipe…

Posted in Uncategorized at 1:39 am by a11en

Tonight I sit here at my little make-shift work table, smoking the pipe that first got me started.

Interesting how life sometimes comes around full-circle.

My smoke whisps towards the sky, hopefully an acceptable offering to God as I pray earnestly over the work before me.  I am reminded of the fact that “All is vanity” by the death of my little feathered friend, and by the struggles of some of my human ones.

I ponder how pain exists in this world, and how so many good people are in so much of it.  I’m reminded of my pal “Jack” who explained all this; the Problem of Pain.  Søren too, reminds me that despair is the Sickness Unto Death; I must learn not too…  Life continues in its own way.  The sun always rising, no matter how little sleep we have gotten the night before.

So, I sit in front of this ambient glow, my words blocking out part of the page.  The Christmas tree lighting my way, by it’s sweet promise of new beginnings.  My work before me, still untouched due to fear… I must face that fear and cope with it.  Luckily the friend to all those unattainable greats- Bohr and Einstein and many more, is slowly calming me… the life-like warmth of my little pipe.  Focusing my thoughts so I can continue… reminding me that life is good and to be lived.  To “drink my wine, and live my life with the woman I love all the days of my fleeting life.”  I started on this road many many years ago… when I first carried around a Fisher-Price briefcase claiming to be working on my “Teeesis” between romps to the corner grocery store with empty bottles to return for rubber cola sweets and red shoe-string laces…

Interesting how life sometimes comes around full-circle.

December 1, 2006

The loss of a feathered friend…

Posted in Uncategorized at 12:48 am by a11en

I have sad news to relate. For the past week, I’ve been nursing a sick little parrot, a peach-faced lovebird, back to health. For around 3 days I practically never left his side, sleeping beside his container, he under his warming lamp with all the necessities- food, water, his favorite toy, and a blanket. My little friend almost died 1 week ago Tuesday. He was in such bad shape, he could hardly move. I fed him by syringe, and he came back to life, so to speak. And, unfortunately, yesterday morning, he passed away. I believe he passed away due to internal bleeding caused by the stopping of one of his drugs (as per vet orders), Carafate, which was helping his stomache to stay calm, and for his intestines to stop bleeding etc. I didn’t realize how quickly they can go- but one day of questioning whether or not he was in need of help was enough. And I learned the hard way.

The bird-lovers on ThePerch were wonderfully helpful through this trying time, and I strongly suggest anyone with a small bird head over there if they are interested in more information about them, or are in need of help.

I buried him out by the old oak-tree last night. A sad event. I miss his chirping and bell-ringing and insisting that I give him a noodle from that day’s dinner… He will be seriously missed.

Requiescat In Pace, little guy.