December 9, 2007

Polder Timer- Time Crutch for the Timeless…

Posted in GTD, Lifehacks, Procrastination, Productivity, Work at 9:14 pm by a11en

I’ve been meaning to blog about something that sits on my belt these days… in fact, I’ve become somewhat lost if I don’t feel it by my side. I don’t use it all the time… um, excuse me… time, in fact, is the subject matter of today’s blog post.

I’m slowly coming to a realization and sadness that time just doesn’t wait for anyone. Not even me. You see, I used to think that time would do my bidding. But, in fact, each day I grow older, there is a new grey-hair, and my time for a future family dwindles. Each week spent not focused on my work towards my Thesis and my PhD degree becomes one more week of stagnation and lack of progress towards a happier future. Unfortunately, as everyone who knows me will tell you, time and I just don’t get along. There was one thing I was early for in my life, and that was my birth. After that, I guess, I’ve been trying to make up for it.

I have another small confession to make. Often the reason I’m late is because of my love of what I’m doing at the time. You see, I spend so much of my effort and focus in “The Now” that I literally forget about the “little after now”… which ultimately will become “the now” but apparently I’m not ready for it when it does. That could be because I’m having a deep and interesting discussion about research work with one of my co-workers, and I realize I’m 5 minutes late for my time on a microscope, or it could be because I need my morning coffee “just right”, and I know it takes about 5 minutes to steep. But, what I do know, is I’m passionate and empathic about my current time. I see this as an advantage, but realize that on the other side of “now” it’s a disadvantage.

So, what can I do? What in the world is someone who lives a life bucking Father Time for all eternity to do? Aside from some serious advances in physics and anti-matter, I have to say, I’ve turned to a crutch.

Enter the Polder Timer stage left…

This is the little fellow who’s constantly at my side these days. It isn’t perfect, it isn’t beautiful, and it’s been busted at least once already. What are the things I love about it? How do I use it? Does it work for me?

What I love about it:

The multi-function timer is excellent. The feature which is killer for me is the vibrating feature. The reason for this, is that it’s relatively quiet, but when the timer is on your belt (in your pocket you’ll likely hit one of the buttons) it quietly alarms at your side. One can’t really use a normal timer when dealing with coworkers or technicians etc., and have it sitting there ticking away during your conversation and finally the saxon sounds blaringly loud! Insanity.

(How I use it: )

A little bzzzzzzt on your belt is easily managed. Going to visit an old friend for work, but you can easily get into a 1 hour conversation about life and you have a ton to achieve that afternoon? Before entering his office, set the timer to half-hour.. 15-20 minutes of work talk, 10 minutes of fun-talk. Let him know you have to go at xxx time, and then talk away. It will suck when it buzzes, but honestly, if you’re polite about it, and let him know you’ll return soon, I’m sure it will go well. It can be done relatively incognito also, so the conversation need not end immediately after the buzz. Not to mention you always have the ability to make conscious decisions about your time (Covey) when it’s required. Did he tell you a doozey? His dog just died last night? You can reschedule your next meeting if it’s important to your friendship.

What this timer allows me to do, is manage time and allow my brain to roam free (until the buzz) as it usually does. Instead, it is brought back to earth when I want it to be (my setting on the timer). This is a wonderful wonderful thing. An example… the EDS on the Scanning Electron Microscope needs like 2 minutes to get it’s job done, and the darned machine that runs it has no sound (ugh windows)… set your timer for 2 minutes, read your journal article, bzztt… EDS is done, get back to the SEM. πŸ™‚ Works like a freakin’ charm. I use it like that all day. Need to check on the growth-chamber and check it’s vacuum before growth? 5 minutes degass, 5 minutes off, measure, etc. I can go back to my desk sure that I’ll be reminded of when to check the gauge.

I also use it to do dashes of work when I’m not in front of my computer… 15 minutes of focused work, 5 min. break etc., (or 2 min. but I always eek out more break).

Of course the timer also has a visual cue (blinking red-light on the top you can set if you want), as well as a nice loud buzzer as needed. In the dark, the visual cue is nice, can set the timer down and not disturb SWMBO’d.

What I don’t like:

The belt clip that came with it was busted within the first week. I liked that it had a clip, stand, and magnet on it… but it was too weak. What did I do to solve the problem? For about a week I tried to use it in my pocket, but I always touched the buttons, etc., and it was a pain… so I scoured around various stores to find a cheap stick-on cell-phone clip replacement. Found one, gorilla-glued it on the back, and now I have an excellent clip to hold it to my belt. I’ve got plans to add the old magnet to the clip, but haven’t yet. It’s much easier to clip and unclip now that I’ve replaced the belt-clip. πŸ™‚

Also, unfortunately, there is little to no memory. That means I set the darned thing all the time. This isn’t so bad, but a few memories would really make work-dashes much easier.

Counting stops at the alarm. I’d much rather it continue on. So, if I set it for 5 minutes, for some reason I miss it, how long did I miss it for? When was that buzzer going? I’d love to know if I missed it by half a minute, or by 20 minutes! No such luck. You can count up from zero, you can count down from X, but you can’t count up from zero after counting down from X. Kinda sucks.
But… the price is right. Nice and cheap, and the killer apps (vibrating and light alarm) are very worth the price. (Even with added new belt-clip.)

The stigma:

I took it on my chin for about a month with SWMBO’d… I got crap like: “Oh, whatcha going to do, time how long dinner takes?” … (while heading to the bathroom one night)… “Oh, whatcha going to do, time how long it takes you to SH… (ave)”? πŸ˜‰ [I added the ave]… Oh, she’s a cad alright. Real cad. Real funny gal. But, my timer is still on my belt, and it’s still helping me work. So, if you can live past the joshing you’ll take, you might just fine that a crutch like a timer will really help your timelessness.

Coming from a serious space-case and procrastinator extraordinaire, it’s certainly helped me.

(Oh, BTW, just for the record, Grace Kelly was so damned hot. I just had to let that out. Hell, if I was a King, I’d have married her. Holy crap. (TCM on tonight.))

September 25, 2007

GTD, Now Habit, 7-Habits Update: The Weekly Schedule

Posted in 7 Habits, GTD, Procrastination, Productivity, Work at 12:55 pm by a11en

It has been some time since I’ve talked about productivity, so I thought it might be time for a new post. Since my work has been heating up, and I’m trying to finish up a serious breadth (and depth) of work in my research, I’ve also updated my productivity tools. What I’m going to tell you about here, is only one new aspect of my tools, one that I’ve been meaning to re-try for a very long time.

Remembering Covey’s 7-Habits (my first reading)…

The first time I read Covey’s 7-Habits book, I was struggling with my work and direction. Even though I was a bit brain-numb after the incessant use of “paradigm”, the book touched me deeply. The advantage of my first reading, is that I read it on my own time, and on my own prodding. In my opinion, this is the way all productivity books should be read. If you are not self-driven to read them, it will only be painful. One of the important aspects that hit home was Covey’s discussion of the weekly schedule. The weekly schedule as Covey describes it has the advantage of David Allen’s GTD Weekly Review. Focusing on your Roles and Goals for each role, Covey has you set up your weekly priorities and ToDo’s in such a manner as to forward your long-term goals on a weekly basis. The idea being that if you are not furthering every aspect of your life that is important to you each week, you will feel stagnant in that area, and therefore, unfulfilled.

Covey also suggests your week should be viewed all at once (say on a single 8.5 x 11″page). The advantage of this is a longer-term view which keeps you moving through the week, but on a tight enough view that you can get your work done. The daily view often hyper-focuses us, and when we hit the 5pm clock hour, we suddenly realize we missed doing something for the morning meetings. So, viewing everything over the whole week allows us to prioritize a bit better. Sure, there are other methods than this, but this is a simple method and I suspect it works well whenever it’s implemented. I found it to be true for me…

A top-down view of my direction at the time I read 7 Habits was very important to me to re-invigorate my focus and drive in my work. Doing so through the weekly Roles and Goals allowed me to see my week’s work together as a whole, and subsequently that week’s work as a part of the longer-term goals I had laid out for myself. The time-period I consider one of my more productive set of months was when I was xerox-copying the blank weekly schedule located in Chapter “Habit 3- First Things First”. This Chapter was so influential to many, that it eventually became a second book by Covey entitled the same. Certainly for me it hammered home some very important ideas. [Like the time-quadrant.] So, with merely a set of xeroxed sheets, I was making good headway in juggling my days. From there, and it’s success, I purchased the Franklin-Covey planners, and moved away from that simple one-page form. A mistake for me. Having the printed out sheets may help some, but for me, not seeing my week all together really hurt my productivity. I just couldn’t get into the planner.

So, for many years I’ve thought about that sheet. In fact, a good friend of mine, who had success with the Franklin-Planner after I described in crude terms the majority of the first half of Covey’s book, was using it as well with good success. Missing it, I finally decided to make another one from scratch (since I couldn’t find my old printouts and xeroxes). I had a few new goals for the sheet, which I’ll describe here, and how they fit together.

If you are interested in a downloadable pdf of what I worked out, please see the very bottom of this blog post. It’s not perfect yet, and so it’s a bit hard to release something that is not perfect, and I haven’t checked out to see if anything is copyrighted etc, adding more difficulty to tacking it up here for download. But, if you request it, I’ll likely do so, unless I hear from someone that it’s illegal for some weird reason.

My new goals- The Now Habit, and PCEO…

The Now Habit’s Unschedule

Another influential book I’ve discussed here, is the Now Habit. One important aspect of the book is an understanding of the time you have during your day. [Many procrastinators believe they have all the time in the world- that they can do something “later.” Consequently, most procrastinators appear to have very poor conceptualization of time; at least in the way they fit in to the whole “time” thing. Surely, that is true of me.] Fiore’s concept of “The Unschedule” is an attempt (and a great one) to help procrastinators see where their time is going, and how much time they have to accomplish things. In particular, everything *other than* work is scheduled. So, you can look forward to this or that time off, etc., and you can see your blocks of time available for work (if you so choose to work). The start of this process is to track your time during your day, and attempt to see how you spend your time (say for 2 weeks before starting the unschedule). Then, you plan your week with time-blocks, for the items that you would like to do (having fun, eating dinner with your hottie, sleeping, breakfast, etc.). So, in this respect, Neil Fiore’s work also has a week-view focus. Similar to Covey, he suggests not putting everything in your schedule. [Both allow for set-time appointments etc., but not for work-tasks that can be done at anytime.]

So, automatically, when I do this one-page form, I’m going to be using the unschedule with it. The form needs, therefore, a 24 hour view of the day. So I can see all the available time. I’m often using extremely late hours as well (for various reasons, one being that I’m unfortunately a night-owl). (24 hours in the day, check) [The full sheet is show below. The left hand column is for Weekly Priorities, Roles and Goals, and Sharpen The Saw tasks. The upper half of the rest is for daily tasks that require focused time, and daily tasks that only require a check-mark. The lower half is a 24 hour schedule, colored for the UnSchedule.]

The Printable CEO…

David Seah‘s Printable CEO forms have been intriguing me for a very long time. They’re a bit like the pages, although their focus is more on tracking projects and time spent on projects. I’ve played around with a number of Seah’s forms, never finding one that I really liked the bestest (probably my fault). But a number of things about Seah’s forms have hit home for me. One, those darn time-bubbles. What a wonderful idea. Bubbles. You see, for long projects that require me to do tons of work on one subject, I never get to cross these off. But, give me 15 minute bubbles, and couple that with a work-dash of focused 15 minutes of work, and all of a sudden, I can sit there and focus for 15 minutes, and scribble in a bubble. Something just feels good about filling those bubbles in. Very non-test-like. More like- “Yea! I filled in a bubble!”. Positive reinforcement and focus- ah… very very nice. The form I used the most for this was his Task Order Up (3×5) forms. I would set up the 4 major tasks that required over 15 minutes of time each and attempt to work through those during my day. Usually that was with a work-dash, and with a hyper-focus attitude towards the work. So, I wasn’t really using Seah’s forms properly, but the killer-app was working really well for me.

The rest of Seah’s forms look fantastic, but that one idea really was the “killer-app”. So, bubbles are required… not to mention a task-area. (check) [Covey’s schedule has a task area above the schedule, so we’re already seeing synchronicity- now we just need to add bubbles.]

I decided to take a few tips from the Task Tracker, and add bubbles to the day’s view below the schedule. This means the very last thing on the page is a row of subdivided bubbles, larger than the 15 minute bubbles, signifying hours. I’ve noticed a wonderful benefit to this. At a single glance, I can see how many hours in the day was spent on a focused task, and if I look above, in the task area for that day, I can see which task can be associated with that time. [Attached is the task-section of each day show. One bubble corresponds to 15 minutes. Once a row is filled (or equivalent), a 1 hour bubble at the bottom of the sheet can be filled.]

Bringing it all together…

So, the basic basis was the productive tool of the Weekly Schedule of Covey’s. The idea of Roles/Goals which to me tend to focus the multiple higher-level views of David Allen (5,000ft +, etc.) are available on the left of the schedule. Right now, there isn’t a direct link to context or to project views. I’m assuming that on this sheet you’ve chosen some Quadrant 2 type tasks that are not specific in time, other than you’d like to get them done that week. Ostensibly, you’ll choose these items from your Context list or Project list of GTD’s (I like to use OmniFocus for this), but this is a quick way to see your focus for the week/day in a quick glance. For getting more done, I’m hoping to use 3×5’s of printouts of OmniFocus tasks or OmniFocus directly as a normal GTD system would. So, see this form as an advanced calendar (that you fill in yourself), not as a whole system replacement.

With this schedule, I can look at my UnSchedule (colored pencil outlining in my week’s schedule area to see my blocks of time), I can track my progress on each task for the day, and see a final tally of the important task’s work at a day’s and week’s glance. I’m also using it to overlay what I *actually* do during my week, and see how I’ve been bad at my unscheduling. So, if I say I should sleep from noon-8am, and I actually sleep from 2am-8am, I can see that immediately throughout the week.

The bubbles are also becoming a bit like Sienfeld’s Chain Of X’s approach in some senses. If I see that I’ve been good the past few days, I’m more likely to want to see more filled bubbles across the bottom for the current day. Nice little side-advantage. [Sorry no bubbles are filled in this form- I scanned it last week before I started filling it.]

I’m still tweaking space etc., as a one-page week view is always very difficult to fit everything in. But, for now, it’s going fairly decently. I’m finding my old success again, renewed by these new concepts, and finding that creating the new week’s page helps me to review my weekly goals and tasks (ala GTD).

One final note- this sheet gets punched into my Circa notebook at the very back. I’ve been editing a number of short journal-article like papers which I try and complete with every major item started in my Thesis work. So, this becomes a very rough overview of my work. It’s worked so well, that I often refer to it while talking with microscope technicians and others interested in my work. So, I’ve found I frequently am carrying this Circa around with me everywhere, hence making it a natural place to keep this schedule. [Not to mention I can print out the schedule on paper that my fountain-pens love.]

(Just between you and I, I don’t have many bubbles on my form for today… ach. So, I better do some good tomorrow and the next day to make up for it.)

Earworm: “Brandy Alexander” performed by Feist from Bonnaroo 2007, Manchester, Tn

Edit, Thursday; September 27, 2007, Here’s the first version for your perusal (pdf, 160 kB): WeeklySchedule ver.1

March 19, 2007

Going Postal… (why GTD)

Posted in GTD, Rants, Work at 8:47 pm by a11en

Free-wheelin’ post here… just a brain-dump. Trying to keep myself positive since I just discovered our growth system may be down for a long while here… [and time is not a commodity I can spend right now].

While listening to some GTD related audio that a friend sent me recently. Wonderful stuff. An idea I thought I’d share with you clicked for me: You know the postal service, right? And the jokes about people that go “postal”… the reason is always given that the mail “never stops coming.” It’s very very true. I mean, think about it… gobs and gobs of mail on Monday, gobs and gobs of mail on Tuesday, gobs and gobs… well, you get the idea. Not to mention that rain or sleet or shine or snow, they’re out there- walking that beat, or driving their little trucks. It’s all gotta get to people on time. My hat’s off to the postal service. I can completely understand why insanity may ensue!

I just realized, we are all pretty much experiencing a very similar effect. The never ending stream of things we have to do. That’s right, gobs and gobs on Monday, gobs and gobs on Tuesday… no matter what the weather is like outside, you and I most likely will be continuing to receive large amounts of things we must get done. In this day of the information age, things can fly into the inbox from around the world in less than a minute. (How long is that Satellite lag, or the land-line in the ocean again?) If you’re like me, rarely can we accomplish those tasks in that amount of time. So, we can expect to have bags and bags of these things that we are hoping to do, or are being told to do, lying around somewhere. Perhaps it’s in your head. [Need to drop the transmission from the bike, and fix the dog-eared shift-lever… Need to do the oil in the car… Need to write the ending to the preliminary document…] The list goes on and on. This is why we are darn well close to going Postal. Insanity. Never ending stream of stuff we just never really seem to get done.

In fact, as you get better at doing things (like fixing the growth chamber), more work comes your way. Someone says: “Hey, Allen is pretty decent at fixing this stuff… he did it last time… let’s let him do it.” And so, another item hits the inbox. This is actually a good thing. It means people want you to do things. They value your work; value your help. [I guess perhaps they may just not want to do it, but perhaps they are making this decision because they don’t feel they’re the best person to do “it” for some reason.]

So, how do we cope with this? How do we cope with that one last piece of straw before it breaks our backs? [Say the heater isn’t working anymore?] We must try and keep our brains clear of information so that when these issues arise, we can have the mental ability to work our way through them. In the information age, we must flow like water around rocks in our path. We must constantly adjust, renegotiate, find solutions. If you don’t, you’ll be left behind. You’ll snap, you’ll go postal. You’ll never improve.

What you need instead, is a trusted system, where all your “need to research x price on internet”, “need to buy oil from wallyworld”… etc. lives. When you have that trusted system, your brain can relax. Why? Because it knows where to go when it has time, and it’s ready to do something. When that crisis arises, you now can look at your trusted system, review anything that might be pressing (meeting at 3 more important?)… and chose wisely. In the heat of the moment, you’re likely to forget that meeting at 3pm, likely to miss something important, and more likely to despair if you do not have trust in a system that is more precise and durable than your short-term memory.

That’s what I got out of some of what I’ve been working on lately. And, I think I’m still sane… not postal yet. πŸ™‚ Heater block is busted… perhaps… but we can swap it out for the old crappy system.. yes, it’s crappy, yes it brings into question our work… but at least it may still work… Had I despaired and not stopped to think of ways around this last straw… I wouldn’t have been able to accomplish any work tonight.

So, I struggle to have a mind like water… one of these days I’ll succeed. πŸ™‚

February 15, 2007

Beware kGTD!

Posted in GTD, Mac Software, Rants, Work at 10:14 pm by a11en

Well, normally I rant and rave about how wonderful kGTD is. But, I’m here to tell you to backup your files and never erase the backups. That’s about the only way you can be sure that you are not losing information. Today I lost a major portion of my Project and Action lists. I’m still sitting here stunned. The info is *not* in the backup files, and the damage has been wraught. I may now have to completely drop my kGTD useage. I had a lot of major information in that file/program, and now it’s lost. I am now going to be going through my old printouts hoping that I can get back 90% of the data. I don’t have much hope for it.

So, I hate to say this, but “buyers” beware. kGTD looses data, and I doubt that I will be able to use it as a “trusted” system in the future.

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. πŸ˜‰ ]

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?” πŸ˜‰ 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. πŸ˜‰ 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! πŸ˜‰

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

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. πŸ™‚ (almost as good as Clairfontaine for smoothness)

I hope your week turns out to be great!

August 15, 2006

Thunderbird gets GTD’d…

Posted in GTD, Mac Software at 1:08 am by a11en

A few things came together for me this past weekend, and I thought I’d share a bit. First, was MerlinMann’s discussion of the usefulness (or lack thereof) of e-mail folders. I agree completely with Merlin on this one- and I feel a hint of a running thread here- focus on The Work and not on Organization. After all it is “Getting Things Done” not “Organizing Things Nicely”. Second was a post regarding subject line editing I saw a while back on that stuck in my grey-matter. Third, and finally, was my frustration with effective e-mail “getting things done”.

What I’m about to show you can be done on most platforms I believe, and it’s super silly simple, I think. I hope that it might help some of you increase the effectiveness of your e-mail software. (For me, that’s Thunderbird. So, if you’re not using Thunderbird, take this as a rough outline, and dig a bit to see if there are similar tools available to you for this type of implementation if you like it!- Oh, and let me know if you do this sort of thing so others can find it easily as well! TIA!)

One of the ways I was able to get my “Inbox to Zero” was to implement an action folder. Essentially, anything that I can’t deal with at that very moment, or will take longer than 2 minutes, needs to be placed in a folder where it can be easily accessible and not be gumming up the works of the inbox. Of course items which don’t need to be acted upon can go in their respective folders (i.e., Family, Friends…). Also, if you finally get your inbox to zero messages- you can start implementing folders and auto-sorting for any list-serve messages (Zoss list) you have coming in on a regular basis- no more gumming up the works for those fellows either: create a filter so that it gets shoved out of your local folder. (Don’t worry, it’ll still highlight in blue when a new e-mail gets auto-sorted there!) This helped quite a bit when I was first implementing the clean-inbox idea. But, recently, I’ve found that I just don’t get into my action folders properly, and they’ve become a sort of catch-all for various items, somewhat poorly organized, and definitely difficult to be found when needed. A revamp was seriously needed.

I remembered reading a long time ago on about editing subject headers to allow for organizing messages. A great idea I thought, but wasn’t sure how it’d help when messages were stuck in various places. Then, I found Thunderbird’s saved-search folders. [Simply run a search and hit “save as folder” in the bottom-middle of the search pane.] Now, that’s something useful! So, after installing HeaderTools- first link in the message (to allow editing of the subject lines), I have a way to meta-tag my messages. Mix in a little contextualization, and you’ve got yourself a GTD method for your e-mail.

My first foray into images on here… here’s an example of what I mean:


So, I still use my work/nonwork classification (or any other folder sorting you want), but I also now can meta-tag my e-mails before placing them somewhere so that when I am in the mood to write e-mail replies, I can click on “email” and get all the list of e-mails needed to be replied to. Same with online website work and work-based science research that I need to dig harder for. This could easily be adapted in other ways (the addition of extra headers may be possible- I’m dorking with this now as well). Just be warned- tagging all your messages, may increase the size of your mailboxes- HeaderTools makes a copy of the e-mail so that it is not altered. I believe that the copy gets removed when the headers are returned to their original state.

I now have a way of better searching for items that need to be acted upon in my email, I’ll check back every once in a while and let you know how this is going.

July 21, 2006

Short one today (aggregators and time)…

Posted in GTD, Mac Software, Procrastination at 1:40 pm by a11en

Just a short post for today… a bit of a productivity hint here and kudos go out to Bloglines. I’ve recently started using Bloglines as an online aggregator. (I wanted some sort of simple aggregator to pass through geektool, but for now, bloglines and their simple unread web-notifier api will work for me…) I hate to say this, but it really helps free up some of my time. I tended to surf to various pages with RSS feeds (a number of blogs as well as productivity sites), and perhaps surf them a number of times, only to find them not updated yet. I guess I sort of enjoyed this mind-numbing surfing, not realizing it was taking me too much time. Now, with the firefox extensions installed, or my geektool notifier running, I’m less likely to worry about the sites I like to read, and concentrate on other things. It’s one less “goof off” time-waster when I’m trying to avoid my work (procrastination). Kinda like the fact that it’s no longer a time sink now. πŸ™‚

So, if you haven’t tried some sort of aggregator, you should check one out- either web-based or computer based, it might save you some time- allow you to enjoy the sites you like to read, yet free up your time so you don’t keep checking 5 sites over and over again. πŸ˜‰

Future posts that I’m working on for you:

  • How to liberate those underlined and exclaimation-pointed sections in those books you read so that they can feed your work on a daily basis.
  • Esterbrooks- a woman’s backyard stream, or an everyday man’s pen?
  • And at some point in time, a bit more on changing the face of graduate education and a Now Habit procrastination update. BTW, the Now Habit is absolutely superb. I’m totally loving that book. I hope to sometime have an outline overview of the book posted, but I may have to contact the author just to ensure I can post it in full. I’m around 3/4 of the way in at the moment, and it continues to change my view of my work, and motivate me.

BTW- Some kudos goes out to the creators of FlexTime. A promising young application for more advanced and easily created alarms. I use it to feed my 10+2×5, or 10-minute dash hack (see my previous procrastination posts). (Add applescript ability [both in and out], multiple triggers for a single alarm event- along with scripting triggers, or perhaps shell-script triggers- and you’ll have a very interesting program there! As well, a minimization or transparent running clock window which floats above all applications so we can see events if we want, would allow me to hide it and still keep track of my time.)

July 7, 2006

Procrastination Update

Posted in GTD, Procrastination at 11:38 am by a11en

Sorry it’s been so long since my last post. I’m going to skip the University Mentorship discussion for another post when I have more time (please let me know if you came here specifically for that discussion and I’ll try and post it quicker).

Procrastination Update

Last time I posted on Procrastination, I mentioned the book “The Now Habit”. I’m now about half-way through the book, and I can definitively say that the first-half alone is easily worth the price of the book. I want to share some concepts with you regarding the book, but wish to ensure I’m not putting in too much from it. However, I strongly recommend the book for anyone who is currently having difficulty with procrastination, as it has described my problem to a T, and also promoted solutions which should positively influence my work. Let me run down some basic ideas in the book, perhaps with a bit of my own explanaitions.

  • There are a number of reasons that people procrastinate:
    1. Gain power over a situation you feel you have no control over. This is likely what happens when you are given a task to complete – one which you abhorr. To punish those who gave you the task, you may use procrastination as a subtle way of exerting power.
    2. Avoid failure. If you have before you a huge task which you know is critical in some way to your advancement, or progress, quite possibly you have serious fear of failure. The way you attempt to avoid this failure, may be procrastination. If you simply don’t do the task, or wait until the last second- you either (i) fool yourself into thinking that you can avoid the failure (even though non-completion is a priori a failure) (ii) do the task in such a short time that you avoid the self-criticism by explaining that you couldn’t possibly achieve a good work in such a short time.
    3. Avoid Success. Often we are not really afraid of failure, but afraid of success! What if we actually were to accomplish this? We might have to move, find a job somewhere new, actually ask that girl to marry you, or move on to a larger perhaps scarrier task, or even a new big office with bigger responsibilities!
    4. Some things resolve without our work. Often a conflict will resolve with more time before being confronted, or perhaps an option in the choice will simply cease to be available after a time-period. We’ve all been there… if you ignore the task long enough it actually might go away.
  • Paying attention to how we spend our time can often highlight our procrastination. This is a difficult task to accomplish, but it can really help you to see how your time is spent. Simply track your time for a number of days. Doing this may highlight to you exactly how little or how much is spent on important tasks. Sometimes things we feel are not work, actually are in some manner- those correspondences, etc., which are required. Careful attention to your time can help you track these things.
  • Watch the times you procrastinate. Highlight those times when you know you are procrastinating. Write them down! Track them! What is causing you to procrastinate? What are you feeling when you procrastinate? This is the first step to changing your actions- you need to trigger your awareness to when you’re procrastinating and highlight your feelings which are causing the procrastination.
  • Turn negative speech/thought patterns into positive productive patterns. The “I should”‘s, “I have to”‘s, “I have to finish”‘s and “This is a huge task”‘s are really negative self-deprecating speech patterns. Notice these and turn them into “I choose to”‘s, “When can I start”‘s, “I can take one small step”‘s. And an important one: the “It must be perfect”‘s must be changed to “I can be human”. I’ve been doing this recently, and it’s amazing how much this can turn around our ability to work. When you realize that you can be human about your task, start small and imperfectly, and choose to either work or accept responsibility for not working, you will begin a huge change in your psyche and how you view your work.

I’ll add more as I come to it. But for now, watch those procrastinations- many of us are aware of them. For me, they turned into mini-depressive episodes where I knew I should have been working, but I didn’t for whatever reason- (see above). That sadness merely increased my lack of self-worth and belief I would fail in my task(s) and self-fed the procrastination. See why I wish to be rid of this? πŸ™‚ Ultimately, this is why confrontation is rarely helpful. This utlimately is a psychological issue that I feel can be improved or solved by awareness and positive thinking and positive choice-making. Empowerment through the “I chose to”‘s, “I can take one small step”‘s, and “I can be human” can really improve one’s ability to get the job done.

To bring the discussion back around to GTD- the “next-action” list can be seen as a the “one small step” you can take instead of the Huge Looming Project. In fact, that’s almost the very definition of the next-action. Project-folders allow that Huge Looming Project to become merely a container of your smaller items for that project. Seen as list-items which can actually be done, a large project takes on the true nature of a project able to be completed. Those small next-actions are things that are easy to “choose to do” or choose not to and face the consequences. And remember, we’re human… small imperfections allow us to advance our knowledge and ability to do our work. We learn from them. There’s no way to not have them- they come with the territory after all. Trying to accomplish some huge looming important project perfectly is going to be impossible. A house is built one step at a time. So should your project. Break down the tasks into next-actions, and choose to get started on even just one. Before you know it, that project will be well on its way!

A small addition to finish- I’ve found that my graduate school experience (with a poor manager as my first Prof. who learned old-school management techniques of pitting coworkers against each other and fear-mongering) essentially lowered my own opinion of myself. I came from school with a strong sense of self. I may not have been excellent in my undergraduate work (at least not to my liking), but I had come from various successes in my past- one of a dozen in the nation in fact. Unfortunately, the lack of mentorship and proper management both personal and work-oriented led to the brunt of students in this particular group being completely disenfranchized with their degrees. We all became a$$holes, and b*tches… why? We were in war. The war of trying to obtain our degree under extreme circumstances. You could see it in the eyes of those who were close. They put aside their own morality, did whatever the boss asked of them, even accepted personal affronts from him/her all in the hopes of obtaining that elusive and all-glorious degree. Sad to see, honestly. I think this ultimately fed my procrastination. I determined that I would never become that. I have been semi-successful on that front, but I have done so by feeding an attitude which clearly wasn’t supportive of the wonderful world of scientific discovery I had loved as a child. Experimentation, working with my hands, enjoying the wonders of God’s creation and learning of how they worked, was what fed me when young. This has turned into the drive to obtain my degree- forgetting the child-like nature of the unformed-block. There is a strong link here with procrastination and the concept of discovery and play. Next post will be about this. The good news? I’m learning to relearn. πŸ™‚ It’s a joy to discover again. By letting go of this insane desire to obtain a degree, I now focus on my actions and learning what I need to learn, and the degree will come, or it won’t come, I could care less. πŸ˜‰ Well, I care, surely, but it isn’t “me”. Hell, we’ve all seen “Dr. Idiot”… who cares if he’s “Dr.” eh?

Next up: Parker “51” finally finds its way to me, and more Procrastination updates if I have time to work on them. πŸ™‚

June 10, 2006

Procrastination- Article, Synchronicity and Thoughts…

Posted in GTD, Lifehacks, Procrastination at 2:37 pm by a11en

This post has been a long time coming. I did a little here and there time allowing. Hopefully this will help (you and me).

Article: Surfing through LifeHacker today I found -this- article on procrastination from Psychology Today. Below are some bullets itemizing the things that resonated with me regarding their article on procrastination. (Please note a number of the following are shortened paraphrases.):

  • There’s a major difference between people who merely delay tasks and people who are true procrastinators- “procrastinators put off everything, at home, at work and in their social life”
  • Procrastinators put off doing high-priority tasks because they are under a delusion that tomorrow the task will in some way get better. I’ve noticed that this doesn’t necessarily need to be a conscious delusion, but the decision is definitely a conscious one.
  • Procrastinators often have some level of perfectionism which may negatively feed their procrastination.
  • They prefer to have someone say they lack effort rather than lack ability.
  • Often the situation is self-feeding: “the stress and guilt of perpetual postponement are themselves incapacitating”

Synchronicity: As well, there are things that resonate with other areas of reading. Here are items of synchronicity that I’m finding amongst many sources (M. Scott Peck’s The Road Less Travelled, Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits, Article from Psychology Today, etc.):

  • Procrastination is not laziness.
  • Procrastination is not an issue with Time-Management!!
  • Procrastination is an issue with delayed gratification.
  • Procrastinators make a conscious decision to put off short-term pain.
  • The pain envisioned, the real reason for the delay, is given undue weight and possibly is unfounded. Often the procrastinator will also find that once the tasks are started, the pain is quite less intense than at first thought, if there is pain in accomplishing the task at all.
  • Basically, the painful task is pushed off until another time (short-term pain avoidance) and is replaced by tasks which are not viewed as painful (short-term pleasure acceptance). This generally produces longer-term pain due to the task avoidance and sense of guilt/adverse effects in work and relationships.
  • Procrastinators should know that this issue is within their sphere of influence. How they respond to the situations before them will affect their outcome. They need to accept this problem as their own, and work to solve the issue. Realize the reality that life includes semi-painful, semi-disliked tasks. To accomplish a task, it need not be liked.
  • Often an agreed upon time to work on a task only briefly will overcome the mental hurdle. The “dash“, “10-minute rule” or “(10+2)x5” will often alleviate the burden of a long and arduous task. Anyone can do something for only 10-minutes after-all… what a procrastinator often finds, is the mental fear and burden is lifted within 5-10 minutes of starting a task, and that he may end up working much longer on the task at hand, unbeknown-st to him.

Thoughts: Today’s world makes procrastination easy. Most of us are juggling a bazillion tasks, both large and small. It’s likely very easy for all of us to task-prioritize in a very poor way, in essence, supporting our procrastination. The smaller less important tasks often will be done because the larger scarier tasks will be hard to approach. Our mental fears about these larger important tasks are what hold us back. Often we are more than capable of handling the tasks (especially in small pieces), but we, for whatever reason, don’t see the results of our tackling the tasks in a positive light. We only see the negatives and often we make them appear larger than they really are. [Squash those negative thought-patterns! via Steve Pavlina.] As well, the burden of our procrastination follows us around, and kicks us when we’re down… it says: “See, I told you you couldn’t do it!” and on it goes… In fact, direct confrontation by others of my procrastination, for me, often ends up in even more malaise towards the task(s) at hand and is often counter-productive. Knowing that things are waiting on the task to be completed I feel is critical, however, as the procrastinator should know that others are depending on him to complete the tasks at hand in a timely manner. It’s the soft-mallet approach… a bit of a knock on the noggin but pad it with a soft pillow. πŸ˜‰ Affirming the ability of the procrastinator and showing enthusiasm towards receiving the finished work may also help motivate. Since the procrastinator is already negative, often more negativism merely feeds that delay-spiral. [Wow, this is sounding a bit like a different form of depression, actually- I’ll have to think more about that.]

I also feel that to some large degree, procrastinators aren’t very honest with themselves or are at least are a bit naΓ―ve when it comes to the realities of life. For me, the big reality that hits me very hard in the face almost every day: There are not enough hours in the day, and invariably I never get as much done as I really wished I did. Most likely that’s the perfectionist in me talking, bringing me down, but, to some degree it’s really true. If I spend all my time searching for current literature on Morgellon’s disease, or Jungian Psychology, and not on my preliminary exam papers and talk, then when the evening hits, I’m gonna find that I know more about Morgellon’s and Jung, and ultimately less about my prelim talk and paper. 😦 A sad fact of life, really. As well, our perception of time can be described as a time integral normalized by our total lifespan. So, as we get older, it appears as though the hours get shorter and shorter… the days speed by, and the weeks and months are slowly speeding up. If we don’t stay focused on our important (and often large) tasks, we can easily find them slipping through our fingers.

David Allen’s Getting Things Done may help procrastinators in a few ways. For me, I found it did a number of things. First, let’s pause- and be honest here: This is something internal to our psyche and it is a difficulty we have to work through on our own. Second, our environment and how we handle things can help or hurt. GTD has helped me to see all the tasks before me laid out in the areas they can be accomplished and in the projects that need to get done. So, no longer do I have to mentally remember these items. As well, our brains are quick at running through the procrastinator’s devices, so often when we think about a large task, it gets shoved to the back of our mental list. With GTD, at least the lists and tasks are out in the open where we can choose to be honest about them. Any aspect of our organizational world that is slightly frustrating (like say huge piles of things on the desk) are of course difficult to get organized and done. D.Allen’s GTD system helps us to have a methodology (a slight mental crutch) with which to organize and deal with these large piles of “stuff.” Doing so, at least removes 1 task from our list- namely getting rid of our piles of stuff, but also stream-lines the other things we have to do- review our tasks and projects and have our materials at our fingertips when they’re needed. As well, large ToDo tasks which merely hint to us the enormity of actual actions included in the task will merely hinder our ability to move forward. If we see a large task that we know has many levels to it, we are likely to stand back in fear of it and put it off until a future date. So, dissect those ToDo’s and place actual single-step actions in your action lists. For the procrastinator, this is gold. It’s a smaller task that can be accomplished and it’ll help move forward the large project which looms over your head [i.e., The Monster].

And finally, I found a research group in Ottawa who has some excellent info about procrastination: Procrastination Research Group and their Podcasts. As well, there is actually a dissertation podcast that I haven’t yet listened to.

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