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Messages - brownstudy [ switch to compact view ]

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1
Living Room / Wikis, word processors, and the writing process
« on: July 30, 2008, 11:18 PM »
Through the miracle of Firefox's Readeroo extension [1] (which I've set to display to-be-read links at random) I finally got around to reading the DC discussion in the General Software area from Feb-08 on the above topic. [2] I was going to post this reply there, but the forum software suggested starting a new topic instead.

The OP opined that he didn't get wikis (though i think he was trying Wikidpad) and he was just looking for a way to draft and organize reports and then output them into a straightforward linear document. He was wondering what he was missing about wikis that made them good for this purpose. Mouser and others replied that wikis really made sense when there were multiple contributors/editors and that a simple word processor worked fine, though another poster did use Wikidpad successfully for writing a report.

A few disconnected thoughts bubbled to mind when I read the post:
 
  • Separating technology from the creation process is always a good thing, until the technology is as simple for you to use as a pencil. We have a guy at work who's so skilled at Photoshop, the interface is almost invisible to him. Msft Word is like that for me, simply because I've been using it since the mid-90s. But if you're wrestling with the technology while you're sketching out ideas, you will lose.
  • I have also not "gotten" wikis, though I think they're awfully simple technology and useful for group projects. Our sysadmin uses a Twiki to store all the little procedures and problems he solves, and he's built up a good store of info so that it's become valuable to him. My problem is that I could put in the info easily enough, but I'd forget the name of a related page, or I'd forget I'd started a similar page 2 months ago, and so it never proved terribly useful to me. I would spend so much time maintaining the wiki so that I could browse my holdings, that the value would not repay the effort. (I used both Pbwiki and, on my Clie, Notestudio, and auditioned other programs.) One of my problems was that I was trying to use the wikis as universal inboxes and I overloaded myself with stuff.
  • Merlin Mann recommends, in the productivity arena, that any tool you use should stop just short of being fun to play with. I would extend that to other types of software. I love playing with wikis but found myself playing with them more than using them.
  • The problem the OP described was more nearly a problem of process rather than software, I think. A rather simple writing algorithm that is technology-neutral would be "collect, connect, correct." If you're writing something, just write stuff down as it comes to you, then go back later and group like paragraphs together, and then start revising, and repeat the sequence as needed. Just because you read the text linearly doesn't mean you have to write it that way. And you can use this approach whether you're writing by hand, with a word processor, index cards, a wiki, whatever. Although I'm not a programmer, I don't think you start with line 1 and write straight through to line 1000; you probably build up routines and functions, and the tying it all together happens later in the process. Very few creative products, even boring old reports for work, fall out whole cloth; they're assembled.
  • Following on that point: there's a book called Thinking on Paper [5] that describes a very sane process for student writers that I think anyone could benefit from. I used that book's method to create a speech and documented my progress using the system [3]; the PDF I created as a handout that summarizes the book's approach is here [4], along with other writing tips I cadged from here and there.li]
This has been a very off-topic post but I hope some may find it useful. Sorry I couldn't figure out how to make the URLs inline with the text.

mike

[1] http://lifehacker.co...-readeroo-315538.php
[2] http://www.donationc...9158&topic=12093
[3] http://brownstudy.pb...com/InlsFinalProject
[4] https://brownstudy.p.../f/mikestipsheet.pdf
[5] http://www.amazon.co...217474890&sr=8-2


2
Jeff Atwood at the Coding Horror blog (in the linked posts below) advocates doing away with anti-virus, not running as administrator, and using virtual machines. (I don't know about Sandboxie, but the Altiris SVS wouldn't be a good solution for this scenario.)

Coding Horror: Choosing Anti-Anti-Virus Software
http://www.codinghor...archives/000803.html

Coding Horror: Trojans, Rootkits, and the Culture of Fear
http://www.codinghor...archives/000929.html


3
Living Room / Re: All your info in one place
« on: September 29, 2007, 09:38 AM »
Ah, one of my long-time El Dorados: the one repository that will hold them all... :)

I'm almost defaulting these days to gmail holding most of my stuff. (God forbid they should lock me out of my email one day, or a server goes down, or...) I have my home pc, a work pc, and will soon have a laptop. I'm not interested in synchronizing bookmarks, desktops, etc. among them. (And I can't at work, because of a locked-down PC.) So gmail/delicious/google bookmarks tend to be the hubs of my information empire. (I use google bookmarks for short-term projects.) I can also email Google Reader posts to my gmail account if I want to store them for reference (and really, how often do we go back to refer to these things? But that's another post...)

I'm wondering if a USB drive based solution may work. (I recently ordered this (http://tinyurl.com/3aapzv) from Amazon mainly because the price looked good, so I may use it to test this. ) (Although I have a history of forgetting to pull the thumbdrive from the PC at the end of the day and am then left without it--hence the elegance of an online solution.)

At home, I have a Notetab Pro outline file called "batf" (big-assed text file) (not an original name; got it off of one of the memes circulating last year on keeping your life inside one big text file). At home, this holds all the info I suck up regarding GTD, my web site settings, logs of troubleshooting the home network, etc. Most of this I have no need to access at work. It looks and operates somewhat like Treepad and the other tree-based info organizers. But it's plain-text, all in one file, so could be retrievable and viewable in other apps.

I think we're really talking about a logbook (see my delicious links on this topic: http://del.icio.us/brownstudy/logbook, especially the c2.com link to "Electronic Logbook") and so categorizing in that case isn't an issue. You really just need to enter a date/time (because natural memory may help you triangulate on when you logged  the information) and then the info. The advantage of electronic being you can search on it later. I used a PBWiki for this for awhile, but am thinking of installing an open-source wiki solution on my web site. (For an analog logbook, say a Moleskine or something, just leave a few pages at the end to create an index, either thematic or date-based, and so you can retireve the info a little faster when you need it.)

Google Notebook is also an excellent place to store squibs and snippets of info. That mounting pile o' stuff is out of your face until you need to search for it. But it's more seamless for web-based info than for text files, Word docs, PDFs, and such.

My fear of putting everything onto my USB is that I'd forget to back up the file then I'd lose the drive and then my empire would topple.  ;D But then if I feel that way, I've got way bigger problems than where to store my info...

meb

4
Living Room / Re: Acceptable expletives
« on: September 01, 2007, 10:35 PM »
Oh, and the other one I use in emails at work is "Botheration."

5
Living Room / Re: Acceptable expletives
« on: September 01, 2007, 10:34 PM »
WC Fields had several good ones: "Godfrey Daniels!" and "mother of pearl" and "Beelzebub!" and "Shadrach and Abednego!"

Other nice ones: chitlins! sugar! God Bless America! cheese and crackers!

And from the Simpsons, my favorite curse is from Apu: "Krishna H. Vishnu!"

6
Here's someone's experience with Sygate:

The Little Firewall That Could | klaatu
http://klaatu.anastr...firewall-that-could/

And someone on this board posted a positive review:
Sygate - Very Strong Firewall
http://www.donationc...ndex.php?topic=605.0

I've not tried it yet myself as I'm still OK with Windows Firewall.

7
My personal solution is to 1) disable all CSS for a page and 2) linearize the page elements so they line up one after the next.

Two ways to do this:

1) In Mozilla, install the Web Developer Tools extension. Press Ctrol+Shift+S and all stylesheets are disabled, leaving you with just the text and graphics. At that point, I may select the text I want to read and in the Print dialog click on "Selection" so only the highlighted text is printed. This tool also has the Linearize option, but that sometimes removes the graphics so I don't always use it.

2) Some bookmarklets site had the Zap CSS and Linearize options as bookmarklets. A little Googling should find them. Put them in your toolbar and that's about as automatic as it'll get for you.

HTH -- mike

8
Mini-Reviews by Members / Re: Mini-Review: Altiris SVS
« on: February 08, 2007, 03:44 PM »
I've been playing with SVS over the last 2 months or so. I've also downgraded my expectations of it but find it does have some value.

cthorpe is right; you do have to wrap your head around the virtualization model. (it's like remembering that the subjunctive tense in Spanish is a sort of parallel universe of tenses. I always got confused about who was doing exactly what to whom and when.) I read the SVS manual twice, haunted the forum, and read the many articles on their Juice site. And it still really didn't prepare me for all that I faced.

The key is remembering that this is enterprise-level software maintenance and the goal is consistent software environments/installations that contain as few customizations as possible and that can be rolled back to a known state in a minute. After you've installed an app to its own layer, you do have to go through some gyrations to update its options/settings/preferences--there are maybe 5 different ways to do this, some easy, some not so.

I hit the wall on this with Firefox, which I customize with extensions to within an inch of its life. Were I to reset FF, I would lose all those customizations. So it's better *for me* that that should go into the base (SVS's term for the non-virtualized system). Also, should I need to access the internet while all layers are turned off, then FF is unavailable to me and I'm left with IE.

In addition to the excludes for each app layer, there is the data layer concept. For example, I created a data layer for C:\Documents and Settings and its subdirectories. This meant that while that layer was active, all files created by virtual and non-virtual apps were saved to this layer. When the data layer was turned off -- poof -- all those files disappeared. This certainly makes it easy to export all your data to a VSA file for backup somewhere, but on a daily basis (and when you add in app-specific excludes) confusion about where a file really lived -- on the base? in a layer? -- got confusing quickly.

This got maddening to me because when I was installing apps, I was referring to my Roboform list of safenotes, updating them with new reg numbers, deleting old info, and so on. I'd had Roboform in the base originally, but had made edits when the data layer was active. When I turned the data layer off, all the edits I'd made were gone. It must be said, SVS did it very cleanly and certainly worked as advertised, so I can't fault it for that. But I could never "get"  the implications of where changes were saved.

I understand the SVS developers tout SVS as a way to make troubleshooting a system easier: just turn off all the layers and see if the problem is with your OS or an app. Add back the apps one at a time, and see when the problem appears. I grokked that.

But in truth, my system runs pretty well as is. I practice safe computing. I *like* knowing that all the files in My Documents are there whenever I want to access them. So using SVS to virtualize, say, my copy of MS Office 2000 or JME doesn't make much sense for me, because I like having those in my base. (SVS did virtualize MS Office 2000 beautifully though; over 12,000 registry entries!)

I had a few other problems; Directory Opus got confused about file moves/copies/deletes and could never refresh the view when the data layer was turned on (I tried vrtzng DO and it couldn't even delete files). I put a raft of account updates into Moneydance, turned off the Moneydance layer, and when I turned it back on saw that Moneydance had not retained any changes.

When I started reinstalling my apps back to the base, I felt a release of tension in my scalp because I wasn't thinking so hard about what I was doing when performing simple file management stuff.

I think my F-secure antivirus real-time scanner did stop some apps from installing to SVS. Very annoying. I had already read the reviews that cthorpe cited before I even started playing with SVS so I knew it had some reasonable limitations in regards to anti-virus and other types of software that need access to the system.

But I have not uninstalled SVS and I do keep some now-and-then apps in layers: NVU, VLC, Irfanview, Adobe Reader 8, Omnipage Scansoft (a pig of a program that adds lots of context menus I don't need--I'm glad to be able to turn it on and off like a light switch).

I'm also keeping SVS around so I can try out new software with it. It strikes me as a very easy way to play with new software without committing any changes to the base machine. (Of course, you could just play with new software in VMWare or Msft's Virtual PC, so that's a wash.)

I don't think SVS simplifies computing all that much for the home or casual user, but I think it definitely has its uses and, within its limits, it's very solid. It's probably more powerful for heavy-duty developer types who can cope with the abstractions and rules surrounding the layers and exclusions.

mike

9
Developer's Corner / Re: Writing Good Software Documentation
« on: December 09, 2006, 10:21 PM »
I've been tech writing for umpty-ump years. My two tips for newbies:

1. The web has taught people to scan, not read. Write in short squibs, keep the humor to a minimum unless you're really funny, keep it scannable. Save the long text passages for the advanced topic where the interested user will be expected to invest their time to learn the good stuff.

2. If you find yourself dumping every scrap of info you have into the documentation, then you haven't decided who the audience is, what they'll use the info for, or you don't understand the product. Figure out which one is the real problem. Your job as the writer is to select and contextualize the information so it goes down like chocolate milk, or at least doesn't cause cognitive pain. It's not the user's job to sift through the documentaiton to find the good stuff, it's your job.

I have some delicious links on tech writing here: http://delicious.com...ownstudy/techwriting

A really really interesting longish read is this essay on adapting Agile strategies for writing agile documentation:  http://www.agilemodeling.com/essays/agileDocumentation.htm

10
re nudone's "if anything, i've learned that self-control is way more taxing and complex than i was hoping it to be."

As a member of the loyal opposition, I'd suggest that if a time-management system is based on self-control, it's probably not going to be effective. My take on these systems is that they should be seen as toolsets; I have built my own little task management systems (I prefer that term over "time management") based on Forster, Allen, and others over the years. Ideally, once you've put the thought into a system that works with your brain and not against it, then the issue of self-control disappears.

Forster mentions in his books that we always take the path of least resistance. The trick is to setting up your environment so that you go for the easy choice, and that easy choice supports your long term goals and choices and relationships. Getting your environment to that point is painful, probably, but once it's working, it becomes a habit that you don't think about at all.

I'd say Forster's second book on making dreams come true is a more big-picture look at life, and even there, he doesn't prescribe stuff, but provides another set of tools for thinking about your life. I'd say Covey's book might be another good one if you want to look at big-L Life issues; the task management books are just there to help you clear away the administrivia of life so you can go after the big-L stuff.

Or at least that's my story and I'm sticking to it  :)

My fast will be to not bookmark anything for the rest of the year. I have a ton of bookmarks that just lie there and I access maybe 10 of them. It's like buying a roomful of books but not reading them.


11
Thanks for bringing in the flylady! It caused me to think of how I use Mark Forster's Will-Do list (which I have printed out and sitting up in a document holder on my desk -- I can always see it).

I found I have a different mindset at home than I do at work, and that I wasn't really implementing the Do It Tomorrow steps as well when it came to personal stuff.

But the Flylady's idea of "keep your sink clean" made me think that my home office equivalent would be "keep my desk clean." Alternatively, "keep my inbox clean."

So the first two items on my Will-Do list are:
* Is my desk clean?
* Is my inbox empty?

If I answer NO to these questions, then I need to do the minimum to get them clean/processed. For me, this is mainly putting away papers from work, books I've piled on the desk that should be on the shelf, etc. Little stuff, but little stuff that just nags at me when it accumulates.

One of my gnarly issues is that stuff lingers in the inbox, so just asking myself these questions kicks off a really quite brief clean-up spree. With the desk and inbox stuff managed, I move on to the rest of my Will-do list, which for the record is:

* Current initiative
* Task diary
* Review PBWiki projects list (aka David Allen's Projects list)
* What's happening tomorrow?

Sometimes I only work on one thing if I feel that's the thing I need to focus on. Other nights, I say "screw it" and putter on the web. Other times, I use a timer to help me process a stack of myriad items. I go with my intuition based on what's going on with my life.

But for me, the desk and the inbox have to be clean and it's a painless routine.

12
I just keep doing "just one more thing " before going to bed. one more website, one more blog, just a chapter in this book, a paragraph in another.

One thing I've been using successfully lately is Mark's idea of writing everything down. So I keep a little pad of post-its or index cards by the computer, and when I have the urge to surf or read or whatever, I write it down as a task to be done. Then I put the card or post-it in my inbox for later processing. Just getting the idea out of my head and making it tangible on paper seems to be enough to tell my brain, "OK, it's noted and I'll follow up later." Sometimes I generate an insane amount of dribbly tasks that the next day don't look all that important.

This is also part of Mark's advice to adjust your environment so that it supports what you want to do. Just taking the time to write those "just one more thing" tasks on a nearby piece of paper doesn't take a lot of discipline. Try it for a few days and see if it helps.

mike

13
The Getting Organized Experiment of 2006 / Re: keeping fit kind of tip.
« on: September 23, 2006, 11:32 AM »
I wrote a blog post earlier this year on when I revamped my exercise program:
http://highunimporta...ange-3-exercise.html

Lately, my work/school schedule has prevented even this, but I've decided that being healthy has to be a priority if I'm to meet all my obligations, so I'm cogitating on ways to to get back to the weights.

But just a 30-minute walk around the pond at work or after supper can have good benefits for you health-wise (not so much losing weight-wise). As a previous poster said, it's all about feeling better. YOur body will tell you when it wants a greater challenge.

14
Mike Shea has a nice posting on what used to be called "the fiddle factor." It's not about PC fasting, per se, more about how to tame these beasts.

The Philosophy of Google Desktop
http://www.mikeshea....ophy_of_Google_.html

Here's a quote from his essay:
I spent a good few nights over the past month dorking around with Ubuntu and a broken installation of Windows XP. It shouldn't take two nights to get iTunes to run - of course the problem was my own. I should never tinker, optimize, or customize - the result is never worth the effort.

Of course, I continue to tinker and customize, I'm always on the search for new goodies. But I like mouser's suggestion of only installing new stuff on the 1st. I already have designated the 1st and 15th of the month to do my financial housekeeping, so designating the 2nd of the month as install night would be a good reward.

mike

15
I like Gerhard's version of this, which is the Weekend Luddite.
http://everydaysyste....com/weekendluddite/ The idea is that on the weekend, he doesn't use the PC after breakfast or before supper. So a kind of 12-hr break from the beast.

I also use his No S diet (No S Diet: No snacks, sweets, seconds, except on days that start with S. http://www.nosdiet.com/) and it's MUCH easier for me than any other diet plan I've tried.

By the way, his "manifesto" includes the rules he uses to create his "Everyday Systems," and they're not bad things to keep in mind as we devise our own answers to our own peculiar problems: http://www.everydaysystems.com/

And I agree with mouser that the goal isn't to become efficient productivity machines; I enjoy puttering on my 'puter and sorting my digital files from this side of the hard drive to that side. It's just that if I do it for hours at a time, then I forget to pay the bills or address my mother's birthday card.

I think David Allen has said in his newsletter that *because* he knows what's on his lists, *because* he knows what his obligations are, he can decide whether to blow them off if he'd rather relax in the yard than work on that project. DA's philosophy is that if you don't have it written down and acknowledged, then your nag-mind will be niggling at you that you've forgotten something. So by writing everything down and checking it regularly, you reassure your mind that everything's taken care of, it won't be forgotten, and then your nag-mind will leave you alone. That's why I'm OK with getting my systems good enough.

mike

16
The Getting Organized Experiment of 2006 / Re: keeping fit kind of tip.
« on: September 22, 2006, 08:25 PM »
When we got a treadmill, I got a subscription to Audible.com because I knew I'd be bored out of my mind just listening to whatever was on the radio. Have gone through several books that way.

17
urlwolf -- I apologize for the condescending tone of my reply to your post. I obviously had not read your earlier posts or totally misunderstood your questions. I'm sorry.

Have you heard of the Google Group for academics?
Google Groups: The Efficient Academic
"Description: Professors, Instructors, and Graduate Students interested in getting things done more easily and quickly. We discuss organization, task management, and tools that helps us to be more productive and not procrastinate. We tend to discuss David Allen's GTD system but not exclusively. (533 members) "
http://groups.google...ient-Academic?lnk=lr

I'm not a member of the group. Given your environment, which has hard landscape stuff like classes to teach, and then your own projects to manage, that group might have things to contribute.

BTW, thanks for bringing Forster's book to the forum for discussion. I think it's a worthwhile addition to any discussion on task management.

I think, given your generation of ideas and projects, both Forster and Allen would advocate writing them down on a list and then regularly reviewing that list to see which projects are ready to be started. It sounds like there is only one of you, after all, and you can't do everything. I've heard most GTD people give a rule of thumb that they only put enough stuff on their context lists that they think they can get to that week. At the next weekly review, they then put new tasks on the context lists for the upcoming week. (At least, that's one way to do it.)

Yeah, "someday/maybe" as a list title sounds better than "backlog." :) I tend to think of backlogs as temporary and something to which I can't add any more items. Whereas my someday/maybe list can go on and on forever.

There's also Neil Fiore's book THE NOW HABIT which gets talked about on the productivity boards. He advocates using an "uncalendar." I think it works like this (haven't read the book): Take a weekly calendar. Block out all the times you're already obligated for: work, sleep, dinner, exercise, time with your spouse, etc. Look at whatever time is left: that's how much time you have this week to work on what really matters to you, to read that book, etc. So then you have to decide what projects you can do or get started on in the time that's left. So instead of starting out with a big list of things and an empty calendar, you start out with a blocked-out calendar and then figure out what tasks will fill up the remaining time. (If anyone has read the book, check me on that description.)

Have you read Cory Doctorow's notes on Corey O'Brien's talk in 2004  that started the whole life-hacking thing? (http://www.craphound.com/lifehacks2.txt) Its focus is on how top-producing geeks get so much done. I don't know how much there would be useful to you, but one detail I could never get out of my head: one of the respondents said he kept his tasks in a single todo.txt file which he deleted every year, and then started fresh the next year. I'm too much of a packrat to do that but I admire the sentiment of junking old ideas and starting fresh with new ones. (I think Corey's presentation is archived somewhere on the web, but I can't lay my hands on the URL at the moment.)

Apropos of nothing, there is also this nice little essay from the PigPog blog:
GTD's Dirty Secrets | PigPog
http://pigpog.com/node/1462

Cheers -- mike

18
thanks, brownstudy. again, it is very illuminating and encouraging to see how you are implementing the techniques.

i think you should become a self-motivation consultant or speaker.

Ah, you flatter me. :-[ I'm just a parrot repeating stuff far smarter people have figured out.  :)

19
I think one of the issues that keeps coming up here is managing projects that dont have such simple discrete single-action tasks.  i think this is definitely worth asking more about, and forster clearly has thought about it as his discussion on tricks to making progress against the resistence of this stuff shows.

What I would do is time-box the project. Set a timer, work on the project for about 45 or 60 minutes, stop, and see where I am. When I start a new project, I typically wallow and thrash for a while until I start seeing what needs to be done. Once that's clearer to me, then next actions typically fall out from that.

20
  • Difference between having long-term projects (by definition, unfinished) and having a backlog
  • Difference between checklists and todo lists
  • Place for maybe-one-day items?
  • If we do a brain dump, some stuff would be really low priority, and it'll stay floating on a lists for a long time without being actioned. Is that a bad thing?
  • Dangerous combination: the brain dump of GTD produces trillions of tasks, and the 'no priorizing' approach of GED tries to do them all (believing that the important stuff will get too clogged if the small stuff is unactioned).

Far be it from to explain the ways of Forster and Allen to mortal men, but here's my take on your questions:

  • Long-term projects are represented by tasks sprinkled through your daily task diary. You probably have project-support materials in your planner or in a file on your computer. My getting into grad-school project has been on my lists for months, but it's still active and I do whatever I can on it. It has a definite end point and a definite accomplishment so I can say, "Yes, this is done."
  • A backlog occurs when your email or other daily tasks pile up so that you can't process them in a day. For example, my boss asked me to help him prepare a presentation and so for two days I was unable to handle my emails and new work. This meant I had a backlog of daily waxy buildup that I had to action; within a day, I'd made decisions about the emails, scheduled tasks, etc., and the backlog had disappeared. A backlog should be temporary and no new work is added to it.
  • Checklists help you carry out repetitive tasks so that you don't need to remember them. I use a checklist when I run system checks on my computer so I remember to update my antivirus, etc. You pull it out and use it as needed. Forster doesn't like to-do lists as he says they attract any old task, become amorphous, and can be never-ending because you're always adding stuff to it. That's why he advocates closed lists. This is all explained in better detail in Forster's book.
  • Just create a list in the back of the planner for someday/maybe items. Forster mentions this in his book but it's not the critical piece that Allen considers it for the GTD system. YMMV.
  • "If we do a brain dump, some stuff would be really low priority, and it'll stay floating on a lists for a long time without being actioned. Is that a bad thing?" Again, just use Allen's someday/maybe list. Nobody says you can't blend the two systems. Allen would say that you need to regularly review the S/M list to remind your brain it's there.
  • "Dangerous combination: the brain dump of GTD produces trillions of tasks, and the 'no priorizing' approach of GED tries to do them all (believing that the important stuff will get too clogged if the small stuff is unactioned)." Then use Allen's approach of prioritizing based on context/energy/time/priority (or something like that). Neither Allen nor Forster can tell you how to tell the trivial from the important. They're sort of hoping you'll do that part  :)

I add more tasks than I actually complete in a day. That means that my tasks will be probably unmanageable at some point. Long lists like that must be pruned, otherwise the  weekly review won't be efficient.
Ah, then you haven't read Forster's Do It Tomorrow book. His system involves you learning what a day's work is for you, and not putting more on the daily task list than you can handle. If some new work drops in your lap today, AND IT'S NOT URGENT, then put it on tomorrow's list, or the next day's. Maybe you keep a separate list of tasks for a specific project with that project's support materials?
      
I think a lot of your questions are answered in the authors' respective books.

21
it IS encouraging to hear that you've get a system going for so long - can i ask, are you a 'disciplined' kind of person anyway? i mean, have you always been quite capable of sticking to things that need returning to time and time again?

i ask this as i think the majority of us are just starting out with these time-management methods, so you are one of the few that has been doing things for more than a couple of weeks - you are an example that proves it can be done.

HA  ;D I think the reason I'm a junkie of this literature is because I feel so often disorganized, and was, for many years. No one really teaches you this stuff unless you pay for a seminar or are in a corporate setting where someone else pays for it.

No, I don't think of myself as disciplined by any stretch of the imagination. Ask my old Spanish teacher, my old piano teacher, my old drawing teacher, etc.

The trick is I'm a little more organized than the people around me, and so THEY think I'm super-organized, when the truth is that I struggle as much as anyone else. (Tip: The Waiting On folder in your email will make you seem fearsomely organized, when all you're doing is just checking the folder for reminders of things that other people said they would do for you.)

For example, the tools and techniques I employ at the office I sometimes discard when I get home. Who knows why? I think I kind of want to be a little messier at home, to make up for my button-down attitude at work. Also, frankly, I don't NEED to be as organized at home as I am at work.

The key to time/task/self mgmt, as with exercise and diet, is consistency. Keep your system going long enough to see where the flaws where and then correct them. One problem we have, besides a love of the fiddle-factor, is that we're trying to create the perfect system from day one. That's crazy-making. You don't start out creating a system like this to cover all the exceptions; you start by creating something that will cover about 80 percent of the cases, and then tackle exceptions as they arise.

That said, everyone's situation is different and what works for me might get you fired  :). I don't have the high email levels others do, I work with a team of people but mostly on my own stuff, etc. But I see the value in the workplace of being organized, of staying on top of stuff, and I think I have a knack for being an information packrat, which I maybe translated into time mgmt stuff.

That said, I've probably developed a few rules for myself that work for me but that I've never tried to codify into intelligible gibberish. Some of the rules might be:

* Do the simplest thing that could possible work. This is one reason I like a paper planner. There's less customization of the interface, no worries about backing it up, etc. I used the Psion 3mx and Clie for awhile and was pretty successful with them, too. For now, paper works best for me.

* One reason I've stayed away so far from the web-based and application GTD-type tools is that they're too form-based. If I have to fill out 10 blanks to code a task, then I probably have enough time to do the damn task.

* I like Forster's emphasis in DIT on creating a structure and systems that will enable you to keep momentum going without having to do too much meta-thinking about "what do I do next?" That's the value of the will-do list for me. It separates 'doing' from 'thinking,' since those are really two different processes.

* I also like DA's emphasis on keeping the system so simple you could use it if you're achy and sick and tired. I liked the look of a lot of software tools but if I'm tired or sick, it's all I can do to boot up the 'puter. I think Forster's DIT system satisfies this simplicity requirement for me.

* I'm always asking other people how they keep track of their stuff, and I pick up ideas that way. A co-worker at my first professional job introduced me to Day-Timers and that started me on this twisted path.

* All these books and stuff offer, for me, are tools to compile my own toolkit. One system will not give you all the answers, and not all tools are applicable to every situation. You have to have enough experience using all of them to discern which is best to use now, today. I think that's why it's a good idea to shake things up every few years, go all-digital, go all-paper, see what happens, etc. When you've set up a system to ensure your bills get paid on time, you never forget a birthday card, and you can find that email in a haystack, then that feeling of accomplishment is enough to keep you going and finding further efficiencies.

* I like DA's emphasis on separating the collecting/thinking/deciding/doing stages of his workflow. I think I trip myself up when I'm trying to do too many of these things at the same time.

* You know, sometimes, good enough is good enough. My systems don't have to be perfect, but if they're good enough to trap the things that matter the most to me, then I don't mind when I find I've dropped this or that item.

* I don't do a weekly review, but I have a PBWiki page (http://brownstudy.pbwiki.com/) where I track my big personal projects (different from my workplace projects). As you can see, it's just a simple bulleted list, sometimes keywords, sometimes a stated outcome objective. I review it a couple of times a day, at work and at home. Also, it's dead-easy to edit, get a nice printout, etc. So I feel that I'm on top of what I need to be doing when I have time to work on them. But I don't obsess over the bigger projects unless there are lots of moving parts (like the grad school admissions process). Now and then, I'll do a full inventory of everything (including Covey's roles--you know, son, brother, husband, friend, etc), but not every week.

* Recently, I've liked very much Forster's notion that if I've made the decision that everything on my list is important and must be done, then prioritization has already happened. What drives me forward next is urgency. And so my PBWiki list is roughly ordered from most urgent at the top to least urgent toward the bottom. I start at the top, ask myself if there's anything I can do about this RIGHT NOW, and if I can, I do it. Even if it isn't much, just a little bit every day is enough to keep the train moving. And then I drop down to the next, and so on. Again, the big thinking has already happened, I just have to turn the crank. (And how long did it take me to develop this system? Months, bit by bit, making little tweaks here and there. It didn't erupt fully formed, and I'm still tweaking it. But it's still useful to me.)

Oh crikey, that's enough spewing and spattering all over this nice clean forum  :)

I'd say don't worry too much about all this, even if it is the rage o' the 'net. You know, it's all about feeling better that you're on top of things. Try a system for at least a month or two before you change up to another one, see what resonates with you and what doesn't, and play with it. Also, read lots of stuff at 43folders.com for much better advice than I could give.

mike

22
Ah, geez, I've been using GTD since before the book came out. I hung out on DA's forum when it was a single ribbon of unthreaded messages--1999, maybe? Before that, I scavenged tips from books by Stephanie Winston, Edwin Bliss, and others. But they were all tips, they weren't a coherent front-to-back system that DA presents. I used GTD (or my brand of it) for a couple of years in hard-copy and on my Palm using a variety of softwares. But while I felt facile using the system, I often didn't feel that I was getting the right things done. (That's not DA's problem, I think, I just wasn't thinking big-picture enough to know what to say yes/no to. I'm more comfortable doing the fiddly stuff rather then tackling the scary bigger stuff.)

I must have heard of Forster's work from someone on the DA board 2 or 3 years ago, subscribed to his newsletter when it was a Yahoo group, and then grabbed as many of them as I could when he shuttered the group. Now he does a biweekly (?) newsletter and includes some nice little tidbits.

The Limoncelli book I came across earlier this year--can't remember where. Maybe a blog post somewhere that sent me to the O'Reilly site that had Limoncelli's Cycle chapter posted in PDF. I'd been looking for an analog way of tracking my stuff. DA has some guidelines, Forster's first and second books really don't go far enough in describing a single tool/methodlogy to use for this. Limoncelli's book--which describes his methodology and his analog way of implementing it (he has software suggestions, but he uses a paper planner)--was the key for really wrapping it all up for me.

When Forster's DIT came out, I bought it from Amazon UK and read it in July about 2-3 times. His analog system is somewhat similar to Limoncelli's (they both advocate daily to-do lists, though Forster hates the term "to-do list"), but it is a system as fully fleshed out as Limoncelli's and neither contradicts each other, I think. Limoncelli's is more geared to the interrupt-driven life of a sys admin, Forster's the office denizen, but I've cribbed from both.

For example, I used Powerpoint to create my "will-do" list, which stands in a little document holder beside my monitor. The list runs like this:

Action yesterday's emial
Action yesterday's voicemail
Action yesterday's inbox
Task diary
Check calendar
Time card
Next day's list
Tidy desk
Clean coffee gear

The "current initiative" is something I handwrite in my planner and I box it, so it's the first appointment of the day. I've gone through the above list so often, I don't usually refer to it often. But it's a great reminder. I use Forster's method for writing down tasks on tomorrow's list. But I use Limoncelli's idea of salting future pages with tasks related to long-term goals (and maybe Forster mentions this too, I don't remember).

Limoncelli also talks more about automating tasks, reclaiming the 40-hr week, and stuff that Forster/Allen don't talk about.

Basically, you know, I just throw stuff at my habits and see what sticks  :)  If something doesn't "take" for me right away, I don't always go back to try it again.

My current challenge is I have about 4-7 concurrent projects at the office, and I'm looking more seriously at Forster's "little and often" strategy to keep them moving. But I don't remember if he gives examples of how to do this (the book is at home). So I'm trying out some Palm timer alarms that I hope will help me cycle through these projects regularly so that their connections in my brain stay refreshed (now, that IS a Forster idea). I'm thinking of writing up an index card with each project's name keyword, and during the "task diary" phase above, just crank through each project for an hour. By that time, I get into the everyday stuff that needs to be done (clean my coffee pot, fill out time card, etc.).

So as you see, I take a bit from here, a bit from there. Next month, after the current crunch is past, I'll only have 1 or 2 big projects to concern me. They have longer deadlines, are amorphous, and I'll need to handle them differently. I may also start pulling someday/maybe projects from my lists in the back of my planner. And so the challenges will be different and there will be new self-management/project-management problems to solve. At that point, I'll probably pull down the DA/MF/TL books and skim them and refresh my memory about what they have to say and probably get new ideas to implement, based on  my situation at the time.

Whew, sorry for the braindump!  :)  I guess you pressed the right button.

BTW, in his latest newsletter, Forster announces he has a blog at http://www.markforster.typepad.com/. His first post is on making decisions.

Best -- mike

23
Well, here's a tinyurl link to Amazon, with "goal-setting" as the search term:

http://tinyurl.com/orrdc (hope that works)

I think Barbara Sher's book WISHCRAFT is cited quite often, and just Google "setting goals" and you'll see the basic SMART framework pop up all over the place. After you've read about 4 or 5 of these articles in a row, you see the same things repeated: set measurable objectives, set deadlines, make sure the goal is achievable, etc. The basic concepts become the vocabulary other writers use when writing on the same topic.

The value to me of Forster's second book is that he doesn't focus on SMART to begin with; instead, he uses methods from Robert Fritz's book THE PATH OF LEAST RESISTANCE to help one create the initial vision of what you want to achieve. In Mark's latest newsletter, he does talk about the value of using measures to monitor where you are and where you're going, but it's not the focus of his second book, which I think is more about giving the reader some basic tools to get them started.

HTH -- meb

24
yes this is a big issue that is missing from many of these systems.

I think Forster or Allen would say that their systems will help you get the stuff done that you want to get done, but the person implementing the system has the responsibility for monitoring and knowing if they're doing the right tasks. I think precisely because it's a big issue, that it's tackled in tons of other goal-setting books and articles.

mike

25
as an example: all the cody wallpapers i'm doing - none are particularly finished, nor are they at an interim stage that could be called complete. am i rushing to get back to them and finish them? no, i'm not. am i walking around with them playing on my mind? not really.

perhaps i'm belittling his idea as i know that i'll complete these wallpapers very soon so the task is obviously still in 'focus' but i'm procrastinating about getting them done right now.

One of the insights in DIT that struck me and that hasn't been mentioned yet was the idea of urgency. If, all things being equal, I have decided that all the things on my list of things to do are important, then really the only way I can judge what to do next is by urgency. Now, Allen uses his idea of context and the time/energy/priority criteria to triage your day. Both are valid approaches, depending on which resonates with you. I find Forster's criteria resonates with me more than Allen's at this time.

So I'd say that since you've judged the wallpapers to be important, then you'll have the passion to see the project through to its end. Forster was interviewed on some Hay Radio show (don't have the URL at the moment), and his answer to the question of what to do when you have lots of projects is to work on all of them a little bit every day. "Little and often" is another of DIT's precepts that hasn't been mentioned in this thread. So with the wallpaper project, even if you only work on them for a few minutes a day, then you're getting work done on them, momentum of some kind is maintained, and you're doing OK. And if you're not working on them daily, maybe getting them done is not a matter of urgency to you.

I find that when I'm near the end of a project, I get a burst of energy knowing I'm about to be done with it and can work hours to get it to a point of doneness. You may not be at that point yet.

Allen has the idea of the Someday/Maybe as a place to hold the non-urgent stuff; Forster doesn't have a place for someday/maybes in DIT (I think), but Forster's focus in DIT  is on  getting a day's work done. I think Allen's GTD book is the same. I don't believe Allen has written a lot about long-range goal-setting (I gather he has a special seminar for that) but that's the area where Forster's Make Your Dreams Come True book specializes. Depending on which lens I'm using to look at my life, I'll use techniques from either of Forster's 2nd or 3rd books.
 
For long-term projects: I use the aforementioned Limoncelli book's method of salting my future daily pages with tasks related to long-term projects. Or, I keep a list of my open loops (GTD's project outcomes) on a PBWiki page and I type one of two next actions beside them, and I review them a couple of times a week. I find this is enough for me to stay on top of short, medium, and long term tasks. Even if I don't do anything on them this week, they're still in front of my face.

Forster says in his book, and I think Allen would agree, that when you feel on top of your responsibilities, you feel better.  One of the reasons I moved away from GTD's context lists was that I found myself compulsing about finding a new item to put on the list when I checked one off. I felt I was tending the lists more than getting things done, and that's why I like the DIT method better. If I get a day's work done early, then I move to the next day's work that I've laid out, and I start to be ahead of the game.

That said, I still use bits of GTD, DIT, HTMYDCT, and Limoncelli's book--and other tips/tricks picked up from hither and yon--in my own Frankensteinian way and getting a lot out of them.

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