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Choosing The Task to Fit The Time

Wondering where my next post is? Well, I have done another guest article at the ever excellent To-Done called Choosing The Task to Fit The Time. Here is an excerpt:
I am sure that we have all faced this riddle at some point in our careers or even in our “regular” lives. In this age of corporate downsizing, outsourcing and trying to get the same amount done with less resources, some of us face it daily. I would even argue that the current near Atkins Diet sized obsession with productivity many are having is directly tied to this quest for time management alchemy. Not just how to optimize the time we have but how to actually make time itself somehow change and bend to our will.
Go take a look. I will try to get my GTD Roadmap post up soon. I promise.

Backpack: How I Get Things Done

As I have talked about before, Backpack by 37 Signals is a crucial part of my personal organization-fu. It is the main tool I have come to rely on for my tasks and projects. Like a lot of tools, it is not always perfect and it took me a little while to figure out how to make it work for me. Here is how I have been using Backpack in my implementation of Getting Things Done along with some tips and tricks I have learned along the way. A lot of the tips and tricks I found in the excellent Backpack Forum. Here is my basic page layout
Today (Home) – The Backpack help page says the following about the Home page: “Your home page should be used to keep track of all the stuff that’s top of mind. Stuff that doesn’t fit anywhere else. Stuff that you need to deal with now.” This is pretty much how I have been using it. I actually have changed the page name to “Today”. While I do look at and accomplish items on my context based lists I use this page to list all of the things I would like to accomplish today. Some of those items might even be duplicated and/or taken from my context based lists, each of which I have a page set up in Backpack. Basically, my page list looks like this:
@Agendas – For items I need to speak with people about. I also keep agenda items for meetings here.
@Bethany – For items I can only accomplish while at Bethany’s house. We are preparing for us all to move into her house so there are a number of task items that can only be done there. We are also keeping a Basecamp project for this as well so I have a link to it here.
@Blog – Not just for things I wish to post but also, I have a link to my Basecamp project for patrickrhone.com. I use it to manage all the “behind the scene” projects items I need to work on (implementing comments for instance).
@Calls – Calls I need to make. I always try to include the phone number with the action item so I never have to go digging for it somewhere else.
@Carleton – This one is pretty obvious. Work items and projects.
@Computer – For things that I can only accomplish while near a computer.
@Errands – Shopping lists and other items I can only accomplish while out and about.
@Home – Home based items and projects
@Projects – Why a separate project page? Well, these are projects that don’t seem to fit anywhere else.
@Someday – Someday/Maybe items. Stuff that I would like to get to someday but have not yet become active projects.
Using the @ symbol helps to keep these above other pages in the sidebar. For instance I have a page for work notes, a page for personal notes, a Wish List and Bethany and I have a Registry page where we are starting to list things we would like to put on our wedding registry even though we are not officially engaged yet. Having somewhere to list such stuff gets it out of our psychic RAM.
Formatting Tips & Tricks
Colors – I don’t use colors to prioritize (every item on my list is a priority) instead I use them simply to make certain important things stand out. Using Textile, a simple web formatting language that Backpack can understand, you can color code items using some simple, easy to remember code. For instance, to color an item green simply type:
%{color:green}Process Inbox @ Work%
Substitute any other standard color after the colon to change it. As a matter of fact, textile can be used to do all sorts of styling on your Backpack page
Arrows, Bold and Outlines – Textile in action once again. I actually make project items on my pages bold and then I use a simple outline structure using arrows ( → ) for the action items related to that project beneath. This allows me to visually separate the projects from the single action items and to see the actions associated with it.
Reminders – Here is a neat little Backpack hack that can also act as a tickler file. The reminder feature as the ability to e-mail reminders as well as send them using SMS. Backpack pages each have a unique e-mail address allowing you to send e-mail to any page. Why not combine the two? I use the reminder feature to e-mail reminder items to my Today page at a specified time. With the newly implemented repeating reminders feature, this can be even more powerful. For instance, if I want to make sure I pay a bill on a certain day every month I can create a reminder for the bill and it will show up on the Today page at the specified time. Then I can set that reminder to repeat every month so that, on the specified date and time, not only to I get a reminder for it on my cell phone but it also shows up on my Today page. Very cool.

The Wisdom of Merlin

Merlin Mann over at 43 Folders has been doing some in depth articles that are nothing short of invaluable. These include the following:

  • Building a Smarter To-Do List, Part 1 and Part 2 – The best article on using a to-do list ever! This sums up all of his previous writing on to-do list effectiveness but expands on several of the topics.
  • Writing Sensible E-mail Messages – Become a good e-mail citizen. Create e-mails that give the recipient all the info they need (and none of the stuff they don’t) so that you can get what you want to achieve from the effort.
  • Amazing work and well worth the time it takes to read them.

    Forget Feature Requests

    For those that don’t know me, I used to work at a major Macintosh software developer. I was a Quality Assurance Specialist. Part of the position left me in charge of receiving, cataloging, prioritizing and, in part, implementing feature requests. Let me tell you, this alone could have been my full time job. Now was all of this management of these requests really needed? I mean, after all, any of us QA folks could have rattled off any of the most frequent requests at the drop of a hat. Therefore, it is a really bold move to submit the argument that Jason Fried does. He argues that developers should read feature requests and then throw them away. You read that right – Throw them away!

    Top Ten Favorite Mac Apps

    OK, so Om Malik threw down a challenge on his blog to the rest of us to let the world know our top ten favorite Macintosh apps. The rules were we had were to focus on the great small shareware and freeware applications that are out there. Therefore, without further ado, here are mine in no particular order:
    Newsfire – My favorite news reader. Fantastic interface and it saves me hours a day.
    OmniOutliner – The best outlining program I have ever used. I am obsessed with outliners and have paid for several over the years so that is saying a lot. I use it for everything from brainstorming, project management, to do lists and even organizing my bills and expenses (yes it really is that powerful and flexible).
    MacJournal – Developed by my friends at Mariner Software. I use this for all of my journal entries mainly as it has the ability to act as a blogging client. It can do much, much more than this but that is all I use it for. I still love it for that alone.
    Mariner Write – Another Mariner product. I have written about this simple yet powerful word processor before. It still saves me from the bloat of Word and remains one of my favorites.
    Fetch (wait, make that Transmit) – What can I say, I have been a Fetch user since, like, the birth of FTP. Therefore I have never tried anything different. Then last night, based on it’s appearance on every other top ten Mac app list I read, I downloaded and played with Transmit. All I can say is that I never knew what I was missing and I will be switching as soon as I can.
    Notational Velocity – This is, by far, one of the cleverest note programs I have ever seen. I have also written about this one before. So simple, an interface that gives new meaning to sparse and just about every aspect of it keyboard driven. I store all sorts of little snippets of info in here.
    Quicksilver – There has been so many things written about this application that I don’t know if I can do it justice. Just download it, read everything Merlin Mann has written about it and consider your life changed.
    Notetaker – A great note taking application and outliner. I like it a lot but it has largely been replaced by OmniOutliner and Notational Velocity. I still highly recommend it though. It has a number of very cool features. Once again, I have written in greater detail about this one before.
    VLC – Plays almost everything that Quicktime can’t and it is free. How can you go wrong.
    Konfabulator – Because Dashboard does not hold a candle to it. Although, I do admit, I wish there were some third party Dashboard widgets that Konfabulator had.

    The Pocket Mod

    Do you find a PDA too expensive and cumbersome? Maybe a paper planner is too bulky and hard to carry around? Then The Pocket Mod is your answer. It is a Flash based site that allows you to create your own pocket organizer, configured to your liking based on a number of handy templates (Calendars, Lists, Contacts, etc.) and printed to standard sized paper. Then you fold it into a small book using the instructions on the site and, voila, you have a pocket sized organizer that you can take with you. When you are done with it, simply toss it into your trash recycling bin and print out another.
    Not only a brilliant idea but also one of the best uses of Flash that I have ever seen. Well worth the look for that alone.

    React vs. Think

    Here is a great article on the difference between thinking and reacting and how to identify which is which. It has more of a project management slant but can be applicable to life in general. Especially the emphasis on making the time to think. Here is a key quote:
    “Your react brain doesn’t actually like to think because thinking is messy. Thinking involves slowing down and actually soaking in a problem and your react brain thrives in the familiar. Your creative brain loves the unknown. It’s a sponge and it’s only happy when it’s full of new ideas.”
    Live it. Love it!