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Remains of The Day

After some culling of my del.icio.us bookmarks, here are some items of interest that I thought would be good to post up here. Enjoy…
The Noguchi Filing System – A very interesting filing system that uses large envelopes instead of folders. Also, it is sorted based upon frequency and time of use rather than alphabetically.
Textpander – Allows you to create short abbreviations that expand into text snippets when you type them. For instance, type “ily” and get “I love you”. Formated, unformatted, images too. If you type certain things over and over it is a godsend.
Lifehacker: Professional E-mail Tips – Great e-mail tips that should be followed by all. Good companion piece to Merlin Mann’s Sensible E-mail post.
Hello Dollar – A really good blog about saving, investing, eliminating debt and all of those other things we should all be doing more of.
The “Not Insane” To-Do List – Have to much to do? Having a hard time getting it all done? How about just getting just three things done and letting the rest wait.
GMail Tips – If you use Google’s GMail, here is the largest collection of tips and tricks I have seen to date.

GTD Roadmap: Looking Above The Horizon

As stated previously, I had a chance to attend David Allen’s GTD Roadmap seminar when it came through town about 10 days ago. It was a fantastic and surprising experience. Part of the reason I say surprising is because it really changed the way that I view the power of the GTD system. Sure it is great for getting the daily grind of tasks and projects completed or what David referred to as the “Horizontal Map”. Time is certainly spent during the seminar covering those basics but what I took away from it was much larger than that. It was the time spent discussing the “Vertical Map” which took up the later half of the day. A vertical map is basically how these things all are part of and work towards your entire life’s roles, goals, objectives, principals and values.
This Vertical Map is broken into six “horizons of focus” that are broken out from the bottom up as follows:

  1. Runway – Actions: The next physical and/or visible actions to take on any project or outcome. these should include calendar items, next actions on your context lists, e-mails to take action on, items to review, etc. these are the things you should be engaging daily.
  2. 10,000 ft. – Projects: These are the projects and multi-step outcomes that can be finished in a year or less. These should be part of your weekly review and should be generating the things on the runway.
  3. 20,000 ft. – Areas of Focus: These should be the areas of focus in your life and areas of responsibility in your work. This can include a high level job description, personal lifestyle checklist, etc. This should be reviewed monthly to ensure that your projects are properly aligned with these roles.
  4. 30,000 ft. – Goals and Objectives: This can include any job or personal goals you have. Twelve to Eighteen month out items to be reviewed yearly.
  5. 40,000 ft. – Vision: These are long term three to five year goals. What would success look, sound or feel like that far down the road? How will you know it when you get there? Write it down and review this once a year to make sure you are on the right path.
  6. 50,000 ft. – Purpose and Principles: This should be the beginning of everything. What is the purpose of the life you wish to live? What are the driving principles and beliefs? This can take the form of your faith, personal mission statements, personal manifestos, etc.

In other words, your actions at a daily “runway” level should be directly and vertically tied to your principals and values at the “50,000 ft” level. To get a real sense of this, look at it from the bottom up. Once you can see and understand how a project like “Fixing up the house for move In” fits into the overall goals of life (In my case “Relationships: Bethany: Life Partner”). It will give you a new drive and focus on the importance of follow through on the ious associated action items in the project. How are the projects you perform at work fitting into your job description? If the project is not fitting into that description or role then is your role changing or is that project better delegated to someone else more appropriate?
There is real power in this. It really helps you focus and align your life along a path that gives each action meaning and context. This did not seem as well covered in the Getting Things Done book to me. Maybe it was and I did not really understand the connections. Bottom line is that this alone was well worth the price of admission and I have been working on this vertical map ever since.
If the GTD Roadmap seminar is coming in or around your town don’t miss it. If you are new to GTD than it will be very helpful but if you are already a GTD devotee than it very well could change the very way you view the system as it did for me.

Writeboards in Backpack

The recently released Writeboard is now also available directly in your Backpack pages as announced here. Paying accounts can create unlimited Writeboards. This is the best five bucks I spend every month and to get this kind of added value is quite the bonus. I will be using this feature all of the time. Here is a quote from 37 Signals outlining this feature:
“Starting today, if you have a Backpack account, you’ll see a “Writeboards” tab in Backpack. This allows you to create writeboards inside Backpack. Plus, when you create writeboards inside Backpack, all those writeboards will be listed inside Backpack for easy retrieval. Further, you can import any writeboard into Backpack and even attach writeboards to any Backpack page via the new “writeboards” button at the top of every Backpack page. It’s pretty slick”

Writeboard

Looks like 37 Signals had a busy weekend because they silently rolled out Writeboard on Sunday night. What is Writeboard? Well, it is the next great thing from 37 Signals. This time it is all about collaborative writing. If you have a need for yourself or others to write basic text documents that can be edited by anyone you choose and you can see all of the revisions of the said document then this is the tool for you.
Simply type in the name of the document you wish to create, a password and your e-mail address and you are presented with a blank text slate ready for you to write. Heck, dare I say encouraging you to write. Once you have typed what you wish, save that version. Any further edits are listed on the side with the time they were made and a dot indicating the amount of the edit based on it’s size.
You can also invite others via e-mail to give them access to the document so that they can view and make changes as well. All of this is kept track of in the sidebar. You can see who made the change, when it was changed and get an idea of how big the change was. Perhaps the coolest feature is the ability to compare two versions of the document, thus allowing the user to easily see ever edit that was made. All of this is of course done with the 37 Signals “less is more” sense of style and usability.
Well worth a look not only for those with a need to write collaboratively or even for a solitary writer who would like to have a central place for a document (or documents as you can create multiple Writeboards) and could use the versioning features. Yet another outstanding webapp from 37 Signals.
P.S. In case you were wondering, this post was drafted using Writeboard
Update: Here is a very detailed review of Writeboard at Solution Watch. Go check it out if mine did not fill in enough of the blanks.

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!