Hard and Soft Landscapes: Calendar vs. Reminders

Those of you who are familiar with Backpack know that it already had a feature called “Reminders” that let you set alarms that you receive via SMS and/or Email for ious things. Now that Backpack has a calendar, I bet many of you are wondering what the usefulness of the reminders are outside of the calendar. Lets take a look at what types of things should go on the calendar and what sorts of things reminders are good for that should not go on the calendar (which is crucial).
Use the Calendar only for calendar items. David Allen often refers to the calendar and calendar based data as “The Hard Landscape”. He even goes on to say, on page 41 of Getting Things Done, “The way I look at it, the calendar should be sacred territory. If you write something there, it must get done that day or not at all”. In other words, one should be highly selective about what goes on the calendar.
Why is this? Well, your calendar is filled with little contracts between you and yourself or you and someone else. If you schedule a meeting with someone, or lunch, or a vacation, or a daily workout, you have made a “contract” to be there at a certain date and/or time. Don’t show up and you essentially breach that contract – especially if another party is involved. You should really treat these items with that high level of importance.
So what should go on the calendar?

  • Time-Specific Actions (Appointments) – Things happening at a specific date and time that you must attend (i.e. 3.7.2008 @ 12:00PM: Meet with Bob re: Strategy for Project X).
  • Day-Specific Actions (Events) – Things happening on a specific day but not a specific time (i.e. 8.14.2008: Buffy’s Brithday).
  • Day-Specific Information – This is information you may need to know on a specific date and, sometimes, may be tied to appointments or events mentioned above (i.e. directions to location of that meeting with Bob, notes for that project meeting, etc.)

These are all “hard landscape” items. Things that are happening at a specific time or are needed for specific appointments and events.
But there are some more “soft landscape” things that you might want to use the reminders for and should not disrupt the “sacred territory” of the calendar.
Reminders are meant for exactly that, just a quick little alarm to remind you of something. That is the reason that, by default, the reminder times are nebulous and not exact (i.e. “Later Today”, “In a couple of days” etc.). These include, things you need to get done later in the day like “Pick up milk on the way home” or in advance of an event but not by a specific time like “Make dinner reservations for birthday dinner” or maybe just a little nudge like “Don’t forget to pack your charger”. Sometimes, some action items that are time sensitive may benefit from a little timely kick in the pants.
Here is another possible use for the Reminders feature in Backpack – Future Options. In Getting Things Done, David Allen states, starting on page 171, that this category of items can exist on the calendar as well. I would argue that the Reminders feature is better suited to these sorts of items and more protective of the “hard landscape”.
Future Options are:

  • Triggers for activating projects – If you have a project that you don’t really need to think about now but that you should revisit at a time sensitive date in the future (i.e. product launches, yearly reviews, what Buffy wants for her Birthday, etc.). Make a reminder for them and then put them on your project list when it pops up.
  • Events you might want to participate in – Time sensitive events like conferences, seminars, etc. that you may want to wait to make a decision about until they are closer to the date (i.e. GTD Roadmap Seminar coming to town next month, “Bon Jovi Tickets go on sale today“). Set a reminder for it and if you purchase those tickets or book that conference it will then (and only then) become part of your hard landscape.
  • Decision Catalysts – There are decisions that are significant and may need to made by a certain time but you are not, for whatever reason, ready to make them yet. Things like hiring a new employee or changing a job or career. Place a reminder to bring focus back to that choice and review it for action at a time where you are more prepared.

In other words, the Reminders feature allows one to be a little more creative with the sorts of things that are time related but flexible. Use it that way and guard the hard edges of the calendar with everything you’ve got.

Backpack Calendar. The Hard Landscape (That’s so easy to use!)

As I suspected it might, Backpack Calendar has become my full time calendar. I just don’t know how the guys at 37 Signals continue to do it but they have certainly done it again. How is it that they manage to do everything right and make it seem so effortless. It replaces Now Up-to-date and Contact which I have been using for well over 10 Years now. I even used to work for Now Software and was a member of the development team. Now Software is full of great people who are committed to great software. All of this is to say that Now Up-to-Date remains in my heart and is still, hands down, the best non web based calendar client I have ever used on any platform (Although “Dates” on the Newton MessagePad is a close second).
Let me count the ways they just plain get it with the Calendar:
The Hard Landscape (6 Weeks) – The default view in the calendar is “Next Six Weeks”. While I never would have thought of this on my own, it seems to be exactly the right timeframe I need to see what GTDers call “The hard landscape”. I can see what events are coming up in the maximum timeframe most things are planned for. The current week is always on top with the current day highlighted in yellow. Events for the current day are listed in a right hand sidebar – right above the “Event Box” where you add events. Everything just seems to fit where I would have expected them to be.
Time Display – Times are not displayed on the actual calendar view itself. Times are displayed for the days events displayed on the right hand sidebar. Why? First, it reduces clutter and for a calendar to be effective it should be free from clutter. Secondly, it keeps you focused on the only times that matter and are displayed – the ones happening today. If you want to see what time an event is on any other day without switching to that day, simply hover over the event with your mouse and a yellow tool-tip will pop up with the time. Brilliant.
Navigating and Input – I love the idea that you can use one box for both entering events and navigating the calendar. Want to see what you have going on in January? Just enter “January” or the three letter abbreviation “Jan” and you are taken to that month. Type in “1 March 2008” or “March 1, 2008“ and you are taken there. Want to enter an event on March 27th. Simply enter “March 27 Mom’s Birthday” or “Mar 27 Mom’s Birthday” or “3/27 Mom’s Birthday”. It is easy and natural.
SMS and E-mail – Alarms for events are sent via SMS and/or to the e-mail address of your choosing 30 minutes before the event. I wish you could set your own “ahead time”. I am betting that feature is coming in the future because it exists for Backpack’s existing “Reminders” feature (which is different from the calendar and should be separate but I will cover that in a future post). That being said, 30 minutes seems like a good compromise for now.
iCal Support – Any shared calendar using the iCal standard can be added as a calendar to the Backpack Calendar. That means a myriad of possibilities. More than just subscribing to a US Holiday calendar or your favorite reality TV show schedule, that also means you can subscribe to other calendars out there like 30 Boxes and Google Calendar. Therefore, if you want to share calendars with someone on another service, that is available to you. Of course, you can also share any of your calendars which means as well that they can be subscribed to in iCal if you are on a Mac for offline viewing (Yes, that means that I am, to a small extent, using iCal as my client app – Global warming has no effect on Hell).

WWDC: Mail.app gets some Org-fu

Apple made a number of big announcements at thier World Wide Developers Conference today. In case you missed them or are not familiar with what I am even talking about, there is plenty of good coverage elsewhere. I will not retread those well covered tracks because, while fast new computers, shinny new features and jabs at the fine folks in Redmond are fun, what really has me excited is the upcoming tranformation of Mail.app into a true productivity application. Looks like they have been drinking the GTD kool-aid in Cupertino.
The next version of Mac OS X, code named Leopard, will feature a greatly enhanced version of Mail that will also have to-do’s and notes integrated. What is even more is that the to-do fuction will actually be a system wide service so that any item, be it an e-mail, note, document, etc. will be able to be made into an actionable to-do.
This is huge. What Apple seems to understand is that the future is not only about how we access information, it is more about how we process it. It is about how we take all of these ious bits we have incoming from all directions and make them actionable. Allowing me to take any item and make it actionable – built right in and as part of the OS would be a godsend. Especially if that means any appplication will be able to take advantage of that. That seems to be the direction Apple is going.

Much to Post, Little Time

So, Bethany and I go away on a (well deserved and needed) vacation and the whole world decides to come up with things I should be posting about. Of course now I am so busy catching up with the overload of stuff that I was so busy avoiding. Therefore, just some quick ditties about it all for now with more follow up on some of them (especially the first one) later:
Backpack Calendar Launch – 37 Signals finally released the calendar component of my fave tool Backpack. It is finally here and boy is it easy to use. You will now find it next to the pages link at the top of your Backpack pages. I have spent the past several minutes (yes minutes, it is that easy) dumping all of my upcoming events in there from my trusty Moleskine planner. To those of you who are already Backpack users and/or 37 Signals fans, it should come as no surprise that the calendar is nearly perfect. It is incredibly well thought out, straight forward, supports e-mail and SMS reminders, natural language input for events, iCal standard sharing, everything you need and nothing you don’t. I will give a complete review and how it is working into my Org-fu soon… Oh, and while we are on the subject, My Business Magazine has a great interview with Jason Fried of 37 Signals. Check it out.
OmniPlan (Beta) – The gold guilded gods at OmniGroup have announced and released a public beta of OmniPlan – A new project management application that, from my first glance, looks as easy to use and powerful as all of thier other products. As one would assume, it has all of the standard project management stuff. Gantt Charts, task management, resource allocation and assignments… The works. All of this wrapped up in the standard OmniGroup cocoa flavored painless to use wrapper. Well worth checking out for anyone with a project to manage.
43 Folders Series: “Back to GTD” – Have you fallen off the GTD bandwagon? Have you let your things get undone? Just need a little refresher to get you back to an inbox-state-of-mind? Then Merlin Mann has just the thing for you. In this series he will cover not only how to get your GTD back on track but also surmise how it got off in the first place so that it wont ever happen again. He kicks off the series with the best way to jump start your GTD – The fast “mind sweep” . Worth a read even if you have your org-fu neatly aligned because you never know what little yummy info nuggets Merlin may drop even on a well trained info-ninja.
Geek to Live: Quick-log your work day – Gina over at Lifehacker has some great tips for keeping a work log. While her guide is a little Windows-centric, the basic premise can be achieved with any tool. I have been doing this for a while now using PB Wiki. It really comes in handy at review time when I want to see where all of my time has been going or, at the least, why I seem to be working my ass off and nothing is getting done. Anytime I get an interruption, I log it. Anytime I get pulled away from one task to start another… Yep, log that too. That way, when the boss comes and asked why I have not gotten insert task or project here done, all I have to do is pull up the log and show her why.

OS? What OS?

So, my poor little Powerbook G4 12inch decided to have a line vertically down it’s screen yesterday. Therefore, I had to take it in to be sent off to the mothership for what seems to be yearly maintainence. Thank god for Applecare or I would certainly be at the highway onramp begging for change by now. Oh, and I was told that they are pretty busy right now so the repair might take longer than usual. But it is not all bad. There are some truths that save my well cooked bacon in times like these.
First is my backup portable machine – a old Thinkpad running Ubuntu Linux. It is no speed demon but it is small and light and is fine for getting the job done. Heck, I even like the keyboard better than on my Mac. With all of the recent talk about long time famous Mac users in the technorati switching to Ubuntu, I largely shrug and can’t for the life of me figure out what all of the fuss is about. I am a long time Mac user and a huge Mac fan. I have a Macintosh consulting business and am the resident Mac guru for one of the top colleges in the country. Yet, I am here to admit, it does not really matter to me anymore what machine I use or what platform I am on. So much of what I do is web based that I can be on any machine and do what I need to do. As I write this, I am using Writely and I started this post on my Mac at work. Added to it on my PC running Windows at work when I happened to be on that machine. Now, I am on the Thinkpad running Ubuntu at home. Platform, to me, is nearly irrelevant. I know I keep hammering away on this Web 2.0 stuff but I am so excited to be living in a world where the internet has finally leveled the playing field and computing is almost ubiquitous. In the words of Donald Fagan, “What a wonderful time to be free”.
What, in fact, these days is an operating system and why does it matter? I mean, for most of my purposes the internet itself is my OS of choice. About the only client side stuff that even really matters to me is having a good browser. Although I am pretty addicted to Firefox, I find myself using Safari and Flock just as much lately. See, even saying “good browser” offers many choices (none of which really matter more than the next). I use whatever happens to be launched and will get me to my “OS” as quickly, safely and compatibly as possible. OS? What OS? Why do I need to care about an OS? Let’s be honest, I like the Mac because it is stable, fast, elegant and things just seem to make sense and work well together. I could also say this of Ubuntu to a great extent. Then there is Windows… Well, it is more stable with Firefox and running SP2…
That is not to say I do not have some apps I miss. Usually, I write all of my posts in MacJournal. It’s full screen mode and one click publishing to my blog can’t be beat. It is a truly fantastic application. Reading feeds is not the same on Bloglines as it is in Newsfire (nothing is like Newsfire) but for the time being it will do just fine. There are a few things I do not keep online and use a desktop app for like my check register. But even that has an online, Web 2.0 equivalent if I need one. And how does anyone get anything done quickly without Quicksilver? But seriously, it is not the end of my world. For day to day stuff I am set. My productivity does not even see a slight dip. I just use another tool or choose a new way to go about things. I am even just as comfortable using webmail as I am a mail client.
Do I prefer one over the other? Sure, but if my Mac disapeared tomorrow I would not loose too much sleep. I would toss and turn a little for a few days. I would probably cry a little before I finally dozed off. But only because a machine that was elegant in every form and fuction and a trusty friend is no more. Not because it stopped my forward movement.

Lorem Textum

Here are some random items regarding text stuff I have been collecting for linkage and feeding thought…
Barkings! | The Small Dog Apple Blog: Lowly Old TextEdit – This is a great write up of that often forgotten but consistently improving text editor that does not get nearly the press it deserves – TextEdit. That’s right, the one that comes with Mac OS X. The most recent version of TextEdit is actually a fairly capable basic word processing machine that can do tables, outlines, lists, formatting and more. The other benefit, if you are using Mac OS X, is that it is free. Personally, I think that TextEdit is enough word processor for most users.
WriteRoom | Hog Bay Software – WriteRoom is designed to do one thing and one thing only, provide a full screen distraction free writing environment. Basically (pun intended), you fire up write room and your screen fades to a black blank state. Start typing and your green text is auto-saved on the fly. When you are done, you can export your text to a text file – ready for you to take anywhere. Simple as pudding pie. Again, one benefit of this app is that it is free. Still, for a little money, you could do the same thing and oh so much more with what I use which is…
MacJournal | Mariner Software – MacJournal just plain rules when it comes to getting text done. I will write more about how I use it and, occasionally, Mariner Write to do almost every post you see here. For now I will simply metion on MacJournal’s full screen writing mode (which I am using right now) and how it does everything that WriteRoom and has a few full screen mode features like a scroll bar that WriteRoom does not. Of course, MacJournal also does a bunch more so when I am done typing this I will click one button and publish this but, like I said, more about that in a few days…

Breaking News: Amanda “UnBoomed” from Rocketboom

Seems as if Amanda Congdon, host of Rocketboom, has had a falling out with Andrew Baron and is now off the hit video blog. I don’t know the full story of what has happened but, let me just say that, without Amanda, why even bother to watch. Not only was she quirky and cute but she has what David Lee Roth calls “CharASSma!” What a huge loss of this great daily vlog and here is to hoping she channels her many talents elsewhere soon. She has a short video post about not being on the show on her personal blog here:
Amanda UnBoomed

Backpack: New GTD Implementation Ideas

Several days ago I had a revelation about my current use of Backpack as a GTD tool and how I might use it even more effectively. Part of this revelation was spurred by an e-mail I received from Swedish reader Daniel Westergren who had some questions about my use of Backpack for GTD after reading my Productivity Whitepaper. The subsequent e-mail exchange that followed led me to some serious “getting real” about my system.
I have described my system in great detail before so I wont go into any more here. Basically, up until now, I have been using the front page in my Backpack as a “Today” page – i.e. things I would like to get done today. I have been moving by copy and paste next actions from my @Action, @Projects, ious individual project pages and @Errands pages to the front page. In other words, my own laborious “kinkless” system of next actions. One benefit to this was the very act of doing this forced a daily review of the items and projects. The obvious problem was how time consuming and counter efficient all of the shuffling around is. Basically, I was using the front page for all of my next actions and therefore would end up with duplicates as keeping track of it all was a tangled mess.
Therefore, here is what I am trying out to make my Backpack system a little more productive:
My Page Setup
Inbox (Home Page) – True to the spirit of GTD, the “home page” in Backpack has been re-titled “Inbox” and basically acts as a digital Inbox. There is one list on this page. One big dumping ground for any action item or project that pops into the head. Just what the name implies. Because it is on the home page it is easy to get to quickly (also, as Daniel pointed out when I ran it past him, easy to get to and dump things from a mobile device – those euros love their mobiles) and that is what you want for an Inbox. Very GTD. When time allows (daily review), two minute or less items are knocked off right away (per The David) and any projects are migrated to and fleshed out on the @Projects page or it’s own separate page (more on that in a bit).
@Projects – This page exists how I use it right now, with a separate list for each project, but with an added but important modification. I have added a topmost list titled Next Actions. N/As are then moved from the projects below to the NA list at the top via Backpack’s ajaxy drag and droppiness. This way, I go to that page and see right away the next actions for all of the projects on the page.
Individual Project Pages – Now I should take a moment here to clarify what the projects are on the @Projects page. That page is for smaller one-to-five step projects as to do anything else would make the page too confusing and long. Projects that are larger than that (my wedding for example) I actually break out into their own separate page as they may have multiple lists and sub projects. Another advantage to this approach is that you can use the other features of backpack like notes, attaching documents, etc. for things that are specific to that project. With that being said, I still make a next action list the first list on the top so I can see right away what I need to do. I have an example project page here: Sweetime Project.
@Someday – Like any good GTDer, you need a space to defer and to dream. The someday/maybe list is where you do that. Scan this as part of your weekly review.
OK, so here is the workflow in a nutshell…
1. Log into Backpack.
2. Process Items in the Inbox using the “Three D’s” (Do, Defer, Delegate). Move any projects to either @Projects, an existing project or a new project page as appropriate.
3. Switch to the @Projects page and process the Next Actions list at the top accordingly.
4. Switch to any individual project pages. Do the same thing.
5. Feel smug about your Org-fu.
Notes About Contexts
I myself do not use contexts that often. Mainly it is because I find most days too interrupt driven to have a block of time to work on a specific context list and Backpack does not seem well designed for them. I just do what I do, when I do them, where I can do them. That being said, I do foresee a way to make contexts a part of this system. Place them before the action to be done. This can be especially useful on project pages where you can group items on the Next Action list by context. For example:
Next Actions
Call – Bob re: Chocolate levels.
Call – Peter re: Additional flavors of creamy nougat.
Computer – Google map Tobelerone factory.
Computer – Look up Wikipedia entry for William Wonka.
Errand – Buy a box of Kit Kat bars for evaluation.
Another way to handle contexts would be to have multiple context lists on individual project pages. I suspect that will get messy quite fast but your milage may y.
Other Pages to Consider
The idea and motivation of all of this is to not only show you what I am doing but also to help spur ideas for you, the reader. Ultimately, the only system that works is one that works for you. That being said, here are some other pages you may find a useful part of your Backpack GTD setup:
@Waiting For – These are items that you delegated or deferred pending others but still need to track. It would be useful here to add who you delegated the item to and the date (i.e. “Call – Board Members re: Drop in stock price > Bill 06.27.06”). Include in your weekly review.
@Stalled – This is an area for projects and/or actions that are currently inactive or stalled for an indefinite period of time. Ditto for the review.
Using Tags for Review Time
Backpack has a feature that allows you to tag pages. I have started using this feature to easily do my daily, weekly and monthly reviews. Basically, every page has one or more of these tags with the exception of the front page which has all of them. Why does the front page have them all? Because that way I can click on “daily” and it drops down a list of all of the pages I should review daily. Same with weekly and monthly. Thus allowing me to easily cycle through the pages during those review times right from the front page.
Wrapping Up
I have not been with this new setup long but it seems to be working well thus far. The “rethinking” of the front page has really been a huge time saver and helped me focus on getting things out of my effed up mess of a head fast. Simple and seemless capture and collection is the first step of what GTD is all about. I then can spend time on processing them later.
As with everything here, your comments, questions and criticisms (assuming they are constructive) are welcome. It is only through such an exchange this post exists to begin with.

Warren Buffett Be Giving Large, Yo.

This news is now all over the place but I would be remiss if I did not say something about it. In case you live in a world without media and have not heard, Warren Buffett, head of Berkshire Hathaway and the worlds 2nd richest person, is going to give away a vast majority of his fortune to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. You read that right. The worlds 2nd rich person is giving most of his money to the foundation of the worlds richest person.
Now before all you pinks get your panties in a bunch about rich guys giving other rich guys money, let us remember just how much the Gates Foundation has done to fight diseases, improve education, build libraries and sponsor NPR. Just think how much more they could do with even more money and resources. I mean, seriously, diseases like malaria, HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis could be a memory in a relatively short time with enough money thrown at them. The possibilities of this kind of philanthropy are staggering.
FORTUNE Magazine: Warren Buffett gives away his fortune