My Conundrum

I am at a crossroads. As I have mentioned previously, I now use a iety of web based applications for my daily tasks. I have even found an easy to use, password protected, wiki that I am experimenting with trying to use for notes and such. I love Firefox for all of the reasons I have mentioned before (speed, customizability, etc.) but it is missing some things that I did not know how much I relied on until I was not able to use them (Mac OS X Services support, built in spell checking, autofilling of web forms to name a few). This has become even more apparent since I got on the web app bandwagon. Safari a better choice for many of the things I do but I like so many of the features of Firefox…
If anyone out there has an opinion or suggestion I would love your input.

A Week With My iPod as PDA (Part 3)…

Well, as I suggested previously, I realized that I really do not use a PDA much at all anymore. The combination of Moleskine and Backpack and Mobile Phone are powerful enough that I need nothing else when out and about. I may still use the iPod on those rare cases when I need to look up an appointment or contact but since I can have Backpack send SMS reminders to my phone for events and my most used contacts are in my phone I have found the need to do this is minimal at best.
If nothing else, this has allowed me to test my system of using those tools and prove their soundness. As a matter of fact, I am amazed at how well Backpack has become integrated into my workflow and I will do another post soon regarding this subject.
Now, I am just trying to come up with another “Week With” experiment to try because I am feeling rather uninspired at the moment.

Backpack is The New Black

I really wanted to post more about Backpack and how I have integrated it with my personal organization system-fu. As I may have mentioned before, I have become a bit of a convert to David Allen’s Getting Things Done methodology (as has the rest of the world it seems lately). While I am no Merlin Mann level guru, I have taken on a number of the principles that best apply to my workflow. Ever since the introduction of Backpack I have found it more and more indispensable.
The first way in which I use Backpack is for my context based lists. Instead of having a master to-do list I instead have separate lists based on context. One titled “@Computer” for instance for tasks that need to be done on or while at my computer. “@Home” for items to be done at home. “@Errands” for anything to be done while out and about. You get the picture I am sure. In Backpack, I have separate pages for each of these lists and add, complete and delete items as needed. I can also add notes, files and pictures related to those list items to that very same page.
Secondly, I find Backpack a great place to be able to store info and then, if I need to, share that important info with others. Bethany and I are taking a trip to Seattle in June. I thought it would be great to have a page that we could share and collaboratively add stuff to regarding the trip. In minutes I was able to create a page with our flight and hotel information and share that with her so that she and I can both add to it (a list of restaurants we want to visit while there for instance).
Lastly, the reminders feature in Backpack is killer. It is so simple yet so powerful. Even though I put calendar items in Now Up-to-Date, I actually put the reminder for that item in Backpack if it is something that requires it. Why? Well because having it both send me an e-mail (which I then have forwarded to all of my accounts) and an SMS message to my mobile phone ensures that I do not miss the reminder and get it anywhere. It just plain works.
One of the great parts of Backpack is that I can log in from anything that has a web browser. Secondly, I can add content to the lists via e-mail (A nifty feature of Backpack is that you can e-mail items to any page) so I can fire off an e-mail to add items if that is more convenient.
So here is my extended workflow beyond what has been discussed previously:

  1. Capture information in my Moleskine or in my Inbox (either the physical and virtual ones)
  2. If it is a to-do item I put it into one of my Backpack Lists. If it is a calendar item, it goes into Now Up-to-Date and Backpack if it needs a reminder. Notes can go a iety of places right now depending on what they are. Notational Velocity, NoteTaker and Backpack are all possible destinations. Note: I would love to eventually stream all of my notes into one location. Maybe, in my progression into using web based applications for the majority of the storage of my info, a Wiki might be a good idea.

  3. Rinse and Repeat

Well, there it is for what it is worth. As my org-fu improves I will provide further updates that it may also help yours or at least point you to some useful tools. At least now you can see why my last “Week With…” was a complete failure.

A Week With My iPod As PDA (Part 1)

In a previous post, I noted that I was using my iPod to hold and retrieve my contacts while out and about. I have found that it’s as quick as using my Palm Tungsten T2 to do the same thing. This got me thinking, since the only reason I am using my Palm is to access my schedule, then why not sync my Now Up-to-Date data to the iPod, some key notes that I need to access to and see if I can just use that for all of the functions I was using my Palm for. It also means having one less device to carry around.
Therefore, I am going to do it. I will place the Palm on it’s charger starting today and will use my iPod for the remaining things I was using my Palm for. It is my hope that I can prove to myself once and for all that I really don’t need it anymore and that I can do just fine with the iPod, my Moleskine and Backpack for reminders (since the iPod alarm is much too short and quiet for me to hear).
Check back at the end of the week to see the results.

A Week With Backpack (Part 2)…

OK, I have very little time. We are in the middle of getting our computer deliveries in preparation for the summer here at work so I am swamped. Personal time? Well that is swamped too but I owe you, the reading public, an update to my (now more than a) week with Backpack. Therefore, this will be a short one.
I have mainly been using Backpack for my work related items and for that it has been great. I really like it, though it is still young and has some potential that it is not quite reaching. The ability to create reminders and have those sent via e-mail and/or SMS to your cell phone is a godsend. I also like the ability to create free form pages that can include lists, notes, images, links (both to other Backpack pages or to the web) and to share those pages with others. There are already many tips, tricks and hacks to extend this built in functionality to it’s boundaries. It is a great place to keep some lists, notes or light projects (if you are looking for a heavier project management tool then look no further than 37 Signals other product Basecamp which I have mentioned here before). Not only that but you can add any of these items by sending an e-mail to any of your backpack pages. A great way to add content on the fly.
There are some things I wish it had that it currently does not. For instance, I wish I could re-order the items on a page. the order in which lists (only one list per page – therefore, separate lists must live on separate pages!), notes, images and links live is very static. I also wish there was a “move this item to page named pagename feature was there so you could easily move these items between pages. This would make the “e-mail items” feature much more useful because you could just send everything to one page and move it around later. All the same, it looks like the folks at 37 Signals are working very hard to take feature requests and feedback through the Backpack forum they have put in place and so i have no doubt that many new features will be forthcoming.
Therefore, i will continue to use Backpack as I have been, mostly for work related items and lists but may move a lot of my personal stuff there in the future if the promise of the potential becomes reality.

Week With Delay

My week with Backpack part 2 post will be delayed by perhaps several days as several items in my life will take much higher priority and I will not have the time to sit down and type it out. This will also most likely mean that my next “week with” post will be pushed back as well. I am really sorry but time has not been on my side lately.

A Week With Backpack (Part 1)…

OK, so I have been talking about this now for weeks and it was finally released today. I really wanted to write about my first experiences with Backpack, the new web based organizational tool from 37 Signals, Therefore, I had to delay this week’s “Week With” and will post the followup a day late accordingly (Saturday).
Backpack allows one to gather notes, lists, reminders, links, images and files all in one easy to use web based application. What makes it even more innovative is the way in which you can add items like notes and to-do items. Besides being able to simply add them from within Backpack, you can e-mail notes and items to yourself. In turn, you can create reminders which can be e-maiiled to you or sent to your phone via SMS. All very useful to a forgetful organization fiend such as myself.
I will be attempting to use Backpack for all manner of personal items and work related items. While I doubt it will replace Now Up-to-Date for me quite yet, I will attempt to use it this week for as many things as possible. Those who know me know I am constantly looking for that one über-organization tool to rule my life. Could this be it? I will also use it for all of my Carleton related to-do items and reminders as I have been quite lax on keeping a system to track those to-do items for lack of wanting to take the time to develop one(All of the while needing to do so).
I also have another project that I am working on that is a good fit for Basecamp, a web based project management tool by the same company. Therefore, I may also do some comparison and contrast of features and uses. All in all it should be a fun ride. Tune back on Saturday week for Part 2.

Taking Note

Since upgrading to paper is all the rage amongst us technocrats these days, I have seen many a blog post elsewhere about note taking systems, hacks and other useful ideas. Therefore, in order to add to the banter, here is the way I have been using my Moleskine notebook and the evolution of my note/list system.
I largely use my Moleskine as what I refer to as my Core Dump. This is the “inbox for the stuff in my head”. Basically, anything that is floating in my mental RAM gets dumped into the acid free pages of my notebook. Most of these items are to-do type action items (Get Dog Food, Organize Monthly Bills, etc.) but some of these items are not. Some could be ideas, quotes, things I want to post to the blog, telephone numbers, etc. Then, as the actions get performed and the other items appropriately processed I mark them off as such. While this may sound simple enough, it kind of started off a little clunky. The actual method I started using is nothing like the way it is now. Like any good system, the more I have been using it the more it has evolved to better fit my needs. Here is how that evolution unfolded.
System v.1
I started out dividing up each of two facing pages. The left hand page would be for non to-do items. The right hand page for to-do items. This worked well enough for a while. The non to-do section was like scratch paper. The to-do section had dashes before the items to delineate them and, as items were completed, I placed a check mark on the right hand side of the item in a different color (preferably red). I did this so that the checks would stand out and the “open loops” would be readily apparent to me.
The first problem with this system… I was always forgetting to use a red pen for the checkmarks. Therefore, the ones I marked a check next to with a regular pen constantly caught my eye as a non-completed item when doing a quick scan of a page. It did not stand out enough. So I came up with this…
– Non Completed Item
+ Completed item
In other words, action items still have a “dash” that proceeds and, thusly, separates each item. When the item is complete, I draw a vertical line through the “dash” thus making it resemble a “plus”. This makes the dashed items stand out quite well despite the fact that the same color pen is used.
System v.2
I went with this for a while. Same page layout but with a different to-do/action item marking system as described above. But there was still something not quite right. It took me a while to put my finger on it but when I did it seemed so simple that I almost kicked myself for not getting it right away. I was making things more complex and convoluted than they needed to be.
See, many of the non to-do items actually had to be processed as well. For instance, an address or telephone number needed to be entered into my contact database. Passwords needed to be entered into my password manager. Blog ideas needed to be posted. Web sites bookmarked… You get the idea. In other words, these were action items too. This was not readily apparent to me but there they were. Therefore, why am I separating these items? Why am I using two separate pages. Why not just mark these items down and treat them like the action item they really are?
System v.3
I now have all items, no matter what they are, as action items to be processed. They follow the same dash/plus system as mentioned above. When any item is processed beyond the boundaries of the page it is marked as such and separated by date. It looks something like this:
– Get Dog Food and treats for Roy
– Prepare proposal for new Mac purchases
+ Blog Idea: My note taking/to-do system
– Doctor’s appointment to Calendar
+ Call Tom Miller re: Dinner
        • 612-555-5555
– Deposit Check
You get the idea. This not only is more user friendly but also gives me a kind of daily journal of my activities. Even though it may seem only slightly different than when I started, I am much happier and more productive with this version of the system. Proof that even the smallest changes can have a powerful impact.
Other Tweaks
There are a couple of other Moleskine Hacks that I employ. I do use a Post-it™ index tab to mark the page I am currently at because while the built in ribbon page marker is quaint I find it not as efficient. I also keep some small Post-it™ notes (the 2 inch square size) on the inside back cover near opposite of the pocket so that I may have somewhere to write a note to pass to someone else.
Future Needs
No system is ever perfect and this one is no exception. I would like to come up with and easy and non obtrusive way to mark the date I process or complete an item. These do not always get done on the date that they are listed under ( I never claimed to be as productive as my obsession with productivity would dictate).
As always, I am interested to hear of other peoples systems and tips, tricks and tweaks. Feel free to post them in the comments if you have them.