Weekly links post for 29th of January–TED edition

A collection of posts and articles about productivity, time management, tools and technology.

This weeks edition presents a number of TED talks on goals, success, choice and need for speed. Check out what others have discovered and if you can apply that in you life.

  1. Derek Sivers: Keep your goals to yourself
  2. Arianna Huffington: How to succeed? Get more sleep
  3. Richard St. John’s 8 secrets of success
  4. Barry Schwartz on the paradox of choice
  5. Carl Honore praises slowness

Projects and mind maps go hand in hand

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In the last couple of weeks I’ve been discovering how well projects and mind maps work together.

I subscribe to the GTD based notion that anything that takes more than two steps is a project. As result my project list grows at a very fast pace. For the moment I’m fine with that and using a mind map to manage that really makes a difference.

Also projects from a key element of my work so it’s easy for me to think and work “in projects”. As in my workplace pretty much everything is a project setting up my workflow around this makes much more sense.

In the last couple years I’ve been using Outlook to manage projects and actions. Outlook is great for creating action lists, unfortunately projects don’t fit into it well.

I’ve tried many different approaches to handle projects but was not very successful. Unless you buy a special add-on (not possible in my workplace) your choices are limited. Finally, I’ve settled on using categories to separate actions and projects and waiting for’s. Project details were recorded in the notes section. That was sufficient but not great.

I had my project list in plain view but nothing more, unless I’ve opened each project I couldn’t see what’s next, where the project was, etc.

Recently I’ve discovered that I can get installed a Mindjet’s MindManager Pro on my work computer. I immediately requested access and began transferring all my stuff into a mind map.Thanks to embedded Outlook sync I’ve exported all my projects and tasks into a single dashboard like map.

Initially I thought I’ll be using a single map for everything, projects, actions, ideas, calendar etc. Unfortunately I quickly discovered that this only lead to visual overload and makes managing tasks more complicated. I’ve settled on creating a dashboard like map which includes my current, future and closed projects. In addition I’ve added links to other maps which include my current goals, someday/maybe items etc.

My projects reside in mind map however actions are synced/inputted to Outlook. It’s purely practical reason. Outlook is open whole day for me so it’s easier to focus on the actual things to do in there.

Why I moved from Outlook to MindManager? and

Why MindManager or any other mind mapping software will work?

  • Single place. Having all in one map provides better overview of my commitments. I can see straight away how many projects are there and what’s their weight. In addition projects can be broken up by tasks so I can see how big is the project or what’s involved in it.
  • Focus. I can select a project with it’s sub tasks and move to new branch This way all I’ll see is that one item I should be focusing on. There is no distraction from seeing other items on my list.
  • Defence against distractions. Having an outline of tasks necessary for each project makes it easier to jump in and work on it for 15 to 30 minutes. And when ever someone interrupts I always know where I was and what’s next.
  • Tracking. Adding a quick update to mind maps is very easy. Something happened, an idea occurred, new task I can simply add those things when needed. Very often projects change direction and so the related tasks. Using mind map allows to capture all these things so that your list is current and up to date.
  • Archiving and reference. Once project is done I file away with all it’s notes, completed subtasks etc. If there is a need to go back and check what was done I can always do that and have a clear overview.

I’m still at a stage of refining the whole setup and workflow but the results are very encouraging. I can see that I’m handling a lot of stuff. This is good for two reasons I can show that I’m doing a good job and juggle a lot of projects. On the flip side if I struggle to keep up rather than let things slide I can ask for help and pass a well defined project to a colleague.

If you have access to any mind mapping software my suggestion is to try it out, see if you can improve on your work performance.

Weekly Links post for 22nd January

 

A collection of posts and articles about productivity, time management, tools and technology.

  1. How to Be Successful When You Can’t Plan Ahead
  2. You are in control when you can see it all
  3. 10 Tips for Teachers Using Evernote – Education Series
  4. The Complete Dropbox for Educators
  5. Why it’s ok to be obvious

If you have any interesting articles please share them in the comments section.

Building simple productivity system

Solar system

photo by  Ernst Vikne

Why/What you need

Before you can start building anything you need to know why are you doing and and what do you need it for. Simple answer to question why is to be more effective, to be more organised, to get the right things done, to have more time. You might have other reasons but above would be most common.

What you need in your system will depend on the methodology you’re subscribing to. Perhaps like me you may be a practitioner of David Allen’s Getting Things Done method or you might prefer Steven Covey 7 Habits of highly effective people, maybe Mark Forster’s Do it tomorrow has a greater appeal to you.

Regardless from the method you choose there are certain elements that are mentioned in every approach. They may appear under different name or in different combinations yet they all are referring to the same. The key categories include following items.

– actions/task list

– projects and project plans

– reference material

These three categories cover full spectrum of tasks you may encounter. Simple one off items get added to task list. More complex thing are broken down on project list. This way it’s keep stuff in control and don’t loose those multistep items. Once you are done and want to keep a record of your process and achievements you can save them in reference files along with interesting articles, ideas  etc.

There is a great number of applications used for managing this type of content.I’ve decided to use following services and programs.

  • Remember the Milk – tasks and lists that I use on regular basis.
  • Freeplane – project list, project action plans, goals, multi-step endeavours.
  • Evernote – reference material, project support documents.

Why I’ve chosen these products?

First off all they are simple to use and setup. Because they are good in their particular areas I can get better amount of focus. For example if I’m in Evernote I know there are no tasks for the to look at as any active action/task gets logged to Remember the Milk.

All applications come for free and provide enough features to make you a very productive person. If you want to support developers you can go pro and add couple more features which make the products ever better.

All programs are completely cross platform is some shape or form. This means I can access my tasks, reference material on my Android phone when ever I need. If I have new idea I can always add it to one of my lists. Remember the Milk and Evernote have great mobile clients. My Freeplane maps are compatible with ThinkingSpace application on Android which makes my projects fully accessible from any where.

What’s also important for me is the information flow between these application. Although there is no sync between these services thanks to email I can push some data from one service to another. Alternatively I can take snaps of my mind maps and add to my project files.

These there relatively simple applications allow me the create a system that’s simple, accessible anywhere and free*.

If you use different setup or can recommend other applications please share them in the comments section.

 

[*Just a little note of disclosure: I’m using a pro version of Remember the Milk and will be subscribing to Evernote Pro in next couple of weeks. I’m paying for both on my own.]

Weekly Links post for 15th of January

A collection of posts and articles about productivity, time management, tools and technology.

  1. Get Things Done Like a Zen Master
  2. My current workflow system
  3. Mind Mapping for Productive Research and Writing
  4. 7 Discipline-builders for Remote Workers
  5. Processing time – discussion from GTD forums

If you have any interesting articles please share them in the comments section.

Your basic productivity tools

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Wakoopa

Many people consider productivity tools as applications like task managers, reference databases, calendars, diaries etc. they good for making us more organized more focused but not to produce any work, not to design presentations and writing reports.

When you look at the usage patters the primary productivity tools are not calendars or task managers but word processors,  spreadsheet applications, presentation design tools.

These are the programs that allow us to produce something. These are our tools that allow us getting the work done. We use them everyday, we write reports, read emails, compile data. Word, Excel, Keynote are our basic tools.

Office applications developed for over 20 years grew in features and became more sophisticated. Today’s workplace tools have hundreds of features and functions. User guides and tutorials have thousand and more pages. There are countless websites and forums devoted to answering all sort of questions about them.

Despite the availability of information and training many knowledge workers simply don’t know the tools they are using. Most people spent hundred of hours every year using those tools yet they never go beyond the basics they have learned in their early years of office work.

Not many see the link that being proficient with the software helps get the work done.Many businesses are all about finding efficiencies and increasing productivity yet they look at software proficiency as one of the elements of their strategy. Perhaps they think that it’s enough what they know but is it really, can you really tell that you know everything about your field of work, can you really say that you don’t need to learn.

I think when you look are the obstacles that prevent you from moving forward ability to use software might be one of them. Think of this, if you were a writer would faster typing skills and better knowledge of word processing program not improve your chances or if you are an analyst would better understanding of spreadsheet and database software not improve your chances. 

By learning the ins and outs of the software you can save yourself a ton of time and use it on developing your knowledge and other skills. You can create custom phrases, improve the speed at which you operate, make thing more appealing, and finally go beyond simple ctrl+c or ctrl+x and abandon that mouse.

There are over 500 million Microsoft Office users worldwide that use Word, Excel and Outlook on daily basis. Therefore I’m listing just a dozen of various resources which help you increase your knowledge of above applications.

Keyboard shortcuts:

Keyboard shortcuts for Microsoft Word

Keyboard shortcuts for Microsoft Excel

Keyboard shortcuts for Microsoft Outlook

Functions, tips & tricks, how-tos:

Officeusers.org

Bnet.com/Microsoft office

MSOfficegurus.com

How to Geek/Microsoft office

Ultimate List Of Office 2010 Tips & Tricks

PC Unleashed

How to Outlook

MSoffice.us

Weekly Links post 8st January

A collection of posts and articles about productivity, time management, tools and technology.

  1. Use Mind Maps to Achieve Your Goals

  2. Gantt, PERT, or Task Calendar: Which Scheduling Model is Best for Your Project?

  3. How Handwriting Trains the Brain

  4. How to conduct your own annual review

  5. Switch Off Your Social Self – Switch On Your Creativity

If you have any interesting articles please share them in the comments section.

Managing inputs

There were 90 trillion of emails sent in 2009. There are over 500 million Facebook users and over 160 million Twitter users. That means a lot of messages (to say the least) is produced on daily basis. If you add to that request at work from boss and co workers, family and home demands, newspapers, radio and TV  and it all adds up to a huge number of inputs that hit you everyday.
It’s a lot to digest and process. 

If you follow the principles of GTD it may result in being overwhelmed with the incoming information. If you allow all items to enter your space you’re risking overloading and getting bog down in stuff that is not relevant. With an increasing volume of information there is an on-going need to manage the inputs and keep them in balance.
There are couple ways to do that.

Consolidate

Each of us has a number of inboxes around them. Email at home, at work, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Flickr, magazines, rss news reader, paper notepads, desk trays etc. This results in a number of places that need to be checked for new content. To reduce the number of points o contact you can channel all your items into one or two inboxes.

You can push every electronic bit of communication into your email. This way you have only one place to look at and you can manage everything from there. This solution will be dependent on the volume of email you already receive if it’s high it might be difficult to manage everything appropriately.

With non electronic stuff you can set up a single place at your house where it will be held until processed. Rather than keep it in the car, home office, kitchen.

This type of consolidation may not work for everyone as it streams everything into one place and some people prefer to compartmentalise things. It helps them maintain better focus and attention on incoming inputs. But if single point of contact appeals to you it’s quite easy to setup.

Eliminate

It’s very easy to get signed up to  a three dozen of newsletters, new blogs, two social networks etc.  Everything seems nice and simple you talk bit here, leave a comment there, check out latest updates of your buddies. However in the end you have a number of places where new information is added constantly and unread count is growing.

One side effect of consolidation can be elimination. As you are working on channelling your items into fewer points of contact you should always consider those sources too. Do they bring any value, do you learn anything new, is this someone important etc.?
By cutting things no longer valid you make a space for other things you want to do. Also you reduce the time needed to process your stuff and get inspiration from higher quality sources.

Front-end loading

In GTD methodology you leave stuff in your inboxes or let them collect things for you. Once you have some time, you start processing things looking at individual items and making decisions about them.
If you find this process too much try to evaluate things as soon as they show up. Skip the inbox and make decision up-front.  If that email, conversation, book, article does not look interesting get rid off it. Don’t finish it as it’s a waste of you time and space in your self management system.

A good example of this is asking a  question whether particular item is useful now. Don’t worry about the future too much. If you need it later you can always search for it.
Certain limitation might be the ability to make decision quickly and being confident about them. I think this comes with time and experience so it can be learned.

Conclusion

Being exposed to new ideas, information is important for your development and new inputs keep your system going but throwing too much data onto it will clog it up. This is not practical nor useful strategy for getting good things done. You’ll never be short of inputs so there is no need to but more than you can use.
The key point of any self management system is to help you create, produce and deliver rather than deal with inputs.