Weekly links post for 26th February

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

  1. A Better Filing System for Public Speakers (and Writers)
  2. 10 Realizations For Productivity & Pushing Ideas Forward
  3. Evernote for Students: The Ultimate Research Tool – Education Series
  4. Don’t Get Too Attached To Your Own Work. Throw It Out And Start Over
  5. The Art of the Audacious Goal

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

GTD Projects series – software list

IMAG0063Last week I went through a list of different tools that you could use for managing different stages of project. This week I wanted to continue this topic with an actual software picks.

As you can imagine different people will use different tools to manage their task and bigger outcomes. The actual choice will be driven by couple factor that include project needs, price, complexity of the tool.

I personally think that first three categories will be sufficient for managing any personal or small projects that require a limited degree of planning and tracking. If however you’re assigned with organising a conference or building a house then you need to consider more powerful solutions.   

My current tool of choice is Evernote and Freeplane. I also play a bit with GanttProject to better grasp concept of Gantt chars and it’s benefits.

One of the simplest ways for kick starting a project is opening a simple document dumping all the ideas and then putting them in the right order. Great way to do that is to use an outliner. The choice of applications for that purpose is massive however the more popular are:

Notepad (free)

Notepad++ (free and open source)

Microsoft Word (commercial)

Onenote (commercial)

Evernote (free/commercial)

 

If visual thinking is your domain there are countless mind mapping solution available online and for you desktop. If you want to start playing with the concept and use them for managing projects good choices are:

Freemind/Freeplane (free and open-source)

XMind (free/commercial)

Mind Manager (commercial)

 

As I noted in my last week’s post Gantt charts are fantastic way to put all the tasks involved in completion of a project into a time line. This can be further analysed for dependencies, critical paths etc. If you want to dive in and test few applications

GanttProject (free and open source)

Microsoft Excel (commercial)

Google Docs (free/commercial)

Toms Planner (free/commercial)

 

For big projects where you need to track a multiple things like tasks, milestones, people, resources, budget etc., you may need to refer to some power horse applications:

Microsoft Project (commercial)

OpenProj (free, open-source)

 

Saving documentation and research material can be integral part of the project so you need a tool to handle that too:

Basecamp (commercial)

Onenote (commercial)

Evernote (free/commercial)

 

Do you use different tools for managing project? Please share your experiences in the comments section.

Weekly Links for 19th February

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

  1. Compartmentalize and Get More Done
  2. Dashboarding for greater productivity
  3. The Benefits Of Using A Mind Map As A Personal Dashboard
  4. 10 Big Ideas from “10 Days to Faster Reading” by Abby Marks-Beale
  5. Keeping it all together with Personal Kanban

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

GTD Project series – project tools.

IMAG0063
This is part two of series of posts focusing on GTD and project. Last week I’ve covered the natural planning model. This week I want to focus on some of the tools which you could use to make the process of managing projects a lot easier. Having the right tools around can assist in making sure that the project was fully captured and we can access the plan to review next actions and track progress.

When working on a project there are three categories of information that need to be taken care of.

  • Brainstorming – this is where you collect all your ideas that are related to a project. Key element in the idea creation stage is to let them flow freely and record as quickly and easy as possible.
  • Project plans – once you’re collected all your ideas related to a project you can start organising them into sections, components, next actions.
  • Project support material – a major project will require a lot of research, planning, idea creation sessions, setting up new relationships, testing documentation etc. All these documents need to be kept on file and in one place so one can always refer to them when needed.

There are 7 tool types that can handle any project.

  • Pen and paper – pen and paper is one of most versatile project tools. It’s dead simple and readily available. However the key of it is that it can be used for any aspect of project flow. You can use if for brainstorming, for organising your ideas into project plans. As you go on your research again pen and paper that can help you capture the stories behind things, the images, the details etc. For me almost every project starts with some scribbles captured on paper. I find it super easy and super simple to get things going. There is nothing distracting me. To kick off any project simply grab a pen and some paper that’s around you and start writing.
  • Text outliners – another simple way to work your projects is to use text outliner. This application allow you to create multilevel structures that can be very easily reorganized and reshuffled when needed. For people who are fast typists using outliner can be a great way to dump all their ideas very quickly and then rearrange into a plan. There is no need to rewrite thing as you would do it on paper which some of you might find discouraging and waste of time. Due to simplicity text outliner can fulfil any purpose in project workflow. Although I’m no longer a big user of outliners I had some great results with applications like MS Onenote, Evernote and simple text file. If you’re big MS Word user the outline mode is pretty powerful.
  • Mind maps – if visual representation of your projects is important for you than mind maps are definitely a place to explore. The concept of mind map is very simple and it basically describes creating a web of ideas interconnected with lines and relationships starting from one central point. If you use mind maps on paper they are a great way to brainstorm an idea, flesh things out and clear your head. However if you go a step further and start using mind map on a computer the possibilities expand greatly. You are not only able to brainstorm but you can manage the whole project from establishing the purpose to tracking next actions. You can move things around, drag and drop them between branches. There can be added almost infinite amount of detail as you add layer after layer additional points. As maps can be expanded and collapsed you can set the see only the relevant amount of information. The reason I like mind map is twofold. First I like the visual side of mind maps including web like structure, colours and lines. Second element is flexibility to organize things exactly as I want.
  • Excel /Gantt charts – if you’re looking for little more advanced ways for managing projects and want to capture an lot detail associated with a task that later is analysed for various criteria excel and other spread sheet solutions might be for you. As oppose to mind maps this type of tool is most appropriate for actual tracking and laying out task rather than any creative work. It allows seeing the sequences and dependencies of various sections and elements of a project.
  • Project management software – if you need to do some heavy lifting in terms of managing projects you may turn to a specialised applications. These programs allow tracking multiple steps, dependencies, resources, critical paths etc. For most individuals and smaller companies using this type of software wouldn’t be necessary and more likely would require more work to manage to system than it’s worth.
  • Whiteboards – I must admit I don’t have a lot of experience with this tool but It’s inevitably great way to kick start a big project when you have to deal with a group of people. In a team or group setting the key is to make sure everyone has access to information. Whiteboard allow precisely that.During the brainstorming process every member of the group can see other ideas, build on them, purpose new solutions. Once the plan has been put in place whiteboards can become project dashboards communicating progress, current focus, obstacles etc.
  • Document databases – some project require gathering a substantial amount of information and research that need to be stored and accessible by the team of kept for archiving purposes.One of the easier ways to manage this is to use already existing file and folder structure to save documents, notes etc. The key element is to make sure that information can be easily located and retrieved and act as a trigger for further idea generation or project development.

Managing a project can be an art of itself and it’s super easy to get focused on little details, finding a 20th way to organise the actions. As result you end up using project management software to keep track tyre change. The key is to use tools that are just right enough and for majority of people and project they have to deal with a simple sheet of paper or text file with ideas will bring more clarity and progress than the fanciest management tool.

Weekly Links for 12th Feb

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

  1. The lure of distraction…
  2. 7 Must Read Success Lessons from Stephen Covey
  3. Tips and Tricks for Smart Project Planning
  4. Why the 80/20 Rule Could Make You Less Productive
  5. 10 Ways to Stop Multitasking & Be More Effective

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

GTD Project Series: Natural planning model

IMAG0063Do you have projects that are stale and not going anywhere? Do you have new great idea but not sure how to implement it?
In the series of upcoming post I’ll cover various elements of running projects using GTD methodology and hopefully help you finding a good solution.

Taking on any project without a plan is a recipe for disaster. With dozens of other things coming your way and no plan to refer to it’s easy to lose a track, purpose and direction of any task.

David Allen in his Getting Things Done book outlines a five phase model called natural planning model.As you will see below many of the steps are simple common sense. Unfortunately often times we forget about them and search for new ways to get on track rather than really get back on it.

For most of us planning happens in our head quickly and effectively. Actually we barely notice it. However it’s worth to examine what are the stages of planning process.

Purpose and Principles

This is first and second step of the planning process. It’s about finding an answer to question “why do I/we do it”. It’s about defining what the purpose of the project is. It’s very simple but powerful question that brings clarity and direction to any project or endeavour. Getting this question straight acts as catalyst in defining following:

  • success – if you know what done looks like you can then tell when project has been successfully finished.
  • decisions– knowing why you do what you do makes the decision process a whole lot easier.
  • resource allocation – there is never enough resources available, there are time limits, people limits, budgetary limits. Having clear picture of why let you find best ways to use available resources and align them in most effective ways.
  • keeps your motivation – it’s not uncommon that we do things on autopilot, never knowing why we do it. “We always did that” you can often hear. Clarifying with your co-workers and employees why they do the project helps them better understand it and make the effort rather than slog through it.
  • clarity & focus – it’s so easy to be distracted by feature creep, by adding new services, options, variations. You could always change something even by a tiny bit. In the end the project starts to drag on and on without end on horizon. Setting the why straight will get you focused on the core functionality of a product or service.
  • more options – this is a paradox but defining purpose brings focus on one side and permits for greater creativity for designing the how element.

When setting up a new project I try to spend couple minute figuring out why I want to do it and what do I expect to deliver. Just to give you an example. I’m planning a weekend trip to London which is a gift for my wife’s birthday. Why am I doing this, first you give her the gift I promised, then to spend some quality time visiting museums, galleries etc.

Vision/Outcome

Where the Purpose and Principles describe the “why” the third element of the process is focused on defining “what”.

It’s about creating a clear picture of the success, the end state where a project is deemed finished. To make that picture more real try to see the success, smell it, feel it.

vision provides actual blueprint of the final result

Seeing yourself completing the project allows brain to create and discover new ideas, information and connections that are stored on subconscious level. Often times that lack of knowledge of how to do things is holding us back and we hope that someone will tell us what to do. Developing the skill of visioning we can bridge the gap of how by letting our creativity to do the job.

The result of outcome visioning can be a single line statement or paragraph and more. It all depends on your needs and the project you want to tackle.

Three steps of clarifying the outcome:

– view the project from beyond the end date

– envision WILD SUCCESS, total completion

– capture all features, elements, qualities of the image.

Going back to my London trip example the successful trip will be having spent 3 days enjoying the culture, sights, food and atmosphere.

Brainstorming

At this stage you know the answers to what and to why so it’s time to figure out the how.

This process is designed to allow you to fill all the blanks between where you are and where you want to get.

Brainstorming is a fantastic exercise that lets your creativity to go wild; all you have to do it note all the ideas.
Completing this in a group setting is really good as people have different experiences, knowledge, views and may contribute things you wouldn’t have come up with.

Let them flow out of your head for as long as necessary. Don’t judge or analyse go for the quantity not quality.

There are plenty of tools that can help you with brainstorming. Many people use text files and mind maps on their computer. My preference is pen and paper but I also swap it for a mind map.

Again I will use the London trip as example. As with any trip there is a lot consider, flights, time off at work, accommodation, transport, opening hours, money, places to see etc. I will jot down all these items and then use them to create a more concrete plan.

Organising

Once you’ve emptied your head you will start notice that natural order emerges. You will start to see patterns, sequences, connections between all those ‘random’ thoughts.

You can start with identifying larger parts and key elements. Than you can drill down to see if there are any sub-tasks or deadlines or other details that need to be added. The level of granularity will depend on you preferences but you should aim at creating a small enough chunks that you’re comfortable to complete in a single sitting.Once you finish organising process you will have a complete project plan.

I usually do it in a mind map or text outliner on my computer as I like the visual effects and ease of manipulating. But to be honest anything will work if you prefer pen and paper you’ll as well.

Next Actions

The final step of the planning is to decide on next actions that need to be taken to make things happen. This is a critical stage where your commitment to completion of the project is tested. There is no point in planning if you’re not intending to take any action.

When scanning your project plan for things to do you’re most likely to come across three categories of tasks:

  • working on the steps – basically this is an actual thing to do like: read a book, email John, call Mike.
  • doing more planning – sometimes you are still not 100% clear about the project, it’s plan etc. In such case you need to spend little more time fleshing things until you’re happy that you’ve captured everything.
  • waiting for someone – some actions will belong to other people, so before you can move forward with anything you need to get an approval, receive a quote etc. For larger projects, parts of it are allocated to groups of people or outsourced and they become responsible for all next steps.

This is a basic overview of the workflow. Each time you’re facing a large task that can’t be fishing in one go try break it down in to smaller pieces. Setting up a project plan and action lists will help you keep track of things and make progress when possible.

Next week I will look at some of the tools that can assist you in managing projects.

Weekly Links for 5th of February

 

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

  1. Actions, Insights and Notes
  2. 3 Take Aways
  3. The Complete Guide to Project-Based Learning
  4. Taking Content Strategy Personally
  5. Knowledge Is … All About Working Smarter, Not Necessarily Harder!

 

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

Projects, mind maps – the workflow

A Thousand Gates 
photo by : -ratamahatta-

A week ago I posted that I’ve moved my projects to MindManager. I outlined there why I did it and what benefits I’ve been noticing.

What I would like to share now is the impact of mind map on the workflow aka how things work.

Feeding the project list.

All new projects big or small come via to sources email or paper notes. As new items arrive I review them every couple of hours and make necessary decisions. If things are classified as projects then they get added to my project list. When I know what’s required to complete the project I would quickly jot down key actions/tasks and outline them as subtopics.

For projects that came via email I usually drag the original message into my map. This way I have the original message handy so I can extract any important or useful information.

Project list & current focus

I split currently open projects between two lists or branches on my mind map.
Current focus branch includes projects that I actively work on and that I want to push forward. This list usually contains between 4-5 items.
When deciding what goes on that list I try to balance the important and the urgent.
Project list branch includes all other project that I have open and I should finish. These include things were I wait for others to complete their part or projects that I started a while ago but were pushed to a side due to other commitments. What I also do when I’ve completed actions from current focus list I usually refer to project list and try to find items I could work on in that moment. This way I’m able to chip away some of the open items.

Actions, Outlook sync & text markers

As I mentioned above if project is simple and I have good idea what I want to do I usually jot all related actions as subtopics. This is way I have a full overview of the necessary work.
Once I outline the tasks depending on their status I would sync them with outlook which is default piece of software in any corporation. This is one of more powerful features of Mindmanager. All next actions can be pushed into Outlook without too much hassle or re-typing.
In addition to sync I’m using a couple text markers. Text markers allow you to assign image/icon to a topic to highlight certain pieces. At the moment I’m using two of these one to indicate waiting for’s and one to highlight ideas. I’m considering introduction if third marker to indicate those projects that are directly related to my year-end goals.

Alerts

Although I try to keep reminders of events, to-dos, information items in Outlook I find more and more that assigning alerts to elements of my mind map really helps to draw attention to important items. Also by setting a reminder in the dashboard itself once it goes off it brings up the topic and provides context to it. Rather than see “John due to deliver X” I can see “John to deliver X” as part of project Y etc.

Daily and weekly checks

To keep the projects dashboard current and relevant I need to makes sure that the information if fresh and accurate. To do that I make sure I review it at least once a day to extract relevant next actions and follow up items and move items between ‘current focus’ list and my ‘master project list’. I try to do it each evening before I leave work.
Then as the map stays open whole day I update it as I work on different items. When I process my notes or email I add new projects to the list, when I’m done with one I move it to my ‘Projects_Closed’ branch.

Focused view

As my map grows in size it’s easy to lose focus and get distracted by the sheer volume. This is one of the reasons I’m using ‘current focus’ list also the Mind Manager itself has a very neat feature called focused view. What it does is basically zoom all the attention on selected topic. All other branches are closed the the higher possible level. All you can see is the topic you’ve selected and any subtopics. This way if you need to get into the zone and push that one project ahead you can bring up that one item and hide the rest.

I mentioned that I use text markers to highlight some parts of my projects. Mindmanager allows me to filter branches and topics based on a specific text marker. This way I can get an overview of my waiting fors, some ideas that I might be developing or how I progress toward my goals.

At the moment I’m at the end of first month of using this setup and so far I’m very pleased with it. There are still some issued that I need to iron out but overall it works very well.
I will be replicating this approach for my home workflow as well although I will use Freeplane rather than Mindmanager. At the moment I can’t justify the cost.

Do you use mind maps for managing projects? If you do, please share them in the comments section.