Techology Decisions Innovation

Innovation

Finding a new solution requires going beyond what’s currently available or considered as possible.
It requires a lot of effort and approach that goes against popular thinking. The99precent.com presents a very good list of ideas and strategies to become more innovative.

What It Takes To Innovate: Wrong-Thinking, Tinkering & Intuiting

Technology

Advent of new tools and technologies makes us lost, the choice is limitless, differences are often barely noticeable. It’s all confusing so minimalism seems like a good solution but is it? It might be the case that through minimalism you limit options for being productive, producing content and doing your work in general. Recent article by Lifehack.org has an interesting list of steps to consider for setting up your systems and making the most out of the technology.

Don’t be a minimalist.Regain focus with technology

Decisions

We are bad at making money decisions and money is just a number that we attach to things. As result it’s easy to spend money, after all we don’t lose anything just a number. To make a better decisions think what you are getting for that money and consider whether is there something else that could give you more value for it? A solid advice from Seth Godin.

Making big decisions about money

When less is more

Very briefly I wanted to share few excelled blog posts examining the benefits of reducing the number of project and work you take on.Reducing the amount of stuff you focus on lets you channel more energy onto a the thing you hope to achieve. Your attention is not divided between multiple items hence you can produce better results and paradoxically achieve more.

The Einstein Principle: Accomplish More By Doing Less

We are most productive when we focus on a very small number of projects on which we can devote a large amount of attention.

Fixed-Schedule Productivity: How I Accomplish a Large Amount of Work in a Small Number of Work Hours

I keep two project queues — one from my student projects and one for my writing projects. At any one moment I’m only working on the top project from each queue.

The Art of the Finish: How to Go From Busy to Accomplished

Real accomplishments require really hard pushes. GTD style, “one independent task at a time” productivity systems make it easy to avoid these pushes by instead doing a lot of little easy things.

Freestyle productivity

High-tech and highly-structured solutions are best for capture.
Low-tech and loosely-structured solutions are best for planning.

Remember the Milk – the most powerful features

Remember the Milk has been my task manager of choice for over two years now. Although I have tried couple other task manager in that period I always came back to RTM as my preferred solution. As any application it has a strong points (you can read about some below) and has a weak points too (mainly the offline capabilities).Since it’s always easier to pick hole sin things rather than look for positives I decided to look at some of the best features of Remember the Milk that keep me organised and help me get things done. This post may appear a bit geeky as I go into the details of things like input syntax and smart lists but believe me it’s actually very simple. This is what makes this tool so powerful and effective.
It also goes in line with the notion that knowing the tools you use makes you more effective and lets you focus on what’s important.

Smart add

This is one of the most powerful and useful feature of the application. Very often people point out that applications like RTM provide so many options that deciding on each of them becomes a task in itself. In my view you can use the application the way you prefer if simplicity is your thing then you simply ingore the features but if you look for a more options to slice and dice tasks than RTM lets you do that.

When inputting a new task aside from the description you can set following attributes for each task: due date, list, context, priority, duration, repeat cycle, URL and location. As you can see it’s a lot of additioal information to input. To make it simpler few years ago the guys at RTM inctroduced a set of characters which allow you to select desired feature using keyboard while entering the task. Here is the list of special characters you can use:

[colored_box variation=”pearl”]

^ – date

# – list and context

! – priority

= – duration

@ – location

* – repeat

URL – simply paste it in[/colored_box]

So here, how this works. Lets say you want to “buy a milk” and you want to have it on your personal or errands list and location is your local shop. Obviously you will buy a milk every week so you want that as a continuous reminder.

Normally you would input the task in to the input panel and then assign relevant attributes manually in the panel on the right. However using the syntax your input would look as follows:

[colored_box variation=”pearl”] buy milk #personal @shop *weekly [/colored_box]

That’s it, no fiddling with settings or navigating with mouse, simple input and a task is properly categorised and assigned.

Two points worth noting here. You can use the same principles when entering tasks on your iPhone/iPad or Androind devices. Also existing categories will auto populate as you type which makes entering even easier.

Smart lists

You may be wondering what is the purpose of entering all those additional details tags, priorities, locations etc. The answer is simple with these attributes set you can slice you tasks in any way you want. This is where the smart list comes into play. This feature allows you to simply create a list of tasks based on a very specific criteria or a combination of such. In my view It’s the second most powerful feature of RTM application and I’m using it quite a lot.
Aside from the standard Inbox list I have only two basic lists Personal and Blog to manage all of my tasks. The rest is done through a set of smart list that display relevant tasks. These include following:

  • Project list – a list of personal and blog projects that I currently work on.
  • Next Action list – task due today or those I decided to complete in a given week. I highlight those by assigning a priority 1 to them.
  • @Computer and @Home, a list for two of my basic contexts.
  • @Waiting for – a list of things I’m waiting for from other people.
  • No tag – task which are missing a tag.
  • Smellers – picked it up form this post and essentially it’s a lists of task that were inputted over 6 months ago.

At first setting up a smart list might be a little bit overwhelming but the learning curve is not very steep. Remember the Milk forum has some great examples of those. You can also check out the support page which includes a list of relevant fields.

Auto tagging

Next very useful feature is auto tagging of tasks. In essence when you are looking at a smart list and add a new task, RTM will automatically append a tag related to that list. This comes very handy when outlining project plans. It works very easy, I select the project tag, I use “p_xxx” to indicate project, then I start typing. Each new item will have a tag “p_xxx” assigned by default. Why this is helpful? Simple when I want to review all tasks associated with a specific project I can click on the tag and simply review them all. This helps me make sure that tasks are in their right place and I can access them when needed.

Email import

Last feature that I wanted this share is the email import. Perhaps it doesn’t sound all exciting as almost every online task manager provides this functionality, nonetheless it proves very useful. The reason it so beneficial is that it greatly fits into my project workflow. What I usually do is get a mind map or a Evernote note to outline the structure and elements of the project. Once this is done I would email the list of tasks into RTM. In addition I would include relevant syntax items so the tasks would fall into right categories or lists. Here is an example for buying a car:

[colored_box variation=”pearl”]

buy a new car #Personal #p_car #project
research car models online #Personal #p_car #computer
call bank and check loans #Personal #p_car #calls
book a test drive with the dealer #Personal #p_car #calls @dealer

[/colored_box]

Once sent to your RTM email address (you got one during the sign up, see settings) all these lines will be converted into individual task and tags. All is left is to start reviewing your lists and tick off items.

 

Are you a Remember the Milk user? I would love to know how you use it. Please share in the comments section.

 

Note of disclosure: I’m not affiliated with Remember The Milk nor received any compensation for this post. I’m recommending it to anyone as a powerful tool to get things done and organise their tasks.

Evernote -ing

Evernote is a great tool for storing and managing information, unfortunately the potential of this application is so vast that it’s easy to get overwhelmend with the possibilities for slicing and dicing infromatio. Below are some the discussion topic on Evernote forum that I’ve found very useful.Coincidentally I’ve also completely destroyed my tagging system by removing all tags from note hence discussions on organisation become even more relevant.

A list of tips and strategie for Evernote users

Implementing GTD with Evernote

Tips and strategies for organising notes

Better tag list

Building my Evernote world

Strategies for using Evernote

Notebooks vs Tags

How much metadata do you apply to notes?

My favourite tip is to add date in  the YYYY-MM-DD format along with few keywords (not tags) to the title of the note. This provides better search capabilities and reduced the risk of data loss or hassle caused by removing all your tags like I just did today. Also some of the research suggest that we are quite good at remembering when things have happened so having date embedded makes it even easier to find notes.

I do recommend exploring the Evernote forums especially if you are stuck or looking some clever uses or unusual tips trick.

 

Staying productive with Android

Over the last 18 months I’ve been using an android phone to the greater extent than before. Thanks to all the available applications it became a great partner and assistant in managing my productivity and staying organised.There is a certain amount of applications that I find invaluable.  Let me run down through some of the critical applications.

Remember the Milk – Remember the Milk web app forms a core of my task management, it’s a primary place for storing my next actions, project list, waiting fors etc. The Android app provides a great interface to quickly access, today’s task or specific lists or a tag. The input panel supports RTM’s syntax which make inputting tasks a breeze. Also supported are various widgets and shortcuts which make it easier to quickly glance what due. I use it to see how many tasks are there in the inbox and how many are for today.
A very nice feature is offline support which makes the app fully functional even if you’re are not accessing the network (good for traveling abroad).

Evernote – an app that titles itself as your external brain. Truly remarkable tool for capturing any ideas, notes, links, images etc. I use the application almost daily recording anything and everything that captures my attention either on the phone like tweets or links to interesting designs, patterns, notes etc. I later review those items on my deskop application and categorise them in some way.

Dropbox – cross platform and device syncing nirvana. This is where I store my current drafts and support material for open projects. It’s simple, works unattended and always provides me with the latest version of the document I work on. Recommend that you investigate putting additional encryption software before stotring very sensitive passwords or other info into Dropbox.

Pomodroido – a very versatile timer application that lets me get into zone and focus on an task at hand. There are plenty of different options for setting up duration of pomodoros from 15 to 45min. A nice aspect is climbing the levels which makes you use the application even more.

Dolphin Browser Mini – is my default browser. It’s solid alternative to the default Andorid browser. I’m using the mini version only because I have limited amount of space available so need to keep my apps as slim as possible.

Everpaper – is a solid Instapaper reader app that nicely fits into my reading workflow. It provides support for all basic functions of the service as well as an offline storage to save articles for later. I used to use Read It Later on Androind and Firefox but since Instapaper provides excellent conduit to Kindle I decided to switch.

Gmail – stock Android Gmail client for checking my email accounts. Nothing too fancy but works great and lets me deal with email quickly while on the go.

These are the core productivity applications. There is obviously a bunch more that I’m gradually incorporating into my workflow. Here are some of the other applications that I find very useful:

Google Docs – I’m not a big user of Google Docs but I found it to be a great tool for managing my Editorial calendar. I wouldn’t say it best working.

Keep track – is a progress tracker that I use to monitor couple important statistics. The app is very well designed and easy to use. Best feature are the stats screen and a corresponding graph plotting how I performed.

Keepass – is an Android equivalent of open source password manager with the same name. Best thing you can share you password library with your phone and computer over the Dropbox folder. Excellent for having access to passwords on the go.

Ted – is a small text editor, very handy for creating text files and saving them in Dropbox for further use.

Textspansion – totally new app, which I installed just yesterday. It aims to be the TextExpander for Androind. Although the Android security setting prevent applications from “listening” your key strokes this one provides a handy shortcut through use of search key and then selecting desired phrase. Not most elegant solution but works none the less. Definitely something to look at if you’re into automation.

Hope you find this rundown of apps a useful reference point for your own pursuits. Above list is result of months of trial and error and searching for a better app the serve the need.
Despite the heavy reliance on the smartphone I still use paper as a thinking aid. My favorite combination is using a smartphone with a Moleskine notebook, former allows me to see where I’m at and latter lets me think things through via writing, doodling, sketching.

Please share you’re favorite in the comments I’m always interested in news apps. Do you have any favorite apps?

Happiness and passion

Happiness is very much related to productivity and one influences other greatly. In this very funny and engaging TED talk Shawn Achor shares  some excellent ideas how to make your work like and beyond better.The secret is not in money or power or status or any other external factor. The real happiness comes from inside and can be very easily cultivated on your own.
Shawn shares few techniques how can you improve your happiness and lead a better life, these include:

  • Journaling
  • Meditation
  • Exercise
  • Random act of kindness
  • 3x gratitude a day

The second link I wanted to share is an recent episode of GTD Virtual Study Group podcast with a guest appearance from Cal Newport. Cal is a professor at Georgetown University and also author of three books about productivity and being successful student. He also runs a blog called Study Hacks where he explores various aspects of productivity, deliberate practice, passion etc.

In this podcast he concludes that passion comes from experience and becoming comfortable with the topic you’re interested in. He doesn’t agree with the advise that you should seek your passion first and than find a job that fits. In his view, overtime as you become more and more experienced and familiar with the area things become easier and easier, you also gain more skills which if rare and in demand can result in bigger salary, more freedom, creativity etc.

We can be passioned about almost anything and it’s simply fact of gaining enough knowledge and sticking with it long enough. In short don’t quit your job after a year as you never get passioned about anything.

Would love to know your view? How do you maintain your happiness? Have you found your passion?

3 ways to reduce email friction

In this post I would like to share just three very practical ideas that can make dealing with email much easier and effective.

Filtering

Processing email on regular basis can be a daunting task especially if you receive dozens of email per hour. One of the easier ways of reducing the amount of email in your inbox, aside from changing your email address and not telling anyone, is using filters.

Setting up a filter is very easy. Grab the message you want to filter and look for the message options by either right clik or a selecting the actions from the panel on top of your message window. Next define your criteria like sender, subject, whether your address is in to: field or cc:. This way you will determine which emails get filter out and which not. Lastly decide on the action, whether the message should be deleted straight away, archived or moved to specific folder.

Why it’s worth considering? It takes away time and effort necessary for processing messages which are non-actionalbe or non critical updates. Here is an example. If you subscribe to a number of newsletters that you want to read occasionally, set up ea filter to move those emails from the inbox to a specific folder. This way you don’t have to manage them manually and you can focus on more important emails. Thing to remember is to actually review that folder otherwise it’s becomes this “dust gathering” folder that you avoid. If that’s the case better unsubscribe from those newsletters completely.

Subject line

Very often we need to communicate a single sentence or a brief update that takes one line of text. Best way to pass it is to type it into the subject box. This way the recipient  knows straight away what’s is expected and can skip opening the message.
Instead writing an email which has a subject line “Monthly report” and inside the a one liner ” the report is ready” try putting “monthly report is ready” into the subject line. It’s clear, simple and gets to the point.
One thing to remember when using this method is to be aware of spam filers. Some can pick up messages without text in the body and flag them as spam. If you use auto append signature to emails this will sort the issue.

Keyboard

Throughout the day everyone of us makes a hundred of mouse clicks and moves to find the right option, to change a font, to create a new message or a task. Very often going through these steps can be completely avoided simply by learning keyboard shortcut. Here is a challenge for you. Over then next 3-5 days try to record the functions you’ve have used the most when working inside your email client. Once you know find out if you can use them through a single combination of keys rather the mouse.

You may think that the savings are just minimal and that it’s not worth the hassle but if you compound the savings over a longer period of time you might be quite surprised how much you’re actually saving.

to start with here are some basic keyboar shortcust for MS Outlook and Gmail

MS Outlook keyboard shortcuts:

  • CTRL+N – New item
  • CTRL+SHIFT+A – Appointment
  • CTRL+SHIFT+C – Contact
  • CTRL+SHIFT+M – Message
  • CTRL+SHIFT+J – Journal entry
  • CTRL+SHIFT+N – Note
  • CTRL+SHIFT+K – Task
  • ALT + S – Send
  • CTRL+R – Reply
  • CTRL+F – Forward

Gmail keyboard shortcuts:

  • c  – Compose
  • /  – Search
  • k  – Move to newer conversation
  • j  – Move to older conversation
  • p – Previous message
  • o  or <Enter>  – Open
  • e  – Archive
  • r  – Reply
  • a  – Reply all
  • f  – Forward
  • #  – Delete

Do you have your favorite methods for dealing with email? If so please share them in the comments section.