Plain text wins

Micheal Schechter from Bettermess.com is one of my favourite bloggers. He writes a lot about productivity and some geeky, tech things.
He recently published two excellent posts about benefits of using plain text files and nvALT (a Mac appliation) as the center of text file based workflow.

So, why it’s worth considering text? Three reasons why it’s worth considering plain text:

  • it’s portable
  • it’s flexible
  • it’s ubiquitous

A Plain Text Primer

Plain Text Primer: nvALT 101

Personally I’m in the process of gradually moving into text based workflow and I hope to share my approach using a Windows PC in next few weeks.

From Inspiration to Emulation

Over the last few months I’ve been examining my writing and note taking workflow in an effort to be more consistent and better blogger. After all I want this site to succeed and be useful to my readers. It somehow happened that I came across a bunch of different bloggers, that have embraced, plain text as the centre of their workflows. People like Michael Schechter, David Sparks, Shawn Blanc, Merlin Mann rely on simple text files to publish the web, capture ideas, write books, run projects etc.
This is not to say to you should dumb your life down and abandon great apps like Evernote or Sprigpad or any task management or map mapping software. These programs have their purpose and strong sides but if you can you should work with as simple tools as possible for as long as there is no negative impact on your work.

Inspired by what I was reading and how well their systems worked, I began to look at different options of adjusting my existing workflow and implementing their ideas and lessons. The tasks wasn’t easy, as they all are Mac users so I needed to find the equivalent applications with similar functionality on Windows platform. Fortunately enough, I was able to find the right software.

The whole setup is based on text files saved in a single Dropbox directory with ResophNotes working as a simple interface allowing me easily create, search and update any file. The speed of this app and simplicity is remarkable. I’m also leveraging Simplenote to deliver the files into my Androind phone. I’m going to leave a more detailed description of my setup for a later post.

Over the recent weeks I’ve been building up my repository of text files, setting up lists, capturing new ideas, transferring some of the reference material. So far, it has been very good. I’m finding that the system works well and I have more trust in it. This means I use it constantly and it’s my first point of call. At this stage there is definitely less clutter and more simplicity with in the whole setup. This really helps to keep the focus and maintain consistency of files names. Although I do come across an odd instance where I need to figure out where a given file goes or how to call it.

I’m really interested in seeing how this system will hold up in the long run. With hundreds of files sitting in one directory will there be any drop in speed or syncing issues? Also will I stick with the file taxonomy or will I end up with massive repository of files that I can’t make any sense of?

Work life balance discussion

Manager tools podcast is one of the best resources for anyone looking to improve their management skills. I’ve been subscribing to it for a number of months and found it a tremendously useful resource of workplace skills.
In a recent episode Mark Hostman and Mike Auzenne share their thoughts on the ever unresolved topic of work and family balance.

Work Family Balance – Chapter 1 – Go Home

The general conclusion of the discussion is that there is no balance and family should always be first. Unless you’re 20-year old with no family and commitment there is no reason for you to let the work take precedence.

The episode is packed with ideas and solid thinking supporting family first notion.

“The Daily Rind”, a Better Way to Plan the Day

I consider paper one of the best ways to plan anything. Even with all the bells and whistles of digital tools, paper has the biggest appeal.
Today wanted to share a very interesting and innovative way of planning your day.

[blockquote]The Chronotebook has you schedule your time out using hours mapped out on the radii of a circle, much like the face of an analog clock. You use one circle for morning, and one for afternoon. It doesn’t feel as rigid as a conventional, linear dayplanner format does, you’ve got more room for expanded notes on whichever particular parts of your day happen to generate notes,[/blockquote]

Please head over to “The Daily Rind”, a Better Way to Plan the Day to read more about this interesting approach.

Dealing with email after the holidays

Three weeks ago I wrote about returning to work from holidays and moving back into the production mode. This week I wanted to talk about dealing specifically with email as it’s a such big part of our daily work life.
Returning from holidays means you need to deal with email en mass. There is a ton of masseges that need to be dealt with quickly and efficiently so that you can get to real work.

Start before you go

You can make dealing with email easier by simply preparing before you leave. Firstly set up filters and rules to automatically flag and move emails when you’re away. Define your specific criteria whether these are corporate updates, newsletters that you’re subscribed to or messages sent to your team address. Create specific folder where those messages will be filed. Once when you are back, you can deal with your smaller inbox first and then move to review those special folders to see if there was anything relevant. Very often you will be able to simply delete those messages without reading them.

For those emails that you still would like to review setup some time to catch up on them by blocking your calendar for 15-30min.

When you’re back

Once you’re back your main goal is to get to the relevant messages and get up to speed on different communications and updates.

Start off by reviewing all the meeting requests and task assignments to catch any instances where someone asks for your presence on the first day after the holidays. These items can be easily spotted as they have a little calendar or task icon next to them instead the usual envelope.

Then sort all your emails by sender. Review all the correspondence that was send from different distribution lists and newsletters you maybe subscribed to. Decide whether these items are relevant or not and delete them.

Apply the same approach to emails send by individuals. If those messages don’t contain anything useful delete them too.

Then sort your emails by the topic. Review the last email in the chain and decide whether it’s something that you need to reviwew and keep. If the answer is no then simply delete the whole topic whether that’s 2 emails or 15 and move to another one. If you need to keep the conversation, retain the last message only, as that one will contain the full exchange. One element worth considering is to decide whether you need to keep any of the attachments that may have been exchanged. If you think there is a need for that simply review the emails with the paper clip symbol and check the attachment(s). Save those that seem important.

Now that you have only the messages that are relevant and some that you should review.

Review the remaining

Complete a scan of the remaining messages and establish those that are important and need action first. If they are something easy and quick do them right there. More complex items add them to our task management system.

Those emails that you simply need to read upon later, can be put into a separate folder and you can deal with them over the coming days and catch up on previous weeks events and discussions.

The overall aim is to get up to speed with key events in an hour or so and find the most critical messages and deal with them first.

Trello workflow

How a designer and blogger David Seah uses Trello to manage variety of projects and ideas.
Trello, Again: Followup | David Seah

[blockquote align=”left”]The trick, of course, moving out of the dream domain and into the world of production. And this is where Trello, with its suitability to kanban-style planning, is coming into play.[/blockquote]

[blockquote align=”left”]It’s been useful as a tool that allows me to see all important project ideas at once, drilling down or moving them with a very simple interface. And since each project is a card with a notes stream and checklists, they become viable mini-project managers when I want to get more formal (but not too formal) about it. [/blockquote]