My Ideal Day

Why Visualisation

Visualisation is a powerful technique which helps achieving goals, reducing stress and seeing yourself succeed. It’s widely used for example in sports, where during the intense hours of training athletes imagine themselves performing to their best and then winning the race. Since I’ve started to take part in triathlona and marathons I’ve used visualisation to picture myself going throughout different stages of the event. I think about the water, I see myself getting into transition area, etc. It’s very effective and it helps to reduce stress, calm the nerves and eases things off.

In his most recent book ‘Your Best Just Got Better‘ Jason Womack uses this technique to creating an ideal day. Jason asked me whether I would be interested in sharing my ideal day. Funny enough, I’ve just recently done this exercise.

My Ideal day

This is the first time I’ve done this visualization and I’m planing to repeat it regularly and observe the changes, notice what’s new and what remains unchanged. I think that over time this will be a source of great insights. So here it is – My Ideal Day:

I get up at 5:55 am and jump straight into my running gear and go for a very easy 5K run, enjoying the morning weather in the Irish countryside. When I’m back, I take a quick shower, have a light breakfast of organic porridge, milk and banana and enjoy my first cup of freshly made latte. After breakfast I go to my home office/study room, sit at the computer and write for 1.5 hours. I then take a short break and spend some time with my wife as she gradually gets on with her day. Then I go back to writing and work for another 90 min. Once I’m done I go off to meet with my clients. We talk, exchange ideas, look for solutions to problems. Then I’m going to a local coffee shop for a lovely gourmet sandwich and the second cup of coffee. I quickly scan through my messages and check my calendar and tasks. I’m back at my home office where I work on a presentation that I will be delivering later that week to a group of freelancers and entrepreneurs. I finish work at around 6 pm.  At that point I move my focus onto my family, spending time playing, talking and cooking. In the evening I sit down in a nice comfy chair  and I enjoy an interesting book.

Even though it’s not true yet, I’m working towards making such day my reality. I realize it might take me some time yet I firmly believe that one day those things will be true.

If you haven’t read Jason’s book I highly recommend it. It’s packed with actionable ideas and food for thought. I encourage you to find out if your best can get better!

Jason also offers a chance to win your ideal day for details head over to WIN Your Ideal Day.

How to think deeply

How to think deeply
Can you imagine leaving your desk for an hour to think about a particular problem or issue that needs solving?

For many this sounds impossible, unimaginable perhaps. Yet most of the best work comes from deep thinking and careful analysis. To make impact and provide meaningful results you need to understand the problem, consider the options, weigh in solutions.

Recent blog post on HBR.org shares few ideas on approaching deep thinking and using it to your advantage.

Three Ways to Think Deeply at Work

How to Mind Map

Mind mapping is tremendously useful technique for getting thoughts out of your head.
If you struggle with gaining clarity on big project that you need to run, trying to make a big decision, writing a book mind map will help you out. Mind mapping lets you capture all the ideas about a topic and then find a structure based on the common themes, connections etc.

Lifehack.org share extensive guide on how to use this tool which is worth checking out if you are not familiar with it.

How to mind-map is three easy steps

A Much better Remeber the Milk

It’s always strange to discover something super useful that’s available for few years yet not being aware of it.
I’ve been using Remember the Milk to-do manager for almost 3 years, interacting with the app either through web interface or mobile client and only recently came across browser extension called A bit better RTM.

If you’re a long time RTM user you will agree that the web client is due a refresh as it hasn’t changed been changed in several years. Thanks to the developers of A bit better RTM we can enjoy some improvements in the functionality of the website.

Remember the Milk is extremely keyboard friendly web application however this is mainly limited to the input stage of task management. When it comes to moving tasks between lists, rearranging etc, you need to use mouse and navigate through couple of steps. Not the most efficient way.

Enter the A bit better RTM.

The extension which is available for Firefox and Chrome browsers provides few extra features that make Remember the Milk a much better tool. Here as a short list improved functionality:

  • Drag and drop items – to move tasks between the lists simply grab them with a mouse and move onto a new list. This is handy if you rely on a number of static list to organise your tasks.
  • List are on the left in a single column – visually I find this approach much more intuitive and user-friendly. The default view with list on the top can be overwhelming and confusing especially if you have a large number of lists.
  • Task count – simple, yet super useful, gives you a glimpse on how many tasks are included in each list.
  • One click list creation – normally to create a new static list you need to go to Settings –> List menus. Again not very friendly. With this extension you can quickly create a list on the fly.

There are two or three additional functions like keyboard shortcuts for list navigation or list specific URLs that look very promising unfortunately somehow I couldn’t manage to make it work, yet.

If Remember the Milk is your primary to-do list manager and you’re tired of the dated web interface A bit better RTM is definitely worth checking out. Should you be more into geeky stuff, Greasemonkey scripts and customisations let you take the interface changes even further.

Emergent Task Planner in action

Another example of how can you manage your day with paper.This time I’m sharing a link to David Seah’s workflow post, where he describes how he uses Emergent Task Planner which he created.

ETP – is a fantastic tool that allows you to plan your day both from the meeting perspective as well as from the and capture new things as they appear.

How I use the ETP

7 ways to a better to do items

No one like to be given tasks that are unclear and vague, yet we tend to do that to ourselves. We create to-do item that are all-encompassing without clear action in them. I think we know them all too well. They sit on our lists for days weeks or months with no chance of being completed. Item’s like write a book, clean up house, buy a car although they show some sort of outcome they should no feature on your to-do list. One way to counteract this is to make sure to do items are Actionable.
Charlie Gilkey is his recent post shares few ideas on how to do that:

7 Ways to Write Better Action Items 

How I use ResophNotes – structure, keywords, naming

This turned out to be a part of a series of posts about moving to plain text based workflow. If you want to read more parts one, two, are here. Last week I covered ResophNotes and it’s features and functionality. Today I wanted to share how I use it myself. You may have gotten some ideas from earlier post but I wanted to add few more details on how I use the app.

Storage and Access

Every note that I create is saved as a plain text file in a specific Dropbox folder, this way I can edit them using other programs like WriteMonkey or Notepad++. When I’m in the writing mode, I usually open WriteMonkey, which is my favourite distraction free writing tool and then begin working on one of the draft files. Once I’m done the updated file will be visible to ResopNotes for later use. Word of caution – don’t use two apps at the same time as this will result in duplicate files on your list.

In addition to Dropbox which in my case works as a sync and backup tool, I also use Simplenote to keep the notes backed up to another source. Through Simplenote I have access to my notes on my phone. The app I’m using there is called AndroNoter[1] and it simply lets me access my notes offline and make updates, write blog posts and jot ideas. Each update will be synced with the cloud and then synced to my laptop.

Creating File Names

I have developed a naming convention that allows me to keep my notes in check and offer a certain structure which I will describe in the next section. What I wanted to share first is, how do I create file names?

If I’m at my computer I’m using program called PhraseExpress which is an excellent text expansion tool. Rather than type the full keyword and date I let the program to generate that. Here is and example. If I come across something that I want to capture as a blog post idea i simply type “pid”. This will be expanded to following:

PostIdea – [text] – 20121009

All I have to do is type the title of note in between the dashes and then start jotting down the ideas. I have set these three to four letter shortcuts for most of keywords that I use. This saves me a ton of typing and helps me keep my notes nicely grouped and consistent.

On my smartphone I’m starting a note with “!Inbox” this way note will be on top of note list reminding me there is something for me to process.

Structure of Notes

As I mentioned before each note is stored as a plain text file. The only way to sort these files is either by name or by date. One could think this is limited but it’s absolutely sufficient. On top of the sorting, you can use search to find the information you need. I rely on a combination of sorting by name and searching for the relevant keyword. I have created naming convention based on specific keyword each related to an area of my life. Here are some examples:

Homex- for notes related to home stuff Blogx – for blog notes Refx – reference file Runx- running list PostIdea – ideas for blog posts draft[tip] – blog post I work on.

All these and few more define what the note is about and what’s its status.

As you can see, I include “x” at the end of each keyword. I picked this up from Merlin Man and it basically makes notes much easier to find. If I search for homex I will see all notes related to my home stuff but not notes that include word home. Brilliantly simple.

Creating lots of keywords but will lead to clutter and chaos. To counter that I have created a reference file (a taxonomy file) where I keep details of all my keywords and their purpose. This will help me maintain consistency and make sure I know what I’m using. I’m hoping that this will help me with managing notes once I get to 800 or 900 level. I don’t think scrolling through a list that long will be possible so I will need to rely on search to find the note.

I will be reporting my observations in due course.

References

This setup would not be possible without other bloggers who shared their text-based workflows. Big thanks especially to Michael Schechter.

A Plain Text Primer Plain Text Primer: nvALT 101 My Text File Naming Taxonomy — Technology Notes Using nvALT, Elements and Taskpaper together My txt setup | 43 Folders

[1] no longer under development but does the job very well.

Email – a productivity drain

Oscar Berg shares some thoughts on email as the biggest productivity drain.
“one thing that has made email the biggest productivity drain for knowledge workers is the burden this style of communication puts on the recipient.”

This is unfortunate consequence of using email, anyone can sent it to you and now you need to react to it event if it’s deleting.

Oscar proposes a following solution: “In an opt-in culture, each and everyone can choose which conversations they want to participate in and contribute to”.

With this approach the communication is moved off email exchanges and to team blogs, SharePoint sites etc. This way all interested/relevant users can participate in making progress on the project.

Unfortunately this only reduces the problem of too much email hence strategies like the Inbox Zero are still useful and worth practicing.

Email is the biggest productivity drain for knowledge workers 

Finding Focus

Finding focus isn’t always easy. There are many distractions and things that grab our attention and pull us away from the thing we really wanted or have to work on. There are different strategies for guarding and maintaining focus. One that I wanted to share was published by Cal Newport couple years ago but it still is valid solution.
Rather than treat you day as single block of time to use, try to create a high level structure so that you know in which area you should put your attention. Read further….

My Focus centric day

ResophNotes app

This turned out to be a part of a series of posts about moving to plaint text based workflow. If you want to read more parts onethree are here. I’ve made few attempts at using ResophNotes as the center of my workflow but none of them was successful until recently. Only after reading upon other peoples’ plain text setups I was able to remodel my own approach and use the application successfully. If you want to radically simplify your tool set and rely on plain text files ResophNotes will be excellent for that and will require no learning. Since ResophNotes has become such a essential application I decided write its overview.

What is it?

ResophNotes is a free, note taking application that provides simple and efficient way for managing information. The application is very small and can be either installed or used straight from a zip folder. This makes it an excellent tool for using it form a USB drive.

Storing notes

Notes that you will collect can be stored in one of two ways. You can either use a single database file which means all notes are stored in a one file that can be accessed and edited by ResophNotes only. The second option and one that I recommend is to store your notes as individual plain text files. If you’re storing your notes as individual files you can save them in Dropbox folder which makes your notes accessible from any computer and device that can use Dropbox. In addition to that you can setup Resoph to sync with Simplenoteapp.com which provides additional layer of cloud backup and access from iPhone or Android mobile apps. One of the reason I’m using this type of sync is that AndroNoter app that I use on my phone provides me with offline access to all of my notes.

resophnotes2
resophnotes2

Layout and Navigation

The application provides simple and clear layout with three panes to use. One dedicated to your list of notes which can be sorted by date or by name. Second pane is dedicated to search and third will show the content of the selected note.

resophnotes1
resophnotes1

Input

Although on the basic level Resoph it stores only plain text, it provides support for Markdown formatting. Markdown is a great way for adding a very light structure and formatting to a note while maintaining its plain text simplicity. If you are not familiar with Markdown please visit John Gruber’s site for further details. All of my post are written in Markdown and once finished I can simply preview the html and then paste into WordPress. My post is fully formatted including headings, links etc. It will most likely change the way you write.

Search and Organisation

As you gather more and more information the ability to easily find it and access it will become crucial. Any drag or friction in search is most likely to cause for the application to be abandoned. Thankfully ResophNotes provides super quick and efficient search which makes finding previous notes breeze. The search looks up notes as you type so just with one or two words you can get to the right note. In addition to search, you can apply tags to your notes with keywords and phrases for easy categorisation and sorting. I personally don’t use them and prefer to rely on keywords that I include in the note. This way I don’t rely on Resoph tagging and should I move to another app my notes will retain the keywords. Sometimes certain notes need to be kept at hand and always visible. If you have such notes you can pin them and they will stay on top of the notes’ list.

resophnotes3
resophnotes3

Keyboard

Since we talk about speed and efficiency, the program is keyboard friendly which means that you can operate it fully without a need for a mouse. Keyboard shortcuts are well planned and give you access to all functions which becomes super useful if you work on a laptop or small netbook where using the touch pad may not be comfortable.

Small surprises

Two very nice features that I discovered recently is full screen mode which makes writing and note taking much more focused and effective. The second feature is note linking which lets you create links between notes and create a form of relationships and web of related items. Something resembling a wiki. I must say that this feature looks very interesting but I don’t think it would be transferable to other applications.

Final thoughts

ResophNotes is an excellent application that provides fantastic way for managing notes, snippets of text, lists and all the items that can be stored in text. It provides bare bones note taking functionality but does it in a simple and effectivy way. Few nice options like Markdown support and Simplenote sync make a very compelling choice. Personally I’m getting to conclusion that plain text files are sufficient for 90% of my needs and I can see myself using the application in the long run. If you’re looking for a simple and fast way for storing your information I can definitely recommend ResophNotes as an application worth considering.

Managing life with text files

This turned out to be a part of a series of posts about moving to plaint text based workflow. If you want to read more parts two, three are here.
I’m really going deep into using plain text files as the center of my workflow. Their usefulness goes far beyond writing and note-taking. To put it simply you can use plain text for almost anything.

Below I’m sharing two links to posts from couple years ago which provide few excellent ideas for using text files for managing life.

Managing Your Life with a Simple Text File

Managing Your Life with a Simple Text File -Part 2