Falling of the wagon

Falling of the wagon is fairly popular term among the Getting Things Done an practitioners and it mean situation when you stopped following the steps and let you system gone rust. Not sure if that’s not a sign on something deeper but that may be a different discussion.
To be fair we all fall of the wagon from time to time. There are better days and there are bad days and that’s ok. It’s unlikely we can constantly perform at 100% or 110%.

For the times when you are not feeling productive and things fell by the way side 99U blog has few tips on how to get back on the wagon.

What to Do When You Fall Back Into Your Old, Less Productive Ways

Path to Mastery

Becoming a master of something makes you a very special person that seems to posses some extraordinary talents and skills that no one else has or will ever be able to have. Yet that may not be a truth.Author Robert Greene shares his research that suggest that everyone can achieve a mastery. It’s long process that requires dedication, passion, open mind and willingness to learn with great intensity.

The path to mastery is relatively simple.

The first move is the most important: follow a career route that is matched to your inclinations and interests. Develop skills in as many areas related to this interest as possible. Work with mentors to streamline the process. Discipline yourself, gaining self–mastery. Learn how to work with people and defend yourself against the aggressors.

In a guest post on CopyBlogger.com site he shares some of his discoveries and observations.

If you want to jump on the path to mastery this maybe a good read.

The Path to Mastery

Adding tasks to Remember the Milk. The smart way.

Smart add is this neat feature that lets you add tasks to your master lists and include all the relevant meta information like list name, tag, location etc. As opposed to normal task manager where you need to input task name in one line and then navigate to different fields to select other meta data smart add let you do all that in single line. Simply start adding new task and then use one of the below special characters to define due date, location or tag as necessary then press enter. RTM will add a new task and populate other fields as you defined them. Here is an example: new task #Project1 #Computer @Home ^monday. Once this is added to RTM it will be displayed as new task added to list ‘Project1’ with tag ‘Computer’, location set to ‘Home’ and due date set for Monday.
Smart add works on web, your smartphone app, Gmail add-on and emails that you send to RTM

list of characters and their meaning:

  • ^ – adds due date
  • ! – adds priority 1,2,3
  • # – adds tag or a list name
  • @ – adds location
  • * – adds repeat cycle
  • = – adds duration

There is also a good smart add guide on the Remember the Milk website which will help you understand how it works.

If I’m capturing something and I’m not sure about it I will type the idea/tasks and let it land in my inbox. If however I now where particular task should go or when should I be reminded of it I will always use smart add to include relevant meta data. Some people shrug their shoulders on this and will consider too much overhead but I personally find it very useful.

Passion, Resistance, Trail running and measuring of human spirit

Have you ever ran 100 mile race?
I didn’t although I would like at some point. It’s one of the ultimate challenges that push us to the extreme and it’s not only physical limits that you’re reaching it’s limits of you mental and spiritual barriers.

I came across this excellent presentation during Le Web where ultra runner and entrepreneur Scott Dunlap talks about passion, the dark moments while running mile 80 and his attempt to use technology like GPS, hear rate monitors and others to see what happens during the 100 miles.

It’s fantastic insights into the world of ultra running but also reflection on what really drives us.

One Ultrarunner’s Journey to Measure The Human Spirit – Presenting at Le Web Paris, 2012

Avoiding distractions

Distractions are a killer to writing and actually any creative type of work whether it’s thinking of a new product, drafting a sales pitch, client presentation etc. All these activities require deep focus and attention that can be easily blown away by the myriad of distractions and interruptions that we can encounter.
An author and blogger Joanna Penn shares some of her tips for avoiding distractions and keeping focused on the writing. In this post/interview she also share some of her experiences with setting up a blog, writing career and business.

How Professional Writers Avoid Distractions: Interview with Author Joanna Penn

Productivity Podcasts worth subscribing to

I’m an avid podcast listener and combining that with my interests in personal productivity means that I listen to large number of podcasts in that area. It’s a great way to learn about different productivity techniques, different workflows, listen how other people get things done. Even though all of the below listed shows cover somewhat similar ground each does it in it’s unique and interesting way. I enjoy listening to all of those shows however I’m not recommending that you subscribe to all of them. Simply the amount of time necessary to listen to all of them is substantial and not available to you. Just select one and look through the previous episodes and subscribe if you like it stick with it.

Here is my list of podcast each with short description to help you decide if it’s for you.

Mikes on Mics – my favorite show, ran by two Mikes – Schechter and Vardy. The show focuses on general productivity discussions covering things like GTD, tools, methodologies, failure and focus. Strong feature of the show are interviews with special guests. Last but not least element of the show is “so what are you drinking?” where Mikes and guest share the type of beverage they consume from water through beers to wines and whiskeys. Personally it prompted me to look at some new beers at my local supermarket.

Back to Work – productivity show hosted by Merlin Mann and Dan Benjamin, although each episode appears to be the odd rambling with little purpose it’s just to warm up once you get pass that there are some absolute gem like insights into productivity, creativity, writing, failure, self-doubt, etc. If you are into GTD you will not find any better GTD explainer than Merlin (he will hate that title).

SystematicBrett Terpstra’s show where he discusses both productivity, technology, internet, creativity and shipping stuff. He has a wide selection of guest covering different topics which makes the show very interesting. I also like the last section of each episode where Brett and his quest share three apps of their choice.

iProcrastinate – I think the name say it’s all. Procrastination is the center element of this show. What unique about this podcast is that it approaches the topic of procrastination and related areas in a very scientific way talking about different research into the area discussing books and interviewing researches.

Manger tools – this show is primary aimed at managers of all the different levels from a supervisor to VP and CEO. The focus of the show is to provide them with the best tools and advice on how to be an excellent manager. Part of that curriculum is self management, productivity and time management. Both host of the show have a lot of experience in the area so there are plenty of ideas to absorb.

Beyond the Todo list – I’m fairly new to this podcast and I came across it when I’ve heard that David Allen was on that show. I went through the archives and downloaded couple previous episodes and enjoyed them quite a lot. Similarly to other podcast it covers wide range of productivity areas including some very good interviews.

Best got Just better – This is a weekly podcast by Jason Womack which I would call a “prompt me to think” podcast. Each week Jason share his thought and tips on making things bigger, going for the better, focusing on the important. I always find something to ponder about, consider etc.

Mac Power Users – this a regular show by David Sparks and Katie Floyd where they share ideas, tips, programs etc that will make you a better Mac user. Aside from the Mac related stuff every few episode they release a show dedicated to improving you productivity. There were shows about cooking ideas, Omnifocus, meeting etc. If you’re a Mac user it’s truly a gold mine, if you’re on Windows (like me) it’s great inspiration to look for better solutions.

Homework – a great show for those freelancing or working from home. Dave Caolo and Aaron Manke share their experiences with working from home, being productive, staying on top of the things that are important, keeping clients happy and taking time of with family. It’s great mix of personal stories and solid advice that will help you get the job done.

Do you have any favorite podcasts that you listen to on regular basis? Let others know and share them in the comments section.

Photo credit (Five Wun O’Clothing)

Better document tagging

Tagging is one of the best ways of organising information that you collect. Tags provide reliable way of linking varied contend based on common theme, topic etc. As opposed to folders which are rigid structures tags offer flexibility of linking information that’s spread around.
The only difficulty with tags is ease of creating dozens of them which over time becomes difficult to manage and make send of pile or words.

Dan Gold posted recently a guest post by Robert Oshler outlining a 5 step plan to better tagging of documents.

The key takeaway from this post is to use associations and “evergreen” tags that will give you the context of the information that you want to save. Finding the right or actually best way to tag information will take some time and practice but I’m sure it’s doable. That reminds me that I need to review my Pinboard tags and do a little bit of clean up.

5 Step Plan To Better Document Tagging

Evernote for almost everything and workflow update

Note: This is a very long post outlining in detail decision to move to Evernote as primary note taking tool of choice. Plain text still has it’s place as it’s best writing environment that I encoded. Hope it will be useful in your own journey of perfecting workflow.
I went through a little-big internal debate about keeping my notes, capture, reference material etc. I looked at plain text and rich text solutions for storing my data and more specifically whether to continue using ResophNotes or move back to Evernote as primary tool.

The key take away from this post is that the more you use a tool the more you rely on it the more beneficial it is to you. At the same time it becomes more difficult to switch. Read on if you want to know more details and how I approached different things.

Bit of a background

Over the course of last three months I’ve embarked on a plain text journey. It actually started few months ago when I began reading bettermess.com and all the stuff Michael had to say. Many of his posts where about plain text and it’s power. The neat and powerful system that he created was really appealing. At the same time came across other people who heavily relied on plain text David Sparks, Merlin Mann, Shawn Blanc, Patrick Rhone to name just few.

So three months ago I started to look for tools which would help me construct plain text based setup. To my surprise there aren’t that many options available and the end I’ve settled with ResophNotes and WriteMonkey. Why those two? ResophNotes allows me to create, search and browse through all my text files providing fast and convenient way of managing them. WriteMonkey is excellent and powerful plain text editor which I use to write all my stuff. It provides better writing environment than ResophNotes plus it has a lot writing related features that make it super useful. Writing on my Android phone was handled by Epistle app and Dropbox was the gel that bound everything together.

Then two things have happened. I needed to take a screen shot of something I saw on the web, I came across couple interesting tweets that I wanted to save and I was a little bit stuck. The easiest and the most effective way of capturing those things was into Evernote. Few moments after that I realised that I already have a ton of information in Evernote.

What I realised was that I was missing a lot of the information that I’ve accumulated before and that I was not using. It was not just the web clips and other snippets of information that I pick up but also my older notes, book and race notes etc. All this was sitting in Evernote and remained unused. Sure I could always search for it but it would require some additional conscious effort to search two place as opposed to one.

Feature comparison

I took some time to look at Evernote and ResophNote and list all of the available features and functions that each app offered. From the start it was clear that Evernote would win as it’s just more powerful tool. Aside from the sheer number, some features are clearly more valuable that other. Here is the list that I came up with.

Benefits of using Evernote:

  • ubiquitous capture available on each platforms (Windows, Web, Android)
  • ease of getting the data into the application from various sources
  • can be a single place for storing almost all of you data – notes, web clippings, pdfs etc.
  • global hotkeys for capture and search of notes
  • powerful search in notes and uploaded documents like PDF or images (OCR)
  • rich text editing and formating
  • easily captures the source of the information from the websites
  • note links and sharing of notes.
  • easy checklist and table creation
  • Skitch integration

Benefits of using ResophNotes and plain text:

  • no installation required,
  • data synced via Dropbox or can simply be moved to a USB drive
  • fast and easy to create and search notes
  • Markdown support
  • data stored in plain text
  • global hotkeys for note creation and application
  • excellent for focused writing and note creation
  • 99% chances that in post apocalyptic world event the simplest and basic computer will read plain text.

Data worries

When I was reading about benefits of plain text one of the many arguments was that it’s future proof meaning there will be always tools to read and display plain text files. If you use other applications you need to rely on a proprietary file format which makes you depended on the company that created it. In the long run, will you be able to access and review your notes?

I’ve spend some time thinking about this and came to conclusion that being locked into Evernote format is not really a concern for me provided I’m able to do couple things to liberate my data and take it away in a fairly basic format.

As Evernote want us to store more data, they brand themselves as a 100 year company, highlighting the fact that they are there for the long run and that they don’t think about the next quarter. This is refreshing and reassuring approach considering the company is just few years old. Yet they don’t stop just there, you can always export you data and documents and take them away.

Data Export

Data nerds will object but being able to export data from Evernote to HTML would be sufficient enough for most people. Most people would not event think of exporting data or making sure you can access it ten years from now. HTML export is definitely enough for me. At this moment I can see two scenarios where I would move somewhere else – a new better app is build or Evernote goes bust and no longer provides it’s services. Evernote is immensely popular solution with millions of users so should anyone design a better application and want to compete with them will create an import tool to move your notes. If the company would go bankrupt all you lose is the cloud backup the rest stays where it was (i.e. your laptop) and you can decide what to do next. I’m also pretty sure some hackers would come up with clever ways of extracting the data and putting it into a different format.

Back to exporting your notes. I’ve played around with the different options available which includes Evenote’s own xml file or creation of single or multiple HTML files with attachments stored separately. From what I’ve learned individual HTML export it the most effective. Then, should I really need to move elsewhere I can export all my notes and rely on system search to find relevant information. Windows Search or Finder are more than capable of indexing the information in side those files. Because of the way I name my notes and structure them in Evernote I can easily identify those that are particularly important like various reference notes or list and then I can put some effort in creating scripts or batch files which will convert notes into plain text files. Since attachments like pdfs or images get exported too I can resort to picture manager like Picasa and easily scan and this information.

Storing data with other company

One more aspect worth mentioning is that when you use Evernote you store your data with another company and rely on them to keep it secure and intact. Although it’s a valid concern if you keep your files in plain text, in a Dropbox folder you’re really in the same situation. First of all if you want to keep things secure and private don’t put them onto internet or computer at all. This approach is not very practical and even governments store and transmit data using internet. It would seem that there aren’t that many secrets that would be worth the hassle. Obviously everything is a matter of personal choice and perception so it’s good to develop habit of assessing how critical and private the information is and apply appropriate measures. Read EFFs self defense guide if you want to know more.

Back to Evernote and storing your data. When you use the service you have a copy in the cloud and on your computer or tablet if you use paid account, so even if Evernote goes offline you still have the data on your computer to review and decide what to do with it.

Extra layer

As a precaution I make a backup of my database folder on daily basis so should anything happen I have a copy to recover from and I can always export it into different formats. I also keep a recent version of the installer on my laptop so I have double security. All this is backed up to external drive and encrypted storage online.

Lessons Learned

As with any experiment I’ve learned couple interesting lessons that I would like to share hopefully to everyone’s benefit.

The more information you put into a given application the more chances it has to provide you with better results or information that you may have forgotten about. If you keep your notes, snippets of data scattered around it’s first of all inconvenience to search couple locations and secondly you introduce a complexity and choice of where do I put this info. Sticking with one tool that covers all bases removes some of it.

A good naming convention goes a long way

When I was using plain text setup all of my files were in one folder which meant that to keep them organised in some sort of fashion I had to come up with good names. The way I approached it was to put a keyword in front of the name of the note and then add its title. Although this approach is not necessary in Evernote as I can set up notebooks to divide the notes it’s nonetheless very useful way of naming notes. This way I can keep a smaller amount of folders/notebooks and I can easily browse the notes and clearly see what they relate to.

As I mentioned above Evernote can export data into HTML format which is easily searchable by built-in search on Windows making it relatively easy to move away from the application and transfer somewhere else. The export process is very easy and my suggestion would be to export into individual text files.

file duplication and sync issues

When creating new notes with ResophNotes quite often I ended up with duplicated notes or notes with incomplete names. This seemed to be caused by the speed at which a note was synced with Dropbox effectively creating a different notes as I typed the title. This wasn’t a major issue but it was quite annoying when the wrong name was saved. It’s also possible to duplicate note within ResophNotes which would mean that when the duplicate was deleted also the original file would be removed from Dropbox folder. Although it can always be recovered from Drobpox it’s inconvenient and odd annoyance. I haven’t had any issues like that with Evernote.

Final version for now

Evernote now serves me as a single place for notes, ideas, web clippings, images, screeshots etc. Because of it’s unparalled search, capture and ubiquity it serves me as primary tool for archiving of stuff. The fact that I can store so much and so varied content in Evernote makes it even more compelling as it allows me to find not only a specific note that I might remember but also other that contain the same keywords. The more information I will gather in Evernote the more useful it will become in serving me the data I may need. Lastly if I was to recommend anyone a note taking tool I would go for Evernote simply because of the ease of use and capture of different types of information.

So where is plain text you may ask. Writing content. Evernote is excellent archiving/reference tool but for me it’s not good for writing. It has all the bells and whistles but it’s precisely what I don’t want for writing. This where plain text hits the nail the on the head. It provides focused and unobtrusive writing environment. As consequence plain text will be the place where I write everything from blog posts to other material. For this purpose I will continue to use ResophNotes for keeping tabs on all my files, WriteMonkey to do majority of my writing and text editing and Markdown to make it easy to publish on the web.

I realise that nailing down a good workflow and interaction of tools is a process that takes time and evolution where you move from one tool to another or supplement the existing ones with some thing new and the figure out how they work.

Lastly since I’ve effectively moved to Evernote I will be actively exploring how can I make better use of it and I intend to share links and my own thoughts in upcoming posts.

Hope you enjoyed this post and found some useful elements in it. I would be grateful if you could share your own thoughts and thinking process behind your tool and workflow selection.

2013 is coming.Start planning.

2013 is coming. Start planning.
We were less than a month away from 2013 so it’s the best time to start planing your next year before the Christmas time kicks in.

This last couple of weeks is a great time for reviewing your year, looking back at your projects, goals and accomplishments. Once you know what have your done time to think about the future. Figuring out the direction in which to go isn’t always easy. If you’re in this place, not sure where to look, what areas to focus on I have a great set of links for you .

It’s personal planning model by Gordo Byrn who’s endurance athlete, coach, writer and entrepreneur. He list some key headers, topic that he considers and analyses when going into annual planning mode. This should give you a great head start in the planning process.

Personal Planning

Seeing he old personal strategy document can be a good inspiration and reference point. You can find a sample document in this Google Doc

I personally find Gordo’s advice very influential and promoting me to consider new things. If you what to read more of this stuff head over to his excellent blog