My perfect computer

Few weeks ago I posted a link to Michael’s blog post about his perfect setup.

I’ve been thinking about  this topic little further and realized that many of us would have two or more computers to consider in their setup. It’s often the case, that the setup is very different between each of the machine. One computer would be in the office, second is a home desktop or a laptop as it is in my case.
The former is a device managed by company’s IT team subject to various policies and restrictions. It has custom build applications and a predefined set of programs that can be used. If you want something new that is not on a company approved software list you have to go through a lengthy process. Most likely ending with "no go" response. They have their reasons.  Getting this machine to the state of being perfect is difficult. The scope is very limited and you need to learn all the tricks possible to make the most of this setup.
On the opposing end there is a home machine which, with a little tweaking and good and simple software lets you get job done, the way you want. But it’s not only about the job being done. What’s also important is the style, easy of use, friendliness and all encompassing cool factor of the application you’ve selected.

Freedom to  hack, experiment is the best way to find this perfect mix of various tool and utilities which make your computer life easier. There is no single list of ideal apps different people, different jobs will require something different. For me, at this moment the perfect computer looks like this.

Web browsing

Firefox/Chrome – Firefox remains my main browser due to a set of extensions I’m accustomed to it. I also use Chrome to check email and for other tasks where I use Google services.

Writing

Evernote – Evernote is my Swiss army knife. It’s a primary tool for writing, storing ideas, managing projects and reference information.

UV Outliner/Freeplane – Non-linear thinking gets done in Freeplane, which is an excellent mind mapping tool. For more structured outlining and thinking I’m using UV Outliner which is often called OmniOutliner for Windows PC.

WriteMonkey – I use it when I need a so called "distraction free" writing environment or simply black screen and white text. The beauty of WriteMonkey is its versatility, you can use the bare bone elements to just write or take advantage of all the different options available like bookmarking, versioning, referencing, multi-markdown.

Time Management

Remember the Milk  – I’ve settled on Remember the Milk as primary task management tool almost 3 years ago. It’s been serving me well. Although there are certain limitations, versatility and ubiquity of this app are it’s best features.

Google Calendar – gives me access to appointments everywhere I need. There is hardly a better calendaring solution.

Other essentials

Dropbox – for syncing and keeping backup of current work, for sharing files with family and friends.

PhraseExpress – this a fantastic piece of software that allows me to automate a lot of my typing. I have text snippets for almost anything from email addresses, mail addresses to numbers, tags, keyword combination and even few paragraphs. If you type a lot and prefer keyboard as main tool this program is definitely worth trying out.

Thunderbird – email client from Mozilla, I’m using it to keep a backup of all my email.Run it once a week or so and all emails will be pulled for storing on my laptop. This gives me access to my email on and offline.

Lastpass/Keepass – password management becomes critical, using easy memorable words is no longer an option so best way to solve this is to resort to an application that can store this information securely and generate passwords for you. Keepass is an standalone open source application whereas Lastpass is web app with Firefox and Chrome extensions that lets you sync passwords on all your computers. I’m using two programs solely for backup and security purposes, having two encrypted copies gives me a safety net and ability use my data regardless of the situation.     

Notepad++  – This is very powerful text editing application with syntax highlighting, making coding a great experience. Although I don’t use it very often it’s indispensable at times when I need to update WordPress theme files or edit a piece of CSS code.

So this is my current setup and as I’ve been finalising this post I realised that almost all of the above tool have been in my arsenal for a good while. I take it as an indication that majority of my computer needs are now solved. Although it’s more than likely I will be looking at other tools and introduce new tweaks the skeleton  of my perfect setup is here.

Projects, Evernote and Remember The Milk

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As many of you may know RTM is not the best project management solution it’s great web app for managing tasks and actions but connecting projects and creating nested solutions is not it’s strength. Sure you can try to hack it in many different ways but none would appear to be too intuitive or straight forward.

Evernote is great for taking notes of ideas, plans, sketches. When working on a project you can gather all backup and supporting documentation in it. Evernote is so versitile application

that its possibilities go way beyond that but I wanted to focus on the implication for projects.

In recent weeks team behind Evernote added new feature called note links. This allows you to create a link to your note which you can share in many various ways. Send by email, tweet include in other application.

My project list and many other action lists live in RTM. I prefer to keep it their so I have a single point of reference. RTM is good for tasks but not very good a project support solution. This is where Evernote comes handy.

When I launch a new project I create a new entry in RTM project list. Then I move to Evernote where I create a note for that project.

Next step is to create a list of next actions that allow me to complete the project. If I want or need I can supplement that with any thoughts, possible ideas, alternative solutions. All this gets saved into my note.

Last element is connect the information collected in Evernote with RTM project list.

This approach lets me do three things.

  1. I have quick access to project support material straight from my task application.
  2. When I decide to work on a project than I can either schedule it in calendar or RTM and simply press the link to focus on those project related tasks.
  3. Having a list of actions ready I can import them to RTM and by adding a proper syntax for tags, due dates, priorities. This is especially useful for project that may have a large number of moving parts and dependencies . So rather than refer to Evernote I can do what’s needed based on the RTM task list.

You can’t call it a deep integration like the one offered by folks behind Zendoe app yet the existing options allow me for creating quite nice and simple workflow.

Big thanks to Dan Gold for highlighting the usefulness of note links in his post.

What’s your perfect computer?

Michael behind MichaelSchechter.me blog, shares his perfect computer setup. Getting the right mix of tools is one of the key elements for getting things done.

The applications Michael uses are for a Mac computer but if you want to use his post as an inspiration for creating your perfect mix head over to altrnativeto.net.

This site will help you find almost any alternative for Mac, Linux, Windows applications.

So what’s your perfect computer?

Evernote for writing and blogging

 

Have desk, will write

Evernote is tremendously useful and versatile platform. Over the last number of months it became my go to place for filing almost anything.
After reading Evenote ebook by Dan it got me thinking about different areas of responsibility. One of those is keeping up this blog. It involves making sure I have a post ready for each week. One post a week sounds easy right and perhaps it’s for many but for me it’s not always. Having a structure in place which lets me focus on different aspects of writing is great aid. As result of some tinkering and reading few different articles I came up with this little writing/blogging workflow.

1.Make a template for a blog post

List key elements/sections which you normally would include in every post:
     * text
     * links
     * photos
     * sharing platforms
     * mentions of people/blogs that influenced the post

Writing in the spur of the moment is great for capturing that moment of inspiration but more often than not writing is laborious process. Creating consistent and attractive looking posts makes better impression on readers and site visitors. This templates allows me focus on writing and when I’m done with it move to other elements of blogging that otherwise could be forgotten. As result my writing efforts can reach more people (hopefully).

2. Use tags to manage different stages for writing process

     * draft current/on hold
     * idea
     * published
     * to be published

When it comes to writing and blogging there are different stages of the process. In short you start with an idea/rough outline, then you work on developing it, then you publish it or leave it in a queue for later. Tags are perfect way to manage this aspect of flow. Rather than look at all your ideas and half written posts you can select a specific tag.
Splitting different stages of the process allows for greater focus and navigation between elements. Rarely or never you have to look at at published post and ideas at the same time. However at different times you will look at very specific stage. If you look for something new to write simply select "idea" tag, when you want to continue working on something that was open for a while you will select "current" tag.
Easy to manage and configure. I find it quite effective. Rather thank keep a bunch of text files (a good option too) I prefer to have it all in Evernote.

3.Bigger writing projects

Novels or serious post with lots of research and support documentation use a separate notebook or even a stack of notebook.

     * gather what’s needed in one or more notebooks
     * once project is done you can move all the data into single place or assign one tag to find it later.
     * keep a small amount of notes (master note) or combination of notes and tags to manage to final result (copy)

Sometimes using tags to separate the content is not best solution, a physical separation may bring better results. When working on something complex which requires a large number of supporting documentation separate notebooks will allow to divide the research from writing and drafts and notes

Additional stuff

Couple additional tips and features that make Evernote great writing tool:

Full screen mode is great for focusing on task at hand. It so easy to get distracted by other things happening on you monitor, twitter feed. Full screen might be overwhelming especially when it’s just white space but once you start filling that space the sense of progress is encouraging

Inspiration and gathering ideas are very important elements of writing process. Evernote offers simple yet useful ability to record and store voice memos and pictures of thing s that caught your attention.

Often times you will want to share your drafts or finished articles with other people to get their feedback and opinion. To do that you can avail of note links which allow your to send a link to a note via email. You can also use shared notebooks if they are Evernote users too.

One feature that I would like to see in Evernote is a black screen editor for distraction free writing. Sounds odd as it should not matter what you use but somewhat it does. Personally I find that writing on black screen with nothing else on it does really help to keep focused and push that writing forward. Perhaps there will be someone looking at API and thinking of designing a simple and nice editor. For now I’m sticking with WriteMonkey  and coping to and from Evernote. Slightly awkward but WriteMonkey seems like a better tool for writing.

photo by Bright Meadow

How to improve productivity if you are not a geek

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Lots of productivity advise is geared toward geeks and people willing to play with software. You can hear about using macros, scripts, auto text solutions which automate a lot of your work. But those solutions require at least some computer knowledge and willingness to explore.

At the same time if you work for a big corporation, use of non-approved software is not permitted. It’s more than likely that use of applications like textExpander or PhraseExpress will not be allowed for security reasons or simply because it’s easier for local IT team. You could push the limit and try to install something on your own but it’s risky and there may be consequences.

So how to improve your productivity where you can’t use latest software, your are not a geek and can’t create macros? Start with exploring three options: keyboard shortcuts, templates, checklists.

Use keyboard

Easiest way to increase speed on your computer is to learn keyboard shortcuts. Rather than patiently navigate through different menus and options use key combinations to get your stuff done.
Most certainly you’ve heard about ctrl+C, ctrl+B combinations. There are hundreds more,  almost every application has them. You don’t need to learn all of them at once start small and build up as you go. Here is how to do  it:

  • Define your key applications. Figure out which programs you use the most, there is no point in spending time on learning a tool you use once in a while.
  • Check the list of shortcuts and print those you think will be most useful. Any time you do something check if there is a keyboard shortcut for it.
  • Keep the list in front. Pin in on the wall or tape to your monitor.
  • Refer to it as much as possible and try to memorise them.

Once you’ve learned the shortcuts and used them for couple weeks observe how smoother and faster your are at computer.

Use templates

Do you write standard letters or email communication? Do you have to print the same form everyday?
If you find yourself creating the same type of documents time and time again. Rather than re-type the same content each time and think what to put in it try creating a template for each type.
Create a folder with all your templates and put a link on your desktop for quick access. Then each time you need to send an email or some other document refer to that folder and use the template. Fill the blank with client specific information and your done.

Use checklists

Another way to deal with standardised and repeating tasks is to create a checklist to describe the stages of the process. They can save you a lot of time and reduce chances for mistakes. Couple ways in which checklists can help you increase productivity:

  • Don’t have to re-write sub tasks every time.  Being able to see all the sub-tasks makes it easy to complete the work 
  • Don’t have to think what needs to be done. Some tasks are complex and lengthy with lots of moving parts. Having to re-think every step of the process would be time consuming and very risky.  Think of plane mechanics, there are thousands of parts in engine so if each mechanic would have to remember what to do when servicing it would make it easier to forget about this or that element.
  • Easily deal with distractions. It’s not uncommon that someone interrupts our work. Having a checklist at hand makes it easy to know where you were and what to do next to complete the process.

Are you a non-geek? How do you improve your productivity?

Hope you enjoyed this post and found it useful. I would appreciate your comments and opinions.

Projects and mind maps go hand in hand

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In the last couple of weeks I’ve been discovering how well projects and mind maps work together.

I subscribe to the GTD based notion that anything that takes more than two steps is a project. As result my project list grows at a very fast pace. For the moment I’m fine with that and using a mind map to manage that really makes a difference.

Also projects from a key element of my work so it’s easy for me to think and work “in projects”. As in my workplace pretty much everything is a project setting up my workflow around this makes much more sense.

In the last couple years I’ve been using Outlook to manage projects and actions. Outlook is great for creating action lists, unfortunately projects don’t fit into it well.

I’ve tried many different approaches to handle projects but was not very successful. Unless you buy a special add-on (not possible in my workplace) your choices are limited. Finally, I’ve settled on using categories to separate actions and projects and waiting for’s. Project details were recorded in the notes section. That was sufficient but not great.

I had my project list in plain view but nothing more, unless I’ve opened each project I couldn’t see what’s next, where the project was, etc.

Recently I’ve discovered that I can get installed a Mindjet’s MindManager Pro on my work computer. I immediately requested access and began transferring all my stuff into a mind map.Thanks to embedded Outlook sync I’ve exported all my projects and tasks into a single dashboard like map.

Initially I thought I’ll be using a single map for everything, projects, actions, ideas, calendar etc. Unfortunately I quickly discovered that this only lead to visual overload and makes managing tasks more complicated. I’ve settled on creating a dashboard like map which includes my current, future and closed projects. In addition I’ve added links to other maps which include my current goals, someday/maybe items etc.

My projects reside in mind map however actions are synced/inputted to Outlook. It’s purely practical reason. Outlook is open whole day for me so it’s easier to focus on the actual things to do in there.

Why I moved from Outlook to MindManager? and

Why MindManager or any other mind mapping software will work?

  • Single place. Having all in one map provides better overview of my commitments. I can see straight away how many projects are there and what’s their weight. In addition projects can be broken up by tasks so I can see how big is the project or what’s involved in it.
  • Focus. I can select a project with it’s sub tasks and move to new branch This way all I’ll see is that one item I should be focusing on. There is no distraction from seeing other items on my list.
  • Defence against distractions. Having an outline of tasks necessary for each project makes it easier to jump in and work on it for 15 to 30 minutes. And when ever someone interrupts I always know where I was and what’s next.
  • Tracking. Adding a quick update to mind maps is very easy. Something happened, an idea occurred, new task I can simply add those things when needed. Very often projects change direction and so the related tasks. Using mind map allows to capture all these things so that your list is current and up to date.
  • Archiving and reference. Once project is done I file away with all it’s notes, completed subtasks etc. If there is a need to go back and check what was done I can always do that and have a clear overview.

I’m still at a stage of refining the whole setup and workflow but the results are very encouraging. I can see that I’m handling a lot of stuff. This is good for two reasons I can show that I’m doing a good job and juggle a lot of projects. On the flip side if I struggle to keep up rather than let things slide I can ask for help and pass a well defined project to a colleague.

If you have access to any mind mapping software my suggestion is to try it out, see if you can improve on your work performance.

Building simple productivity system

Solar system

photo by  Ernst Vikne

Why/What you need

Before you can start building anything you need to know why are you doing and and what do you need it for. Simple answer to question why is to be more effective, to be more organised, to get the right things done, to have more time. You might have other reasons but above would be most common.

What you need in your system will depend on the methodology you’re subscribing to. Perhaps like me you may be a practitioner of David Allen’s Getting Things Done method or you might prefer Steven Covey 7 Habits of highly effective people, maybe Mark Forster’s Do it tomorrow has a greater appeal to you.

Regardless from the method you choose there are certain elements that are mentioned in every approach. They may appear under different name or in different combinations yet they all are referring to the same. The key categories include following items.

– actions/task list

– projects and project plans

– reference material

These three categories cover full spectrum of tasks you may encounter. Simple one off items get added to task list. More complex thing are broken down on project list. This way it’s keep stuff in control and don’t loose those multistep items. Once you are done and want to keep a record of your process and achievements you can save them in reference files along with interesting articles, ideas  etc.

There is a great number of applications used for managing this type of content.I’ve decided to use following services and programs.

  • Remember the Milk – tasks and lists that I use on regular basis.
  • Freeplane – project list, project action plans, goals, multi-step endeavours.
  • Evernote – reference material, project support documents.

Why I’ve chosen these products?

First off all they are simple to use and setup. Because they are good in their particular areas I can get better amount of focus. For example if I’m in Evernote I know there are no tasks for the to look at as any active action/task gets logged to Remember the Milk.

All applications come for free and provide enough features to make you a very productive person. If you want to support developers you can go pro and add couple more features which make the products ever better.

All programs are completely cross platform is some shape or form. This means I can access my tasks, reference material on my Android phone when ever I need. If I have new idea I can always add it to one of my lists. Remember the Milk and Evernote have great mobile clients. My Freeplane maps are compatible with ThinkingSpace application on Android which makes my projects fully accessible from any where.

What’s also important for me is the information flow between these application. Although there is no sync between these services thanks to email I can push some data from one service to another. Alternatively I can take snaps of my mind maps and add to my project files.

These there relatively simple applications allow me the create a system that’s simple, accessible anywhere and free*.

If you use different setup or can recommend other applications please share them in the comments section.

 

[*Just a little note of disclosure: I’m using a pro version of Remember the Milk and will be subscribing to Evernote Pro in next couple of weeks. I’m paying for both on my own.]

Your basic productivity tools

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Wakoopa

Many people consider productivity tools as applications like task managers, reference databases, calendars, diaries etc. they good for making us more organized more focused but not to produce any work, not to design presentations and writing reports.

When you look at the usage patters the primary productivity tools are not calendars or task managers but word processors,  spreadsheet applications, presentation design tools.

These are the programs that allow us to produce something. These are our tools that allow us getting the work done. We use them everyday, we write reports, read emails, compile data. Word, Excel, Keynote are our basic tools.

Office applications developed for over 20 years grew in features and became more sophisticated. Today’s workplace tools have hundreds of features and functions. User guides and tutorials have thousand and more pages. There are countless websites and forums devoted to answering all sort of questions about them.

Despite the availability of information and training many knowledge workers simply don’t know the tools they are using. Most people spent hundred of hours every year using those tools yet they never go beyond the basics they have learned in their early years of office work.

Not many see the link that being proficient with the software helps get the work done.Many businesses are all about finding efficiencies and increasing productivity yet they look at software proficiency as one of the elements of their strategy. Perhaps they think that it’s enough what they know but is it really, can you really tell that you know everything about your field of work, can you really say that you don’t need to learn.

I think when you look are the obstacles that prevent you from moving forward ability to use software might be one of them. Think of this, if you were a writer would faster typing skills and better knowledge of word processing program not improve your chances or if you are an analyst would better understanding of spreadsheet and database software not improve your chances. 

By learning the ins and outs of the software you can save yourself a ton of time and use it on developing your knowledge and other skills. You can create custom phrases, improve the speed at which you operate, make thing more appealing, and finally go beyond simple ctrl+c or ctrl+x and abandon that mouse.

There are over 500 million Microsoft Office users worldwide that use Word, Excel and Outlook on daily basis. Therefore I’m listing just a dozen of various resources which help you increase your knowledge of above applications.

Keyboard shortcuts:

Keyboard shortcuts for Microsoft Word

Keyboard shortcuts for Microsoft Excel

Keyboard shortcuts for Microsoft Outlook

Functions, tips & tricks, how-tos:

Officeusers.org

Bnet.com/Microsoft office

MSOfficegurus.com

How to Geek/Microsoft office

Ultimate List Of Office 2010 Tips & Tricks

PC Unleashed

How to Outlook

MSoffice.us

Tickler file

tickler file

What should you do with letters, invoices, bills etc where some action is needed but it’s in the future?
Where should you keep those items so they don’t get lost?
Getting Things Done system suggests to use a tickler file.

What’s tickler file?

It’s set of 43 folders where you store items that you need to be reminded of in the future. The main categories would include invoices, bills, leaflets, coupons , air tickets, hotel confirmations, various forms etc.
There are 31 folders for each day of current month and 12 for every month. Then each day, respective folders are reviewed to check what is for today.
As with many GTD behaviours the key to success with tickler file is to review it regularly and keep it updated. A one tip that has been mentioned by David Allen and Jason Womack to make using tickler more fun was to put randomly some money into folders. You would get those surprises where 10-20 dollar bill would pop up so you could buy a nice coffee or something.

Tickler in the age of bits

For many people tickler file would be the most physical element of GTD implementation. There is a bunch of folders, there are some trays or box to hold those. However in today’s age less and less things come in paper format. We can opt for email delivery of bills, scan invoices, coupon codes from favourite shops, etc. All this makes setting up a full blown tickler not practical.

With advent of digital solutions for managing tasks and calendar setting up a tickler file in an electronic format is very simple. Just create calendar in Google Calendar or Outlook and call it "tickler" and your are done. Every time you will need to set a reminder for bill or a invoice  but don’t want to clog your main calendar view leave the memo in that special calendar.

The problem and a solution

The problem arises with the few things that still come in in paper form. Probably there isn’t a lot of them, perhaps a handful in a  year maybe a dozen or two. Setting up a 43 folder cabinet to simply manage occasional letters and leaflets would cause more hassle that benefit and would quickly be abandoned.

However to keep things organised you shouldn’t left stuff lying around even if this is just a couple of letters or forms. It’s quite likely that when you need that bill or that invoice you wont be able to find it. Still you need some sort of solution.

Why not making the most out of electronic and paper by supplementing first with the second .
Use an electronic calendar to record dates and setup reminders. Every time you get a reminder from your tickler calendar go to your folder (see below) pick up the item and complete the necessary action.  You should leverage your current approach so there is no need to change your behaviours.

With the papers put them in a folder that will serve as a storage solution for all items you need to keep track of. Anything you would need reminder of later is stored there. 

Depending on the number of items coming your way you can setup 1 or more folders to be able to find things easily enough. If you need more folders you could use: two for every six month, three folders for every four months and four folders for every 3 months.

With this limited number of folders the whole system is simple and there is very little overhead  – it’s just maximum of four folders.

If you find that four folders is not enough to handle the stream of papers consider one of the two things. Either set up a folder for each month to divide those documents or examine ways to reduce the number of things that reach you in paper form. Perhaps some things can be eliminated completely or simply be send as .pdf file.

Tickler file is a useful way to keep track of bills, coupons, vouchers and invoices. Although it’s very much tied to the physical world of paper it can be successfully adapted into the world where electronic calendars and devices dominate.

Special Thanks to  AMcDermott for inspiring the idea for this post.

New GTD toolkit. Android, cloud and paper.

In in the post from late last year I went through a description of my setup. At that time I was using Onenote and Filofax to manage main pillars of Getting Things Done. Since then things have changed quite drastically.    
The biggest game changer for me was purchase of an android smart-phone. As this is one of the few things that we carry everywhere with us. It was no brainer that I would use it as one of the key elements of my GTD setup.

Tasks.

I’ve looked at number of applications for task management that are available on the PC and Android platform and decided to settle on Rememeber the Milk (RTM).    
The setup I’m using is very simple. I decided to stick with basics and use just a handful of lists. At this moment I have following lists: Next Actons, Projects, Errands, Inbox, Somday, Blog.    
I’ve experimented with various scenarios of using combinations of tags, lists and location. Although having these features can be useful it was not necessary for me. Using those caused my system to become too complex.    
Also I deliberately don’t use contexts because I  try to limit no of things on my lists. The main idea is to put only those actions that I really want to complete in coming week or two.    
It would be great if RTM would allow to better link actions with the projects. It’s not a deal breaker for me as most of my projects are simple and I can easy think of any actions. However If a project is more complex I would create a note in Evernote and list all the actions milestones etc.

Project support, Reference, Storage.

In previous setup the main repository of reference material was Onenote now I’ve replaced it with Evernote.    
Why I’ve chosen Evernote over Onenote? Mainly because of the syncing with Android phone and ability to use it anywhere. For me it’s perfect capture tool. I can get any type of information there text, images, audio, even files. It’s always in sync  once. I’ve captured something on my phone it’s available on my computer in seconds. I don’t need transfer any data, make sure I connect computer etc. All the syncing happens over the air. 
Android client makes capture anytime and anywhere a breeze. It may not be as advanced as the iPhone version but it does the job of capturing very well. I hope that over time new functionality will arrive and match the capabilities existing on other clients. In addition to that I really like the overall integration with Android system. Basically any item that can be shared can also be send to Evernote. This way I can capture tweets, links to pages, emails directly form the smartphone and send them straight to Evernote. Not fiddling with copy paste etc.    
The main purpose of Evernote is to be a single point of reference for all my information needs. At the moment I’m using just 4 notebooks.

Inbox – As I mentioned above I use Evernote on my smartphone but I also on my desktop and in Firefox so any time anything pops into  my head it gets captured and send to this notebook. Then every 2-3 days I review the content of this notebook and make a decision about each of the items. I stick with three choices: save it for later, do it, delete it.

GTD –  This folder has dual purpose. First it serves as place to go to for all my current work. It will contain things like project plans, outlines, drafts etc. Second main purpose is to support my GTD implementation. I will store there my someday/maybe, checklists, agendas etc.

Blogging – This notebook is dedicated to blogging. All the post ideas, ideas for changes on the blog, tips, design changes, cool templates, articles related to blogging and writing all end up here.

Reference – this is catch all notebook. Everything that I want to keep record of end in there, online receipts, productivity tips, business ideas, various thoughts, observations, lessons learned, logs etc.

For the moment this Evernote setup seems to be working very well for me  but no information is useful if you don’t use it or can’t find it.  Every piece of information in Evernote can be tagged however I’ve decided to use only a very limited number of tags just to separate some key categories. I would use @someday or PostIdea tag just to make sure that those types of notes can be easily retrieved. As for the rest I rely o search. This way I don’t clog the tag view and there is no problem with  selecting the most appropriate tag.   
I’ve listened workflow episode with Merlin Mann and decided to stick with his advise that only things that are likely to be used in the future deserve tag, if you use consistent names than any search query will find exact what you want. So asking simple question "do I need this information handy?" helps me to decide whether  to use tags or not.

Paper

Despite proliferation off electronic tools paper has still place in my setup. I think aiming to be completely paperless cannot be achieved unless your are willing to sacrifice some of the productivity and creativity that paper can provide.   
Paper works well for me it’s fast, easy to use, readily available. I like to outline on paper, doodle, draw sketches etc. Although I don’t see it as permanent organisation or storage tool it’s great for conveying ideas fast. To put it simply Paper helps with thinking. Any attempts to go completely paperless were not practical. Trying to cut paper out was like cutting the branch you’re sitting on.

This is my current setup. It works really well as the combination of smartphone, desktop and cloud applications provides me with everything I need everywhere I need it.

What’s your setup? Do you rely on online application or prefer software that sits on your computer?

Enhance personal productivity with Android phone

Mobile phones are no longer designed to be used as phone or texting device. With so many hardware features packed into a very small box they start to replace a dozen of other devices. And while the hardware development has a huge impact on functionality of such devices the greatest impact comes from the software side.

First was the iPhone and now Android operating systems that allow for building applications that further expand the functionality of smartphones to the level not seen before. When you look at currently available options the choice is far greater than that available for full featured computers of ten years ago.

Smartphones are one of the few devices that are always with us.This is why they are perfect devices for personal productivity.

Out of the box any Android device supports Gmail and Google Calendar applications.

But these devices can do much more than that. Below is little rundown of interesting apps that I’m planning to use once I have the phone. (A good site to visit if you are looking for some nice apps is Appbrain.com.

Do/Track

Keeping a todo list at hand is always a good thing. You can use those couple minutes here and there and knock few items out. Also it relives you from figuring out what is the next thing you need to do.

Remember the Milk – this is one of the best online applications for managing tasks. It provides a slew of features allowing you to structure, review update your list the way you want.

Astrid – is a simple and easy to use task manager with nice notification and reminder system. In addition allows you to backup/sync your tasks with Remember the Milk so when you are at the computer you can use desktop interface.

MyTasks – another interesting app for managing tasks on your phone. MyTasks provides a host of features to sort, categorize, input tasks. Each task can be enhanced with a note, priority and due date. The only missing element is that your tasks sit on your phone and can’t be synced with any online service or your PC.

There are two more applications for managing your actions that caught my attention and both were inspired by the GTD methodology.

Action Complete – it provides out of the box basic GTD setup for managing actions, projects, waiting for’s. Task can be created and assigned to projects, context, people and places. Actions can be sorted and filtered so you can match your actions to available context, time energy, etc. At this stage unfortunately there is no option to move/sync actions with computer or web but it’s in the development.

Goals ToDo (free or paid) – second GTD inspired app is Goals. This program provides you with a full featured system for managing, reviewing and clarifying your actions, projects and goals. It’s very well designed and thought out.One of the elements that caught my attention was the dashboard screen which allows you to see and access different element of GTD systems. The other one worth mentioning shows you the concept of goals and how to think about them from the start to the completion. There is paid and free app available unfortunately no sync to web or computer app.

Read

As much as it’s easy to imagine using phone for managing tasks and calendar, reading on it is completely new thing for me. I know it’s possible and practiced all over the world – hey, look at all the blackberry users. I’m hoping that reading on the HTC Desire will be good enough experience and easy on eyes. The plan is to be able to read my Google Reader or Read it Later articles whenever possible. Android platform offers broad spectrum of apps designed for reading in the go.

Paperdroid (free or paid) – this is most promising and interesting app. If you are a user of Read it Later your can synchronize bookmarked items with your android phone and take it offline and read whenever you like. It’s great if you want to read on the go and would like to avoid data charges.

iReader (free or paid)- this is mobile ebook reader application that allows you to read over 2300 books that are available for free. It supports TXT, CHM, UMD, Palm PDB formats so you can always add your own content if you like.

I think another program worth mentioning as the side note is Gutenberger, which allows you to access over 25499 books.

This is less about reading but still about consumption of information.If you are big fan of audiable.com the bad news is that there is no app for listening their books on Android phone. However you can always listen to many great podcasts available for free. One of the best app for managing them is software called Listen. It allows you to stream podcasts or download them and listen them offline. You can manage feeds directly on your phone or on desktop PC via Google Reader. 

Think

Maybe there are times when your head is full of ideas and you just want to get them out of there or maybe there is a challenge that you have to think through and asses from various angles?

One of the best ways to deal with that is to let it all out put it on a mind map. And Android has an app for that actually two apps. It’s Mind Map Memo and Thinking Space. Both apps look like they are very easy and fun to use. Interface is simple and well laid out. What’s more important, once you’re done with map on the phone it can be further expanded on the desktop as they are compatible with Freemind format.

Obviously this is not all that Android operating system can offer. This is what I envision doing the most on my phone. Your own situation can be different and you may prefer consider different use scenarios.
Since there are over 40k apps so I’m sure everyone will find something interesting, useful and fun.

[If you use Android phone to enhance your productivity and keep on top if your life please share your thoughts in comments sections.]

Note taking on your mobile device

Couple weeks ago I’ve attended WordCampIrl conference in Kilkenny. The event was dedicated to learning about blogging, social media and WordPress as publishing platform.It was a great event and I’ve got to talk to some great people also I’ve learned a lot new things about blogging, writing and using new media.
Note taking was one of the main activities during that weekend as some of the sessions were jam packed with useful information tips, software recommendations etc.
I was looking at other people and ways they were using to take notes and at least a third of people used an iPhone for that. Others were using various types of notepads and I stuck with my Filofax. What surprised me a little was there were not that many people taking notes on their laptops.

As I’m considering purchase of an iPhone or an Android based phone (my pick is HTC Desire to be released on 3 Apr.) I’m looking at various usage scenarios. One of them is note taking and idea capture. Currently this is handled by the inbox section in my Filofax and a stack of scrap paper if I’m not taking the Filofax with me.
Both phones or platforms as I should say have some native note taking clients which seem to do the job. Unfortunately with default clients your are quite limited as to what you can do with the notes, where can you sync them etc.

Decided to do some research and look for some popular note taking applications that caught my eye, and fit in to my current setup. NOTE: I have not tested these applications and below are my findings.

MobileNoter – gateway to Onenote, iPhone. This application allows you to synchronize your OneNote notebooks with your iphone. As this is a early release the functionality is not very broad but it’s good for jotting down some notes. Current version supports text notes with other features coming soon.  If you are a heavy user of MS OneNote this application is great for keeping copy of errands to run, some reference information etc.

Evernote – everywhere, anytime, platform agnostic. Evernote is a real powerhouse if you look at note taking space. They provide a great application that allows you to take text, pictures, recordings and drawing note anywhere and have it synced with the cloud. You can use any device you want because they have a client for every smartphone platform and when you can’t use the dedicated device there is always the web interface. This let’s you take notes, researched anywhere, regardless of available device.

Awesome Note lite – For starters this application has great interface. You start with a set of tabs that represent different categories of lists/notes then each note is represented by a small sheet with visible first couple words.  As for the note taking functionality you can use text, images. Notes can be catalogued into folders that are password protected and  full text search will let you find any note very quickly. You can transfer your notes by sending  them via email or to Evernote.

Note Everything – this is an Android application which provides usual set of features like text, audio and  photo notes, checklists. Once captured notes can be send via email or text message (SMS). Some additional features include reminders that can be assigned to each note, option to backup your notes to sd-card.  This looks like a solid replacement for the default client with all in one functionality.

Android applications look useful and provide comparable functionality, and the phone experience itself looks very compelling. However options available on iPhone are much more refined visually and from the user experience. iPhone had obviously some three year head start and that shows as the android apps are still rough around the edges.

Is computer blocking your productivity?

Chances are that you spend a lot of time at your computer. Chances are that most of the things you produce is through the use of a computer.
Using computer to complete any tasks creates an assumption that it will make you more productive, that you will finish tasks faster and with better quality.

This is possible once you learn how to use computer effectively.

Essentially computer is just a tool that we as users need to learn. It’s no different from hammer or wrench. To make the most out a tool you need to learn the tool, know it’s limitations and strengths.

There are four main barriers that prevent most people from using computers with maximum efficiency. Getting past these four obstacles will impact you in two ways.

  • It will save you time by reducing the amount needed to complete work.
  • It will allow you to increase your output.

And it’s not about learning crazy hacks and secret commands, it’s more about finding ways of smarter use of computer with solutions that are readily available.

  1. Slow typing – as most of the information that is passed through the computer is text a slow typing can be a real problem. Solution to this is to learn touch typing. This way you will increase your output and save time. There are plenty of online tools to learn speed typing. I’ve tried these two.  Also if you want to practice your speed and have some fun with it here is a list of touch typing games.
    And you you look for some tangible effects of learning touch typing check out this calculator. It should give you a rough idea.
  2. Mouse – mouse is a great pointing device and is very useful when you need precision. but doing anything with mouse is in most cases longer as you need to navigate various menu option to find the right command. You can increase speed and don’t break the motions by learning keyboard shortcuts for your mostly used actions and commands. Starting with the obvious for many like ctrl+c to copy etc. Go inline and look for a help of your favourite program see what are the mostly used actions and learning the shortcuts.
    You may think that learning this is a waste of time but consider the fact that computer and software are the work tools and to be a master of your work you need to MASTER the tools.
  3. Repeating text – if you are a writer or a programmer many times you write the same pieces of text time and time again. Even if you are in sales or any other job you find your self repeatedly writing signatures, web addresses, letter openings etc. The solution to this is using so called text expansion software. It allows to generate predefined text by typing single word or specific combination of letters. The widely popular  is TextExpander on Mac and Texter on Windows. I’m using a free version of well known Active Words program. If you wonder how much you can save by using this type of software here is a handy link to Harvard Busines Review blog post by Gina Trappani.
  4. Navigation – All of the  applications and documents are stored in folders and subfolders thus making it time consuming to navigate into right location and the added complication is remembering the location. The simplest solution to this is using a program launcher. The more popular are Launchy and FARR which beyond launching applications and documents can be expanded via additional add-on. This way you can post to twitter, facebook, update calendar add new tasks etc.  If you need something simpler I recommend using the Windows 7 and Vista search bar. It’s very simple to use -hit windows key and type the name of the document or program.

If you know any more tips and strategies which improve productivity and interaction with computer please share them in in the comments section.