Thursday, December 17, 2009

On Productivity: My Paper Processing Workflow

I've always been a fan of performing tasks as efficiently as possible and eliminating the drudgery of those tasks that don't add a lot of value to my work or personal life. One of those tasks which is a necessary evil is the maintenance of paper-based documents. Everyone has them...bills that need to be paid, bank statements, tax documents, owner's manuals, receipts. As much as possible, many of us have tried to digitize these things so we don't receive them as paper in the first place. I've pretty much successfully eliminated any kind of bill coming to me in the mail and have turned every monthly payment into an automated one. Technology is a great enabler for managing a lot of this "stuff", but if you are like me, you probably have a legacy of paper filed away in some part of your house. For me, my paper legacy takes the form of two file cabinets full of the paperwork that makes up my life since I started college. A great majority of the paper is content that I will never likely have to revisit, but feel the need to keep in case it is required for some reason. Financial and legal documents seem to be the most prevalent in this category. In the 10 years I've been in my current house, I've never had to go to the file cabinet and physically pull my mortgage papers, yet there they are, taking up valuable space and stuffing the drawer so it makes it harder to get to the stuff I really do need to see. Earlier in the year, I decided to start tackling the paper problem in my house. Ironically, as a collaboration architect working with Lotus technologies, I've helped many companies eliminate paper from business processes through the years, but never really took action on it in my own life. The cobbler's children and all...

Anyway, in order to get rid of paper, I knew that I would have to digitize it and then store it in such a way as to find it as easily as I could find information in my physical file cabinet. To do this, I would need a scanner. Now I've had a flat-bed scanner for many years, but I understood from using it that it was in no way up to the task of digitizing my life. The process of individually putting each page of a document on the bed would be far too cumbersome to manage in a timely fashion. No...what I needed was a scanner than provided a paper-feed mechanism and that could handle paper fast. From doing research over the years, I had one and only one device in mind and the only reason I hadn't pulled the trigger yet was cost. That device was the Fujitsu ScanSnap and let me tell you, it is the best money I have ever spent on a piece of computer hardware, bar none. My only regret was not having picked this thing up sooner. To do it justice, I don't just want to explain the ScanSnap, I want to show it to you. More on that in a minute.

So I recognized a problem: too much paper. That was the first step. Now I needed to make an actionable plan to deal with it. That's where the ScanSnap came in. I started using it to scan papers in when they came in the mail. As soon as I came across something I needed to keep (my monthly bank statement, for instance), I digitized it and stored it on my hard drive and then shredded the document. Ah...a great feeling. I've been doing this for several months now and it has been very successful. However, nagging at the back of my mind (even though it was on my Someday/Maybe GTD list) was the massive task of tackling those file cabinets. Over the Thanksgiving break, I finally took the plunge and mapped out my paper processing workflow. This is my first attempt at the process, and I'm sure it will be enhanced and refined over time. In any case, based on a couple of e-mails I received in regards to my tweets about "Operation: Paperless Office", I thought I would share a video with you on how I am doing this. This also gives me a chance to showcase the Fujitsu ScanSnap, which I think is just a phenomenal device!

First up, here is a brief note I made when I was thinking through the process. (Yes...I believe in the power of prototyping and visual rendering even when I'm not doing application development!).


It turns out that so far this is working nicely. The following videos describe the ScanSnap functionality and show you my paper processing workflow in action. A couple of notes about the videos. First, I have a face for radio and a voice for print, so try to ignore the narrator and focus on the content. Second, I used my son's Flip video for this rather than my hi-def camcorder. I was kind of giving the Flip a trial run to test some things out and after going through the entire process, I thought it flowed pretty well and I was afraid if I tried to re-record it to be more "professional" then it would just come off feeling scripted and contrived. What you get here is me just trying to describe the process as if I was talking with you face to face. Take that as you will. :-)

Paper Processing Workflow with the Fujitsu ScanSnap - Part 1 from Chris Blatnick on Vimeo.


Paper Processing Workflow with the Fujitsu ScanSnap - Part 2 from Chris Blatnick on Vimeo.


As you'll see if you check out the videos, another important component of my paper processing workflow is Dropbox. This service is an excellent way to replicate data across systems and functions as a temporary to permanent backup system. With it, I feel comfortable knowing that I can destroy a document as soon as the ScanSnap captures it. Dropbox provides a free and premium service. Check out their website to learn more and get started with a free account. If you use my referral link, you'll get an additional 250 MB of space on top of the 2 GB they give you for free (so will I...thanks!).

If you have questions or suggestions, I'd love to hear them. Cheers!

Check out DropBox and get 250 MB extra

Order the Fujitsu ScanSnap from Amazon: Windows version | Mac version

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Monday, March 23, 2009

The Inaugural GTD Summit...Did It Change The Way The World Works?

After attending the GTD Global Summit a little over a week ago, my mind is still swirling with all kinds of thoughts. I wanted to write a final post to close things out earlier, but I hit the road to visit customers literally a couple of hours after I arrived back from San Francisco. Now that I've been back for a day, it's time to process my inboxes, update my lists and get some things done. One of the main items was to write this post, so here we go. First, I'll try to distill down some of my notes from the opening keynote, then wrap up with my overall impression of the event.

The conference kicked off on Thursday morning with the opening keynote session, although there was a social mixer the evening before. For those who could make it, it was a great treat. As Eric Mack told me it would be, it was a classy affair. Nothing fancy...just nice. A jazz band played while people mingled and introduced themselves to fellow GTD enthusiasts. There was great food and drink available as well, and the atmosphere was very casual. It was kind of funny to see so many people with capture tools (pen, pad, etc.) in one place, scribbling things down to remember later as people talked about books, other GTD tools, etc. I met more than a couple Lotus Notes customers and people from around the world, which I found exciting. My wife and I met a guy who had come up from Chile while we were in the elevator, and during the evening event, we met folks from Hong Kong, Antigua, Spain and other exotic locales. I think it speaks to the power and efficacy of GTD that even in a tough economic climate, these people felt it was beneficial to come to San Francisco to attend this gathering. The Wednesday evening event set up a promise of a great two days to come.

Thanks to the David Allen Company (and to Eric, of course), I was fortunate enough to attend the GTD Summit as a guest blogger. While I endeavored to live blog the breakout sessions, there was just too much info flying during the keynote to do it justice. I was given a press pass and took advantage of the area they had set aside for us to capture the action.

David is an unassuming, yet compelling speaker. Its interesting that in our society, our expectation of a "celebrity" (and he certainly is in this circle) is one who is standoffish and self important. David spoke with an ease of one having a conversation with the audience rather than presenting to them, which was really refreshing. He also has a great sense of humor. During his opening remarks, David talked about the phenomenon that is GTD. His original book, "Getting Things Done" has been published in 28 languages and has sold close to 2 million copies. There are over 150 software applications to support GTD. It truly is a global phenomenon. He jokingly shared that "Getting Things Done" was published during the dot bomb phase and his new book, "Making It All Work", was introduced at the height of the sub-prime crisis, prompting him to promise "For the right amount of money, I'll guarantee I will never write another book". He also shared stories of groups using GTD in their lives and work. The Simpsons writers, for example, are big advocates of GTD. Many other corporations are evaluating GTD and determining how they can inject it into the organization.

When David started putting together the ideas for this Summit, he generated a list of speakers, panelists and moderators that he wanted to attend. He figured only a small number would commit, but 85% of them said yes to the invitation, all coming to the conference on their own dime. I think that speaks volumes to the respect that this community has for David and his ideas. These speakers are all masters in their field, thought leaders and entrepreneurs. In the end, even with the best systems and best intentions, however, we can all be victims of circumstances beyond our control. David was very candid and chose to share that he had to lay off 40% of his staff recently due to the huge drop in training budgets from companies. I was impressed by the fact that he shared this. It implied a trust with his audience that even amidst all of this trouble, he believes that all of us as practitioners of the GTD methodology are on the right track. In fact, David believes that the tools of GTD are more important than ever now that we are in survival mode. To quote David as he finished his opening remarks, "Now is the time that this is in it's time". Very interesting times indeed...

For the second half of the keynote session, David introduced Guy Kawasaki, serial entrepreneur, venture capitalist and founder of Alltop. David invited Guy to serve as moderator and to interview David for the remainder of the session. They dove right in to a frank and open discussion. It was obvious that nothing was rehearsed ahead of time, which was another refreshing touch you don't see at too many conferences. Of course, this also meant the conversation took some unusual turns and tended to meander a bit, but overall it was a stimulating conversation. I loved how one of Guy's first questions was about Twitter and he asked David if Twitter gets in the way of our productivity. David's reply, which probably comes as no surprise to the GTD crowd, was that Twitter doesn't get in the way at all if Twitter is what you want to be doing. :-) At this point, David commented about the phenomenon of Twitter, how intimidating it is in some ways to be "followed" by 75,000 people (now over 126k!) and that he was fascinated by the number of people who were using Twitter. It was at this moment that he pointed out my blog post in which I was gathering a list of people tweeting at the conference and asked "where's my IBM guy" (which I thought was totally cool). I was sitting at the press table in the back and told him we only had about 30 or so names on the list. He asked the audience who was using Twitter and at least 1/2 the hands went up. It seems we have a way to go to get the GTD community following one another, much like we do in the Lotus community.

Guy and David had a great rapport. Guy is an unnaturally good moderator, combining humor, self-deprecation and fun questions to keep the audience's attention. He had a lot of great soundbites, and I could see during my peeks into the #gtdsummit Twitter stream that people were enjoying capturing them. He ribbed David about not using a Mac, asked if the key to getting things done was not having kids, and suggested that claiming e-mail bankruptcy is perhaps key to being productive! I do think one of the more humorous quotes to come out of the whole conference was when Guy told David, "I don't see how anyone that thinks they are going to get things done uses Windows". After the initial playful banter, Guy settled into some more serious questions. He asked David what he felt was the greatest barrier to GTD. David's replied that it was "addiction to stress". In order to solve this problem, according to David, it is necessary to get your mind clear. By being more aware of the stress, you will be much more interested to alleviate it quickly.

The conversation continued with a few more questions and answers before moving into the second half of the session, the plenary panel. One additional comment was made that I think was worth mentioning before moving on. David noted that he believes small communities have the best chance of having GTD take hold. If we could build this up as a mind swell, we could start to have a big impact. I think this is very true, as I've seen GTD work very well as a grassroots effort and spread by word of mouth. It's my hope we'll start to see these ideas introduced to kids in school. In fact, I'm starting to work with my son this week to give him the GTD basics.

The plenary panel was up next, and this was a special treat. The panelists represented some of the top thinkers in their field and it was a pleasure to listen to each of them. The panel consisted of Maj. Gen. Randal Fullhart, James Fallows, Paul Saffo, and Marshall Goldsmith with moderators David Allen and Guy Kawasaki. Each panelist took a bit of a different approach, talking about various topics from the work they do to a general overview of how they "do" GTD. Of particular interest was Marshall Goldsmith's talk on the idea of peer coaching and the concept of "daily questions". As a way to stay accountable, the two peer coaches ask each other a series of questions every single day. Each question is structured to be answered with only a "Yes" or "No" and is designed this way to make you focus on living your values. I heard more than one attendee express interest in this idea and I expect we'll be hearing more about this from other GTDers in the coming months. (For more information, I found this great document at the Marshal Goldsmith Library.

The remainder of the two days of the GTD summit were filled with some amazing panels. You can find my thoughts from some of these sessions in my earlier blog posts and entries on Twitter. I found it pretty amazing that so many of the attendees were sharing their thoughts in real-time via Twitter. Most were using the #gtdsummit hashtag, so you can go back through and get a feel for how the GTD Summit unfolded through their eyes. The conversations in the hall between events and in the exhibitors hall were all equally stimulating. I hope that we'll see this event repeated in the future and that it will reflect by it's growth the corresponding growing awareness of GTD in the public at large.

Of special interest to me was the fact that I found many people who were surprised to find that David Allen uses Lotus Notes to manage his own GTD system. In fact, he has been using Notes for about 15 years in all aspects of his business. For his GTD implementation, David uses the eProductivity template developed by Eric Mack. I know that based on some of the conversations I had, people who were unaware of Lotus Notes are going to be taking a look at it. I think this is a great opportunity for us in the Lotus community. We have a champion in a well-known figure, a person being followed on Twitter by 126,000 people and counting. It's natural for people to want to use the systems their "heroes" are using (sports stars, musicians, etc.) and the same is true for GTD. On a personal note as an IBMer (but certainly speaking for myself), I hope that IBM/Lotus can figure out a way to team up with David to get the word out about both GTD and Lotus Notes. I think it would be a win-win for both sides.

Another cool aspect of the GTD Summit was the vendor exhibit area. All of the exhibitors there were focused specifically on GTD or personal productivity in some way, shape or form. I was very pleased to see that the eProductivity booth was usually busy. Eric and his daughters Wendy and Amy did a fantastic job demoing the software and I saw many people walk away very impressed by how it all works. Special shout out to my friends at Mindjet...it was great to meet you all in person!

The GTD Summit was all about "Changing the way the world works". I think that it certainly met this promise and started to instigate the change needed to bring this methodology to everyone. It's up to us as attendees to now take it as a next action to propagate these ideas in our circles of influence. In doing so, we'll help keep the spirit of the GTD Summit alive.

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Friday, March 13, 2009

Wrap up and final comments from GTD Global Summit

Always loved to watch Peter Drucker on stage. Admits to not being able to live up to what he did.

Great tip to relax quickly: lower your standards! ;-)

Shout out to the audience about how we're all "crazy like him".

88,000 people now following David Allen (@gtdguy) on Twitter. Amazing...22,000 in the last couple of days. All that from zero in a few weeks.

What he didn't hear during the conference: That anyone has the silver bullet.

Structured thinking can make profound change in your life. GTD isn't a system, it's a systematic approach.

David is asking the audience what we heard or didn't hear over these days, or what did we notice.

Amazing comments from audience. Hard to capture it all, but there was a lot of energy in the air. It was exciting to feel this spirit and the desire of everyone to not only help themselves but to help others as well and talk about embedding this into culture, education, etc.

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Best Practices to Good Habits: Can I Make GTD Stick?

Live blogging from the GTD Global Summit.

Panelists: Meg Edwards, Dean Hering, Alan Nelson, Jim Whitton

Moderator: Danny Bader

First hearing about the panelists and how they got started with using the GTD methodology.

Hearing common themes throughout the conference such as "it's easy to fall off the wagon, but easy to get back on as well" and "the weekly review is the hard but essential part of GTD"

Why keep it going? We know why...but let's talk about how to keep it going?

"The Brain that Changes Itself" - Book recommendation from Jim. 3 preconditions to remap brain: (1) Thing has to be relevant, (2) Some feedback mechanism to see positive try from negative try, (3) There have to be multiple tries.

Relate to these three things to make it stick. Jim has started doing a mini daily review (just going through project lists). Breaking weekly review into three chunks. Trying to get more iterations.

What are the biggest challenges/obstacles? From her coaching, saw patterns over the years where people were getting stuck. Tool hopping a big problem (trying to find the perfect tool rather than doing).

What is critical to staying on the wagon? Dean - Having the ability to adapt is going to keep you sane. Then build the habits that will make it stick.

Bundle your 2 minute tasks or you'll spend all 24 hours a day doing 2 minute tasks.

Add some artificial constraints.

TURN OFF EMAIL ANNOUNCEMENTS!

Meg - Make a distinction between scanning e-mail and processing e-mail. Scan with purpose. Don't fool yourself...that's not processing.

Alan - Puts a date after every next action (to see how long its been on his list).

Another common theme. You have to keep reevaluating your commitments with yourself.

What's so scary about really doing GTD? Feeling of overwhelm. Meg suggests making sure to separate the 5 phases of workflow to avoid that.

Jim - Having fun with constraints has made it an enjoyable process. Alan - so that made it relevant for you.

Tips & Tricks

Dean - Does the subject of the mail tell the person what it means and what the next action is? Use EOM tactically. Think of what's not just in it for us, but subtly influence by introducing to others.

Meg - Look at your project list. Is there a verb on each item on the project list? Without a verb, can't see what done looks like. Another tip: On next action list, same idea...need an action verb so you don't have to rethink what it is you have to do.

Alan - Answer the principles question. Answer the wild success question. Use tools that you like (folders, where you do your review, etc.). Ruthlessly eliminate things that produce drag.

Q&A Time:

Where is there insistence on A-Z file system with manila folders? Meg - People have a tendency to create very complex, elaborate systems that take to much thought. (Makes me think about the same thing from an e-mail perspective. I eliminated using folders in e-mail a few years ago to eliminate drag in my processing). David is just writing best practices. Flexibility is OK if it works for you.

You can have more than A-Z system. If something can go under more than one, you have to pick.

Jim - Paper files. If I were to look for something, what would I look under? Jim...same as me...uses search rather than filing.

How to keep 2 minute task from moving beyond that? Dean - Need to adjust your behavior if you find yourself consistently going over. If you get into something and it's taking longer, it's OK to stop.

Jim - Keeps a radar list. Things I need to do this week. Not A-B-C but allows me to focus on functional priorities.

Meg - You can have more than one Someday/Maybe list

What about the weekly review? Alan - it's time to do it when you need to. Want to change the terminology from weekly review to regular reflection. Thinking about what it all means.

How do you get GTD to stick beyond your workspace? Dean - First answer to that is to model the behavior.

Alan - Makes his team do GTD without actually imposing or calling it GTD. Asks for list of things they are working on (projects), an "Alan" list (agenda) and a list that basically captures areas of focus.

This is the protocol that is required if you are going to work with me.

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David Allen: Making It All Work At The GTD Global Summit

Day two is starting off with a presentation by David Allen on Making It All Work. This will be another live blogging session in an attempt to capture the thoughts as they fly.

Opening video testimonials (Evan Taubenfeld). Well spoken and interesting to see that creative types can embrace GTD too.

Ben Saunders - Polar Explorer & Motivational Speaker gives testimonial about how GTD helped him immensely in his solo explorations.

David now on stage talking about Evan and Ben and how they've embraced GTD.

Fast, concentrated overview of how "Making It All Work" came about.

"I got into this game because of the strategic value of clear space". Background in martial arts helped him understand that when you are jumped by four guys in alley, last thing you need is unprocessed items weighing on your mind.

Analogy of cooking. Starting with clean kitchen allows for infinite possibilities and creativity. Starting with complete and utter mess just means you'll be fighting to survive. Map this back to what you have sitting in your inbox and on your mind. Are you just "stomping cockroaches" or are you open to clear thoughts and

What's new...Massive amount of information coming in at us. In last 72 hours, probably more info coming into us than our parents had in a month, maybe a year.

Basic logic of GTD: Relaxed, focus, in control is optimal. Mind like water is mirroring how water responds appropriately to a input...no more and no less.

Concentration = power

What gets in the way of concentration: Distraction. If your mind has wandered off while sitting here, it's good if you were doing new, expansive, creative thinking. If not, you are wasting cycles. Most people go to things that are weighing on their mind. These are the things that are not being managed.

People don't worry about what they are doing two weeks from Tuesday at 3:15 because they trust their calendar.

Mismanaged commitments = distraction

Your mind's system is like a leaky bucket with a bunch of holes. Your brain is about 7 years old emotionally. "Your mind doesn't have one".

"You have no excuse to have a thought twice...unless you like the thought".

Ability to refocus rapidly is the master skill.

What you need is control and perspective. If you have these, self management is possible and works well.

2x2 matrix: X-axis increasing control, Y-axis increasing perspective

No perspective + no control = victim

Perspective + no control = crazy maker

No perspective + control = micro-manager

Perspective + control = Captain & Commander

5 stages of control and 6 stages of perspective

Control
-------
Capturing
Clarifying
Organizing
Reflecting
Engaging

This model works universally, whether dealing with your teen or in your department.

Perspective
------------
Purpose/principles
vision
goals
responsibility
projects
actions


Capture: Corral things things. Find a place to get all the input. WRITE IT DOWN!
Clarifying: Make decisions on all of the things that have been collected.
Organizing: Get the content of it...the real purpose. Put it where it goes.
Reflecting: Step back and look at that bucket appropriately. Manage that forest on some consistent basis...don't just hug those trees.
Engaging: Doing with clarity. You are always doing, even if you are doing nothing. Making a conscious choice, but you better know what you are not doing before you feel comfortable not doing it.

Purpose/Principles: Why
Vision: What
Goals: Accomplish
Responsibility: Maintain
Projects: Finish
Actions: Do

This is all advanced common sense.

Q&A Time

Wrap up: "You won't know what's on your mind, unless you you get everything off your mind."

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Thursday, March 12, 2009

Entrepreneurs and GTD - Making It Up and Making It Happen

We're getting ready to begin another session at the GTD Summit. This one on Entrepreneurs and GTD together.

Panelists: Buzz Bruggeman, Peter Gallant, Frode Odegard, John de Souza

Moderator: Bruce Somers

Every corporation that exists today was due to an entrepreneurs. The importance of GTD is about clearing the path and allow this thought process to happen.

Peter - Got to have a couple failures under your belt. Serial entrepreneur. Entering next stage as his company has been acquired. Love working on the earliest stage of things.

John - Serial entrepreneur as well. Gone through several companies. Current project is online heath community site. Do you really want to do this and is it the right time? GTD is invaluable in getting things going and then saying "what's next?"

Buzz - Creator of ActiveWords (Editor's note: yea! Activewords rocks!)30 years practicing law. Heard a guy speak about computers being able to understand us. Voice doesn't work. Set out to build application to name things and let you get it done. "Self-organizing ninjas" - what we call the people who really get off on Activewords. Started writing down name and number of everyone he ever talked to. To be able to tap into that when time came to ask for money/order, could reach out to those people. Reached out to David, because "Your people are my people". We give you back time.

Frode - First software startup in high school. A couple other companies as well. Starting more ventures as the recession has hit. Normal human reaction is to hunker down and reduce risk. Entrepreneurs tend to be restless. Need to keep track of commitments or else you will drown. We underestimate the need for reflection.
GTD Tips for entrepreneurs: Fight your action bias, get your team members to use GTD, work on your GTD like regular exercise.

Bruce asks the audience how many of them are entrepreneurs. Probably more than half the audience raised their hands.

Do you guys have any failures due to GTD leading you down a path? Buzz - I think the biggest problem is the weekly review. Do I really have this time? What's the one characteristic I saw most in the people that are at the top of their game. They were all disciplined and focus. Things will change, so using GTD lets you be prepared for this change when the time comes. Ready to execute better than anyone else. Frode - Price to pay for being a crazy maker is that you have to revisit higher level horizons more frequently. If you don't, Someday/Maybe list will get out of control. By using GTD, you'll have more of a filter for new things. Easily to overwhelm yourself, so you have to kill projects more often.


What about the recession? John - I like the recession now. Makes you focus and force discipline. Peter - forced acquisition and brought clarity. "When you narrow your options down, you become very, very focused." Buzz - We're on course to have the best year ever. People need to be productive to keep their jobs.

Any things you wish you knew earlier? John - Being an entrepreneur can be very lonely. Buzz - Three lessons: (1) Letting the inventor be the CEO. (2)Raise smart money. Smart money mentors you, gives you feedback, etc. (3) Craft your story and get your message right. Frode - Understanding people. Finance - having the right revenue model. John - Be careful about hiring people like yourself. You need diversity.

Greatest Fear as entrepreneur? Buzz - Getting the "serious maybe". John - Hiring the wrong senior person. Peter - Choosing the wrong opportunity of all the ones that will be out there (from a time and effort perspective).

Peter - Call To Action: Close your eyes and imagine that you completely lost your job. What would you do next? Might help guide you toward next opportunity.

Question: What tools do you use? Peter - Outlook Netcentrics add-in. Buzz - Activewords and Outlook. Can you aggregate tools together to get exponential results.

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A GTD Workforce: Is There a New Industry Standard?

The afternoon kicked off with another GTD Summit panel. This time, the conversation centered around whether or not GTD

Panelists: Todd Brown, Randy Harward, Jeff Irby, Ron Kaufman, Sara Larch, Brian Lowery, Eric Ly

Moderator: Mike WIlliams

Todd - No...there is not a standard. Not seeing GTD skills on resumes yet. This is very important, however, due to globalization and the economic crisis we are seeing right now. A lot of distractions in life (Twitter, Facebook, etc.). Are these adding value. Imagining nirvana...ability to keep head clear, etc., but wider organizational effect would be seeing people demanding more of management. What are organizational goals? Generate and communicate vision for company. Help facilitate succession planning. A great gift we can give to people.

Jeff - The standard I'm worried about is burnout, ping pong e-mail, pushing paper around, etc. Just chaos around how people work. Struggling with how to stealthfully implement GTD across the organization. The people who say they can't do it and can't be pinned down are the ones who need it most. As a manager, injecting the ideas into the organizational rules. The weekly review and projects are being subtly attacked via management direction.

Brian - What really sticks? Meeting prep worksheet. How can the best version of yourself show up at the meeting? What is purpose of the meeting? What is action that should come out of it? "Why does this simple worksheet stick?" Answer from client: "Because it forces me to think". Force a conversation around areas of focus by having 1 on 1 sessions with employees.

Eric - I'm an engineer and entrepreneur. One of co-founders of LinkedIn. Working on new company. Coming at GTD from a technical point of view. Very interested in building and creating products. Organization is just as important as building the product itself, because it effects the outcome of the product and success of its innovation.

Randy - Main job as manager and leader is to manage systems those people work in. Need to spend more time to teach them tools & techniques like GTD. These tools are removing coercion from workforce. Going to look for someone that is systemic in their thinking when looking for leaders.

(Side note: Very interesting to see all the panelists capturing thoughts and ideas from their fellow co-presenters. Stimulating thoughts all around).

Sara - In interviews, asking people to describe how they manage projects, how they work. A different approach. Looking for diversity and successful "day-to-day survival skills". Very humbling to be doing things the way I've always done at a new place. When you are in a new organization, think about how fragile you feel and keep this in mind when you bring new people in. This is a great chance to teach them the tools and concepts (how we do meetings, etc.). Give yourself permission to change if necessary.

(Another side note: Amazing that all of these black-belt GTD individuals all admit to falling off the wagon. The beauty of GTD is being able to get back on the wagon quickly.)

Ron - GTD started out as a very personal thing. Looking forward to seeing how we bring this up to the next level...getting things done together.

Q&A Time:

How do we fight cultural resistance? Jeff - How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. Just work on focusing on the area of influence you have and the things you can touch. Todd - Stop doing what you are doing and do new things.

Interested in any case studies that measure impact of GTD in an organizations. Are there any? Love to see some set of models or tool. If not, what would be required? Eric - The standard doesn't exist yet. Used informally on an org level so far. One of the important elements is to create a framework that all organizations can sign up to. Each org has unique measurements. Have initial common set, by organization has to sign up to creating their own measurements to get true by in. Randy - Kind of weary of standard measurement practices. May be measuring things off target.

It seems like we need to implement GTD from the top in order for it to work. What do you think? Randy and Sara both agree it has to be more viral. Start with small groups and work to get consensus among members that you can be successful. Need 3% of the organization to embrace for it to get enough visibility, then it will either be accepted into culture or rejected.

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GTD @ Home: From the Boardroom to the Living Room

OK...this is my first attempt at live blogging, so we'll see how it goes. I'll likely expand on my thoughts later. I usually tend to write longer pieces, so doing a stream of conscious blast of info will be interesting.

The first breakout session of the day is "GTD At Home: From the Boardroom to the Living Room". This panel is being moderated by Eric Mack with panelists Med Edwards, Ismael Ghalimi, Kim Hagerty, Brian Lowery, Bruce Somers, John de Souza and Mike Williams. Two other excellent sounding panels are going on at the same time, so making the choice on which to attend is difficult. Of course, I have a keen interest in injecting the GTD process into my family, especially for my kids as they enter into high school. I hope to gain some good insights into this idea during the panel. Here we go...

Talking about moving GTD from a work context to "life context". Is it a thought process that you apply in life?

Distinction between home and work may not be as defined as people think.

Eric has served as David Allen's technologist for 16 years. David Allen Company employees practice what they preach.

1992 - first time Eric met David Allen. Meeting with David and his business partner. David asks to first have 5 minute meeting with his partner because they hadn't seen each other in awhile. David open agenda page to Russel...Russel opens agenda page to David. They blew through their lists...What's the status? What's the next action. Most productive meeting Eric ever say. After 5 minutes, meeting done and Eric had full focus.

Now meeting the panelists.

Ismael sharing how GTD has impacted his daily life. Small software company owner. Raising a new family, learning to fly, lots of activities. Work and life and intersecting. Need to have a system that frees your mind to do things that are most interesting (e.g. "be with my daughter"). Using Salesforce.com to capture all their contexts, doc management system, calendar, etc. Use an account for home and one for business.

Bruce Somers owns advertising agency. Service that is provided for every client is brand new. They "put out fires constantly". GTD is the only way they can keep up with everything. Bruce works from home and is more productive there. Wife is seeing how Bruce is efficient and wants to know how to do that. Came up with color coding systems for the whole family. Uses a calendar for the family and task scheduling is just the same as work.

Brian Lowery - Does a lot of east coast work. Get up at 4. Work for a few hours, then breakfast with kids. Gets some exercise in. Zero separation between work and home. "It's all you".

John de Souza - Getting to GTD was a lot of small realizations. Life is moving a lot faster than you think it is. Major realizations (like spending time with kid) coupled with small realizations drove him toward GTD. You need to have a system. You need to revisit your system as your priorities change and you need to invest in yourself at all levels.

Kim Hagerty - Responsibilities changed significantly as her business grew. Was using a planner...felt like she wasn't getting anything done. "To dos" were too big (get profitable, grow company). Found GTD through her brother. There is no real separation between work and home. Initially just wanted to capture work-related contexts. Huge breakthrough when she realized you have to capture everything, not just work. 100s in company have gone through GTD training...helps foster a language everyone can speak. Does a weekly review that is work related. Kim and husband meet and have planning meeting/weekly review, then they meet with their 13 year old daughter. Experiences more well-balanced life.

Mike Williams - Father of 2 young kids. Works with GE Healthcare. Took it from boardroom to living room himself. Some people in business are primed for productivity. Not necessarily true at home. Working on "experiments" at home. For example, separating items in the mudroom at home. Using this as an analogy to how you have things in your head. At breakfast, talk about what you want to accomplish today. Dinner time - reflect on how you did. Also do word of the day, quote of the day, etc. With his young kids, he is concerned with "planting seeds". @Agenda and hard landscape two of most important parts of GTD. Checks his calendar (hard landscape stuff) when he pulls in the garage so he remembers what things to talk about with kids. Labeler produces giddiness.

Four panelists have taught their kids how to mind map.

Meg Edwards - When she first met David in 1998, she was working in Vermont. Moved to Maine, having a baby in new marriage, starting new business and getting a new house. Goes to seminar (with new baby in tow) and was "saved" by things David Allen was talking about. Seeing workflow diagram was first time her brain quieted down. 6 months later had the opportunity to train as a coach and has been with David Allen Company for last 10 years. Has had opportunity to coach many people through the years. Focus is on teaching kids how to GTD. One of the greatest impetuses for GTD was getting to be present with her daughter, not be distracted. 5 stages of workflow helps make sure that she is focusing on right things and allows her to collect at the appropriate time. Sees so many parents overwhelmed. We need to help get this out to people, because it can be life changing.

Eric - Teach your kids to use an inbox, teach them how to mindmap and the idea of the Someday/Maybe list.

Bruce - Someday/Maybe list is powerful for kids. What do you want to do when you grow up?

John - Now hides his inbox at home. Has a dump box at home. Allows his wife to pile things up and then deal with them instead of putting it directly into his inbox. Families can take parts of idea without forcing it on them. Makes things harmonious.

Talking about best tools: Notetaker wallet (Ismael), Inbox (Bruce), Inbox, put things where they live (Brian), wallet and notepad to capture, remember much better by writing down (John), Inbox at work and home, place for everything, notepads everywhere (Kim), notepads everywhere, calendar (Mike), digital whiteboard in the bathroom (Eric. Wow...that's geeky! :-),capture tools (Meg).

Capture tools seem to be most important to everyone.

For children, very important to capture things they tell you otherwise you'll hear it over and over. - Meg

Q&A time:

Inboxes all over the house. How do you deal with people dumping into boxes and moving this to appropriate place? - Brian mentions inbox in his office (in garage) and his wife's in the house. Moves paper as necessary. No more or less. Bruce - Individual boxes. Amazing how much respect family has for each others inboxes.

For those that can't install digital whiteboard, suggest using shower crayons.

At the higher levels, how do you incorporate goals and areas of focus into family? John - Sit down periodically with family and work on integrating all life events together. Kim - Does a year end review. Sat down with family after first swipe this year and talked about family goals. No criticism. Recorded family goals and has a good platform for discussions going forward. Mike - Went through "Now Discover Your Strengths" with his wife. Mapping out activities are helping define the higher level goals and define the foundation of where they want the family to go. Bruce - Daughter was stressed out about homework (age 10). Asked her what she really wants to do. She wants to bake. Tries to distill GTD concepts down in ways that make sense to her so she can manage her goals and her tasks.

Eric asks audience who has a written family mission statement. What will life look like? What do we want to be true about our life? Work backward to determine how these things will be true. What projects do we need to have in place to make this happen?

Meg - Really responsible for her daughter at early age. Mapping out her goals, projects and actions. A lot of power in deciding what to do and not do so you're not revisiting in the future and second guessing yourself. "You don't have problems, you have projects".

How to deal with GTD with your kids at the rebellious stage? Brian - Act like you are having so much fun. Don't force it on them. Bruce - Let kids get to depths of chaos and then through her a life line.

How to get your spouse on board?
- Brian - Got coached together. Meg - Said "I need it", then let husband decide for himself.

Great panel!

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Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Twitter People At The GTD Summit

T minus 1 day to the GTD Summit. This event is bringing together some incredible minds to have a dialog around our rapidly changing world and how we can get more things done with agility, flexibility and speed. I'm thrilled at the prospects of learning about raising my potential to the next level with this great group of speakers as well as my fellow attendees.

I'll be blogging and tweeting the event. As you know if you've been here before, I tend to write rather long pieces, so I'm not sure if I'll be able to do justice to true live blogging. We'll see. I CAN promise some in-depth coverage as I take it all in. It's a balancing act, as I feel I lose some of my attentiveness when I'm trying to distill the thoughts down to digestible chunks for blogs or Twitter. I'm looking forward to your feedback.

Many of the attendees and speakers at the GTD Summit are Twitter users, so I'm attempting to compile a comprehensive list so people know who to follow if they want to know more. As some other have suggested, I think we are standardizing on #gtdsummit as the hash tag.

Here's the list I have so far. If you are a Twitter user attending the GTD Summit and I don't have you on the list yet, please comment here or reply to me on Twitter.

gtdguy (David Allen)
GTDCoachKelly
GTDCoachMichael
MichaelDeutch
Odegard
ericmack
gtdtimes
Buzzmodo
guykawasaki
jroadman
ChrisBlatnick
uconntam
jlindenthal
kerrygallivan
ryanheathers
Alltop
michaelnozbe
malyszko
mydifferentfeet
TesTeq
mshinfa
boekgirl
smith_douglas
Mindjet
jroadman
stlist
frankmeeuwsen
rsailer
kerrygallivan
OmniGroup
resourcerer
larryaubrey
tpassist
tacooosterkamp
ec2boy
ALMguy
alanlnelson
kcase
gbback
prepop
sbell22

Here's an idea If we have the possibility to write on our name tags, it might be helpful to promote your Twitter username on your badge. I know that sometimes I don't recognize a person's formal name immediately if I've not met them in person, but their online name is more recognizable. Maybe I'll bring along some stickers to use for this.

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Monday, March 02, 2009

GTD, Lotus Notes & the eProductivity Challenge: The Weekly Review

Webster defines a coach as "one who instructs or trains."

I'm a big fan of coaching. Whether talking about a presentation coach to help hone your skills on the stage, a performance coach to help you better your 5k time or a life coach to get you to focus on your overall goals and objectives, coaching is a fantastic way to help you achieve your potential and then reach for loftier heights. In fact, I'm writing this post right now while waiting for my son to get out of his teen life coaching session. I occasionally work as a technology coach, helping people map out what they want to get out of using technology, then putting a plan together to meet that goal in the most efficient way possible. So right off the bat, I figured I would like the Weekly Review Coach functionality of eProductivity. I was wrong, though...I actually love it!

Ask any GTD fan, new to the system or grizzled veteran, what the biggest obstacle to complete mastery of the GTD concepts is and they'll likely tell you it is the Weekly Review. The Weekly Review is the part of GTD that brings everything into focus, helping you to close open loops, determine what is needed to move your projects forward and keeps you on track toward your higher level life goals. David Allen calls the Weekly Review the "secret sauce" and in my experience that is very true. I've posted before about my GTD journey to this point and the times when I was most on my game and feeling that I was living the vision that Mr. Allen maps out in his book was when I was diligently doing my Weekly Review. But let's be honest...it takes some serious focus to plan out the time to sit down every week to look over what you need to be working on. In fact, in some ways, the Weekly Review exerts a certain force of opposition if you are afraid of what you'll uncover. You need to do this, however, to get full clarity of what you should and shouldn't be working on. Thus, the concept of having a "coach" for helping you get through this process is outstanding.

The Weekly Review Coach in eProductivity is basically an enhanced wizard, walking you through all of the steps necessary for a successful Weekly Review. It's an elegant approach because it allows you to focus on just one thing at a time. This is key since maintaining this focus will drive you toward completion faster and allow you to be more thorough in your work. The coach kept me engaged, targeted and on track. I'll admit that in the past I got distracted chasing an idea or item down a rabbit hole. While this can still happen in any system, I felt more focused because I had the coach to guide me through the review in the correct order.

After launching it, the Weekly Review Coach takes you to the first step in the process: Collect Loose Papers. For each step of the Weekly Review, the coach tells you what you should be doing and gives you suggestions to improve your game. You can see a sample shot from the Weekly Review Coach below.



Steps of the Weekly Review covered in the Wizard include:
  • Collect Loose Items

  • Process Papers

  • Empty Capture Tools

  • Process Email

  • Empty Head

  • Review Action Lists

  • Review Previous Calendar

  • Review Upcoming Calendar

  • Review Tickler Files

  • Review Waiting-for List

  • Review Projects

  • Review Goals & Objectives

  • Review Areas of Focus

  • Review Relevant Checklists

  • Review Reference & Support

  • Review Someday/Maybe List


As you can see, that's quite an exhaustive list of things to do and it's no wonder that it can be daunting to consider performing a weekly review when you have all that staring at you. Of course, the scarier this process seems to you, the more you probably need to be doing it! Once the Weekly Review becomes an ingrained habit, the process goes pretty smoothly. Even so, there's always the temptation to jump ahead and work on something more interesting. When I used the Weekly Review Coach, I found that this temptation wasn't there. Instead, it kept me completely on task, a characteristic of a great coach.

After the first step is complete, you check it off and the coach automatically takes you to the next step. I love the layout of this wizard, along with the graphic representation of what step we're on coupled with the help text. Of particular genius is the way the coach allows you to do all of your work in context. Thus, when it's time to review your action lists or empty your inbox, the appropriate view appears directly below the coaching instructions (see below). I've talked about the effectiveness of this technique in interface design before, so it makes me very happy to see this being implemented in other Notes-based applications. This idea helps the user stay in that focused, flow state, further improving the user's performance of the task at hand.



I did my first weekly review in eProductivity on Sunday night and I was amazed at how fast I went through the process. Granted my system was nice and clean from just migrating all my actions and projects over, but I still credit the Weekly Review Coach with enabling this speedy completion. When you finish walking through every step (where you are even encouraged to work on the higher level stuff...goals, aspirations, etc.), you are presented with a nice summary report of when you started each step, when you ended and your elapsed time. This is a nice touch and will be a good reward and motivation for continuing to stay on top of the Weekly Review process.

You can find some additional information and screenshots of the Weekly Review Coach on the eProductivity site. I encourage you to take a look and consider this as yet another great reason to review eProductivity for your GTD implementation. If I had to use a single word to describe this software, it would probably be "frictionless". By that I mean that it so smoothly supports the GTD methodology, I don't really have to think about the mechanics of getting data into the system or getting the right information out of it. Instead, I can just do my work and be productive.

As it says on the eProductivity site, "Your Weekly Review just got easier". Yes...I'd say it did!

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Thursday, February 26, 2009

Embedding GTD Into My Life Systems

Hi Gang...For you frequent visitors, just a quick note. I do not plan on turning this into an "All GTD, All The Time" blog...I promise. It's just been on my radar a lot lately for a few different reasons, so I thought I would share with those that are interested. We'll return to the regularly scheduled programming soon (along with an announcement about this site). In any case, if you'd like to delve into why I GTD, feel free to keep reading.

Getting Things Done, the enormously popular personal productivity methodology created by David Allen, provides a systematic approach to helping you master your workflow and has literally changed my life for the better. I'd like to explain a little about why it's been such a powerful tool for me, allowing me to take my performance to the next level.

I was first introduced to the GTD methodology a few years ago. As I mentioned in a past post, reading the Getting Things Done book really struck a chord with me. I was never much on taking notes. Even in college when I was working on my engineering degree, most of my notes were sketchy at best. Instead, I prided myself on being able to keep it all in my head. I was pretty good at doing so and this habit followed me into the work world. The beginning of my career was focused pretty heavily on development-oriented tasks and was fairly routine in terms of the tasks I needed to accomplish and the projects that I worked on. However, as I got older and my workload and responsibilities increased, I found that I started to get some leaks in my "system". Indeed, balancing work and home life was becoming much more burdensome, as my rapidly growing family started to impose greater demands on my time. While before I just had to worry about work stuff and home stuff and was able to keep these in nice and tidy buckets, I found myself juggling kid stuff, school stuff, sports stuff, etc. I was still being productive, but it was all getting to be too much to keep track of and items were certainly slipping through the cracks. Luckily for me, right around the time when it was getting particular cumbersome to manage, a blog post pointed me to David Allen and GTD.

I picked up the book at my local Borders store and thumbed quickly through the chapters to get a preview of what was ahead. To be honest, I kept finding myself drawn to point after point, so I knew I needed to get home and start reading it right away. The concept grabbed me. Why? Well, for one reason, it was new and shiny, with the promise that my life would now be spectacular. Of course, I knew it wasn't going to be quite that simple, but I did feel a certain excited energy because as I progressed through the book, I felt like I was having a bunch of mini-revelations. The core of the GTD methodology is really very simple. A lot of it could even be considered common sense. However, I've found that what we call "common sense" is often easily overlooked and it takes someone else to point out the obvious. In my case, it was Mr. Allen addressing the fact that you can't keep it all in your head. Our brains aren't designed that way, so we really need to find a means to capture all of those things we are thinking about into a "trusted system", one that we can be assured will not forget and will allow us to focus on the appropriate work at the appropriate time. I had found exactly what I needed.

After completing Getting Things Done, I was excited to get to work. I spent a couple of days collecting all my "stuff" and went about the task of processing it, keeping the workflow diagram close by my side. Wow...this was going to be a little harder than I thought. Just in this first act of processing my gigantic pile of amorphous materials, I found myself failing in some of the areas Mr. Allen warns you to watch out for. I wanted to pick and choose through the pile, grabbing the things that seemed interesting or whose disposition I could quickly determine. I had to fight hard to overcome this desire and realized at that point that embedding GTD into my life systems was going to take some work. Like anything else, certain habits needed to be formed, others broken, in order to be successful. With this realization, I doubled my efforts and forged ahead.

Now, being a self-respecting geek, the next challenge was to find the best GTD "system" I could. Boy...talk about information overload! Searching the internet revealed the myriad ways that people have implemented GTD, from the most basic analog approach (pen and notepad) to incredibly complex electronic constructs that required a manual to make sense of. Unfortunately, I made the mistake that many in the beginning do, and dove down the rabbit hole, switching back and forth between many of these systems before truly getting a handle on the basic tenants of GTD. I went back and forth between electronic tools (mind maps, web-based lists and task systems, etc.) and the analog methods that seemed almost like a renaissance for paper in some ways (moleskine, hipster, et. al.), but I couldn't seem to hit on the magic system that made it all click. In the end, I came to the realization that the tool doesn't matter nearly as much as the method. There are a few key things you need. First, it needs to be always accessible. Second, there needs to be some attraction to the tools. If you hate carrying around a paper pad with you everywhere you go, then an analog GTD system is probably not right for you. Now that I figured this out, I set about concentrating more on how to "do" GTD rather than what my GTD container looks like. This was another important step in my GTD journey.

Although I was doing all this switching back and forth between systems, I was making some progress in ingraining the GTD habits into my daily routine. Even at half speed, I recognized a notable improvement in my ability to deliver and keep on top of my work. That's one of the great things about GTD. I was only fractionally taking advantage of what GTD had to offer, but it was still leaps and bounds beyond where I had been. The idea of the two minute rule, making decisions on e-mails...wow! On the surface, I found that the methodology couldn't be easier, but I also came to learn that there are many subtle nuances which can only be discovered with patience and persistence. It was in this period that I worked hard to build the necessary habits that would support good GTDing.

Over the ensuing years, I had ups and downs with my GTD implementation. I'm pretty sure I'm not alone in stating that the Weekly Review was the hardest thing to do, although I knew it was actually the most important piece. I found myself resisting carving out the time to do the Weekly Review, not because I didn't have the time, but because unconsciously I knew that I would have to face all my projects and tasks and I would feel like I was failing if certain things had slipped. This is silly really, because the whole point of the Weekly Review is to help you recover from such slips. It's your opportunity to find the leaks, plug them, evaluate how you are doing and what you need to do to move all of your projects forward. The light bulb finally went on when I was doing a Weekly Review and found a fairly big hole around a project I was working on. Had I not performed my Weekly Review, I would likely have missed the task altogether and caused some major issues with that project. For those of you just starting out with GTD or who are trying to get back on the wagon, believe me...focus on the Weekly Review. It is powerful and compelling and it really is the key (or the "secret sauce" as I believe Mr. Allen calls it) to this whole process.

Even when you feel like you're on top of things, it's possible to fall off the GTD wagon sometimes. Back when I finally settled on a system to use for GTD, I had made the decision that the best place to capture my projects and lists was in the context of my day-to-day work environment, Lotus Notes. Thus, I created my own, home-grown extensions to my mail file to support this work. Since I used the To Do features of mail along with my own customizations, I had all my action lists syncing to my Blackberry, so my system was always with me. It was in this period that I really got into the groove and felt like GTD had made a significant improvement in my life. I felt more focused, delivered high-quality work, and was able to stay on top of my ever growing list of responsibilities. Simple things, like keeping an @Errands list, saved enormous amounts of time, time that I could then put to use productively in another area of my life. And it was here that I discovered the reason that we're all trying to work this productivity stuff in the first place. The feeling of knowing that what you need to do is captured somewhere safe and that it's alright to be focusing your attention on living in the moment was spectacular. Now I won't lie to myself and say that I am a GTD superstar, because it was when I left my previous employer to come to IBM that I fell off the wagon most ungracefully.

Finding myself in a new job that required me to show off the just released Lotus Notes 8 client on an almost daily basis made it impossible for me to make changes to my mail file. I had a really great system and when I lost that, I found it hard to readjust. I once again returned to the rabbit hole, needlessly testing various implementation practices, finally going back to an analog system (just keeping my next action lists and projects in a simple notebook). While I found myself enjoying the simplicity of that world, the truth is most of my existence and work is in the digital realm and so a lot of needless double entry and context switching was going on. It was time to step up again and get back in complete control. Enter eProductivity.

Recently, I've been lucky enough to begin using the eProductivity system developed by Eric Mack. It's a phenomenal tool built to take advantage of the power of the Lotus Notes platform, all the while adhering to the principles and best practices of GTD as laid out by Mr. Allen. Mr. Mack has been building the foundation of this system for years, continually refining it, researching what works and doesn't work. I'm just a little over a week into this journey, but I already know that eProductivity will be the system I use from here on out. I've already written a couple of posts on the eProductivity system, so I encourage you to check them out here and here.

I keep finding new things to love about this tool. First, processing the inbox is almost effortless now. Being a user experience advocate, I can tell that a lot of thought and effort went into making things just work. I'm finding that I have no resistance to attacking the incoming mail. This in itself is incredibly powerful, because it lets me get to work focusing on my tasks and projects rather than "doing my e-mail". IBM pays me to get things done, not work on my inbox. As I move along on this next stage of my GTD journey, I'll be posting more details about eProductivity and how it really is the absolute best GTD tool for Lotus Notes (just ask Mr. Allen...he uses it!).

So that brings me to today. I'm thrilled to be walking this next path on my exploration of GTD. Getting back into the groove just feels "right" and the addition of eProductivity has brought my game up a notch (and I haven't even got everything migrated over yet!). I'm particularly looking forward to using the Weekly Review Coach that is a key feature the software. I'm super excited about this tool, which is one reason I've been talking about it so much lately. If you are interested in personal productivity and want to explore a tool that will bring the best of what GTD has to offer to Lotus Notes, you should definitely take eProductivity for a test drive.

Aside: David Allen uses Lotus Notes and eProductivity and in fact has said a lot of really great things about Notes. This is very positive for IBM and I hope that going forward you'll see us take advantage of the "free press" that he is giving us. He's a highly visible figure in the world of personal productivity...really a rock star. I hope this helps some of those people that have had blinders on with regards to the Lotus portfolio take those blinders off and see the kinds of stuff we are working on. Many of our products are truly transformative and it's encouraging to see smart people like Mr. Allen get that and then evangelize it to the world!

As I look back on my progress to this point, I'm pretty happy about how GTD has served me. While I haven't been perfect, the tricks I've learned and the tools I've leveraged as I've practiced this methodology have allowed me to play in a higher league than I did before. In the end, GTD allows me to get more done, deliver work of higher quality and lets me use my mental cycles to focus on important things...things like developing new UI techniques in Notes, figuring out how I can help more in the community and spending time with my family. After all, that's what Getting Things Done is all about.

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Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Thoughts on the eProductivity Install...Smooth Sailing Really

As part of the eProductivity challenge that I'm working on with creator Eric Mack, I promised to blog about the process and my findings as I went along. I thought this would be very useful for those people that are interested in the promise of achieving higher productivity using Lotus Notes.

The first part of getting things done with eProductivity was to actually perform the install. This is very easily accomplished since this tool was designed specifically for Lotus Notes. You'll be using your production mail file, so the one thing you must be aware of first is that you need to have access to update the design. If you're not sure, check with your corporate IT department. Assuming you have the proper access, the install will consist of replacing the design of your mail file with the eProductivity template.

Right off the bat, Eric and team have done a nice job of fully documenting the install of the software. Of course, I wish there were some kind of easy installer for Notes apps in general, but baring that, having a good set of instructions for exactly what settings you need to have in your ACL, how to replace the design, etc., is great. I didn't need the instructions for replacing my database design, but I would feel totally comfortable with an end user taking the documentation and getting right to work. Once the eProductivity template has been applied, a wizard (nice use of UI design pattern here) appears to guide the user through the remainder of the setup process. This consists of accepting the license agreement, setting the initial preferences (where it is recommended you take the defaults unless you are a more advanced user), and updating the design of any folders you already have to add the eProductivity features to them. Again, this is nicely explained and should give the user a feeling of confidence when going through on their own.

After the installation of eProductivity is complete (a process that should only take a few minutes at most), opening your mail file presents you with the main eProductivity UI. The user interface was designed to the standard put forth by the design team at Lotus for Notes 8 (Basic). I must admit to missing the Notes 8 Standard views for their sexy looks, but that feeling was short-lived, especially in light of my improved productivity. When you open your mail after the installation, you'll see a couple of cool features right away. One is the "Tip of the Day". I find this to be quite valuable. Since most users (myself included) would rather just get to work than wade through a big instruction manual, the "Tip of the Day" allows you to learn more about the features of eProductivity in small chunks. You may not figure out all the nuances of the software from day 1, but by using the Tip feature, you'll soon learn many of the tricks and more advanced things you can do.


The Tip of the Day feature


Another key feature is the "Today" view, which gives you a quick, at-a-glance way to see what lies ahead of you for that day. I'll review this more in a future post, but basically it aggregates your calendar, due action items and tickler entries so you don't have to go through multiple views to find out what you should be working on today.


The Today View


So that's it...the installation for eProductivity is a breeze. I think the user experience around this was well thought out and allows the user to get up and running in very little time. In fact, it will probably take longer to download all the materials than it does to perform the actual install! :-) If the install is the easy part, what about using eProductivity itself? I'll be saving that for a future post. Let's just say that getting the GTD methodology right takes some time and dedication, but eProductivity seamlessly supports this methodology and so far has helped me to get information into the correct place better than any other system I've used before.

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Tuesday, February 17, 2009

On the Road to Greater eProductivity!

Hi again, folks. Those two or three of you that have been coming here for awhile now know that I am a fan of productivity systems and that I am a follower of the GTD methodology. While not a black belt by any means, I've found that it is the best system for me, helping me keep on top of the ever increasing pile of work I find thrust upon me (or that I volunteer for) and assisting me to close open loops.

I first read David Allen's Getting Things Done several years ago and it really struck a chord with me. Up to that point, I kept pretty much everything in my head. Luckily, it's a big head (haha), but it was quite leaky too. As much as I loved to write, I never enjoyed taking notes in meetings or keeping lists. I realized I needed help as my workload increased, which is what lead me to David's book in the first place. On the surface, the methodology couldn't be easier, but there are many subtle nuances which can only be learned with patience and persistence. In the beginning, I was only fractionally taking advantage of what GTD had to offer, but it was still leaps and bounds beyond where I had been. The idea of the two minute rule, making decisions on e-mails...wow! Common sense stuff, to be sure, but it often takes someone to point out the obvious for us to become truly aware of it. Over time, my performance and level of execution of GTD increased and I felt like I was certainly "working smarter". Like many geeks do, I probably toyed around with different systems too much, going back and forth between analog (moleskine, hipster, etc.) and electronic (mind maps, web-based task systems, and so on) ways of keeping my lists. In the end, I came to the realization that the tool doesn't matter nearly as much as the method. There are a few key things you need. First, it needs to be always accessible. Second, there needs to be some attraction to the tools. If you hate carrying around a paper pad with you everywhere you go, then an analog GTD system is probably not right for you. After this became evident, I decided the best place to GTD was in the context of my day to day work environment, Lotus Notes. Thus, I created my own, home-grown extensions to my mail file (easy for me, of course, as a developer). This served me very well until I left my last company and came to IBM. Not wanting to make changes to my IBM mail file, I was cast adrift in a sea of too much information and quickly found myself drowning in it.

For the last year and a half, my GTD-fu has been suffering greatly. When you have a great tool and it gets taken away, it's hard to readjust, especially as you get as old as I am. I once again found myself needlessly testing various implementation practices, finally going back to an analog system (just keeping my next action lists and projects in a simple notebook). While I found myself enjoying the simplicity of that world, the truth is most of my existence and work is in the digital realm and so a lot of needless double entry and context switching was going on.

Before we get to where I'm at today, I need to step back a little. In the beginning of 2007, I was fortunate to begin speaking with Eric Mack, who most of the folks in the yellow bubble now know as the brains behind the eProductivity product. I had been reading Eric's blog for some time, and was very impressed with his approach toward productivity and personal knowledge management. It was at this time when I started to get some sneak peeks into what he was doing with eProductivity and I was definitely impressed. I even helped with a couple UI pointers, but mostly his team was doing all the right things. The short summary of what eProductivity is is this: It is THE tool to use for implementing GTD in Lotus Notes. If you need any more proof than me saying it is so (tongue firmly planted in cheek), consider this: David Allen uses eProductivity for Lotus Notes as his personal system. If it's good enough for the guy that created the methodology, I think it's worth looking into! ;-)

I had the opportunity to reconnect with Eric at Lotusphere this year, to attend his great talk with David and to get another look at some of the pieces of eProductivity that I hadn't yet explored. I was really impressed. Not only is it a perfect implementation for GTD, but it's an incredibly cool Notes application...just another example of how powerful this platform really is. After I returned home, I figured it was time to really buckle down and try eProductivity full time in my production mail file. As it turns out, Eric was keen to have some people try out his system and blog about their experiences, so the timing was right. Last week, I took the plunge and accepted Eric's 30 day challenge. We spent some time on the phone and he coached me through the eProductivity install process. Now, I'm up and running with eProductivity as my full-time, 100% committed GTD system. The verdict so far? I definitely like what I see! There's a lot to explore and I have to get used to some of the workflow, but it's really one of the fastest ways I've been able to create projects and next actions to date. I'm mostly looking forward to trying out the Weekly Review Coach and some of the other advanced features, as I think these will take my GTD skills "over the top".

If you are already an advocate of the Getting Things Done methodology, then I would highly encourage you to check out eProductivity. If you've not yet read the book, then I'd recommend two things. First, make sure you buy GTD and read it cover to cover. It's short and easy to digest (which is good, since you'll want to read it again in a few months). At the same time, get started with the trial of eProductivity. While you'll get the most out of the system if you know GTD, there are enough productivity best practices and help features within the software to improve your game right away. Then, you can grow into the system as you master the GTD principles.

Next time, I'll talk about the install process and how easy it is to start getting things done with eProductivity.

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Wednesday, September 03, 2008

On Total (e)Productivity In Lotus Notes

I've mentioned the eProductivity system a few times here and there and wanted to share some additional thoughts about it. It's great to see applications that enhance and extend the power of the Lotus Notes platform. Eric Mack and his development team have done a great job in this respect.


(Don't forget to check out the video demo)

If you are a practitioner of Getting Things Done (GTD), David Allen's system for managing the overwhelm almost all of us feel due to the myriad things that require our daily attention, you will most certainly want to give eProductivity a try.

eProductivity is a Lotus Notes-based application that empowers the GTD user in ways not possible using a plain vanilla system. It delivers on a promise that many software products fail miserably at. That is, it gets the interface out of the way so that you can get work done. Not only does eProductivty faithfully adhere to the major tenents of the GTD methodology, but it does so in a very unobtrusive manner.

The functionality of eProductivity is delivered as logical extensions to the typical tasks a user performs within the context of their work in Lotus Notes. Because the eProductivity functions are so closely integrated into the standard look and feel of the Notes mail template, there is little cognitive overhead for the user in learning the new system. Creating new tasks, defining next actions, creating projects...all of these events are quite intuitive in the eProductivity system. Since the user can get to these functions in the context of their regular work, they immediately become more productive, as their flow state is not interrupted.

Nathan and I have talked at length in the past about designing your interface to fit the needs of the application you are building rather than always replicating the design of the standard Notes templates. There's one exception to this rule, and that is if you are building extensions to the mail file. If you are doing this, as the eProductivity team has done, then you want to make sure that your new functionality blends in seamlessly with the existing template. The eProductivity system has accomplished this nicely.

From a user experience standpoint, eProductivity offers no flashy functionality or complicated routines and that's the beauty of the system. It is simple and easy to use, which is the hallmark of good software design. It also includes some wonderful new features, such as the Weekly Review Coach and integration with ActiveWords and GyroQ.

If you are a practitioner of GTD and a Lotus Notes user or you just want to be more productive, I can highly recommend the eProductivity system.

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Friday, June 27, 2008

eProductivity for Lotus Notes...Want To Be Way More Efficient?

Many of you have already heard of Eric Mack's eProductivity software, a tool for implementing the Getting Things Done methodology in Lotus Notes. If you haven't, it's definitely something you should check out. If you want to increase your effectiveness and efficiency in dealing with all your stuff, then eProductivity might just be the application to take you over the top. It's an outstanding tool and a great example of the power available in Lotus Notes-based systems.

If you hurry, you might be able to get in on the 24 hour preview program Eric is running right now. Run, don't walk...you'll be glad you did.

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Friday, February 01, 2008

Getting Things Done: The Cognative Science Perspective

I'm a big fan of the Getting Things Done (GTD) methodology, even if I occasionally fall off the wagon. The concepts of GTD helped me become much more productive than I ever was, which is vital for me as I struggle to accomplish a lot from a work perspective and still have quality time to devote to my family. This is especially true as Haleigh gets older, because being Autistic means many additional challenges on top of the normal things you deal with as a kid (i.e. she takes a lot of my time! :-)

If you are also a fan of GTD (or even if you're just interested in the concept), you should check out this new paper on the science that backs up the GTD ideas. Getting Things Done: The Science behind Stress-Free Productivity is currently in a "submitted for publication" status, but it's still a good read. Enjoy...

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