Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The WildFire Is Spreading...And It's Hot! Update Your Status Across Multiple Networks From Lotus Notes!

A new OpenNTF project hit the ground running today and it is hot! I installed it this morning and think it's a great piece of work. The project is WildFire, a Lotus Notes 8.5 sidebar application that allows the user to update status messages across a ton of different social platforms. Networks supported in this initial release include Facebook, Twitter, Lotus Sametime, Lotus Connections and many more! While this type of client for allowing simultaneous updates of your micro-conversations is not new, the implementation, interface and integration with the Notes client is top notch. Installation was smooth and it worked as expected right out of the box. Having the ability to selectively update given services or all at once right from the Notes sideshelf is a great value proposition, especially considering that it's free!

Here's a screenshot of WildFire from my Notes client with the services I've configured so far. I love the fact that you are not locked into a single instance of a given service. For example, I have my embedded Sametime client configured for 7 different communities, and if I wanted to, WildFire would allow me to update my status across all of those.

Configuration of WildFire is extremely simple. Once installed, the application options appear in the standard Notes Preferences dialog. You simply add a new service and select the Account Type (Sametime, Connections, Facebook, etc.). Each account type can be given a unique name and it is this name that appears in the WildFire UI. For a given account type, the credentials required vary somewhat, but it is all very easy to understand. You can also group your various accounts together (e.g. Personal, Work, Friends, etc.). This allows you to selectively send that hilarious, NSFW video to your buddies from school but not to your work associates with just a single click. I especially like how it pulls in your information for Sametime from the communities you already have configured. Making it easy to get up and running quickly is a great user experience feature!

To update your status, you type your message, select the service(s) you want to update and hit the Post button. Simple stuff, but the simple tools are sometimes the best. I believe I'll find this over time to be a big time saver.

Check out some other screenshots of WildFire:

So who is behind this awesome piece of work? It's available on OpenNTF, the Lotus Notes open source community, courtesy of ISW, a Premier IBM Business Partner located in Australia. Thanks to Andrew Welch, Adam Brown, Joel Thirgood and anyone else involved in this great project.

There's a lot to like about this application and if you use more than one of the many social networking tools out there today, it is worth your time to check out WildFire.

Labels: , ,

permalink | leave a comment

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

Labels: , , ,

permalink | leave a comment

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.

Labels: , , , ,

permalink | leave a comment

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)

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.

Labels: , ,

permalink | leave a comment

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!

Labels: , ,

permalink | leave a comment

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.

Labels: , ,

permalink | leave a comment

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.

Labels: , , , ,

permalink | leave a comment

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.

Labels: , ,

permalink | leave a comment

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.

Labels: , ,

permalink | leave a comment

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.

Labels: , ,

permalink | leave a comment

Monday, June 23, 2008

Add Tagging To Your Mail (Or Any Other Application) Without Design Changes!

If you'd like to find out how to add simple tagging capabilities to your Lotus Notes applications without making any design changes, then keep reading...

As a way to increase my productivity in processing e-mail, I stopped using folders for filing a few years ago. This is especially easy in Lotus Notes 8, since the search capabilities are much nicer and have been enhanced in such a way as to make me very happy I made this choice. Basically, when I process e-mail, I determine if the message is actionable and if so, I decide what to do with it and then remove it from the inbox. I don't file it in a folder...I just choose the "Remove from Folder" action. Clean, simple and gets the job done. I did find, however, that quite often the text that is included in the e-mail does not contain the actual meta data that I would later want to search on. Thus, I found myself editing messages and adding the key phrases related to the e-mail before I removed them. Of course, what I was doing is known by most people as tagging and I realized that a simple mechanism for tagging is exactly what I wanted.

In my last job, I had a highly modified mail file that I used for my GTD system as well as for other productivity enhancements (and as a playground for off the wall ideas, I must confess). When I came into the tech sales role at IBM, I decided early on that I should use the generic mail template, since I would be doing so many demos for customers. As a result, my initial tagging mechanism had to morph to something that required no design changes. I thought that whatever I came up with should be useful for others, but didn't want to spend the time building a complete solution in another NSF. So, I decided to see if I could utilize Formula language in a custom toolbar button. The result, while not elegant by any means, is quite efficient and works well for me, so I thought I'd throw it out here to share.

Here's the scenario. I select the document in question and click my "Tag It" toolbar button. To allow for choices from tags I've already used (for continuity and best search results), I pull up a dialog box of previous tags and also allow new tags to be added. Once I have the necessary tags for the document selected, they are saved into a new field on the document. That's pretty much all there is to it from a user point of view. Here are a couple of screen shots to illustrate:

In order to make this work on a per application basis, I save the list of tags used in a profile document. The first line of the code pulls up the list of previously used tags, while the second line retrieves any of the tags that might already be assigned to the selected document. The next few lines provide for a multi-list dialog, along with logic that checks for the selection of "-add new-". If the "-add new-" option is chosen, the user is prompted to enter new tags (separated by commas) and the updated list of selected tags and any newly entered tags are written to the "txt_CustomTags" field. Finally, the last line makes sure any new tag values are written back to the profile document for use next time.

REM {Get tags stored in database};
Tags := @GetProfileField("TagsProfile";"txt_CurrentTags";@UserName);

{Get any tags from the selected document};
DocTags := txt_CustomTags;

Selection := @Prompt([OkCancelListMult]; "Select Tag(s)"; "Please select the tag(s) to apply to this document"; DocTags; @Trim("-add new-" : @Unique(Tags : DocTags)));

@If(Selection = 1;
@IsMember("-add new-"; Selection);
  @Set("NewTag"; @Prompt([OkCancelEdit]; "Enter New Tag"; "Please enter the new tag(s) you would like to apply to this document. Separate tags with a comma"; ""));

UpdatedList := @Trim(@Unique(@Replace(Selection; "-add new-"; "") : @Explode(NewTag,"," )));

txt_CustomTags := UpdatedList;

@SetProfileField("TagsProfile"; "txt_CurrentTags"; @Unique(UpdatedList : Tags); @UserName)

For completeness, I also include a toolbar button to wipe out any tags on the document (FIELD txt_CurrentTags := @Unavailable).

So, as you can see, while adding a true tagging mechanism would be ideal, this solution makes it very easy for me to tag documents in my mail file and then use the standard Notes search mechanism to retrieve them more easily. While your mileage may certainly vary, it's a great way to give users the tagging ability without changing any database designs.

Labels: , ,

permalink | leave a comment

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Heck Yeah - Of Course I'm Experiencing Cognative Dissonance!

One of the things I love about reading Tim Ferris' blog is that he gets a chance to sit down and talk with many very interesting people. I have to point out his latest post, since it's a dilemma I identify with...how to be a superstar at work (not doing so hot at that right now) while being a superstar at home as well. Usually, such conflicting demands diminish your performance in one or both domains, so the trick is finding the right path to balancing them as best you can.

In today's post, Tim includes several gems from Dr. Stewart Friedman on this issue. I think it's a great read for anyone that is trying to improve their life and I urge you to read it and then follow up with some Dr.Friedman's books. I know I will be...

Labels: ,

permalink | leave a comment

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Spreading A Little Lotus Notes Love

Besides Lotus Notes, the other software product I'm most passionate about is MindManager from Mindjet. I've talked about it a little in the past on this blog, but for those unfamiliar with this product, it is an tool for creating mind maps on your computer rather than with paper, pens, crayons, etc. It has a UI that is as simple to use as paper, but with very powerful features that provide results you couldn't expect to achieve in the analog realm. I just upgraded to the new version the other day (thanks, Gaelen!) and you can expect a full review coming soon. The short take is that MindManager 7 rocked my world, especially with the new Ribbon UI.

I was recently featured in Mindjet's Customer Vignette section and wanted to point out that even when talking about another product, I'm spreading the Notes love. Not only did I mention using the Lotus Notes client in one of the interview questions, but I also gave them my Notes URL mind map as a sample of how I use MindManager.

Ah...Lotus Notes and MindManager...two great tastes that taste great together. :-)

Labels: , ,

permalink | leave a comment

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Easily Lookup Books From Amazon At Your Local Library

I occasionally like to share some of the productivity hacks I use. This is one of them.

If you're a book lover, it's likely that you have overflowing shelves of books at home (yes, Tom...this means you! ;-). I decided a few years ago to pare down on my actual book buying and try to utilize the local library more often. Even so, I find myself on Amazon quite a bit (either via a blog link, a suggestion from a friend or just to see what's new). If I find something of interest but I'm not sure I want to purchase it, I'll check if it's available in the library catalog. Being a tech and productivity geek, I don't want to waste time having to lookup these books again. Fortunately, I don't have to. I've got The LibraryLookup Project bookmarklets for the two library systems in my area readily handy in my toolbar. When I find a book I like on Amazon, I simply select the bookmarklet and another window opens, displaying the book in the library catalog (if they have it).

Click to embiggen

If you're interested in the technical aspect of the bookmarklet, it uses regular expressions to retrieve the ISBN from the Amazon page and opens a new browser window to your library's online catalog system, passing the ISBN to the lookup form via the URL. The LibraryLookup Bookmark Generator allows you to set the base URL for your library system and determines how to construct the URL based on the software vendor that the library uses (hint: you can usually find this by going to the library online catalog...it's generally listed on the page somewhere).

Invoking the bookmarklet is a simple process and allows me to do my library browsing from the comfort of home, all while utilizing the Amazon UI, which is really much nicer than the library's own software.

It's a great tool...you should check it out.

Labels: ,

permalink | leave a comment

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...

Labels: ,

permalink | leave a comment

Friday, December 07, 2007

Print Anywhere...YEP...Anywhere!

Besides being a self-styled Lotus evangelist (I just bought a new car and am going to get some personalized plates...and I'm considering things like IM LOTUS, NOTES8 or QUICKR...man, what a geek!), I'm also a productivity junkie. Anything that can make me more productive while allowing me to maintain high quality output is considered for part of my standard toolkit. I wanted to tell you about one of those tools that has just entered my arsenal.

Say you are at the office and you want to print something out but don't want to use work printers to do it. Maybe you'll e-mail it home or save it to a USB key, then bring it up on your home machine and send it to the printer. Yeah...that works, but sometimes it's a chore. Perhaps you don't have the same program on your machine at home, or the kids are hogging the PC chatting with their friends.

All of these potential time wasting issues are now a thing of the past thanks to Printer Anywhere. Printer Anywhere is an incredibly useful tool that allows you to print to a remote printer using the internet. Thus, in the scenario above, you could print directly from your work PC to your printer on the desk at home. The service works by installing their software on the machines you want to print to and from. It automatically recognizes printers connected to your computer and gives you the option of sharing them. When you want to print a document, you simply issue the print command, pick "Printer Anywhere" as the printer and then choose the remote printer from a list (you can search by user ID, name, etc.). The item to be printed gets packaged up and sent across the internet to the other device, where it rolls off just as if it was printed from the local machine. That's the simplified version anyway. You can find out all the details, plus cool features such as encryption and the like, by exploring the Printer Anywhere homepage.

I can see many unique ways to use this service and plan on exploring it more in the future. Thought you might be interested in checking it out too. Cheers!


permalink | leave a comment

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Ultimate Cool Man Bag

After a long search, I finally found a man bag/murse/gadget bag that fit my criteria for a perfect portable utility carrying device. Since a couple of my friends asked, and the general voyeuristic masses on the internet love to see this stuff (and I include myself in that category), I thought I'd share my find.

My general criteria was:

Requirement 1: Manly looking...shouldn't look like a purse! :-)

Requirement 2: Not as big as a messenger bag...not as small as a pouch. Must be able to hold a wallet, Blackberry, Grail diary, small Moleskine notebook, pen, bullwhip, Sony Cybershot digital camera, Dell DJ.

Requirement 3: Over the shoulder only. I'm not secure enough to carry a clutch!

Final Decision: A WWII Mark VII Gas Mask Bag! Just so happens that this is the bag that Indiana Jones had in the movies (although in reality it wasn't yet invented in that time period). If Indiana Jones used it, then it's good enough for me!!!

Unfortunately, finding the real deal at a good price is hard, at least here in the States. I checked out some military surplus stores, but to no avail. I found some on eBay, but they were pretty tattered and dirty. Well, proving once again that you can get anything on the internet, even if it's just a replica, I found a guy in Singapore who creates these new. Doesn't have quite the cachet of the real thing, but it gets the job done.

Manly and functional! :-D

Also cool that I ended up paying around $30 total rather than the $150 I was going to spend on the runner up. I'll include some pictures in a future post. Now if I could just get my autistic daughter to stop telling everyone that "my dad bought a purse!" :-)

Labels: ,

permalink | leave a comment

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

ActiveWords...Making Notes (and More!) Easier To Use

In my post from a few weeks ago, I briefly talked about one of my favorite productivity tools, ActiveWords. In this post, I want to introduce you to ActiveWords in a little more detail. At the end, I'll hit you up for some ideas that we can use to make ActiveWords even more compelling for Lotus Notes users.

First, a little about how I use ActiveWords in my daily work. The program is set to load when I start my computer, so as soon as I jump into my work it is ready to go. Usually, the first thing I do is start launching programs and ActiveWords is perfect for this task. It doesn't matter where I am within Windows (at my desktop, in another program, etc.), I can trigger an action just by typing its ActiveWord and using the activation key (by default it is F8 but there is an option to use 'space' 'space' as a trigger, which I really like). So, as soon as my PC loads up, I type 'n' at the desktop and hit the spacebar twice. This command launches Notes. The really powerful part comes into play when I am actively engaged in a work task. Let's say I'm typing an e-mail and I want to pull up Microsoft Excel. As I'm typing (directly in the memo where I get the thought), I can enter 'xl' and then double space. As soon as I type the first space, ActiveWords is aware that I used one of my words and the next press of the spacebar actually activates the action. Excel then launches as I desired and the letters I typed in the memo to trigger the ActiveWord are deleted (pretty smart, eh?). The screenshots below show you some of the options you have when setting up such a trigger word.

Just with the option to launch programs by keywords wherever I am, ActiveWords provided me with a productivity boost. However, ActiveWords is no one trick pony. It can do far more than just act as a program launcher. "What else?", you may ask. How about:

- Substitute a word you type with a another word, phrase or even multiple paragraphs
- Navigate to a specific Windows folder
- Open a website (or any URL really...think notes://)
- Open a document (this is what I use to launch .ndl files)
- Open a Windows Setting
- etc., etc.

You really need to experience it for yourself (hint: download the free trial), but here are some examples of ActiveWords that I use for the categories shown above.

Test Substitutions
* I now have my e-mail/message board signature line defined as a text substitution (multiple lines complete with a quote and all). My ActiveWord for this is 'sig', so I just type this and hit the spacebar twice to insert my signature wherever I am. No longer do I have to keep a signature line defined in multiple programs.
* I have ActiveWords for my 'name', 'address', 'phone', etc. If I need to enter those values in a field, I use the applicable ActiveWord, which is a lot faster than typing the whole thing.
* When I am doing application testing, I absolutely hate typing dummy text in fields. I put the opening couple paragraphs of the Gettysburg Address into an ActiveWord called 'test' and voilà, instant development testing text.

Opening A Website
Well this is pretty self-explanatory, but very useful. Example ActiveWords in my WordBase include 'bank', 'wiki', 'gm' (Gmail), 'r6' (Notes 6 & 7 forum...i.e notes.net! :-) Since this function within ActiveWords supports any URLs that are registered in Windows (*I think*), the notes URL protocols work too!

Navigating To A Folder/Opening A Windows Setting
I use this for quick access to My Documents and other folders on my hard drive ('projects', 'expenses', 'pics', etc.), Opening a Windows setting allows me to launch the control panel ('cp'), add/remove programs ('add'), etc. with just a couple keystrokes.

I think you get the idea.

Now, imagine extending these basic uses. For example, what if you wanted to quickly send a link to your calendar to another user? Maybe you do this often and it would be worthwhile to create an ActiveWord for the action. There's not an option for this out of the box, so what do you do? Being the really cool program it is, ActiveWords provides you with a scripting language that you can use to automate many tasks. Basically, if it's something you can do in Windows, you should be able to write a script to accomplish it. So, how could we automate the calendar link? Something like the following would do the trick:

You can see here that there are several commands built into the scripting language. Commands in the scripting language are delimited by < and >. In the example here, I am navigating to the Calendar view, pausing for a second, then emulating the press of the 'alt' key, followed by e (Edit), n (Copy As Link) and v (View Link). I then use the shortcut to create a new memo (Ctrl-m), tab down 4 times to get to the body and then do a Ctrl-v to paste the view link. Of course, this could be extended to include standard text, a signature line, etc.

The scripting language is quite advanced and allows you to use compound commands as well. As you can imagine, this can lead to some very complex actions that you can control with just a key or two. If you are concerned about being more productive and you are an ActiveWords user, you owe it to yourself to explore this feature in more detail. I'm really just starting to discover the power of ActiveWords scripting and I'm loving it.

That's right, Bob...there IS more! If you are a Tablet PC user like I am, you might find it a little difficult to trigger ActiveWords by using the keyboard when there's no keyboard available to you (i.e. when the tablet is in slate mode)! Enter the ActiveWords InkPad. This totally cool, totally free addition to ActiveWords provides you with a little floating widget that you can use to enter the trigger words with your pen! There are several options available for placement of the widget, size of the InkPad, etc. I have mine set to always be visible on the screen (whoops...sorry for leaving that on during my presentation at Lotusphere...my bad!). The ActiveWords icon floats on top of all windows (I've got it set to be semi-transparent) and only when I hover over the icon does the InkPad input area appear. Then, I simply write in my ActiveWord and move my pen out of the input area and the command is triggered. This is a very valuable addition to this program, since I maintain all of my standard ActiveWords functionality without having access to my keyboard!

In addition to all of the functionality built in to ActiveWords, there are several free modules available as add-ins that help extend the power of the tool even further. In ActiveWords lingo, these add-ins are known as "WordBases". Available WordBases include one that makes taking advantage of Google search and services very easy, an emoticon replacement function (e.g. type 'flower' and get @}->--), in-place spelling corrections, standard Windows commands and automation, etc. You can see all of the available add-ins here.

So...all of this leads me to a couple of calls to action. First, I encourage you to check out ActiveWords and see if you find it as compelling as I do. They have a 60-day trial available, so this gives you plenty of time to get a feel for the application and explore how it can make you more productive. Second, if you already use ActiveWords or if I've intrigued you enough to try it, you might want to participate in helping the fine folks at ActiveWords make a standard WordBase for Lotus Notes. Since I'm always harping on the UI of the client, I have a keen interest in leveraging ActiveWords to make using Notes easier. I've seen this in action in my own work and I think we could do the community of users a great service by helping in this space. If you want to explore what I've done so far and offer any of your own ideas, critiques, etc., please check out this post on the ActiveWords forum.

Ready? Go...

Labels: ,

permalink | leave a comment

Friday, June 15, 2007

Mind Maps For Lotus Notes: Notes URLs

As I have mentioned here once or twice, I use MindManager for creating mind maps that I use for work and for personal items. I have several maps that I keep for reference on various Lotus Notes topics and since I know several of you in the community use MindManager as well, I thought I'd clean them up a bit* and make them available here.

I love using Notes URLs for different tasks, especially for having integration with Notes in other programs. I'm currently exploring the boundaries of what the Notes URL syntax can do in an effort to help make the ActiveWords more compelling for Lotus Notes users. Since I'm playing around with them lately, I thought my Notes URLs - A Reference map would be the first one I would throw out here. If you click on the picture below, you can interact with the mind map in your browser (sorry...IE only). If you don't have MindManager and you don't want to install the free plugin, you can still check out the PDF.

Download the Mind Map
Download the PDF

Have a good weekend and Happy Father's Day to all the dads out there!

*clean up = make a new one so it's pretty :-)

Labels: , ,

permalink | leave a comment

Monday, May 14, 2007

Enhancing Productivity With Links

Hi All. I hope all the moms out there had a nice Mother's Day. Now it's back to work, though, so it's time for another post. This is a simple one today, to kind of ease into things after the relaxing weekend! :-)

It seems there are a lot of people who know about .NDL files and an equal number that don't. If you haven't created or used an NDL before, read on. If you have, you might want to skip to the bottom and see a really cool way to use them.

Creating an NDL

An NDL file is basically a document, view or database link that can reside out in your file system. It is represented by a Notes icon and when clicked will open the corresponding element. It will probably make more sense to you if you see it in action, so try the following steps:

1. Create a link to the view, document or database of your choice in the standard way (e.g. Edit - Copy As Link - View Link).

2. Open Notepad (or your favorite text editor) and paste into the body of the new document. You should see some XML looking stuff, which is how Notes represents a link.

3. Save this file, giving it any name you choose (a descriptive name such as "Tasks By User View" is best) and using .ndl as the file extension.

Take a look at the location in which you saved the link. You should see the icon for the file you just created.

Now double-click the link and check out what happens. Takes you right to the element in question. Pretty cool!

Uses for NDLs

NDLs can have many uses, but I would imagine the primary reason most NDLs are created is to send links to users in other mail systems. I know in the past that the Exchange Connector used them and of course CoexLinks does this too. I know several companies that also use NDLs on their intranets, allowing users to launch Notes documents directly from the browser.

These applications aside, I think that NDLs can be very handy from a productivity standpoint. In the old days, I used to have a single directory that I would use to store NDL files that linked to documents and views I used all the time. If I was in the middle of a task and needed to switch to one of those elements, I would just Alt-Tab to that open directory window and click the necessary NDL. If you spend some time thinking about the items in Notes that you use frequently, you'll probably come up with a pretty good list. Creating NDLs for each of these elements is a simple way to speed access to them.

You might wonder why you would use this method over, say, just creating a document in Notes where you store all of your links. This is probably just as good an option as using NDLs, but I chose this approach for two reasons. One, it was faster for me to Alt-Tab to the open window rather than navigating to another Notes document and two, it allows me to have access to these elements quickly even when I'm not in Notes. In fact, if Notes isn't open, invoking the NDL will open the client and then navigate directly to that element. From a productivity standpoint, this seemed to work very well for me. However, my life wasn't quite complete until I found ActiveWords.

NDLs on steroids...Combining them with the power of ActiveWords

Watch out, 'cause I'm going into all out fanboy mode for a minute. One of the greatest software purchases I ever made was a little product called ActiveWords. ActiveWords is a program that allows you to truly take control of your computer. Basically, when ActiveWords is running, it is monitoring everything you type, no matter where you are. When you type a word or phrase that you've setup as an ActiveWord, you can immediately trigger an action to happen. For example, when I type 'xl' and then hit the space bar twice, Microsoft Excel launches. If I type 'gm' and double space, my browser launches and takes me to Gmail. Whenever I want to insert my signature into a document, I just type 'sig' and bam...it appears. ActiveWords even has a cool module that corrects common spelling errors as you type! There are many types of actions that you can associate with ActiveWords. You can use it to substitute text, launch programs, open directories, etc. I don't want to turn this into a big ActiveWords commercial, but trust me when I say you need to do yourself a favor and head over to their site! Check out the demos and then download the free trial. It really is a revolutionary product.

Anyway, back to the point of the post. Combing ActiveWords and NDL files has allowed me to become even more efficient when working with Lotus Notes. Basically, when I have a commonly used link, I create the NDL file, place it into my NDL directory and then I associate an ActiveWord with that NDL. I can be most productive when my flow state isn't interrupted when trying to find information and I find that this combination is incredibly powerful. Let's say I'm working on a document and I need some detail about one of the servers in my domain. In a traditional scenario, I would have to open the NAB, navigate to the Servers view and then find the info I was looking for. Using NDLs and ActiveWords, I can maintain my context and just type 'server' and trigger ActiveWords (I do this by hitting space twice, although you can change the trigger in the options). The 'server' ActiveWord is setup to open 'LNServers.ndl', so as soon as I trigger it, the NDL is executed and the NAB opens right to the view I need. If you consider how often you access common elements in Notes, this simple action can add up to some significant time savings.

As with most of my posts, this one was written in response to an e-mail I received. Perhaps you'll find NDL files to be as useful as I have. If you have another approach that you use for accessing commonly needed elements in Notes, please feel free to share in the comments. If you have any other tricks for being really productive in Notes, I'd love to hear those too. If you're interested in a live demo of ActiveWords, please don't hesitate to ask. You can find me at the upcoming ILUG 2007 and Lotus Developer 2007 conferences. Cheers!

P.S. I have no stake in ActiveWords except for being a very satisfied customer. It's a software package that performs one particular function and does so exceedingly well. I highly recommend checking it out. I believe the purchase price is very reasonable for the value it adds.

Labels: , ,

permalink | leave a comment