Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Using Notes to manage my Tasks in a GTD way

Since the start of the year, I have been trying out a number of different tools for implementing Getting Things Done (GTD). For the last month or so, I have reverted to using Lotus Notes as a task tracking tool. I have been using the standard Notes email database design and did not use any special tools.

In order to ensure I was following GTD best practices, I read a document from David Allen's company which gives very practical advice on how to use Notes for GTD style task tracking. This guide is quite useful - as a long time Lotus Notes user I already knew most of the tips and tricks, but a new user of Lotus Notes would really benefit from reading this guide. Unfortunately it was written for an older version of Lotus Notes and so it does not mention any of the newer features such as follow-up flags or  the ability to drag emails from your inbox onto your ToDo list to convert them into ToDo items.

While I followed most of the instructions in the guide, I deviated from the official advice in a number of ways:
  • David Allen is quite adamant that it is important to distinguish between appointments which have a specific date and time and tasks which don't. However, I like to see at a glance what I need to do next. Therefore I ignored David's advice and configured Notes to show a all incomplete ToDos to on my calendar. I used the following guidelines when deciding which date to assign to tasks:
    • By default tasks go into today's list. By looking at a combination of my appointments and ToDo items for a particular day, I can quickly see when I am over booked. For example, if I have only two or three appointments on a day I can expect to get quite a few ToDo items completed, but if I have seven or eight meetings on a particular day I know it is pointless to expect to expect many ToDos to get done in the short gaps between them.
    • Whenever I see a day that is overbooked, Notes allows me to easily change its assigned date by using drag-and-drop to place it on a date with fewer appointments. This automatically updates the start date field for this ToDo without needing me to touch the keyboard.
    • By default ToDo items don't have a due date. If something really needs to be done by a particular date I will give a due date of the day before, then Notes will automatically put a red indicator beside it on my calendar after the due date is passed so that I can see it is more urgent.
    • I tend to put the less important ToDos on  Friday. This means that they don't clutter up my list of things that I need to do on a particular day, but at the same time I can easily see them if I have some free time and am looking for something to do.
    • I put most personal ToDos on Saturday unless they are something which can only be done on a week day (e.g. ring insurance companies to get a quote).
    • I put things that fit into the "Someday/Maybe" category onto new years eve. When it comes to the end of the year and I am making new years resolutions I can decide if I want to move these onto the active list or leave them on the "Someday/Maybe" list for next year.
    • David Allen recommends creating ToDo entries with an agenda for anyone with whom you will need to meet with regularly e.g. your boss. If I have a scheduled 1-on-1 with somebody I normally place the Agenda entry on the date of our next 1-on-1. If I don't have a scheduled 1-on-1 meeting with this person I move the agenda out some number fo days in the future which reflects my feeling for the urgency of the items on the agenda. If something on the agenda is really urgent I might even place a due date on it to remind me that I need to meet the person in question.
  • I followed David Allen's instructions on setting up categories for my ToDo items, but I must admit that I did use categories for all of my ToDo items. I find that I tend to have around 30-50 items and so I find it relatively easy to scan through them even if they are not all properly categorised. Therefore the small amount of time required to assign a category to a ToDo item is wasted time for me. I have heard David say that most busy professionals should expect to have about 150-200 outstanding things listed in their task management system. I am not sure if this means that I am not very busy or if it means that I don't capture all of my possible ToDos in a tracking system (I suspect the later).
  • I delete ToDos as soon as I complete them rather than marking them complete. I do this partly because I want to save space on my limited email quota and partly because I find that completed ToDos tend to clutter up some of the Notes views. However, I do realise that this means I won't be able to properly do reviews of what I was spending my time on - I might  change this policy in the future.
  • David Allen's guide gives no mention of the use of Follow-Up flags (probably because they were not contained in the version of Notes that was available when he wrote his guide). This feature allows you to place a flag on an email indicating that you need to take some action on it - then you can safely move it out of your inbox safe in the knowledge that you won't forget it. In general these flags are very simple to use, but I would love to hear some expert advice on how/if these flagged emails should be managed in conjunction with my ToDos
In general I find that Notes is very efficient and easy to use. Since I already use Notes for email and managing my calendar, it is very efficient for me not to have to switch to a different tool for managing my tasks. As a result, I think that this will be my task tracking system for the foreseeable future.

I have heard people speak highly of the eProductivity template which makes it even easier to use Notes in a GTD compatible way. It probably is very good, but I find that the standard Notes template works fine for me. In addition I believe that IBM won't pay the cost of the template and I don't think that I want to pay this out of my own pocket.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Weekly Report for the week ending 18th of April

I had an accident this week and injured my ribs. Therefore I was acting on limited capacity. I am surprised that I actually managed to achieve almost as many goals as normal.

Last week I said I would:
  1. Assist in running OSS Bar Camp (done - but I missed the camp itself due to injury)
  2. Finalize the plans for Portal to move to the latest Sametime API (almost done)
  3. Begin planning work on Sametime/MashupMaker integration (almost done)
  4. Start work on building a picture outlining the different methods for extending Sametime so that we can gain agreement on which are strategically preferred and which should be deprecated. (started)
  5. Write blog post about using Notes as a GTD tracking system (not done)
Next Week I will do the following actions:
  1. Finalize the plans for Portal and MashupMaker to move to the latest Sametime API
  2. Start getting feedback on my picture of the Sametime programming methods
  3. Write blog post about using Notes as a GTD tracking system
  4. Agree evaluation method for Ireland/China exchange program
  5. Update my CV

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Open Source Bar Camp is a Sell out

Next Saturday (17th of  April) IBM will be playing host to the Open Source Bar Camp at their head office on Pembroke Road. I am sure this will be a very interesting event and there is a busy schedule with 2 streams of talks going on all day. As you would expect, there is no charge for attending this event, but since space is limited we have asked people to apply for a free ticket on EventBrite. I see that all of the free tickets have now been sold out.

If you missed out on getting a ticket, don't worry there will be future Bar Camps - you will need to remember to be faster off the mark registering for the next one.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Open Street Map boldly goes where other mapping providers don't dare to tread

One of the main issues when using a Satellite Navigation (SatNav) system is ensuring that you have accurate and up to date maps for the area where you are travelling. Some areas (e.g. Dublin) can change quite rapidly as new roads are constructed and so maps that were produced only a few years ago can be inaccurate and misleading. Professionally produced maps can be expensive - updating the maps on your SatNav can cost almost as much as the cost of buying a new SatNav unit. Luckily it is possible to get free maps which have been produced by the local community (who know the area better than anybody). For example, OpenStreetMap is the best know community produced map which makes all of its data available on a creative commons license. In many instances the community produced maps can be superior to the expensive ones produced by the professionals.

Forexample, the IBM campus where I work is technically private property, but since it is a large complex site it really ought to be mapped (e.g. it contains the first two stops on the number 38 bus service). The Yahoo Maps service, normally provide accurate mapping data for Ireland. However, if you look at their map for the area it is clear the mapping company who produced their maps stopped at the entrance to the campus and turned around.

In contrast, if you look at the OpenStreetMap map for the same area you will see that it has excellent detail of all of the internal roads within the campus. Each of the buildings are identified and it even includes the walking path around the edge of the campus where many people go for a walk through the trees at lunchtime. Someone has even gone to the trouble of recording the location of the recycling facility.

This is a clear case where expensive does not imply better.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Clean-up of tags

I was looking at the tags widget on the right hand side of my blog and I was surprised to see that I have used roughly 90 different tags on this blog. Many of these are only used on a single post and it makes it difficult to see what this blog is about.

After some consideration I decided the content of this blog could be categorised into the following themes:
  • GTD
  • IBM
  • Innovation
  • Ireland
  • Life
  • Mapping
  • Open-Source
  • Social-Software
  • Tools
I went through the blog posts and found that I could add at least one of these tags to each of the blog entries. I didn't remove any of the old tags (except for mis-spellings), but in many cases the blog post already contained a more specific tag e.g. the post may have contained Galway or Dublin so I added Ireland or if the post  have contained the tag Ubuntu I added Open-Source. The tag Life was used as a tag for everything that doesn't fit neatly into any other categories.

I then restricted the tags widget to just show these main categories. In future I will apply at least one of these tags to all of my new posts. It will also allow me to monitor the volume of blog content about each theme. For example, I see that I have relatively few blog posts about mapping, but this is a topic of interest to me and so I intend blogging more about it in future.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Weekly Report for the 2 weeks ending 12th of April

Due to the Easter holidays and some personal vacation, I decided to merge 2 weekly revies into one:

Last week I said I would:
  1. Plan a communications meeting for my newly enlarged team (done)
  2. Get get PBC goals agreed for all of my team (done)
  3. Help make plans for OSS Bar Camp (done)
  4. Finalize the plans for Portal to move to the latest Sametime API and finalise technical direction for Mashup Maker integration (plans for Portal almost finalised but not much progress on Mashup maker)
  5. Try to get a clear plan on Lotus Connections about how the two products can work together better (clear plan for Connections 3.0 - deferred discussion longer term plans)
  6. Help with testing ST 8.5.1 on Linux - particularly Pulse Audio support (done)
  7. Set up Sametime 8.5.1 build environment on my PC so that I can learn more about Sametime internals (done)
  8. Write a Q1 review on my blog (done)
  9. Continue using Notes as a GTD tracking system (done - but not yet blogged about)
In addition I attended a number of events which occupied much of my time:
  1. Attended IEEE conference on Transforming Engineering Education
  2. Hosted a visit from my boss (who is based in US and had never before met me or any of my team in person).
  3. Attended IBM Academy of Technology conference on mobile collaboration
  4. Atten
Next Week I will to the following actions:
  1. Assist in running OSS Bar Camp
  2. Finalize the plans for Portal to move to the latest Sametime API
  3. Begin planning work on Sametime/MashupMaker integration
  4. Start work on building a picture outlining the different methods for extending Sametime so that we can gain agreement on which are strategically preferred and which shoudl be deprecated.
  5. Write blog post about using Notes as a GTD tracking system

Thursday, April 1, 2010

GTD Q1 Review

I have now been doing weekly reviews on my blog for 3 months and so I thought it might be time to asses who effective these have been.
  • The once thing that surprised me is to see that I have kept it up - this is surprising becuase I am not necessarily very good at persisting at things.
  • I also see that I have mixed results about getting my weekly goals achieved. However, I think that the potential for public embarrassment of having to write on my blog has often spurred me to complete some of my week goals that might otherwise have slipped. For example, I notice that sometimes I have a goal "blog about x" and the blog post about x is posted shortly before my weekly review. On the other hand, there have been situations where I have written "not done" beside an action item a few weeks in a row and this has forced me to be more realistic about the chances of completing this action item and I move it to the "Someday/Maybe" list.
  • I only include things worthy of mention in my weekly ToDo list in my weekly review. Many tasks repetitive but time consuming tasks are ignored when writing my weekly review. I think this makes sense, but sometimes I am disappointed when I see how few items of note I have actually achieved in a week.
  • Being a manager means that many of the things I do must be kept confidential - it is not just my privacy, but the privacy of others must be respected. However, whenever I have anything major to do, I normally find that I can write something on my weekly review blog post that makes sense to me and doesn't compromise the privacy of the people involved.
  • I don't think my weekly review blog posts make for interesting reading, but quite a few people have commented directly to me that they have read the posts and they have offered encouragement in my GTD quest. (I am not sure why people are so reluctant to post a comment to the blog).
  • I don't think I have yet hit upon the correct mixture of tools and process that make GTD work effectively for me, but I  think I am getting closer. I will probably settle upon using Lotus Notes, but with some adaption to make it easier for me.
In summary, I think I will keep up the week reviews (at least for now). I am really looking forward to attending the seminar that David Allen and Erik Mack holding next week for IBM employees. I think this seminar will be really relevant to my personal circumstances. In addition I think it is great to connect with other IBM employees who are also struggling with implement the methodology in a way that works for them.