Archive for December, 2007

cloudy day

I finally upgraded my blog to Blogger version 2.whatever, mainly because I went through my entire history and created ‘labels’ for all my previous posts and I wanted a Label Cloud to show off my organizational skills. So now I’m set with a Label Cloud (see bottom right) and hopefully a more navigable blog.

Say “navigable blog” three times real fast.

the google mapping

Two posts regarding Google in two days… I’m sorry. But this is amazingly fascinating.

Of course everyone knows that Google Maps is the preferred way to view streets and avenues in the online world. A while back Google rolled out a “My Maps” function, a capability allowing users to overlay makers, lines and polygons on top of the existing Google map in order to create their own custom maps. Each element comes with an editable HTML tag and the ability to use the Google “Directions” tool to map directions to and from the element. “My Maps” are stored (publicly or privately) in the users Google profile. It’s a really neat tool, but one I didn’t fully appreciate until yesterday.

We have some friends coming over for a little Christmas dinner tonight. Since they haven’t been to our house before, they asked me to email them directions. We live in a townhome community, and with 300 houses that all looks the same, it can sometimes be confusing to direct people there… so I create a Google “My Map” to help get them there, complete with a little blue line showing where our driveway is, and a marker indicating where our house is. I edited the marker to show our address, some directions on navigating the subdivision, as well as a photo of our house… NEAT!!!

Of course, since I’ve made this map publicly available on my Google profile, that probably means creepy stalkers from across the country will be staking out my house. Fantastic……

View Larger Map

blogger hack

A while back I did an internet-practice overhaul… I switched to Firefox as the browser of choice, and drank the Google cool kool-aid, which has had a profound impact on my life and productivity. Got myself a gmail address – burnsie512 {at} – and I’m off and running…

Well, when I started blogging back in the day, I signed up for a Blogger account under my old Yahoo email address, so when I started using my Google account as my webernet profile of choice, I found myself in this peculiar position of doing everything EXCEPT blogging under my Google identity. I would spend my days browsing around on Firefox, loving my iGoogle page, but when I needed to blog, I would open up crappy old Internet Explorer and do my blogging… all this so I wouldn’t have to go through the process of logging out of Google, and then typing usernames and passwords to log into Blogger with my Yahoo address – this had to be done because Google bought Blogger and they were talking to each other, and Blogger isn’t able to automatically switch profiles for me. So I was left with quite the conundrum, and it was extremely annoying.

Well, just today, I figured out a hack which proved to be the answer to all my problems, and just in case there’s another suffering the weight of two Blogger accounts out there, here is the method of relief:

  1. Log into your existing blogs and send a Contributor invitation to your Gmail account for each of your blogs
  2. Log into Gmail and accept the invitations to contribute
  3. Log back into Blogger using your old account name and switch the permissions of your Google accounts to ADMINISTRATOR
  4. Staying in your old account, remove your old account name from the Contributors list of each of your blogs
  5. And finally, log into Blogger using your Google account, and your set to go – you’ve effectively made an account swap of your blogs

I’m happy to say that from now on I will be posting from the comfort of Firefox, under the pretext of my Google account.

moleskine junkie

I’ve become a quick fan of the classy notebook known as the Moleskine, the black bound, hard cover booklet great for jotting notes, brainstorming ideas, and logging travel notes. They’re simple with more emphasis placed on providing a quality place to capture your ideas than creating some pretty ornament for your bookshelf.

I actually wasn’t familiar with the Moleskine brand until I began to dig into the GTD way of life, but these little books are perfect in so many ways. For my day-to-day To-Do Item capturing I opted for the large square-ruled notebook… I like the graph paper element because it works well with creating list items and sketching quick graphs and diagrams in the course of the work day. And just this weekend I bought myself a second notebook to keep as a journal / sermon notes book. This time I went for the simple ruled-notebook which is much cleaner for pages and pages of text.

A relatively new product in the Moleskine lineup are their “City Notebooks“. The small, pocket sized booklets come branded with a certain city (such as Amersterdam, Dublin, Boston, or Seattle), and include such items as a city map, subway maps, and pre-tabbed sections for Food, Drinks, People, & Places. The idea is that it comes with just enough information to get you started in a city, but with plenty of blank space to log your own travels… the end result, you’ve written your tour guide yourself and have made the trip your own. Pretty cool concept.

Moleskine notebooks – not actually manufactured from the skins of innocent moles, might I add – available at most local bookstores. They’re a good buy.

pillow talk

Sometimes when husbands accidently half-wake up their wives from their sleep in the middle of the night, comedy ensues. Such was the case last night…

It was 1AM, and Steph had been sleeping for a couple hours. I couldn’t fall asleep, and must have bumped her and she kind of startled awake from a dream or something. As she was falling back to sleep, this is the “conversation” that took place:

Steph (in a groggy, I’m not at all awake sort of voice): “You have to take the horse up and back into there and back….”
Me: “What?”
Steph: “You have to take the horse for and to the back to be up and in the stall…..”
Me (in a, this should be good entertainment sort of voice): “What’s wrong with the horse?”
Steph: “He’s really skinny”
Me: “He’s skinny?”
Steph: “The horsey is really skinny”
Me: “Why is the horsey skinny?”
Steph: “Because no one is feeding the horsey”
Me: “They’re not – why aren’t they feeding the horsey?”
Steph: “I don’t know….”
Me: “Does the skinny horsey have a name?”
Steph: “No….”
Me: “Why not?”
Steph: “I don’t know”
Me: “You should name the horsey”
Steph: “Huh?”
Me: “Why don’t you name the horsey?”
Steph (in a fully alert, realizing she has just been having a ridiculous conversation sort of voice): “YOU’RE NOT A VERY NICE PERSON YOU KNOW THAT!!”

Ah, such good fun….

how i get things done

This week I’m writing two posts on productivity. This is the second post. The other has already been written.

There is a productivity philosophy called GTD, or “Getting Things Done”. Lifehacker is particularly fond of this philosphy. The core concept is this: We have thoughts all day long of things that we need to do but we can’t possibly remember them all. To increase efficiency we need to get these “things” out of our mind and recorded so we can concentrate on what actually needs to get done. GTD refines this process of gathering and capturing information by grouping tasks according to context. If you’re overwhelmed with the sheer amount of stuff you have to do every day, you very well may want to give this a thought.

Well, I drank the kool-aid, and have been practicing “my version” of this GTD for a couple months now (everyone has their own personal way they implement GTD). I’ve gotten my system down pretty well now, so I thought I’d share it. Jon has drank a similar flavor of cool-aid, so if you’re interested in reading his thoughts on the subject, check them out here.

So, for purposes of posterity this is my method of how I get things done:

The core of GTD relies on your ability to capture every task you have to do, whether it’s big or small, regardless of where you are. It’s important that you have as few “capture” points as you can possibly get away with – personally I have three.

  • Digital Capture – This is my email inbox, and I include both my work email and my personal email in this process. As an additional digital capture device I’ve got my cell phone which I can use to text myself action items directly to my email – helpful when I’m truly on the go.
  • Analog Capture – Aside from the fact that my company is too cheap to buy me a laptop, I need a capture device that I can take with me to meetings, for hallway conversations, and in the car, etc. This is where the handy-dandy Moleskine journal comes into play. I opted for the graph paper version because I’m particularly a fan of symetry and this aids in that endeavor (which in itself may warrant another post… hmm).

With my capture devices I am assured that whenever a task comes to mind that I need to remember I simply write it down.

Next I need to process all of these action items, and there are plenty. I get well in excess of 250 emails per day at work, and this paired with the fact that Outlook is a terrible way to manage tasks made me open to any other project management system that would help me organize.

Enter – an online task/project management system. It’s web-based, it’s simple and intuitive, and it’s free… perfect! Todoist has really changed my life, and has made task management a reality. Since I spend 80% of my time in front of a computer, Todoist really makes sense as my central hub for processing everything I need to do.

As action items come up I determine how long it will take me to do them. If it will take less than 2 minutes, then I do it immediately. Otherwise I enter the item into Todoist. As I’m sent emails and receive phone calls, I log all of my action items into Todoist. If I’m in a meeting and come back to my desk with action items in my Moleskine journal, into Todoist they go.

Todoist allows me to quickly define deadlines, create projects with subtasks, set priorities, and add recurring tasks, all with very quick and simple keyboard shortcuts. It also allows for quick queries of items due today, due in the next seven days, overdue, etc. A web nerd’s dream.

To manage all of the tasks hanging out in Todoist I need to be wary of my organization and deadline setting. I have several buckets that I drop tasks into as items are added – Work, Personal, My Website, Long Term. I’m very careful about where things go when they’re dropped in.

I’m also careful about my deadline setting. Not every task is as important as the other. In general I do not assign a due date to action items unless it is a priority project or there is an actual defined deadline for the task when it is given to me.

If I am selective about the deadlines I set, I’m not overwhelmed on any one day with tons of projects coming due at the same time. Also, by refraining from setting deadlines I relieve myself of the subconscious burden of living under the pressure of getting so many things done… I focus on today’s tasks and then move on.

The oft neglected but so very important part of GTD. Once every few days (and at least once a week) I go through the outstanding task list in Todoist. I make sure that all of the tasks I have are still relevant, and as I review I set deadlines for new projects that need to be completed within the next week. At this point I also make sure my email inbox is clean, and that things are filed and archived away. I used to be a stickler about saving every email I get… but lets face it, like tasks, not every email is as important as the other, so I’ve become a huge fan of the ‘delete’ button.

Some other key tools that have become very useful in this whole GTD implementation…

  • I rely on iGoogle more than ever, with my bookmarks, blog feeds, email, and calendar all within one click.
  • Google Calendar has been great, and has been implemented into my iGoogle page. Very good for keeping track of meetings, events, and other activities that occur outside of the 8:30-5:30 workday.
  • Jott is a service I’m liking more and more which allows you the ability to call a number, speak a message, and it will transcribe it for you and send the message to your email. Great for capturing information when you’re on the run and don’t have time to write something down – for instance, driving in the car in busy traffic and some epic thought crosses your mind.
  • Outlook has the funtionality of essentially post-dating emails… write an email now, press ‘Send’, but have it delivered later. Say I have an email I need to send to a group of people, but it doesn’t need to be sent until four days from now… If I can just write the email now and be done with it and press ‘Send’, I can tell Outlook to send it in four days. Gets the action off my plate, and I don’t have to stress about it in four days. Works for me.

So there you go. That’s how I’m getting things done these days. Maybe this was helpful for you, or just further evidence that I am turning into the biggest nerd the world has ever put forth. Ah well…..

the levels of success

My co-worker Jon and I work in digital music, which on the surface seems somewhat glorious what with the greatness of iTunes and all. But underneath it’s really pretty chaotic, frantic, and in the words of many, the wild wild west of the music industry. The operational level especially involves a lot of technical mumbo-jumbo and general all around ridiculousness that few people outside of ourselves actually understand.

Given that we live in this constant state of confusion, with brief moments of glory, and the ever present threat of epic disaster, Jon and I developed a tongue-in-cheek “system” by which we denote our current status of success / failure on whatever project we’re currently working on, which we dubbed the “Levels Of Success Chart”.

We’re particularly fond of the downward spiralic progression from Situation to Fiasco, and I’m proud to say that we’ve actually emerged relatively unscathed from weeks of deep and utter Pandemic. We have yet to achieve anything above a Meta-Solution, but oh, it’s coming.

Sometimes the word “problem” just isn’t enough… This will end up in a management book someday. Enjoy…

I know we’re not the only ones living neck deep in the idiocy of the corporate world, so in the event that you might find this chart helpful, I’ve provided a link to a downloadable PDF version of the chart here.

Myself, I’ve got mine printed off and held up on the wall of my office with my Michael Scott magnet that I bought at Target for $.99.

two posts on productivity

This week I’m going to write two posts on productivity, particularly as it applies to me being productive. This is the first post. The second hasn’t been written yet. The other has now been written.

I had a revelation within the last two weeks: I constantly struggle to keep myself motivated throughout the day at work, regardless of how much I have going on or how interested / uninterested I am in doing the work I need to do. And it seems that if I start off slow at work, more often than not, the entire day is going to be sluggish and I won’t get much accomplished.

But I’ve found a way to “jumpstart” myself in the mornings when I get to work. I probably could never actually tell an employer that I do this, as they would see it as decidedly unproductive, but I find this little activity helps me put to good use the remaining hours in the day.

And guess what – the activity is blogging. I find that if I spend 20-30 minutes each morning catching up on posts I find interesting, commenting on friend’s blogs, and writing something myself, it somehow gets the proverbial “creative juices” flowing. I guess it’s kind of like a little mind stretch – a work warm-up, if you will.

So there you go. Not that exciting I guess, but it was an epiphany for me.

Well, it was an ephiphany, but not really an epiphany [Adam].

So if you feel unproductive today, comment on my blog, and then go write something yourself, and tomorrow morning I’ll come and read yours.