Notes on stuff

Tagged Posts: Productivity

Links for 2013-02-07

Bookmarks I’ve shared on 2013-02-07:

Links for 2012-02-07

Bookmarks I’ve shared on 2012-02-07:

Links for 2012-01-16

Bookmarks I’ve shared on 2012-01-16:

Links for 2011-05-03

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Links for 2011-04-05

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Links for 2010-12-18

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Bookmarks I’ve shared on 2010-12-18:

Blending Pomodoro and GTD

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Pomodoro Timer
Image via Wikipedia

I’ve been using variants of the Getting Things Done (GTD) technique for a few years, and I find it’s a safe haven when work is turbulent. The simple rules of the GTD workflow help create forward motion on the most overwhelming of days. As I posted recently, after many attempts at finding the right tool support, I have now settled on one that works for me.

But there are days when I have cleared a block of time, and I just need to plough through work, and if I’m not careful my GTD list can become just one more challenge to single tasking.

I wondered if Pomodoro could help with that, so much to the bemusement of colleagues I have started the practice of using an electronic timer (with ticks!) to force myself to work in timeboxes when I am carrying out focused tasks.

A number of people have written about combining these two techniques, including Arjun Muralidharan and Tim Noyce. They have clearly spent longer reflecting on how these things work best for them, but I would add a few observations of my own:

  • GTD always works as a way of finding something productive to do – like most professionals my “to do” list represents far more work than could ever be done in a day, or even a week – being able to slice it by context, by association, by relevance means that I can always find something to fill an empty timeslot.
  • It really helps to identify one or two “Most Important Things” at the start of the day – I use a temporary GTD context of @Today to capture those.
  • Pomodoro works well for driving a concentrated focus on a single-person task, but is no help at all when you have a lot of collaboration to achieve, meetings interrupting the flow etc.
  • Pomodoro sets out to make interruptions (internal or external) more noticeable, and I found a side-effect of that was that I was getting tetchier with people who interrupted me. Pay attention to the guidance in the Pomodoro book about handling interruptions!
  • It’s very tempting to go on beyond the Pomodoro “just to polish something off”

What systems work for you?

How do you best resolve the “what do to” and “getting it done” pressures on you?

Let me know in the comments.

Links Roundup for 2008-01-16

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Shared bookmarks for user Synesthesia on 2008-01-16

Links Roundup for 2007-09-06

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Shared bookmarks for user Synesthesia on 2007-09-06

Links Roundup for 2007-04-25

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Shared bookmarks for user Synesthesia on 2007-04-25

Links Roundup for 2007-04-18

Shared bookmarks for user Synesthesia on 2007-04-18

Web-based Mindmapping

Until now, mind-mapping has been one of the key aspects of information-management that has not been well-supported on the web.

Granted, Freemind has been platform-neutral since the beginning (through its use of Java), and somewhat-integrated with WikkaWiki, but this still very much relies on an individual providing their own server-based architecture. Other tools such as word-processing, calendaring and spreadsheets have had web-based incarnations for a while, but my frustration has been the lack of a truly web-enabled mind-mapping tool: on the desktop I now use MindManager as my core tool for organising and creating information, dropping out to other applications only when a specific treatment of information is required.

At last, companies are rising to the opportunity of this gap in the market – the two best known being Mindomo and MindMeister (still in private beta – subscribe to newsletter to get invitation). Chuck Frey has just published a first feature-comparison of these plus and Thinkature (although as Chuck points out, the latter two are not really mind-mapping in the traditional sense).

Chuck’s initial conclusions show that the two main products are taking different approaches to development – Mindomo seems to be focusing on UI features whereas MindMeister is providing a basic feature set coupled with good ability to import and export from/to other applications and websites. The collaboration model seems to be different too, with MindMeister offering real–time shared editing.

It will be interesting to see what happens to these products – my guess at the moment is that they will appeal to slightly different groups for whom the differing feature sets create a value distinction. Extrapolating from the sorts of things that people do already, both on- and off-line, I think there are two main sorts of workflows for which these online maps wil be suited:

  1. Long-term collaboration and knowledge sharing amongst a group, where the Mindmap becomes the primary repository; and
  2. Dynamic brainstorming, possibly primed with information prepared offline, and where the results of the collaboration are taken away for further work.

On the face of it, although both tools could do either, Mindomo seems to be heading in a direction best-suited to approach 1, whilst MindMeister looks to be a good fit for approach 2 as well. Obviously these workflows are not decoupled, rather they are places on a continuum, but it will be interesting to see which gains most traction first.

One of my main concerns about using an online service such as these is the stability and security of the offering – none of us wants to invest time in creating information only to find that the platform we have used for storing and sharing it has evaporated overnight. (Nick Duffill makes a related point) For that reason I suspect that workflows nearer to (2) will be the better initial match for these online mindmapping tools, which in theory should give MindMeister an advantage. Let’s see!


Eric Blue has issued a call for action for a common mind-mapping file format, and Kayuda is another online product that looks worthy of investigation…

Links Roundup for 2007-03-27

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Shared bookmarks for user Synesthesia on 2007-03-27

Getting Things Done with Mindmanager, ResultsManager, GyroQ, and now MindReader

I’ve used Mindmanager as my core information-management tool at work for several years. For the last few months I have also been using it as the underlying support for my “GTD-like” personal productivity processes, augmented with the excellent ResultsManager add-in from Gyronix.

ResultsManager is very powerful, I particularly like the way it allows me to have a mindmap per project, yet pull all of my “Next Actions” into a single Dashboard mind map. However to exploit this power requires the capture of several pieces of information for each action item.

This is where another Gyronix product comes in – GyroQ – this provides a hot-keyable place to capture odd thoughts without breaking flow, queueing them for later addition to a set of ResultsManager mindmaps.

One of the great things about GyroQ is that the tag-based interface allows end-users (with the approprioate developer licence) to extend the functionality of the tool.

The most active contributor of new tags and macros is the anonymous ActivityOwner, who is both active on the Gyronix support forums and runs an excellent website packed with hints, tips, and example GyroQ tags, MindManager macros, and ResultsManager dashboards.

Latest offering from ActivityOwner that I’ve grabbed and put into service is a set of tags and macros entitled MindReader. This extends the functionality of GyroQ to allow you to enter natural-language phrases such as “Email Bob about project X tomorrow” and have these parsed to create ResultsManager activities with key information fields pre-filled – potentially a huge timesaver.

I run a mixed economy of MindManager versions – X5 at work, 6 at home. MindReader is designed to work with version 6, and I discovered one version-dependency in the code. I’ve posted a fix to make MindReader work with MindManager 5 on the ActivityOwner wiki here.

Links Roundup for 2007-02-08

Shared bookmarks for user Synesthesia on 2007-02-08

Links Roundup for 2006-12-14

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Shared bookmarks for user Synesthesia on 2006-12-14

I posted these via Spurl a while ago, but the functionality is broken at the moment.

Links Roundup for 2006-10-08

Shared bookmarks for user Synesthesia on 2006-10-08

Mindmapping Software Survey

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Nick Duffill points to Chuck Frey‘s report on his survey of mind-mapping tool use.

Chuck sums up the issues preventing wider take-up of this sort of software:

These responses seemed to be concentrated around a few specific issues: Lack of time to promote the use of mind mapping software to managers and coworkers, lack of awareness of the benefits that mind mapping software can provide, and restrictive corporate IT policies, which make it hard to implement a new piece of software.

One response I found particularly interesting was this, to the question “If you don’t share your maps with others, why not?”

If you are familiar with the Myers-Brigg Type Index (MBTI), this explanation is easy. The Myers-Briggs “sensors” have significant difficulty using abstract models (such as hierarchical mind maps) or reasoning using abstract models, making decisions about the future using abstract models. It is easy to identify these people by watching them trace a mind map using their index finger. The MBTI sensors start at the root and follow one branch all the way down to a leaf. Then they stop and argue about the leaf and its contents. They rarely ever get back up to the root or to other first level nodes. These people routinely request aMicrosoft Word document without all the confusing pictures. I comply by delivering them Word documents or PDF documents without any embedded maps. The abstract reasoners start at the root and begin tracing circles around the root, tracing first all the first level nodes, then tracing all the second level nodes, and so on outward in widening circles. These people not only love maps,they almost immediately begin suggesting corrections or additions to the maps. For these people I supply printed maps or Microsoft Word documents with embedded map fragments.

Interesting line of enquiry to pursue there – I wonder if it has any relationship to the perception issue I described here?

Links Roundup for 2006-05-17

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Shared bookmarks for user Synesthesia on 2006-05-17

Links Roundup for 2006-04-24

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Shared bookmarks for user Synesthesia on 2006-04-24

Links Roundup for 2006-03-29

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Shared bookmarks for user Synesthesia on 2006-03-29

Links Roundup for 2006-03-23

Shared bookmarks for user Synesthesia on 2006-3-23

Qumana re-visited

Having mentioned Qumana in a recent post, the ever-vigilant Qumana team picked up on my comment and asked if I’d look again at the tool. As I promised, here is a note of my re-visit. In the spirit of the thing, this post is written using the tool (3.0.0-b2 Beta).

The two things that put me off Qumana before were its inability to post via a web proxy (not tested this time), and the lack of control over the HTML it was creating. The second thing has been fixed now, with a "Source View" tab.

Things I like

The drop-pad – this makes it really easy to grab links and bits of content as you work and park them in a scratchpad for blogging later. This was the key part of the workflow that Earl Mardle described.

The writing interface is really clean, with the minimum of interferences to get in the way of the words you want to write, and really clear, so you can review your words easily. Being a beta there are a couple of funnies – for example "Insert Link" and "Align Left" seem to share the same keyboard shortcut as described in the menu (actually it applies "Insert Link") – but those are trivial things that I’m sure will be fixed in the release version.

Integrated speeling chocker – definitely a requirement for those fast posts!

Things I don’t like

Unless I missed it in my exploration of the configuration, there is no way to post to your blog as draft. For me this is the killer feature-lack that makes it difficult for me to integrate Qumana into my preferred workflow. I can see an argument that says this tool is for creating fast posts, but I’m sure that many people would like the ability to post in draft. If nothing else, this makes it easy to capture thoughts when they happen, for later access and editing from another computer.

There’s another reason that I would want a "post to draft" facility, which is more to do with my specific blog setup – I make use of the Ultimate Tag Warrior plugin to create tags on my blog, and this requires access to the online WordPress editing screen. If when you read this post it doesn’t have any tags, that’s because I’ve only just posted it and haven’t time to go into WordPress and add them. In fairness to Qumana, this is not something they could realistically accomodate as a specific requirement because it lies outside the XML-RPC interface to WordPress, however a "Post to Draft" feature would enable it. And of course, they do include an easy shortcut for inserting Technorati tags "the normal way".

Things I don’t really care about

A key part of the functionality of Qumana is the ability to easily include adverts in your posts through the close integration with Adgenta. As this isn’t something I particularly want to do on my blog (unless the ISP fees go up!) then it isn’t a selling point for me – nor did I test this aspect to see how well it works.


A nice tool, and if it had the ability to post in draft I would probably use it. If that isn’t a requirement for your own preferred style of blogging, then give it a go!

A new tool: Awasu

Via Earl Mardle I’ve found a new tool to add to my personal knowledge management toolkit: Awasu

Although the core of the product is an aggregator, it’s a lot more than that as it offers a number of ways of inter-acting with the flow of information through the tool, both manually and in various automated ways. It also offers the facility to add “channel hooks” – plugins which carry out specific actions on selected channels.

Having installed the product, I must admit the first learning hurdle was to get used to a thick-client aggregator rather than my normal approach with Bloglines.

The next challenge was finding an easy way to blog using the tool. Although Earl recommends a workflow using Qumana, I’m not sure that’s the right one for me. I think that reticence is a little about Qumana: I’ve tried the tool before, in its earlier days and didn’t stick with it, so maybe I am transferring that to the latest version. Also, Earl’s proposed method involves using the Workpads and Reports in Awasu – functionality that I have played with, but not yet got to grips with fully. There have been a couple of funnies which might be bugs or might be configuration problems.

I shall keep experimenting with different methods of using the tool and integrating it into my work, and may well come back to the approach earl suggests. In the interim I have taken advantage of the easily-configurable User Tools menu in Awasu to call up the normal WordPress posting page for this blog within the Awasu main window, pre-populated with key content from the source page.

Links Roundup for 2006-02-06

Shared bookmarks for user Synesthesia on 2006-02-06

The tools I use fall into two camps…

…browser-based and thick-client.

I’ve been coming back to the use of a wiki in the work environment, again with project teams, for rapid development of specifications and management of action lists.

Two things that struck me, after spending a large chunk of the working day creating and editing stuff in a group of browser tabs. Firstly, that this is a really good way of developing a set of inter-related ideas; secondly, how it made periodic checking of my Bloglines feeds list and various email accounts less disruptive: it’s far easier and faster to Ctrl-PageDown to the next Firefox tab than it is to switch context between browser, email client and word processor. (And as you will note, implicit in that statement there is also my view that tabbed browsing is vastly more efficient than the non-tabbed variety.)

I think there may be a clue here about what needs to be done to increase the use of blogs and wikis in a corporate setting – if you look at the user patterns within browser-based tools and the more traditional thick-client set of email-wordprocesssor-spreadsheet it is much easier to switch and share within each sub-system than between them.

It’s an idea I’ve touched on before; the question remains will we see an end-to-end solution from Microsoft? Or will the independent tool vendors and the Open Source community be able to come up with something first?

Update on Getting Things Done

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Here’s an update on my experiences with setting up the Getting Things Done method:

  • Weekly review still takes 2+ hours (that includes doing a few small tasks, and last week a complete clear up of all the paper piles on my desk);
  • Still keeping the email box empty, still feeling the psychological benefits;
  • Increased tendency to write up meeting notes within 24 hours (good for me and for colleagues);
  • General sense of feeling more organised;

Next challenge – incorporating blogging and other outside-work projects into the plan.

Getting Things Done

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2005 is looking like an interesting year, but for the last week or two it’s been looking as though that might be interesting as in the allegedly Chinese way. I’ve been starting to feel somewhat overwhelmed by details, had caught myself forgetting a couple of fairly important things and decided that Something Had To Be Done!

Few people can have escaped hearing about David Allen’s book Getting Things Done.Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-free Productivity As well as Allen’s own site describing the process, there’s a rash of other sites describing variants and implementations. Definitely the meme-of-the-moment when it comes to personal productivity.

I’ve been following a few links on the subject for a few weeks, but the thing that swung it for me was reading Dave Pollard’s descriptions of how he selected, planned, implemented and improved the Allen approach. Dave is a prolific writer and a busy consultant, so I reasoned that if it worked for him then it might work for me.

Although GTD is a tool-agnostic process, an awful lot of the debate around it seems to be about which tools in which configurations work the best. Tempted as my inner geek was to explore some of the more innovative uses of personal wikis, the pragmatic part of me kept pointing out that I spend my working life in an environment in which Outlook and Exchange (especially email) are the core tools for moving work around.

Since the point of the exercise is to get things done, rather than spend forever thinking about the best way to configure the toolset, I decided it was time to use someone else’s ideas. The best resources I found were Allen’s guide to Getting Things Done With Microsoft Outlook (PDF, $10) combined with Bill Kratz’s insight about managing projects as Outlook Contact items.

I spent a couple of hours setting things up at the end of Friday: configuring my Outlook categories, tasks and a new contacts folder for projects; archiving the accumulated email in my inbox; setting up the first few projects and tasks from the things I knew had been happening; finding and adapting a macro to automate the setup of Weekly Review tasks.

This morning I had scheduled time to do a first pass through a Weekly Review before getting on with previously-scheduled work. The first time through this took nearly two hours (about double the time I expected), a sign perhaps of just how chaotic my work-in-progress had become.

During the day I’ve found it quite easy to follow the discipline of marking tasks off as done, reviewing the task lists in any “float” time (not that there has been much of that), delegating or creating new tasks as stuff comes in. Perhaps the most liberating thing has been having an empty email inbox – it’s amazing how much difference that made to my energy levels and ability to keep working without distraction. When emails did appear the urge to restore the pristine blankness created more than enough incentive to deal with them immediately.

The most immediate negative effect I’ve noticed is that I over-scheduled in terms of work I could reasonably do. By the time that a couple of meetings had over-run, and I’d dealt with an “urgent and important” that came up, I found that there was one reasonably-significant task and a couple of middling ones that just didn’t happen.

So summing up how I feel about it after day one:

Good things

  • The process seemed to work smoothly after the initial setting-up.
  • Having an empty or almost-empty email inbox feels wonderful!
  • I’ve already learned something about my tendency to over-schedule. If this means I can reduce my feelings of being over-loaded and give more realistic delivery dates to people then this could be a huge benefit.
  • I’m already starting to feel some benefit from not having to remember everything.
  • Clearing my mind of some of the things I was carrying around in my head has meant that other things (which would otherwise have been forgotten) are starting to surface.

Not so good things

  • I scheduled too much work into the day, so not everything got done.
  • Clearing my mind of some of the things I was carrying around in my head has meant that other things (which would otherwise have been forgotten) are starting to surface – so I still have a feeling of lots of things that I need to remember. (I expect this one to go on for a few days as I slowly move stuff from my head to the system.)
  • It felt a bit strange writing things down as they came in.

I’ll write about this again when it’s had a chance to bed in.

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