iPod Touch + OmniFocus is all that and a bag of chips

WHERE HAVE I BEEN?

First and foremost, my apologies for being vacant for so long. At some point in time I was getting so wrapped up in the toys I researched that I became captive to them. They took me to a hidden island where I finally escaped but not without permanent damage to the right side of my body. Plus I’ll never eat another coconut in my life. Ever.
I’ll have to tell you about it some day.

iPod Touch Home Screen

iPod Touch Home Screen

Discovering the iPod Touch

As I sit here recovering, typing with one hand I might add, I must tell you about my latest discovery. Actually two. Let’s start with the iPod Touch.  I know, I know.  I’m a Johnny Come Lately on this technology – guilty as charged.  But I have to get this off my chest, OK?  At work the Blackberry is still commonly used, particularly in my area where the iPhone and 3G are not available. So, what’s a loyal Apple guy like me to do? After some research I uncovered the dubious plot of purchasing my iPod Touch and with the proliferation of WiFi in every nook and cranny, I determined I would save millions from data costs that the Blackberry requires. So I picked up the 32GB iPod Touch for about $399, later purchasing a car mount/charger (which my kids love) and a travel charger.

Let me confirm all the reports – the iPod Touch (or iPhone in those markets) is truly a wondrous item. Using the App Store, I have nearly 80 apps (with plenty of room to add more, I might add). Ranging from recipes to games to productivity apps, I cannot say enough about the Touch.  Whether you use a treadmill or armband, the Touch is also a great workout companion.  The Nike+ app for the Touch allows you to run to a designated playlist, keeps track of your pace, mileage and will also alert you to new personal bests with celebrity voiceovers like Lance Armstrong.  The Safari allows up to 8 different screens to access and the integration of contacts to mail to Google Maps is incredible.  I recommend the Google Mobile app as well since you can access your RSS feeds through Google Reader fairly seamlessly.  And, did I mention you can combine your various email accounts into the Touch.  I can actually rifle through emails much faster on the Touch than on my desktop.

OmniFocus

There are so many great free apps for the Touch, but when it came to productivity, I wanted to shell out a little bit of money and eventually decided upon OmniFocus. Incorporating Getting Things Done mentality, OmniFocus has a simple interface but allows you to enter projects and tasks – and you can place the projects within Folders of like kind.

OmniFocus app

OmniFocus app

In my organization, we set annual goals and 90 day plans, similar to most of you. Using OmniFocus, I put my annual goals as Folder titles and then my 90 day plans fall into my projects within those folders. Next action steps are attached to the projects and now each week I can easily look at my projects. If there is no action item in that project, then I know I must add some tasks to keep it on track. Not only can you attach timeframes to your tasks, you can also assign them to your overall project.  OmniFocus alerts you to items that are due soon (based on your preferenes) and also shows items that are overdue as well as those you have flagged for a higher priority, etc.
OmniFocus for the iPhone/Touch syncs with the desktop version of OmniFocus for an add’l $79, but I have not gone that route just yet. Using the Touch has been more than adequate for my needs – but I could be tempted to go the desktop route some time in the future.

Saves Money

I could probably start a whole series of other things I’ve discovered for the Touch.  As you can see, you can actually take screenshots with no app or download needed.  It has its own internal speaker but I highly recommend headphones.  Apple recently released a headphones/microphone combo that is nice.  The mic is OK, but it can allow you to use your wifi and convert your Touch into a phone using an app called TruPhone.  Seriously!
I would close on this simple fact – when you combine the costs of data packages you’ll spend annually, the affordability and flexibility of the Touch just can’t be beat.  My 32GB model has allowed me to download the apps I’ve mentioned, close to 2,500 songs, at least 8 movies and many podcasts.  And I still have 13 GB left, if not more.  For my money, the iPod Touch is a great value in today’s market and will save you money over the long haul using wifi versus cell phone networks.

iPod Touch – Valentine’s Day is over, but I confess – I love you.  Let’s go grab a cup of coffee.

Embrace GTD and Gain Momentum

Momentum

The last two weeks for me have been a time for experimentation.  I attempted to put a few changes into my work style, I pulled back on my blogging, on my blog reading and noticeably increased my productivity.  I found different ways of getting things done and I met an old friend – momentum.  

When things go bad, they can go horribly bad and life seems to spin out of control.   Note the key word in the last sentence – seems.  Seems is an interesting word in that phrase, but to use another cliche – nothing is always as it seems.

I am a firm believer that no matter how bad a day may seem or appear, we always have a choice on how we respond to it.  For those of us who wish to be both creative while productive, there is a solution to turning things around from bad to good and I believe it to be momentum.  

Think about the worst day you’ve had and what made it so?  Did you have ANY control over how that day went – any control over how you chose to respond to it?  Were there things you could have done differently to transfer the burdens of the day to another time?  Of course there were!  A meeting with the boss that went south, a burdensome project due in a few days, you name it – we’ve all been there.  So when that day occurs, how do we respond?  Then more than ever you must embrace a philosophy like GTD to get your mind away from a panic mode and into one of a productive mode – determining the next action(s). And when you embrace your overwhelming project by breaking it down to its next action, delegating the work, putting timelines to it all, you soon find that in the mix you have magically shifted your…momentum.  

It’s time for some hard love:  Stop making excuses for why you can’t get things done.  Too much email, too many voicemails, too many meetings, blah, blah, blah.  Do something about it!  Say no.  And don’t be afraid to.  Wait longer between email responses or voicemail responses so you can batch your responses and keep your focus on a task at hand.  But let’s go back to the bad day you’re having.  At the end of it all, try this:  Lay out the project you were given (or projects), determine your next action steps, priorities and where you will pick up or begin the next day.  Is that so hard?  I like to use index cards because as I get something done on my list I can throw that card away and feel accomplishment (momentum).  Put a note on your computer that tomorrow’s email WILL wait until 10 AM or even later.  Email is a facade that takes us off the mark, so be the boss and manage it better.  Then enjoy the feeling you get as you go home – that you’re ready for tomorrow, you’re ready to take on the new challenge you’ve been assigned and how you will accomplish more before 10 AM than you’ve ever done before.  Imagine the feeling of security as you go home knowing that you’ve laid out tomorrow’s project, you know where to begin and how you managed to make a bad day a good day.  You’ve started some momentum.

The following day you keep that momentum rolling.  You get to work (maybe even earlier than normal because you have greater confidence on what you’re going to be doing on your project).  Your mood is improved ten-fold over the previous day.  You grab some coffee, fire up the computer and sit down.  You see your notes, you instantly recall where you left off and what you need to do – and then you get crackin’.  In the blink of an eye you see it’s 10 AM and you realize how much you’ve gotten done.  Sound nice?  You found your groove.  And it’s doable, too, isn’t it?  What’s even better is that since you got so much done, you can then think to carry this forward to tomorrow.  In the meantime you know there are pending emails you should respond to, but you feel better responding to them because you got the big part of your workday out of the way.  As you’re doing your emails you’re feeling confident.  As you’re doing your voicemails you’re feeling confident.  And when you see your boss, you’re feeling confident because you nailed your assignment and you had more fun doing it.  

OK…so that’s a perfect picture of momentum.  Of course that could all be spoiled by a few interruptions, a new assignment that came on top of the one you were given the day before, etc.  Manage it.  Manage the interruptions by turning off the phone or putting a sign on your door – or doing your work off-site if you’re able.  A newer assignment came in – but you can’t do two things at the same time, simply file it until you’re done with the other.  Cut any co-worker interruptions short and tell them you can talk at lunch after you have finished your report.  Manage it.  On your calendar, don’t just use it for meetings – schedule yourself time to get your projects done.

Whenever you read this, try to set yourself up for the next day incorporating all that’s mentioned here.  Manage the interruptions and find your groove.  It’s closer than you think.  And then so is the joy in the work you do. 

Trust your GTD System

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Several blogs note the ongoing battles one can have with your Getting Things Done system.  Half the battle is getting things figured out in the first place and determining the best set up for yourself.  Whether it involves index cards, a labeler, a Moleskine, a great pen to write with, an online GTD app or simply modifying Outlook with a plug-in, there is no mistaking some set up time is required.  And then comes a potential trap – never being satisfied with your plugin or app.

There is Things, iGTD, OmniFocus, etc., etc., etc.  Because of the adoption rate by techies, GTD is an often updated and modified system.  I went through many apps myself, so please learn by my mistakes.  I’m not here to preach what works best for me will work for you – you have to figure that out as I did.

 What I will preach about or rather will prophesy is THAT day you will start letting go.  It’s coming, so if it hasn’t yet, it will.  The system you trust with all of your to do’s, tasks, projects, meetings, etc. – it WILL lose its lustre.  It’s anyone’s guess why this happens, but it does appear to be nearly universal.  My theory is simple – you don’t just chain your ways overnight.  Being in business for over 20 years, is it realistic to expect you’ll change your ways in less than 3-6 months? 

So, when that day comes, try these steps:

Step back.  Take a deep breath – because when you start letting go of your GTD system, that is usually a good sign that you’re sliding back, you are panicking and you are doomed to failure.

Grab your journal or Moleskine.  Trace back to where you started giving up and putting your old plan in front of your new system.  Determine what went wrong.  Was it the sheer number of projects on one day?  Was it a lack of planning that spun out of control?  Check this out:  When you review your Moleskine or journal, did you notice you stopped taking notes?  When you stop getting things out of your head, you can really feel the downward spiral because it takes its toll on the sub-conscious as various items attempt to play with your internal hard drive – and ultimately it will do as before and fail you.  Whatever the reason, take the time to figure out where it went wrong.  AND THEN WRITE THAT DOWN.  The definition of insanity is doing the same thing again and again and expecting different results.  But, hey, we’re human.  Chances are if you let your GTD system down once, you will do it again unless you understand the reasoning and avoid it the second time around.

Weekly Review time is in order.  Is your in-box piled high?  Is your email out of sync?  Are your task lists and projects behind?  Chances are good that you let things go and like a failed diet plan, you grabbed the chocolate cake with a 2-liter of Mt. Dew, metaphorically speaking.  Re-sort that office, clean it up and do a much needed Weekly Review.  The psychology behind getting things back in order will make you fall in love again with your old friend, GTD.  

Plan ahead.  Let’s assume you’ve just completed your Weekly Review on a Friday.  Look at your calendar or tasks for the following week and write down the first 3 items you have to get done on Monday.  Then when you come in on Monday morning, you’ll see these and have that extra reminder to Get Things Done.

Extra bonus tip time.  Taken from the 4-Hour Workweek, I have a quote that is on a vertical note clip on my desk:  “Am I inventing things to do to avoid the important?”  This simple statement is great to refer to as my center.  When my mind reminds me I’m probably not doing something that is on my GTD list or that I’m chasing a few dead ends, I can look at that statement and get re-focused.  Try it.

If anyone has other ideas you used to get back to your GTD system, please let us know.

Four Hour WorkWeek – Take 1

hammock

I have amassed a huge reading list in the past few weeks and although I have quite a growing list on the back of the toilet, I couldn’t resist buying the Four Hour Workweek by Tim Ferris.  Having heard of this book for a few months it was time to investigate into all that I had heard.  While I’m 80 pages in, I must say I’m very impressed.

I’ve started logging some great quotes and ideas into my Moleskine to remember, but the one that strikes me as the most relevant for the day involves what Ferris calls Parkinson’s Law.  The law is defined as “a task will swell in perceived importance and complexity in relation to the time allotted for its completion.”  Ferris demonstrates a large college assignment and due to a last minute problem he was forced to rewrite the paper in under 24 hours.  Despite the stress and pressue, he completed a 30 page paper and received an A.

I self-reflected at this point due to my procrastination.  At times it serves me well because I work well under pressure and having very finite timelines.  I don’t think Ferris is advocating procrastination, but by setting a finite timeline, the outcome can be achieved and even done so in exemplary fashion.  What a great concept!  More to come…

Practical Hack – Opening Plastic Sealed Packages

Plastic packagingI apologize for not revealing this useful tip until after the holidays, but it only revealed itself to me a few weeks ago.  As we’re all aware by now, plastics are taking over the packaging business.  From zip drives to toys to many modern conveniences, EVERYTHING is being sealed in hard plastic packaging.  AND, worse than that, it might as well come with bandages because whether its the scissors you use to cut the packaging or the packaging itself, cuts are very commonplace.  Well, my friends, fear no more!  If you have a handy dandy can opener like the one pictured, Can Opener prayers have been answered.   Take the packaging described and clamp down on it just like you would a can.  (I know this sounds crazy, but REALLY – it works)  Twist the can opener like a can of tuna and let the packaging roll forward or backward.  Do it long enough – to the edge or top to bottom and you will find a nicely cut region to extract the goodies within.  Guaranteed.  Try it and let me know how it works in the comments section.

Productivity While Creating

Productivity, Time

I‘ve been busy the last few days working on a few video projects for work and thought I’d reflect on a few items that may help you.  First, just because you’re a creative type don’t always feel like you constantly have to reinvent the wheel.  There is always something to be said for consistency – and for the subject at hand as well.  Second, when attempting a project, be sure you have all the pictures, video, titles, etc. at hand before you start.  Make an outline at the beginning, a storyboard even, to map out your strategy.  Mindmapping is helpful as well.  Paint the images in your mind and get as much done ahead of time before you go into editing mode.  Third and perhaps the most important for me and others wishing to save space – save all of your work into one folder that is on your desktop.  As you accumulate other folders for your project, place them in your overall folder.  Then, once you’ve rendered your project, move all of the materials onto DVD(s).  Using a Sharpie, label both copies of your master data files (Note I did say both copies – make a backup DVD) and store them in separate places in the event of some odd catastrophe.

As a side note for those new to Leopard’s OS for Macs – learn to use Spaces.  Editing video can eat up your desktop in a heart beat.  Using Spaces you can have multiple programs working at the same time while you’re waiting for a file to render, etc. 

Productivity Tip While Reading

Reading

Here’s a quick tip for maintaining some productivity while reading.  

Whether it’s your Moleskine or your Hipster PDA, sometimes the simplest needs are not always at our grasp.  So, consider this:  Using an index card as your bookmark, whenever you come across an idea, simply write it on the card.  You can then choose to transfer those notes to actionable items – or you can wait until you are done with the book and then transfer all your notes into reference or actionable items.  Once you are done transferring the info, you might even consider keeping the card in a file for quick reference later – or simply trashing it altogether.

Photo courtesy of moriza