Tag Archives: productivity

Useless Meetings

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 Like a virus the meeting sickness has spread in our organizations over the past years. The symptoms seem to be the same everywhere: bad preparations, wrong attendees, no documentation and a growing anxiety over all the work we get less and less time to perform
 
I often come across as someone who hates all meetings. That’s not true, I just think that most meetings are useless and nearly all meetings could be improved. My meeting rules:
  1. Have an agenda and stick to it
  2. Invite only absolutely necessary people
  3. Stop when you said you were going to, no matter what
  4. Document what was said or decided

 

Lotus Agenda

Someone recently mentioned their love for (and continued use of) Lotus Agenda. My ears perked up because Agenda was one of those apps so completely loved by the people using it that they’ve been whining about its demise for nearly 20 years. Curious, I thought I’d see if it was still possible to run Agenda, on my Mac, and was surprised to learn that it’s not only possible, but relatively easy to do.

The key is to run it using DOSBox. I know, DOSBox is geared mostly toward running games so there’s no printing, etc. but it’s small, easy to set up and so far works fine. I copied a pre-installed version of Agenda (downloaded here) to a local folder. Then, after launching DOSBox, I mount the directory like this…

mount c /Users/jbaty/Dropbox/Agenda

Once that was done it was simply a matter of running the file from within DOSBox to install, then typing “agenda”. I’ve been playing with it for hours now and it’s easy to see why so many people loved it. It reminds me a little of Tinderbox in that you can put stuff in right away and then organize it later.

Lotus Agenda Welcome Screen

I’m going to try using Agenda for a couple of weeks as my primary planner, just to see how it feels in real life.

James Fallows wrote in the Atlantic

I still find Agenda indispensable when I want to organize data for a writing project. Like the 1964 Mustang, it has been replaced but not improved upon

Mitch Kapor, Agenda’s original author, said something similar

It’s like owning an antique car. You enter into a different world when you use it.

The antique car metaphor feels about right. I’m not expecting to run my life in Agenda, but playing with old software like this is fun for me. If you’d like to try it too, Bob Newell maintains a pretty great list of resources and links that I found useful. Start there.

Writing Stuff on Index Cards

When I type something on my computer it can be easily filed forever into a giant hierarchy of files and notes. When I write something on an index card it gets in my way until I deal with it.

That sounds like a disadvantage of index cards and it is — but only if you have the wrong goal. My goal is not to find the easiest possible way to write things and file them. The the goal is to remember what I’m writing so that I can use it later. This is why I stick with index cards, notebooks, and Post-It notes. Their pain-in-the-assness is their greatest benefit.

Launchbar 6

Launchbar was the first app launcher I loved on the Mac. I’d used Quicksilver prior to that but it was buggy and we never got along well. Launchbar was awesome and has been around forever.

However, when Alfred came along I was seduced by how pretty it was and eventually switched. Alfred has been great, but it always felt to me like a pretty-but-lesser substitute for Launchbar, so I was happy to see that Launchbar 6 was released recently.

Launchbar 6 solves the “pretty problem” nicely. It looks great. It also now incorporates “Powerful custom, script-based actions” which should do nicely to replace the few Alfred Workflows I rely upon. It’s great and I’m happy to be back.

If you’re interested in Launchbar or launchers in general, Shawn Blanc has written long, detailed review and history lesson which is well worth a read.

Done With To-Do Lists

I’ve been addicted to fancy versions of to-do lists ever since I first read David Allen’s “Getting Things Done” several years ago. The ideas behind GTD are powerful and can be very effective when applied consistently. I drift in and out of using a full-on GTD workflow and am constantly tweaking my “system”. In fact, I spend so much time trying to get things perfect that I stop actually getting work done. That’s a problem.

Last week I noticed that the most productive people I work with don’t seem to have a system at all. How can that be? Sure, they have a calendar and take a few notes and may put something in Reminders on their iPhone but that’s it. No noticeable weekly review, no @contexts, no elaborate Omnifocus perspectives. It appears that they just get to work and that’s it. Unheard of!

So I started thinking about to-do lists and realized that I may not need a fancy system for managing my to-do list. In fact, many things don’t need to be written down at all. Do I really need to put “Buy Groceries” on a list? Or “Deposit check”? Probably not, since not doing those things will become obvious pretty quickly. I’m unlikely to forget them when I’m broke and hungry.

Today I read James Altucher’s post, “To-Do Lists are Ruining the Planet. A bit hyperbolic, but still, it was right in line with how I’ve been thinking. I like the idea of letting “themes” guide my next actions rather than whatever I shoved into OmniFocus during last week’s review. I think I’ll try living without an overwrought workflow for a while and see what happens. Maybe I’ll just get some work done instead.

Vim-taskwarrior

Taskwarrior is a darn nice terminal-based task manager, but I sometimes tire of having to scan the list of tasks, find the task ID, then type t 13 mod due:fri or t 13 done every time.

Enter vim-taskwarrior

vim-taskwarrior is a vim plugin that extends taskwarrior with an interactive interface. It features a rich set of mappings and commands, is easy to customize, and makes adding, modifying, sorting, reporting and marking done, fast, easy and fun!

Nice.

RegEx Renamer for Alfred

If you’re an Alfred user and frequently need to rename files in the Finder, you should take a look at RegEx Renamer

Screenshot

I use this all the time for things like changing case, removing spaces, adding dates, and so on. It’s also helping with my recent decision to consistently name files. I use the following format…

YYYY-MM-DD_NNN_descriptive name here.md

That’s basically a date, topic, and name, separated by underscores. The Topic, “NNN”, can be anything. For me it’s usually a project abbreviation. I of course have many files not named like this. I use RegEx Renamer to prepend the date to the filename using the files creation date. Select the target files in Finder, bring up Alfred and enter

regex (.*)@$cy$cm$cd_JAB_$1{-l}

This takes a file created on say, Jan 3 2013, named “my file.txt” and renames it to “2013-01-03_JAB_my file.txt”.1

There are many was to rename files, but this one works pretty well for me.


  1. I use my initials, “JAB”, for personal files] 

Using Paper

I don’t use paper because I’m “nostalgic” for it. I use paper because I prefer it.

I use paper for as many things as I can. Notes, lists, tasks, everything that makes sense. I even tried a paper and folder based project management system for a while. I loved the idea, but it turned out to be less than ideal. I also really want to use a paper calendar, but the iPhone is better for that sort of thing. Dangit. It’s not for lack of trying, though.

Paper is slow, unsearchable, immutable, sloppy, prone to loss, and it kills trees. You know the list. It’s also better in almost every way that I find valuable. For example, slow is good. I know, all luddites make that argument, but the slow physicality of writing something down makes it “stick” for me. So again, slow is good.

Paper is immutable. This happens to be one of its best features. If I write something down, it stays there. On the other hand, whenever I type something into OmniFocus or nvALT or whatever I tend to change my mind a week later and move everything to Asana or VoodooPad or OneNote or whatever. For all the fancy ways I have to take notes, I can’t find shit half the time. You may do things differently, but for me, ink on paper sticks and remains useful forever.

Paper is sloppy. Yes it is, and that messiness helps me find things. I can look for something and find it based on ink color, bleed, flourish, stains, location on page, etc. This is a good thing. I love sloppy.

Paper is unsearchable. Well, I can’t argue with that, although I’m pretty good at finding things I’ve written down (see above). Mileage varies.

I wouldn’t try to convince anyone that paper is inherently better for everything, but I still prefer it, and if that means a few extra trees have to go, so be it.

Personal Kanban

Personal Kanban

We use Kanban boards successfully for most client projects, so I thought it might be interesting to try it in other areas as well. “Personal Kanban” is meant to help with that. The book is deliberately non-prescriptive, which I found a little disappointing. The entire thing can be boiled down to two concepts.

1. Visualize your work

2. Limit work in progress

Knowing that, you can probably skip the book and start with the Personal Kanban website.

As a test, I’m giving the 30-day trial of LeanKit a go. I prefer it to Trello, but it remains to be seen if I eventually use any of them long-term.

UPDATE 2014-05-03: My trial expired and I let it happen. LeanKit is terrific but not for me as a single user. Perhaps one day I’ll get the rest of the gang to try it, but for now it’s off.