Tuesday, October 31, 2006

What's the Big Deal?

I tried to take a fresh look at this and other similar blogs that I follow to see what someone without an organization/productivity otaku must think about them. I mean, what's the big deal with all the little tips and hacks and ways to shave three minutes here and seven minutes there?

To answer that I'd like to share a passage from the beginning of a book I'm reading (via DailyLit.com) entitled How to Live on Twenty-Four Hours a Day by Arnold Bennett. He's talking about the discipline of getting up earlier:

Rise an hour, an hour and a half, or even two hours earlier; and--if you must--retire earlier when you can. In the matter of exceeding programmes, you will accomplish as much in one morning hour as in two evening hours. "But," you say, "I couldn't begin without some food, and servants." Surely, my dear sir, in an age when an excellent spirit-lamp (including a saucepan) can be bought for less than a shilling, you are not going to allow your highest welfare to depend upon the precarious immediate co-operation of a fellow creature! Instruct the fellow creature, whoever she may be, at night. Tell her to put a tray in a suitable position over night. On that tray two biscuits, a cup and saucer, a box of matches and a spirit-lamp; on the lamp, the saucepan; on the saucepan, the lid-- but turned the wrong way up; on the reversed lid, the small teapot, containing a minute quantity of tea leaves. You will then have to strike a match--that is all.

In three minutes the water boils, and you pour it into the teapot (which is already warm). In three more minutes the tea is infused. You can begin your day while drinking it. These details may seem trivial to the foolish, but to the thoughtful they will not seem trivial. The proper, wise balancing of one's whole life may depend upon the feasibility of a cup of tea at an unusual hour.

It's the last line here that contains the profundity. Sometimes the difference between getting your exercise in for the day or not boils down to if you left your running shoes in front of the bathroom door so you'd trip on them when you woke up in the morning. The difference between getting the new client account or not may come down to remembering some detail about the client relationship that was on the index card you had with you to read in the waiting room before the meeting.

To paraphrase a quote from Dr. Covey's 7 Habits book,
"I see so many big results coming from such little things I'm persuaded there are no little things."

Or to put it another (albeit a bit more obscure) way, in many Eastern traditions they believe the hidden path to enlightenment is found through the mundane.

If you're so overwhelmed that you can't relate to the above then read what David Allen and Covey have to say to learn how to block and tackle. But after that, the big "aha's" and breakthroughs are hard to come by and our hunger for more must be satisfied with a crumb here and there. But that's okay because often it's the strategically placed straw that breaks the camel's back or can make the difference to put us over the edge or to reach the tipping point.

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Thursday, October 26, 2006

User Story Cards and Traceability

In Agile practice it's customary to use user story or task cards as a quick and easy organization tool. On the face of said cards it's also customary to include a concise description of the story or task, some kind of estimate of how long it will take to complete, and perhaps some initials of who is responsible.

I keep a stack of blank cards and a Sharpie at my desk so that if I'm talking to the client or a member of the project team and a new story/feature/enhancement/task/whatever begins to surface I grab a card and start writing. I fill out all of the above, but I also like to flip the card over and jot down the current date and time as well as the person I'm talking to. That way I have traceability for each requirement.

Incidentally, I'm hesitant to add any "required fields" to cards as folks tend to get carried way (as in this example) and over time what was supposed to be a light weight, easy system takes on so much complexity and beuracracy and card police that it misses the point. Mike Cohn put it well when he said (and I'm paraphrasing) that story cards are not full blown use cases--they're reminders to have a conversation with the needed subject matter experts on a given topic.

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Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Quick Lifehack for Dry Cleaning

Keep a pack of sticker dots next to where you collect your clothes to take to the dry cleaners. The next time you get a spot of spaghetti sauce on your tie or your toddler son comes up to give you a hug and smears mashed potatoes on your suit pants place a sticker dot on the spot before tossing into the pile. When you get to the dry cleaners you'll be able to quickly tell them which clothes you've brought in for standard cleaning and which need special attention (and where).


Monday, October 23, 2006

Reduce Junk Mail and Plant Some Trees

I first got wind of this cool service from a recent post on The Trend Junkie blog. I've posted before about effective ways to deal with the continuous river of junk mail that shows up in our mailboxes. This service is designed to eliminate much of it and plant trees in the process--all for a dime a day. I've just signed up and will post in the future on if I can tell a noticeable difference or not.

I've noticed on some other blogs questions re: if it's worth paying anything to eliminate some junk mail from our lives. Let's say you spend three minutes a day, six days a week, 50 weeks a year on junk mail. That adds up to 15 hours a year! Any time spent handling junk mail is a waste so if I could even reduce this to 14 hours annually it's certainly worth $36.

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Promising Online/Offline Organizer

I'm looking forward to taking a test drive with this tool; if it lives up to the the preview movie it looks like the AJAX features alone will put it in a class of its own (at least until someone else catches up [which in Internet time is probably less than a week after launch]).

It also looks like it may put PocketMod (see prior post) out of business with its "PaperSync" feature.

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Friday, October 20, 2006

Promising online collaboration tool

Just heard about this tool from the Agile Toolkit Podcast and tried it out as soon as I got to my desk. The idea is that there are times when we just can't get everyone on the project/Agile team together in the same room to sort through, add, and edit a pile of index cards with user stories or brainstorming ideas on them. Sometimes, team members are remote. This tool is designed to create a virtual space where everyone can deal with the same set of cards.

The interface is super simple and well done and it was quick to set up. But I couldn't save my cards from session to session and it seems the security permissions of my workplace prevented any collaboration with colleagues...which was obvioulsy the point of the whole exercise.

The developers readily acknowledge this is in early beta testing so I'd give it a bit more time to mature before using it as a serious tool but it's promising in that it's the best tool I've seen thus far to do what it's designed to do.

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Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Meeting Tip

I just got back from a meeting where one of the key participants was late and I didn't have his number memorized or with me. Duh! So, today's tip is to make gathering the phone numbers of the meeting participants and placing them with your agenda and meeting materials part of your regular meeting preparation so that if you arrive on time and others don't, you can make a call to get things going without having to get back to your desk.

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This Guy Gives New Meaning to "Moving the Fulcrum"

If you've ever wondered about how some of the large engineering feats of ancient times might have been accomplished check out this YouTube clip on "The Man That Can Move Anything."

Monday, October 16, 2006

Basecamp To-Do Hack

Ever have a list of To-Do items in Basecamp that have varying priorities? At times I've used naming conventions (e.g., "a_Task 1, b_Task 2") or simply placed an "[A], [B], or [C]" in front of each item and both options work fine when that's the only dimension you need to display.

But I have a case right now where I'm already distinguishing whether a list of requirements are more format or appearance-related (which I mark with an "[A]") or if they are what I like to call "plumbing"-related meaning they deal with getting data from Point A to Point B (which I mark with a "[B]").

So now I want to designate two dimensions for each To-Do item: priority, and type (and obviously the name of who the To-Do item is assigned to is a third dimension).

I simply created a To-Do item that I called "***TOP PRIORITY TASKS***" and another called "***MEDIUM PRIORITY TASKS***, etc." and assigned each to "Anyone" so no name appears in front of each item. As the priorities change on a given item I simply go into the "Reorder" function and move the tasks to fall under the appropriate heading.

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Friday, October 13, 2006

Two Riffs on using Basecamp for GTD

Two useful posts on using Basecamp for GTD.

1. LifeDev's post
2. Patrickrhone's site

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50 Minute Goals

I love this blog post I found today. I'ts similar to my earlier post about 100 Day plans. For some reason, having a finite amount of time to get something done often makes it more approachable. I guess we feel like we can handle a sprint but not a marathon.

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Physical Burndown Chart

One of the many commonly-used tools in Scrum is a burndown chart. This is basically a graph or table that has the tasks to accomplish down the left side of the page and a column for each day going from left to right across the page with the far-right column being the last day of the project, the milestone, the deadline. As each day goes by the idea is to shade in or denote the expired time along with accomplished tasks in some visual manner. This provides a clear, visual way to quickly determine the progress and remaining time on a project.

I've got a big deadline coming up toward the beginning of next month so I just placed a Post-it flag protruding vertically from the file folder (in my tickler file system) of the day it's due. As I go into my filing system each day I'm visually reminded of how far away I am from the deadline.

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Inbox Plaque

I got my teeth cleaned yesterday. I know this is weird, but as I was enthusiastically and carefully brushing the front and back of every single tooth before bed last night I was thinking about plaque. I had just spent 30 minutes or so going through my inbox cleaning up old emails and I started thinking about the parallels.

When I reclined in the dental chair and opened my mouth it took my dentist all of about 75 seconds of probing around to tell me very accurate details about my private, home dental habits. You can brush as vigorously as you want right before the visit but the plaque doesn't lie when you've got a trained eye (I should probably trademark that phrase).

I don't pretend to be as expert in this area as my dentist is in his, but I can sense a great deal about a person's private, personal productivity habits by looking at her/his desk, files, and inbox. I realize and have posted about the fact that everyone has his/her own style so I'm not saying everyone's desk should look exactly the same. But what's the difference between not brushing and flossing properly every day and not keeping up on your mail or paperwork? In the first case, plaque builds up on your teeth and begins to erode your dental health. In the latter, email, IM's, voice mail, and paperwork (a.k.a. "plaque") builds up in our work life and begins to invade our creative, proactive space and becomes a drag on our effectiveness.

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Quote from Benjamin Franklin

When speaking about his dilemma of being on a strict vegetarian diet and smelling freshly cooked cod (and eventually eating and enjoying the fish):

So convenient a thing it is to be a reasonable creature, since it enables one to find or make a reason for everything one has a mind to do.

This reminds me of the marketing axiom that people want a logical reason to justify their emotional decisions.


Thursday, October 12, 2006

Using Three Ring Binders

I've got 18 three ring binders on my shelf right now at work and several more at home. Office colleagues sometimes ask me about why I'm always carrying a binder into the meeting instead of the proverbial legal pad and when I use a binder versus a file.

picture of three ring binderIf I were to answer in reverse order I'd say whenever I decide in my workflow that I need to save a piece of paper I almost always start out by putting it into an alphabetized file. But as soon as I start to get paperwork around a project or a theme that has more than one category I reach for a binder with tabs.

I've found that if a project or reference area needs two categories it will probably need more soon so I keep several blank tabs or binder dividers at my desk (I prefer the Avery Clear Label Index Maker Presentation Dividers designed for laser printers). I also keep a shortcut to the Avery template Word document on my desktop so I can quickly go into the file, type up the new labels, and then print and apply them in a few minutes.

I find that flipping through large files with several pieces of paper that fall into multiple categories is not the most elegent way to respond to a question. However, when you are consistently able to turn right to the right piece of paper at the right time in a meeting or when someone stops by your desk your credibility goes up.

Incidentally, the GTD idea of keeping a small labeler at your desk for files also applies to binders. It just makes things look more organized when the spine of every binder has a uniform label.

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The Delete Mindset

Ever notice when you're moving from one house to another and you're up to your elbows in cardboard boxes and packing peanuts that your inclination to throw things away or put aside for a trip to the Salvation Army drop off goes up? The cadence of the mantra, "When in doubt throw it out" starts to increase as one gets closer and closer to the actual move date and the reality of how many little things still need to be packed sinks in.

Contrast this to when you've been in your home for three or four years. Something new shows up and we don't think to throw something old out. We add our new item to the pile.

I find the same dynamic at work with a clean inbox. When I've worked to reduce my email inbox to zero emails I'm much more inclined to delete messages in order to keep it clean. If I've let it get out of hand and I've got 200 or so sitting in there I tend to let the new emails sit thinking, "What's the point? One email won't make a difference."

Sometimes I think the most productive time spent is investing in clearing out the inbox, the garage, the basement. It may not seem like it rises to the level of importance of other things at the time but the ripple effect of this invested time very often does.

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Wednesday, October 11, 2006

PocketMod: An ingenious, free, disposable planner

Just ran into super-cool little web app that allows you to easily create a customized eight-page mini planner from one piece of paper. The version I used was 0.4 beta and still needs to work on getting the spacing of each page exact but it's such a cool idea and riff on the hipster I wanted to post about it.

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Control and Perspective

I "attended" a WebEx seminar yesterday where David Allen presented some basics of the GTD system but focused more attention on the role that mind maps have in his overall process. I found one of his opening remarks simple and yet powerful: his system has a two-fold mission--to gain control and perspective.

Most of the time we focus upon the control aspect of our personal organization system. In fact, in my mind this is one of the key differences between GTD and the FranklinCovey approach. GTD realizes until you gain some modicum of control over the hundreds of tasks, projects, committments, pieces of paper, etc. that we all have to deal with on a minute-by-minute basis we've really got no space to deal with what David calls the "Horizons of Focus" or the bigger picture questions of meaning and mission. So he advocates starting in the trenches and working your way into a place of "mind like water" where you can deal with the more profound aspects of our existence in an empowered frame of mind.

I found the FranklinCovey approach took the opposite stance and asked participants to start the process by discerning and documenting one's mission and governing values and then extrapolating from them key long-term goals that eventually make their way into the day-to-day task lists of the system.

I believe the difference is significant.

When I clean my actual and email inboxes to nothing it is then I'm free to take a step back and get into what Covey might call the Quadrant II arena where I can suggest proactive ways to improve a project or a key relationship. When there's 150 emails staring at me I'm not too concerned with improving a working system. I'm more concerned about fixing what's broken (the urgent).

I spent some time volunteering to help the unemployed in my local church congregation become gainfully employed. I noticed something similar: people don't have much of an attention span for discussions on spiritual growth when they're not sure how they will feed their family tomorrow. We often must deal with the mundane before we can reach the sublime. Control allows us to gain perspective.

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Open Source Time Management Wins

It occurred to me today as I was browsing through a website devoted to collecting digital and analog GTD tools that Getting Things Done has taken on a life of its own. There are now so many interpretations of GTD that I wouldn't be surprised if David Allen or his consultants don't scratch their collective heads at times as they encounter these tools and blogs and attributions to things they suppossedly said but didn't.

The creativity, development time, and talent that's been devoted to what can now probably be called a movement is staggering and probably couldn't be bought--it had to be given.

I believe this is fundamentally due to an explicit "planner agnostic" approach that was about a philosophy and not selling pre-printed forms.

Contrast this business model with that of FranklinCovey. Back in their hay day when their only real competition was DayTimer it seemed they couldn't be stopped. Visit the corporate headquarters in Salt Lake City and the probably now abandoned Covey Leadership facility in Provo/Orem and you'll see evidence of the confidence of the firms (and eventually firm) back then.

It's instructive to note that both Franklin and Covey entered the market with its proprietary philosophy and corresponding training programs as its core unique selling proposition (USP) and the planner was a steady, residual profit center (contrast the original light green Franklin pages with DayTimer's to see that the USP was not in the forms). It seems, however, that over time the profit margin of selling $35-50 refill packs of paper may have overshadowed the difficult-to-come-by-seminar seat and the firm became a paper, purses, and binders company with a small, struggling training component. Not to mention that our work environment became fractured with some data being kept in digital tools, other types of data on the web, still other data in paper, etc. and the philosophy didn't keep pace; it still centered around keeping everything in the planner.

The "open source" version of time management (a term David Allen dislikes [he prefers "self management"]) represented by GTD has the traction, passion, and buzz behind it right now. If I were FranklinCovey I'd be looking to either create some kind of partnership with DavidCo or open up my shop in some way to the masses.

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Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Next Action: Overcome Procrastination

At times I find myself putting off non-urgent, large projects. One of the main causes is that I don't have a bite-sized first step to take so I keep circling the wagons trying to find a way in. Over time, I've found a great way to start working on an intimidating project is simply to tell myself I'm going to organize what I've got.

This usually means getting out all the paper I've collected on the topic, forms I need to fill in, reading materials, etc. I then sort through it to find what needs action and what is purely reference. Invariably, the mountain I was facing a few minutes before is now reduced to three or four surmountable foothills. I then feel like I've circumscribed the problem and sometimes stop there for the day. However, in other cases little two-minute jobs have jumped out at me while I was sorting through papers and I've handled them as I go.

Within a relatively short time I find the project is not as impossible as I was making it out to be and I'm much more likely to jump into it the next time it's appropriate.

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Friday, October 06, 2006

Climb for Hope

I wanted to take my hat off to a colleague and his team of adventurers who are organizing the Climb for Hope--climbing Mt. Cotopaxi in Ecuador (the world's highest active volcano) to raise money for breast cancer research. Jon's blog will track their progress and promises to be a great and inspirational read.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Amazing Drawing Interface

If you're into diagramming at all you've got to check out this video clip from YouTube. It's a large screen upon which you can draw with a light pen or stylus of some kind. The objects drawn are then avaiable for instant animation.

I would love to see something like this for data flow diagrams in the future.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Teaching Your Kids the Tickler File System

At our house we call the stacks of permission slips, tests we have to initial, school planners we have to sign stating homework was done, and fund raiser order forms "parent homework." In the past this stuff would come out of my son's backpack and into my growing pile of paperwork to wade through--usually not until the weekend (see prior post)--and I was missing deadlines for book order forms and field trip permission slips. Not the way to foster good family relations. ;-)

So I taught my son the tickler system and when he comes home he files papers I need to sign in the file for the day ahead of when it's due. For example, if it's the 10th and an order form is due on the 20th, he'll file it in my 19th folder.

I also set up two files with his name on it: one is put in today's hanging file and the second is placed in tomorrow's. My wife and I made index cards for his daily chores (taking out the trash, practicing piano, etc. [one card per chore]) and placed them in his folder. When he gets home from school he pulls out his folder and starts working on whatever cards are there. As he completes a chore, say taking out the trash, he'll place the card in tomorrow's folder with his name on it. At the end of the day we move his folder to two days out.

BTW, this works great for making sure library books come back on time, as well. We have a card saying...

Return school library books tomorrow
(file under next Monday when done)

...in my Monday's file (they're due on Tuesday). When I go through my Monday file that day I see the card and place it in my son's folder for that day. When he's done gathering his books and putting them in his backpack he files the card in next Monday's folder.

One good way to judge if a system is simple and smooth enough to be sustainable is if you can teach it to your kids. If the answer is, "no" it might be too much for you too. Not too much to understand but too hard to maintain.

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Tip for Filing Receipts

Ever buy something, bring it home, find out it isn't quite right or it breaks and you need to return it, and then spend two hours tearing the house apart trying find the receipt?

I've created a "Receipts" folder that I place in the hanging file labeled with each month. (See my Tickler File post for details). As I come home and empty my pockets I put all receipts that have anything on them that I could possibly need to return in the appropriate "Receipts" folder (e.g., October receipts go in the "Receipts" folder in the "October" hanging file).

When I need to find a receipt I know within two months of when I purchased it and can find it quickly.

Parenthetically, I take the receipt out of the "Receipts" folder and drop it into my "Errands" folder so it's with me the next time I'm out and can do something about it. I also usually grab the item in question at this point and drop it in front of the door.

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Hands Free Etiquette

You'd think after being around hands free devices for however many years now I'd be used to seeing someone walking down the hallway at work, alone, with both hands in his pockets, and seemingly talking to himself. Or you'd think glancing around in a traffic jam and seeing someone talking with both hands on the wheel and no one else in the car wouldn't strike me as strange. It still does. I'm still looking for someone to be holding a phone to her ear to determine if she is on a call or not (and if it's appropriate to begin speaking to her). How long will it take before we look for the tell-tale blinking blue glow surrounding one's ear instead?

Mark Hollander's 100 Day Plans & Scrum

Just found this site through one of the GTD consultant's blogs I read daily. I've got no idea if Mr. Hollander is effective or not but his notion of a 100 day plan sure seems to have intuitive, self-evident merit and reminded me of an Agile/Scrum approach to a project vs. the traditional approach.

100 days or any relatively short, finite period of time is doable. It's bite-sized. It will end. It's approachable.

It's one of the main reasons Scrum works so well. It's not a long-term multi-million dollar committment. Just give us the resources to run for one Sprint and see what we produce. If you want to continue at that time then fine, we'll do another Sprint. If you're done after one Sprint we move on.

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Tuesday, October 03, 2006

A-Z Filing: A Surprising Relief

I used to dread the mail. It was not uncommon for me to spend an hour or more on a Sunday afternoon going through a box of mail and paperwork that had accumulated throughout the past week or so. Then I read the GTD article on General Reference Filing. I bit the bullet one rainy Saturday, made a trip to the office supply store and then sat down with my files, labeler, and large pile of papers to give this a try.

I picked up a piece of paper, say my phone bill, and the first name that popped into my head is how I labeled the file: Verizon. As David likes to say in his seminars, (paraphrasing) "Could it be filed under 'P' for phone bill? Yes it could. Could it be filed under 'V' for Verizon? Yes it could. Could it be under anything else? Probably not."

Before, when I had elaborate schemas of sections and sub-sections within my files it got to a level of complexity that I literally just started throwing paper into a box to file on rainy days; it was just too much effort.

Now, I can get home from work, grab the mail on my way in the door, and have it all filed in the appropriate place in less than five minutes. The end-to-end workflow path is clear and easy and, not surprisingly, it gets done.

After this worked so well on my paper files at home, I replicated this at work and in my email inbox and network drive filing systems.

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Portable Files and Focus

I've found the GTD idea of carrying a few files with me in my attache labeled "Evening" or "Discuss with Kris" (my wife) or "Need to File" allows me to place reminders inside of folders that I'll open when I'm in a given context. Before, when I had 25 tasks staring at me all day on the Daily Task List in my planner--many of which I couldn't do anything about until I got home or was out running errands--it seemed to create a little more stress and distraction (scanning all 25 tasks over and over throughout the day to find what's next) than what is necessary. Now, I only have on my desk the file that contains things I can work on at this moment in this context. Easy.

Parenthetically, this was one of the big attractions to PDA's for many people. One could categorize a given task and then filter a view to only show one category at a time. And that's still a valid benefit albeit in previous posts I've commented on my preference for paper.

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Tickler Files vs. Day Planner

I'm testing a GTD tickler file system right now and I'm finding what I would have thought impossible a few years ago--I'm not using my planner! I'm finding that a surprising amount of what I need to work on is already coming to me in the form of a piece of paper: a letter, a reminder notice from my son's elementary school, etc. What doesn't come in that way I jot on an index card and throw it in the appropriate file.

It seems like it wouldn't make a difference if I were writing things down on a list vs. filing pieces of paper but it does. I'm finding it faster and easier to take a bill, a permission slip, a shopping list, a dry cleaning receipt, or the printout of an Outlook appointment item (complete with all the info I need) and placing it in the appropriate folder vs. writing all the detail from each sheet of paper into the proper place in my planner (and possibly filing the paper for reference [read "extra work"]). It's even easier that just hole punching the paper and placing it in my planner. Not to mention I don't have to carry around a growing binder.

Removing any friction out of the system is worthwhile.

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Do you really need mobile, real-time email?

I love gadgets as much as anyone. When I went cell phone shopping not too long ago I certainly doddled around the phone/PDA/Swiss Army knive section but I finally decided to opt for something simpler.

And life has been better ever since.

If I had one of the new data-enabled phones I'm precisely the kind of guy who would be pulling it out to check emails in the middle of a meeting, at lunch, over dinner, you name it. Not only has this behavior become a cliche' in our culture already (e.g., the term CrackBerry) but I think it can erode our quality of life.

David Allen talks about us not really needing to "multi-task" as much as to rapidly refocus all day. Whatever you call it, it's taxing and takes its toll on the amount of focus, attention, and intention we can bring to any given moment.

I realize there are some in high-pressure situations that need to be notified right now of true emergencies that require their attention. But far more of us do it simply because we can and it's cool. And we can use the $40+ a month we'd spend on data plans for buying flowers for a loved one or taking a kid out to a movie and making a simple memory.

T-Shirt Estimates

A relatively common practice in Scrum is to assign "T-Shirt estimates" for each task for estimation purposes. Say the client has given us a list of 15 user stories or new modules of functionality they'd like. But before they prioritize them and determine what we will work on for this next Sprint they want an estimate of the amount of effort and money involved with each.

A quick way to do this would be to have each developer in the room write down (privately) his/her estimate for each story according to some variation of the following:

  • X-Large: More than a month
  • Large: Inside of one month
  • Medium: Inside of one week
  • Small: Inside of one day
  • X-Small: Inside of one hour

Then the Scrum Master can go through each story and get each developer to say her/his estimate out loud. Through a facilitated discussion assumptions surface and a realistic estimate begins to emerge.

Suppose the team comes up with an initial estimate of "Medium." That would be written somewhere on the story card. If the team learns it's more like "Large" as they go along they cross off the "Medium" or "M" and replace it. Erasing is a "no-no" because the history of estimates proves useful later on.

As functionality goes into production and the actual amount of time to complete is recorded on the card this "library" becomes another source the Scrum Master and team members can draw upon when trying to triangulate into a realistic estimate.

This same method works quite well in a personal productivity system like GTD. As 43Folders put well in a recent blog: the time you have available to work is one of four criteria you take into consideration on deciding what to do next. If you have 30 minutes and are looking through your next action items you can quickly scan through until you find one marked "X-Small".

In fact, in GTD the above steps are only the beginning. Throwing a T-Shirt estimate at a project is a great next action when you're just trying to get a handle on what you're dealing with. But you're not done estimating until everything is reduced down to an "X-Small" level or in other words an actual sit-down-and-get-this-done-right-now-task.

I've included this latter process as one step in my weekly review: go through each project and break it down a step or two.

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Read Books via Email

I found this site recently:

The idea is that we never have time for good literature but spend all day reading email. So why not read literature in your email? I'm starting with the autobiography of Benjamin Franklin.


The International Institute of Business Analysts (IIBA) is attempting to become to the field of business analysis what the Project Management Institute (PMI) is to the field of project management. I predict the jury will be out on this for some time but the organization seems to be off to a great start and is rapidly gaining ground. Some colleagues of mine are considering organizing a Baltimore chapter. Let me know if you're interested.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Time Management in a Box

One insight that continually surprises me is how unique everyone's personal organization/time management system is. I think this is one of the core problems with the Franklin Covey paradigm and a large reason why the Getting Things Done approach is gaining ground so rapidly: there is no one system that works for everyone. FranklinCovey gets it but I believe it may be too late.

When I took the Franklin seminar in 1998 (before the merger with Covey Leadership) the idea was Franklin had worked out a top-to-bottom, comprehensive, time management system. And it worked great, if you worked it, which is the core problem.

The philosophy might say to document important conversations on your "Daily Record of Events" page and then index them monthly in order to have near-instant recall of important events. Well that works well and really doesn't take much time to implement. It's just that most people don't have the stomach for it. Many people and certain personality types would categorize indexing phone conversations or carrying a Mini-Me satellite planner around to capture To-Do's picked up when passing the boss at the water cooler about as likely as deep cleaning the garage. It's a personality thing. Some get it and do it effortlessly. Others don't.

I believe the popular time management systems and philosophies probably reflect and express in many ways the personalities of their creators. And those with similar personalities and world views will be drawn to the approaches that resonate with their own style.

I used to think that those who wouldn't adopt what I considered to be a superior system were either lazy and unwilling to "pay the price" or perhaps unenlightened (which I took in my youth to mean that I now had an obligation to explain the benefits and tactics in more detail). I now see it was not necessarily either. Look around at the successful people you know and chances are no two do things remotely the same. They probably communicate, manage, file, negotiate, etc. in their own way. And I've yet to meet someone successful who achieved their status by using a success profile or a "paint by the numers" seven step approach to the top.

Suffice it to say that time management comes in as many flavors, shapes, and sizes as do people and the more basic and fluid approach will have the broadest appeal. Rigid time management disiciplines tend to polarize your audience.

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Did Orson Scott Card Invent Blogging?

This is obviously rhetorical but I remember reading the Ender's Game series several years back at the suggestion of my English professor at the time and recall a character essentially posting to the Web near constantly in order to account for space/time differentials. I think he published the first book in the series in 1977!

The Power of Marketing

The Redskins just launched Kangaroo TV at FedExField. I'm continually in awe of how deep the magic hat is that some can reach into. Creativity, calculated risks, along with careful and quick execution make a potent combination.

Predicting Treadmill Dancing

This is perhaps the best example I've seen of a nutty, off-the-wall idea bubbling its way up among 10,000 others that would never have shown up in a music video executive's offsite strategy meeting. But it works in some kind of wierd way.

ToC and Soccer

I'm coaching my son's under 12 recreational league soccer team. It's made me think about some of the fundamental principles of ToC: you're only as strong as your weakest link(s). So identify the constraints and elevate them.

I've got kids that desperately want to play as center forward who can't sprint and have no endurance. But if they don't have to move much they're pretty much a brick wall when the other team comes their way. Hmm...sounds like he may be better as a defensive player. I've got other kids who can run all day and zip in and out of guys and if you put them in defense the next thing you know they're on the other side of the field trying to make a break-away goal and you've got a big hole in front of your goalie.

The trick is to play the cards you've been dealt and to maximize the strengths of each individual. We'll see how it goes and how well I can pull this off when little Johnny's parents want to see him make a goal for the camera and I've got him blocking shots.

But it also makes you think about how different we are to those kids jogging up to you before the game asking to go in to play forward and the guy going into his boss for a promotion. We probably each have our own blind spots and would like to think we are CEO material when maybe we really should be pointing at another goal.

The Power of Index Cards (Part One)

I'm a huge believer in the Agile/Getting Real tenet of low-fidelity, barely sufficient, rapid prototyping solutions. Take a software migration kick-off meeting, for example. One would think that in a tech environment an analyst might pull out her/his top-of-the-line Tablet PC loaded with Visio Pro and begin constructing a series of well-formed UML 2 diagrams.

I prefer to pull out a pack of 3 x 5 index cards and a Sharpie.

There is nothing like index cards for quickly laying out the components of a system, a workflow, and taking down user story ideas. In a matter of minutes of moving them around the table playing with various relationships and connections, creating new cards for entities, processes, data stores, etc. as needed, ripping up cards as redundencies are found, the whole team is engaged, no business team members are put off by complexity of the tool (in fact, if anything they are welcomed by the simplicity), and I can then take my findings back to my desk to create a working Visio if I like.

Index cards on a white board with magnets work too. There's just simply no substitute that's as fast, simple, cheap, and effective.

Add my vote to Jason's on the Paper vs. Screen debate.

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