Monday, January 31, 2011

Documentation Revisited

In November, I wrote this post along with podcast on the subject of documentation.

Here is a comment from a reader along with my response:

This is a really helpful strategy - I previously used a notebook that was similar, a running log of 'everything'. I was definitely missing the date references and table of contents to make it really work though, and have let it slip for awhile.

I found that I was going through about a notebook every month and half or so. When I go to a recurring committee meetings, I need to be able to review past notes - how would this work best? Use the notebook but add a copy of the meeting notes into the project/committee folder? Most things don't need to be saved in special groups like that, but I'm struggling with project support/meeting notes. Any thoughts?



A couple of suggestions come to mind. Since you are maintaining a folder for each committee, make a "table of contents" on the inside of the folder. You could simply list the dates and a couple of key words related to the major topics covered. If that folder goes with you to meetings, you can look at that list and quickly flip to the exact spot in your journal.

Another thought is to use colored Post-it flags. Assign a different color to each committee and flag each meeting with its color. That way, every red flag represents a meeting of the "XYZ" committee, yellow for the "ABC" committee, etc.

Both of those are paper-based options. If you use a smartphone that has a section for notes, another suggestion would be to create a note for each committee called something like "Meeting Notes--(Name of Committee)." Within each note, list the dates that committee met and a few key words about major topics. No matter where you are, you have your smartphone and your journal, so you are only a few seconds away from putting your hands on the notes for any meeting or any committee for the last month and a half.

During "Get Organized Month," this is question is so important because it is a scenario to which so many busy professionals can relate.

What are your thoughts? How do you handle note-taking during meetings, phone calls, etc.?

Saturday, January 29, 2011

The Myth of Multitasking

Multitasking is a hot topic in today's society. Some see it as a way to get more done. Others see it as a way to get nothing of substance done. I recently read The Myth of Multitasking by Dave Crenshaw. For the most part, the book argues against multitasking. The take-away for me was that multitasking is OK when one or both of the tasks require little effort or brain power. Listening to music in the background while working on something of substance is an example.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Pictures from Montreal

The January 23 post talked about the Distinguished Educators Seminar Series sponsored by McGill University. Here are pictures from our time at McGill University in Montreal and Hotel Mont Gabriel.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Syncing Google Calendar With Your Phone

I have yet to find anything as efficient and powerful as syncing Outlook to the BlackBerry. All four modules (calendar, tasks, contacts, notes) share information beautifully. But, there are many who use other tools and are looking for a way to input information on their computer and also have it available on the smartphone.This post is for those people.

The following video talks about Google Sync for mobile phones including what you need, what it will do for you, and which phones are compatible with it:

Sunday, January 23, 2011

McGill University Distinguished Educators Seminar Series

Davonia and I had an incredible time this week in Montreal as a part of the McGill University Distinguished Educators Seminar Series. Welcome to teachers who are visiting this blog for the first time as a result of attending the seminar at the McGill Faculty Club and to the administrators who attended the Wellness and Leadership retreat at Mont Gabriel. A special thanks to Sylvia Sklar for extending the invitation, Donna Wilkinson for the outstanding job of handling the many details, and Mary Stewart for driving us from McGill to Mont Gabriel. To Dr. Lynn Butler-Kisber and Dr. Ted Wall, thank you for making us feel so welcome and being an active part of the seminar. Of course the biggest thanks goes to the teachers and administrators who attended the seminars.

During our time together, we explored ways to handle the papers, the importance of having a "signature tool" to trap everything in one place (with special insight on how to use a digital tool to do the job), how to put repeating tasks on "autopilot," strategies for handling the incoming flood of information, and how to handle multiple projects. We examined setting up a logical filing system on the computer, backing up files easily, how to organize the internet through the use of an iGoogle page, communicating effectively through paper or a blog, using Google Docs to replace paper forms, helpful yet little-known capabilities of Google, and the productivity boost offered through the use of dual monitors.

We enjoyed good food, made new friends, and discovered that we all face many of the same challenges. Pictures will follow in the next several days!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

ToodleDo: An Option for Maintaining an iPhone Task List

While iPhone users can sync their can sync their calendars with Outlook or Google Calendar. Maintaining a task list on the iPhone presents a challenge in that there is no native task application on the device. ToodleDo offers a third-party alternative. From the reviews I have read, the program works well.

Here is a short video demonstrating this software:

The program is available in three versions: Free, Pro, and Pro Plus.

We all need a comprehensive system for staying on top of all of the commitments we have made to ourselves and others. For the iPhone user, this program may be a very good answer.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Gadgets on My iGoogle Page

This post is designed for those who attended the McGill University Distinguished Educators Seminar or Wellness and Leadership Seminar.

Here is a list of the gadgets I have on my iGoogle page. Clicking on each link will give you the opportunity to add it to your iGoogle page.

Google Bookmarks
Google Reader
Facebook URL Shortener
CNN Technology
MapQuest Driving Directions
Area/Zip Code Lookup
Document to PDF
Google Map Search
Portfolio Monitor
Flight Status

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Questions from a Reader...Organizing the Boyfriend

How do those who are organized help those who are close to them who are not? Below is a message I received, along with my answer. It might help someone else in a similar situation:

Dear Frank,

As a matter of fact we are both working. He's in the real estate business and I'm an economist in the telecommunications sector. I'm somewhat of a compulsive organizer, with a thing for labeling up everything: boxes, folders, notebooks, envelopes, you name it. Though I'm messy here and there, I try always to develop "methods" to ease up my life and keep my things in order. Shopping lists, to-do list for traveling and so on. I like to plan ahead and make sure there's nothing to be running for in the last minute.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

How Do You Keep Up With What Has Been Delegated to Others?

We all have those situations where the responsibility for action belongs to someone else, yet whether or not they follow through impacts us. Consider these situations:
  1. You are working on a project with other people and have delegated certain tasks to them. How do you make sure everyone comes through with the deliverables?
  2. Someone borrows books or other belongings from you. How do you keep up with what you have loaned? What sort of trigger will cause you to mention something when an item is not returned?
  3. You have placed an order with a company. How do you keep up with what you have ordered? At what point would you call to ask about the status of the order? What is the trigger that would cause you to make that call?

As long as we live in a world where our happiness, success, longevity, or whatever else is in part dependent on someone else, we need to have some system that will allow us to hold others accountable.

As a young teacher, my tools were a pocket memo pad and a set of tickler files. When someone borrowed my stuff, I immediately made a note in that memo pad...something like, "Expect to receive XYZ book from Steve. Loaned on Oct. 3." After asking myself what would be a reasonable time frame in which to ask Steve if he was finished with the book, the little sheet from the memo pad would be thrown into the appropriate tickler file.

When I placed an order with a company, I would take a copy of the order and write "Expect to receive" on the top of the form, decide when it should arrive, and throw the form in the tickler file for around that time.

When someone was supposed to handle a task and then get back with me, a little note saying, "Expect to receive reply from John" went in the tickler file for around the time I wanted to check on progress.

Over time, "Expect to receive" was shortened to "ETR," and although the tools have changed, that acronym has stuck. Instead of a slip of paper thrown into a tickler file, so many of those little "ETR" items become tasks in Outlook. When the ball is in the other person's court, "ETR" is going to be in the task line. I select a due date, save, and forget about it. The system does my remembering.

When the due date arrives, I am looking at the "ETR" item, and there is my trigger to take action. What if I want to see at a glance all of the things that I am counting on from other people? In Outlook, I click the Task button and type the letters "ETR" in the search window. I am now looking at a complete list of every task with that configuration of letters. If I am doing the same thing on my BlackBerry, I go to the Taskpad (Outlook 2003) or To-Do Bar (Outlook 2007), enter "ETR," and I am looking at a list of everything others owe me.

By the same token, I could enter the name of a person, "Bill" for example. I would see everything Bill owes me, every phone call I am supposed to make to him, everything I had borrowed from him, etc. all in order by due date.

Our lives are complex. We have a great deal to "keep up with." Keeping up with those delegated items is among them. Three little letters keep me on top of it all.

Friday, January 14, 2011

What's in Your Pocket?

For around 30 years, I have carried in my pocket a memo pad of some sort. I talked about it extensively in a post called "The Best $10 You Will Ever Spend." I ran across this post, "The Manly Tradition of the Pocket Notebook," which provides illustrations for how people in different walks of life use this simple tool. Over 140 people added their own comments on this excellent post.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Getting Control of Repeating Tasks in the New Year

The New Year is a good time to make those grand plans and resolutions. This year, make it a time when you will get control of all of the routine tasks in both your personal and professional lives. From replacing the filter in heating/cooling system to buying the spouse’s gift at anniversary time, we all have tasks that come around the same time every week, month, quarter, or year. If you are like most people, those tasks will number in the hundreds. Hoping you remember each one at the right time is an exercise in futility and a huge stress producer.

One of the biggest productivity boosters for me over the last 30 years has been recognizing repeating task as soon as they appear and putting them in a system. Thirty years ago that system consisted of each task being written on an index card. The task was written in the middle of the card and instructions for when it needed to be done again were written at the bottom. The cards were then thrown in the tickler file.

Over twenty years ago, the system evolved into one continuous list of repeating tasks organized by month. It was stored electronically so that adding tasks and reprinting the list annually were easy.

Today, repeating tasks are housed in Outlook. Enter a task, click the “Recurrence” button, and set the repeating pattern, and I never have to hope I remember to do that task again.

The repeating task system keeps the routine aspects of my life running, keeps the stress level low, and frees my attention for bigger things.

The following podcast is one that appeared on the Eye on Education blog. You can also read about your choice of three systems for handling repeating tasks in this post.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Clean Off Your Desk Day

Happy "National Clean Off Your Desk Day"! Yes, it is a real event, celebrated each year on the second Monday of January, The photo you see was sent to me by a actual photo of his desk. Today seemed to be the perfect day to share it.

Just for fun, take a look at these statistics related to the clean desk.

If you are looking for a solution to the paper blizzard, a very large part of the solution for me has been the "tickler file." If this concept is new or if you would like a refresher, here is a very old post from this blog which is right on point. Ask the question, "When do I need to see this again?"and file the paper for that day. Waiting on someone else to get back with you before you are able to move forward? Estimate when the person will be getting you the information and file the paper for the day afterward. When the paper resurfacing, you have the information you need to take the next step.

Do you have lots of slips of paper laying around or Post-it notes stuck to the computer monitor? Use your signature tool, explained in this post from a year ago, holds it all for you.

The picture to the right is the desk of a former workshop participant who put his tickler files to work!

Anyone have a photo they would like to share of their desk? I would love to see the good, the bad, and the ugly! Click here to e-mail an attachment.

Sunday, January 09, 2011

The Pocket Memo Pad Again

Later this week, we will examine the benefits of carrying a small, pocket memo pad. As a prelude, let's take a look at The Pocket Notebooks of 20 Famous Men.

Could a memo pad in your pocket be just the thing to keep things from slipping through the cracks?

Anyone presently use this tool and have a story to tell?

Friday, January 07, 2011

What Are You Looking For? That's What You Will See...and What You Will Get

Tell me what you think about. Tell me what you focus upon. I will tell you what you are likely to see in your environment. To illustrate, follow the instructions in the following video:

To further illustrate the concept, follow the instructions in this video:

See what I mean?

You can read more about the work of Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons on their website.

What are you looking for? That's what you will see.
What implications does this concept have on your work? On your life? On your goals?

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

If I Had One More Hour Every Day...

We all want more hours in the day. At a workshop with the faculty of Loudon High School in Loundon County Tennessee, two days ago, we asked the participants to share what they would do if they had an extra hour every day. Here is a sample of what they said...

If I had one more hour every day, I would:
...exercise outside
...clean the window sills and baseboards in my house for pleasure with my kids
...reflect on what I accomplished that day
...learn to crochet
...get home earlier
...learn to play the piano and arrange music
...delete emails to my kids
...develop better lesson activities
...hunt longer
...sleep more grading of papers
...get more done in my classroom
...have fun with my kids more film
...think of ways to help my daughter learn more
...get to know the people I work with better
...take time just for me

With the tools and strategies we examined during the day, saving an hour a day is a conservative estimate. Imagine a group that now collectively has the time for all of the things listed above!

If you had one more hour every day, what would you do?

Monday, January 03, 2011

Motivational Quotes

The opening loop from the ISTE 2010 Conference Kickoff included famous explorers, artists, scientists, and athletes with their quotes about excellence and exploration. Here is that presentation:

Saturday, January 01, 2011

The New Calendar and the Old

By this time, we have secured our calendars for 2011. Those who prefer paper have made that trip to the office supply store for a duplicate of this year's model or a chance to select one that may be an improvement. Those who organize digitally have all future years available. But this post is not about paper versus digital. It's not even about what may be on the calendar for the coming year. It's about what is on the calendar for the year which now becomes history.

What will happen to that calendar? If it is made of paper, will in go in the trash can, or will it find a permanent place on a bookshelf? Of what value will it be in the future?

I firmly believe the types of things which go on a calendar for the future are not the same as those which adorn a calendar from our past. The calendar for tomorrow houses every entry about where we are to be and when, regardless of the lasting value of that appointment. If we are supposed to be somewhere, then we are supposed to be there, and the calendar is the trusted friend that takes the responsibility for keeping up with it.

Look at your calendar from 2010. If you are like most people, it is a patchwork quilt of things that mattered and things that really didn't. When the significant is hidden amongst the insignificant, the calendar from the past has little value.

A the end of every day, I ask myself the question, "How did you make today count?" That one question stares me in the face every evening. That one question forces me to think back over the events of the day and be honest about the way I used a very special gift. That one question helps me focus and compare how my day was spent in contrast to the vision I have for the future. The answer to that question goes on my calendar. From a mechanical standpoint, the question appears as a daily repeating task on Outlook and my BlackBerry.

What about the mundane entries on the calendar that I would not care to see again? I erase those, so that what is significant stands out. Please do not get me wrong. I am very much in favor of keeping records and documenting those events and conversations should I have to produce such information. I have written documentation on that sort of thing and the use of a digital "table of contents," described in both books, so that I can put my hands on it years later.
My calendar for the past serves as a sort of "mini-diary." It also serves as a compass.

How did you make today count? It is a sobering question indeed, at least for me. Perhaps the knowledge that I am going to have to answer that question when the day ends works on my subconscious from the time the day begins.

As we begin a new year, I ask you to "fast forward" to the end of it. What will the calendar for 2011 look like when we usher in 2012? Will it be a reminder of the trivial pursuits of the past year? Or, will it be a story of how you took 365 special gifts and turned as many as possible into gold. I invite you to join me in a daily journey to ask yourself:

How did you make today count?