Solutions At Hand

Handhelds, smartphones, mobile technology and the digital lifestyle.

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    Michael is a trainer and consultant specializing in making mobility technology work in people's everyday lives.
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Archive for the ‘GTD’ Category

Getting Things Done using your Palm to Organize

Posted by Michael Brown on April 5, 2011

Previously, we covered processing simple one-off items into tasks, and left the more complex things for this post. In his books and seminars, David Allen defines a project as anything having more than one step. So, a project could be spring cleaning, buying a car or an appliance, or a “real project” as we typically define it at work. So, how to we handle projects and other “stuff” that isn’t a one-off item? Let’s get into it…

Generally, when people are using a Palm OS handheld for GTD (or any Personal Information Management in general), I recommend people stick with the built-in applications to start with. It’s easy to get caught up with trying new software or finding the perfect package, instead if using it to actually Get Things Done. If the built-ins definitely aren’t working for you, then I recommend people look for something that works with the built-in PIM databases, since it keeps things compatible with common desktop applications and HotSync conduits. It also has the benefit of allowing you to choose multiple tools that work for you, and allow you to view and use your data the way you want to.

Memos are a great place for storing information. They sync with the desktop, allowing you to use desktop oriented tools to work with your information, and any changes that you make will be synced back to your mobile device. They’re just like paper in the sense that you can keep free-form lists of information in them (you can’t doodle on them though, like paper!). David Allen himself uses Palm Memos to keep lists of stuff; this post will cover techniques to rev up your organizing abilities on your Palm OS device.

First of all, you need some good categories to allow you to quickly filter your lists into relevant chunks.
I usually recommend the following categories as a minimum for use with memos: Reference, Projects, Someday/Maybe, and Lists. Most Palms come with Personal and Business as categories as well, so you can keep them if you prefer to separate things that way. You may want to have Projects – Business and Projects – Home if you have a lot on the go, or you want to compartmentalize your life to some extent. The Lists category is the catchall list category; birthday gift ideas, packing lists, checklists, etc.

Some people also use an @Agendas category in either the Tasks or Memos applications, or sometimes both. These are things you want to talk to others about. It’s handy for managers and other people who have regular “face time” with people. You’ll have to decide which application works best for you: as a Task, as a Memo, or both. As a memo, the subject would be the person’s name, and the rest of the memo would be the matter or matters you wish to discuss with them. You could then alter the memo during the discussion, and later file it in the reference category as meeting minutes. If you use a task, the subject would be the person and a summary of the matter, and the note contains the details of the conversation. The category of the task could be @Calls or @Agendas, and you could either tick it off as done when discussed, or change the category to @WaitingFor if it’s something you need to follow up on. Like an agenda memo, you can take meeting minutes or discussion notes into the note of the task. If you need it for future reference, it can either be kept in the completed tasks, or you can copy and paste the relevant information to a memo or the note on a calendar appointment, depending on your working style and where you like to keep past information. The one advantage to using a task for “face time” is that you can date it and have it show up in the tasks application as something to do that day; it would also appear in the agenda view of the calendar application, keeping it “in your face”.

In your Projects category, I recommend people keep a memo called !Projects List (or index, or dashboard, whatever works for you). Basically, it’s a running list of what you have on the go for projects at any given point of time. The exclamation point at the start of the memo title ensures it sorts to the top of your memos in the Projects category. You should have one memo for each item you have listed, and those memos should be in the Projects category. You’ll have to see how many “active” projects you feel comfortable having on your projects list; if you’re not able to work on something now, move that project’s memo to the Someday/maybe category. You can use your !Projects List as a dashboard, putting projects in their order of importance to you, and possibly list some of the Someday/maybe’s you want to work on next, so you know what’s “in the queue”.

For each of the projects, it’s project memo should have a title that describes the project succinctly. That’s what will be shown in the notes list view, and should be how you describe it in your projects dashboard. For longer term goals or projects, many people find it useful to “envision the end” and write a statement defining the successful outcome, and thus conclusion, of the project. So, a project “World Domination” could have a success statement of “Rule the world by the age of 50”. This statement will come into play during weekly reviews, and the next post in this series. Your memo should also have reference and project support material, and next actions that move you towards your successful outcome. Since we all have paper in our lives, you can note the physical location of paper files in your memo, as a reminder that you will have to look elsewhere for material pertaining to this project.

Since all of your brainstorming and next actions are ending up in your Palm memo, you might want to convert your immeadiate next actions into tasks or to-do’s. This is where we talked about DA’s or Desk Accessories in the last post. I had talked about using Accessorizer to make DA versions of the Tasks, Contacts, and Calendar applications. So, as you go through your memo and find “stuff” that needs to go into another application, you can copy the relevant material and then launch your DA launcher, and choose the application like Tasks. You would then paste the information into a new task, and set a category, due date, and other attributes. You would then tap the Home button to exit the Tasks DA, and return to your memo exactly where you were. You can do the same to create appointments. I personally use a DA called ToDoDA, which pops up a minimal task entry window over top of my current application, instead of using a DA version of the full Tasks application; same result, without blocking my whole memo screen.

The best thing about DA’s is that they get around the lack of multi-tasking in the Palm OS. Just keep in mind, you can’t launch a DA version of an application over top of the same non-DA version of an application, or launch a DA that access the same database as the underlying application (i.e. ToDoDA over Tasks). If you do, it will cause your device to reset and you will lose anything you’ve done since you last changed programs (and thus saved your data).

If you’re in sales or some other field that needs to speak with people regularly, you can use categories in your contacts. You could use ones like Prospects, Active, Inactive, FollowUp, etc as means of filtering your contacts for next actions like callbacks. You could also use one of the User-Defined fields in contacts as tags or keywords, and then use the global find to search for entries with those tags (like CB for Call Back).

You can actually use tags, keywords or statuses in any Palm application and use the Global find to look for things that require your attention. The trick is to make them distinctive, so that they won’t show up by accident, and to keep them consistent, so you always find what you’re looking for. Graffiti 1&2 based devices have built-in shortcuts that allow you to write a shortcut symbol and a two or three letter code, and it will replace your shortcut with whatever text you assign to it. Shortcut5 is a better one for Centro and Treo devices, asi it works with the keyboard and allows for more text and some macro substitutions. Teikei DA allows you to create and use Tag lists that are kept in Memos, but it tends to be a little slow on newer devices because it uses the DataManager compatibility layer. One example of statuses could be in your one of your project memos. Let’s say you brainstorm some next actions, but you can only do one at a time. So, for our “rule the world project”, you have the following next actions:

‹x› Buy media companies
‹-› Brainwash the general public
‹•› get elected to government
‹•› start a war
‹•› declare myself Emperor and dissolve the “non-functional” government.

So, the first is complete, the second in progress, and the last three are pending. During your weekly reviews, you can search for pending items you want to convert into tasks. You could use abbrieviations as well, like CB for call back, NA for next action, that kind of thing. You may want to wrap text abrieviations in some kind of non-text wrapper (like colons, brackets, etc) to ensure that you don’t get “false positives” when searching using Global Find. For example, a search for NA will find NA, na, naturally, etc., whereas a seach for ‹NA› will only find items with that exact tag.

Some people like linking things together. It is possible to do it on the Palm platform, but hold off doing it unless you really find you need it. Linking items takes time and requires maintenance, and if your system becomes too complicated, you may not use it. The easiest way to link items is using psLink, which allows you to create Wiki-like hyperlinks between memos or between records in other databases like Tasks, Contacts, and calendars. If you decide to try linking, start by linking the projects in your !Projects List to their associated project memos. If this appeals to you, and you find it improves your productivity, then try adding in other stuff like task linking. PsLink is free, so it won’t cost you to try it.

GTD itself is a collection of tools and techniques, rather than a system, which allows you to customize it for your lifestyle and working methods. This post, like the others in this “Getting Things Done using your Palm”, are intended to provide food for thought and techniques to try to see what works for you. Pick what you think will work for you, and try it for 3 weeks to a month. If it doesn’t work for you after that period, tweak it or try something different, again for 3 weeks. In many ways it’s more important to build the habit rather than perfect the technique, especially when you’re new to GTD.

Well, that about completes this post, and gives you the tools and techniques to help you organize with you Palm. It also gives you some of the basics for the next post in this series, which will be the “Review” portion. Until next time, this is Michael Brown signing off.


Posted in GTD, Palm, Productivity | Leave a Comment »

Where o where have my categories gone?

Posted by Michael Brown on October 16, 2008

Palm OS users have long had a perfectly simple list-maker and information repository in the memos application. It’s a great place to keep all sorts of information, and it’s always been quick to find using the global find or categories. The great thing about the built-in Memos app is that it syncs with just about any desktop application, like Palm Desktop or Microsoft Outlook. It’s through syncing with Outlook that many people change devices or even mobile platforms. So, for those people like myself, looking to switch from Palm OS to Windows Mobile, there’s something you really need to know if you depend on your Memos/Outlook Notes…

Windows Mobile Notes don’t support categories! So, the first time you sync your device using ActiveSync or Windows Mobile Device Center, all your nicely categorized notes will get dumped all together into the device’s My Documents\ folder, and on the next sync, it will strip the category information off and drop all your Outlook Notes back into one big, un-categorized mess. So, you might want to turn off the syncing of notes in ActiveSync or WMDC until you look at how you want to handle things. One possible option is PhatNotes for Outlook; others include changing the Outlook note title to include the category as a prefix, or organizing your notes by folders in My Documents, which will be reflected in the title of the Outlook Note after the next sync. I plan on testing out a few different options for getting my Outlook Notes onto my new device and working the way I want them, once I get it; with nearly 900 nicely organized Palm Memos syncing as Outlook notes, I don’t want to have a big mess to clean up when I move!

Originally posted to PalmAddicts here. For those looking for ideas to deal with this now, you might want to check out this blog post over at SmartPhone Magazine.

Posted in GTD, Palm, PalmAddicts, PIM, Productivity, Windows Mobile | 1 Comment »

Get some colour happening in your calendar

Posted by Michael Brown on April 24, 2008

Colour is an effective means for getting a grasp on a lot of information in one place. When it comes to your calendar, it can really help you get a handle on your schedule and commitments. For those people who synchronize with Microsoft Outlook, there is an easy way to add some colour to your life. This works with Outlook 2003 and 2007, and the built-in Palm Calendar on modern handhelds. It could also be implemented on other Palm calendars like DateBk6.

Calendar Labels

First of all, get your Palm and open the calendar application. In the category picker, choose Edit Categories. At the same time, open Outlook, select the Calendar, and choose the menus Edit => Label => Edit Labels. Choose Colours that match on both Outlook and the Handheld, and edit the Labels text to match the category you’re using on the handheld. In this example below, I’d edit the “Phone Call” label to match up with the colour I’ve chosen on the handheld. Finish choosing colours for all the Palm categories, and edit the corresponding Outlook labels.

Edit Categories

Automatic Formatting

Now, here’s where the magic really happens. In Outlook, choose the menus Edit => Automatic Formatting. Add a new rule, and call it one of your categories. Choose the same-named label in the picker below, and then click the condition button. Click on the More Choices tab, then type in the name of your category in the Categories field. Click OK when you’re done entering your rule. Add rules for each of the categories you wish to colour code. You can also add rules to look for specific text if you tend to use keywords in your appointments.

Now, your desktop and handheld calendars are just as colourful and co-ordinated!

Outlook Coloured CalendarPalm Colour week view

Originally posted to PalmAddicts here.

Posted in GTD, Palm, PalmAddicts, PIM, Time & Task Management, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , | 2 Comments »

The Treo as a Ubiquitous Capture Tool

Posted by Michael Brown on February 19, 2007

Here’s one I posted to the PalmAddicts website back in November. I’ve added links to some of the products listed here, as I use and like them, and would happily recommend them.

Practitioners of David Allen’s “Getting Things Done”, or GTD for short, are aware of the need to capture things as they happen. The Treo can be a perfect Ubiquitous Capture Tool, since it’s as powerful as it is portable. For me, I use mVoice as a voice recorder to capture things that I don’t have time to process properly. I also use DateBk 6’s Daily Journal feature, combined with a customized Journal template and ShortCut5’s text shortcuts to let me capture events at work for time tracking. Those Journals sync nicely to Outlook, where I have filters defined to let me see stuff that has to be entered into our time tracking application. Natara’s DayNotez is my personal Journal and collection of random history, and the Memo’s application captures all my other tidbits of reference information (693 memos at last count). All this, and a phone too! was the original link

Posted in GTD, PalmAddicts, Productivity, Time & Task Management, Treo | Leave a Comment »

The KISS rule, and “quick fixes”

Posted by Michael Brown on May 2, 2005

I’m in the process of migrating over my personal project and task management system to something a little simpler. Years ago (well before I started Solutions At Hand), I had found that the built-in Palm applications were a little for lacking for managing tasks and projects. So, I had tried using outliners to give tasks a hierarchy within a project. I used freeware applications, and bought a couple of outliners to manage both personal and business projects.

Outliners brought features that were not possible with the built-in applications, at the cost of added software, time, money, and more complexity. Being a “techie”, complexity doesn’t bother me, since I often work with complex systems. The thing is, a system for managing your life should be able to handle your life no matter how busy you get or how you’re feeling. That’s one point that David Allen, author of “Getting Things Done”, makes; a life management system should work even if you’re sick, miserable, and swamped in stuff. David’s GTD system is rooted in simple principles that become habits, and my courses teach some of David’s principles adapted for Palm Powered products.

Many of David’s GTD techniques relate to the KISS rule (Keep It Simple, Silly). GTD (like KISS) is both a methodology and a philosophy. Generally, it boils down to simple things tend to work better when things get rough, whereas complex things are more likely to break down. If they break down, then you end up dropping the ball on parts of your life.

Moving is a big change, and one of the benefits of moving (and change in general) is that it gives you the opportunity to take a fresh look at things, and maybe do some housecleaning. My migration back to the standard apps will accomplish two things for me: the first is to eliminate some historical “baggage” (complexity and redundancy) that I’m no longer willing to carry; and two, simplify my personal system to bring it in line with what I train my clients on. I won’t be losing any “power features” by migrating back to the standard apps, since there are a lot of tools around now that work with the built-ins. I won’t be ditching my favourite outliner, ShadowPlan, completely; I’ll keep it for complex projects instead of my day-to-day activities.

Some quick thoughts on quick fixes. As a society these days we are fixated on immediate gratification. We want to buy things NOW to make us feel better NOW, lose weight FAST to make us feel better NOW, and so on. The problem with quick fixes is that they don’t last. If the foundation of your house is crumbling, you don’t do a quick fix on it; you do what it takes to fix it right so it lasts. So why try to slap a bandaid on your life? Take the time , and do what it takes to fix it right. A handheld or smartphone on it’s own would be a quick fix. A PDA or smartphone, coupled with discipline and good habits, becomes an effective tool for life management. Developing that discipline and those good habits takes hard work and time, but it’s an investment that will pay off over the course of your lifetime.

Posted in GTD, Time & Task Management | Leave a Comment »

Islands in the stream…

Posted by Michael Brown on February 28, 2005

For some people, “Islands in the stream” are some of the lyrics from a song. For others, it’s the way they go about their lives.

Many people try to “compartmentalize” their lives. Work stuff belongs at work, home stuff belongs at home, and everything has it’s place and time. Unfortunately, life is seldom that clearly defined. There will be times where you have to deal with personal stuff at work, work stuff at home, and other things at places between. We can’t live our lives as islands, or silos in the field. As an individual, we are the sum of the many parts of our lives, like puzzle pieces. You can’t get “the big picture” just by looking at each piece individually. You need to put the pieces together, and look at the whole thing in order to get the picture.

One of the ways to improve your quality of life is to have a trusted system that will help you capture, process, and manage all the “stuff” that comes your way every day. A Palm Powered handheld or smartphone can be an essential part of such a system. What I teach my clients is that to be truly effective, you need ONE system of information. That system can be available in many places, but it is still ONE system. Like a briefcase carries paper information place-to-place, your Palm becomes your conduit for merging all the different aspects of your life into one convenient system. Your Palm’s ability to HotSync at multiple computers allows it to carry that system from place-to-place. In addition to being a device that is capable of entering and retrieving your information, you will also be using it as your “electronic briefcase”; it becomes the tool you can use to keep your work and home systems synchronized. It also allows you to be fully mobile, capturing and using information irregardless of where you are. The technology is just some of the pieces of our life puzzle.

Some of the time and task management techniques I teach are based on David Allen’s “Getting Things Done” principles and methodologies, modified based on each client’s needs and for the systems they use. I also encourage people to use techniques from Stephan Covey’s “7 Habits” for higher level planning. Those two methodologies, combined with a Palm Powered handheld or smartphone, allow for a seamless system of “life management”. There’s just no real way to fully separate work from personal life; your tools and lifestyle management techniques really need to allow you to have ONE system, ONE complete view of your life, where you can truly manage it based on the “big picture”, or “the forest”. Your Palm can also allow you to “filter” your information by where you are and what you are capable of doing at that place. That allows you to handle “the trees”, the daily minutiae of things-to-do. The processes are the rest, and most important, pieces of our life puzzle.

The beauty of Palm Powered handhelds and smartphones is the freedom of choice they give you. You can use any Palm-compatible desktop application for life planning, and have that information at your fingertips wherever you go. Some people even use different operating systems in the course of their daily lives, and use their Palm to keep those separate systems “in-sync”. ONE system doesn’t mean having to use only one tool or one way of doing things; it means keeping ONE set of information to manage your daily life, and having copies of that information wherever you spend your time. ONE system really means YOUR system. After all, one size doesn’t fit all. It’s YOUR puzzle; pick the pieces that make the picture work for you.

Posted in GTD, PIM, Time & Task Management | Leave a Comment »