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 ‘Time & Task Management’ Category

The Desktop is a dying breed…

Posted by Michael Brown on August 22, 2007

HP TouchSmart PC
At least that’s the gist of what I heard a Best Buy employee telling a shopper. The shopper was looking at this new HP TouchSmart “Family PC” and trying out it’s Smart Centre functions. It has a 19″ touchscreen, a Family Calendar, a message center, integrated TV tuner, webcam and microphone, and wireless keyboard, mouse and stylus. It runs Windows Vista, so it has the Media Centre functionality built-in. The shopper thought it was cool, but asked “Why would they make something like this?”. The Best Buy guy said that laptops are outselling desktops 6 to 1, and that most people are buying laptops as a personal item, no different than a PDA, cell phone or music player. He also said that even though some families have a laptop for each family member, they still wanted a “Family PC” for keeping shared files and media, so HP designed something that could go on a kitchen counter or family room table to fit those requirements plus more.

The funny thing is, I recognized the truth and implications of that right away, because I’m going through a similar situation right now. I’ve built every PC I’ve ever owned from parts I’ve researched and found to meet my needs, so I get everything I need, and nothing extra I don’t. So, when my old desktop needed upgrading, I did the same thing, and just moved my Windows 2000 installation “as-is” to the new machine (it wasn’t quite that simple, but you get the point). And it’s a nice machine: Asus motherboard, 2GB OCZ RAM, AMD X2 2.6GHz processor, SATA II drive. It’s powerful, fast, and… I maybe get to use it a couple of hours a week if I’m lucky! Family life with two young kids does not lend itself to going to the home office and getting some stuff done on the desktop. That can only happen at nap times, or when they finally go to bed (at which point I’m so tired I probably want to go to bed too!). So, most of the time I use my Treo for computing work I need to do (which is what it’s intended for); for when I need more horsepower, I use VNC to my server, and run those applications there. It can get a little tedious after a while though, working with desktop applications running in a resolution of 1024×768 or higher, on a display 320×320 in size!

Sadly, I’ve come to the realization that I need portability and mobility… for in my house! The Treo does everything I need it too while I’m out-and-about, but I’m really tied down at home using the desktop. I could get a laptop, but I don’t find them as portable or as ergonomic as they could be. So, being a long time Palm user, I’m thinking a convertible Tablet PC is the way to go. It has the pen interface I’ve always liked about Palm handhelds, with the power and flexibility of a portable PC. A convertible tablet is one that has a keyboard like a conventional laptop, but turns into a “slate” tablet with a “twist-and-flip” of the display. The only disadvantage to the Tablet PC is price; they’re still considered a “niche” item with some pricey components in them, and you do pay a premium for that. So, I may end up having to settle for a resonably priced laptop and using my Wacom Graphire 4 tablet with it; after all, I’ve got a mortgage to pay and kids to feed, so something has to give somewhere. Decisions, decisions, but I digress…

As far as the “Family PC”; I think it’s a concept that will work well. As more and more of our daily interactions become digital, and the pace of our lifestyles increases, the calendar on the fridge just won’t cut it anymore. We’ve had a home server running in the house since 2003; it’s the central repository for all shared media and files, the mail server, HTPC recording backend, and a VNC terminal server (for access by my Treo, or for long running operations on a desktop application). It’s the hub of our home systems, as it’s accessible from everything from my Treo, to my desktop or my wife’s work laptop, to devices like the HTPC and the MediaMVP we use for viewing various media like TV programs and movies, family pictures and videos. I’m too much of a DIY person to run out and buy something like the TouchSmart (it’ll be more fun to try and replicate the same functionality using Open-Source components and my choice of hardware). But I can honestly say I can see it as the hub in many a household, tying together laptops, UMPC’s, PDA’s and smartphones, keeping the family organized and in touch in the coming digital era. Having something like this allows you to have a common repository for family information, as well as a common message centre. Imagine being able to forward VoIP voice mail (or Video voice mail), voice or video messages from family members, ink notes, or even the grocery list to a family member’s Treo, with just a few taps of your finger. Or how about making dinner arrangements, and having it entered into each family members calendar automatically, available when they next sync. The possibilities are endless; think your group calendars at work, but applied to the home and combined with the power of Internet Calendars.

Apple could easily make something similar to the SmartTouch PC with a Multi-Touch iMac, an umbrella package like SmartCentre, and many of their existing software packages (iCal, Front Row, iPhoto, iTunes, Inkwell, etc). The desktop as we know it is dying in the home; it will become a niche market for power users, system builders, and gamers with the need for speed. Evolution is happening in the home, and the Family PC won’t look like it’s boxy brethren of old; slick new fashionable designs, combined with powerful user interfaces and family organizational tools will make this a pleasure to use, and more interesting than sticky notes and the calendar on the fridge that nobody bothers to read. This new class of “Family PC” is huge; this may be a big step towards the Jetson’s home of the future.

Originally posted to Palm Addicts here.

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Posted in Inter-operability, Open Source Software, Palm, PalmAddicts, PC, PIM, Productivity, Time & Task Management, Windows | Leave a Comment »

Steve’s 33 rules

Posted by Michael Brown on May 2, 2007

I’ve been reading Steve Pavilina’s blog on and off for a couple of years now, and he’s posted a good one defining some 33 rules to boost productivity. Many of these can be applied using a Palm or Treo…

#2 Daily goals – can be done as an un-timed appointment in your calendar
#4 Peak times – schedule stuff in your calendar (which should be sacred)
#5 No-comm zones and #10 Cone of silence – turn the radio off on your Treo; you’ll still have full pda functionality to get what you need to done, and it’ll be a quick sync away from your desktop.
#7 Timeboxing – There are a multitude of minute-timers available for the Palm platform. This is something Fly-lady also advocates (setting a 15 minute timer for a task).
#17 Deadlines – set due dates on tasks
#33 Optimization – a Palm handheld or Treo can help eliminate duplication of effort. Just make sure that you don’t spend too much time playing with software instead of getting things done. Start with the built-ins, and only make changes if something really isn’t working for you. Do what Steve suggests and model your workflow on paper if you have to.

Posted in Productivity, Time & Task Management | 1 Comment »

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!

http://palmaddict.typepad.com/palmaddicts/2006/11/the_treo_as_a_u.html was the original link

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

Happy Valentine’s Day

Posted by Michael Brown on February 14, 2006

Here’s a few tips on how your PDA can help you and your relationship. Some are from last years Valentine’s Day post, and some are new.

  1. Create an appointment in your calendar to do something special for your special someone. You can set a reminder alarm that will sound hours (or even days) before your event to give you time to get organized.
  2. Keep the names and numbers of flower shops, fine restaurants, and babysitters in your address book. If you have a smartphone like the Treo, then it’s that much easier to make your reservation – just tap to dial!
  3. If you’re surfing the web, reading something, or talking with someone and you run across something good (poem, quotes, ideas and recipes) then write or copy it into your memo pad so it will be with you when you need it. You’ll always be able to find it in a split-second using your Palm’s find feature, and you’ll dazzle your partner with your romantic side.
  4. During the course of the year, when you hear your special someone talk about the things they enjoy, write it down in a Palm Memo so you don’t forget. You can keep a running list of gift ideas, date ideas, etc. that you can refer to when you’d like to do something special for that someone special.
  5. Create a task or tasks in your to-do list to get flowers, chocolates, or something that your significant other loves. Set the due date sufficiently far enough ahead that you have time to do it.
  6. If you haven’t done any of the aforementioned things, then you probably want to copy these tips into the note of a new appointment in your Palm’s calendar. Date it for February 7th, and have it repeat every year with an alarm to remind you.

All of these tips work for occasions other than Valentine’s Day. Birthday’s, anniversaries, date nights, and other special occasions can benefit from being prepared. Happy Valentine’s Day to you and yours!

Posted in Time & Task Management | Leave a Comment »

What do Lionel Bart’s “Oliver” and a Treo have in common?

Posted by Michael Brown on May 18, 2005

Hunh? What could a musical based on Dickens’s Oliver Twist – set in the 1850’s – and a twenty-first century smartphone possibly have in common? Well, me! I’m currently designing sound for the Orpheus Musical Theatre Society’s production of Oliver, appearing at the Centrepointe Theatre in Ottawa from June 3-11th. My Treo smartphone is playing a key role in the actual process of designing sound for the show, which has a cast of forty and a twenty-piece orchestra. What roles does the Treo play in this musical’s production? Read on, and you’ll see how versatile a performer a Palm Powered product can be.

A musical is like having a child… it’s a long time in the making! As a designer, I’m a part of the production team that is part of the process from beginning to end. One key part of that process is production meetings. I take notes during the meetings using my Treo, entering information into the memo pad application. I could just as easily make notes into Documents To Go, and have a Word document synchronized to my desktop, but I just personally prefer to use the built-in memo pad. At the completion of the show I’ll archive everything into a file on my desktop. So, by taking meeting notes into my Treo (using either the built-in thumboard, or my Universal Wireless Keyboard) they’re with me all the time. I can then turn actionable items into tasks or appointments right on the Treo.

Production meetings and rehearsals mean appointments, and those need to be entered into the calendar. I use DateBk5 on my Treo (the Treo Calendar/DateBk+ was licensed from Pimlico Software; DateBk5 is like it’s big brother) which allows me to create templates for Rehearsals and Meetings, and also allows me to colour code and “icon-ize” my show schedule. I have the names and contact info for the Production Team in my Treo’s address book so I can get a hold of people whenever I need to.

Shows of the calibre of Orpheus’ productions have a lot of associated paperwork. I try to save a few trees where I can, so I use my Treo and my Documents to Go Professional Edition to work on the bulk of my “paperwork”. My system patch sheets, wireless mic rotations, sound effects sheets, and console automation presets are all MS Excel spreadsheets, which are synchronized between the Treo and my Desktop. Since my Treo is with me just about all the time I can update my paperwork wherever I am, be it at rehearsal, in a production meeting, or simply reading my script in bed. I can also demo sound effects to the director by simply copying them to the SD card in my Treo, and using Pocket Tunes to play the sound effects via the built-in speaker. There are also several really nice utilities for the Palm Platform that are geared for musicians, like Tuners, metronomes, ear trainers, etc.

To capture things for posterity, I could snap pictures of rehearsals or even set construction using the Treo’s built-in camera. The London Bridge our Master Carpenter has built is definitely something that is worth taking a picture of… the thing could hold my house up! It’s that solid! There are even voice recorders and camcorder applications available for the Treo, so I could actually capture bloopers or memorable moments during the pre-show run-up. My Treo will be with me as I mix sound for the performances of Oliver. Thanks to it’s silent switch, I can silence the phone during the performance, but still have my organizer available to me.

Hopefully this gives you some “out-of-the-box” ideas of how a Palm Powered Handheld can be used for hobbies or non-standard types of business. All of what I’ve talked about previously can be done on either a Treo Smartphone, or a regular PDA. Handhelds really have to potential to be a huge time saver, as well as eliminating or reducing the need for paper copies of “stuff”. If you’re in Ottawa, you’ll definitely want to see the show; contact the box office quickly, as tickets are going fast!

Posted in 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 »

Happy Valentine’s Day

Posted by Michael Brown on February 14, 2005

Greetings, and Happy Valentine’s Day. Today’s blog will be a shorter one today, as I’m taking part of today off to fix a surprise dinner for my wife. Romance is good for a healthy relationship, so make sure you do something special for that special someone. To be quite honest, it’s something a relationship needs throughout the year, but you really need to at this time of year.

Wait a minute… Isn’t this supposed to be a technology blog? It is and yes, there are ways you can use a Palm Powered handheld or smartphone to help you in the romance department. Here’s a few tips on how your PDA can help you and your relationship.

  1. Create an appointment in your calendar to do something special for your special someone. You can set a reminder alarm that will sound hours (or even days) before your event to give you time to get organized.
  2. Keep the names and numbers of flower shops, fine restaurants, and babysitters in your address book. If you have a smartphone like the Treo, then it’s that much easier to make your reservation – just tap to dial!
  3. If you’re surfing the web, reading something, or talking with someone and you run across something good (poem, quotes, ideas and recipes) then write or copy it into your memo pad so it will be with you when you need it. You’ll always be able to find it in a split-second using your Palm’s find feature.
  4. Create a task or tasks in your to-do list to get flowers, chocolates, or something that your significant other loves. Set the due date sufficiently far enough ahead that you have time to do it.
  5. If you haven’t done any of the aforementioned things, then you probably want to copy these tips into the note of a new appointment in your Palm’s calendar. Date it for February 7th, and have it repeat every year with an alarm to remind you. At least you’ll have some of the coolest games on your Palm to amuse you while you’re in the doghouse!

My best wishes to you and yours for a wonderfully romantic evening. See you next week!

Posted in Time & Task Management | Leave a Comment »