Archive for category Time Management

How Google is Useful

Recently I blogged about Orientating around Android Devices.   While I did mention the use of applications and services in that post, I didn’t call out any in particular.

However, this screen shot, demonstrates one really useful service, I have become increasingly fond of and reliant upon.

That service is Google Now

Screenshot_2014-07-31-13-25-05

As a reasonably frequent traveller the information provided is succinct, timely and ultimately useful in assisting me plan, and schedule my actions.

As it covers a number of topics, including sport, useful local information, etc, and it is available on the desktop too – it is a pervasive, multi-device digital assistance.

Certainly in terms ecosystem and service, lock-in and increasing consumer dependency, I think Google Now, leads the field.

What do you think?

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The Humble Table of Contents & Hypermedia Navigation

A favourite topic of mine for blogging about is on tools and techniques to help personal productivity or group collaboration.  So you may wonder why mention the “Table of Contents”?

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Well since Quintus Valerius Soranus was credited with a little-recognized literary innovation: Pliny the Elder says he was the first writer to provide a table of contents to help readers navigate a long work.  The Table of Contents has been an invaluably useful tool to assist in content navigation since that introduction.  And remains an expected item to appear in any rendition of literary content whether physical or digital print form.

The advent of computer software and the Internet have brought adaptions, and automation.   Such as dynamically created TOCs in Microsoft Word or in Wikis such as Wikipedia’s (TOC info).

The core principle being the use of hypertext and hyperlinks (reference points) to form the navigation structure and format, so presenting the user with a method of navigation through the document contents.

With the advent of collaborative, content management systems, like Jive and Microsoft SharePoint,  while it is possible to render a TOC within an individual document, to navigate it’s own headings and sub-headings.

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What I find is actually lacking is an automated or dynamic inventory of the content of space, e.g. the actual records or documents that exist within that same.   At this point in time I’m not aware of either existing in the named example of content management systems I’ve given above.  I would be interested to hear of system that supports such a service.

I do create these myself, as a way of recording a breadcrumb trail, to be a record for my own use, and feel it does serve in ease my own navigation around self-service content libraries or document repositories.

It serves me well to store contextual material around such artefacts and I have benefitted from productivity gains by easily finding the article and context around is origin or purpose for storage, long after it has passed from my activity memory.

These manual document TOCs are part of Personal Knowledge Management kit bag.

Here’s an example I call “Key Links”

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I was slow to realise that Evernote has a “note link” functionality, and again these can be constructed and utilised as a manner to navigate and move between notes.

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See this help note “How to use note links to connect between notes” to understand how to create and set these up.

As it says:

One of the coolest things you can do with Note Links is create a Table of Contents for a set of notes inside of a notebook. This is particularly useful if you are sharing a notebook with other individuals.

And the Evernote Blog article:

Quick Tip: How to Use Note Links

Here is a youtube describing the functionality.

Evernote Note Links

My recommendation is always add a link back to the TOC document you have created, so you have the ability to go and return via hyperlinks with equal ease, there is no point linking somewhere and ending up stranded.

Like this:

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Do you use TOCs in this manner, in Evernote or elsewhere? 

Have you found an automation tool to do this?

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My Portfolio of Mobile Devices – now with Google Nexus 7

I’ve recently added a Google Nexus 7 to the set of devices I use.  As a home based worker, I’m used to many aspects of remote working, and optimising the my use of the laptop and mobile phone (e.g. 2nd monitor, blue tooth headset).  However, this month my working location will be office based but away from home, which I thought was enough of a watershed moment to see how a Smart tablet format device would fit into my device mix.

IMG_3456IMG_3457

Device List:

Interface & UX:

All the devices have an touch enabled capability of some level.

The Blackberry has a touchpad control, but not a touch sensitive screen.  This is an improvement on the physical trackball device, and not an hindrance on the device of this size, and physical keyboard is  a more than adequate input option.  The only occasional inconvenience I experience on the blackberry is that the screen is now pretty small compared to many smart phones in the market, so coupled with many mobile enabled websites having been optimised for touch based navigation, the speed and mobility around some web sites can be a little cumbersome.

The Nexus 7 was a refreshing surprise to how easy and simple a completely touch and screen based device can be.  Also with Android Jelly bean 4.2, the touch screen keyboard is gesture | swipe enabled so that with a little practice I am get fairly adept at completely spelling a word with 1 touch and motion of the finger across the keyboard.  The swipe | gesture feature really is great, and with combination of the well designed device hardware and evolution of the Android OS, I don’t have any regrets about waiting until now before purchasing such a device.

I was also waiting for tablet OS which was able to support multiple user profiles, as my family will also have access to this device, so being able to separate use profiles for different individuals is very useful.  It’s often been said that Google Play doesn’t have app ecosystem or content breadth to compete with Apple or Amazon,  having had the device for a little over a week I don’t find either to hold any substance any longer.  Google Play is a well integrated content and application store and I have not been stuck in finding the applications to access my content  – in fact these 1st few days have been a little mind blowing as the sheer amount of content available through applications like Google Currents, Feedly, Flipboard and Pocket have given me a quandary about which application to use for what content or content category.

You will notice that there is also a Physical Keyboard dock (blue tooth connectivity) for Nexus 7 which also acts a hard case cover, and stand. I thought that this would be a useful addition in case I needed to do a lot content creation on the device.  Combined with the Kingsoft Office suite, I can use the Nexus 7 as a netbook format device as well.

The Lenovo Thinkpad has a resistive touch screen which responds to a stylus and has a flip and rotate function on the screen.  But I have never found that much more than a novel feature,  though the flip and rotate screen feature is useful in small face to face group meetings. 

It is my workhorse content input and creation device, and I need both a physical keyboard and mouse, as well as a large additional monitor to optimise my productivity on this device.  My activities in content creation and communication often requires the need for multiple applications and windows to be in operation.   The main laptop screen of 12.1 inches is too small to make multi window navigation and application use convenient. I frequently find the text size or content needs to be reduced in dimension to make that application window fit correctly to fit into the screen.

Integration of Content and Services:

Cloud  and Mobile enabled applications are so well established that this has been fairly straight forward.  Obviously the Blackberry has full enterprise service integration, and can also support a multitude of consumer email services etc.  In terms of Personal Knowledge Management (PKM) Evernote has been my application of choice for a long time, and that is always been a leading light in multi-platform support so it was simple to extend Evernote from the Laptop and Blackberry onto the Nexus 7.

I’ve also been a reasonably long time user of Synology NAS devices at home for home digital content (photos, movies, music etc.) The Audio and Photo playback application work without hitch, and I think it won’t be long until the video playback application is out of beta.  Certainly the download | file moving application made it easier to move content (music and movies) onto the Google Nexus.  I was also able to populate Google Play with my music library too.  So that means with Google Play Music, Synology Audio App, Spotify and Tunein Radio there is no shortage of music content on my mobile devices.  The Nexus 7 will come into its own as a content device when I purchase a good blue tooth speaker and use it to entertain the children when the family travels together.  Though, I must add as an aside – well done to United Airlines, who I flew with recently, for having a great on-demand music library – listened to Alison Strauss, Bon Iver, Robert Plant  and The Black Keys – many more were available too.

Conclusion:

I will be giving this combination of devices a good run in while working away so I will probably posting a lot more to the blog in the coming weeks.

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How being a regular Home Worker has reduced my commuting carbon footprint

Over the last few years I’ve been increasingly home based for work.  This has happened because of well understood reasons :-

  • Increase of geographically distributed teams and working communities
  • Improvement of technology in broadband and mobility services – both corporately and domestically to enable home working

Though this has increased the use of domestic energy use – heating and electric consumption to facilitate this transition, the overall net benefit has been in my favour. 

Achieved through reducing the time and cost of regular commuting  into work.

In an effort to chart the trend I’ve used Dopplr (via TripIt nowadays) to keep a track of work related journeys. 

This is my Dopplr Profile Header

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So on the face of it 31000 km in 4 years doesn’t sound insignificant.  But as I said before the interesting part is in the trends.

In that time I’ve recorded 120 trips that have been Carbon rated – Dopplr receives carbon footprint calculation via AMEE  (at least I think they still do)

Carbon consumption per Year:

2008 – 43 Trips – 2186 Kgs (including Flight to Boston Ma. to attend Enterprise 2.0 Conference in June 2008 – 1159Kg)

2009 – 35 Trips – 1200 Kgs

2010 –  26 Trips – 670 Kgs

2011 – 18 Trips – 359 Kgs

2012 – 9 Trips  – 117 Kgs

In Graphical Format :

business_carbon

Business_Trips

Obviously 2012 is still very much in progress at the time of posting, so I expect 2011 to turn out to the lowest overall to date, and there will be an increase in 2012.

But the ability to be a home based  worker is a great boon, especially in the light of the recent panic buying of fuel.

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Make Reading on the Web that much Clearer!

EVERNOTE CLEARLY

Evernote recently launched a new Google Chrome Extension called “Clearly” to help clear away the clutter when reading web pages in the browser.

Get the extension for Chrome here

I think it works really well.

See how the previous article in this blog looks : (left tab = ordinary page | right tab = “clearly” page)

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It’s great for removing unwanted clutter (columns, ads, banners) and helping you concentrate on the text and content of the main article.

The interface allows you to clip into Evernote, but it’s not as functional as the main “Clip to Evernote” extension at the moment. (would expect that to improve).

I would recommend customizing the keyboard shortcut to activate in an easily remembered key stroke.  [esc] key returns you to the original page format.

FEEDLY

My other recommendation for consuming content in the web browser is to use Feedly  (as well as many mobile platforms)

Simply surfacing and syncing your content and from Google Reader in an amazingly streamlined and gorgeous magazine format.

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There’s no reason to complain about poorly formatted or over cluttered web pages that spoil your reading experience on the web, the tools are out there, just find one that suits you!

(other services are available)

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Helping cut down Email Stress – My Tips for dealing with Inbox overload

Everyone is spends some of their time processing the flow of information through their inbox or in-tray.

Sometimes I’m sure folk feel like their inbox is part of a production line and they need to process stuff as quick as possible before something breaks or hits the floor.

You may feel like you’re in your own version of this classic Mario Bros. game…

Classic Mario Bros. (Mario Bros Game & Watch)

I hope you’re not in this persons’ shoes!

(attribution : dpstyles)

Or if you are, it’s not stressing you out.

It’s not uncommon for the number of messages (read or unread) in an email inbox to lead to a feeling of stress – getting behind on your tasks, or getting snowed under.

So unless you’re comfortable with everything in the inbox (everything’s in 1 place) – and you don’t mind that.  Then these may be helpful tips to reduce that email stress.

My Tips for helping to deal with Email:

  1. Use the sender and subject lines – to help decide how much attention you need to give a message before it’s opened
  2. Use filters or agents (rules) to mark unimportant (email subscriptions |newsletters) as read as soon as they arrive or move them out of the inbox – saves you a mouse click or two  [Gmail is brilliant at this]
  3. Use your preview function – to scan through email
  4. Get your folder structure right (it helps you track where you are with categorising and prioritising your work – especially if you receive tasks | actions via email)
  5. Use buttons or shortcuts to move messages into folders quickly and simply – again saves you a mouse click or two (then the email dealt with… but you can come back to it later if needed)
  6. Turn off the New Mail Alert pop-up or sound alert (especially for busy times when you’re concentrating on something else)
  7. Reduce the frequency to check or update the inbox (make it every 15 or 20 minutes instead of 5 minutes for example)

Organising your Mail File Folders:

Your approach to this will be reflected in how you think of email.  Do you treat it as personal knowledge repository (it’s not what email was created to do, and there are better options), or if you see it as part of your general information processing and flow?   If you see it as information delivery and processing service that can really help shape your strategy to sort and categorise the messages you receive.

Personally, I now treat email as a temporary information|content store, a processing station for sorting out each message as it requires.

I see 3 main categorises of messages:

  • Actions  –  processed by prioritising and then action
  • Knowledge –  processed by keeping & moving to appropriate content store (not email!) or disposing
  • Responses –  processed by keeping & moving to appropriate content store (not email!), an action or dispose

Therefore I have the following folder structure in my mail file:

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Follow Up : – Actions I need to respond to

Keep : – Medium to Long Term messages that need to be referenced infrequently for a particular topic (folder names make that obvious) – delete or purge once no longer relevant

Processed :- Where messages that have been read, actioned (if required) are moved to – eventually deleted.

Subscriptions :- Where newsletters, collaboration system notifications, subscriptions are moved to – rapidly deleted (after 10 days).

Useful Toolbar Buttons:

As a Lotus Notes user, there are couple of additional tweaks to the client UI that can be helpful in speeding up the processing of email.

Lotus Notes has a configurable Toolbar:

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This can configured via the Preferences section: (via File > Preferences > Toolbar > Customize) or right click on the Toolbar and customize

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The useful Toolbars to customize are:

  • Navigate View
  • Read Document

These appear automatically in context (in any view or folder or when reading a document) – as they are context sensitive.

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I’ve set up a couple of “move to folder” buttons:

They use the formula:

@Command( [Folder] ; “Folder Name” ;”1″ )

or

@AddToFolder(“MovetoFolderName“;”RemovefromFolderName“)

So use this as many times as you need for the folders you have.

I’ve also added a button for showing only unread mail – helps clear away the clutter.

That uses the formula:

@Command( [ViewShowOnlyUnread] )  

Again it saves a few mouse clicks – the current action in

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is rather hidden away and fiddly to use.

Formula Language Text Annotation notes:

Black font:- Formula language and key variables – only change if competent and knowledgeable about Lotus Formula language and structure.

Red font:- Indicates Lotus Notes folder name to be inserted into code to give destination folder of processed documents.

I’ve also written about another customisation of the Lotus Notes toolbar here: Filing knowledge into services via Email  – this provides a more thorough “how-to” on creating Toolbar buttons for yourself.

So there you go – nothing perhaps that is new and ground breaking but a helpful reminder.

What are your hints and tips for dealing with email?

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Working in web – A role for a specialist, or a job for everyman?

Mum at work, Mid 1950's

1950’s Typing Pool (attribution & rights – LadyBanana)

From Wikipedia : “A secretarial pool or typing pool is a group of secretaries working at a company available to assist any executive without a permanently assigned secretary. These groups have been reduced or eliminated where executives have been assigned responsibility for writing their own letters and other secretarial work.”

How skilled at manipulating the tools of the day should the average information worker be expected (or seek) to get by with?

Does working with web pages | online content merit a special case?

This is something I’ve seen come back around in discussions as people recognise more and more that managing their place on the web.  The act of Curation = Deliberately and actively placing, storing and sharing information | content on the web (corporate or otherwise). Has become essential to remain “in business” – visibly valuable.  These spaces or pages can be a simple shop front statements or more complex social or workflow enabled pages in a web based content management platform.

So if  this is “important” then why are responses that tend to be heard are…

“I don’t know how to do that!”  or “I haven’t got the time to learn about that!” or “That’s programming, I’m not that technical!” or

“Isn’t that something you did years ago, when you were (technical|in development|scripting)?” [delete as you see appropriate]

Why do we get these negative sentiment…

[this is not my responsibility | it’s not worth the effort | what benefit is this to me?]

type of responses?

Is web working really different from other information worker tools?

Do you see the same sentiment registered when describing working with documents, creating presentations or spread sheets?

I would suggest there is a different angle on the requests…

“Can you help on this?” or “Do you know a way of…?”

The sentiment tends towards a much more positive, and self-motivated set of responses – seeking to obtain knowledge or take personal responsibility on how to educate or develop their skills.

And this all happens in the day, of FAQs, online help in text, picture and video form!

SO do we need to recognise the need for a dedicated pool of web content editors managers?  (i.e. bring back the typing pool)

Or is this just people seeking to hide behind excuses of one form or another?

What could be discouraging their engagement or involvement?

Is the platform or technology to blame?

It could be we are spoilt with the user experience in of more application based tools and the web is still not consistent enough in the presentation and user experience it offers?   That is true as web based services do vary considerably in their ease of use, and they don’t tend to offer much in the way of common standards or approaches to empower or enable users.

Some services try to keep things simple by only providing a limited set of structures and gadgets or widgets to bring content to the pages. They tend to provide great tools for the masses to participate in common collaboration mechanisms, but may restrict how complex content can be structured and linked together.

Other services allow a more under the covers method to develop the content and the structure from the ground up.  These enable more powerful and bespoke structures for content to meet a more custom structures or workflows.

So do these inconsistencies and variety of capabilities, provide sufficient requirements for dedicated content editors – community managers, wiki gardeners etc.?

Yes I think so, perhaps these reasons do justify a specific role or team, but I think this is only a temporary position.

We may presume that the continuing advancement web | application interface development will eventually remove the barriers presented by these current limitations and inconsistencies.  Will that finally level the ability field between web work or applications?  As more than likely all common applications will be fully web served and directly served via a browser.

Perhaps, then this is representative of cultural issue and something we need to be aware of?

Will the ability competently manipulate shared | common content and structures continue to present a skill divide between the information workers of tomorrow?

How much will competent web content editing and management become an absolute necessity as a skill of an information worker? Will the ‘open’ community nature of work present an on-going challenge to how willing or comfortable people feel about sharing or actively contributing  to a shared workspace?

I think this is could still remain an issue, especially if the negative sentiment and attitudes (noted above) persist meaning that the effort of “Collective Curation” needs to remain with a select few.

I believe we need to start:

  • Placing more emphasis or at a minimum parity on working in the web as we do with traditional workstation based applications.
  • Thinking about how to help people adopt an attitude or behaviour of work that encourages and enables them to “narrate their work” or “curate at source”.  Helping them  to decide in process of assessing or developing information what is required to remain in the shared corpus of knowledge and what is trivial and of little or no long term value, and so to store or dispose that information in the correct manner.
  • We need to start using “collective curation” strategies and principles to our knowledge to ensure it remains as value as possible. 

Perhaps in fact the principles or interactions and responsibilities around using “Common Land” could be a useful template to an approach of community content management?

In so much as people recognise a need to share and responsibly manage and steward a common resource, to ensure it remains a sustaining and useful resource for the benefit of all involved for the long term.

So What do you think?  Is this something you’ve noticed too?

Useful references:

List about Collective Curation

Understand collective curation in under 90 seconds

A summary of how we all share and interact with information around us.

We’re becoming information curators

Brian talks about opportunity for all be information curators

Wikipedia : Digital Curation

What is Digital Curation?

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