Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Blog Name and Location Changed!


I have moved this blog, and renamed to "Mark Patterson's Tech Cleaner Blog" located at http://techcleaner.wordpress.com

Thanks for reading Ask Uncle Mark. Tech Cleaner will be better, and broader in scope.


Mark Patterson

Monday, December 22, 2008

December Update

It has been three months since my last confess, er, update. These last three months have been very busy for me, and for the whole economy, the government, and, I am sure, for everyone else. I feel like getting a bumper sticker that says "We're already in the Alternate Universe..."

Personally, I have been head's down fighting a few fires. Writing blog entries are not as easy as they look -- I always mean to just do a quick update, and they end up in multiple paragraphs and, since I don't want to get it wrong, researched.

But, I have a few minutes available, this Christmas week, and so: here's an update.

The MacBook Pro -- the more I use it, the more I love it. No sense continuing to gush about it.

Getting Things Done, or GTD. This has been an interesting experience. GTD is a whole-life change, at least it seems that way. I find that I still can use a single bullet list of items that really need to get done, as opposed to a set of Next Actions lists. I have gone from paper-and-electronic, to all paper (and manila folders), and back to paper-and-electronic. The electronic part is a series of three MindJet MindManager Maps - one for Next Actions, one for Someday/Maybe, and one for listing GTD Projects. In GTD, a project is any activity that has more than one action, so you can have (do have) a lot of projects.

One of the issues I had was linking Next Actions to specific Projects. When you have a project like "Clear Brush from the Yard", having a Next Action of "Fill Gas Can" can be a sort-of floating activity, unless you know that you need to get gas to fill the brush cutter. So, I invented a numbering scheme for projects. The idea is that it must uniquely ID a project and be very short. I also like some intelligence in the scheme, otherwise, why not just use a sequential four or five digit number? So, I use a scheme where the first digit is the year ("8" for "2008"), the second is the letter for the month ("A" = January, etc.), and the last two are sequential for the month ("01".."99"). Each project in the Projects list has an assigned project number, and each Next Action that corresponds to a project has its project number in front. So, "8L01 Fill Gas Can", if project "8L01" is "Clear Brush from Yard" (this would be the first sequential project of December, 2008).

GTD is very broad. You have a lot of rope to hang yourself with. David Allen, its author, provided guidelines, but not a specific set of cast-in-concrete methods to use to do the system. Therefore, I am sure that I am doing it wholly different from anyone else, and probably incorrectly.

One of the more difficult things for me to do, and it is a requirement to do it, is the weekly review, in which you go over everything and put it all back together again. Allen warns against not doing this -- the idea is that you need to pull back to reconnoiter your situation and regroup and reevaluate. My problem is that I jump to something that needs to get done now, and leave the rest behind. But, successfully done, it is amazing how in control I feel when I successfully go through it all and decide what to do with each and every issue, problem, demand, and activity in my life. That makes GTD worth doing, even incorrectly!

As for projects, each project in the Projects list has to be a current project that is active, not something that can or should wait (these should be in the "Someday/Maybe" list). As a result, if you do not have a defined Next Action on each project you have, you are not doing the project! So, you either need to analyze what the Next Action should be and log it (or do it), or suspend the project. Having project numbers helps with this process, as I can search for the project number in Next Actions to see if there is one, and if not, determine what it should be, if anything.

Another aspect of GTD is that Allen expects that for real projects, like implementing SAP, you would have a real project plan with all that entails. Yet, there is nothing in the process (at least in the one book I read) that mentions how to integrate a project plan with multiple people and activities to the GTD lists. What I have done is add the "real" projects to the GTD Project list, with it own number, and then work with the Next Actions in conjunction with the tasks in the project plan.

It is important to realize that GTD is a single-user system, meaning that it tracks one life, not many. Everything on the list has to do with one person's set of actions and activities. You can have a team in which all members use GTD as their time management home-base, but if there is a team of 20 people, then there would be 20 Project lists, 20 Next Actions, 20 Someday/Maybes, etc., because the GTD lists link to a person's real life, and their life is wider than the team (even in cult-like work environments!). So, in the case where a project manager is managing a project with a team of twenty, he would have the one project plan and drive the plan with tasks and team-member assignments, timelines, and all the rest. The team members would then incorporate their tasks into whatever time management system they are using.

I think the beauty of GTD is that it is an individual process and method. I can conceive of no case in which anyone would be monitoring my GTD lists, except as a coach. The broadness of the GTD guidelines, while disconcerting at first since it is nice to have a rigid methodology sometimes, takes into account personal variance in way of working, preference for technology, and personal style. And yet, the core is there: capture it all, get it out of your head, and define the Next Actions that need to be done.

In addition, Allen's recommended filing technique of having a single general set of files, alphabetical, manila folders only (not hanging), labeled with a labeler instead of by hand (especially with my handwriting!), and filing everything that you want to save, even if it is a single piece of paper, is huge for me. There is one spot for it all (save certain legal and financial files). If I want to find the installation CD for my Mac, it is there. If I want to find the recipe for Brick Chicken, it is there. If I want to find my benefits information from a former employer, it's there, too. One spot. Not on the desk, and not in my center drawer. Filed. The only issue is having a plan for consistent naming, and there, you just have to go with a plan. Does "Brick Chicken" get filed in a recipe folder under "R", or as a single file under "B?" In my case, I chose a single recipe folder, but there is really no wrong answer, and anyway, if I forget and look under "B", I won't find it, and so will naturally go on to "R".

I wrote an earlier post about the Tickler File. Very useful -- good place to put some future-action thing into and then forget about until you need it.

I had also wrote an entry about the Time Sort/Noguchi file system. I have abandoned this. The filing method for GTD is better for me, even for short term actions. I have a "projects" folder section for all active projects that require a folder on my desk. Formerly, I had them set up as Time-sort file system, but now it is alphabetical, and in manila folders. Easier to work with. When the project is done, I move the folder to the general file if I want to keep it.

On other fronts, I am very excited about the concept of "Cloud Computing," in which you run your software on other people's computer systems (in a nutshell). More on this to come. There is a revolution here.

Cheers, for now.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Update on my MacBook

Just a quick update. I am still very happy with my Mac -- and I will not go back.

The more I use it, the more I like it. Is it perfect? No. In a way, that's sort of comforting. There are still little glitches that show that computers are still in their infancy, in the overall scheme of things.

The areas I have problems with it are areas of overlap with the Windows world. PowerPoint for the Mac is different from the PC version, even though the files are compatible. The key sequences are dfferent, and the layout is different. I have not gone whole-hog Mac -- abandoning PowerPoint for Keynote in iWork, for example -- so perhaps I deserve some issues here and there.

It is funny how my expectations are different, now. Google released Chrome, their new browser, last week, but only for Windows. Windows? Now, considering how all of the demoes Google makes of their software is done on Macs, I have to think that a version of Chrome for the Mac is close at hand, but, I think the Mac should have come first! Sure, from a market point of view, Windows is still the bulk of the PCs out there, but that will change.

Speaking of Chrome, I did download and try it. I like it! I have to say that it is still early, but the idea is good, and I like the interface, and I like the comic book introduction Google put together. The comic book is really techie, but I like that, and it explains why they did what they did. I have been getting used to browser problems over the years, to the point where, like an incessant ear ringing, I just stopped noticing. But, with Chrome, the effect is almost, but not quite yet, like that effect of total silence and relief when the droning suddently stops. The effect will be fully mature, I suspect, when the bugs are ironed out.

So, I have found that I like Safari as a browser. I also use Firefox. I use Firefox alot when I know that a site hates, or doesn't support, Safari.

Entourage, which is (and this is unfair, because it is better) Outlook for the Mac from Microsoft, is okay, but, as I said, better in general than Outlook. Outlook however works better with Exchange. The one way to handle that is to kill Exchange and move to something like Google gmail.

I love MindJet MindManager. I use the Mac version, but I have to say that their PC version is better. Too bad. It is not enough to make me go back to the PC, but it is the one app that comes close.

I find myself going directly to the Mac keyboard shortcuts on my PC, which is interesting, and shows how far I've gone. I have to purposely "remap" my fingers to go back to PC mode.

Also, and amazingly, I don't use a mouse anymore with my MacBook. I love the multi-touch interface. I find myself trying to scroll with two fingers on my PC notebook -- and, it does not work! The multi-touch touch pad is truly incredible, and I found myself reaching less and less for the mouse, and then, whcn I was using the mouse, I would go back to the pad for scrolling and other things -- and I have a nice mouse! Finally, I just stopped using the mouse, and I use it now with the PC notebook (when I rarely use that). The multi-touch pad is awesome.

I find when I go back to a PC notebook, it is like putting back on the old hairshirt. I am glad to get back to the MacBook.

And, it still just works. I close it, and it sleeps. I open it, and it starts right up. I have it near a known WIFI location, and it connects right up. I have it near an unknown WIFI location, and it asks me to connect -- and it connects right up. You see, it is the little things that matter. It is the details that matter. Who cares that Michael Dell has the most awesome supply chain and the (so-called) cheapest PCs on earth, and that Dell is able to efficiently configure PCs to order and get them to you same-day, if the PC is a piece of crap? Who cares that IBM/Lenovo builds onyx-colored bricks that can take the hammerings of plane flights and three-year-olds if their eraserhead mouse is skittish and your finger keeps sliding off? And they all use Windows, which requires a large amount of babysitting no matter what you do, or what version you run. Whatever small problems I have had with the Mac are minuscule compared to the constant tinkering and attention that Windows machines require to maintain decent performance.

Macs are great.