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Entries in Observations (73)


Clean Inboxes are Addicting

GTDThis week I've started re-reading David Allen's Getting Things Done this week. I'm only about 1/3 of the way through the book, yet I've found it very satisfying. I'm happy to report that for the first time in my memory, I had a completely empty work and personal email inbox on Friday after work.

Actually, I this is my first real 'reading' of GTD — in reality I'd only scanned the book the first time. After my initial scan, I took a few ideas and sort-of made use of them, but not fully. Last weekend I finally got to the point of feeling the need for something to help me better manage all that I had to get done. I saw GTD on my bookshelf and resolved to really read it this time. So I started reading again...


While I've not fully sorted out the whole 43 folders idea just yet, nor have I completely integrated the principles David suggests. But rather than wait to complete the book, I decided to take one overarching idea away from my 2nd reading — to turn as many inputs as I could, into 'next action' tasks, then file those inputs for later reference (if needed).

I decided on Monday to first focus on email. I resolved to go through any open email in both my work and personal email clients and do one of 3 things:

1) Reply to the email. David Allen suggest that anything which takes 2 minutes or less can be dispatched immediately, so I followed this advice. I even dealt with some emails that took longer, just to trim down the list of unanswered emails.

2) Turn relevant info into next action tasks. I've recently switched from Palm Desktop to Apple iCal and really like the simplicity if offers. I created several new contextual categories suggested in GTD, and created many, many next actions. It really felt good to put those things into a solid place like iCal (synced to my Palm).

3) File processed emails. Finally I filed away emails I processed, and deleted or filed emails which really shouldn't have been there in the first place. It felt so good to see my email inbox shrink as the week progressed!

By the end of the day Friday, I had successfully emptied out both of my email inboxes. What a great feeling it is having an empty inbox! Even better was knowing that all of the latent tasks embedded in my emails had been turned into tasks in iCal.

Actually, using the GTD approach at work was very smooth, even though I know I've not yet got my head fully around all of the GTD principles. I felt productive and active without the nagging feeling that I was 'missing' something.

I'm looking forward to finishing the remaining 2/3 of GTD in the next few weeks, taking notes in my Moleskine notebook for books I've started as a result of Bren Connelly's How to Read a Business Book postings. I'm finding that taking notes with books really helps me crystalize the concepts and better ingest them.

So, if you've considered the Getting Things Done approach but haven't taken steps to give it a full try, I recommend it. Even taking some of the principles to heart could positively impact your stress levels and work style.

For an interesting interview with David Allen on the concepts behind Getting Things Done, check out Richard Giles' Gadgets Show Podcast (39 min @ 13.6 MB).

Have a great weekend!


Just Do It!

It's a dark Saturday morning, and I'm up early to get ready for a conference. In my morning email, I read today's quote and it reminded of the power of doing things now, figuring things out as you go along.

Do not wait; the time will never be 'just right'. Start where you stand, and work with whatever tools you may have at your command, and better tools will be found as you go along. — Napoleon Hill

This week I came to the realization being complete expert is not the requirement for doing things — rather it's by accepting and admitting my limitations that I'm able to make a step toward becoming an 'expert' in what I do.

There is something freeing about admitting to yourself and others "hey, here's where I am, I'm not perfect, but I want to learn and grow." I'm coming to see that this honesty with self and others takes the stumbling block of needing to "be an expert" out of my path, letting me become more of an expert.

Whatever you think you can do or believe you can do, begin it. Action has magic, grace and power in it. — Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

If you wait around for permission to "know" something before starting, you might never begin. Give yourself permission to start something you have no idea about, and the permission to become an expert in that thing, if you like.

Just do it!


Just Good Business

While talking with my good friend Michael Ashby during lunch today, we came upon the topic of being a good business person. What was interesting about our chat was, how basic and simple those activities and habits seem to be.

What brought this to mind?

Well, I've entered a logo design contest recently, being voted upon by registered members of a community. As it turns out, the leading logo candidate may have been done with the use of a cookie-cutter logo from a logo-off-the-shelf website. I was amazed that someone would copy a logomark, verbatim, and try to pass it off as a unique submission!

This of course bodes well for my own, original submission (currently in 2nd position). But more importantly, it reminded me what some seem willing to do to win contests or projects — and conversely, what being a good, decent business person means.

From the chat Mike and I had, here are some of the things we see as just basic common sense ideas for good business:

Be human. I think this is really at the heart of the Cluetrain Manifesto. People are social creatures and want to connect to others, personally and professionally. Not everything need be about business 24/7. Besides, opening yourself as a human being provides a window into yourself that can encourage clients to relate to you and remain loyal.

Communicate. Do it often. Do it when things are going well and especially when things not going well. I follow the rule "contact the client before they contact you" in daily business life. That means being the first one to share good news or problems — especially problems. I'm the first to admit I fail sometimes, but I try to improve each day. It's a process that takes effort.

Be honest. Rather than trying to make yourself look good, be honest with those you are dealing with. I've found that telling things as they are has a credibility that can't be matched in any other way. It's also good for your soul and conscience. :-)

Share. If you see something your client might be interested in, let them know about it and why. If you think background on a decision you've made will give insight to the decision, share it. I like to offer detailed notes about every design I offer, because I can share the 'whys' with clients. I've found my notes not only defend my ideas, but often will resolve questions and issues which would have arisen had I not clarified my thinking. Sharing details also shows you are thinking and reasoning through your client's problem toward a solution.

Be generous. If you can give a little more than you've promised, it generates good vibes right from the start. It's been described as 'under-promise and over-deliver', but I like the term generosity better. Being generous might mean a little less short-term profit, but in the long term, it shows you have the client's interests at heart as well as your own, and breeds loyalty and appreciation. I love the story at Diva Marketing about Corner Grocery Store Relationships, which describes this as adding something special.

Deliver. If you say you'll do something, do it. If delivery is impossible, notify the client before the delivery date with an explanation and a new delivery date. I have a tendency to want to please clients, and tend to leave less time than I ought to. So I've been trying to set more realistic goals with a little margin allowing life to intervene. I'm still working on this aspect of my professional life — I suspect it will be another area I'll need to constantly strive to improve.

Be Nice. In this high-tech world of electronic communications, it's very easy to leave niceness out of our discussions. Why not be that person who adds a level of niceness to your communications? It could be the only sunshine in someone's lousy day. Be creative too! There's nothing like a thank you phone call or hand-written thank you to improve someone's attitude.

Listen to your gut. I've been much more aware of what my gut says in situations and have found it to be right more often than not. In fact, when I've made a mistake, I'll look back to key decisions and it often was the opposite or slightly off what my gut said I should do. Part of this approach is putting yourself in your client's place, to help determine what you'd like to have happen. The hard part is getting in the habit of asking yourself, "what does my gut say", then acting on it.

Be thankful. I can tell you that kind words really do make my day. I love receiving comments form people thankful for something I've done, because they remind me of the reasons why I do what I do. Therefore, by being the thankful one who shares thanks with a client, colleagues or even a competitor, I'm becoming the encourager. More than scoring points with someone, this is just the way I want to act, whether it gains me business leads or not. Thankfulness breeds thankfulness.

Now, I will claim no authority as a business guru. I'm just a regular guy who's trying to constantly learn from my experiences, to the benefit of my clients and my business sense. I'm certainly not perfect — I make mistakes all the time. But I think the real key is learning from mistakes, with a focus on improvement.

If you have ideas on what makes good business practice, please take a moment to add your voice in the comments. I'd truly love to learn more good ideas from others on this topic. If I like them, I'll add them to the list with a link to your site.


The Cluetrain Manifesto: A Refresher

cluetrain.gifLast week I re-discovered The Cluetrain Manifesto. I read the book four or so years ago, when it first came out. At the time it was quite a mind-shift for me. In my view, Cluetrain encapsulated what I saw and sensed was changing in the world, having been heavily involved in the internet part of that world since the mid-90s.

Fast forward to last week, when I heard a podcasted discussion with Doc Searls, (one of the 4 writers of Cluetrain) on Cameron Reilly & Mick Stanic's G'Day World Podcast. Doc provided wonderful background to the book, even offering his regret at blogging narrowly missing a mention in the book.

Inspired by this discussion with Doc, I scrounged up the free online version of The Cluetrain Manifesto, turned it into an iSilo book for my Tungsten E and began re-reading.

Wow, I'd forgotten just how direct and clear the message of this book was. Back in '99 and even 5 years later. The message certainly seems insightful in retrospect.

From the introduction:

What if the real attraction of the Internet is not its cutting-edge bells and whistles, its jazzy interface or any of the advanced technology that underlies its pipes and wires? What if, instead, the attraction is an atavistic throwback to the prehistoric human fascination with telling tales? Five thousand years ago, the marketplace was the hub of civilization, a place to which traders returned from remote lands with exotic spices, silks, monkeys, parrots, jewels -- and fabulous stories.

In many ways, the Internet more resembles an ancient bazaar than it fits the business models companies try to impose upon it. Millions have flocked to the Net in an incredibly short time, not because it was user-friendly -- it wasn’t -- but because it seemed to offer some intangible quality long missing in action from modern life. In sharp contrast to the alienation wrought by homogenized broadcast media, sterilized mass "culture," and the enforced anonymity of bureaucratic organizations, the Internet connected people to each other and provided a space in which the human voice would be rapidly rediscovered.

Or the opening statements of chapter 1, Internet Apocalypso:

We die.

You will never hear those words spoken in a television ad. Yet this central fact of human existence colors our world and how we perceive ourselves within it.

"Life is too short," we say, and it is. Too short for office politics, for busywork and pointless paper chases, for jumping through hoops and covering our asses, for trying to please, to not offend, for constantly struggling to achieve some ever-receding definition of success. Too short as well for worrying whether we bought the right suit, the right breakfast cereal, the right laptop computer, the right brand of underarm deodorant.

Life is too short because we die. Alone with ourselves, we sometimes stop to wonder what's important, really. Our kids, our friends, our lovers, our losses? Things change and change is often painful. People get "downsized," move away, the old neighborhood isn't what it used to be. Children get sick, get better, get bored, get on our nerves. They grow up hearing news of a world more frightening than anything in ancient fairy tales. The wicked witch won't really push you into the oven, honey, but watch out for AK-47s at recess.

Pretty amazing to come right out and say it — we all die. Life is short. As I grow oder I realize my time gets more valuable. There is no time for messing around — no time for bad TV shows or lousy books, no time to waste instead of spending it with my family, or doing what I love to do: communicate, design, write, read, sketch, think.

I'll leave today with one more excerpt from the introduction:

But companies don't like us human. They leverage our longing for their own ends. If we feel inadequate, there's a product that will fill the hole, a bit of fetishistic magic that will make us complete. Perhaps a new car would do the trick. Maybe a trip to the Caribbean or that new CD or a nice shiny set of Ginsu steak knives. Anything, everything, just get more stuff. Our role is to consume.

Of course, the new car alone is not enough. It must be made to represent something larger. Much larger. The blonde draped over the hood looks so much better than the old lady bitching about the dishes. Surely she'd understand our secret needs. And if we showed up with her at the big golf game, wouldn't the guys be impressed! Yeah, gotta get one-a those babies. This isn't about sex, it's about power — the greatest bait there ever was to seduce the powerless.

Or take it one slice closer to the bone. Leverage care. For the cost of a jar of peanut butter, you can be a Great Mom, the kind every kid would love to have. You can look out on your happy kids playing in that perfect suburban backyard and breathe a little sigh of contentment that life's so good, with not a wicked witch in sight. Just like on television.

Now that gets right to the bottom of things, doesn't it? We're human beings — so much more than just consumers, designed to consume product or services. The question I ask myself is, why do I settle, at one time or another, for being treated this way?

Good question.

My suggestion: if you haven't read Cluetrain yet, do so. If you've already read Cluetrain, read it again as a good refresher.


Why Robert Scoble Should Consider an Analog Journal

Robert Scoble (one of my regularly read, favorite bloggers) talked a bit about why he chooses not to use a Moleskine for managing his affairs with Getting Things Done (GTD).

Robert, I think you have excellent reasons behind your choice of the tools you've chosen. I'm quite certain they all work well in your own unique expression of GTD.

However, I'd like to suggest an analog journal and pen for your toolset. Here's why.

It's an Escape from Digital

First, I think a journal and pen can provide you with an escape from digital life. I've found my journals serve as an outlet through which I can step away from my pixelated world. Even if the escape is spent on a 20 minute sketch or capturing a passing thought, my analog moments help provide perspective outside of my daily tasks, actions and appointments.

I believe you might benefit from just a few hours away from the office with a journal, a nice pen, some good coffee and your thoughts. A few hours of separation from your hectic life might open your mind to different approaches to the same problems.

It's Relaxing

Secondly, writing with a good pen on quality paper is so relaxing. Whether I'm writing or sketching, I find my attitude changes when I'm using analog tools. I use a touchscreen with my Tungsten E, but it lacks the drag, the feel of ink drawing out, the texture. There really is something soothing in it, which I haven't been able to recreate digitally.

It's Riskier

Finally, knowing what I put down on paper is permanent plays into this sense — no undo. There's something risky about this idea, which seems to bring out clearer thinking in my work. Once I know that the next stroke can't be undone, my mind seems sharpened.

I believe in analog journaling and sketching, but I also understand each person must come to this decision on their own terms. Realizing the value of analog journaling and sketching took nearly a year for me — maybe you're not at that point, maybe you'll never be.

All I'm suggesting is that you consider the approach. I believe the use of an analog journal for big picture thinking — just 15-30 minutes per week — could provide a new way of generating ideas and capturing thoughts.

Okay, so I'm a little biased here, but I'm sincere.

Keep up the good work Robert! :-)