A Personal History of Task Management

For years I have been looking for a task management tool.  Ever since I tried “Getting Things Done” in college to no avail, I struggled to find the right combination of indexing, ease of use, and accessibility.  With both electronic and paper based options, it seemed everyone had their own idea of what the ultimate the task manager was.  Then you read about successful entrepreneurs who insist they only focus on three things per day (really? oh, you have a secretary, the article didn’t mention that!) compared to my wild mind constantly churning out ideas.

Below are some of the task management solutions from various phases of my life:

  • Mom, Dad and Adults – As a kid, you didn’t have to worry about task management.  Teachers gave you printed agendas, reminded you daily of homework due and you never went anywhere besides school so scheduling was synch.  When you weren’t at school, you had mom to ask, “have you done your homework?” or tell you it is bed time.  Those were the days…
  • Day Runner – I had one of those medium sized ones with a zipper all the way around.  My grandmother gave it to me for my high school graduation present and I used it for years, all the way through to my first real corporate, career job.  I loved the idea of having modules; calendar sheets for week, year and day; daily task sheets; contact list; and even the plastic “pencil” pouch.  The problems here were the bulk (front and back were padded and zippered), the cost and availability of refills, and the limited customization in design.  Eventually, I just started adding blank paper cut to the proper size.
  • Franklin Covey – Very similar to the Day Runner, but rather focused on use of Outlook.  They had printable sheets for us to print our “Day – Memo” sheets from Outlook once we decided what our three main accomplishments were.  What was fabulous was the printed calendar, the limited task list and the notes area.  I used this for a number of years until I switched companies and the new company didn’t believe in Outlook, just Google Apps.
  • Getting Things Done – a great concept and management solution.  However, it seemed too complicated to keep the inbox fresh and the many different components up to date.  Overall, way too complicated.  What I took away, however, was the concept of an inbox and anything that takes two minutes or less, just do it.
  • Smartphone, Palm Pilot, or other electronic organizer – After living without power for two weeks after the Tea Fire, I gave up on electronic to-do apps.  While some are great, they don’t allow for customization and you are stuck with their UI and process. You also have the NSA spying on your to-do list as pretty much all “tech” solutions run in the cloud.  Also, Evernote is unusable when the cat takes over the keyboard.  Also, just about every app makes the completed item disappear after you mark it complete, making past to-do and reference items difficult to find, some apps deleted them permanently upon completion.
  • Printable CEO – A great offline solution which allows for appointments, task prioritization, and notes.  Printing them daily was fine, but some days I didn’t need to print one as the previous day carried over.  The issue here is that each day is a sheet of paper and carrying previous months’ of notes around just isn’t doable in today’s smartphone obsessed world.  Also, I found the layouts to lack customization as sometimes I wish the notes section was twice as large and the appointments section a fraction the size.
  • My Own “Printable” Design – Using the printable CEO as inspiration, I created my own daily sheets which gave priority to notes, had a section for three daily accomplishments and five sub-goals.  I even added a line to write in a memorable, inspirational quote. It worked quite well for a few months, but I discovered on days where I wanted to do a brain dump (write down everything on my mind), I didn’t have enough task space (although the backside of the paper was perfect) and I had to carry that sheet around with me for a few days while I worked through action on the list.  Overall, I found myself re-writing ideas from my head onto the new “today” sheet to make sure I had access to them.  Like Printable CEO, carrying around the archives was hideous, an old school 3-hole punch notebook.
  • The Bullet Journal – My current system is the Bullet Journal.  Think of it as a morph between a Moleskin journal, a Day Runner, and a Printable CEO, utilizing low-tech paper and pen to beautifully archive entries as you go.  I am preparing a follow-up blog post just to discuss the power of the Bullet Journal, but the concept of writing everything down and then using symbols to categorize them is huge for me.  Having a calendar and daily appointment entries works well.  The icing on the cake… drum roll please… the Index.  Finally, a way of archiving entries on paper in a way they are accessible for reference!  Woohoo!  Where, o where have you been all of my life?

Looking over this list and realizing, not only am I getting older, but how diverse task management is.  I believe David Allen said in his first book that he didn’t expect everyone to use his system as he outlined, but rather suggested the reader use the parts that work. For me, the electronic solutions didn’t work, giving credence to “the pen is mightier than the iPhone!” What is your task management history like? What worked for you, what didn’t and where did you end up?

The Best Hobbies

An interesting quote from Dr. Vogel on Dexter caught my mind recently.  They were referring to murder as a hobby when Dr Vogel said:

“The best hobbies take us furthest from our primary occupation.” – Dr Vogel, Dexter

If hobbies are at the opposite of our 9-5 jobs, then what does this mean?  As an Analyst with Marketing and Sales expertise, I spend my day job working with data, creating visualizations, and helping stakeholders understand the health of their business.   I bring to life the power of KPIs and creating conversation about the business through data.  Fascinating patterns and changes in trends spark the best conversations.

It is the more computer based hobbies I spend time on.  From flight simulator (FSX and X-Plane) to triathlon analysis, I do spend more time on the computer than sleeping.  Lately, I have split my time between BootStrap, a web authoring platform from Twitter, and analyzing the 2013 Santa Barbara Triathlon race results.

As a hobby, though, the last thing I want to do is sit in front of a computer at home.  In fact, if Dr. Vogel is right, the best hobbies for me would not involve a computer at all and would focus on the physical as opposed to the virtual.   Interests of mine include art (sketching and watercolor), photography, gardening, triathlon, writing and music.   Interestingly, none of these hobbies are very frequent in my life other than triathlon training.

So, what’s the point of all of this?  Balance.  Dr. Vogel’s comment illustrates the need for moderation and balance in our lives.  Spending too much time behind the computer is not healthy.  So is spending too much time at work.   The balance involves leaving the computer behind after hours, heading outside and experiencing a wider variety of activities in life.   Hobbies are a way of expressing ourselves while relieving stress and spending time with like minded people.   Get as far away from your day job when not in the office as possible!

The Road Not Taken

I was thinking about how connected technology has become and how much resources it takes to get a startup off the ground these days.  Then I remembered a poem by Robert Frost, The Road Not Taken:

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler,long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I –
I took the one less traveled by
And that has made all the difference.

– Robert Frost (source internal.org)

Doesn’t innovation come when one takes the road less traveled?

The Problem of Facebook Only Updates

There is an assumption in our society that everyone has a Facebook account.  The reality is this couldn’t be further from the truth.   Here are some points on why putting all of our eggs into Facebook is a HUGE problem:

  1. If Facebook is the only place companies go to send updates, this would mean Facebook is a monopoly and needs to immediately be dismantled.
  2. Facebook has not demonstrated that they have our societal values as a priority.  The purpose of Facebook, especially now they are public, is to profit from the data their users give them – for free.
  3. Facebook is just like any other web site and experiences outages (accidental and caused by hackers) more than the radio or other forms of media.
  4. Is Facebook really the best “platform” for dispersing information?  What about email, weblogs, and other systems?  Diversification ensures survivability.
  5. People, like myself, who don’t find Facebook as beneficial as having true one on one contact, are left in the dark.  One could argue this is discriminatory toward those who choose more personal relationships.
  6. In the end, the electricity goes out, so does Facebook and a bunch of other things.  Ink or pencil and paper will survive.
  7. There is very little in evidence that shows Facebook is beneficial to company revenue.

I hope this gets you, the reader, thinking about the role Facebook should play in our future.  I would argue that any business or entity that only offers updates through Facebook are just being lazy and not investing the true potential of their business.

As a solution, members of the media and anyone trying to disseminate information to the public should follow an example from Lois Capps:

“Please keep in touch with me through my website, by liking my Facebook page, following me onTwitter, or sending me an email.”

Website updates along with Twitter updates and  blog posts should not be overlooked and replaced with Facebook, period.  To do so is lazy.

Evening Hike

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Adding sublime moments to our modern, technologically advanced lives is an important strategy for keeping our sanity.

This evening I went for a short hike through Parma Park during the last moments of light. The peaceful air, moisture, greenery, and vast highlighted peaks in the distance make me appreciate just how important we preserve the wonderful, wild nature we live in.

A Citizen’s Role in Politics

The world of politics has been a touchy subject for years.  Everyone has their own opinion on policies and laws that will continue to make this country great!  It is part of our duty as citizens to express our opinions and even act on those opinions as we see fit.  While the most basic action comes in the form of voting, the citizenry is responsible for making an informed decisions on which leaders we elect and which propositions we pass.

This informed decision needs to be based on research, debate, and internal contemplation.  However, the media is usually pretty quick to provide opinions for us that aren’t always in line with reality.  Recently, while having dinner with a friend, I uttered the words “Obama is a socialist,” which then triggered a far greater discussion on exactly what this meant and what actions by Obama support this.  I have to admit that at this time I couldn’t speak to any specific actions.  In fact, I was guilty of regurgitating a line from the media without doing my homework.  This shocked me.

Normally, I am a very well spoken individual who seldom says anything that isn’t founded in concrete.  While I admitted that I was at a loss and we moved on, that voice inside me (the responsible citizen voice) wanted to know if Obama is really a socialist.

The answer is no.  Socialism centers around an economy owned by the state and or geared toward a common ownership.  Of Obama’s policies that I am familiar with, none of them fit into this category.  In fact, after researching this issue, I discovered that Obama is a well respect “centered” politician who has acted for the good of the country, moving between democratic and republican ideals to move this country forward.

What started to truly stir my passion for understanding the situation of our government was a text I received from the same friend containing a link to a rather interesting article.  The commentary article by Spiegel Online titled, “America Has Already Lost Tuesday’s Election, Destroyed by Total Capitalism,” is a rather passionate, European view of what the America has become.

After reading the article, I took a step back.  While I agree that America is controlled more by total capitalist, part of me wanted to believe that even total capitalists wouldn’t act in a way that would jeopardize the future of America.  Then I realized that capitalism is far more about profit than long-term sustainability.

Taking a look at Apple, for instance, who has banked billions and billions of dollars while the American education system experiences a financial crisis is perhaps proof that there could be something to this viewpoint.

In addition, during Hurricane Sandy, hospitals were evacuated because their backup generators failed, yet a few blocks away, buildings beloning to major financial institutions were bright with light and had plenty of power to spare.  The contrast of this image made me slightly angry.

The third piece of information that this citizen gained in recent weeks, is a book by Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein called “Its Worse Than It Looks.”  I came to find out about this book while driving on the freeway listening to NPR.  What really caught my attention was when the author equated House Republicans to American terrorists.  WHAT!

It seems the Republican party has done more damage to America’s future in the past few years than in the entire history of this country.  The Fiscal Cliff is a product Republican’s willingness to put their party over the good of the country, leveraging filibusters, and refusing to negotiate with the White House.   I couldn’t believe what I was hearing, let alone what I was reading after purchasing the book.

To make sure this wasn’t a Democrat’s way of condemning the Republicans, I did some research of my own and found that the circumstances listed in the book are true.  In fact, I found a fascinating website called “Republicans for Obama” that agrees with a fundamental shift in Republican policy.  Instead of voting for the good of the country, Republicans are now voting to destroy the White House and the President of the United States.

These bits of information have awaken my role of citizen in politics.   While I intend to vote for Democrats going forward to give them back the majority, I will also spread the word regarding the new American terrorists sitting in the House.

What does citizenship have to do with Data, Creativity, Patterns, and Inspiration?  Everything.  Citizens must collect data, understand patterns in politics, and find the inspiration to act creatively to form the future that believe in.

I am sure this post will alienate employers/recruiters (probably won’t be working with Apple anytime soon) and create some controversy within my family.  But, it is my role as Citizen of the United States to research, understand and speak for what I believe in.