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Gathering The Detritus - Laurion [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]
Laurion

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Gathering The Detritus [Jan. 22nd, 2007|11:40 am]
Laurion
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On of my goals this year is to be more organized. I don't necessarily mean organizing all the physical stuff I have around (although that's part of it), but to improve the organization, and thus, the efficiency, of all the things in my life. I have a _lot_ of hobbies and activities and commitments (some would say too many) and over the past few years I've been slowly building up efficiency in managing them.

Many of you have heard of the GTD (Getting Things Done) methods. A lot of people swear by it, enough so that a couple years back the CIO gave everyone in the organization a copy of the book. Recently I went through it (in audiobook form, because I had more time to listen to it in my car than to pick up the actual book), and while I think most of it requires a rather difficult shift in lifestyle that I'm not sure is worth the payout, there are several points that I do agree with.

One of the big ones is that if you have a commitment, or a thing to do, or a place to be (or whatever else is in your mind that the book calls 'stuff'), and you don't get it out of your head and into some trusted reference place, it'll either be lost, or rattle around your head taking up brain cycles and causing the feeling of too much to do. Trusted in this sense doesn't really mean something you trust to not lose your data (although, again, that's part of it), but trusted in the sense of something you'll have regular access to, and you can rely on to be up to date, able to show what you need to remember, and that you'll actually use regularly. A sort of external brain, or a vm swap page that you can use to get things down while you're thinking of them so you can stop thinking of them. In years past individuals may have used a variety of tools, like a blotter calendar, rolodex, appointment book, in tray, dayrunner, secretary (a real external brain!), etc. But I'm a believer that technology should make our lives easier, so I favor the newer electronic options. There are also newer non-electronic options like the Hipster PDA. So far it's working.  Much of this could be done with a wiki, but I'm also keen on not having to build the tools unless I have to.  Why reinvent the wheel?  Find the tool that does the thing and does it well. Here's what I like:

Google Calendar. I actually prefer Apple's iCal, but I'm regularly not in front of my own computer, and Google's access from any station is the tipping feature. GCal looks and feels a lot like iCal, and rightly so: things work well in that model, at least for me. Gcal does a pretty good job of offering up access so I can sync it with my iPod, or my phone, or otherwise get it out and into a portable format, as well as being able to e-mail or SMS reminders for information push instead of pull.

Tasktoy. I'm a list oriented person. I make lists for lots of things. Last year I was using Remember The Milk, which has a very slick interface, but I found it to be too slow, and tasktoy has some really nice features, like setting a cookie for location awareness. If I log in from home, it shows me tasks and lists designated for achievable at home. Similarly if I log in from the office. Tasktoy is also a lot faster. The one think I miss from RtM is shortcut keys so I don't have to use the mouse as much. Maybe I'll look into building some of those with greasemonkey. (*adds that to a list...*) Again, the key here for me is that I can access it from any internet connection. I used to use my palm pilot for this function, and it worked great, but I've moved away from carrying that with me everywhere, because of battery life problems and the desire to simplify the physical stuff in my life (another big theme in my organization). I look forward to the day when my iPod is also a decently functional PDA. For those who are not as list oriented, and those who are, there's a ton of options out there for dumping and remembering those to-do's in your life. Zirr.us looks interesting, as does Stikkit.

Information management. I am a voracious consumer of web based information. I have hundreds of bookmarks, and read dozens of incoming news sources on various topics. For a few years I've been completely sold on RSS and getting everything to come in that way. It's not strictly speaking a push technology, but it does let the computer pull the information without me having to pull it myself. Again, I'm lucky enough to be looking at a world where more and more of these things can be done online, making for access from many places easy. I aggregate everything from computer news sources, word a day, gaming news, software updates, newspapers, music news, and even all my webcomics. I even have a custom LJ layout that turns my friends list into an RSS feed so I can aggregate that. Typically anything which is transitory in nature I pull through RSS, excepting e-mail and IMs, as those are more interactive mediums. This lets me rapidly scan through 200-300 items a day, discarding most, and opening into tabs (I love tabs!) anything which needs more than a cursory glance. The two big RSS aggregators online right now are Bloglines and Google Reader. Both of them are good. Neither of them works for me. I want my feed items sorted by feed, not by time, I want to be able to quickly mark something as read and to get it out of my sight, because I am ruthlessly discarding anything which no longer needs to be read, or has already been opened in a new tab. And on top of that, I like projects that are under my control and that I can customize (why I use WordPress for my main blog, instead of LJ, e.g.), so I use a project called Gregarius, and a plugin that lets me double-click a feed item to mark it as read and hide it from sight.

I've also gone back to del.icio.us to help manage my information content. They have a new firefox extension that takes over the local bookmarks, and routes everything into del.icio.us. This makes it _very_ easy to keep things in sync at home and the office, and to not have to make a local toolbar with my most used links. It gives you a toolbar that can display different groups of links, and makes it very easy to record and tag link for later retrieval. Previously I used Spurl, but the sheer number of tools that enhance the functionality of del.icio.us brought me back to it.

Wishlist's are a specialized list, because it fills with things that aren't to do, to get at the grocery store, or to pack for a trip, but are items I'd like to have some day. This list also has to be public to a certain extent, so others can find items at gift giving occasions. Amazon.com provides an excellent service if what you want is on Amazon.com. Over the past year I've moved from Giftbox to MetaWishlist, and now to GiftHat, because of various features, and developer responsiveness (MetaWishlist, excellent as it is, does not seem to be under development any more). I want a list that has a bookmarklet to make it easy to enter items I come across, and like a registry lets gift givers "reserve" items. This past Christmas and the one before I received too many duplicate gifts, prompting the move to GiftHat.

There are a large number of tools that I use to organize my computer usage and to streamline that, but this post is about the external brain tools, so I'll save the others for another post.

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Comments:
[User Picture]From: metahacker
2007-01-22 05:31 pm (UTC)

Interesting tool list, but...

Why reinvent the wheel? Find the tool that does the thing and does it well.

Ay, that's the rub.

My PDA worked for a while, because while it was limited, it was always there (I amazingly remembered to always carry it for about 6 years). Unfortunately all other systems break down because sooner or later I can't update my global to-do list/schedule, usually when I'm on the road somewhere or some place away from 'net, and then things get out of sync.

Of course more recently work's insistence on Outlook makes things even harder, plus the fact that I really want calendars with different levels of visibility (work doesn't need to know why I'm out on Monday, my friends by contract *can't* know what that meeting on Thursday is about, etc.) and that capability really isn't there anywhere. I could sync a PDA to work's calendar, but haven't found a recent PDA worth spending money on...

And then of course my calendar is shared with galaneia; gcal works okay for this, but other cals are problematic.

And of course my process for handling email seems to conflict with how all email clients are written. Right now I'm compromising by using Outlook's "Flag" command and checking the other 1e06 accounts manually (some don't allow POP/IMAP), but it's a weak fit...
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[User Picture]From: laurion
2007-01-22 06:12 pm (UTC)

Re: Interesting tool list, but...

Oh, this is definitely _my_ set of tools, and invariably each person will have their own needs, and need to find/make their own tools for the job.

One tool I didn't mention was my cell phone. I can use it to record things on the fly when I'm not near the net. I can use the built in memo recorder or just call myself and leave a voicemail.

I'd like t point out that GCal does offer different levels of visibility to different groups. It's very good at letting you have multiple color coded calendars, and when you set sharing on them you can set which level of access, and I think that i also overrideable on a per-item basis. Truth is, I have a whole separate groupware calendar at work because of the calendar sharing we have implemented here already, and I draw a lot of my functionality wishes from that.

I can't speak to your e-mail process, not knowing it, but I have tons of folders, and I'm a ruthless filer/deleter. If my inbox gets above 20 messages I get antsy, and I prefer it under 10.
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[User Picture]From: laurion
2007-01-22 06:12 pm (UTC)

Re: Interesting tool list, but...

And a pretty hard filterer as well.
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[User Picture]From: metahacker
2007-01-22 06:46 pm (UTC)

Re: Interesting tool list, but...

Sounds like we work very similarly. I'd sussed this previously which is one reason I paid careful attention to your list. ;)

Gcal would be ideal if I could put work stuff on it. Unfortunately...privacy issues. Also, I need it to be always accessible, though I understand there's a rudimentary phone interface. It'd be nice to also have it permanently on a giant 48" display in my home hallway so housemates could access it, but that might be asking too much.
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[User Picture]From: laurion
2007-01-22 07:30 pm (UTC)

Re: Interesting tool list, but...

It occurred to me, when you said that you and galaneia share a gcal, do you mean that you both actually log into the same calendar, or that you have turned on sharing on yours so that she can see it, and vice versa? I'm unclear as to which privacy issues are the concern here.
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[User Picture]From: metahacker
2007-01-22 08:58 pm (UTC)

Re: Interesting tool list, but...

We have separate calendars, which are write-shared. The privacy issues with work are that I do things at work that should be kept secret from *Google*, not just to the random passerby. I could mirror my outlook calendar, but mirroring in general fails.
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[User Picture]From: laurion
2007-01-22 09:11 pm (UTC)

Re: Interesting tool list, but...

Ah, yes. Business case issues. Well, there's no security like non-networked security.
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[User Picture]From: dkaine
2007-01-22 09:40 pm (UTC)
I've been getting into the GTD concept and all that jazz, however where do you find these different tools/toys, etc? I've searched for different organizational systems, etc. and have never come across many of these things.
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[User Picture]From: laurion
2007-01-22 10:00 pm (UTC)
Well, that's part of my information intake. ;P There's a few websites I read that have some info pop up now and again, the big one is lifehacker (http://lifehacker.com/), but there's also solutionwatch (http://www.solutionwatch.com/) and tipmonkies (http://www.tipmonkies.com/). You can also do a google search, or better, a del.icio.us search.
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[User Picture]From: doxasticpirate
2007-01-22 11:52 pm (UTC)
Interesting post! A couple quick comments:

I've effectively handed over my life to Google. Aside from GMail (of course!), I find the combination of Remember the Milk and Google Calendar particular effective -- they became integratable not too long ago, really -- and at this point I put in most of my day-to-day to-do's straight into RTM-within-Calendar, but I still visit RTM for the more long-term-y stuff (there's still slightly more control there). Anyway, if you're already using Google Calendar, RTM seems to be a no-brainer now. (That said, I'm also a sucker for a slick interface. So, remind me why I still use a PC?). I've also found Google Docs/Spreadsheets to be amazingly useful -- I don't keep all my documents there, of course, but it's a great way to write a long-ish note to myself and have it accessable from anywhere, or to keep track of relatively simple documents, like my gradebook.

I'm a big fan of Google Reader. I didn't get into RSS feeds until relatively recently, and only then because Google's was the first interface that made sense to me. I like being able to tag my feeds and star interesting entries. I also find that I can sort through hundreds of items quickly, through use of the tags and judicious use of keyboard shortcuts... [tangentially: how did you get your LJ friends page as a feed?]

I've recently stopped using del.icio.us in favor of clipmarks. It's not a particularly lightweight solution, I grant, but (again) the interface is slick, and it's a good way of keeping track of bits of information. I'm not sure about you, but I find that the stuff I want to come back to isn't necessarily a whole website, but rather a paragraph or a picture. Needless to say, clipmarks is perfect for this (and somewhat better that Google's solution, sadly avoiding the sweep)
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[User Picture]From: laurion
2007-01-23 01:18 am (UTC)
I know about the integration, but it doesn't integrate _well_. If you add it to your calendar you get a little checkmark in the corner of every day. Every day. In the quickmonth view it then looks like I have something scheduled every day. The Google Personal Page integration is better. And I really don't mind keeping multiple tabs open all day. I typically have half a dozen locked and loaded. Tasktoy has a lot more flexibility for my style, and not having to view my home improvement tasks at work, or my work cals to return at home is a nice touch.

I haven't done much with Docs/Spreadsheets, but I do remember playing with it some back when it was still Writely. I just don't do much with file based documents. Tasktoy has a notes function which I've started using for some of that.

I process RSS feeds similarly, keeping things sorted by feed, feeds sorted by category, double-click to clear away... As for the LJ thing, there's a few parts. First, it requires a paid account. Only paid accounts can use the custom styles. Second, there's a customview.cgi that lets you view your page with a custom style without making it your default style. Third, use that to apply the style that formats entries as RSS, so you don't have to see xml when you go there otherwise. This'll get you all the public entries, but you have to use a script that you can host somewhere to proxy authentication so you can get the flocked entries as well. Catch me on IM sometime and I can help you out.

Clipmarks is very slick, but I don't usually have the need to come back to just a picture or a paragraph. Clipmarks is great for anyone who is doing research, and needs to capture just the right information for references. Del.icio.us just fits me better because of the open APIs which enable the tools I want to use.
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