I told you about Jello Dashboard, a nifty tools that plugs into Outlook as an alternative “home screen”, a while ago. Last week, the developer Dr. Uqbar released the new version 4.5 of Jello Dashboard. It is still beta software, and still free.
Pain free GTD implementation in Outlook
While there are ways to model tasks and task views in Outlook so that it gets many GTDish features, it always involves some compromises. For example, I got the context view down, I can see items for review, “+ waiting for” and “+ someday maybe” items get out of my way, and I can sort by context – but still, there is no good way to group contexts by project, which for me is an important feature, and no good way to assign Next Actions, which is a crucial part of GTD.
Jello Dashboard takes the weight off your shoulders. It knows your calendar items. It knows your tasks, and your inbox. After installing it, you can dig right in, create the categories and projects you need, and then work right out of it.
Speaking of my experience, running Jello on Outlook 2007 and Vista, Jello installs easily and can be removed just as quick. Plus, the small community (see the Google Group) is active and the developer is very responsive (he just recently added a feature that allows me to use the “+” in category names after asking for it in the forum), so when you got issues there is support. It is free. It gives you projects, Next Actions and context views just like you wish you had them. Enough reasons to give it a spin, if you ask me. I am doing the same on this side of the internet. I like it so far – maybe struggling with manual implementation in Outlook for a few months made me more accessible for the idea that this could work for me. The killer feature is Outlook integration, for sure, and for this I am ready to forgive minor performance issues (it could be snappier) and wait for a few little kinks to be worked out.
Don’t forget the basics
Remember: Jello Dashboard is a nice tool – but you can only use it to full effect when you are familiar with the basics of GTD methodology.
Have you tried it? Share your experiences in the comments!
Paul Graham wrote a great essay on good and bad procrastination. I suggest you read it (takes 5 minutes max) and then continue reading, as I am referring to the main idea of it.
“Getting to work on the big things” in consulting needs to be put in perspective, I think. We live by projects, and the big thing seems to be just that: The project you are working on right now. This is, of course, also the expectation of superiors and customers alike – they want your full power and energy on their topic, right now, and they pay you to do so, after all.
As a project leader, you will often already live by the good, C-Type procrastination that Graham proposes: You focus on identifying the clients’ real need, you build and enforce the relationship, you make sure that the project is on track and that the right things are delivered on time. If not – I am not speaking from experience here – you might want to re-evaluate what you are spending your time on, and if this is leading you where you want to be. Your team is there to get the nitty-gritty details. Don’t try to micro-manage. If you spend more time working out hotel deals for your team than thinking about your client, you are procrastinating the wrong way.
As a more junior consultant, the same idea of tackling the big stuff applies. In project reality, compared to the project lead, the feeling might be quite different. You are remote from the big picture. You are working on a stream in the project, and the world to you often ends at the edge of the Excel sheet you have to build. This, for most junior consultants, is not perceived as a big, exciting, potentially world-changing problem to solve, but more than a task that has to be done. Ok, I am getting sidetracked here – now it is about motivation instead of procrastination? There’s a link: When you are motivated, and have an idea why you do what you do right now apart from “I was told to”, you are much less likely to procrastinate on that issue.
So what can you take from Graham?
The senior – go tackle the big issues. You give your team sense and direction. As I am not in your shoes, I can’t give advise from own experience, sorry.
The junior – Yes, of course. Getting promoted to project lead soon. That’s not what I mean – I’d say, you can get your motivation up by getting yourself a better idea of the overall project, and thus decrease time used for bad procrastination. Use possibilities to see what the other streams are working on. Talk to the project lead over lunch about where he wants to go, and what the end result looks like in his/her opinion. Your ability to let go of what Graham calls “errands” might be limited, but you can, too, defer doing your expenses and replying to non-critical email for a while when cranking on your job. After you have given yourself an idea for why you are doing your task and how it impacts the big picture, chances are you will actually want to take all the time you can for it.
What about distractions?
Now this is a topic big enough for another article Come back soon, it might already be up then.
By the way, I am still crying myself to sleep at night because no-no-no-one has replied to the first KC hive mind yet. I know that there are at LEAST five living people reading this (might be six, have not called them all in a few days to make sure) – so hey, if you are so inclined, make my day and write a comment!
It seems to be an unwritten rule: The higher up the food chain in business, the shorter and brisker the emails get. Somewhere on the line, the “hello”, the “please” and the “thank you” get lost. At first sight, this might look like unbelievable efficiency. It might look important, even cool – “hey, Bob is so busy and important, he can just write a one-liner and make a whole department work for a week” – but truth be told, it is not cool. It shows a lack of respect, if you ask me.
So however important you are (or think you are):
Open wit a greeting, address people by their names. Say please. Say thank you. End appropriately. Use upper case and lower case, and put in some grammar while you are at it. If you do not have enough time at hand to write a respectful email, pick up the phone and call the person. If there is not enough time to do even that, gosh, I am sorry for you. Go read some of the articles on GTD on this site to increase your personal effectiveness. Cutting down your mails to barfing orders is NOT the way to go to save time.
Ever suffered from the VP-one-line-mail hammer? Experienced good things because you paid attention to write sensible mails? Let the community know! (yeah, I am implying a KillerConsultant community here. Hey, we all have dreams!)Read More
This is something I learnt from a friend in the industry who had to deal with a client situation gone bad, and on a small scale, also something that experience has taught me many times.
When things get tough, keep notes of what is going on, so when the sh** hits the fan, you can back up what you say.
While everything is humming along, you might be taking the occasional note – scribbling “mail report to Ted” on a piece of paper that is your impromptu ToDo-List for the afternoon, for example, or putting yourself a reminder in Outlook. When the project gets in crunch-mode (i.e., you are under stress, and everybody else is), though, many people stop keeping notes. And when in real trouble (e.g., the customer is angry because a deadline was missed, there was a misunderstanding, you are accused of having stolen their lunchbags), people stop taking notes altogether and fall back to reactive-mode.
This is a bad thing. The worse the situation get, the more accurate your notes need to be. I am not talking about prose here. This is not a hidden procrastinators’ heaven. I am talking about keeping a logbook, on paper preferably. Here’s why:
- Under stress, you might forget something you needed to remember. Keep it in a list. Mark it done when it is done. It gives you security, and it makes you reliable.
- When a colleague tells you something that might be important later, like “the customer always spells easy as ‘eaZZy’. They like it that way. Please stick to this in all documents” , note it down. Otherwise, it is forgotten after five minutes, and only gets back to you in the night when the final presentation needs to be sent to the client.
- Note done what you agreed on with your team members and the customer. For meetings, there are meeting minutes (hopefully!), but for the quick 30-second call to confirm a fact, there might not be. Write down who you talked to, when, and what was talked about / agreed upon. This is a life saver. It is a much better thing to say “Bob, I am sorry that you expected me to make the analysis until today, but in our call on wednesday afternoon last week we agreed that it would have no real added value and decided to not include it” than “Bob, are you sure this was still in scope? I am sure we talked about that and agreed not to do the analysis sometime in the past!”
- When you sense that big trouble is ahead – lets say, the customer has been irate and angry for a week and threatens to call the whole deal off, and you think that your Vice President might not be amused at all – you might want to go even further and note more details down, like the delivery of documents and who was on the client site when. Of course, this borders on paranoia… as I said, when big trouble is ahead. Especially when things get really tough and you go into litigation (this does happen, unfortunately), you better know what was said and done.
I know. You have your ToDo-List in Outlook. Or in a textfile. Still – Keep a little logbook. Treat yourself with one of those fabled Moleskines, if you want. Write. Things. Down – and the worse the project gets, the more you should jot down. It will save your precious behind sooner than later.Read More
Hey, we have not spoken in a while! Nice seeing you again! – Seriously, I have been trapped at a location with almost nil connectivity for the last two weeks, and it is driving me nuts. Sorry for the hiatus.
Today let’s talk about a little trick to keep you focused on your work, and still get your newsfix from the outside world. Yeah, there is stuff going on around you, y’know? All kind of news. Things that pop up in your feedreader. Things that you come across while doing your desk research ( = googling like crazy for the topic at hand) that might not be completely relevant now, but sure sound interesting. The thing is to avoid being sidetracked during cranking hours, but have stuff ready at hand when you have time to indulge. Four things have made a big difference for me.
- Google Gears
Gears allows web apps to function offline and sync the new state back to their “mothership” once you go online again. Gears works excellently with Google Reader. So before you hop into the cab, train, plane, go to Google Reader, put it in “offline” mode (once you installed Gears, it will ask you if you want to use Reader with it, and will then provide you with a little green button in the top row to toggle online/offline mode). Now you can read through all your news without the need for an internet connection. It does not load images, so your subscription to cuteoverload.com will be no fun. Sorry.
This is a nifty and free little web service. With an ultra simple interface (seems designed for iPhone access, but works with Blackberrys and your Laptop just as fine), Instapaper gives you the ability to make a “read later” list. To do that, Instapaper gives you a little bookmarklet (a bookmark for your browser of choice). Now, when you are on a website that sure is interesting, but you really need to get working on other stuff – just hit the Instapaper bookmarklet (I named mine, creatively, “read later”). Instapaper saves the link. Now close it, and do what needs to be done. Whenever, then, you have some time to spare, go to Instapaper, and voilá – your reading list is waiting for you. Unfortunately, no Google Gears support yet, that would make it even better.
Whenever I find an interesting but rather long article online – you know, the type of Paul Graham essay (great stuff!) – I want to save it for reading when I have the time, and might want to print it out. Easy as pie. Of course, you can simply print it, but using the free DoPDF-Tool, you can (who would have guessed!) easily create a PDF out of it (it installs as a printer) and save it on your harddrive as well. Advantage: You can collect stuff you want to get on paper, and then print it all in one go, so that your colleagues don’t find your pumpkin pie recipie amongst their travel expenses.
- Make yourself a folder called “INBOX” on your desktop. Now, the declutter-your-desktop-topic is one we can expand on later – for now let’s keep it simple: In the inbox, you can make a “to read” folder. Put those PDF’ed articles in there, and whenever you have a relaxed moment – travelling or in the hotel room – just open up that folder, and you have something interesting to go through
Now whenever you come across something on the web that you can’t attend to right now, there is a way to quickly save it, and you can get back to work. Then, when you have the time, things are at hand waiting for you. Try it out, and let me know how it works for you.
I am normally not into cross-posting on different sites, but hey, rules are there to be…. no, I won’t say it! Afterwards all you remember is “hey, on KillerConsultant they said it would be alright to bend rules!” No, friends, it is not that easy. Also, what does your client say when you admit that you actually have time to read a website? Seriously.
Anyhow, I wrote the following for my private site, but thinking about it, this might just be interesting for you KC guys as well. Here goes!
Yesterday night I found out about Randy Pausch. Randy is a professor at Carnegie Mellon University who delivered (and recorded) two very interesting speeches. One is called “Time Management“, in which he talks about very practical tips on how to get more things done in life. This is not a theoretical talk – it is very down to earth, it is full of things you can directly apply yourselves. The other talk is called “Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams“. In this talk, part of CMU’s “last lecture” series, he talks about how he managed to achieve his childhood dreams, and how one can work towards that – or help others achieve their dreams.
The “last lecture” series at CMU is asking the speaker to imagine – if this was the last lecture he or she gave before they died, what would they talk about? For Randy, he needs no big imagination. Randy gave this speech knowing he will most likely die from the cancer he has in the next few months. He already knew that when he gave the speech on time management as well. Don’t shy away now! His lectures are incredibly funny. There is no darkness and sadness in them. All this frightening fact really does is make the speeches more intense. For me, on the receiving end, it feels like an incredible gift Randy has given to us. He even made the last lecture a book – how awesome is that!
When you watch those lectures, you wil realize what a fighting spirit Randy has. Not surprisingly, he is still alive, still fighting hard, still making the best out of the days he has. On his personal website you find a summary of all the things I just introduced to you, as we as updates on how he is doing.
So what can you take from that?
- The lecture on time management will give you many good tips for every day effectiveness. Take for example the clues he has for being short and concise on the telephone. I am sure all of you have experienced that – you get on the phone, you need to clarify something quickly, or make an arrangement – and the person on the other side thinks that you definitely have time to discuss yesterdays soccer results and whatnot. Randy’s advise is to set a clear agenda in the beginning – “hi Bob, I’m calling because there are three things I want to clarify with you” – and get out of the call once the agenda items are ticked off. His version of “there are students waiting for me” can easily be converted to “I have to dial in to a telco” or “I have a meeting to attend to”.
Of course, you might want to be a bit more elaborate with your todo-list than Randy tells you to (where are context and projects? Phew, REALLY!) and not rely on post-its for planning – greetings from GTD!
- It is not doing things right that will get you where you want to get – it is doing the right things. In the second lecture mentioned, it is about going for your dreams. You can only achieve that if you actually know what your dreams are. If you do not know where you are headed, most steps you take will be in the wrong direction. So this is about the grand perspective of things, where instantly the (also recommended by Randy) 7 Habits of Highly Effective People come to mind. That book by Stephen Covey is, in my opinion, the ultimate companion to GTD. When you actually know what you want to do with your life, having “focus” instantly has a much deeper meaning. And be careful what you wish for. It might just come true.
Right for you?
Guys, I love everybody coming here and reading.
Help me make it better – leave a comment, tell me what you think, what you like, what you’d like to see changed. Thanks!