Friday, August 31, 2007

Have you discovered Pocketmod?

As I continue to work with Thinking Rock, I discovered the other day that it can produce a report in a format called "Pocketmod". Now I'd never come across Pocketmod before so, intrigued as I was, I ran the report and was quite surprised by what it produced. A quick search of the internet found the pocketmod website and it all began to make sense.

If you don't know, pocketmod is simply a way of printing out useful things which you then fold to produce a small booklet to carry in your pocket. One or two people have produced templates, but I want to be able to do a little more and so designed my own pocketmod print.

Taking my Next actions report that I've already translated into a Word document in order to be able to put it on my PDA, I've simply created a template in Publisher into which I can paste the data form the report. Because Publisher allows you to have text upside by inverting the text boxes, you can get an easy to fold booklet of all your next actions or any other form of list you might want.

Here's my pocketmod of next actions.

To be swallowed up in eternal life

But we continue to preach because we have the same kind of faith the psalmist had when he said, “I believed in God, so I spoke.” We know that God, who raised the Lord Jesus, will also raise us with Jesus and present us to himself together with you. All of this is for your benefit. And as God’s grace reaches more and more people, there will be great thanksgiving, and God will receive more and more glory.

That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.

For we know that when this earthly tent we live in is taken down (that is, when we die and leave this earthly body), we will have a house in heaven, an eternal body made for us by God himself and not by human hands. We grow weary in our present bodies, and we long to put on our heavenly bodies like new clothing. For we will
put on heavenly bodies; we will not be spirits without bodies. While we live in these earthly bodies, we groan and sigh, but it’s not that we want to die and get rid of these bodies that clothe us. Rather, we want to slip into our new bodies so that these dying bodies will be swallowed up by everlasting life. God himself has prepared us for this, and as a guarantee he has given us his Holy Spirit.

So we are always confident, even though we know that as long as we live in these bodies we are not at home with the Lord. For we live by believing and not by seeing. Yes, we are fully confident, and we would rather be away from these earthly bodies, for then we will be at home with the Lord. So whether we are here in this body or away from this body, our goal is to please him. For we must all stand before Christ to be judged. We will each receive whatever we deserve for the good or evil we have done in this earthly body.

This was New Testament reading today and it blew me away. This is Paul at his eloquent best, and personally I found it deeply moving today.

Look how he begins, reminding us that our faith is a faith shared through the generations and the basis that it gives for our future hope. Look at the foundation of our endurance-the grace of God drawing more and more people into his kingdom. “That is why,” says Paul, “we never give up.” Even though everything around might scream, “give up”, our spirits are renewed and we go on, looking forward into the future that God has planned for us. An eternal future that puts our present troubles in perspective.

And here’s a great phrase, “We want to slip into our new bodies so that these dying bodies will be swallowed up by everlasting life.” That’s a great picture. One day eternal life will consume us.
Out of all this comes our desire to please God, and so “we live by believing and not by seeing.”
Maybe it’s just today and the spiritual place in which I find myself, but these words seem to soar with a majesty that draws me into thanksgiving for the goodness, the grace, the wonder of all that God has done for me, is doing for, and will do for me.

An opportunity we can't afford to miss

For the last couple of years we've been watching the progress of a project to build a new community just two miles from our village. Almost 10,000 homes will be built over the next 10 years or so and currently the infrastructure is being prepared. The first residents are expected to move in some time in 2008.

By comparison the village in which we currently and minister has 300 homes and the nearby village of Shortstown has about 1,000 homes (set to double in size in the next year or so). It seems obvious to me, and to others at church, that this is a God-given opportunity to engage with a new community from it's very beginnings. An opportunity to do mission in new ways with new people.

This has demanded a lot of thought and prayer about what this might mean, and I believe it's really important that we get committed Christians into the community as early as we can. This is an opportunity to serve a new, emerging community. It's an opportunity to contribute to the DNA of a neighbourhood, a village, even a town from its beginnings and as it grows.

Will you pray with us that God will bring to these new communities Christians who will connect with their neighbours, Christians who will be able to connect with us and partner with us in reaching this new community?

If you're interested in what's happening in these developments, you can visit the main developers site here.

What kind of thinker am I?

The BBC website has a section devoted the Leonardo da Vinci, quite why I'm not sure, but it does have another of those wonderful personality tests to work out what kind of thinker you are.

My results were:

You are a Linguistic Thinker

Linguistic thinkers:
Tend to think in words, and like to use language to express complex ideas.
Are sensitive to the sounds and rhythms of words as well as their meanings.
Like linguistic thinkers, Leonardo made meticulous descriptions in his journals. He also made an effort to learn Latin - a foreign language

Other linguistic thinkers include William Shakespeare, Sylvia Plath, Anne Frank; Careers which suit linguistic thinkers include: Journalist, Librarian, Salesperson, Proof-reader, Translator, Poet, Lyricist

Sad that "church leader" doesn't fall into career choices. Perhaps, having inhabited both the scientific world of research and development and the "humanities" world of theology, I'm too complex a thinker to fit neatly into a category. Well I can only hope!

Take the test yourself at the BBC website.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

The weekly review

I came across an interesting post about using a weekly review check list. The checklist in question looks like this:

It's a very comprhensive list, and not everything would apply to everyone, but it might be a place to start if you need a plan (like me!)

You can find the post here.

Organising actions and projects

As I continue to develop my GTD-based system for organising my life, I find I have to keep making adjustments and trying new things. This is to be expected, and I wouldn't have assumed that I'd drop into a system that did everything the right way for me first time.

One of the things I've noticed is how easily it is to write an action that is actually a project. When you push yourself to consider what the "next action" is, the absolutely next thing you must do to take a step forward, I at least begin to see that more things are projects than they are single actions. I do have single actions: "Send Matt the contact details fro the architect", is a single action, but I also have some things that look like single actions, but quickly emerge as projects in their own right. For example, I created an action to build a new team for a particular ministry at church. I very quickly realised that there were several steps that needed to be completed in order to build that team, so I set about turning this apparently single action into a project and then I worked out what the true "next action" needed to be.

With this in mind I took a long look at all my "inactive" actions, actions that do not have a scheduled date or a delegated flag, or even a "Do ASAP" flag for them. I decided that I needed to organise these, which I do as part of my regular review. Some of these actions are inactive because they are future events, but I don't want them to drop off my radar so-to-speak, so I keep them in my current projects and actions. There are some actions which I've completed, but in fact are not completed. I know that sounds crazy but for example I have a task to connect with another local Christian worker. This I've done through a 'phone call, but I got their answering machine. So I've half done the task because I'm waiting for a response. These inactive tasks, or incomplete tasks clutter my actions list (remember I'm using Thinking Rock). So, I decided to use some gtd terminology and delegate these tasks to a series of @x tags. So I now have tags for actions that are waiting for a response (the classic @waiting for gtd tag), @review, for actions I need to pay attention to and schedule at some point, @maybe for tasks that are, well "maybe tasks", you get the point.

What's nice about doing this is that I can filter my actions by "delegated" and sort them once filtered. This allows me to see at a glance what tasks are waiting for something or someone else and I can decide how to follow that up.

I'm conscious that I may be over complicating things, so I'll have to test drive this for a while and see if it's a help for a hindrance, but I thougt I'd drop the idea into the mix.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Airport extreme is go!

Ally, my daughter, and I have just set up our new network using an Airport Extreme base station. I have to say it was a bit nerve jingling, replacing a working system with an unknown one, but everything seems to be working fine. In fact it's working better than the system it replaced.

So, bring on the MacBook!!

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The Perfect Pastor

Came across this snippet while in the process of sorting out my filing system.

The Perfect Pastor

The results of a computerised survey indicate the perfect minister preaches exactly 15 minutes. He condemns sin but never upsets anyone. He works from 8:00am until midnight and is also the caretaker (janitor). He earns £50 a week, wears good clothes, buys good books, drives a good car, and gives about £50 a week to the poor.

He is 28 years old and has preached for 30 years. He has a burning desire to to work with teenagers and spends all his time with senior citizens.

The perfect minister smiles all the time with a straight face because he has a sense of humour that keeps him seriously dedicated to his work. He visits at least 15 people a day including families, shut-ins, and those in hospital.

He is always in his study when needed.

Blog action day

I came across this through another site via a blog entry elsewhere.... The internet is a wondrous place for "rabbit trails" of the unexpected!

Anyway, Blog Action Day (Oct.15th 2007) is for everyone who has something they want to say about the environment. It's a sort of mass action via the blogosphere. I'm going to take part and post some thoughts about the environment. It's an odd things but I actually studied environmental science back in the 70's when I went to university in Wales. It wasn't a particularly fashionable thing to do then, I actually applied to do biology. But when I saw the environmental studies course that was on offer, I knew it was what I wanted to do. It just really appealed. Ever since I've taken an interest in the environment although it has been an obsessive one.

Anyway, I just thought I'd mention it in case you wanted to get involved too.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Curing a slow computer

Just recently I've begun to notice how slow my computer was getting and, not wanting to jump through too many hoops to sort this out I did a little research. Now I know that all you tech. savvy folk out there will already know this, but then again there are plenty of people like me who haven't had, or taken, the time to find it out yet.

So, the first thing I did was run a thing called registry patrol. It doesn't seem to have done any harm to my system, and there was a noticeable improvement in some things. I know that it has had some poor reviews, and there may be a better tool out there, but this worked for me. I should also say that I regularly run spyware to clear out any nasty bits and pieces that have crept in through the firewall.

The other things I've done is reduce the number of desktop icons I have. I thought I'd go for the "no icons at all" approach, but decided against that because Anne, my wife might think there was something wrong if no icons were showing. I use a black background anyway, so it might look like the system had crashed! I now have only three icons on my desktop: "My computer", "Recycle Bin" and Unused Icons".

Things have improved a little, in fact I think they've improved a lot. All those icons take time to draw and therefore take up cpu power, diverting it away from other useful things like opening applications. And everything is still accessible through the menus.

So if you're experiencing some similar problems because you've added programs and applications and let them put an icon on the desktop, trying removing them and see if it makes a difference.

PS I also cleaned up the files and defragged the hard drive.

Star posts

I thought I'd check out some of the blog posts that are "starred" in my Google Reader set up. It's an interesting mix! Here are five of my starred items.

In no particular order:

Is productivity contagious? raises that simple question. It asks whether we fall into the patterns around us and therefore also poses the question, for me as a leader, what kind of standard am I setting?

14 numbers your cell phone can't live without. This was fun. I wonder if "Your pastor" should be number 15?

Jim Wideman’s 3 Questions for Effectiveness and Efficiency. Unfortunately the link doesn't appear to be working for this one, so here's the gist of the entry.

Jim Wideman recently shared 3 questions he often asks to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of his ministry:

1. What am I doing that someone else can do?
2. What do I need to be doing that only I can do?
3. Is there a better way to do what we are doing?

Train yourself to regularly ask these questions. If you do, you will develop better leaders, be a better steward of your time, and consistently be improving your ministry.
On missing Q… This a post by Jeff Noble, someone I've come to know and respect through the world of blogging. In this post Jeff shares four points about missional imagination gleaned form another blog which I also follow called

the parable of bullhorn man Conrad was my New Testament tutor when I was doing my masters degree some 17 years ago (sorry Conrad!)

Love, above all else

I remember hearing about Tim Sanders Love is the killer app book when I was last at the Willow Creek Leadership Summit in Chicago. I was reminded of it when I read the opening of 1Corinthians 14, where Paul says, "Let love be your highest goal". A literal translation of the Greek might be "Pursue love", in other words go after it, make it a consuming passion, don't let anything else take the priority position that love should have amongst the range of spiritual gifts that are available to you.

Of the three that remain (1Cor.13:13), love is the greatest. Paul says they remain whilst all the other gifts that are so eagerly pursued, and trumpeted, will pass away. But love remains with hope and faith. You probably don't need me to remind you how often faith, hope and love come up in Paul's letters.

The question I'm asking myself is: "How do I purse love as my highest goal?" When I did ethics at college we studied various approaches to issues, one of which was always to do the most loving thing. The problem was defining what the most loving thing was. Everyone had a different perspective.

Perhaps, from a Christian perspective, the most loving thing is always going to be the thing that most honours God. It's the thing that Jesus would do if he had to make the decision. It would be the thing most full of grace and most reflective of his character. It would understand the predicament but always point to a better way. It wouldn't judge and condemn but rather forgive and restore. But there would also be a sense of challenge too (... go and sin no more {John 8:11})

It's a balance we find difficult to maintain. We worry that if we don't do something about discipline, then the church will fall apart; that if we don't root out sin, we'll be seen as condoning patterns of life that are are far from God's ideal.

So when I read Paul's words I ask myself: How did Jesus make love his goal? And then I see the shadow of the cross and suddenly my perspective changes.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son....

Monday, August 20, 2007

Rediscovering my PDA

A long time ago I had an ipaq. I liked my ipaq. The problem was that:

a. I couldn't easily see a week at a glance or a month.

b. It would lock up for no apparent reason and I couldn't get access to anything.

c. It didn't respond well to being driven over in the car park.

This last point was an accident, but it did demonstrate that a paper diary system is much quicker to restore, doesn't have battery failures at inconvenient moments, and is infinitely adaptable.

So it was that I reentered the digital PDA world last year with a little hesitation. I finally chose a Palm Tungsten E2. Loved by some, hated by an equal and opposite number and thereby causing the balance of the universe to remain intact. It is a fact that what one person finds a wonderful, life-enhancing tool, another finds to be the very antithesis of all that is good and wholesome.

Anyway, getting the Palm gave me a chance to reevaluate my relationship with paper and electronics. I have to say I still like paper, I still love writing with a foutain pen in my journal, I still love having a notebook to jot down ideas and other stuff, but I'm warming to my Palm.

Ever since I began to explore the basics of GTD, my Palm has taken on a whole new role in my life. Not only can I keep my task list up-to-date and take it with me wherever I go, I can keep all the other data up-to-date too. It's a laborious job writing 'phone numbers in my diary, the PDA makes it very easy. My Palm uses Documents to Go, which allows me to synchronise Word and Excel documents on my PDA and computer.

Thinking Rock, my GTD application, produces reports of actions and projects (to name just two). Because I'm not running the posh version of Documents to Go, I can't synchronise the pdf reports, but I can copy them into Word and then synchronise the resultant file. It take a little longer but it's not brain surgery.

So now I can have a regularly updated report on what needs to be done and what projects are on the go. The project file gets updated each week, and the actions as and when it's needed.

The other neat thing about having the PDA look after this is that I can label the tasks. That means I can view them by context (a GTD expression for where or with whom one completes an action) using the tags I've created. So on my Palm I have an easy way to see what calls I need to make, what errands I need to run and what books I want to read. It would take me an age to write all this stuff down for my paper system. I do keep a printed copy of actions in my diary, which I can use when I'm out, but the Palm is a better option.

I don't suppose I'll be ditching the paper and pen any time soon, but the combination of paper, pen and stylus is looking promising.

Software for creative writing

I've been looking for software that will let me outline ideas for a sermon series or even a book or a website or anything else that requires more than, or less than, the processes offered by the likes of Word. A standard word processor is fine for churning out letters and notes and even sermon outlines, but it's not very helpful for setting out the big picture of a series or even a stategy document. Take for example a series on "The heart". I did one of these a long time ago and if I used Word to do that the easiest way was to start each sermon idea on a new page. The problem was, that unless you used the indexing system and produced a contents page that you regularly refreshed, you never got to see the bigger picture of the overall series.

So I had a look for something that might help and I came across two pieces of software, one Windows and one for the Mac. Given that I'm going to buy a Mac in the autumn, my daughter graciously let me download Scrivener and play with it on her Mac mini. The Windows product I'm playing with is called Pagefour.

This is how Scrivener looks:

So far I have to say I'm really liking it. The cork-board is really useful and there are some very nice touches. I have a feeling this will become a standard part of my set-up when I migrate to Mac.

I'm thinking of writing a book, and Scrivener, like Pagefour, is expressly designed for this kind of task.

On the left of the screen you have all your pages and projects. You can edit them individually or, by selecting a group, you can edit them as a single document. On the cork board you can rearrange the index cards and your pages are rearrange too.

Pagefour is not quite so pretty, but function is more important. At the moment, because I'm living in two worlds, I'm playing with Scrivener to outline an idea for a book based on my recent foray into the world of getting organised. Having worked through David Allen's Getting Things Done, I wondered if there was a place for a book you could read in an hour to kick-start getting hold of all the disorganised stuff. Anyway, that's a good project to try out this kind of software.

In Pagefour, which looks like this:

I'm setting out a major teaching series for the church. Having recently read The Connecting Church by Randy Frazee, I thought I'd look at setting out our core beliefs, practices and virtues, and try to work them into a series for Sundays.

In Pagefour you have a basic set-up with your list of notebooks top left and below that a list of pages and folders. Folders are useful because you can have a topic as a folder, which you can then break down into smaller pieces.

If you're involved in developing the teaching programme in any setting, I think either of these programs will be useful to you. I like being able to see the overall picture as well as the detail and these two applications let me do that.

You can get a free trial of either of them from the websites linked above. Neither is an expensive piece of software.

On a different topic, I wanted to include a screenshot with this post and wondered how I'd do that. I had a look for a screen capture program and found several, one of which I've downloaded but not installed yet because I found a really neat solution. As a Windows user, you can use the facility to capture a screenshot quite nicely.

Open the application you want to capture, press and then open an image editing application (I use Photoshop) and then paste the clipboard into a new image and hey presto an instant screen shot.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Making a start in self-organisation

Jeff said:

Ooooo aaaaah. More more..! ;)Still trying to find time to
take this plunge. I know that sounds like I'm not committed to wanting to be
organized, but give me a first step here...

So here’s my first step.

1. Plan the date you’re gong to do this. Don’t think about it, plan it, make the decision to deal with all the stuff and set the time aside to do it. If necessary, plan several dates for the different parts of the process like stray papers, books, desk drawers. I know that David Allen advocates doing the whole sweep in one go, but I’ve found it more rewarding planning different things for different days. It was a big win for me to get my desk clear and tidy and it encourages me to attack the filing and the bookshelves.

As a recovering disorganiser, I know it’s a disciplined choice to change the habit. So take out your diary now, block out a couple of days in a week’s time and keep the date.

2. Go shopping! If you want to make this fun, and believe me it can be fun, go shopping for some supplies. My friend Mark introduced me to the really useful box idea (You can just see it sitting to the right of the picture) and so I went and got a box and the 1-31 and 1-12 files. You can make your own of course with square cut folders. If you can get them, the tabbed folders are really useful and the post-it tape also very useful. I’m an A4 person and the 9-litre box takes the A4 files and folders nicely. In the UK you can get A4 versions of the index files from Amazon. I also bought a label maker (I said you could have some fun, although a label maker might not strike you as fun!)

3. Collect all your unprocessed stuff into one place. If you’re going the whole hog, then that means everything, but if you want a step-by-step approach like I’m using, then start with all the paper that’s accumulated. I took over the dining room table for several days. Fortunately we have a separate dining room so it wasn’t going to be a problem for a couple of days and the truth is, a lot of stuff gets left on the table anyway.

4. Begin to process it. My first pass through all this unprocessed paper was to separate it into discrete piles. I know this isn’t necessarily the GTD way, but it worked for me. I had a pile of recyclable paper, a pile of stuff that needed shredding, a pile of stuff that related to church, school etc. I then did the recycling and the shredding. It would not be an exaggeration to say that two thirds of the paper disappeared at that point. I then took the stuff that just needed to be filed and filed it. I’ve deferred actually doing a filing purge until another day.

I then took each pile that was left in turn and made a decision about each piece of paper. The decision was simply a choice between “do it”, “defer it”, “delegate it” or “dump it”. At this point “defer” simply meant putting it to one side, whereas “do it” was for things that I could sit down right then and deal with very quickly. Eventually the “defer it” pile got turned into scheduled actions or moved into a review folder to come back to at review time.

This narrowed the piles and daylight began to appear.

As I went I also began adding things to my task list, my diary and TR (Thinking Rock). I must admit I put some easy wins in the list because that made me feel good about what I was doing. As an aside I actually found it quite refreshing to write something on the list, then do it, then cross it off. It sounds silly, but it really helps to see those tasks disappear and feel like you’re winning the battle.

After about three days of sifting and processing I had a clear desk and all my stray paper had a home. That doesn’t mean it was in the right place, there’s still a lot of files to sort out, but I’m on the way.

I found that as I processed there were many things about which I felt I couldn’t make a decision in the moment. So I deferred those into the tabbed files for review at the end of the week. This really helped as fatigue set in and my mind was slowing down.

The key is to keep reviewing. I now check my lists and files everyday.

I’m refining how I use my tabbed folders. For example, I have a tab for receipts. When I come home, I take my receipts and put them in the tab. Then, when I get a space when I need a break from a more demanding task, I open the tab, take out the receipts and start entering them into my accounts software.

Remember: Collect; Process; Organise; Review;Do. (As David Allen says!)

Friday, August 17, 2007

How my desk (and study) is changing for the better

I know it might seem like I've become an evangelist for GTD, but I assure that's not the case. It's just that I'm actually quite amazed, and a little thrilled, about the difference getting more control into my study is making to me overall. I just happen to have alighted on GTD and I'm experimenting with it.

What I like is the simplicity of the approach: Collect-Process-Do. Actually trying to implement this strategy has given me the reason to tidy up my study, but it's not the whole reason.
The story begins with a number of realisations. First, I needed to be organised. My study was a mess and that meant my mind was a mess too. A mess in the sense of no order and no system to track and monitor what I was doing. Second, I came to the realisation that one thing that needs to change for us as a church is accountability. And if I'm not holding myself accountable for getting things done, then how can I hold other people accountable for what the should be getting done? Third, I want to be more effective in what I do. I have so many things with which I have some level of involvement that it's impossible to keep it all my head. Well now I'm learning how not to store it there but elsewhere.

These then were some of the reasons that I took the plunge, not only to tidy up, but also to try and instill some discipline into my workflow. Look at the results. The first picture is my desk as it typically was. The second is my desk as it is now. The thing is I haven't tidied it up for the picture, it's actually like this most of the time! At the end of most days, I put stuff away, I process it in order to leave my desk empty for the following day just like I now leave my email inbox empty. I know I'll have days when it gets a little messy. But at least now there are no piles of loose papers piling up on the corner.

And my filing cabinet top is the same. It used to have an 18" high pile of papers with three full trays behind it. Next to my printer was another tall stack and there was another unruly bunch of stuff on the floor. All this has gone and order is emerging.
And you know what, it feels good to finally be breaking the pattern of years of marginal, fly by the seat of your pants, disorganisation.
Have I missed anything in the last 2 weeks since I began this process? Yes. I meant to email a document to someone but didn't because... it never made it to my list of actions. On the other hand I think I've actually delivered in some ways that were not the case before.
I'ts a strange experience, but one I hope to get used to. So please forgive me if I sound like a compulsive organiser, I'm not, I'm just enjoying the freedom that comes with a bit of structure.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

At hand files

Many thanks have to go to my friend Mark for supplying me with ideas and products to help me in my quest to get organised.

Whenever I've tried to reorganise my stuff in a more orderly fashion in the past, I've always come up against what to do with the things I need close at hand. The things I'm working on right now, or the things that I can't deal with in the moment and need to check back on in a few hours or days. In the past this has been my desk-side pile, which inevitably got out of hand, became two piles, then tree, then just a heap of stuff mixed together. Well, thanks to tabbed folders, those days are over!

I currently have two tabbed folders sitting in my "Really Useful Box" that I got from the stationers. I have one folder for church related things and one for non-church. I'm hoping that these won't grow too much into amorphous storage systems, but only regular reviewing (the cornerstone it seems of making any organisational system work) should prevent that happening.

As an example, my church folder has tabs for:

Things I need to give to other people

Preaching plans

Pastoral care

Core BPV's (beliefs, practices and virtues: This is something I'm working on derived from The Connecting Church)

Church magazine

Church display stuff

David and Kylie's wedding

David and Tina's wedding

The two weddings are fairly short term projects, one this weekend and one in September. Once the wedding is over anything useful can be filed and anything not useful can be binned. The church magazine can accumulate ideas for the next issue, is a place for the draft of the current issue, you get the picture.

The great advantage of these files is that they are right there where I can reach them, so I can review them, process them and work on their contents very easily. I like this a lot.

The other great thing Mark introduced me to was post-it note tape. Just like post-it notes it sticks and peels off, but it's on a roll. That means you can put a strip down the front of the tabbed folder and write on it. When you've finished you can remove the tape, put another strip on and reuse the folder. Marvellous! I write in pencil too, so I can erase an index when I've processed the contents of a tab and no longer need it.

Organising my inbox

I made some recent comments about handling email and mentioned that some of the folders I use may need to change. Well, after a week of the new system it works fine but there are some rough edges. Here's what I've done.

I now have a folder structure that includes the following sub-folders under my inbox:

@Attend to: for emails that I need to do something about but can't do just at the moment (if you are a GTD-er they fall into the "more than 2 minute" category of actions).

@Follow up: For emails that are threads of conversations that I will need to follow up at some point or that I need to track in a non-urgent way.

@Read/review: For emails that (as it says on the can) I want to read and review because they contain something of potential interest that I can't look at right now but don't want to lose sight of.

@Replies no follow up: I have some emails to which I've replied but that don't need following up. I could just put them into the archive folder or delete them, but I've decided that this choice should be part of a review process. So this folder is just a place to store those replies during the week. Then, at the end of the week, I can review them and process them.

@Waiting for: This is for emails I've sent and am waiting for a response from some else.

The "@" symbol means that these folders appear alphabetically directly below my inbox. This is very useful in terms of seeing the folders among the list of folders.

The change has been to add the "read/review" and the "replies no follow up" folders. I found I was looking at emails and wondering where they fitted in my system. I have my main archive, which I review from time to time (hopefully a little more often now I'm getting organised!) and I have different folders for different archives (things like online orders and receipts for example). These new folders give a place to put new emails before they disappear into the vault of my archive. More than that, they allow me to review the status of all current and recent emails on a daily basis without having to wade through too many messages.

The end result is that my inbox is rarely going about 10 messages, and is usually empty once I've processed incoming mail.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Exploring GTD-Paper notes

As you know I'm exploring GTD as a mechanism for organising my workflow more systematically (and thereby less chaotically). To that end I'm reading the book and experimenting with Thinking Rock.

In a recent leaders meeting I even found myself asking out loud, "What's the next action we need to take on this?" And I found myself doodling in my notebook trying to arrange my notes to take account of this new-found determination to know what we were going to do and who was going to do it. What I needed was a notebook, or a notepad, that had all the relevant boxes on it to help me focus on getting things like "next actions" down on paper. The problem is that I can't find one.

The only thing like it that I've come across is Action pads and notebooks. Although available to international customers, the shipping rate is too high to make it worth my while ordering some to try. So, I decided I'd have a go at setting out my own note sheet. I've called it "Thinking Paper" simply because I've tried to tie it in to Thinking Rock and I needed a name for the file. It looks like this:
It's a first draft and I'll try using it over the coming weeks and refine it as I go. Or maybe not if it works.
It has space for the project or meeting, the vision or purpose and organising/who. Date and topic are on the right. There's a large box for notes and at the bottom a box for Sub-project if there's a project within this project that needs to be developed.
Bottom right is a box for Maybe/someday. The Next Action boxes have a space for the action and for a context and waiting for. I've also included a "Do ASAP" check box and a space for a date if this is a scheduled task. Below that is space for a name if the action is delegated.
I thought I might turn it into a notebook by printing it double-sided and then using a comb binder to make the notebook. I seem to remember when I was at college you could pre-punched sheets through which you threaded a spiral binder thingy.
If you'd like a pdf version of it, leave a comment and an email contact and I'll send you one, or just email me direct if you know my email address!
You may want to visit D*I*Y Planner to look at their range of pages for all sorts of organisers.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Reaching the end of the path

So here we are, the intrepid explorers at the end of the Greensand Ridge.

After 40 miles of varied walking, Jeremy and I finally reached our destination in Gamlingay.

We've walked by canals, through meadows, alongside woodlands and up and over a few small hills. We discovered an area of Special Scientific interest that I don't know was there, and view Bedfordshire from a great number of different places.

The path was generally easy walking, although around Millbrook and Ampthill and then Maulden, there were one or two climbs that needed negotiating, but nothing difficult. For me the hardest thing was crossing the A1 trunk road on the footbridge. Not my favourite thing, heights, but it had to be done and I'm quite proud of myself for making it across. Here are a couple of views which made the walk worthwhile.

And finally, a big thank you to our transport officer, Anne (my wife) who drove around the countryside dropping us off and picking us up.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Stepford cars?

In a conversation with my daughter Ally after watching Stepford wives I was reminded about the story of Bill Gates comparing the computer industry with the car industry.

I managed to track down a version of the story on the net. Here it is:

If cars were like computers

At a recent computer exposition, Bill Gates reportedly compared the computer industry with the auto industry and stated: "If General Motors had kept up with the technology like the computer industry has, we would all be driving $25.00 cars that got 1,000 miles to the gallon."

In response to Bill's comments, GM issued a press release stating: "If General Motors had developed technology like Microsoft, we would all be driving cars with the following characteristics:

For no reason whatsoever, your car would crash twice a day.
Every time they repainted the lines in the road, you would have to buy a new car.
Occasionally your car would die on the freeway for no reason. You would have to pull over to the side of the road, close all of the windows, shut off the car, restart it, and reopen the windows before you could continue. For some reason, you would simply accept this.
Occasionally, executing a maneuver such as a left turn would cause your car to shut down and refuse to restart, in which case you would have to reinstall the engine.
Macintosh would make a car that was powered by the sun, was reliable, five times as fast and twice as easy to drive -- but would run on only five percent of the roads.
The oil, water temperature, and alternator warning lights would all be replaced by a single "General Protection Fault" warning light.
The airbag system would ask "Are you sure?" before deploying.
Occasionally, for no reason whatsoever, your car would lock you out and refuse to let you in until you simultaneously lifted the door handle, turned the key and grabbed hold of the radio antenna.
Every time GM introduced a new car, car buyers would have to learn to drive all over again because none of the controls would operate in the same manner as the old car.
You'd have to press the "Start" button to turn the engine off.

Handling email

In my newly organised world (!) I'm trying to find better ways of handling my inboxes and emails are one of those inboxes that can easily get out of hand. To combat this I'm trying a new strategy which aims to empty my inbox every day. I used to wait until my inbox had about 100 messages before I would go through them and weed out the stuff that didn't need to stay there. I do have a folder structure for archiving emails, but it was a bit hit and miss. So I'm trying a new approach.

If you're a PC user, and I still am, you may use either Outlook or Outlook Express to handle email. I used to use Outlook Express to do emails, keeping them separate from my diary and notes etc in Outlook. At the moment I'm trying Outlook. All I'd say is that the two programs are different. Outlook has some functions that I never knew existed, and probably a few I haven't found yet, Outlook Express seems to do things Outlook won't, or can't do. For example, I haven't found the button yet in Outlook that will auto-complete email addresses in the way Outlook Express does so. Perhaps my old 2000 version of Outlook doesn't do such things!

Anyway hopefully my new approach can be modified for either and adapted to other email handling programs.

The first thing I've done in Outlook is create some new folders, one for emails which are waiting for a response, one for emails which need my attention, and one for emails that I need to follow up in some way at a later date. It's early days and these categories may need to change. In Outlook, if you start the name of these folders with "@" they will appear directly below your inbox. You can do the same in Outlook Express, just highlight the inbox and click .

When I check my email, I put incoming mail into either the "attend to" or "follow up" folders. Anything left in my inbox that's not assigned to one of these folders is either filed in an archive folder (church, school, invoices etc.) or left to be moved to the delete folder at the end of the day.

The folder for emails that are waiting for a response from someone else is quite useful. In Outlook you can populate this folder using a simple rule. I picked up this tip from David Allen's website at Having created the folder, you then set up a rule which puts a copy of any outgoing mail with "wf" in the body of the text into the "@waiting for" folder. I then just have to remember to type "wf" after my name (some of you may have seen this beginning to appear in my emails) and Outlook takes of it. Sadly, Outlook Express does'nt have the same ability in it's rules, at least not that I could see.

All this got me looking for software that might help me organise my email and I came across something called ClearContext. I haven't downloaded it (there's a free personal edition) because I want to try my new system to see how that works and because I'm using Thinking Rock to organise tasks and the like and using Outlook to do the same would add confusion and complexity to my embryonic workflow system.

ClearContext allows you to create tasks from emails and categorise them and do a whole lot more. It looks quite interesting and if you're at a different organisational place you might want to give it a look.

Overall I have to say that's it's quite satisfying to open up my inbox at the start of the day and see it empty. It's also nice to know that I can click on a folder and see all the messages that are waiting for a response from someone or that I need to do something about in the next hour or day or whenever.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Thinking Rock

What I like about Thinking Rock so far is the way I can list all my projects (Things I'm thinking about, or working on right now) and then list my actions (what I need to do) and give them a context in which to do them. My contexts include things like "preparation", "research", "with leaders", "at church" etc.

So, on Monday I had a church leaders meeting and I pulled all my "with leaders" actions. It was great! Now, if I use the system properly, I can enter actions onto my list and forget about them until they come due.

I guess the baseline simplicity of this is that I now have a place to capture all the thoughts I have over the course of a day or a week or a month about a meeting or event, or anything. I no longer have to try and retain all that data in my head, which was my fundamental problem with organising myself.

I know this isn't rocket science, and I don't expect to suddenly become the best organised person in the world, but I'm actually excited about having some structure, and for those who know me, that's a really strange thing for me to say!

The other side effect so far is that my study is now almost completely clear of stray piles of paper that don't have a home.

For quite some time I've tried to work with one notebook in which I capture ideas, 'phone calls, meeting notes etc, ready to transfer to more appropriate storage (appropriate to the data that is), and TR will help give a place to the "to do" list stuff that never really made to a list because I could never manage to write down everything on one list using paper.

If you've got any helpful suggestions about how you corral paperwork, let me know. I'm starting on my filing system which has to said is more a place to hide stuff than find it!

Thursday, August 02, 2007

getting organised

Okay, confession time. I'm not wired for great organisation but I know that I need to get better at it if I'm going to minister effectively. So I keep reading and looking for things that might help me in my search for the Holy Grail of a well organised life.

Recently, by an odd route, I found myself watching a demonstration video about a product called Omnifocus. It caught my imagination and I followed the trail to David Allen and the GTD (Get things done) approach. So impressed I've bought the book to read!

Now, I'd never heard about GTD until my friend Mark threw it into a conversation this week. So my curiosity was piqued and I began to read and search the Internet for something like Omnifocus that was available now. This is how I found Thinking Rock.

Thinking Rock is a GTD based idea munching, project organising, action taking bit of free software that runs on Mac or PC (a good thing considering I'm looking to try out Mac-dom in the autumn).

Last year I had a stab at Open Workbench, but I didn't really find it very intuitive and it left me more exasperated than organised. I think that's because I've never used project management software before and I was lost from the very start.
Enter Thinking Rock.

I've been using it for just a few hours and it's fun. Not everything makes sense to me yet, but I can see some really helpful things arising from this kind of system. It's less demanding than MS Project style software and I've already begun to organise some of my tasks and thoughts into projects.

So if you're like me and you're looking for something that might help you plan projects without mangling your brain, you might like to try Thinking Rock. I know there are other applications out there, and I have to say I'm really looking forward to Omnifocus reaching the market at some point, but TR looks like a good solution for the in-between time.