Tuesday, May 23, 2006

My Hipster PDA

I learnt about the "Hipster PDA" in September 2005 from the HipsterPDA web site. I wasn't interested in owning a Palm computer or fancy PocketPC. What I like the most is the retro style of using paper and pen.

My HipsterPDA is made of cardboard dividers labelled with the contexts I use for my daily activities. Behind each labelled tab, 3 by 5 slips of paper can be found with brief statements of the next actions I have identified for the week ahead. The contexts I use are :
  • Office - Tasks that can only be done at the office. This includes personal tasks such as errands and phone calls.
  • Home - Tasks done at home that don't require use of the home computer
  • Computer - things to be done at home, including home maintenance
  • Reading - books I have borrowed from the library (due date recorded on each card) sorted by date, and other reading material at home including chapters from computer books I am studying
  • DVD - borrowed from the library, with due dates recorded on the card
  • Listen - CDs I am planning to listen to, especially music I am following through with the music score (orchestral, songs and operas)
  • Filing - this section is for cards requiring filing during my weekly review.
  • Waiting - used to store cards to remind me of things I am waiting for other people to do

What I like about having one action per card is that actions can be prioritised by just moving the cards around! When I choose to work on a few tasks I pull out the cards and place them on my desk so they are visible the whole time. As the tasks are completed, I ceremoniously scrunch up the piece of paper and throw it in the rubbish bin.

I keep about 6 spare "cards" on the front of the pack so I always have some writing material available. When I don't take the HipsterPDA with me, I take 3 index cards and a pen so I am never short of writing material.

Drawing tool support? Yes I can doodle and draw pictures on the cards. I have a few 3 x 5 pieces of 5mm graph paper for technical sketches.

Color support? Yes, I can use coloured pens on the cards! No extra cost.

Backup? No batteries required. Important information is transferred into documents on the computers, in my Evernote application or the cards can be filed in boxes.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Lamy Safari Fountain Pen

After reading a review of this pen from Lamy, I decided to indulge myself by buying a Lamy for myself. I bought the piston action refillable ink cartridge (instead of disposable plastic cartridges) and a bottle of blue/black Lamy ink.

Three cheers for German engineering!

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Live Tomorrow or Live Today

This is a speech I gave at my Toastmasters club (Chatswood Early Risers) as part of my Communication and Leadership Manual. I am posting the text of the speech with some minor changes.

It’s your six year old daughter’s birthday party. Her face is beaming as she is poised ready to blow out the candles. You raise the camera… press the shutter…. then nothing.

Flat batteries! You remember the camera stopped working last weekend and you intended to recharge it when you got home…. but ….you didn’t. You’ve just paid the price of procrastination … by forgetting to charge the batteries, you lost a very special photograph.

Procrastination means putting off or deferring an action until a later time. The word has its origins in the Latin word “crastinus” meaning “belonging to tomorrow”. When you procrastinate you are deferring your living until tomorrow…. and avoiding doing the things you should do today. Procrastination is bad because it often has a high price attached.

My wife once gave me a medical bill to pay. I put it in the folder with all the other bills intending to pay it in the next couple of days. Two weeks later I reviewed these bills, and rediscovered the medical bill and read it closely. “Discount of $50 if paid within seven days.”. I couldn’t believe it! A substantial discount yet I had ignored the offer! I felt so stupid as I wrote a cheque and posted it that day.

Procrastination can not only incur overdue fees, but can cost you a lot more money when things break down because you didn’t bother to maintain them earlier. Do you get your car serviced regularly or wait for a breakdown on your big holiday trip? When was your last cholesterol check and medical checkup?

The worst cost of all is when you procrastinate on spending time with the people you love. Have you been meaning to visit an elderly friend or relative and you told yourself you were too busy? Then you receive news of that person’s death. The opportunity of spending time with that person is lost for ever.

How can we overcome procrastination?

First of all, we need to understand the causes --- and there are many: laziness, distractions, and choosing to do pleasurable activities instead of important tasks. Often we don’t want to start because we have a fear of failure, or even the fear of success. Sometimes we don’t know what to do, or we don’t have the skills or resources to do something.

My first tip is you should write down everything you need to get done. Once written down you can stop worrying about forgetting Our minds are like chattering monkeys constantly reminding us of things to do.. buy milk ring John about that appointment, wife’s birthday present? Listening to this chatter is STRESSFUL, so write things down.

The next tip will energise this list using two questions:
  • What is the desired outcome?
  • What is the next physical action required to move close to the successful outcome.
Having a clear picture of what the completed task will look like creates momentum and energy to move closer to the finish line. Having a picture shows you the target, but it is the second question that makes you take aim and get moving. You are forced to make a decision up front. For example, “Get Car serviced” is a vague term. Telephoning the service station and making the appointment would be a good next action.

Someone told me that Macdonalds teach their staff the motto: “Clean up as you go”. This is a powerful principle for the many short tasks we need to do each day. Instead of adding tasks to lists requiring later attentionit , do the task done immediately and get it out of the way.

Our daughters often bring home permission slip from school that require a signature. We’ve made it a habit to sign the form immediately and the form goes back in the school bag. The whole process only takes a minute or two and I don’t have to clutter up my mind thinking about that task. That medical bill I spoke about earlier -- I should have written the cheque and put it in the post the same day shouldn’t I? An easy $50 saving.

My final tip is how to motivate yourself to do the really boring stuff? The answer is a simple kitchen timer. Imagine you have a huge tidying up job at home that has overwhelmed you for months! Set the timer for 30 minutes and see how much you can get done. You may be surprised at how much you actually achieve in that time.

A good way to boost your productivity yet still allow time to play is to set the timer for 12 minutes then give 100% effort to the task. Set the timer for a two minute break then do whatever you want – coffee break, Internet, or whatever. When the timer goes off, repeat the cycle. You will be amazed at what you can achieve.

If you are prone to habits of procrastination, make the decision now to do your living today and not tomorrow. Try these techniques and adapt them to your personal style. It is possible to get the important things done as well as having fun and relaxation.

Each day is precious and unique and deserves living to the maximum.

So what are you going to do today that you have always been putting off until tomorrow?

I highly recommend you buy David Allen's book, "Getting Things Done".
Read More about the book at Amazon Books

From To Do lists to Next Actions

I was brought up on "To Do" Lists. The very first system I learnt was from Alan Lakein's book "How to get Control of your time and your life". His recommendation was to make lists of what needs to be done and prioritise your tasks as A, B, and C. Tasks marked A were the first things to get done, then the "B" tasks. If there was time remaining, the "C" tasks could be done. Lakein's most memorable saying was "Review our priorities, then ask the question: What's the best use of our time right now?

I have used planner systems from Time Manager International (in Denmark) and Stephen Covey (now Franklin Covey). The basis of these systems is a daily page with a section for appointments (the "diary" part of the page), a todo list, and calls to make. The ideas is to "work" the todo list, then copy the uncompleted items to the next day.

Often the lists would get too long and contain too many areas of my life, to the point that the todo list was no longer a useful tool. I tried making "Personal" lists and "Office" lists, but inevitably, many things didn't get done. Before the weekend I would make a "Weekend" list, then on Sunday night another "Work" list would be made.

Lists, lists and more lists. A lot of time was spent making the lists but I was not effective in doing the work and crossing items off the lists.

Now I use the Getting Things Done (GTD) system. The daily page has been transformed into a true calendar (read my meditation on Calendar) and the todo-lists have been replaced with Next Action lists.

Instead of writing lists of things to do, I ask myself two questions:
  1. What's the desired successful outcome?
  2. What's the next physical action I can take to get closer to this outcome?
Now I know what I need to do, as well as a tangible step I can take to move closer to completion. Describing the physical action makes it easy to know what to do, and minimises procrastination as the work has been defined up front.

I ask a further question about the Next Action: "What is the context for this action?". I have a small set of contexts that identify where the next action can be done and what resources are required. My contexts are :
  • Office (includes personal things I have to do in my lunchbreak)
  • Home
  • Phone (I dont have many calls to make)
  • Computer (using the home computer)
  • Reading (work reading as well as pleasure).
  • DVD Watching (I borrow a lot of DVDs from the library)
I write the context on the top right corner of the card prefixed with an @ sign and the Next Action in the center of the card. Responding to the two questions in automatic as I write the next action in the appropriate "Verb Noun" formula of Next Actions.

Most of the benefit I get from implementing GTD is gained in my personal life. My professional life does not involve supervising staff and I work on on project at a time. I review the @OFFICE cards in the morning to plan my day.

Instead of using the traditional "planner" system, I now have a calendar, and lists of next actions organised by context. There are many ways to maintain these lists, including handheld
computers (Palm, Pocket PC), one page per context forms stored in my planner, or using the computer.

I choose to write each action on an index card. I can prioritise the actions by shuffling the cards around, and once an action is complete, the card is thrown out. Read my meditation on Index Cards on how I make my own index cards using recycled paper.

The Next Action cards are grouped by category behind clearly labelled divider tabs and held together with a bulldog clip. A few spare cards are on the front for recording new actions.

How do I decide what is the best use of my time right now? I look at the cards for the relevant context then take out the cards for the tasks I have chosen to do. The complete pack of cards is reviewed each week during the Weekly Review to ensure there are Next Actions
for all my active projects.


My name is Charles Cave and I live in Sydney, Australia.

In August 2005 I read an article on Wired magazine about David Allen's book Getting Things Done. I bought the book from Amazon since I could not find it in Australia, and joined an email list for help and guidance as I implemented the methodology.

This blog records my journey and I offer some meditations on the key principles of GTD and what has worked well for me.