Analog / Digital

Quick Tip: The Stress Reducing Power of Ticklers

Never underestimate the stress-reducing power of a tickler. If you don't need to think about doing a particular task now, you don't need to see it now. You also don't need to worry about remembering to do it in a few weeks time. (The stress that results from worrying about forgetting is greater than most believe.) If you have a digital system, put it in your calendar or a future task. If you have a paper system, put it in a tickler folder (a la GTD) or mark it in your planner in a future action list or calendar day. Have confidence that your trusted system will remember it for you.

Quick Tip: Keep Your Computer Files Decluttered

Today's Quick Tip features a two-for-one suggestion from Doug and innowen.

Are you a computer pack-rat, with a tonne of files cluttering your computer's desktop? Afraid to delete them because you might need them later?

Doug recommends: On the first of every month, move the files you need into the correct directories. Anything that's left, put them into a directory named "Driftwood March 2009" (or somesuch). Create a new one every month. Delete them once they're a year old, since you'll likely never need their contents again.

innowen recommends: Create an "inbox" on your desktop and put files that you download/accumulate from the internet here. Then, once a week (or follow Doug's advice above) go through all the files and sort them into permanent homes or trash them.

Quick Tip: Index Card Inboxes

Carry a day planner but find that "inbox" pages typically only get a few lines of notes before you transfer them into another place, thereby wasting most of your paper and space? Carry a dozen index cards packed into your front cover or a slash pocket. Or, if you have a notebook with stiff covers, purchase a set of adhesive "business card pockets" and attach one inside a cover: they're the perfect size for holding 6-8 index cards. They can be used anywhere you'd like to keep a small stack handy --try attaching one to a large fridge magnet, and you can keep one handy for grocery lists, notes to your spouse, and so on.

A Peek in the Pack

Day Runner + D*I*Y Planner

So, a few people have emailed me about my current productivity tools. They want to know if I'm using Circa, if I've given up on fountain pens, if I ever use software, and so on. One even deduced that the reason for my absence from DIYPlanner was because I had crossed from analog completely into the digital world. The latter is certainly not the case, and my forays into the land o' ones and zeroes have typically resulted in my throwing up my hands in frustration, wondering how some people live without paper. (Keep in mind I'm an IT professional and gadget freak, so I don't say this lightly.)

So, read on for a little summary of my daily gear at the moment....

Review: Scrivener for Mac

I've been searching for the perfect writing software for awhile now. I know that this mythical software won't improve my writing skills per se. But having the right type of writing software does help keep what I write and its structure organized while I work on choosing the precise words and setting them down onto the virtual page. As such, I've used several different applications geared towards writing professionals, and I think I have found the right application for both my writing needs and style. It's called Scrivener and it’s published by Literature and Latte.

Over the years I've found that writing a book or novel requires much more than just starting at the beginning and working your way to THE END. Writing the first draft gets messy and sometimes authors don't want to write the whole piece from the beginning. Instead we may want to focus on character sketches, world building, or we may just want to get the most exciting climatic scene written first. Using a traditional word processor where everything is entered into a single document, containing multiple non-linear thoughts on a myriad of subjects, is hard to do. MS Word was not designed for creative, chaotic writing that jumps around; it doesn't conform to non-linear thought patterns. If I were using Word to do heavy writing, the moment I decide to skip 100 pages into the text to first revise a scene and then move somewhere else to jot a note about a character, I'd end up spending more time searching for the two locations than I'd spend actually typing in the text itself. That's where modular writing and Scrivener come into play.

Weekly Pick: The Art of Letter Writing

In these days of Twitter, texting and five-second Facebook comments, it seems as though there's also a bit of a backlash against "quick and dirty" digital correspondence. Many find that the humanity seems to be missing, and so on the bookstore shelves can now be found scores of books on hand-written notes, love letters, travelogues, greeting cards, and --above all-- honest-to-goodness pen-and-ink letter writing. There's a renaissance afoot.

So for this week's pick (actually our very first weekly pick) we'd like to highlight a thought-provoking article from The Art of Manliless by Brett and Kate McKay entitled The Art of Letter Writing, an overview of tools, expression, style and etiquette:

Man writing[...] But when it comes to sharing one’s true thoughts, sincere sympathies, ardent love, and deepest gratitude, words traveling along an invisible superhighway will never suffice. Why?

Because sending a letter is the next best thing to showing up personally at someone’s door. Ink from your pen touches the stationary, your fingers touch the paper, your saliva seals the envelope. Something tangible from your world travels through machines and hands, and deposits itself in another’s mailbox. Your letter is then carried inside as an invited guest. The paper that was sitting on your desk, now sits on another’s. The recipient handles the paper that you handled. Letters create a connection that modern, impersonal forms of communication will never approach.

Read more: The Art of Letter Writing

day plan

Index card sized planner pages for planning each day.

Usage advice: 

Can be printed on card stock and cut. I print them to regular paper and paste each day into my pocket journal. Then I use as many following pages as I need to capture stuff for that day.

I keep a full to do list elsewhere, on this form I just pick out the "must do today or the world will end" items. On the timed page of the form I keep track of what I intend to do, what I actually do, and how long I do it. For work I have to keep track of what project I work on in 1/10th hour increments and there are faint lines at every 6 minutes.

Paper size: 
Index Card (3 x 5)
Creative Commons
Applications required: 
Anything that can read a pdf.

Semi-Auto, Perpetual . One page per day, with quotes - Classic Size Only

This is a tweak of the awesome template uploaded by leecop. I made a couple of tweaks. First, it is now a Excel 2007 file. With the newer version, I was able to put all the colors, line styles, fonts, etc into a style sheet or theme. So, when I feel like changing all that, I just have to do it in one place.

Second, I took out the pictures and put in a quote box. This pulls quotes randomly from a sheet I added that has the motivational quotes I like. Add and remove quotes from the master list at will. A great many of these quotes came from the aphorism thread on this site.

Third, pulled it all into one sheet within the workbook, arranged to do 2 up duplex printing.

The one hitch with the quote feature is that it is truly random, so you can get duplicates.

Usage advice: 

follow leecops instructions in the file itself. But, you only have to print the one sheet.

Paper size: 
Classic (5.5 x 8.5)
Creative Commons
Applications required: 
Requires Excel 2007

Review: Tagging, People-Powered Metadata for the Social Web

Two years ago, I wrote a two-part series on tagging. A tag is like a keyword. Tags help you sort things by groups to which you assign meaning to. You can assign multiple tags to a single item so it becomes meaningful in different groups. Ever since I stumbled upon the idea of tagging, I've been fascinated. Then I found out about Gene Smith's Tagging: People-Powered Metadata for the Social Web. A book that I hoped would shed some more light on the tagging phenomenon.

As I patiently waited for the book to arrive, I imagined that it would expand upon various tag methodologies and how one could get more out of using a tagging system or site. There is a bit of that in the book, but it is not Smith's main goal. Instead, Tagging takes the reader on a survey of various tagging methodologies and how various online sites use tagging systems to achieve their goals. He studies these techniques in a way that would help software coders create their own tag systems.

Smith writes his material from a coder's perspective. The book's structure is very linear, as each chapter builds upon the knowledge presented in the last. Chapters 1-5 do go into details on what tagging is, why tagging is important, how folksonomies work, and what tag interfaces look like. Chapters 6 and 7 dive down into the nitty-gritty of how tag system are put together with code. These two chapters give guidelines, business analysis, and technical details (GUI, navigational, and code snippets) to help programmers design and develop their own tagging system for an Intranet or home-brew web application. Finally, Smith includes three case study appendixes. Here he analyzes and compares various social bookmarking sites, media sharing sites, and personal information management systems.

I wish I could recommend Tagging for everyone, but I can't. I think this book offers software developers the biggest benefit. It was an enjoyable but hard read for me. Since I’m not a coder, much of the tech and code discussions didn't make sense to my non-codery brain. I'll be giving this one to kender to read, and maybe he and his company can get more out of it than I did. Tagging is published by New Riders and the book retails for $39.99.