GTD – electronic

After getting my iPhone almost a year ago, I decided to give electronic management a new chance.  Another key factor was attending Jason Ramsden‘s great session at the NCAIS tech conference in early 2008 about using Outlook to implement GTD.  Jason recommended a great program that plugs in to Outlook called ClearContext, which has been an amazing tool for me for the last year and a half.

The first key has been to stop using my email Inbox as a to-do list.  David Allen talks about getting all of your to-do’s in one place.  By mixing new email and old email that needs action, you simply have to touch every email multiple times and make a decision about what to do with it each time.  The beauty of ClearContext can click a single button to convert any email to an Outlook Task or an Outlook Calendar item.  This makes it incredibly easy to keep the Inbox clear of items that are actually To-Do’s or are needed for a specific time.  Even if you don’t get ClearContext, you can accomplish a similar result by copying the text of an email into a newly created task or event.  Or, you can use the “Attach Item” feature to attach the message to a task or event and then safely delete it from the Inbox.  That said, ClearContext has other fabulous features, but these two buttons alone make it worth the purchase.

Another time-saving habit has been to attach all the documents for a meeting to the calendar event.  Interviewing a candidate?  Attach the resume to the calendar event.  Meeting a vendor?  Insert the contact information on the event in case you need to reschedule.  Visiting another school?  Insert the directions to the school.  Things become easy to find and with the search feature, you can easily pull up the resume even if the interview was months ago.

Outlook categories aren’t something that I use extensively, but I do find them helpful in one key area.  To any Task that I cannot complete until someone else gives me information, I assign the “Red” category.  This places a small red square next to the task which signals me to “Stop” until I get what I need from the other person.  Another useful feature of ClearContext, is that you can have it signal you with a “Follow Up” if you do not get a response to an email in an amount of time that you specify.  This really takes the pressure off of you, as you don’t have to hold that “how many days ago did I ask Joe for that report” in your head.

What does one do with all those little pieces of information that are needed quickly, but don’t fall into the Tasks/Email/Events categories?  Outlook Notes has been my answer.  When I need the account number for our corporate AT&T account, it’s in the Notes.  Need my library card number to log in and renew my books?  That’s a Note.  These Post-It like snippets work perfectly in the Notes and save lots of digging for the last AT&T bill or my frequent flier account number.

A last tool has been Jott.  With Jott, I call an 800 number, specify an individual (or myself), and leave a voice message. Jott translates the speech to text and sends it to the email associated with the person specified.  This is incredibly useful in situations where a 15 second phone call is easier than trying to type in a to-do item.  Once the message hits my email, I convert it to a task via ClearContext and it is in my tracking system in under 30 seconds total.

Those have been the key areas where I have implemented GTD via Outlook.  One last note is that all of this is made easier and better by the ActiveSync connection to our Exchange server that I have through my iPhone.  My mail, calendar, and contacts are synced constantly.  My notes are synced through iTunes’ Outlook Sync.  Tasks (and this is my main complaint with iPhone/Exchange integration) don’t move through ActiveSync.  Instead, I use Toodle-Do to move them from Outlook to my online Toodle-Do account and from there to my iPhone via the Toodle-Do App.  Not ideal, but it works well enough.  This combination enables me to keep my email, tasks, schedule, and key information with me at basically all times.

This is the end of my GTD series for now.  Again, if you haven’t gotten a copy of Getting Things Done by David Allen, it is well worth your time and money.  Go get it now.  Right now.  Stop reading and go!

iHeart my iPhone

Thanks to all who Tweeted about the iPhone/iTouch session today at NECC.  If you haven’t already, visit http://ieducation.wikispaces.com/, a wonderful wiki from the session.

I’ve had my iPhone for a year and it is the only handheld device I’ve every used successfully.  It syncs beautifully with Exchange 2007, bringing me my mail, calendars and contacts.  My one complaint with this integration is that Active Sync with the iPhone doesn’t sync the notes or tasks, which I use extensively.  I don’t have a solution for the notes but I’m currently using toodle-do as a middleware to sync my tasks.  It’s clunky, but it works.

Some of my personal and productivity apps include

  • Tweetie for Twitter access
  • Facebook
  • WRAL News – my local new channel’s iPhone app
  • PhoneFlix to manage my Netflix queue
  • Free Ping to ping my network

Until recently, I hadn’t done much to introduce the iPhone into my classroom.  However, after nine years of teaching computer science, I may be adding chemistry to my list of courses in the upcoming school year.  This prompted me to look for apps that might be applicable to my new subject area.  Recent downloads:

  • The Chemical Touch Lite – an amazing (free!) periodic table.  This is a wonderful app.  It allows you to view the Mass, Density, Melting Point, Boiling Point, Radius, and Electronegativity of each element.  With a simple touch, you can move from the table to the wikipedia article on that element.  Waiting in the doctor’s waiting room last week, I learned all about Technetium using this resource.  Unsurprisingly, I chose it because it was tech-net-ium.
  • Stoichiometry simulator by T.J. Fletcher.  This is a beautifully designed app. The Lab Manuals are clearly written and the simulator is easy to use.  I look forward to seeing how this will apply in class.
  • Calorimetry Simulator by T.J. Fletcher.  Also nicely done with an attractive design and a clearly written help file that explains calorimetry.  The program includes simulations for several known metals and then three unknowns.  Also looking forward to using this simulator.

I’m also looking into whether the programming of Apps would be a good introductory programming class for our school.  I believe that it would be attractive to our students.  Information gleaned from the iPhone developer site indicates that you must be programming on a Mac.  As a dedicated Tablet PC school, this would be a deal-breaker.  My Apple rep is checking, so I’m hoping that there is a solution.

So why do iHeart my iPhone?  It’s easy.  Exchange integration is easy.  Getting apps is easy.  The interface is easy.  Are there things that I’d love to see added (Flash integration in Safari, copy/paste, the aforementioned notes and tasks), but overall, it is fabulous!

Why “Tech Life Balance?”

Note: This post was the initial post on a blog I had from 2009-2011 entitled “Tech Life Balance.”

One of the most frequent questions that parents ask me is how to tell if their girls are spending too much time online or how to curtail the amount of time they spend online with Facebook, IM and similar applications.  I have a series of tools and tips for these parents to use in collaboration with their daughters to keep the virtual from getting in the way of family time or academic work.  This post doesn’t include those tips, but I will endeavor to post them in the future. Additionally, I know that the division between virtual and real, and between home/school/work is getting narrower if it even exists at all.  I know that students can use IM to collaborate on assignments.  None of that is the point.

I am very connected and all of my devices are multi-purpose.  My husband has six computers: Work tablet, work desktop for photo/video editing, home laptop, netbook (for controlling his flash systems), audio processing rack-mount “desktop” and a cute shuttle for his extensive music collection.  Oh, and his iPhone. I (the head of technology department) have my Lenovo X61 tablet and an iPhone.  Clean and simple, yes, but it also means that I am connected at all times.  I check my email after my second sip of coffee and don’t turn it off until I go to bed.  Unobsessed with Facebook, I check it only twice a day and can usually spend a maximum of ten minutes logged in.  In the morning I read local news online, BBC, and Slate.  I actually have to make a point to check Twitter, which I should do more often.  It doesn’t sound like I’m lacking for tech life balance does it?

But I am.  Technology is my job.  Technology is my leisure.  I carry my iPhone at all times because I am on call.  Most of my email requires a response and many messages each day are requests for assistance.  So, my students have Facebook and I have email.

So, one aspect of tech life balance is about unplugging.  While recovering from a recent surgery, I was off-line for nearly seven days.  I hadn’t been unplugged for that long in ten years and may not be again for another ten, but it helped me realize that I could unplug to rest and restore.  If I can do that, I can unplug to go to a movie, to the gym, to cook dinner, or to paint.

Another aspect is about the role of technology in our lives.  My life, yes, but also my students lives.  In my classroom and in other classrooms.  Is it just as good to watch a Chemistry experiment online as it is to do it in real life?  Can I help my students learn with virtual tools as effectively as when I am there beside them in a tutoring session?  What will make a girl decide to take programming instead of other elective?  How can I use technology to implement systems that make things more efficient and easier?

Thus, tech life balance is the name of this blog.  In one sense, it is tech/life balance and in another it is techlife balance.   Enjoy.