Google Calendar Tip: SMS Meeting Notices

September 9, 2008

While I was out last week, someone without a laptop wanted to check where the next panel she wanted to attend would be, and we got into a quick discussion of my calendar set up. I hate keeping track of my calendar, so I’ve set it up to notify me by SMS every time I have an upcoming appointment I need to worry about so I can be there on time.

If you’re using Google calendar or another similar online calendar system, this may work for you too. It’s quick and easy to set up, and will make it even easier to store your calendar somewhere other than your head.

To set up your phone, log in to your Google calendar account and click on settings in the upper right corner.

Select the “Mobile Setup” tab, select your country, enter your phone number, select a carrier, and hit “Send Verification Code”. You should receive a text message with a short code you can enter and hit “Finish setup”.

To set up default appointment notifications by text message for everything on your calendar, switch to the Calendars tab and click “Notifications” by your calendar name.

Now just set how early before your appointments you’d like a and you’re good to go. I also like to schedule a daily agenda email, so I’m reminded to look through my schedule and plan out tasks for the day that will fit in with the time I have that day.

To adjust the settings for a specific calendar event, the “Options” panel when you’re looking at an appointment detail will let you switch when your reminder message comes in.


Prioritization and Getting Things Done

September 7, 2008

After my panel at Office 2.0, and sharing our GTD-based web app with some of the crowd there, the question of prioritization kept coming up.

The discussion usually goes something like “it’s an interesting methodology, but I really need to be able to prioritize all my work, and there’s no way to do that”. In my experience, that’s not true, you’re just framing the idea of prioritization differently than most systems; you’re making priority an explicit decision about what deserves your attention. That judgement happens as part of your daily and weekly reviews.

You start by prioritizing along hard deadlines and framing out your time. Appointments that must happen at a certain time and date go in the calendar, and become commitments that you’ve said are more important than anything else you could work on that week at that time. By making them scheduled items, you’re implicitly saying that you’ll not take any new, incoming work or think about the rest of your to-dos to work on those scheduled items.

Then you pick out what I think of as soft landscape pieces: tasks that need to happen at any time on a given day. By building them into your workload on a given day, you’re saying they also have a high priority and that you value them enough to give them a specific, time-determined commitment, but that they aren’t important enough to promise to block out conversations and calls and emails to get them done.

As a final filter, you review your open projects. You look at the topics and themes that matter to you (Horizons of Focus in Allen’s terminology) and then look at your project list. Move most of that project list to “on hold” status, and leave active the projects that are the most valuable toward achieving your long term goals. Use the landscape pieces in your calendar to figure out how many projects you’ll realistically have time to fit into your schedule. These are your medium priority tasks- you’re making a judgement that they matter enough to commit to working on them, but not enough to make hard and fast promises in your calendar about when you’ll do them. If they were higher priority, you would commit to a given time.

Low priority tasks, in my interpretation, are everything on hold. If I finish everything active, I can move on to them. If I have a small window of time that doesn’t fit my active work, I’ll skim a context list and grab one of those as filler.

Once you’ve made these judgments, you’ll have a pretty short short list of things to do, compared to your overall project list. And when the inevitable flurry of incoming messages and calls and requests starts to arrive, you compare those to your active projects. Is anything coming in higher priority than what you’ve committed to in you hard landscape and thought are medium priority projects? If so, you’ll bump the tasks that don’t have dates and times associated with them and take on the incoming work.

Priorities in this model aren’t about assigning a flag to something to remind yourself that it matters. Instead it’s about making a commitment of your time and focus to a subset of your possible work and letting the rest be stored in your trusted system until you review again and reevaluate those commitments. And leave time for friends and family and real human interaction. If your work-related tasks and household administrative stuff will fill your schedule from the time you wake up to the time you go to sleep, you can skim that active projects list and find the point at which you need to set that aside and go enjoy a relaxed evening with your loved ones.

GTD is a trademark of the David Allen Company. It’s use on this blog has not been reviewed by their company, I’m just another GTD-er sharing my experiences.

10 Ways to Beat Procrastination

April 28, 2008


In an interview between Merlin Mann and David Allen, I heard the great phrase “Procrastination isn’t about not doing, it’s about not doing and feeling crappy about it”. None of us want that ambient guilt bearing down on us during our time off, so here’s 10 great ways to figure out why you’re procrastinating and finish what you have to do.

  1. The excuse: It’ll take so long!. Maybe, or does that objection stem from not really knowing how long it will take? Set a timer for 15 minutes and see how far you can get. You can use a kitchen timer, the alarm on our cell phone, or grab a computer based timer, like a widget with an audible alarm. Most of them time, I can finish before the timer goes off just by forcing my self to get started.
  2. The excuse: I’ll mess it up. So what? Do a quick scenario run down in your head. Even if you don’t do it perfectly, will the outcome really be a problem? You’re nervous about calling a potentially big client – but if it doesn’t work out you’re not any worse off than you were. So what if you aren’t good at painting or knitting? Do it, enjoy it, and practice until you’re great. Your color choices or dropped stitches won’t cause anyone any harm.
  3. The excuse: I don’t know enough. Not being an expert doesn’t mean your efforts aren’t worthwhile. Tufte may be the expert on displaying information, but he’s not going to be putting together anyone’s quarterly sales reports. Acknowledge that lots of the work, in every company, everyday, is being done by non-experts – and the results are pretty impressive. And unless you’re contemplating neurosurgery, you can use your current skills, a few questions to colleagues, and some research to be good enough.
  4. The excuse: It’s not worth it (pt. 1). You’ve already committed. But maybe you can renegotiate the task. Will an outline do instead of a draft? Can you offer to take on something else for the person you committed to this task for instead? Can you delegate it to someone else, so your responsibility then lies in making sure it happens? Delegating isn’t necessarily a cop-out. If you ask the right person, this can be a great learning experience for them, a chance to cross train on a related team, or a way they can demonstrate they’re ready to take on more responsibility.
  5. The excuse: It’s not worth it (pt. 2). So maybe you can’t renegotiate. For whatever reason, you have to do it. As long as this project is weighing on you, it’s draining your energy and attention. Try reframing your reason to reflect this. Getting the task or project done is no longer about finishing it for its own sake. Now it’s about taking a weight off your shoulders to free your mind up to relax and enjoy other things without guilt.
  6. The excuse: It’s not worth it (pt. 3). You’ve probably been through parts 1 and 2 before. A great way to avoid procrastinating on similar projects again is to look at why those “not worth it” projects in the past repelled you. If you’re a freelancer, did you charge less than you feel you’re worth? Promise not to make that mistake again. Did you make a commitment before understanding the effort and the time involved? Resolve to get more clarification in the future.
  7. The excuse: I just can’t get into this. Sometimes it’s just hard to get into the right frame of mind to make progress. Are there easier related tasks you can start with? Try cranking through a few of those to get yourself in a productive and successful state of mind. If they’re part of the same project, they can also grab your attention and help you load the right ideas in your mind, so when you go back to neglected task you’re already thinking about it.
  8. The problem: Distractions. When you’re avoiding a task, working in a space that offers shinier, more entertaining alternatives is going to strain your willpower. Schedule a block of time devoted to nothing else. Close your email if you can. Turn your phone to silent or have your assistant hold your calls. If you’ve got the flexibility, consider changing locations. Go to a library or coffee shop and bring just the materials you need with you. It’s amazing how much more interesting your task becomes when you don’t have anything else to do.
  9. The problem: Your to-do list. Make sure your to-do lists are set up to help you work. If you procrastinate often, maybe you need shorter lists of things you’re actually going to do that day to keep you on track. If so, move more to your “someday” list. Maybe you need to view your attention as a resource, and group tasks by how much energy and focus you have. Maybe your tasks are too vague, and little time to process them into steps or add additional supporting detail to the steps will make them seem more manageable. Take the time to examine your set-up periodically and see if how well it really reflects the way you work when you’re at your best.
  10. The problem: Lack of urgency. If you’ll honor it, set yourself a deadline. If you’re not sure that’ll do it, give yourself a source of external accountability. Tell a colleague or a friend you’ll see at a meeting the next day you’re going to finish your task or project before you see them. Ask them to check in with you about how it went.

“Time Management” by Randy Pausch, November 2007

April 11, 2008

“Time Management” by Randy Pausch, November 2007

Apparently also now available as a book, The Last Lecture, Randy Pausch talks about the importance of time and how to make more of it for the things that really matter. I really like his emphasis of the idea that productivity isn’t about just getting more done, it’s about efficiently taking care of the things you really need to do so you have time to get to the things you want to do.

Towards the end there are some nice practical tips, for example how to renegotiate your deadlines while keeping your promises and how to establish what is important enough to warrant an interruption.

(Via GTD Times.)