September 8, 2005

Bulk view

Planning reflection

I haven’t posted a planning reflection in a while. I thought I’d think
out loud again after rereading Covey’s _First Things First_ and the
Merrills’ _Life Matters._ This isn’t _the_ way to use Planner. In
fact, I like thinking out loud about my planning style because I love
getting suggestions and advice from others. (This community is

Today I experimented with dividing my tasks according to roles. It’s a
little like planner-trunk.el, but I added the labels manually. This
lets me make sure I’m doing something useful in the roles I wanted to
concentrate on. I would like to eventually move to doing weekly
role-based planning, but I haven’t quite figured out a nice way to do
a week plan.

Here are my thoughts on my planning method so far:


Bunching my tasks according to roles makes it easier for me to
concentrate and prioritize. You can use planner-trunk to do that
too, or just rearrange your tasks and add blank lines between them.
Blank lines don’t automatically get carried forward, though.

Weekly planning

The main reason I have a paper planner (8.5″ x 11″: weekly calendar +
todo list + notes) is have that week-at-a-glance view. I like iCal’s
interface for planning tasks on a weekly basis, but I’m not entirely
sure how to map that onto Emacs, and I like my daily notes and my
day-view task list.

So now I’m trying to figure out how to do exactly what was discussed
on the mailing list a week or two ago: good week planning. I don’t
think I’ve ever come across an Emacs PIM that made me go aha, yes,
that’s the way to do it, although howm’s searching comes close and
org’s outlining can sort of do the trick. Well, so can Planner with
new plan pages, I suppose.

As I was trying to figure out how to do weekly planning, I realized I
didn’t know a nice, easy Emacs function for finding the current week
number. Would anyone happen to have that handy? Alternatively, I could
use something like Week.2005.09.05 to signify the week starting on
2005.09.05 (depending on calendar-week-start-day).

Maybe I could vertically divide the screen between a week view, with
tasks indicating my priorities, and a day view that shows the actual
goods. Then I can use planner-multi to schedule tasks from the week
view, and page forward and backward on the day view to check my load.

With planner-cyclic and planner-deadline in place, that would actually
be better than my paper planner. =)

I keep wondering whether we should do what everyone else does and
store a task once and only once. I don’t know how to hack that so that
it will let me manipulate the tasks as plain text, though. I like
adding blank lines in the middle of things, or changing the sorting
order, or doing other weird stuff. So I guess duplicated text works
better for me.

Undated tasks

Undated tasks tend to get forgotten, but the
sacha/planner-schedule-next-task code I had in my config was a bit
annoying. When I caught myself unscheduling a task even before
properly reading it, I turned that off in my config.

I think it’s because I need to rearrange the tasks in my plan pages so
that the important ones come out first. I’ve already tweaked
sacha/planner-schedule-next-task to add a new task only when I’ve
finished all scheduled tasks on that page for that particular project,
but it seems that after I finish a sublist of tasks, I feel like
changing contexts.

Maybe I can make a next-actions function that goes through a list of
projects and tells me what the next action is. When I have
unexpectedly free time, I can hit a shortcut to call that function,
and it will list the most important task (and perhaps the least
important as well? ;) ) in various pages.

Hey, that would be a low-cost thing to implement. We already have the
pieces for that…


One of the side-benefits of publishing your task list is that
occasionally people will go and do the tasks for you. For example, one
of my TODOs was to write the speaker at a recent convention. I liked
his talk and I wanted to learn more about personal coaching. Because
I’ve been busy these past few days (my mom’s visiting, school’s
starting, etc.), I kept putting it off…

… until I got a note from him saying he searched for his name, found
my TODO, and decided to write to me. ^_^ Yay!

Social software

Ethan Zuckerman writes about how a large volunteer effort was quickly mobilized on the Net. The software support was crude: wikis, databases, data chunks for manual entry by a massively parallel array of humans. The end result: fantastic. Read it and start thinking about ways to make things better.

Ethan also points out the power of posses. Amen, brother! One of my greatest
treasures is the group of friends I can call on for a cause or an
emergency. Social software extends that beyond the small group of
people in my address book to anyone who cares to read my blog, and
it makes it easier for people passing the call on to _other_ posses,
other cliques, other groups through their own blogs. Very good stuff.

Link from Don Marti’s post on “Genetically Engineered Cash Cow”

Personalized personal information management systems

Don Marti quotes an e-mail from Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer:

The productivity software we have today is designed for
everyone, but it doesn’t really map to the specific kinds of jobs
people have.

Sophisticated, feature-packed personal information managers are out
there, but most people use a fraction of the functionality, or even
throw their hands up in despair and stick with e-mail as their
task-manager and calendar all in one. We’re moving towards
simplification.‘s big win
is that they make web-based task managers that are simple enough to do
just what people want and not more.

I think that the biggest win in terms of personal information
management comes when we customize software to the kind of data people
work with—and more importantly, the _way_ they work with that data.
The ultracustomizable
Planner showed
me that even something as small as task sort order could be incredibly
individualized. For example, today I tried sorting my tasks by role
and then by my usual stuff. Other times I’ve sorted it by combinations
of categories. Other people have written code to sort it by importance
and urgency, following Dr. Stephen Covey’s suggestions, and yet others
sort by more sophisticated rules. All of that from something that
traditional PIMs would limit to predefined table headings like “Due
date” or “Category”!

How would this kind of tailoring scale? Boxed software products aim to
satisfy the majority and make their profits on economies of scale.
Customized software takes advantage of the economies of niches, of the
long tail effect of the Web.

When it comes to Planner, I don’t mind spending time writing code for
just one person. Chances are, other people will find that code useful
too. Besides, most tweaks are created and shared by the community, and
that’s ubercool. I learn _so_ much from them, and I’m grateful for the
opportunity to help tailor Planner to become _their_ personal
information manager.

Looking at all the Web 2.0 stuff coming out, I think that kind of
customization is going to be even more important. User-centered design
is front and center. Users take an active role in shaping the features
of an application. Software is turning into a conversation.

That’s cool.

Research interest: social information systems?

As I think about what I’d like to spend the next two years studying, I
find myself going between personal information management and
something (new? old?) that for lack of a better term I will call
social information management. Blogging, social bookmarking and
social networking aren’t quite personal-information-management topics,
but they aren’t quite groupware either. These tools support weak ties
with people outside your usual circles, and I’m fascinated by how much
we gain when we share information with strangers.

On social networks

Jared Spool of UIE is trying out LinkedIn, the business-oriented social network.

Here’s what I like about LinkedIn.

– Discovering people who are in my area. For example, I’ve found a

number of personal coaches in Toronto who are connected to me some
way or another. Isn’t that nifty?

– Referring people to others. Big win. Great fun.

– Learning about the companies people work for. I don’t often hear

about someone’s employment history unless I happen to stumble upon a
relevant question, but seeing people’s backgrounds lets me go, “Hey!
Travis! You work for a game company?!”

– Keeping up to date with people’s changing e-mail addresses. Better

than having a separate address book web app, which might be more