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Emacs Org mode and publishing a weekly review

Posted: - Modified: | emacs, kaizen, org, process

2010-09-11 Sat 08:00

I like using Emacs Org-mode to organize my notes. One of the things it makes it easy to do is to keep a weekly review. I used to switch between using Windows Live Writer and using Emacs Org to draft the post, but with org2blog, I’ve been using Org more and more. Here’s how I use it.

At the beginning of my ~/personal/organizer.org, I have a headline for * Weekly review. Underneath it is a template that makes it easy for me to review my current projects and make sure that I’ve got next actions for each of them. Below that is a reverse-chronological list of weekly reviews, with the most recent weekly review first. This allows me to easily review my weekly priorities and copy that into a new entry. Here’s what the first part of my Org file looks like (minus the spaces at the beginning of the line)

* Weekly review
** Template
*** Plans for next week
**** Work
- [ ] *Support Classroom to Client:*
- [ ] *Build Connections Toolkit:*
- [ ] *Organize Idea Labs:*
- [ ] *Build career:*
**** Relationships
- [ ] *Plan Wedding:*
**** Life
- [ ] *Sew dress:*
- [ ] *Improve productivity:*
** Week ending September 12, 2010
*** From last week's plans
**** Work
- [X] *Classroom to Client:* Create community and structure online resoruces
- [X] *Connections Toolkit:* Build Activities reporter
- [X] *Classroom to Client:* Format Idea Lab reference presentation
- [X] *Idea Labs:* Assist with planning, process RSVPs
- [X] *Career:* Set up Ruby on Rails
- Helped Darrel Rader with blog feed
- Helped Sunaina with Notes e-mail conversion
- Finalized Idea Lab reference
- Had great conversation with Boz, Rooney, Kieran, etc. about culture and sharing
- Followed up on expertise location, sent draft report
- Collected interesting Lotus Connections practices into a presentation
- Put together match-up slide for IBM acquisitions
**** Relationships
- [X] *Wedding:* Plan NYC trip
**** Life
- [ ] *Sew dress:* Transfer dots and mark stitching lines
- [X] *Chair:* Paint and assemble chair
- [X] *Productivity:* Tweak GTD process - use Org for my weekly review/project template
- [X] *Productivity:* Organize files
- Added weekly lifestream archive
**** Plans for next week
***** Work
- [ ] *Support Classroom to Client:* Collect lessons learned and create new material
- [ ] *Build Connections Toolkit:* Make GUI
- [ ] *Organize Idea Labs:* Update invitation template
- [ ] *Build career:* Go through Ruby on Rails tutorials
- [ ] *Build career:* Prototype Drupal site and learn about new practices along the way
- [ ] *Build career:* Mentor people
***** Relationships
- [ ] *Plan wedding:* Plan BBQ reception
- [ ] *Plan wedding:* Make checklist and timeline for cleaning up, etc.
***** Life
- [ ] *Sew dress:* Machine-baste pieces together
- [ ] *Improve productivity:* File inbox items from my Org file

Most of the time, I leave the template section collapsed, and the “Plans from last week” expanded. Throughout the week, I cross items off and add quick notes about other accomplishments. When I reach the next week, I create a new entry, move the “Plans for next week” subtree and rename it “From last week’s plans”. When I do my weekly review (or throughout the week, as I notice new items), I create a “Plans for next week” section and fill it in. The editing can easily be automated, but I’ll tinker with it a bit first before writing code.

This approach means duplicate information in my task list. It would be interesting to use TODO items instead of list items for tracking my weekly priorities, with possible integration with my web-based task list through org-toodledo. However, I’d need to write code to make the TODO items publish as neatly as this list gets published using org2blog, and I don’t feel like going into that yet.

Anyway, that’s how I’m currently doing it. =)

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Personal knowledge management, morgue files, capture systems

Posted: - Modified: | kaizen, notetaking, process

How do you organize what you know so that you can use it for inspiration later?

Here’s what I have:

Input:

  • Experience
  • Conversations
  • Books
  • Blogs
  • Ideas
  • Experiments

Capture and sharing:

  • Words, sketches, brainstorms – paper and pen
  • Mindmap on my iPod Touch and laptop
  • Quick tips through microblogging and bookmarks
  • Longer thoughts in my blog and on wikis
  • Generally useful information – slides, presentations
  • Book notes – scanned pages, text files; this needsh to be integrated into my system and set up for regular review
  • One big text file organized with outlines and keywords for life, and another big text file for work

Navigation:

  • Search
  • Indexes in my notebooks
  • Randomness, similarity, and on-this-day in my blog
  • Hyperlinks
  • Summaries
  • Outlines and keywords

Index cards are useful for brainstorming too (especially for life planning or when I’m sketching a big talk that doesn’t have an obvious structure), but I don’t use them for long-term storage yet. My blog includes first drafts as well as more polished posts. I need a place to braindump. =) If you want less volume and more thought, just check out the highlights. (Note: I haven’t been keeping this tag up to date)

I love the idea of a morgue file. I’d love to eventually build myself a good random-access information management system. I currently stuff most things into my blog, and am slowly figuring out how to organize things more. I used to use howm, which was pretty cool too (if very geeky). I may go back to building a personal wiki. W- uses Tiddlywiki. =) Digital works well for me because I like being able to access things from anywhere. I don’t interact with enough paper to have a full-blown paper system, and would rather go digital instead of printing things out to integrate them with a paper system.

I love mapping things out. Mapping helps me navigate, see gaps, and plan. It’s also a good way to make it easier for other people to discover interesting things.

Next steps for me:

  • Digitize paper
  • Build indices
  • Build online and offline naming conventions for linking
  • Flesh out map
  • Learn more

More to come as I figure out and improve my system. =)

Thanks to Eric Blue for the inspiration!

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On the practice of a weekly review

Posted: - Modified: | blogging, kaizen, process, reflection

A weekly review is an excellent idea. Here are some of the reasons why I do it:

  1. Track and celebrate accomplishments. Ever wondered where your days went? Tracking your accomplishments lets you get a handle on what you’ve done. Celebrating what you’ve finished encourages you to do more, too.
  2. Deliberately plan the next week. Instead of just reacting to the tasks and interruptions that come up during the week, sit down and plan a few things that you want to do.
  3. Follow up on priorities. If a priority task needs more work, having it on your list makes it easy to follow up (or see where you’re procrastinating!).
  4. Keep people up to date. If you make it easy for family, friends, and coworkers to keep up with what you’re doing, they’ll know more about interests, resources and opportunities that can help you.
  5. Make it easy to review the year. Having a record of your accomplishments and tasks makes those yearly reviews so much easier.
  6. Reflect on what worked and what can be better. Reviewing your week and planning the next one nudges you to think about how things can be better.

It doesn’t take a lot of time, and the benefits are tremendous. I can usually do my weekly review in 15-30 minutes.

Here’s what I’ve learned from doing so:

  • Bullet lists keep things short and simple. You don’t need to document everything – just enough to help you remember.
  • Categories help you keep things balanced. There are lots of different category systems you can use, and you can make up your own. 7 Habits of Highly Effective People recommends thinking in terms of your different roles. Getting Things Done has lots of good pointers for weekly reviews. Play around with the idea.
  • There are lots of ways to do a weekly review, so experiment to find what works for you. Some people like asking a set of questions instead. Others like using spreadsheets. Find out what works for you!

If you’re new to blogging, a weekly review helps you ease into the habit of publishing, and it can help you improve your productivity habits too. Give it a try!

Books:

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People
Stephen R. Covey

 

Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity
David Allen

(Disclosure: Links above are Amazon affiliate links. That said, I recommend checking out your local library. I got these books from the Toronto Public Library, yay!)


Thanks to Kay for the nudge to write about this!

I’ll be away from Dec 30, 2009 to Jan 5, 2009. See you when I get back!
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Process: Using Activities to organize workshop-related information

Posted: - Modified: | process

We regularly organize Innovation Discovery workshops that bring together experts across IBM and client decisionmakers to explore emerging topics. In the past, this involved a flurry of e-mail, particularly if we had last-minute substitutions. The flurry could get confusing, as we usually plan several workshops simultaneously. I refuse to keep all this information in my inbox. I’ve been setting up Activities for each of the workshops I keep an eye on, and we’re getting better at using the Activities to organize information.

Here’s what the workshop Activity needs to do:

  • Store planning information: agenda, logistics, etc.
  • Store workshop and output files: bios, presentations, and so on.
  • Store links to relevant resources, such as the associated Idea Lab
  • Share background information (both general and client-specific) with experts
  • Keep a record of correspondence related to the workshop, so that people who join the workshop late can see the context

In addition to storing information, the Activity can also help:

  • Organize bookmarked profiles and e-mail correspondence during the search for experts, so that organizers can see which potential speakers have already been contacted and what the status is
  • Remind people of the steps to take in organizing sub-activities such as the Idea Lab
  • Organize related resources for those sub-activities
  • Collect all final documents and share them with the group without filling people’s mail files

It’s easier to set up and add people to an Activity than it is to set up and add people to a TeamRoom, and with Lotus Notes 8.5, you can sync Activities for offline use.

NOTE: Although it works best when lots of people use it, the Activity works well even with just one person updating it (me). I keep others in the loop by using the e-mail notification features. This is good to know if the lack of adoption among your team members has been holding you back from using Activities or other nifty tools. They don’t need to use it if they don’t want to. It works even better when other people use it, of course, and someday it may even reach the point of mainstream acceptance. We’ll see. =)

Here are the ingredients we’ve been working with, and some improvements I’d like to try the next time we organize one:

  • README: How to use this activity – This entry is essential. This should be the first item on the list. It should describe the structure of the Activity, what’s in the different sections, and what to do when.
  • Planning: This section should contain the latest agenda. When logistics are sorted out (including which hotels people are staying at), include them here as well.
  • Output: Final presentations and output documents go in this section. We put this near the top for easy reference.
  • Client information: All the account-related information goes here.
  • Background information: Industry-related notes, and so on.
  • Finding experts: Any bookmarked profiles for experts under consideration. Also, e-mail correspondence for referrals, confirmation, etc. This helps us do the search for speakers even if a team member is suddenly unavailable.
  • Idea Lab: Checklist and related resources for the idea lab, if we’re running one for this workshop.
  • Discovery Lab: Draft presentations, more planning documents, related resources (such as the link for visitor wireless accounts), and correspondence. This is a work area that people can use to coordinate with each other.
  • Post-lab checklist: Post-engagement checklist that reminds us to do our lessons learned, case study, etc.
  • Minutes and archive: Meeting minutes, meeting invitations, other correspondence, and other files.

I love refining these tools!

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Process: How to ask communities for help

Posted: - Modified: | process

Reaching out to communities can be a powerful way to find talent or resources. Your personal network may take a while to find the right person or file, especially if key people are unavailable. If you ask the right community, though, you might be able to get answers right away.

Here are some tips on asking communities for help:

  • Providing as much information as you can in the subject and message body.
    • Show urgency. Does your request have a deadline? Mention the date in the subject.
    • Be specific. Instead of using “Please help” as your subject, give details and write like an ad: “Deadline Nov ___, Web 2.0 intranet strategy expert needed for 5-week engagement in France” .
  • Whenever possible, create a discussion forum topic where people can check for updates and reply publicly. This will save you time and effort you’d otherwise spend answering the same questions again and again. It also allows other people to learn from the ongoing discussion. If you’re broadcasting your request to multiple communities, you can use a single discussion forum topic to collect all the answers, or you can create multiple discussion topics and monitor each of them.
  • If your request is urgent, send e-mail to the community. Most people do not regularly check the discussion forum, so send e-mail if you feel it’s necessary. You may want to ask one of the community leaders to send the e-mail on your behalf. This allows leaders to make sure their members aren’t overwhelmed with mail. Using a community leader’s name can give your message greater weight as well.
  • Plan for your e-mail to be forwarded. Because your e-mail may be forwarded to others, include all the details people will need to evaluate your request and pass it on to others who can help. Omit confidential details and ask people to limit distribution if necessary. Include a link to your discussion forum topic so that people can read updates.
  • Promise to summarize and share the results, and follow through. This encourages people to respond to you because they know they’ll learn something, and it helps you build goodwill in the community.

Good luck!

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Thinking of a travel dossier

Posted: - Modified: | delegation, process, travel

I usually spend the evening before a flight putting together a travel dossier. It includes:

  • a map of the route from the airport to the hotel
  • a map of the route from the hotel to the meeting center
  • public transit routes for the airport to the hotel
  • some events and background information

This is something a virtual assistant can easily prepare, and he or she can add more information too. I’d love to have:

  • restaurants near the hotel, cross-referenced with reviews from Yelp or other sites
  • pictures, names, bios and mobile numbers of people in the area who are interested in meeting up
  • names and addresses of people in the area so that I can send postcards
  • taxi companies and phone numbers

In addition, the VA could update my TripIt and Dopplr accounts, so I can start tracking these trips better.

So I’d give the VAs:

– my flight information
– my hotel information
– the location of the meeting

and they would prepare a document that contains:

  1. The weather forecast, if available, including temperature in Celsius and whether to expect rain
  2. The flight information (date and time, flight number, booking reference, terminal number if possible)
  3. The hotel information (name, address, contact number, whether there’s a courtesy shuttle from the airport, and what amenities are available)
  4. A map of the route from the airport to the hotel, including a large map and small maps with driving directions for each step
  5. A public transit version of that map (large map + text)
  6. A map of the route from the hotel to the meeting place, including a large map and small maps with driving directions
  7. A public transit version of that map (large map + text)
  8. A list of taxi companies and phone numbers that serve the area. If the meeting place is in a different city, get me taxi companies for that city too
  9. A list of restaurants near the hotel, ranked by their Yelp rating
  10. A list of restaurants near the meeting venue, ranked by their Yelp rating
  11. A list of my Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Dopplr, and Google contacts in that city, as a table with names, e-mail addresses, phone numbers, and addresses (if from Google contacts), so that we can reach out to them and ask who’s interested in meeting up (maybe a Facebook event + e-mail for those not on FB)

I can then print this document out easily, and keep a copy on my computer for backup.

When people have confirmed that they’ll meet up, the VA can prepare a list of pictures, names, contact information, bios/interests, and blog URLs.

Sounds like an interesting idea!

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Virtual assistance process: Calendar management with Timebridge

Posted: - Modified: | process

Thanks to Ana Conception-Macatiag for documenting this process and including screenshots! =)

Setting up appointments:

  1. Log in to http://www.timebridge.com, see Accounts and Passwords section for the login information.
  2. The screenshot below shows an example of the personal Timebridge Home Page.  To set up an appointment, click on Schedule a meeting at the left side of the screen.

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  3. Fill in the fields.
    1. Type in email address of the attendees in the “Send Invite to” field.
    2. Indicate subject in the “Meeting Topic” field.
    3. Meeting Location (Note unless specifically specified on my meeting details, here are my venue preferences:
      • Lunch during weekdays
        • Ichiriki – Japanese – 120 Bloor Street E, Toronto – Hours: 11:45 – 2:30?
        • Camros Eatery (http://www.camroseatery.com/) – Vegan – Hours: M-F 11:30am to 7:30pm (no travel time necessary)
      • Weekends: Linux Caffe (http://www.linuxcaffe.ca) – 326 Harbord Street, Toronto. – Hours: M-F: 7am to 11pm, Sat 10am to 11pm, Sun 10am to 5pm
    4. Click the “More Meeting Options” and make sure the meeting reminder is set to 1 day before the meeting and that TimeBridge should automatically confirm the meeting time is also checked.

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    5. Click on the button “Propose Times” to propose meeting times.  The calendar as shown in the screenshot below is linked to my Google Calendar so you will know when I’m is available. Highlight available times or as instructed by me. (Orange highlights below are the highlighted proposed times.)

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      Additional Information in selecting time:

      • Offer 3-5 choices. Conflicts and double bookings will not be a problem with Timebridge because it is synchronized with the Google Calendar.
      • For in-person meetings, I prefer lunch (12:00 PM – 1:00 PM) or coffee/tea/hot chocolate (any time between 3:00 PM and 5:00 PM), preferably on a Thursday or Friday
      • For work-related phone meetings, I prefer calls on Wednesday to Friday afternoons (3:00 PM – 5:00 PM).
      • For personal phone meetings, I prefer calls on Saturday or Sunday (9:00 AM – 9:00 PM), preferring Saturday afternoon

      My Google Calendar will be automatically updated as soon as invitees send back their confirmations.

    6. Click DONE.
    7. Check if the proposed times are as correct. Click Edit if you need to change anything.
    8. Make sure the cc myself on this invitation box is checked.
  4. For the personal message, refer to instructions below. Then click Send.
    • For phone appointments, include the following segment in the Personal Message box:

      If the automatically-detected timezone is incorrect, please click the Edit button (under the Help Button) to set your timezone.

      Sacha Chua’s contact information

      Skype ID: XXX

      Mobile number: XXX

      Work number: XXX

      E-mail: sacha@sachachua.com

      Please send your contact information (phone number and Skype ID if available) in the “Send message to host” box.

    • For in-person appointments, include the following segment in the Personal Message:
    • Sacha Chua’s contact information

      Mobile number: XXX

      Work number: XXX

      E-mail: sacha@sachachua.com

      Please send your phone number in the “Send message to host” box so that I can contact you if something comes up.

  5. Unless instructed otherwise, click No, thanks on the “Share Availability” message to be sent to meeting contacts.

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  6. You should see your created meeting in the home page as encircled in the screenshot below.

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