Analogue Organiser in a digital world

Yes I am still here and yes I still blog.

It’s been very busy since I passed confirmation; in the past month I’ve been to Perth, Canberra, Sydney, Brisbane (although that’s my home town) and Melbourne – all in the name of furthering my research.

I thought I’d document what I was doing for my organiser these days. I find my most personally productive time is when I keep lists of things and just keep crossing them off. Earlier in the year I had a to-do list book that I lived and died by – and that was very good. I was very productive, and it was just as well as I had to be.

However the book was a bit unwieldy. So I borrowed an idea from teh internetz and started to keep my to-dos on index cards. Yes it’s scratchy, yes it’s lots of pieces of paper and manually rewriting things, but it forces me to engage with my task list and deal with it instead of copy-dumping and getting 300 things that I am never going to do on it.

So let’s take a look at my analogue solution:

Notice how I bought a 2010 leatherette diary for about $10 and tossed away the ‘diary’ bit. A rubber band keeps everything in place.

In this photo you can see how I cleverly laminated my business card into the inside pocket (OK, it’s covered by sticky tape). In the pockets are yellow index cards (7 x 10cm or so). Yellow index cards are for projects, which is where tasks go when they aren’t scheduled for a specific bringup date. These cards go in the middle of the pile (there’s a someday/maybe card, an errands card, a reference card with some coded PINs – not financial ones!). The white cards are the bringup cards by date order, and I just write on a day when I need to do a task. When that day is done I cross items off the list or move it to the next card (or bringup date). As I have spare white cards I can do this wherever I like.

A benefit of analogue is no boot up time!

When I’ve finished with the tasks (they’re ‘completed’, ‘abandoned’, ‘delegated’ or ‘moved to another list’) I can tick both sides of the card and move it to the back of the pile. Every week I remove the previous week -1’s cards and put them in an index card holder. That way I have an analogue record of everything I’ve done and when I did it, and I have the previous week’s record of tasks done easily at hand – the prior work is all filed away chronologically. As project cards fill up or get completed, they go into the index box as well – alphabetically and by date completed.

The bulldog clip keeps the cards all together, and the benefit is I can have my pencil easily tucked away. Nobody’s laughed at this arrangement yet, at least not as much as they laugh when they see me reading Twilight…

In a pinch I can always take notes with a few of the index cards – they’re only a few dollars for 250 or so. So an instant folio.

The practice I am working on (but not being very successful at) is reviewing the buff index cards for my projects once a week and assigning them to bringups so I don’t forget them. But it’s getting better.

I have tried Thinking Rock quite a bit over the years, and it’s very good for reporting – excellent – and portability. However it encourages me to fiddle, because there’s so much tweaking to be done. And frankly I need to just do stuff. I don’t need more delaying tactics.

So what I use is a bastardisation of GTD, sure, but it generally works for me. However, it does tend to make you focus on the adrenaline rush of crossing something off the list rather than doing the important stuff, but at least stuff is being done and it usually makes it to a list if it’s important in my case. I still find that every now and again you have to ignore the to-dos and focus on the ‘big picture’ stuff if you want to achieve anything, so I try and schedule a block of the day to a major project (or even a whole day) and don’t do anything bar the barest minimum administrivia that I need to do.

So, that’s my blog post on how I keep my to-dos. Riveting, ain’t it.

HP 2133 MiniNote and the case of the Flaky Keyboard

I’ve had the mini-note for a while and it continues to be a good machine to have.  Its size is of course the best feature, and of course its worst.  If you try to get ‘real work’ done with it for too long, it will cause you pain and grief.  Still, that is exactly to be expected.

The only semi-sour note so far has been that the keyboard has had a flake come off the ‘E’ key so that you couldn’t see most of the E, and leaving an ugly white spot on the key and a a slightly odd feeling when you type on it.  This is cosmetic only of course, although slightly annoying in a brand-new machine.

Yesterday I rang HP, who advised that the warranty does not cover ‘cosmetic’ issues but that as a ‘one-off’ (I wonder if this is code?) they are sending me a brand-new keyboard to put into the machine.  Brickbats to HP for not covering what should be a warranty thing in my view (legally it probably isn’t), but kudos to HP for then going above and beyond to provide me with a new keyboard when they didn’t really have to.

Searching the internet, I can’t find other examples of this happening, so perhaps this issue is a one-off and perhaps I am just really, really tough on the ‘e’ key.

HP 2133 Mini-Note Six-Cell Battery

A few weeks ago I bought an extended six-cell battery for my HP2133 Mini-Note. I had originally thought that the three-cell battery would be enough for me, but I was spectacularly wrong.  As I’ve just started my PhD, I am finding that I have a lot of two-hour seminar sessions that I have to complete, and the three-cell battery was battling to get to an hour or so, tops, when I ran it on the ‘high-performance’ settings. 

And running the HP2133 Mini-Note on low-power use is not recommended if you need to do anything substantive, although it’s fine for tapping out a few notes.

With the extended battery, and on low-power mode, I’m easily getting 3 or more hours of practical use out of the notebook.  The battery is very good, although I don’t like the way that the higher battery makes the machine sit up – it’s far less ergonomic if you’re typing on a flat surface (which is what you should be aiming for).  With the six-cell battery, and if you keep the three-cell charged up and carried around with you, you’ll get through a day interspersed with meetings and presentations and plane flights very easily in my view. 

If you’ve got the mini-note, the extended battery is a must-have. 

Feedback on ‘Communicating financials to management: Developing effective reporting mechanisms’

Back in August, I gave a presentation for CPA Australia at Royal on the Park, which had as its objectives:

  • How to develop effective reporting mechanisms that ensures data of high integrity and quality
  • Responding to management information needs: how to develop a process that ensures timely response
  • Other key reporting and systems issues that affect how information is presented and used

I note incidentally that I haven’t posted my speaking notes online yet – I must do that.

Anyway, feedback was good, even if I’ve not picked up any clients out of it :).  Here is the feedback the presentation received:

Session Title:    ‘Communicating financials to management: Developing effective reporting mechanisms’
Venue:     Royal on thePark, Brisbane
Date:     26/8/2008

Your overall Rating:    4.35
Technical Content rating:    4.52
Presentation Material rating:    4.43

All comments specific to your presentation

  • Good presenter. Liked the way he asked what people wanted out of session & made sure he covered those points.
  • Very good presenter. Showed a great awareness for presenting on & answering what we wanted to get out of the session. Terrific.

I continue to thank Alan Anderson for showing me his tactic of plain old ‘ask the audience what they want’ for presentations.  The audience, not surprisingly, always seems to appreciate it, and it’s hard to miss the mark if you can at least link back to those dot points.

Of course, if someone comes in for the wrong session it can be very entertaining.

Technorati Tags:

Living with the HP2133 Mini-Note

I note that Dell has just released its UMPC equivalent, the Dell Mini-9.  Of course, when you see a new release in the market you’ve just bought into (clearly, I bought the HP2133 Mini-Note), you get a case of buyer’s remorse. 

However, from what I can tell the Dell is smaller and of course this is at the case of a crippled keyboard.  When everything I do on the computer – that is serious work, anyway – needs a good keyboard, the keyboard is a deal-breaker for me.  I type at about 120wpm, and I find the Mini-note keyboard to be excellent to type on, without the need to cripple the keyboard (no function keys, no F11, F12, etc). 

The Mini-Note isn’t perfect, of course, but it’s more than livable with.  I also seem to be the only person in the western world so far who is sticking with Vista.  It is livable, and most of my needs aren’t high-level. 

After three months using it now I’d note the following:

  • Machine runs hot.  Really hot.  Unbelievably hot.  Keep the vents ventilated.
  • Battery life is abysmal on the three-cell.  On high-performance, I doubt that I’m getting an hour out of it.  I’ve got my 6-cell battery on order which should keep me on stream for longer and it’s only $A129, so you know, that’s good.
  • Screen glare means that working in full sun is off the menu.  Shouldn’t do that in Australia anyway.
  • Size/form factor is very convenient, and having the disk space is good as well.  A 16GB SSD is all very well and good, but if I do want to do some relatively serious work I like to have my library with me.  I’d be tied to a portable hdd if I did that, which is inconvenient and quickly removes weight advantages.  No problem so far with the HDD over the SSD (famous last words?).
  • Keyboard is great, fantastic, what can I say?
  • Lots of good ports
  • Performance is very adequate, even with Vista (I do have the higher-spec processor and 2GB of RAM – I shudder to think what it would be like on the lower-specification).
  • Sound is excellent but of course that chews power
  • I have tried to run full-size videos on it from time to time and it does glitch up.  But you should keep in mind the purpose of the machine.

It’s very easy to live with. Size and weight are great.  I let it roll around in my messenger bag (a very manly handbag) and that doesn’t seem to have scratched it or anything.  The shell is nice and durable and doesn’t seem to be fingerprint prone. 

I have a full-size laptop for when I want to do a lot of mobile work.  But if I’m going to be wandering all over the city for a day with an hour or two in the middle to fill in (I work at clients from time to time, am studying at UQ, and lecturing at QUT), the HP 2133 mini-note is my favourite to whip out and work with.  In a pinch I could do full size work with the laptop (but you have to watch backpain!  Scourge of the modern world!).

Since I installed Office 2007 (another of Microsoft’s crimes against humanity), I’ve noted that one truly annoying feature of HP’s seem to be the HP Health Check, HP Network Centre, and so on suite of software.  By default, they’re set to use the same really useful keyboard shortcuts that Outlook uses.  I found myself typing ctl+shift+C and expecting to see a new contact, and getting the HP Health Check.

The trick is to go into the program shortcuts on the start menu and remove the shortcut keys assigned to the program there.  Why on earth anyone thought that was a good idea, I don’t know. 

Anyway, no real regrets so far.  The laptop also seems to be the coffee shop equivalent of a Porsche convertible – it does get admiring glances from waitresses at coffee shops who say how ‘cute’ it is.  My only response to that is that it is cute in a Very Manly Way.

This UMPC is dearer but it’s more functional and usable (keyboard for the win!) than certainly the ASUS eee pc and I think than the Dell Mini-9 (haven’t put my hands on one of those yet though).  If you need the convenience, want a laptop that doesn’t feel like a toy, and you could work with all day if you really, really had to, the HP2133 Mini-note wins on the points that matter.

Just buy the 6-cell battery and get asbestos underpants.