Archives: Getting Things Done

The Calendar: My Guide through Life

The Calendar: My Guide through Life

Life is busy…. it’s a circus. But there is one thing that can bring some clarity to your life, some grounding, some focus – and that’s the calendar.

In biblical times, back when people used paper to write things down, there existed a phenomenon called ‘diaries’ and people would map out their day’s appointments, meetings and tasks in this ‘diary’ to keep on top of everything. Today, we have similar technology, but it’s widely available online.

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Managing Chaos-R-Us (AKA Your Life)

Managing Chaos-R-Us (AKA Your Life)

If you’re anything like me, your life is a circus and you are the clown trying to juggle everything. Work, school, kids, family, friends, boss, work projects, home projects, something your friend wants, b*tch at work… everything. It’s a mess, right? And you watch yourself struggle to get two things done in a day and spend your time just pushing tasks down your week, while your list seems to multiply like horny rabbits.

The struggle is real, people.

You are chief cook and bottle washer, janitor, CEO, accounts department, marketing, IT, and secretary for your life, Chaos-R-Us Incorporated. You do everything and nothing, literally. But here I am, to share with you how I am managing my Chaos-R-Us in 2015, and make it less of a circus and more of an orderly organisation.

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Get Sh*t Done with Project Management

Get Sh*t Done with Project Management

For those who don’t know, my career was in Events and Project Management before I took the dive to pursue my deep love for technology. I was 17 when I hosted my first event, which naturally was a total flop, but great lessons to be learned from that story, and I’ve had the fantastic experience of working on Trinidad’s biggest event for the year, Soca Monarch.

Recently, I had the pleasure of guest lecturing for the Creative Media Production final year class, and the topic was project management. And I was tasked with giving a brief overview since that particular unit was around project design, implementation and evaluation. So I’ve taken my notes from that class and adapted them for a great blog post.

What is a project?

It’s important to define exactly what can be considered a project, because you might have tasks which you’re thinking are projects:

“A project is an endeavour in which human, material and financial resources are organised in a novel way to deliver a unique scope of work of given specifications, within constraints of cost and time, so as to achieve a purpose defined by both quantitative and qualitative objectives.” – Rodney Turner

Basically, a way to GET THINGS DONE (GTD).

What are Benefits of Project Management?

There are several benefits of project management, many of them are obvious, but I’ll just name a few:

  • Accomplish more in less time
  • Meet the deadline
  • Less stressed
  • Make better decisions
  • Have time to hit Maracas the day before project is due.

So, what are the characteristics of a project?

How can you identify a project from a task?

  • Projects are temporary
  • Have a definite start and end
  • Have clear objectives
  • Progressively elaborate
  • Upsets the Status Quo

Properly planned projects deliver within cost/budget, scope, time, and quality.

Here are some definitions of terms I will use in this article:

  • A Project Charter is a document that formally authorises a project documenting the initial requirements that satisfy teh stakeholder’s needs and expectations.
  • A Project Plan documents the actions necessary to execute the Project Charter.
  • The Work Breakdown Schedule (WBS) determines the tasks involved, and the human, time, and financial resources to execute the project scope.
  • SWOT Analysis determines where your project’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats are. Turn the weaknesses into strengths, and the threats into opportunities.
Laws to Note

Like all things in life, project management is ruled by a few laws, but I’ll mention the most notable of them all:

  • Murphy’s Law: Anything that can go wrong will go wrong.
  • Pareto’s Principle (80/20 law): 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes.

(Source: Wikipedia)

So, what next?

There are three main phases to simple Project Management:

  • Planning
  • Execution
  • Evaluation

There are more in-detail phases, but I thought that I’d just mention the most important of them all, and they really sum up project management quite nicely too.

The planning phase is the most work. A well planned project will go more smoothly than one not properly planned, but such are all things in life. The key is to plan, plan again, and again until you have a plan A, B, and C. You have to remember that Murphy loves it when you have projects, because it means that he has something to do… But you have to be prepared for him.

The next phase is execution. If you have a properly planned project, execution should be smooth, with a few bumps in the road which you took into consideration with your plans B & C. This is where the extra planning comes in handy. What do you do when a deliverable is late, or has run over budget? What do you do when a venue you booked was double booked? How do you mitigate these potential project-ending disasters? You have two contingencies, within which you catered for these things to actually happen, so now, it’s just a matter of executing something in plan B or C.

Evaluation has to be one of the most important parts of project management in moving forward. You have to look at what went wrong, and how you could have handled something better, or even how you could have planned better.

I’ve outlined some steps to follow to make your project management processes a lot easier.

THE PLANNING PHASE

Brainstorm Session: The Project Charter

Step 1: Define the Project Objective – What is the project looking to achieve? Define your aims, goals, and objectives.

Step 2: Define the Deadline and Time Scope – When do you need to finish this project by? How long do you have or giving yourself to finish your project?

Step 3: Define the work involved (Scope of the Project) – What must be done to make this project successful?

Step 4: Can you make that deadline with this project of this quality and scope with your workload AND your lifestyle? (If yes, skip step five) – Be realistic. Don’t try to set a project timeline what you know from now you cannot achieve by any means, because you will end up either with a half-baked project, or an incomplete one.

Step 5: Re-Evaluate the project until step four can be met.

Planning Session:

Step 6: SWOT Analysis (Strength, Weakness, Opportunities, Threats) on new project idea – make certain you know what your weaknesses and threats are. This will help you decide if you need to refine your objectives or your timeline.

Step 7: Define your priorities – What is critical to completion and what is not? Where are your trade-offs? What are you willing to “shed” off as “dead weight” when it comes to crunch time?

Step 8: Determine who is doing what, when, where, how and why (Human Resource Scope) As long as you have other people involved in your project, you need to clearly define this so everyone will be on the same page.

Step 9: Create the schedule A (Work Breakdown Schedule) – This is your “if all goes well” plan. Remember to be realistic.

Step 10: Plan for the worst (schedule B) (Risk Management – Contingency plan) – This is for when Murphy pays you a visit. Remember to take all possible worst-case scenarios into consideration.

Step 11: Plan for the Zombie Apocalypse – This is when Murphy brings a friend or few. Make certain that you have everything that can possibly go wrong in here. This is for when core elements in your project go haywire. So like when a venue for an event is double booked, or a caterer suddenly cancels on you.

Step 12: Determine your means of communication – choose your method and stick to it. Email is generally the best since it leaves a reliable paper trail but in this age of technology, WhatsApp groups seems to be gaining popularity. Just remember to keep a backup of your conversations.

Step 13: Create a project plan and all team members must sign it and have copies – once you sign something, you agree with it. Your signature is on that agreement, and you’re now responsible for getting that element of the project done.

Step 14: Get executing; you’ve wasted enough time!

Planning tips:

  • Set your end point, and work your way backwards when working on your Work Breakdown Schedule.
  • Define the most critical tasks to project completion, then schedule in all the tasks, including those which add “fluff”.
  • Always have additional time for tasks in your original plan. The idea is to have “extra time” so that if you finish on time, or before time, another task can be started early. The extra time is also an extra support in case something runs a couple days later than expected; it would not disrupt your entire project.
  • If the deadline is unrealistic on paper, it’s impossible in reality.
  • Find creative ways to cut task time down in half.
  • Do not overcomplicate it. Keep things stupid simple.

THE EXECUTION PHASE

Step 1: STICK TO THE SCHEDULE
Step 2: Communicate every step of the way
Step 3: Communicate every step of the way
Step 4: Communicate every step of the way
Step 5: Ensure all project objectives are met

Tips for PM:

  • Ensure you’re on schedule. If not, revert to plan B.
  • If plan B is not working, bring out the big guns.
  • Evaluate your project’s quality with every task completed
  • Make certain you stay within budget. If not, you have to look at where you are, and what can be dropped if you’re confined by a strict budget.
  • If you are running behind schedule, either extend the hours the team is working, or determine which tasks can be shed (Trade-Offs)

THE AUTOPSY (EXECUTION PHASE)

If you answer all these YES, then you’re flawless and should be the best project manager in the Universe.

  • Did we meet the deadline?
  • Did we meet the quality of work as planned?
  • Were we communicating as agreed?
  • Did we stick to the plan?

So, something went wrong. Let’s figure that out.

  • Was the project objective clearly defined?
  • What schedule deadlines did you meet and not meet, and why?
  • What was different with the quality of the project in the end when compared to the original idea? If it did not meet the original quality expectancy, what went wrong and why?
  • Determine the differences between the Planned Project and the Actual Project.

There are thousands of templates online for project charters, project plans, WBS’, SWOT analysis, etc. All you need to know is the basics, and how to use Google and you’re pretty much on the right track, to getting the initial resources together. It doesn’t matter what system you use, as long as the project is done on time, within budget, scope, and quality.

Using Evernote to Budget

Using Evernote to Budget

Evernote, traditionally, is a note taking application, but it can be used for many other things if you’re creative. One such way is budgeting.

But how can one use a note taking app for budgeting?

I’m glad you asked. Because I do it. I dislike having to use too many applications to do stuff, simply because I forget to use them. And that’s much more normal than I’d like to believe. So to combat that, I simplified my life by simplifying my applications.

I’ve been a big Evernote fan since I discovered it about three years ago, but it’s only in the last year or so I’ve been really using it, and now, I’m a premium user, because I use it literally for everything now.

So how can one use the green elephant for budgeting?

Please note that I’m using Evernote for Mac for this article.

Wish Lists

Recently, I moved all my Amazon wishlist items to my Evernote, with some help of the Evernote Clipper for Safari. I was amazed by all the stuff I’d like to purchase, but completely forget to because I don’t really use my Amazon wishlist.

So now I have all these items in a notebook called ‘Wishlist’. I even have stuff that I find in local shops in there using Evernote’s quick shot and location services. If I wanted to get something at the end of the month I’d just add a reminder to it.

Which brings me to monthly budgeting…

Month to Month Budgets

So by now you’re probably wondering how this fits into budgeting. It’s really simple. Some like to plan months in advance, others (like me) prefer a month-to-month plan.

Create a notebook called budget (just so that it’s separate from everything else); this is where all your monthly budgets will live. Name them by the month they are for (January, February, etc. ). I just have one note which gets recycled every month, but everyone works differently.

Set a reminder to that budget’s note for the first of the month it’s for. This will ensure it’s always at the top of your Evernote when you’re viewing all notes (great for getting to it quickly) and if you’re using multiple budget notes then it will be in order of date. If you use Evernote for work and other things, it will be separated from everything else in Notebook view.

So, I have a checklist for all the monthly fixed expenses (rent/mortgage, utility bills, car loan, etc.). Make sure this is at the top of the list, because that is what you have to pay first. Then your second tier of priorities will come in.

Remember all those notes you saved in your wishlist? This is where they come into play. Go to your wishlist and select the notes containing the items you’d like to purchase for this budget. Click create table of contents note. Now go to that note, select all, and past it under your checklist in your budget note. Then highlight that second tier list and add checkboxes to it. You can even rearrange them into an order of priority, and add a numbered list (even with the checkboxes).

Now you have your monthly budget plan done. Complete with checkboxes (stick that to Excel spreadsheets!)

In terms of calculating figures, you’ll have to do that manually. Evernote does not have functions for its tables (yet!). I just have a cost next to the item on the note. If you want, at the top of the note you can put in your income figure, savings figures (because you need to save money for a rainy day), and expense total figures. This will give you a brief summary of what you have to spend that month.

Planning for the Future

When you’re using one note for budgeting, it’s important that you separate the second tier of priorities by month. Around the 20th of the month, I’d (try to) sit down and plan my second tier of expenses under my current month’s budget and put in a horizontal line so I won’t mix it up.

This is helpful because some months, I can afford to get something from the list I have for next month. Most months, I’m just bad with spending regardless of what budget tactics I use. This does help me, but only to a point; after that, it’s entirely up to controlling my impulsive shopping habits (I NEED that additional *insert random tech/gaming thing here* because it will *insert stupid excuse I will regret at the end of the month here*).

Note: when you get something from your wishlist, remember to delete it from your wishlist. By leaving it there, it will do is clutter your notebook which will then become less efficient to use, and you might just stop using it altogether.

BONUS!

Tracking Expenses Month-to-Month

Like Excel you can track your expenses in Evernote too. To do this you need to create a table.

Screen Shot 2014-11-16 at 2.03.59 AMI am not the best at math, not even with a calculator, so don’t sue me if the total figures are wrong.

This is helpful, especially if you like to see how much you really spent and how much you saved against your income. It’s an eyeopener for a lot of people.

In conclusion…

Now the most important factor, with all tools, is remember to use it, and use it often. If you’re not an Evernote user, then this post would not make a difference to you. But you can apply the same concept to another application and get similar results. The point is, whatever you use, you have to use it efficiently for it to be effective.

Good luck and happy budgeting!

 


 

If you have any questions or comments, you can send me a note via the website contact page or tweet to me (@desireroberts).
Using an Evernote @inbox Notebook to Get Sh*t Done

Using an Evernote @inbox Notebook to Get Sh*t Done

If it wasn’t completely obvious, I use Evernote a lot. And with using Evernote a lot, you get to develop a lot of tricks to keeping yourself organised.

At the time of writing this, I have 1800 notes in my Evernote. It’s not a lot because I delete a lot of notes when I’m done with them (I’ve got over 1000 in the trash right now) and no longer need them (like published blog posts). I use Evernote to help me plan my days ahead, and projects. The native reminder system is very good for that.

Screen Shot 2014-11-16 at 1.45.36 AM

While I’m writing or working, I remember little things that I have to do, or article ideas, or things I need to follow up on. Instead of stopping what I was doing, looking for a pen and notepad to write these things down (I’m usually on my laptop) I just use the Evernote Helper and it goes straight into my Evernote, without having to close any programs.

More so, I use the global keyboard shortcut for it to increase efficiency.

Also, while I’m reading on Feedly or the web, I clip/share things to Evernote all the time. From articles, to clippings of articles I want to blog-response about, to items I want to purchase, everything gets clipped and set to the green elephant for sorting.

You must think my Evernote is a mess! Actually it isn’t. I created a notebook called ‘@inbox’ as my default folder which I sort through every day. For each note, I make any further notes, add reminders if they need to be actioned, delete them if I already did them, and move them to the appropriate notebook.

Appropriate notebook? What?

I use Evernote for work, blogging, school, budgeting, personal planning, wardrobe ideas, et cetera. Each of these are actually a notebook stack, each comprising of various notebooks of subset topics. It’s like inception: a note in a notebook in a notebook stack. Once you start using Evernote more, you’ll see the benefit of this model, but that’s the catch 22: in order for it to be useful, you have to use it often.

Within each of these notebook stacks or aspects of my life, I have an ~Inbox: *insert stack name*. This contains the stuff which needs to be done; it’s high rotation, meaning, stuff in there usually gets deleted when the task is done. When I notice that I have a lot of tasks for one thing in particular (say, website maintenance) then I’ll create a notebook just for that, under the appropriate stack.

This should help you visualise my madness:

Screen_Shot_2014-11-16_at_1_50_11_AM

So, if the note in @inbox has a task which is personal, it will get put into my personal stack’s ~Inbox, and if it’s work related, the work stack’s ~Inbox.

So why ‘@inbox’? Why not just inbox?

The @inbox folder is not inside of a stack, it lives alone. The purpose of the ‘@‘ sign is to ensure it’s at the very top of the list at all times. Remember that Evernote sorts things alphanumerically, so special characters are up top, then numbers (0-infinite), then letters (a-z of course).


How to you manage tasks in Evernote? Send me a note or tweet to me @desireroberts 🙂
Evernote for Blogging

Evernote for Blogging

I’m a huge fan of Evernote; everyone who reads this blog knows that. And I like to share all the ways I use Evernote to make my life 100% easier.

I love blogging (possibly as much as I love Evernote!) but my schedule is crazy, so I don’t always get the time to write, or finish writing a piece I started. More often than not, I start writing an article, and then leave it half done to rush off to get something else done. Time is not my friend. So, to combat that, I started writing in Evernote, which has really helped me in ways I cannot fully explain, but I’ll try today.

The layout

Screen Shot 2014-11-02 at 2.08.43 PMBefore I get into the details, I’ll have to explain how my blogging notes are organised in Evernote. I have a notebook stack for blogging containing three main notebooks each called:

  • 1 – Articles to be written
  • 2 – Ready to publish
  • Ideas

…in that order. The numbers in front are to ensure that they are displayed in that priority in my notebook stack, else they will be displayed in alphabetical order.

Articles to be written’ are articles I’m working on. Most of them are 25-50% completed, some are closer to completion, but the fact remains these are what are being published next.

Ready to publish’ are completed articles. I put them in here so I’ll clearly see them.

Ideas’ contain ideas (obviously), snippets of other articles from around the web, images, etc. When my ‘articles to be written’ notebook is empty (which recently is never!), I go through this notebook (which has over 2000 notes) and select what will be published next.

It’s simple enough, once you understand how Evernote works. Remember, the more you use Evernote, the more refined the interfact becomes.

Store ideas

Screen Shot 2014-11-02 at 2.13.29 PMWhen I get an idea, it’s usually at a time when I cannot sit down and type out a 500-word article on it. This is where the idea book comes into play. I just create a notebook in ‘Ideas’ with the title/idea I have in mind, and a few points in the body, if I have them.

I read a lot; if you follow me on Twitter, you’d know that because I share every great article I read on Feedly. Many times, I find inspiration in someone else’s article, so I save it to my Evernote, in the ‘Ideas’ notebook. (This is why that notebook is so big!) It helps me when I’m looking for my next article topic, or even for a

Tags

Tags are awesome, on WordPress and even in Evernote, and if you’re a blogger, you know the importance of tags. So, I have a tag for each of the broad topics I write about: social media, business, marketing, tech. I assign these for ideas, and articles I’m currently writing. Another great way is to assign tags to a series you’re writing about.

If you can manage tags efficiently, I know some bloggers who duplicate the tags they use on their blog in their Evernote, so when you’re ready to publish, you’ll know what tags you want to use already. I don’t use tags like that in Evernote because it becomes time consuming to prune them after.

Reminders to write or publish

Reminders are the best feature of Evernote; and there are a lot of ‘bests’ on that list. When I have more than one article in my ’to be written’ notebook, it helps to attach a dated reminder to it. It ensures that I get it done, it helps prioritise the articles in my head, and keeps my blog updated because I keep writing.

One way you can use this is when you’re writing a series of articles on a particular topic. Create notes for each article, then assign a reminder with a date to each, so you will have some form of priority, and you’ll write your entire series in a flow, not one article today and another two months from now.

Evernote Helper for Mac

This helper is quite the tool. Ever had an idea while you were doing something, or writing something but you didn’t want to navigate away, but you also don’t want to lose that great idea? Well, this is where the Evernote Helper tool is aweome. While I’m writing, I get a lot of ideas for other articles related to the topic I’m writing about. I just hit a global keyboard command or click the icon in my menu bar, and it pops up a little window. I just type my idea in, and hit Save to Evernote, and go back to what I was doing. I didn’t need to switch windows or open Evernote and add in a new note; nope, just a simple keyboard command or the click of a mouse, and then I’m back to whatever I was doing before. Like magic.

Evernote Web Clipper

This is another great tool from Evernote. While I’m browsing an article, I can save the entire article, the entire page, save a simplified version of it, or even a screenshot of a section of the page. This comes in handy when I want to quote someone for an article I’m writing; I just save a screenshot of the article I’m reading and add it to the article note I’m writing. Evernote makes this even easier by being able to drag and drop images into an article.


Let me know your thoughts on Twitter! @desireroberts

Why (and how) I use Evernote for Blogging

Why (and how) I use Evernote for Blogging

It is pretty evident that I use Evernote almost exclusively, but today I’ll be chatting a bit about using Evernote for blogging.

When used efficiently, Evernote can be the most powerful tool anyone could have, especially writers. You see, people think that blogging is just write a post, hit publish and that’s it. Blogging is a lot more complicated than that. There is research, and lots of pieces of ideas that come in while writing. Some people use a strict system with checklists and layouts to organise their work, others just write freestyle (like me). It all depends on the type of writing, and the type of writer.

I’m a bit OCD, which is no secret to the internet. But I also use my Evernote for other stuff besides writing, like project management, stuff for work, recipes, and shopping lists. My ideas, lists, work and projects are all in one application, but neatly separated, bagged and tagged away from each other so there are no confusions when I step from digital strategist blogger mode to business development manager mode.

The Interface is Awesome-Sauce

The app for Mac is actually awesome. The split view between my note snippets and the note I’m viewing makes jotting down a quick idea simple through reminders, without having to navigate away from the note I’m working on. I’ll just edit those reminders when I’m done anyway, and put the note where it should be. I could also add a note from the top navigation bar also, but rarely remember to.

Multi-platform and Syncing

Evernote is the best when it comes to using different platforms and syncing them all. I write mainly on my Macbook Air, but a lot of my ideas happen in places or situations when I only have my Android phone. Just a quick touch of the lockscreen widget (my phone is rooted and has more hacks than iCloud j/k), and just like that, my idea is in my Evernote, safe and waiting to be expanded upon. I could almost immediately jump onto my Macbook (provided it’s connected to the internet) and the blog post idea is already there.

Evernote is an OCD Haven

If you haven’t used Evernote, you should, even if you’re not a blogger. You see, Evernote has notes, which can be sorted into notebooks, and multiple notebooks can be sorted into groups, called notebook stacks. This makes Evernote a breeze for me, since I have my book ideas (yes, I’m thinking of professionally writing) in a stack, and then if I have any ideas pertaining to those books, then I create a note and put it in the right book notebook.

Tagging makes Finding notes a Jiffy

I don’t use a lot of tags, because that can get messy if it’s not pruned often, but I have some key tags I use, like “pending research” and “ready to publish”. I also have “social media/tech”, “business”, and “personal” in my idea book tags, so finding something to write about based on my current mindset is quite simple.

Reminders are the BEST thing since sliced bread

When Evernote added this feature, I could have kissed the developer. This makes organising my articles even easier. I can now plan out my week in my Evernote (goodbye content schedule calendar!) and just make little notes in my calendar. It’s true: I do spend about two hours a day just keeping organised between my calendar and Evernote.

And now: How I use Evernote to write an article…

Most times I select an idea from my idea bank in Evernote, if I don’t already have an idea. Then I have to start doing some research, unless it’s a more personal piece I’m writing, which I’ll mostly write off the top of my head (like this one). With research, I just use Google and my Evernote Web Clipper for Safari (also available for Chrome, Opera, Firefox, etc) and tag all the snippets under the name of the piece I’m writing.

Then go back to my Evernote, take all of those snippets and ideas, organise them into the order I want and merge them together into one note. Then the real work: time to organise, add headings, write, paraphrase, edit, edit, edit, trim, snip, and then tag it “ready to publish”. It’s just to copy and paste into WordPress and make it pretty for publishing.

Most of the time along that research road, I’ll see other article ideas, which I’ll just snippet and save for another piece. Sadly, I do a great deal of snipping and these days, I’ve been writing off the top of my head, so I have almost 900 ideas in the bank, waiting to be written. They are all in a notebook by themselves, away from my writing notebook. So, I have two notebooks I work with when writing:

  • the ideas notebook, which has all the major ideas I have and snippet I grab while reading
  • the writing notebook, which has the article(s) and snippets I’m currently working on

This system works for me well, because I work on multiple platforms all the time. It might not work for everyone, but everyone has a method of working, and really at the end of the day, it just comes right back to what works best for you.

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Post-Script: This article was written on September 21st. It was forgotten as a draft and I’m not

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