Posts tagged Tips

Keep Personal Errands and Work Projects on Track With the Right Tool

Everyday people have tasks they need to complete.  Be it at work, at home or somewhere in between there are chores, tasks, issues, assignments, to-do’s, … on and on.  There are basically as many ways to track and organize all of these from the always classic Franklin-Covey planner to a well organized spreadsheet to enterprise level project management platforms (and yes, in the end, I believe all of these serve the same purpose).  Most of them have individual pros and cons and it’s up to the user to choose the right one.

Today we’ll talk about solutions for different applications ranging from managing daily errands to project management for medium to large-ish projects.  There is a lot out there, but we’ll focus on the ones I’ve had the best experiences with while trying to keep my life and projects organized over the last decade.

A quick talk about my organizational philosophy…  For a tracking system to work, first and foremost, it has to fit with what you are trying to accomplish.  A 1,000 line project plan and gantt chart aren’t necessary to get your grocery shopping done and your dry cleaning picked up, but a checklist isn’t going to get you through a a significant development project either.  Next most important is that the tools fit the process.  A person without a smartphone is probably not a prime candidate for an online task list and you can’t use MS Project with anything agile project management.  In the end, I like a solution that is just barely powerful enough to support what you need.  This usually helps keep things streamlined and prevents the tool from becoming a crutch (this is obviously a fine line, but is something to always watch out for).

So, without further ado…

The Spreadsheet

The simple spreadsheet is a category unto itself…  The beauty of the spreadsheet is that it can be as simple or complicated as you need/want.  When you think about it, all the other tools you might use are really just pretty front-ends on some really complicated spreadsheets (I may have just oversimplified the concept of a database, but I’m going with it).

For most people just writing down the things they need to get done for the day, a party, or even a research project is an extreme improvement in productivity.  Create a spreadsheet with columns for a task name, task description, priority and due date and you’ve got a powerful little method for keeping track of your tasks.   For example, input the list of chores for the day and rank them as 1s, 2s, or 3s (don’t agonize over it, you can change it later) and set the due date for all the tasks to today.  Now you can use the sort function of your spreadsheet app (I recommend Google Documents) to sort everything into a prioritized list of tasks.  Review your tasks, rework your numbers, sort again and keep crossing things off the list until it’s all done.

Maybe you need something a bit more complicated to keep track of tasks at work?  Add  ‘last action’, comments, and ‘assigned to’ columns and now you’re ready to track yourself and other across a broader range of tasks.  If you want to get fancy learn a little bit about conditional formatting to highlight what is late, who is assigned to what or what is the highest priority.  In no time you have a quick, reasonably powerful, and well organized document you can use for yourself or share with others to keep you and/or your team on track.

I’ve gone as far as using spreadsheets to run small projects with great success.  The point is, the spreadsheet is the most flexible of the options because, small or large, it is what you make it.

Personal Use, Get your errands done or your party planned

RemembertheMilk.com is basically a project management platform for your life.  It offers organizable lists with due dates and priorities in a simple web interface with a great deal of integration and power behind the scenes.  You can setup different lists to group tasks, prioritize the tasks within that group then schedule all manner of updates to be sent to you through e-mail, sms, etc.  There are iPhone and Android apps (where are my WebOS apps!) as well as a number of ways to integrate RTM into your life.  It’s an excellent platform for people serious about using an application to stay organized.  Jump into the the RTM Tour and signup for an account (it takes about 15 seconds) or hope over to Lifehacker’s extensive rundown of the features.

A far less powerful, but still very useful tool is Google Tasks.  Integrated into gMail it offers a simple way to create and manage lists.  For now it’s about as simple as can be and due dates don’t show up on your gCal, but it’s Google and you can expect gTasks to grow like any other Google product.  If you want a quick and simple task list accessible on almost any platform, Google Tasks is a great option.



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Small to Medium Project, Getting things done with other people

Redmine is my personal favorite for a project where I get to choose the tracking platform.  It’s open source, easy to setup and offers the flexibility necessary to work on many different types of projects.  It’s simple to keep multiple projects going on the same installation of Redmine while limiting access across projects to only those people that need it.  In particular I like the ways that Redmine manages tasks across users and projects in summary views while also allowing for very granular resource and activity tracking.  Checkout Redmines site and demo to get a feel for the application.

Redmine is not a hosted solution and requires installation on a web host.  Anyone that has ever FTP’d a file to a webhost can get this setup in about 10 minutes and any SysAdmin worth his salt should be able to do it in 5 (if yours can’t then I suggest you find a new one).  This done mean there is a little bit of effort upfront to setup the site, but it also means no monthly fees (beyond your hosting) and unlimited accounts.

For a hosted solution ProjectOffice.net offers an excellent feature set at a reasonable per user price.  I always prefer to host my own apps, but not everyone can do that.  Project Office is clean and simple without a lot of overhead or clutter.  In addition to the basic project management features there are some gantt charting abilities and Blackberry integration too.

Conclusion

Both in your personal life and in business the key to the right tool is to choose one that fits what you’re trying to accomplish.  There are literally hundreds of solutions out there and I’ve tried A LOT of them.  I’ve touched on my favorites here, but what works for me might not work for you (heck, what works for me on one project might not work for me on the next) so it’s up to you to try things out and tweak them until they do what you need (which is why I love spreadsheets so much).  The key is that you try different solutions and continuously improve on your methods as you gain experience.

No matter what the venue or goal following the basic best practices of writing things down, assigning tasks and setting due dates will always lead the charge.  Start there and add-on accordingly until you’ve found the limit of what you need to track to be effective.  Follow that method and, at the least, you’ll always end up with an efficient system for your needs.

Tech to Live By’s Favorite Sites

If you like technology and/or cool stuff in general then you’ll want to add some of these sites to your regular reading list:

Engadget.com + Gizmodo.com – Listed in the same bullet because they are almost the same site.  Top notch content from around the technology world.

Lifehacker.com – Part of the Gizmodo family and focused on tips and tricks to make life easier.  Like TechtoLiveBy but not as focused on technology.

PreCentral.net – The leading site for info about Palm and the WebOS

AndroidandMe.com – The most useful resource for information about the latest and greatest around the Android OS.

WiredMag.com – Because everybody interested in technology with a splash of pop-culture should read Wired.

Joystiq.com – For the gamer in you.

inTELEMATICStoday.com – Focused on automotive telematics (internet in the car – for lack of a more simple explanation) this site may not be for the general consumer, but it has tons of great information about the automotive electronics industry (and I can’t ignore my sister site!).

What are your favorite tech sites to read?

Kill Yourself Online (How to remove your online presence)

Recently I’ve heard a growing grumble about people’s over exposure through social networking sites (particularly in the wake of Facebook’s privacy policy changes).

Lifehacker (via Quick Online Tips) has found a solution.  The Web2.0 Suicide Machine will go through and not only kill your online profiles and accounts but will also remove what it can from the servers of the respective service (no wonder FB has blocked this app for now).

Are you so fed up with social networking, cloud computing and the online existence that you’re ready to commit suicide?  Let me know how it turns out!!

via [lifehacker]

ReKindleIT Brings Web Articles to your Kindle

rekindleitThis application seems like a no brainer for Kindle owners, especially ones that read online articles as much as I do.

ReKindleIT makes it quick and easy to send a webpage from your computer or iPhone to your Kindle.  So, before you ,get on a long flight, or just for your daily reading, you can send yourself articles from most sites (TechtoLiveBy.com, for example) and be on your merry way.

Articles can be delivered directly to the Kindle through Amazon’s Wispernet for $.15/MB or by email through Amazons free conversion service (but that requires you to connect the Kindle to the computer to download them).

Happy reading!

via {makeuseof}

4 Ways Google Voice Can Help You

Google VoiceGoogle Voice’s tagline is “One number to rule them all! err The way phones are supposed to work err Teach Your Phone New Tricks – Voicemail like email, call routing, voicemail transcription, and more” and that’s only the beginning!

If you don’t know what Google Voice does this will get you up to speed and if you’re not sure it’s for you this will help you decide.

When I first signed up for Google Voice I wasn’t entirely sure how I’d use it, but now that it’s been a while I want to share 4 ways I’m using Google Voice that could help you immediately.

The Use Everyone Should Use … Google VoiceMAIL

“I HATE VOICEMAIL!”

If you hate voicemail and you probably do…Sign up for Google Voicemail NOW! As a feature of Google Voice you can forward your regular cell phone calls to Google Voicemail instead of your carrier’s voicemail service.  Very quickly you’ll get transcriptions of your voicemails, control over what callers hear what message, and much more.  My single favorite feature is that each voicemail is emailed to you both with a transcription and an audio file.  I’ve always hated dialing into check voicemail and with Google Voicemail I’ll never have to do that again (though you do have that option for those times where you don’t have internet access).

This one is a no-brainer folks.  It’s better then your current voicemail, Go Get It!

Most Obvious Use

“I need a second line for work.”

I’ve always wanted to have a second cellular line for a business number but could never justify the extra cost.  Now I’m using my Google Voice number as my business line and my regular number as my personal line.  It’s great! I can manage what voicemail message people here depending on what line they dialed (no more customers hearing unprofessional outgoing messages) and I know when I need to answer a call professionally (vs. answering as the National Porn Archive and the like).

Most Comforting Use

“I lost my phone and I don’t have a landline to check messages with!”

Recently I lost my phone and I don’t have a landline.  It’s a terrible feeling in particular because I was expecting some calls.  I have a Skype account, but that only handles my outgoing calling issues (I don’t use Skype for incoming, though that is another option).  So, using Google Voicemail I was able to get e-mailed transcriptions of my incoming voicemails and call people back more efficiently then if I had to use Skype to constantly check voicemails.  I’ve always been a fan of this feature, but didn’t expect it to be so helpful when my phone was never to be seen again.

Trickiest Use

“My apartment building has a call box at the door but my roommates and I don’t have a landline… Can Google Voice help us?!”

Yessir it can!  As always when there are roomates someone will have to take charge.

  • Signup for a GV account
  • Setup each roommates phone in the account (pick a night when everyone is home to make all the coordination of confirmation codes easier).
  • Have your landlord setup the call box to call your new GV # (consider adding *82 as a prefix to make sure the call box caller ID shows up).  It’s very important that the call box caller ID be displayed.

Voila! If this is all you use GV for and you want all the roommates phones to ring when someone is at the door… then you are done!

If you want to customize who gets called when, then you’re in luck.  Part of GV’s feature set is the ability to manipulate which phones ring based on the incoming number and the time.  For example, I work from home so my phone is set to always ring when the call box is dialed, but since my roommate works a 10-4 9-5 I set his phone to only ring in the evenings on weekdays.

When we moved in we thought we’d need to get a landline (blech!) or have only one phone attached to the account (lame!), but Google Voice gave us the solution we needed.

Conclusion

I hope I’ve demonstrated a few of the ways that Google Voice might benefit you quickly and without any real change to the way you currently use your phone and e-mail.  If you’ve got your own uses for GV I’d love to hear them.