Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Harness Siri to Capture Your Thoughts and Seamlessly Put Them Into Your GTD System

If you experiment with Siri you will find her both super helpful and terribly insufficient.  I both love and hate Siri for a number of reasons.  Let’s talk about the Siri love.

What I love about Siri for my GTD Productive Lifestyle

As a highly mobile person, I need someone to follow me around, sit in my car while I drive, walk beside me while stroll along, run beside me while I jog and basically capture and transcribe my shallow thoughts and deep thoughts throughout my daily routine.
No one in my house has volunteer for this job and I believe the salary that I’d need to pay someone to be my personal assistant is beyond my current budget constraints.  Therefore I have found Siri to be suitable pseudo personal assistant (in part).

Siri and the First Step of Getting Things Done: Capture Everything

Searching the web to find the perfect Getting Things Done capture application for the mobile device is a simple task because there are many to choose from.  But the daunting task is find the right one that really works for a particular user and routine.
As a busy professional I want technology to be my seamless and effortless servant in my Getting Things Done process architecture.  For the majority of GTD implementers the biggest challenge with Getting Things Done architecture is the Review step.  The second biggest issue is capturing the content in as few inboxes as possible so that you don’t wear yourself out trying to find all the things that you’ve captured.  The intention of making capture seamless and creating fewer inboxes is to make Review easier. 

Therefore GTD implementation would ultimately be easier from start to finish by automating capture as much as possible.  You know that every little simplification in life creates a little space for breathing, so let’s save a little time and reduce complexity in capture.

Siri and Simplification

This is where Siri comes in.  She does an OK job at capturing voice and turning that voice into text for future processing in your Getting Things Done implementation.
Remember that David Allen says the calendar is golden and should always be followed rigorously. your calendar is your highest priority list, so this list will always be a pillar in your system.  So the “Create Appointment” command to Siri is the pathway to organize your time sensitive events.  I often mix capture with process when it comes to the calendar.  In other words, when I realize I have something to schedule, I do it right then and there.  The alternative is to add an item to your inbox so that you will then add an event to your calendar later. I'll use paper when I'm in a meeting, but I use voice commands when walking, running or driving.
If you don’t instantly add something to your calendar in a capture/process moment, then you’ll just want to capture for future processing. Future processing might occur in the next 15 minutes or next 24 hours, but the important thing is to capture seamlessly and Siri does this through “Take Note” command or “Reminder me" command.
Prior to iOS 9.0 IO was a big fan iOS notes because I could combine it with IFTTT to synchronize my personal notes into one single tool.   Notes were great because you could dictate to Siri to capture a note and then an IFTTT rule would run to synchronize the notes with Evernote or Trello or a variety of other tools.  Here’s the weird part. After iOS 9.0, the synchronization only works with hand typed notes but does not work with dictated notes.  Wow that is frustrating.  In iOS 9.0 apple made Notes similar to Evernote by allowing notes to include fancy fonts and pictures, but apple broke the most effective tool that I know which is synchronizing with a GTD inbox such as Evernote or Trello or OmniFocus.

Reminders to the Rescue

As a technology aficionado and mobile app early adopter, I would not give up easily on the voice capture feature because I desperately needed to take notes with voice while on the run or driving.
Through some experimentation I determined that iOS Reminders work almost exactly like Notes.  In some cases even better than notes for my GTD implementation.  Here’s how it work.
Instead of “Take Note…” say “Make Reminder…” or “Remind me to check out Smart Passive Income podcast episode 172” (BTW, that's my current favorite episode).  Siri creates the reminder.  That’s OK, but it’s not in my GTD workflow system (e.g. Evernote, Trello, Omnifocus, etc).  What we need is a mechanism to put every captured thought or action into our regular system.  Let’s say the system we use is Trello (my favorite at this time).  You need an assistant to seamless transfer items from Reminders to Trello, Evernote or something else.

IF THIS THEN THAT Completes the Loop

http:/ifttt.comIf This Then That (IFTTT) is an incredible service that can help you connect various systems in your life. Technology has not aspired to the level of Star Trek where I can ask the computer to create an entire life management system and connect all the pieces together, but IFTTT is a serious step forward.  A core component of IFTTT is the recipe and within these recipes a person can literally plug together an amazing amount of disparate systems.  IFTTT is truly amazing in terms of the permutations of functionality that is achievable.
To close the loop I used IFTTT to synchronize my iOS reminders with a specific Trello Board and specific list.  If you were using Evernote, you would select a specific folder to drop in new reminders.
IFTTT runs in the background as intervals you decide and collects your Reminders into the target application.  In the meantime, you can continue to use Evernote to capture typed notes or you can convert all your typing and dictation to Reminders and only use Evernote for picture capture.  I find Evernote to be couple taps longer than Reminders, so I just use Reminders for everything except photo capture.

Review Your Inbox

After fixing up the IFTTT recipe and capturing your notes verbally or hand typed, you have a collection of things to process. This collection of stuff is in one place instead of possibly two or three.
Please try Reminders audio capture and let me know your experience?
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Monday, October 19, 2015

How to Create an Awesome Meeting that is Massively Productive and Laser Focused

In 2012 I had the great fortune of meeting someone I will call one of my best Agile mentors, Ahmed Sidky. Learn more about Ahmed at Ahmed doesn’t really know me that well, but I have pretty much done everything he told me because I saw that he really understands how to get things done in a business environment.  And by that I mean he knows how to take an organization from performance level 1 and move them through a series of steps until they are performing at level 5 (on a scale of 1-5, where 5 is awsome).

During late 2011 and early 2012 my former employer was on a quest to get better at Agile Software Development. While pursuing a better agile process, I gained some revolutionary insights from Ahmed that sent me down a path of learning and experimenting and productivity that has forever change how I work and interact at home.

The killer app for meeting productivity is facilitation.  And I’m not talking about ordinary meeting facilitation, I’m talking meeting facilitation on steroids.  Don’t quit reading because I used a boring word like "facilitation", this well-practiced art will change your productivity level across the board.  I’m now a ICAgile Certified Agile Team Facilitator and that training is golden.

By the time you finish reading this article, you should be equipped to start a change in your behavior at home and at work that will bring you better success in getting things done during meetings or gatherings and make you renowned in your workplace and with your relatives.  Getting to “black belt” facilitation might take a while, but you will see an impact very quickly.

Do the following things in your meetings at work and you will take down mountain-sized problems as easily as Spiderman swings on his web.

1.  Create a plan in advance

Create a plan in advance that will utilize well-defined exercises that fit into time boxes. If you really want to be productive and take on the hardest problems, you will have to prepare in advance. In my workplace, I usually conduct at least 1 or 2 facilitated meetings a week and about every six months I have a 1 or 2 day facilitated meeting for an architecture summit or new project kick-off. For each of these meetings I prepare a plan that includes desired outcomes and activities to support each outcome.  I would typically have a minimum of 3 activities for a 1 hour meeting and probably around 5-8 activities for a 1 day meeting.  An activity is simply a means to capture information from the participants.  It could be a simple as this Hopes & Fears activity: “Please put one post-it-note under the ‘Hopes’ label on the whiteboard (or wall) and put one post-it note under ‘Fears’ label on the whiteboard (or wall). Only put one thought on your post-it notes”.   
This exercise is fantastic to kick off a meeting because you usually get people to admit they think something is dumb or broken about this meeting or the topic and you get people broadcasting their desires about the outcome of the meeting.  Brilliant … you’ve got super insight into the participants minds.  And they are energetically involved in the meeting.

2. Write down the meeting Goal

Always write a Goal in your meeting announcements (Outlook or whatever). Why does this work so well?  Writing a goal is  a focus technique that puts a meeting on rails.  First the creator of the meeting must actually think deeply (even if the depth is only 30 seconds of thinking) about the outcome of the meeting.  This is critical because everything hinges around a clearly stated goal.  A poorly stated goal like, “Discuss the XYZ Widget”, will not likely produced a good result.  Powerfully stated goals like, “Create Milestones for developing and deploying PDQ Web Application.”, will give the meeting focus and a desired outcome. Moreover, you can know that you will have a successful meeting if you get an artifact. Yes, if you get an artifact out of your meeting then you’ve actually succeeded at have a mildly productive meeting. An artifact could be, “Milestones”, “Project Plan”, “Actions” or an “Architecture”.  Make sure your goal somehow alludes to the creation of artifacts.

3. Put away computers and use whiteboards and post-it notes

Use white boards, flip-charts and sticky notes instead of letting people sitting around a table.
Sitting around a table is the standard methodology for conducting a meeting, but it does not expedite decision making nor does it encourage full participation from all the attendees.  Sitting around will actually exclude quieter people and allow unrestrained talkers to carry the meeting down rabbit holes and snake pits.  I already mentioned how planned activities are necessary before a meeting, and they add a second benefit of creating a level playing field for the quiet and the loud.  Leveling the input is critical for brainstorming because the flow of good ideas is actually proportional to the number of smart people contributing.  And not all smart people talk a lot. I usually tell people when I start a facilitated meeting that they can expect the unexpected and that they need to agree to participate in some strange activities.  No one has ever rebuffed my request for participation, even the C-levels.

Go forth, make a plan, make a goal and make people stand up, walk around a talk to each other with a focal point of a drawing on a whiteboard or patch of post-it-notes on the wall.  People are very visual and without good visual aids, humans use hordes of words to describe complex things.  Give people the gift of using a picture on board or collection of words on a wall to help them clarify their ideas and cease the deluge of possibly confusing words.

I’d love to hear from you about your experience in meetings?  Do you have some tried and true techniques that really help you get productive in highly creative meetings?

Please write me an e-mail and tell me about the biggest challenge you face when conducting a meeting?

Monday, October 12, 2015

How to Grow Your Personal Productivity

In 2014 at age 44 I ran the Marine Corp Marathon in Washington, DC. It was my first Marathon (I made a goal to run a Marathon before I was 45 ... achieved!!!). But this was not something that happened overnight. In fact it was a long process that started 4 years earlier.

In 2010, I started a couch-to-5k running program and successfully ran my first 5k about 4 months later. Between 2010 and 2014 there was a lot of running and some injuries and some time off and then lots more running.  Running is very similar to learning productivity frameworks and tips, it takes time and it's not always easy

Let's discuss the basics of a productivity road map.

1. Awareness

There is the need to be aware of your surroundings and your personal behavior.  That means that you must know that you crave change and you are willing to see some of the ugly underside of your current situation.

If you start to forget something important or you have a constant sense of stress in your gut, this is an alarm bell that something is going on that is disturbing the normal operation of your life. You have choices.

  • You can ignore it (this only work for a little while).
  • You can numb it (e.g. TV or drink; this will defer but not solve the situation)
  • You can analyze it (this would be the recommendation of this article)

2. Sense of Control

Once you have an awareness, you need to know that YOU can do something about the situation.  This is where a change in thinking is required.  And it really is more a mindset change than a change in your title or your capabilities or your status in life.

If you were to go to a party at a friends house and your friend was busy meeting and greeting guests and you sat in the corner and played with your iPhone and felt lonely. Who's fault would that be?  One mindset believes it's your friend's fault because he or she didn't spend time with you.  Another mindset would suggest that this is your fault because could make different choices.

What was the difference in those two mindsets.  The first mindset was a sense of no control and the result was inaction.  The second mindset suggests that you had control but chose inaction.  If the second mindset is true, then you actually had control of the situation.  In which case, you could now turn the lonely evening into an opportunity to meet new people or help your friend.

The power of your mindset  is incredibly strong and will give you the sense of control to attack situations with an outlook of control and confidence.

3. Be Proactive and Plan

Now that we understand the power of our mindset, we can do things differently in life. This notion of control of self is a muscle that needs exercise in the form of being proactive.  In the party situation above, being proactive would be to say hi to a stranger or perhaps ask your friend if he or she needs help.

In the larger scheme of a busy life, being proactive is taking time to analyze and understand your commitments and then put things in place to get your commits done a little earlier or set up things in life so you can make less decisions on the fly because you've done a little planning.

The best example I can think of is morning exercise. Here's how the proactive part fits into this.  The act of putting shoes, running shorts, running shirt, watch, heart rate band, iPhone airband and headlamp in a pile in my bathroom the night before enabled me to overcome the friction of sleep and lethargy.  It's a small act that took 5 minutes or less, but it made all the difference because I primed my mind for exercise through the preparation and I removed friction when I tired and weak willed in the morning.

Being proactive is the action you take or the thinking you do that precedes an outcome you want to change.  The results of being proactive is usually removing friction to do something or a smoother outcome for you and those around you. 

Another example of changing an outcome would be meeting preparation. If you create a goal and agenda for a meeting, you can more easily keep people on track and you are much more likely to achieve the expected outcome.

The cycle of Awareness, Sense of Control and Proactivity & Planning will continually feed itself.  There are so many more steps to take in the game of productivity.  And so many additional frameworks and tactical approaches.  A good starting point is 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey.  This is book covers mindset and many practical approaches.

Getting Things Done (GTD) by David Allen is one of the most well known and effective frameworks.  Unlike the 7 Habits, GTD is very tactical and can be directly applied.  The 7 Habits is actually a meta-framework and is a useful philosophical framework no matter what choices you make in daily life.

For those who love to read and can consume information with unbelievable speed, check out the 50 best productivity blogs.

Please let me know what your greatest struggle is when adopting a productivity philosophy and framework?  Send an email or comment below.

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Monday, October 5, 2015

Which Traffic App Will Give You the Best Commute Experience

Traffic...traffic...traffic.  In suburban spaces there is no escape from the traffic, so it’s time to figure out how live with it.  One of best things about the information age is the amount of data at our disposal.  Try to forget about big brother knowing too much about you and glory in the fact that we have real time traffic information that can be put to use. I’m going to evaluate 3 traffic apps and see how they benefit your commute.

The Contenders

Commute by MapQuest is a simple app for understanding the total time from “Home” to “Work” (and the reverse) both at departure time and throughout the drive and shows your real-time location on a route map during your travels.


Waze by Waze Mobile (a Google company) is comprehensive app with directions, alerts and real-time alternatives supported by a community of fellow drivers that provide insight into road conditions and alternative routes both as you drive and through a map editing application.

INRIX Traffic by INRIX is an app that is backed by a very big transportation research company.  The app itself provides commuting time forecasting and real-time alternatives routes with forecast arrival for each option and displays your real-time location on a route map for the duration of your commute.

The Criteria

  • Ease of Configuration - Based on single work site location, how easy is the app to configure
  • Richness of Features - How much does the app offer in terms of functionality
  • Pre Departure Info - How well does the app alerted me about traffic conditions before I get into my car
  • Easy of Departure - How easy is it to get rolling
  • En Route Info - How well does the app indicate the current situation and give alternatives
  • Hands Free Safety - How distracting is this app

Ease of Configuration

Commute is the simplest app to configure: Just type in address for work and home and the times that you usually depart for work and leave for home.

Waze is a more complicated app altogether and does require creation of user id, input of work and home locations and then you can get crazy with many other options if you so desire.

INRIX is interesting because it requires the home and work locations as well, but then you can pre-program different routes and give them names.  The route planning takes a little effort because you to place waypoints and INRIX fills in the route.  You must carefully pick the waypoints if you want to travel specific roads on your alternative routes.  Alternatives routes can be very nice as you’ll see later.

Richness of Features

Waze is number one in features because it includes such incredible detail in terms of real time road conditions, traffic cameras, location of police and the capability to post alerts as you drive (more on that later). Waze doesn’t use the overview route map, which in my opinion is a super tool to know the condition of the whole route.

INRIX has some great features with respect to commute time forecasting and forecasting alternative routes.

Commute is dirt simple. It gives you a forecast of your commute and tracks progress of your drive with updated arrival time every minute or so.

Pre Departure Info

INRIX provides a notification of your commute time at a time you specify.  So you can know before you go. I get an alert at 30 minutes before I depart for work.

Commute can provide you with a quick route information if you open the app and wait a couple seconds for the map to update and provide the commute forecast.

Waze does not provide any pre departure info and you must touch through a few menus to get the commute forecast … Waze is my least favorite for getting pre departure info.

Ease of Departure

After you get in your car you want a fast departure.

When you launch the Commute the app immediately comes up with your route forecast and begins tracking your progress and updates as you go.  Only 1 single action to get everything.

INRIX usually requires that you select your destination before it provides a forecast.

Waze also requires that you select a location and it requires the highest number of interactions with your mobile device among the three apps.

En Route Info

Waze takes the award for most information provided during your route.  You get voice driving (if you want), voice alerts for road hazards, real-time updates on traffic changes, real-time alternatives routes with driving directions.

INRIX provides a great tabbed view of alternative routes right at the top of the application. And each route has forecast arrival time so you can quickly see which one might be the best.

Commute basically tells you one route and sometimes indicates an alternative.  Unfortunately the alternative route is sometime indistinguishable from the main route due to the limited size of the screen on the mobile phone. And in the event the alternative route is clearly visible, it’s not obvious where you should turn to get on the new route because all navigation cues are provided on the route map.

Hands Free Safety

Commute is the safest app to use in my opinion because it does not offer options that require the user to interact.

INRIX offers the on road options of checking a new route by selected a good sized tab at the top of the app.  

Waze is crazy flexibly and I’ve caught myself coming up close on the person in front of me because I was distracted while reporting heavy traffic. The real time info of waze does amaze the commuter, however the actual number of interactions with a mobile device is very high.  To create a traffic alert in Waze requires 4 interactions with the app. That is at minimum probably 2 seconds and possibly up to 4 seconds of driver distraction.  If you are travelling in traffic and someone stops in front of you while you were entering an alert, you just ate up all your margin between your and the car in front of you. Additionally, if you want to confirm a road hazard, it’s one interaction, but still a bit of a distraction. Entering and confirming traffic notifications are optional of course, so safety is really up to the discretion of the driver.  Note that the value of the app and service does necessitate a high engagement with the community.  Update: I will be trying the voice commands aspect of Waze over the next few commutes to see how that impacts safety.  


If you want it simple and informative Commute is likely the app for you.

If you want to analyze pre-recorded routes for your commute and you want pre-flight information, then INRIX could be a good solution

If you are a commute road warrior and you want to try new routes on the fly, Waze will suit you fine.  

Below is a summary of the criteria and rank for the apps. Experiment and see what works for you.  I’m currently using all three of them and comparing their features side by side.

Ease of Configuration
Richness of Features
Pre Departure Info
Ease of Departure
En Route Info
Hands Free Safety

If you have any questions or thoughts on these apps, please send me an e-mail.