Canyon R

Jan 13

Nexus 7 Review

I have had my Nexus 7 for a month now and I’m finally ready to write my review of it. I know many of you have been wondering what I think and how I’ve been using it. I’m going to break this review into three parts: Hardware & OS, Apps, and Accessories then I’ll wrap up with some tips for those still considering a tablet. The bottom line is I love it and it’s had profound changes on how I work, consume information, manage my time, and what I carry with me.

Hardware & OS

The Hardware on the Nexus 7 is just incredible. You can find a lot of reviews that talk about how good the build quality, screen, and specs are. Rather than repeat that here, I’ll cover what I found surprising about it. The biggest surprise is how perfect the size is. After seeing, using, and hearing about iPads for years I was under the impression that 10” was the right size for a tablet. The original 7” android tablets were thick and heavy with bad screens and small batteries. The Nexus 7 really shines in all of these areas. I love the way it fits in my hand, or coat pocket, and is still big enough for reading, watching video, and taking notes (more on that later). It really is a size that causes me to engage with it more often than I would if I had a 10” tablet. And while it’s not a laptop replacement, where a 10” might be, it does much more than I expected. So much so that I don’t carry my laptop around everywhere like I used to. I feel comfortable going out, for coffee or a meeting, with just the tablet. It’s ironic that one of the few things, other than typing long posts like this, that I still need my laptop for is the page and community management features in Google+ which you can’t do from a mobile browser (shrug).

I have been a fan of Android since it first launched in 2008 and have owned a string of phones, including the original T-Mobile G1 phone. I have loved watching both the OS and the Apps mature. This latest version, showcased on the Nexus 7, is a crowning achievement for the Android team. The system is fast and easy to navigate. The built in apps are robust and well thought out. It’s easy to say that the GMail app is my favorite way to interact with my email, even over the standard GMail web interface. Two Android features that I couldn’t live without are the Widgets and built in Share function. I spend almost as much time interacting with my data through widgets than I do in the Apps created for that purpose. I’ll provide links to some of my favorites in next section. The universal Share feature is more than just a way to send data to other people. It’s like a magic conduit that allows your Apps to interact around your data without needing to know about each other. In any App you can “Share” to all other Apps that accept that form of data. Share a URL and only the URL aware Apps show on the list, if it’s a picture then you will only see those apps that say they can handle pics. The newest feature that is a runaway hit is Google Now. I’m finding all kinds of neat information that I didn’t realize I needed until Now presented it. From nearby places to how long my drive home is delayed by traffic. Also, if I search for a location in my desktop browser, then Now presents a one click ‘Navigate to’ link without me worrying about getting the address to my phone.


It’s not surprising that I’m using many of the same apps on my Galaxy Nexus and my Nexus 7. What is surprising is how differently I’m using them. Here is a list of my top third party Apps and why the Nexus 7 makes them even better.


I can’t say enough great things about Evernote. I have been using it for years and it’s a great way to organize, remember, and retrieve all the stuff the we collect in our lives. I know lots of people who have fallen in love with this App and every one uses it differently. I use it for everything from GTD and meeting notes, to technical reference and even writing my blog posts. The Evernote App on my phone was almost always for either looking up something or capturing an idea or bit of data (email address or movie title). I never did any long form writing or organization on there, I relied on the desktop app for that. Now on my tablet I’m creating, reviewing, and filing new stuff all the time. My use of Evernote has gone way up and so has my discipline in capturing everything.


Pocket is a wonderful app for gathering up all the stuff you want to remember to read. If you have 30 browser tabs open for stuff you want to come back to then Pocket is the App for you. The Pocket App on my phone was mostly used as a place to capture links into from Twitter, Email, or Facebook. I rarely used it to actually read the stories there. This is now the #1 reading App on my Nexus 7, even more than the Kindle App. I’m doing better at keeping up on the new stuff I save there and am even making a dent on the hundreds of older stories I’ve saved. I don’t even bother to read articles in my browser anymore, which used to be the only place I read them. Now when I want to read something it always goes to Pocket for reading on the Nexus 7 later.


This was the real surprise of the list. Before I would carry a Staples Arc Notebook everywhere with me, especially at work. I try to be diligent about writing down all the commitments, new ideas, and information that flew at me all day long, epically in meetings. With Handrite, and the right stylus (see below), I can take all those same notes, just as fast, on the screen. It treats each word or symbol as a separate image or object. This allows for selective editing, inserting new lines, or revising what I wrote. Things that pen and paper would never allow. I then Share the finished note to Evernote as a JPG and it sits in my inbox waiting to be Processed. Usually at the end of the week I would be flipping through my notebook, looking for all the things that haven’t made it into my system yet. Now they are already there, and because of the magic of Evernote, it’s all searchable too.


I have to point out two Widgets that I use all the time. The first is Android Agenda Widget. This is a super-configurable replacement for the standard Calendar Widget that offers both multiple calendar support and configurable views. It’s hot corner buttons and menus mean that I almost never open the Calendar App directly. On the new Android 4.2 it also functions as a lock screen widget while keeping all it’s features. The second is One More Clock. It offers some beautiful clock widgets that include weather and battery monitors. Some of the themes are nicer than others, but I’m betting that everyone will find one they like. Also the configurable Tap-to-Launch feature make it a great shortcut launcher as well. These along with the GMail and Evernote Widgets are the goto interfaces for my most used data.


After much research I have found several accessories that are vital my new tablet driven life.

Moko slim fit Case

A great case should not only provide protection, but make the device it holds more functional. The Moko slim fit case is exactly that. It’s great looking and feels solid in the hand both open or closed. The well designed ‘hinge back’ puts the screen at either of the two most frequent angles you will want it sitting in. And the corner hooks hold the Nexus 7 firmly without being hard to remove. It’s a wonderful design and a great purchase to both protect and use the tablet in.

PhantomSkinz screen protector

I have been a fan of PhantomSkinz since my NexusOne. It’s a perfect premium protector with almost no Orange Peel common in many other screen protectors. While it is a bit tricky to apply the first time (it involves water) it shouldn’t deter anyone from this most excellent product. Not only does my Nexus 7 and Galaxy Nexus have one but my wife’s iPhone 4S does as well.

Truglide stylus

This was a game changer for me. I had tried several other styluses (styli?) and couldn’t handle the dragging and skipping, especially once I had the screen protector in place. The Truglide stylus completely solves this. It’s cloth tip glides smoothly over the screen, even with the protector on. It offers a great writing experience, enough to allow me to leave my notepad on my desk when I go to meetings. The active stylus on the Samsung Note series may be more accurate, but this is the best capacitive stylus I’ve ever seen.

Wrap up

I’ve know for a while now that i had a tablet shaped whole in my life. I had never imagined that it would be filled so perfectly with a 7” tablet. After reading this, you may also be wondering if you have such a whole. So here are a few tips for those considering adding a tablet, of any size, to your life.

First, try to be mindful of when you could be using it for things you already do. I had many, many times in the last few years where I would think “If I had a tablet, I could use it for this right now.” This could be reading a article on the couch or emailing while waiting for my wife to finish shopping. I had racked up enough of those instances to make the purchase an easy one when the time came. Look for similar uses in your daily routine.

Second, be open to the fact that you will start doing new things or using it in ways you never thought. I never imagined that a tablet would replace so much of my laptop usage as it has. I also didn’t expect to stop carrying a paper notepad to meetings. I’m sure as time goes on I’ll find even more to do with it that I can’t guess right now. Realize that the purchase of a tablet can enable all kinds of new things if you are open to it.

Finally, pick an ecosystem before you pick a device. The big question in mobile and tablets now is “Which one?” There are so many choices and more coming out each day. The biggest influence on how successful your tablet will be is not what specific one you buy, but who’s system you are tying yourself to. The major contenders: Apple, Google, Amazon, and Microsoft all offer their own stores with different Apps, music, videos, ebooks, and communities. You need to think strongly about who you want to tie yourself to. If you already have an iPhone and a bunch of Apps and music in iTunes, then an iPad makes much more sense than a Kindle Fire. If you are deeply entrenched in Amazon music, Prime videos, and Apps then a Kindle may be the way to go. The only exception I would make is Kindle books, which work great on every platform and syncs between all of your readers. Which ever system you choose, you should buy your ebooks from Amazon. So pick a ecosystem first, then find the right device within that system for you.

I hope this helps anyone still looking at tablets to make an informed decision and finally feel comfortable about making the leap to the tablet life. I’m glad I did every time I turn on my Nexus 7.

photo credit: Nexus 7 Home by Scott Hill - CC by-nc-nd

Oct 24

Behind the Ball

Catching up and getting ahead in today’s ‘always busy’ workplace.

You know, I just don’t hear anyone say ‘behind the eight ball' anymore. Maybe it's the decline of pool as a spectator sport, or the fact that youth don't hang out in pool halls, but no one I know is saying it. What they are all saying is how they are swamped, busy, slammed, and even drowning in work. Everyone is always behind and just working on enough ‘fires’ to keep things from blowing up or crashing down. I can’t remember the last time someone even talked about making their deadlines on time. It has just become accepted that everyone is so behind that everything is going to be late or at least rushed out at the last minute. This behavior is so epidemic that when I suggested to a coworker that we try to get something done early I was looked at like I had just suggested that the Loch Ness Monster would do our work for us.

This outlook has severely affected our ability to set goals and deadlines. We have become incapable of committing to a timetable for anything and when we do we try to set it as far out as possible. I often have seen people pad estimates by three and four times as long as they think things should take. Not only does this show our lack of confidence in our own abilities, it shows our inability to be responsible for the things we request from other people. It usually sounds like this.

Alice: "Hey Bob, when can you get me the numbers for the Johnson file?"

Bob: "I’ll need to get them from Carl, and he’s swamped right now, so it will take till next Monday at least. Then I need to work them up, but I’m buried so that might take a few days. How about 2 weeks?”

Alice: "OK, just let me know when you get them in."

Now whoever was waiting on Alice to get those numbers will be waiting for at least 2 weeks, assuming that it happens on time, for what might be just a few hours of actual work. In my experience most of that work will happen within the last days just before the deadline hits. Bob won’t email Carl to ask for the numbers till tomorrow some time. Carl won’t get them put together till Monday afternoon because Bob said he needed them Monday. Then Bob will just put them on the pile till Friday morning. After all He had told Alice that it would take that long. Then at the last minute he gets them done and sends them on to Alice Friday afternoon. And if it is late, Bob will just explain that he said he was busy and that makes it all OK.

So what can we do about the constant flood of ‘busy’ we all suffer from and how do we defend against the Bob and Carl syndrome in our own workplace? First we can keep ourselves from becoming part of the problem. When our own Bob and Alice ask us for things we can give then real deadlines and then get them done early. Schedule time on your calendar for working on the things you have committed to so that others can’t just fill up your time with meetings. Sometimes your ‘working on project a’ appointment will get overruled by higher priority meeting but then it’s much easier to reschedule if it’s already on your calendar. Another tip is scheduling time to ‘do email’ and then actually doing it then. This can break the cycle of constantly checking email freeing up time to work on the things that the email is about.

Hopefully some of this can help you meet your deadlines on time or even ahead of schedule. If Alice says she needs the numbers by Friday, give them to her on Tuesday if at all possible. If that means calling up Carl asking nicely to get the numbers faster then do it. Maybe you know that Carl isn’t just sitting on the numbers but is waiting on something else from Dan. (I don’t know about you but this is exactly how things actually happen at my work.) Then you can call up Dan and see if you can help him get his piece done and to Carl sooner.

I know that there are some of you out there saying "But I shouldn’t have to do that. I should just get my work done and everyone else should just do theirs. Then all this wouldn’t be necessary." I hear you and understand, but unfortunately that’s just as likely as the Loch Ness Monster doing my work. The reality is that if you want to get your stuff done, sometimes you have to help other people get theirs done. Also, you will be amazed how much easier it is to get things quickly when people get their things quickly from you.

Now that we have avoided being a time roadblock ourselves we can focus on holding others accountable for the promises they make to us. However, this can be tricky and should always be done professionally regardless of how much frustration we feel. Get the actual day and time when people will get things to you. "So your going to send me that by 11 AM on Thursday, Right?" Get them to say "Yes", out loud if you can. Also, the more specific you get, the more likely you are to have your stuff done. Monday at Noon is better than "Sometime Monday" which we all know means Tuesday morning. Then follow up, politely, and get a new deadline when they miss the last one. "So you can have it done by 3 today?"

By getting our own stuff done and getting the things we need from others in a timely fashion, we can find ourselves less buried and more able to breath. We can feel on the ball instead of behind it.

photo credit: Behind The 8-Ball by Rob Boudon - CC by

Oct 17

GTD - A 12 Step Program for the Disorganized - Part 5

This 5 part series covers the 5 stages of Getting Things Done or GTD, a personal organization system developed by David Allen and released as a book in 2001. In our first part we discussed the philosophy of GTD and stage 1: Collecting. The second part covered stage 2: Processing. The third part covered stage 3: Organization. In the fourth part we covered stage 4: the Review. In this final part we will discuss stage 5: Doing.


The purpose of any organization system is to make us more effective in accomplishing the things we have committed to. This is where GTD really pays returns on all the time you have spent capturing, processing, and organizing. The first way GTD changes how you complete tasks is to help clear your mind from trying to remember everything. If you trust that your system will remind you of things and keep you from forgetting them, then they no longer take up space in your active memory. This is a state that David calls “Mind like water” where you are able to be creative and focused because you aren’t constantly reminding yourself of everything else you ‘should’ be doing. While this can be a great benefit of a well implemented GTD system there are several tactical pieces of GTD that help with Doing as well.

Cranking Widgets

So now you are ready to start working, but where to start. First you can start with your calendar. What are the things on your hard landscape that you have coming up. If you find you have time before your next appointment, you go to the lists for the Contexts you are in. The goal is to have already done all of the thinking during your reviews. Now doing tasks should be as simple, as David puts it, as “Cranking Widgets”. You may be at work (@Work) with a phone (@Phone) and a computer (@Computer). Now just review those lists and decide what the most appropriate thing is for you to do given your energy level and any pending deadlines. You should have all the information in your context lists to make those decisions and start Doing the action. If you can’t then you need to rethink what you are putting on your lists.

As you crank widgets and mark things off your Next Actions lists, you continue to collect input. Don’t stop working to process it, just put in into an inbox and trust that it will be process later. When you complete an action you don’t have to write down the next step in that project if you are moving on to it immediately. Only when you stop one string of actions for a new one, possibly because of a distraction, do you need to collect the next outstanding action. In this way next actions act as bookmarks, reminding you what step you were on and what is needed to pick up where you left off.

Two Minute Rule

One of the powerful tools that David introduced is the Two Minute Rule. This rule says that if you have a Next Action that can be done now and takes less than two minutes, just do it now. The ‘can be done now’ piece means that there are no context or dependency requirements for the action. The ‘two minute’ piece is a hard deadline for finishing the action. If you can reply to an email or lookup a number in less than two minutes, it’s better to finish it rather than writing it down as a Next Action. But be careful, you may be able to ask your sister about her pasta maker in less than two minutes, but it may not be a good idea if you know she will keep you talking about cousin Gertie for half an hour. This rule is always applicable but is most effective during a review and can turn your weekly review into one of the most productive times in your week. You must be sure to return to your Review when you are done and capture the new Next action for that project. Don’t let the rule become an excuse for distractions.


Another powerful part of GTD is it’s assumption that distractions will always happen. Rather that trying to avoid them, GTD accounts for and even embraces them. These new inputs can completely derail your plans, calendar, and lists. GTD give you a framework for getting back in control of your system and your work. If a new input, such as a phone call, email, coworker, or even your boss, happens then try to quickly determine if it takes precedence over what you were doing. Obviously your boss takes precedence over almost everything, but a coworker may be fine with a ‘call you in 15 minutes’ reply to a question. If you aren’t going to engage the input now, make sure you capture it into an inbox. That could be a note tossed into your physical inbox or a quick calendar reminder so you remember to call that coworker back 15 minutes later. If you do deal with it now, then be sure to capture what you were working on so you can return quickly to it when you finish with the new input. This way GTD keeps you working on tasks in a world full of new input and distractions.

Doing is ultimately the point of any organization system, and GTD excels in helping you Do more, be more focused, and keeping things from ‘falling through the cracks’. I hope this overview is helpful as an introduction to GTD. For those interested in more, pick up your own copy of GTD. In a future post I will lay out the details of my own GTD system and some of the important lessons I have learned in the Seven years I have been using GTD.

photo credit: Getting Things Done (my way) by Justin See - CC by-nd

Oct 13

GTD - A 12 Step Program for the Disorganized - Part 4

This 5 part series covers the 5 stages of Getting Things Done or GTD, a personal organization system developed by David Allen and released as a book in 2001. In our first part we discussed the philosophy of GTD and stage 1: Collecting. The second part covered stage 2: Processing. The third part covered stage 3: Organization. Now we cover stage 4: the Review.


The Review, in GTD, takes two forms. There are the constant small reviews that you do throughout the day. There is also The Weekly Review, scheduled on your calendar for once a week, where you Process every inbox until it is empty and then review all your lists.

Mini Reviews

The constant reviewing of you inboxes and lists is probably something you already do today. This can be scanning your Next Action lists, Processing a few items from an inbox, or extracting commitments from meeting notes. This ongoing review allows you to trust that things put into your inboxes will be looked at and Processed in a timely fashion. These reviews should be handled much like the Weekly Review described below, but without the rigor of getting everything processed. Just processing a few items at a time can keep the system working smoothly throughout the week.

Weekly Review

Even if you have been processing your inboxes and lists regularly, you still need time to go over everything in your system. This is the purpose of the Weekly Review. You need to schedule and hour or two each week, when you can minimize distractions, to preform the Review. This time will not only allow you to empty your inboxes and review your system but to keep scope and control over your commitments. It’s hard to overstate the importance of the Weekly Review in the success of your GTD system. It is the focal point that keeps the rest of the system working smoothly and builds your trust in it.

The first step is gathering all your inputs together. This can include putting all your ‘physical inboxes’ into one place. Try dumping all the receipts from your wallet, notes from your meetings, and random pieces of paper on your desk or in your bag into your main inbox. Then make sure you have access to all your virtual inboxes including email, voicemail, note taking apps, and even relevant pictures (like a white board after a meeting). This also includes your Calendar which often reminds us of commitments or actions needed to prepare for upcoming events. Everything that may have an undecided commitment or potential action should be included. Once you start your review, you shouldn’t have to stop to look for something to process. I have a checklist of all my inboxes that I use each week to make sure I don’t miss anything during my review.

The next step is to Process each item. Each inbox is to be treated as a ‘Last in, First out’ stack. For each email or piece of paper, you must rigorously apply the questions discussed in stage two. “What does this mean to me?” or “What commitment does this represent?”. If it’s reference material, file it. If it’s trash, delete it. If it’s actionable, then you have to capture the Outcomes and Next Actions into your system. Once you have made these decisions, then get it out of your inbox. Don’t just let it sit there to be looked at again later. Often this means having a good place to archive or file things you want to reference but have been processed. An “Action” folder can be a great place to put things related to your active tasks that keeps them out of your inbox. The goal for this first part of the review is to EMPTY your inboxes.

Once you have everything in your system, it’s time to review your system itself. Start with your Active Projects list by making sure each item is actually something you plan on working on in the next week. If not then move it to the Someday/Maybe list. Then make sure each Active Project has the appropriate Next Actions on the right Context lists. Mark off any projects you have finished and update your project files as needed. Also review your project plans for any new Actions or Waiting items that need to be captured. Finally you should review your Someday/Maybe list for anything you want to move onto your Active Projects list or into a Context list. This is the time to decide to start, or restart, a Project or complete some longstanding task. Every Active Project should have at least one Next Action or Waiting item or it isn’t really Active.

Next you can review each Context list and Agenda to ensure that they are up to date. Make sure any completed items are crossed off and any new Next Actions are in the proper place. If you have any actions that have been on your list since your last review, you should ask why they haven’t been done yet. If there is another step that really needs to be done first, capture that as the Next Action and move the one on your list to ‘Waiting’ or to a project plan as appropriate. If it’s not something you are going to do then delete it from your system. Don’t leave extra items hanging around that you have no intention of completing.

The last list to review is your Waiting list. This list should contain all the deliverables that you need from other people that are blocking your projects from moving forward. During your review is a great time to reach out to each of these people and remind them of what you are waiting on from them. By sending a quick email or leaving a voice mail, you can often get unstuck an important piece of a project. If you can’t follow up right then with someone, add a Next Action to the appropriate context list for you to do so later.

Now that you have Reviewed your System, spend a few minutes doing a Mind Sweep. Now that everything is fresh in your mind you should let yourself be open to any new ideas or thoughts and capture those as well. Just sit with a blank piece of paper or empty document in front of you and write down anything that comes to mind. You will be surprised at how much more you will think of given all that you just reviewed. Once you feel that you have emptied your mind of any new things then take that list and Process it just as you did your inboxes before. This will help you get a sense of completeness about your review and enhance your trust in the system as a whole.

Reviewing your inboxes and system on an ongoing bases and during a Weekly review is the foundation that keeps GTD running smoothly. This will take a long time the first few times but it will get faster and you will get much more comfortable as you do them. Many people feel less effective or even lost if they miss a Weekly review. I know I notice a significant decrease in my effectiveness and try to reschedule it for as soon as possible if I miss one. Now we can get to Doing our tasks, which we will cover in part 5 of this series. If you would like to dive in you can pick up a copy of Getting Things Done on Amazon.

photo credit: A stack of Moleskines by Andy Woo - CC by-sa

Sep 02

GTD - A 12 Step Program for the Disorganized - Part 3

This 5 part series covers the 5 stages of Getting Things Done or GTD, a personal organization system developed by David Allen and released as a book in 2001. In our first part we discussed the philosophy of GTD and stage 1: Collecting. The second part covered stage 2: Processing. Now lets get into stage 3.


Organizing is where we take the Outcomes and Next Actions we created during Processing and give them a place to live. This constitutes the functional piece of the system that you will refer to as you Do your many tasks and complete your projects. While I will focus on the content of this system, the form it takes is up to you. Any virtual or physical system that can keep lists or reference material can be a part of the system. The important piece is that you trust your system and are able to access it quickly when actually getting your things done. I will describe my system in detail in a future post.

The Organization system has four components:


You need two separate lists for your projects: Active Projects and Someday/Maybe. The outcomes that you are working toward in the next week go on your Active Projects list. Each item on your Active Projects list should have a corresponding Next Action on your context lists or a Waiting For item. The Someday/Maybe list acts as a master repository that holds all the things you have committed to but aren’t currently working on or that you may want to work on in the future. As in the processing step, I find it helpful to write my Project names in the form of “What will be true when this is complete”. So instead of writing “Mom’s Birthday” I would put “Mom has a present and card on her birthday.” This continues the focus on the outcome and helps you move to this result.

The second part of the project system is the project support files. These are planning and reference materials for all of your projects. They should hold all of the information you need to actually work on your projects and any future planning you have done. This can included both physical paper files and digital documents or notes relating to the project. I sometimes have both a folder on my computer and a real folder for each project. Out of these project plans you can extract your Next Actions as the project progresses.

Next Action

The Next Action lists are separated into “contexts”. These contexts are based on the location or resources that you need to complete your actions. Standard examples include “At Computer” for actions you need a computer to complete, or “At Work” for things that can only be done at your workplace. These are often expressed as @Computer or @Work. This way you can filter your actions to only those that you can do given your current contexts. You don’t want to look at task like ‘scrub oven’ or ‘collect the old newspapers in the garage’ when you are at work. Thats why they have different contexts, so that the only tasks you are looking at are ones you can actually do right then. You can also have context lists for people, David calls them “Agendas”, where you can record the things you need to discuss with that person when you have an opportunity.

As you work, your Next Actions become a set of bookmarks or reminders of the state of your Projects. You don’t need to capture and check off each step as you are working on them. Only when you stop working on a given Project do you need to capture the Next Action. This gives you an easy way to restart that chain without needing to review the project each time. Just as in Processing, be as specific as possible when wording your Next Actions. What is the next physical act, that you are not doing right now, that will move toward the Project’s outcome? That is what you capture as a Next Action, and be sure to put it into the proper context. If the reason you can’t do that action right now is your lack of a computer, then put it into your @Computer context.

The Waiting For list represents a special context and stores reminders of things that others have committed to, so you can follow up with them. Any Active Project that for which the Next Action isn’t yours should have a place holder on your Waiting For list. This can be captured as the name of the person and the deliverable you are expecting from them. For example “John W: Report on 3rd quarter shipping figures for the NE region.” or “Tabitha A: List of broken dishes from last week’s party.” both make great Waiting For items. This format makes it easy to follow up with each person and remind them what it is you are expecting them to deliver or do.


Your calendar finds it’s place in GTD as, what David calls, the “Hard Landscape”. This reserves the calendar for only the items that need to happen on a certain time and day. This is what calendars are supposed to be for. Unfortunately, many people also use them as daily task lists or reminders for things that need to be done, but not on a specific day or time. So your meeting on Tuesday, at 4 P.M. would be on the calendar, but running to the car wash wouldn’t unless you have an appointment. For many this detaches the calendar as the center of your personal organization. Removing these semi-scheduled items from your calendar elevates the remaining appointments to a sacred decree. These are things that have to be done at the prescribed time. Therefore everything not on your calendar can be done at anytime you are in the appropriate context.


Finally you need a reference file for all of the non-actionable Stuff you have collected. This reference file is often a set of Drawers with a single, Alphabetic filing system. It is important to optimize this system for ease of filing not ease of retrieving. The harder it is to file something or the more you have to think about it then the less likely you are to actually file things immediately. You then end up with a pile labeled “To be Filed” and it becomes another project. You will have to become comfortable putting a single piece of paper into a folder and giving it a label. If it’s not something that relates to what you are actively working on then it should be filed. As long as you are consistent in your filing methods, you should be able to retrieve things quickly.

Contexts lists and your Active Projects list really form the working core of your GTD system. They are the parts you will return to many times a day to recenter and refocus your self. After each new distraction or burst of activity you can review the context lists that are currently applicable and pick a Next Action to work on. Or you can review your Active Projects and see if any new Next Actions need to be captured. This review is continuous, as is processing new items captured into your inboxes. But we still need another, regularly scheduled, review to bring everything up to date and make sure that nothing is being missed. In our next part we will cover step 4, the Review. If you would like to dive in you can pick up a copy of Getting Things Done on Amazon.

photo credit: Am I Organized? by koalazymonkey - CC by-nd

Aug 04

GTD - A 12 Step Program for the Disorganized - Part 2

This 5 part series covers the 5 stages of Getting Things Done or GTD, a personal organization system developed by David Allen and released as a book in 2001. In our first part we discussed the philosophy of GTD and stage 1: Collecting. Now lets get into stage 2.


Processing is the act of evaluating everything in your inboxes and asking “What does this mean to me?” Is the item reference material to be filed, is it trash, or does it represent a commitment you have made to yourself or someone else? If it represents a commitment then it goes into your system. This starts with deciding if each item is actionable, and if so, what the outcome looks like. These outcomes then can be recorded, usually as projects. If it’s not immediately actionable, but is something you want to eventually accomplish, then it needs to be recorded for later. Finally some things are important but not actionable they can be filed as Reference Material or Project support material as appropriate.


Anything that takes more than 1 step to do is a project. Sometimes it will be obvious that something is a project like “build a new deck”. Other outcomes that are smaller still count as projects, such as “repair broken window on car”. But what about things like “Buy a new hand-mixer”? That might be a task if the next action is opening your browser to and clicking buy. It also might be a project. For example, the next action may be “Research hand-mixer reviews” or “Decide on hand-mixer brand”. It even may be as simple as “Call aunt Ellen to ask what brand of hand-mixer she has”. If the next physical action doesn’t complete the outcome, then it’s a project.

Once you have these projects you have to decide a few things about them. First you have to decide what the outcome is. One way to ask this is “What does wild success look like?” Capturing projects in terms of the successful completion is important. It helps you focus on the next steps to drive the project to completion and not the problem or situation you are trying to change. “Replace broken window” focuses on the current problem and not the solution. “Install new window” may be a better way to phrase it but the real key to focusing on the outcome is to speak of it in the past tense. “New window has been installed” helps you to visualize the goal and determine what steps must be taken to achieve it. Projects should always answer the question: What will be true when I’m finished that isn’t true now.

Next Actions

Next you decide what action, or series of actions, will advance the project to this outcome. It is important to focus on the next action, or more directly, the next physical act that will move the project forward. These actions should be doable without any preparation or additional planning. If any is needed, then that preparation is the next action. A good way to find the next action is to ask: If someone was watching me work on this, what is the first thing they would see me doing. When you capture these, they should be as specific as possible to remove any remembering or deciding that may keep you from acting on them. A next action may be “Get the book” but is better written as “Get book on medieval pottery from shelf in dining room.” Another few examples could be “Call Bob about the green shirt for next week’s party - (122) 555-1234”, “Research warranty on broken toaster for Aunt Bessie.”, and “Decide about Birthday present for Mom”. In the last example I know I can’t move forward until I make a decision, so that is the next action.

Anything that isn’t immediately actionable is either reference material, something that might be actionable in future, or trash. Each of these find their own place in the organization system. In our next part we’ll cover stage 3, Organization. If you would like to dive in you can pick up a copy of Getting Things Done on Amazon.

photo credit: Making notes on GTD by Abizern - CC by-nc

May 02

GTD - A 12 Step Program for the Disorganized - Part 1

This was originally posted as a single article on, it’s been updated and posted here as a 5 part series

“Hello, my name is Canyon and I’m a Disorganized Mess.”

Saying that “the first step is admitting you have a problem and are powerless over it” may sound familiar to many. I feel I had to go further than that to accept that I needed help with my personal organization. I was drowning in “Stuff” and the cracks that stuff was slipping through had become gaping holes. I eventually found GTD and it saved me from my self-inflicted chaos. For this first series I want to give an overview of the GTD system. Next series I’ll cover my own implementation and some of the key realizations I’ve had about the GTD methodology.

GTD overview

Getting Things Done, or GTD, if you aren’t already aware, is the personal organization system created by David Allen and published as a book in 2001. It has become very popular with Geeks in the technology community. While there are many other explanations of GTD available, I will try to sum it up for the uninitiated.

The basic philosophy of GTD is that your brain is wonderful at evaluating data and making decisions but terrible at remembering the things you’ve committed to do. These commitments, either to yourself or someone else, take mental energy to remember. Your brain tries to be helpful and remind you of everything you have committed to, it’s just really bad at organizing this stuff. It’s also really bad about picking the right time to remind you of something. As David Allen says “You never remember that you need toilet paper when you are at the store.”

GTD helps you create a “Trusted System” giving you a way to capture and store these commitments outside your head. Trusted means that once you put something in to the system, you will come back to it at the right time. Your brain can trust you will see those items again and so it doesn’t need to hold on to everything. When your brain lets it all go, it frees up that energy for doing the creative stuff that your brain is good at. David calls this “Mind Like Water”. If all of the little reminders stop going off you can focus on doing the things you need to do. This system holds all of these commitments and the steps needed to complete them.

GTD has 5 stages.

  1. Collect all your stuff outside of your head.
  2. Process the commitments this stuff represents and what the next action is.
  3. Organize those commitments and actions into a trusted system.
  4. Review everything at least weekly.
  5. Do the tasks.

I’ll cover each of these stages in detail.


Collecting all your stuff, from the many different inputs you have, helps ensure every commitment gets processed. Processing allows you to make decisions and form plans from the pile of stuff you have collected. Organizing those decisions and plans in a structured way streamlines retrieving the info when you need it. Reviewing the whole system keeps it current and helps your brain trust it. Finally you can Do the things you have committed to, confident that you are choosing the best action to be taken at any time.

Collecting is all about not trusting your brain to remember tomorrow, or 5 minutes from now, the thought it just had. You must capture all of these thoughts and your commitments as they happen. An important piece is being able to capture anywhere, anytime. GTD calls this “Ubiquitous Capture”. This usually takes the form of a notebook, smartphone, or voice recorder.

One of the benefits of capturing everything outside of your brain is it keeps distractions down. If a new thought, commitment, or piece of information pops up to distract you while you are focusing on something, just jot it down and then go back to what you were doing. Your brain can be confident that it won’t get lost or forgotten, because you captured it. Then it won’t keep distracting you in an attempt to keep from losing this new input. This works for things you interrupt yourself with as well as anyone who attempts to inform you about, burden you with, or commit you to something new.

As you collect stuff, it lands in a series of inboxes. This can include your email inbox, voice mail inbox, a physical inbox on your desk, or a note pad you carry in your pocket. As stuff collects in this series of inboxes, you process the stuff as often as you need to keep it off your mind. Then, once a week, you commit time on your calendar to process all of the inboxes till they are empty. Then you know that everything from all your inboxes ends up in your system. This is a key to trusting your system, processing everything.

In our next part we’ll cover stage 2 , Processing. If you would like to dive in you can pick up a copy of Getting Things Done on Amazon.

photo credit: My Messy Moleskine by Alexandre Dulaunoy - CC by-sa

Mar 28

U.S. ‘not winning’ war with hackers, says FBI bigwig

A very good article about the current state of security on the internet. This shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone in the IT or Security industry. If it does, you haven’t been paying attention.


Speaking to The Wall Street Journal in an interview published yesterday, FBI executive assistant director and cyber czar Shawn Henry said that despite recent arrests of alleged hackers “Sabu” and others, “we’re not winning.”

Source: Cnet

(via securityeye)

Jan 18

Two good articles for Blackout day reading

Here are two good articles for reading on Blackout day.

First is a primer for those asking why SOPA & PIPA are such bad laws. Andy Ihnatko lays out in his latest sun-times article exactly why these laws are awful in terms that non-tech people can really relate to.

Second is a wonderful piece from Clay Johnson, writer of the Information Diet, about fixing these problems long term by educating ourselves about congress and then using that knowledge to educate congress about the Internet.

Nov 03


Aug 20


Jul 03

Google Plus - Social for small conversations

The thrust of many Google+ conversations is, understandably, about how it compares as a service to Twitter and Facebook. This also comprises many of the reviews that have been posted so far. The points generally conclude that it’s not as good at one use case or another. I think that the real difference is that the services are optimized for different ways of sharing. Each taking from the others in subtle ways but still basically designed for different tasks.

I believe that Google+ is optimized for communicating with small groups of 5 to 15 people. It is not designed to easily communicate with the “Public”. Many of the complaints about the way the service works relate to it not working as well for these general public conversations as Twitter does. This is because Twitter is optimized for these conversations. It easily allows a many to many conversation but completely ignores the Few to Few conversations. These are the exact conversations that G+ is setup for.

When looking at 5-15 people Circles many of the functions that people are complaining about become great benefits. Take, for example, the “post move to the top when commented on” ordering of your Stream. This feature fails when trying to follow large public figures who have many comments from their other followers. But for a conversation happening with a circle of 8 friends, it helps to keep you engaged as everyone adds their comments.

The private nature of the Circle itself also lends to this conversation. Facebook groups are public lists that allow conversations among a diverse and unconnected group with a similar interest. Where Circles provide a context group within your own definition. For example, I may have a “tennis” group of friend, of which Brian is a member. He may also have a “tennis” circle, with people that he relates to “tennis” which I happen to be a member of. Yet when I share with my tennis circle, the members of his tennis circle don’t see it unless he chooses to re-share it with them. This is not a flaw but is by design, this is the kind of sharing I wan’t and wasn’t able to easily get anywhere else.

The reason, I believe that many of the people who are on G+ now have these complaints is that they are media and technology people who interact with their “public” on social networks and not just with their Circles of Friends. I only hope that user’s requests don’t try to turn G+ into Facebook or Twitter by asking to remove or change the things that make it different. I hope it’s allowed to grow into it’s own service, with it’s own optimizations and social norms.

Mar 17


Mar 03

Podcast honorable mention

In my list of podcasts I focused on the casts that I get the most value from. I covered shows that focus on news, tech, or business. I feel like I’m being unfair if I don’t mention (honorably) my favorite entertainment podcast.

You look nice today is an unbelievably fun, intelligent, unrepentant, and zany show. I will warn that’s it’s not work or child safe, but it’s well worth taking some of your own time to listen to. The hosts are Merlin Mann, Adam Lisagor, and Scott Simpson.

The best example of how brilliant these guys are is their tribute to the foley artists of silent films The Noises Rest. If you like it, you will love YLNT. If you don’t, I’m sorry.

Feb 26

Podcasts for the masses

I listen to a lot of podcasts, as some of you may know. While I’ve often recommended specific casts to people, I have never listed out my favorite shows before. Before I start the list there are a few notes I think you will find helpful.

First: What is a Podcast?

A podcast is a show that is distributed over the Internet. They are usually audio but more are released as video. You can listen to, or watch, them either from a website or on any computer or portable device (ipod, iphone, smartphone, etc).

Second: Why listen to a Podcast?

Podcasts, in their audio form, are great because you can listen to them while doing other things. This is a very similar to the benefits of audio books. I often listen while driving, doing dishes, or even shopping. This gives me a great way to engage my mind and learn about new things in my areas of interest.

Third: How to listen to a Podcast?

If you have an Apple device, iPod or iPhone, then all of these podcasts and more are available in the iTunes Store under the Podcast section. If you have an Android powered phone then I highly recommend the Google Listen application. This is what I listen to my podcasts with and it’s a great experience. If you have another smartphone, like a palm or blackberry, then you may have to find a way to download these shows and sync them to your device. Any modern smartphone that can play music will be able to play podcasts. If you don’t have any of these mobile devices, then you can still listen to the shows from your computer, either by downloading them or directly from their respective websites.

Here are my favorite podcasts.

5: NPR Podcasts :: NPR has done a great job of embracing the nature of podcasting. While their individual shows are available, I much prefer their topic based casts. They bring together stories from several of their shows that are all related to the same theme. I currently subscribe to the Technology and Economy shows, but they have many other topics available.

4: The World Technology Podcast :: Clark Boyd brings together the best and most interesting tech stories from “The World” program. He picks the stories you haven’t heard elsewhere, “tech that matters” as he calls it. He offers expanded interviews with people working on and thinking about cool and important things. When ever I hear the intro start playing, I do a “happy dance” because I know I’m going to learn about something new.

3: Back to Work w/ Merlin Mann :: Merlin is one of the most insightful and entertaining people I follow. Anything with him in it is always great. This is the newest podcast in my list, having only a handful of episodes currently. What is wonderful about this cast is that host Dan Benjamin has coaxed from Merlin the core concepts of his renown talks and his forthcoming book. Together they present these important and always helpful topics in a playful and engaging way. If your work takes any thinking, responsibility, or creativity then you will be better at it from listening to this podcast.

2: Security Now w/ Steve Gibson :: First off, all of the TWiT podcasts are great, and Leo Lapport is clearly the godfather of technology podcasts. I listen to several of the casts from twit and highly recommend you look for any of them you might be interested in. Yet, Security Now is different. Steve’s ability is to take unbelievably complex technology topics and present them in a clear, concise, and understandable way. Listening to Security Now will give anyone a solid foundation in most current technology, including General Security, Cryptography, Computer Processing, Wireless Networking, Online Privacy, and dozens of other topics. This is some of the most accurate and thorough technical content available on the Internet. This is a must listen if you work with or are interested in technology.

1: Manager Tools & Career Tools :: Put simply, Mike and Mark have had a bigger impact on my career and professional life than any one else, period. These two casts, really just two sides of the same body of knowledge, are where I have learned how to be a better at every activity related to work. Their focus on actionable, repeatable suggestions put them ahead of almost all of the other business and career advice available. Call it professional development, career management, or personal coaching, if you are looking for the most payoff for your time spent learning this is it. Manager Tools covers topics from the everyday life of professionals. Topics such as meetings, interviews, projects, budgets, leadership, and presentations. They will make you more competent at the things you are bad at and give you an edge on the things you already do well. Also, the Manager Tools forums are a great community of professionals sharing their questions and support with each other. I have benefited greatly from their discussions and insights.

I hope this inspires you to start exploring the world of podcasts. There are thousands available for every interest and topic. If you have any suggestions for great podcasts or questions about my picks, please post them below.