Blog Archives

Simplify Your Life: A GTD primer for beginners!

I was asked by one of my colleagues recently to present on a conference call to her team on my “magic” to getting things done and how I’m able to accomplish inbox zero notwithstanding my busy travel calendar.  So, in good form – in the spirit of Nancy Duarte and Garr Reynolds, I grabbed a Sharpie and some plain paper and began to mind map the entire presentation in PowerPoint. Then, I drew out each of my slides, with the pictures I believed would be most compelling and demonstrative. Finding those photos on iStockPhoto, I then began working on my presentation.  To help me get a the big picture view though, I applied a tip I just read on the Duarte Blog: print out your slides 9-up – they’re the same size as little sticky notes! I laid them out on the floor, and began rearranging and adding slides I felt I might have been missing to tell the story better.

Here is my presentation, on SlideShare of course, on how to Simplify Your Life. Enjoy!

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Why I hate e-mail attachments!

Okay, so hate might be a strong word to use. Better put, I hate e-mail attachments over 1MB. I know, I know, so many of us use Gmail that allows 7.94GB of space. But for those of us who must use Microsoft Exchange for work, you know what it’s like; a colleague sends you their latest PowerPoint presentation (filled with unsightly bullet points and 12-point font, no doubt!) that’s 3MB, another colleague sends you the latest product rollout in Word and supporting PDF’s, you’re up to another 3 or 4MB. By the end of the day, you’ve got a message from your IT Department saying that you’ve exceeded the size of your mailbox and you won’t be able to send or receive any e-mails until you clear out your inbox.

That’s why I’ve taken it upon myself to be the Lone Ranger in my organization and with my customers to show them the light — enter and Dropbox!

Yes, with great power comes a lot of responsibility and I have solemnly vowed to take on that oath with the great seriousness … even when I’m face with the one colleague insists that I just send her attachments … oh no, I will not play with that kind of kryptonite! (Wow, I just used three different super hero analogies in one paragraph!)

I’ll dedicate this one post to my sincere love that I have for the geniuses at and write another post on how I use Dropbox. I’ll describe why this service is so cool, how I used it, and why everyone else should too.

Without question, has become a lifesaver for me both internally and with customers. In case you’re unfamiliar with the service, in their words say:

“was founded on a simple, powerful idea: people should be able to access and share their content from anywhere. Since 2005, has helped more than 3 million individuals, small businesses and Fortune 1000 companies do just that. We want to reinvent what businesses can do with their content through Box’s Cloud Content Management platform, made for a new kind of worker, a new kind of workplace and a new kind of IT.”

That’s what I love. Sharing. Made. Easy. All I need to do is upload a file from my desktop. Click on share. Copy hyperlink. Paste in email. Done. Seriously? Can it get any easier than that?! Then you can start getting fancy by adding folders, sharing those folders, copying the hyperlink for that shared folder. Paste in email. Done. Again, couldn’t get easier.

What’s even better is that I can describe a folder (“Product rollout information”), comment on a file (“Here is my latest presentation” [without bullet points courtesy of Presentation Zen] I did last week), and assign tags to the files allowing you to do some very quick and simple searches.

On top of all of this, I can track when someone has viewed my files. As you can see from the screen capture below, there’s an “Updates” hyperlink that allows me to see how many times someone has downloaded one of my files. If I’ve decided to make that person an editor because I’m collaborating, it tells me that someone has made edits. There are also great email notifications as well. I’m pretty sure if I upgraded I’d know who viewed those files. For now, I’m content knowing someone did. That way, when I ask someone what they thought about the presentation – and I know they didn’t view it – it’s always interesting to hear their response! My homepage looks like this:

Then, decided that we can not only share, but we can share and collaborate online … move over SharePoint (Sorry, Bill Gates)!! There are various different ways in which you can collaborate.

When you click on the triangle you are presented with several options. For instance, you can invite collaborators so that they can mark up your documents and upload them back to your account. You can embed your folder on your website making it available for the world, integrate it with LinkedIn, add/edit tags, and even integrate it with several different “apps” in what they call “Open Box”.

Open Box is great because it provides you with seamless integrations with various applications such as, Twitter, FedEx, Gmail, Outlook, etc. And, as you all know from my previous post on how to Stay on Task, I love programs like these to be everywhere I am – whether I’m in the field, on a plane, in the airport, or in my office – is available on my iPod Touch, iPhone, iPad, and there’s even a mobile version for other cell phones.

In my case, I’ve decided that I can share my documents and/or folders with the world! I can send it to Twitter, Send with Gmail, or Send with Outlook — making the number of clicks between upload and share that much smaller.

There’s other slick features on that I just haven’t needed to take advantage of such as WebDocs, which allows you to create the equivalent of a Microsoft Word Doc or Google Doc and share it with others, allowing them to collaborate with you.

One last note about uploading files. Uploading files can also be done two other ways: 1) from email – simply by e-mailing your document to; and 2) brand new to is their incredibly slick way of leveraging HTML5all you need to do is drag your file from wherever it resides on your desktop and drop it right onto the website … that’s genius!! Keep in mind this only works if you’re using a browser that supports HTML5, like Google Chrome’s.

Like most freemium services (like Remember the Milk and Evernote), you can get really great features if you upgrade.

To all the sales reps at who have reached out to me in the few months … I know, I know. I get that it’s cool, I just don’t see the need at this particular moment in time. Yes, I could benefit from more space. Yes, I could benefit from branding my homepage. Yes, I can benefit from more control. I’ll get there eventually!

So there you have it. Just like the creators of say it – it’s sharing made easy. Now, if only everyone would start using and stop sending me massive files!! Oooh, do I hate email attachments!

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Getting Back On Task

In my last post, I lamented over the scores of productive tools out there. You can Google productivity and get 67 million of hits. Search for GTD and you’ll get 3.9 million hits. Search the iTunes App Store for GTD and you’ll get 30 Apps! The good news? I found 3 tools that just work; albeit some minor tweaking: Evernote, Remember the Milk, and my iPod Touch! In this post I’ll talk about my system, how I developed it, and why I believe it works.

The short story is that any system I was going to choose had to be easy to use and easy to understand. As one lawyer said to me about one of our litigation tools we offer law firms – if I can’t understand how it works in less than 30 seconds, I’m not interested. I’m of the same mind – so enjoy this post!

1. My Struggle

Managing Tasks
If you’re reading this, you no doubt have at least heard of David Allen’s book, Getting Things Done. So I won’t bother with a laborious recapitulation of his book. What is noteworthy is that whether you’re a hardcore follower, someone who has tweaked the system or despise the system, the reality is that there is truth behind GTD. Namely, when it comes to managing tasks.

I need a system that I can access anywhere, that’s easy-to-use, and easy-to-understand. Bound to Microsoft Outlook Exchange server and a company issued BlackBerry that’s completely locked down at work and Gmail for my personal email the question became what I can do to unify all my action items in one central repository. (As a footnote, I had to shelf my lovely Moleskines I purchased — I believe five altogether, each in different sizes, many “hacked” from what I read here and here.)

My second struggle became the GTD contexts. David Allen’s theory rests on the idea that everything is done within a specific context: @home, @work, @calls, @computer, @errands, @agenda, Someday/maybe, Waiting for, Project lists, etcetera. The stuff that must get done you either do it, if it can take less than two minutes, defer it, if it will take longer, or delegate it to someone. In an analog world with Moleskines, this has the potential of working well. However, it’s not as practical for someone like me who lives in Outlook and a locked-down company BlackBerry, travels often and lives and works in e-world.

Many people began adding tags in their electronic systems. The complexity of it all – contexts, tagging, hacking a journal you buy from Barnes & Noble, getting Outlook to work intuitively and the multiple blog posts about programming codes to get GTD to work specific ways – uch! Oh, the audacity of it all! That was the impetus behind my last post. Since then, I took a step back, stared at a picture of the Dalai Lama, and I was ready to do this.

First, I’ve read the blogs and rave reviews on Evernote (see, here, here, here, & here. Oh, don’t forget this one right here. Especially relevant for the law practice.) and I did the same for Remember the Milk (see, here, here, here & here). However, I knew that if I were to be use those systems, I had to get it right first within Outlook. Leveraging the To-Do bar in Outlook 2007, I began using Categories as my GTD contexts for my tasks. So as email came in, I’d send it to Taks and categorize as @calls, @computer, @agenda (for my 1:1 with my manager) and Waiting For.

I finally began feeling like I had a system! Simple and yet effective – for Outlook that is.

Managing Notes
This was perhaps a bigger obstacle than managing tasks because I write notes in three settings: 1) customer meetings where I am typically bound to a leather portfolio for what I do, 2) my office, and 3) on the road when I think of things that come to mind. As David Allen writes, that’s the reason for a UCT or a Ubiquitous Capture Tool for everything. I know. I know. That’s where the Moleskines come in, but like I said, it just wasn’t practical for me.
Plus, I found myself constantly transferring notes and reading my hieroglyphics. Namely, it just became more work to keep 2 task lists, 2 places for notes, and above all else, a journal that just isn’t searchable.

Unlike the To-do bar in Outlook, my challenge was trying to put my notes in one location. Yes, I even tried Microsoft OneNote but that required more work for me and there’s no offline or mobile access. (However, why not just make Outlook and OneNote one application? You’d have a killer app, that’s for sure!) So like the tasks, I took advantage of the Journal within Outlook with tags: meeting notes, product names I’m responsible for overseeing, company names, etcetera. Then for little things that didn’t require formatting of text, I used Notes with categories.

The reality is as much as this system was starting to work for me, I realized it was far from perfect or ideal.

Enter Evernote, Remeber the Milk, and my iPod Touch!

2. Getting Back on Task
Knowing that I could manage a GTD’esque system in Outlook of all places, it was time to take on Evernote and RTM again with renewed vigor and enthusaism for wanting to get things done effectively & efficiently.

Remember the Milk

Truly, I can’t say enough about how cool – and EASY – this is. The best part? IT’S EVERYWHERE! Seriously. You can email tasks, bulk email tasks, Twitter tasks, send the feed to Outlook so that it’s in your Exchange Calendar (Yes!!), setup a gadget in Gmail, use it as an SSB (site specific browser) and with a Pro account for $25 you can have the app on your iPod Touch or iPhone. You can get SMS reminders on multiple mobile phones (personal and work), and emails to different accounts. I mean, really? How is this not the ultimate GTD tool??

The RTM Blog is full of posts on how to use it for GTD. Here’s what I’ve done:
– Inbox

– Personal
– Work
– Projects
– @agenda
– @calls
– @computer
– @errands
– Waiting for
– Someday/Maybe

I then created Smart Lists for some of these tags as a quick dashboard for what I need to do. Plus, once you go Pro, the App is outstanding!! I can quickly see a dashboard for either everything today, tomorrow, next week, or based on my lists. What’s more is that adding tasks on the iPhone App is a dream! You can easily input tags, location, lists, etc.

What is even better is that I can always see what needs to get done for both work and personal on my iPod touch since it never leaves my side. (I think before the iPhone and iPod Touch were invented we were all the equivalent of electronic nomadic wanderers.)

As a footnote, tags are great – but if they are not managed successfully – they can be an unwieldy burden – which is what happened to me during the first go-around. Tags need to be structured with some uniformity. I oversee world-class document review platforms for the legal community and know the perils of not having a good structure.


That bring me to Evernote. Let me just start off by saying that I am currently typing this blog on my Evernote app for my iPod touch en route to LAX from CLT. So cool!!

Second, all the hype about Evernote is pretty much true. So why did I give up on Evernote? For those who haven’t used it yet, you’ll find a wealth of tips, tricks, GTD’ers, you name it. And now of course there’s me. I inputted way too many tags, only one notebook, then two, then three and I just couldn’t get my arms around it.

The solution? Well, just like RTM, Evernote is EVERYWHERE! You can email notes to Evernote with tags and which notebook it should go in, type notes offline in the App (like I am right now), download the thick app for the desktop (which although I like the think apps, I find it easier to manage notes in the desktop app over the web app), and there’s the bookmarklet I use in Chrome. You can pay for a Premium account for Evernote as well, but for now the 40MB is plenty for me.

First I’ll explain my setup as it exists right now and then explain how I use it for both work and personal. My Notebook setup is pretty straightforward:
– Inbox
– Personal
– Work

– Projects

Look familiar? The Notebooks and tags are intentionally similar as that guarantees a much more seamlessly integrated workflow between my action items and my notes – or you can say between RTM and Evernote.

Plus, if I make a note that requires an action, all I need to do is email the note from Evernote TO RTM with the notes in the body of the task AND the list and tag to associate it with … It’s RIDICOUSLY easy!!

As an example, let’s say I have a conference call with a collague about a customer and there are several action items from the call. I’d simply email RTM with @waitingfor, @call, or @computer depending on the task and assign dates if need be be.

To make it all easier, I can manage this whole process from my iPod Touch!! Emails that are relevant to a specific project get sent to Evernote. Travel itineraries get sent to Evernote. Recipes get sent to Evernote. My blog drafts (obviously) get sent to Evernote. It’s seriously the easies tool – when managed correctly – that you can use to organize your tasks and notes.

I would like to experiment with integrating this workflow with both Dial2Do and Jott so that I can add tasks and notes while I’m traveling in the car or in the airport and don’t feel like walking and texting at the same time.

Wrapping Up
Having a system that works for you in your busy life is critical – no matter what you do for a living. This new system helps me manage both work and my personal life with ease. Especially when my wife tells to remember the milk! {Grin}

In my next post I’ll talk about how I’ve leveraged and Dropbox for even more efficiencies in my work life. Until then, feel free to drop some comments!

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Becoming less productive with productivity tools

There has got to be a way to connect the dots between the vast array of productivity tools available. Specifically, the question becomes when does the vast multitude of productivity tools become too much and begin to make us less productive? I’ve read David Allen’s GTD, and tried hacking several Moleskines. I love the notebooks, but found that for a sales consultant, it just wasn’t practical. I actually tried 43 Folders and realized that was way too much and that just would never work for someone who travels on airplanes as often as I do. Limited by the fact that my company doesn’t use iPhones and I have a company issued BlackBerry that I can’t download apps on, I found my ability to streamline organizational tools was just not possible. I tried hacking Outlook 2007 in order to fit it to the GTD system — using Categories as contexts, and that too became too cumbersome. Since I’m tied to Outlook for work, I can’t use Gmail as my Ultimate GTD System.  The only thing that definitely stuck was Merlin Mann’s Inbox Zero. Then, I found Nozbe, Vitalist, Toodledo, Google Tasks, Remember the Milk, and then began finding integrations with Outlook, SMS, voicemail. I realized that I could create tasks in almost every place imaginable, and still not have a true centralized repository for my tasks and projects. Then, I found Evernote — and the light shined down on me and I thought I finally found the answer! I spent lots of time making the connection between Evernote, Outlook & GTD. The plug-in is great, but it dawned upon me – how is a person ever supposed to work when we are constantly trying to organize and reorganize our projects and tasks?! Is there an actual system that allows one to manage projects/tasks + Outlook in a simplified, streamlined system?  I’d love to know your thoughts!!

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