Rediscovering FreeMind

Another couple of great episodes on The Personal Productivity Show, #020 with Chuck Frey on mind mapping sofwares and #021 with Jason Womack on GTD. The series is a great help and both truly entertaining and inspirational.
Chuck Frey, a leading expert on mind mapping, runs both Innovation Tools, whose Friday updates are a must, and the MindMapping Software Weblog. Having been using mind-mapping softwares for the last 5 years, I was really interesting in what he had to say. The show inspired me to look again at the possibility to mainly rely on a mind-mapping software for my implementation of gtd. I spent some time over the week-end last week looking at how Nova-Mind could be used, looked again at Tinderbox, but finally discovered that FreeMind was perhaps the best choice, even if Chuck was not really keen on the open source software in question. After a week of using it, I think I have now come to find the best solution for me and will only in the future use Devonthink for my electronic reference materials and keeping track of my projects support materials. I now have a giant mind map, which remains very manageable, thanks to the way in which FreeMind allow for the branches to fold and unfold.
I have spent about an hours each day of the week, looking further a all the aspect of my system, doing the inventory of all my open loops, looking at my priorities from 20,000 ft, 30,000 ft, 40,000 ft, and 50,000 ft. After my GTD week at the end of last year, which incidently turned into a couple of weeks, I must say that the result to date is very spectacular and my levels of stress have been reduced in a very pleasant way.
My system is however far from being fool proof. I managed to make a stupid mistake when I entered in my mind map an appointment on the wrong day (Friday instead of Thursday at 0930). This was accordingly a source of much embarrassement, when I failed to turn up. Mea culpa, mea culpa maxima. Freemind

Now … is GTD really about time management ?

My friend Matt Cornell has recently had another great post. This one is on Is GTD the “Extreme Programming” of Time Management? One which I am glad to see very well received in the blogsphere. Many blogs I regularily read are making reference to it.

… It goes without saying that Frenchmen are, across the pond, expected to be akward. … so here it goes.

One of the key questions in my view is: Now, is GTD really about time management?

The more I am attempting to implement GTD, as a gtd white belt, the more I am wondering. Is it not more about task management or process management, rather than time-management per se.

As an academic, I must say that I have found at time difficult to implement it, as most of my core activities, such as carrying out research, writing lectures (writing an hour university lecture can take up to 10 hours, and this is without preparing the powerpoint presentation and matching hand-outs), marking course-work or examination papers, require, as they absolutely necessitate very high concentration, large chunks of quiet time. This fits with what David Allen calls the “hard landscape” but there is little in the way of specific advice about this sort of things in the book. I have read it and re-read it. I have also since Christmas listened, and re-listened, to the GTD Fast CDs. This is something which is primarily a matter of prioritising, making the best action choices and using the “6 level model for reviewing your own work”.

The longer I have been working at implementing GTD, the more I see myself as a GTD white belt, which is a great lesson in humility. I indeed feel it is vital to be modest and go through the basic moves, which in themselves can already be so very empowering, before thinking of adapting the method.

The only exception however, is the way I started adapting Morgenstern’s Time Management from the Inside Out recommendations about using a time-map, which allows you to isolate every day a number of time-slots, during which you will not be disturbed and during which the “real” work will be done.

Now … is GTD really about time management ?

My friend Matt Cornell has recently had another great post. This one is on Is GTD the “Extreme Programming” of Time Management? One which I am glad to see very well received in the blogsphere. Many blogs I regularily read are making reference to it.

… It goes without saying that Frenchmen are, across the pond, expected to be akward. … so here it goes.

One of the key questions in my view is: Now, is GTD really about time management?

The more I am attempting to implement GTD, as a gtd white belt, the more I am wondering. Is it not more about task management or process management, rather than time-management per se.

As an academic, I must say that I have found at time difficult to implement it, as most of my core activities, such as carrying out research, writing lectures (writing an hour university lecture can take up to 10 hours, and this is without preparing the powerpoint presentation and matching hand-outs), marking course-work or examination papers, require, as they absolutely necessitate very high concentration, large chunks of quiet time. This fits with what David Allen calls the “hard landscape” but there is little in the way of specific advice about this sort of things in the book. I have read it and re-read it. I have also since Christmas listened, and re-listened, to the GTD Fast CDs. This is something which is primarily a matter of prioritising, making the best action choices and using the “6 level model for reviewing your own work”.

The longer I have been working at implementing GTD, the more I see myself as a GTD white belt, which is a great lesson in humility. I indeed feel it is vital to be modest and go through the basic moves, which in themselves can already be so very empowering, before thinking of adapting the method.

The only exception however, is the way I started adapting Morgenstern’s Time Management from the Inside Out recommendations about using a time-map, which allows you to isolate every day a number of time-slots, during which you will not be disturbed and during which the “real” work will be done.

Weapons of mass productivity

Des Paroz of the Personal Productivity Podcast has today on his blog a very interesting new post on his favourite productivity applications. There he very rightly stresses “that it is important to focus on working with your productivity system, as opposed to on it. I see a classic trap (one that I have been guilty of falling into myself) is to procrastinate by working on the system too much, trying to change things, playing with every tool/gadget/application available. You really need to understand the techniques and principles of your system before modifying it too much.” I could not agree more and this is this very idea which what has led me about three weeks ago to go back to using Devonthink for my implementation of GTD.

I have a long time ago announced a post on my favourite applications but however never did. The time has perhaps come to get round to do it.

Mac applications

Devonthink is at the heart of my implementation of GTD and it is where I also store my research notes. . In one of their earliest productivity podcast, Des and Cameron Reilly regretted that there was not yet a do-it-all application. As far as I am concerned, Devonthink is as close to that as it goes. Its main weakness is of course the absence of any mind-mapping dimension .

Nova Mind therefore comes very handy, and has improved a great deal recently. I always recommend FreeMind as an alternative to my students.

Mellel. The official blurb says: “Mellel is an advanced word processor for Mac OS X designed especially for scholars, creative and technical writers, and anyone seeking a feature-rich and crash-free word processor”. It really in my view puts the pleasure back into writing, without all the non-sense of MS Word. You can truly focus on your writing.

OmniGraffle is very useful to create presentation slides with great quality visuals or to create interest story boards.

Neo Office is extremelly useful to create or edit files using the excel or powerpoint format.

Online applications

Backpack is a great application. I mainly used it to create next action lists for things I would do on campus at the university, where I did not always have access to a Mac. I am now however trying to keep all my lists in Devonthink.

Furl is most useful to keep interesting webpages/websites for future reference.

Gmail. Gmail has become really key to the way I manage my email in-flow. This has been the most spectacular change, since I have started to try and implement GTD, even as a white belt. I have in the last three months managed to keep, most of the time, an empty in-box by the end of the day. I catch emails from my work address and from my general address using the online facility offered by my ISP on Yahoo. The Gmail account has become both an address for friends/familly/collaborators/and VIPs. It is also an address where I forward from both my university address and general email address, which deserve to be kept for reference. Other emails are promtly transformed into next actions by been forwarded to my backpack account or simply processed in my Devonthink system. A key idea is for both the Yahoo and Gmail addresses to be empty by the end of the day. I would be tempted to compare the way this email workflow operates with the spirit of Aikido. One description found online says that “Aikido focuses not on punching or kicking opponents, but rather on using their own energy to gain control of them or to throw them away from you. It is not a static art, but places great emphasis on motion and the dynamics of movement.” Emails are not opponents but their own energy is used to transform them into next actions.

From Des Paroz list, two applications seem to be of special interest, and worth a try. NetVibes and Skype. I have already registered on Skype, but now need a new helmet as mine is unsuitable. I have little luck in trying to look at NetVibes tonight but it does sound like a great idea.

Virtual Reading Room

I have been toying for a few days with the idea of switching to using wordpress for my blog. For the time being I thought it would be a good experiment to try and transfer my very own “Virtual Reading Room” from my website to a new wordpress site. It is now available at virtualreadingroom.wordpress.com. This was originally a page I created a long time ago, before delicious or furl existed, to help me with my daily international press fix, as a news junky.

This reminds me of the days when, as a teenager, in the 1970s, the only way to get instant access to the news of the world was to use a short wave radio. This permitted to lesson to such exiting things as as the BBC World Service, Radio Canada, the Voice of America, and on the other side of the Iron Curtain: Radio Pékin (ie Radio Beijin which was relayed from Tirana in Albania), Radio Moscow, Radio Prague.

If a man had walked on the moon, who would have then thought that the internet would bring such a wealth of resources, readily available.

Presentation design

Doing the rounds of the blogs I read regularily, I have come accross a link to a new blog: “Let the Good Times Roll” by Guy Kawasaki, who is a PowerPoint guru. He is “trying to evangelize the 10/20/30 Rule of PowerPoint. It’s quite simple: a PowerPoint presentation should have ten slides, last no more than twenty minutes, and contain no font smaller than thirty points.” This sounds a very useful resource as I am always looking at improving the quality of my presentations.

I am not sure how this could apply to the standard British university 55 minutes lecture but will look at adapting this for my lectures during the coming semester. I have noticed last year that I had a tendancy to prepare a deck of slides which was far too long and will look at cutting drastically this year. Perhaps having two mini-lectures of 20 minutes each à la Kawasaki, each followed by 5 minutes of questions could be a way forward.

Guy Kawasaki links to another site Presentation Zen, Garr Reynold’s blog on issues related to professional presentation design. In contrast with Kawazaki’s argument Reynolds argued in a recent post that The size of your deck does not matter.