Archive: April, 2005

The Manage-Do Flipbook

There have been a few bloggings recently discussing techniques for organising yourself and your projects, so I thought I’d share the system I’ve been using for the last couple of years.

In summary, it’s just a flipbook that you use like this:

  • Brain-dump your tasks into your “inbox” in one side of the flipbook.
  • Manage your tasks daily, prioritising the tasks in your inbox and writing them into the other side of the flipbook.
  • Do the tasks in your flipbook, ticking them off as you go.
  • Revel in the feeling of triumph when you finish your tasks for the day; success in the face of chaos!

A Little Inspiration

During my final year at university, my project supervisor was really interested in different techniques for self-organisation/life hacks/whatever you want to call it. He was reading David Allen’s Getting Things Done and applying some of the principles himself. He would always have his “inbox” folder with him, which was somewhere to put things as they came to him, whether it be a report or a quick note on the back of a napkin. Items in this folder would get sorted periodically and either filed, actioned or put aside for later.

He also mentioned that keeping your inbox as empty as you can was a good way to stay on top of things. Likening this to an e-mail inbox: the e-mails that you can handle straight away, handle them – others, file appropriately.

When it comes down to it, organisation is subjective. What works for one person won’t work for another. On the other hand, some people are just beyond help. =) Anyway, I want to share how I used these ideas to come up with a system that works quite well for me.

The Manage-Do Concept

Undertaking a project on your own, you find that you take on two roles. Half the time you’re a project manager, figuring out what needs doing and when. The rest of the time you’re a worker, doing the actual tasks involved in order to reach the desired goal.

My flipbooks.

Realising this gave me the idea of using a flipbook (like your typical policemen’s flipbook) to organise myself – not just my projects, but pretty much everything. No matter how hard you might try to separate work and home life, the two are always merging – especially if you’re self-employed. You might suddenly think that you need to pay the gas bill during your lunch break. Or you might come up with that killer new software feature when you’re putting your laundry in the washing machine. Having one book like this makes sense and takes up less space in your pocket.

I use my flipbook in both directions. I go through the book in one direction for managing things and in the other direction for doing things.

Da Management

This is my “inbox” for things: the “manage” side of the book. It’s a big waiting list of things I need to do with one item per line and space at the end of the line to tick each one off. Some things I find useful to break off into dedicated inboxes. For example, I have a “people” inbox for those things I need to remember when I bump into someone or when e-mailing. Another example might be to have an inbox for contextual aims, like things I’d like to get done when I’ve got a spare moment and a piece of paper handy.

Together, these inboxes form my organisational aims at the highest level. Sometimes specific tasks will find their way in, but in general, these are aims rather than objectives.

I regularly attend to these inboxes and plan the next couple of days. I figure out what I need to get done and when I am likely to be able to do them. As I have a general overview of things in the manage side of my book, I can prioritise and order tasks to best suit the next day or the week ahead. I list activities for each day in the flip-side of the book: the “do” side.

Do the Do

As with the manage side of the book, each activity has one line with space to either check it off as done, mark it as “postponed” or “will do later”, or cross off completely. I sometimes also add context to an activity. For example, it can be useful to list several things I need to do while I’m at an Internet connection.

If I’m honest, I don’t always stick to the plans I make, but the system is flexible enough to handle when things don’t quite go as planned or when deadlines changes. Just as long as I leave a little space to add any new tasks, it’s fine. Also, if I’m not sure how things are going to be over the next couple of days, I can plan day-by-day rather than several days at a time.

Why Not Use a PDA?

I borrowed a PDA from a friend last year and used it for a few months. I found having a single point of reference really useful. I had a note pad, diary, to do list and address book all in one place. But when I had to give the PDA back, I found it good to get back to my old system, even though it meant that I had to use a separate diary and address book. I found the Pocket PC software didn’t allow me enough flexibility as I’d hoped.

On the PDA, when tasks got completed, they got deleted. I found it useful to go back through my daily lists or my inboxes to trace when I did something or whether I actually did something at all. A couple of tasks on the PDA had mysteriously disappeared on me, leaving me wondering whether I (or the PDA) had deleted them accidentally or if I just didn’t remember ticking them off. Also, I couldn’t break down my to do list enough.

Now, with some tweaks to the to do list and a little more integration with a decent diary program, I’d find a PDA so much more useful. One place to keep notes, maintain a calendar, add new contacts, run mind mapping software… It’d also be great to be able to keep everything in one place and then just back it up occasionally, instead of keeping information in a few different places.


Too Conscious of Colour?

I’ve been needing to rant for some time now, but this isn’t the time. Besides, being an altogether irregular blog, this hasn’t really felt like the right outlet. Several experiences over the last few months have left me feeling unfairly treated, be it by companies or official bodies, but I think I’ll save ranting for later.

What’s this got to do with design? Well, in the fight back against these stubborn bastards, I’m becoming more familiar with certain organisations’ stationary or their approaches to design. In some cases, I’m starting to find that design is playing more of a role in how I perceive things.

I’ve never considered myself to be very visually creative (or not as much as I’d like to be), but I’m working on it. Anyway, I’m starting to find that design is affecting my perception of everyday things. Let me explain a little.

Example 1: Car Park Sign

Problem: I’ve been given a parking ticket, seemly the result of my inability to observe a sign at the entrance to a car park I have used all my life.

Aside from any of the other factors involved (I find the whole thing bloody unfair and will probably write more in a separate post/rant), the sole purpose of this sign is to warn visitors that evening charges have recently been imposed. With that in mind, does anyone else think that the following sign is fit for purpose?

The sign I'm on about is the unobvious one on the ground. Looking at that photo, how quickly did you figure out which sign I was talking about? It’s fairly small, at ground level, inadequately lit and has black text on a white background. The sign is placed on the bend that you drive around to enter the car park. You are hardly going to notice it.

My problems aside, black text on white is not an attention-grabbing combination. If you’re going to use it and want it to stand out, you’re probably going to have to make it quite big. Black text on white is found too often in everyday life to be effective in drawing attention. For this reason, there are actually requirements for such signs to be of a minimum size and fluorescent.

If I didn’t have an interest in design, I’m not sure whether I would have picked up on such a factor when making a case to the local council. Whether it is at all valid for me to make such a design consideration a factor here is probably irrelevant. I think I’m going to have to end up paying the f**king1 fine anyway.

Example 2: TV Licensing

Problem: TV Licensing are never happy with people who say that they don’t watch television. Alas, without a television, our DVD player and video recorder are rendered somewhat useless. Having previously explained our situation to TV Licensing, we find ourselves getting increasingly annoyed at the small tree’s-worth of correspondence we get through our door, bullying us with threats of being fined for not having a license.

Again, putting the problem aside, I’ll pick up on the use of the word “bullying” in my last sentence. Of all the correspondence we have received from TV Licensing, there have only been one or two letters that have not looked like a bill reminder or a demand for final payment.

A red TV License logo. The TV Licensing logo is blue. Everywhere you see the logo – on their website, vans, adverts (yes, we have seen adverts before) – it is blue. Except, when you get something through the post from them and the logo becomes red.

“Danger, Will Robinson. You don’t have a TV License and one of their officers will soon be visiting your neighbourhood.”

Overall, I think TV Licensing need to rethink their strategy. Red logos and red borders on everything doesn’t really help, especially when your reader is already in a pissed off frame of mind.

Update: I thought I’d share this interesting page about TV Licensing that recently linked to this post. It led me to find a post with some interesting statistics based on one person’s letters from TV Licensing. There’s even stats for the colour of the logo and border of the letters, which made my day!

Er, so?

Am I too conscious of colour in design? Do you think I’m being a complete pedant, or does this make sense to you? Have you found yourself thinking similar things, where a design just hasn’t seemed to lend itself to its purpose?

Note: my first f-bomb on a blog – perhaps unnecessary, but it made me feel a bit better and shows how pissed off I am. I’m normally a really clean-mouthed guy – honest – so I’ve at least added an asterisk. back from footnote 1.

What the hell happened to Lycos Mail?

The Lycos Mail (UK) front page currently boasts the following testimonial for its free 300 Mb e-mail accounts: Lycos Free Email is the best designed Free email out there. Period. Well, not in my experience it isn’t.

Once upon a time I got fed up with the increasingly large amount of spam ending up in my Hotmail account. I was also getting annoyed with the stupidly low 2 Mb mail quota. Lycos Mail boasted a 15 Mb quota and POP3 support as a bonus for when I didn’t need to use Web mail. Fantastic. A couple of months later, support for POP3 stops and a redesign with some funky JavaScript starts throwing Mozilla browsers into a frenzy. Lycos Mail was no longer viable for me, so I went back to my Hotmail spam account.

Of course, now none of this really matters as I host my own e-mail accounts, which I can access via the Web if needed. However, my girlfriend still uses Lycos Mail and I don’t think there’s ever a time I don’t hear cursing when she’s checking her Lycos accounts. Where did it all go wrong, Lycos?

Update, 15.02.2006

@media 2005 Flickr Group

OK, with a go-ahead from Patrick Griffiths, I've set up a Flickr group for delegates going to @media 2005 in June. What's the point? Well, for a laugh, but also so that people can find out what other delegates look like.

If you've got a Flickr account, go and add a photo of yourself to the group pool. If you don't have an account, you won't be able to post any photos or comments, but signing up is free and quite painless. Alternatively, if you don't want a Flickr account but want to link to a photo on another site, you can always comment here and I'll add you to a group discussion with those photos.