Public Transportation

Columbia has grown up a little. We have this trolley (made over bus) system that can get you from the one area of town where all of the employers are to the one area of town where the food, entertainment and shopping is. It’s kind of cool, and it almost works. Almost. For starters, there aren’t well marked stops. For this reason (and probably some others) you’ll often see a trolley off route in order to bring someone to a destination without a stop. Generally, there seems to be about one person aboard a trolley at any given time besides the driver. Can you still get on a trolley off of its route? Probably: it’s starting to look a lot like a really cheap, really large taxi service. The drivers don’t seem overly concerned about following any specific pattern or rules.

Unfortunately, because of the lack of “programmed use” it’s actually very hard to tell when you’ll be able to catch a ride. In fact, I originally drafted this post in my moleskine at the CVB convention center while waiting for the driver of a trolley. She’s the one (so I’ve been told) who can take me where I need to go, but she’s on a break. Eventually, she comes back and I get back to work, but this is oddly discouraging and confusing (especially to someone with less patience than me).

Is there anyone from other cities where a small subset of the public transportation system seems to cater to a specific group of people in a specific area of your city? What works well in those situations? I’m tempted to do some research and give some feedback to our RTA because I think the system isn’t utilized to its potential. Let me know what you think.

“Shaving the Old Way” – the Review

A few weeks ago I wrote about taking up a new the old way of shaving. I promised myself (and a few others) that I’d sit down and consider how this was working out after I’d gotten the hang of it.

Vulfix Super Badger Brush – This is a basic shaving brush made with real badger hair. I’m still not real clear on the “super” in the moniker but I do know that the bigger the brush the more water it holds and the better it lifts the hair and that badger hair is supposed to be the best (especially if you have sensitive skin). I can’t do a comparison to another brush because this is the first brush I’ve ever used. However, after having used this brush I can testify that using any brush is definitely superior to the alternative.

Proraso Shaving Cream – This is an Italian gem. It’s quite cheap ($9.99 for a tube that looks like it’s going to last me a year) and is wonderfully refreshing when slathered on my face at 6 am. The glycerin and eucalyptus tingle probably makes the Vulfix brush seem even more effective. Very little of the soap is required to work up a good lather and it spreads easily over the skin, leaving the face smoothly at the stroke of the razor.

Merkur Futur Razor – This is the reason I’m glad I waited to write up the review. Impression #1: This is a high quality crafted implement. Impression #2: This is a highly qualified deadly weapon (that I plan to bring in contact with my face at 6 am). It really did take three weeks and three new razors to get the hang of this thing. Now (I think) I’ve passed oddly uneven shaves, large facial wounds and even the questions of whether I’ve made a terrible investment (of course I haven’t). I’ve read, bled, and said this before: this isn’t the kind of tool you drag across your face half asleep. I use setting six on the razor which takes the blade the furthest away from the “safety” and seems to work best for my face (I tried the full gamut of settings in my learning period). My shaves are quite close and, if necessary (though it usually isn’t), I can shave daily without irritation. This razor is light years ahead of my old Mach 3 (though the concept and technology are older) and I’d recommend it to anyone who understands that a little work and adjustment up front yield great rewards in the end.

[EDIT] I should probably also go ahead and plug again – I’ve been quite impressed with their service.

GTD with Gmail Whitepaper

For everyone who asked, the whitepaper is here. Special thanks to Greg and Jonathan for looking it over for me and making suggestions. It’s still far from a perfectly complete guide to GTD with Gmail, so I guess any additions or ideas from this point can go into version 2 of the whitepaper or into the book (heh). Please distribute as you wish (just tell your friends to peep space-age wasteland). That’s all for now.

Micro Hipster PDA

Keep looking for the whitepaper, draft one is complete and has been sent off for professional editing.

Tonight I’m going to a wedding reception for a gal that used to work with my wife. Cindy would probably have a fit if I walked around the party with my hipster sticking out of my shirt pocket like normal, so I’m going to take two index cards, folded in half and held together by my Fisher Bullet. One card is a blank index card and the other is one of my personalized calling (index) cards (you never know who you’ll meet wandering around a wedding reception).

Just a quick weekend hack.

GTD with Gmail (Conclusion)

Thanks for reading! It looks like the only thing I have to answer is the resounding request to create a white paper of this feature. This I will do (it’s already a next action). Since I haven’t had time to organize that yet you’ll have to be patient with me for a few days, but I would like to acknowledge some people.

Jonathan really got me interested and dedicated to learning and implementing GTD to begin with, and initially gave me the idea to use Gmail for GTD (after having done it himself).

Much of my inspiration comes from Merlin over at 43Folders and his wiki.

Thanks to Bren over at Slacker Manager for first bringing extra attention to my feature on GTD with Gmail.

I’m going to thank Zack early for agreeing to redo the design of my site (how boring that I use the default WP theme, right?) but I’ll let you all wait to thank him until it’s actually been changed (he’s making good progress).

And of course, thanks to all of you for your comments, questions and suggestions. Look for the white paper in a few days (and the book in a few months, Seth).

GTD with Gmail (Part V)

It’s time for the practical demonstration of GTD with Gmail. If you’re just joining us, please skip down and read parts I-IV.

First, collection. Theoretically we start and end with a clean inbox. I try to never leave Gmail with anything in my inbox (that’s much easier now that I’ve implemented GTD with Gmail). So we start here:

empty inbox

My wife mentions to me that we need to remodel our second bathroom. Right now, this is an open loop. I get that simple notion into my collection inbox:

out of mind, into gmail

While I’m closing loops, I look out the window and realize that I can’t see the street for the stalk-like greenery growing in my front yard so I add another thought to my inbox. Now I’ve got two.

the inbox, with thoughts

As it turns out, “mow the lawn” happens to be an action. I open the message up, give it a context label “!Home,” star the message and then archive it. This is an independent action (the star) not belonging to a project.

process an independent action

The next item in my inbox is not an action. It looks a good bit like a project to me, so the processing stage here involves listing the actions I can think of associated with this project. I create a message for each action and here’s the result:

build the actions of a project

Now I select all of these actions, apply the Bathroom:Actions label, use the star to mark the next action in this project and then archive these actions.

organize project actions

This is the view I use most often. Generally, I’ll hit this page when I need something to do, or when I know I should be doing something. The “starred” view shows me all next actions.

review next actions

This is the project view. I’ll review these weekly at a minimum, and then of course whenever I have any sort of workflow going on a specific project. Notice that the next action has a star.

review project actions

Once a project-homed action is complete, I add the appropriate reference label to it (if necessary – sometimes I’ll add a context label, or even trash it), remove the star, add the star to the next action, and then remove the project’s action label.

completing a project action

Now that I’ve picked out my paint color, I decide it’s cool enough outside to mow the lawn. Once I get back in, I retrieve the item by going into my starred view, open the message and then remove the star.

completing an independent action

In my real inbox, I have status labels (mostly just as meta-data) and I use asterisks(*) to denote projects, but I’ve left them out in this example for simplicity. Tomorrow I’ll sum up with some answers to questions and give some acknowledgements. Thanks again for visiting.

GTD with Gmail (Part IV)

After a busy weekend I’m back for the next installment of GTD with Gmail: Review and Do. These steps should be close to self-explanatory by now, but I’ll brush through “my way” on them real quick so we can get to the step-by-step howto with screen shots (good idea, Martin). Just give me a few days after this post to get that put together (it’s going to be a busy week).

GTD is obviously less about the process and more about actually doing things. My basic review happens everytime I’m done with a task or am motivated to get something. Since all of my next actions are labeled with a star, Gmail’s “Starred” view gives me a quick glance at things to cherry pick. I swing through the list of starred next actions and pick something. My philosophy is that it’s perfectly fine to take the low hanging fruit first as long as there isn’t any pressing issue on the list. The other useful thing about using contexts is that if I’m home, I probably can’t do work actions and vice versa. Gmail allows me to search “is: starred label:!Home” which grabs my starred messages from home – a great view of things that need to be done (probably right this second, haha). I was glad to see Mike’s comment about persistent Gmail searches because it means that I don’t have to type those in every time. Major time saver.

Similarly, the ability to review my projects list quickly (remember that they’re all together because of my * prefix) and review each project for next action is available through the quick label shortcuts to the left. Like my search example above, “is:starred label:*BecomeBillionaire:Next” will bring up the next action for me becoming a billionaire because each active project has exactly one starred item in it (yes, Gmail does handle the colon in the label name – try it out).

To repeat myself, I’ve got many more onesie twosie unassociated actions associated with contexts rather than lots of projects with actions built in, so my favorite method for review-and-do is to hit the Gmail “Starred” link and start picking off actions real quick. I like to sprint over these tasks – there’s something very satisfying about clearing the star and watching the starred count decrease. Try the timer.

One small hack that I’d recommend even if you aren’t using Gmail for GTD is to stay away from frequent interruptive new email notifications. If someone emailed you, they don’t need a response right away. I have Gmail check every 60 minutes for new mail. Unless I’m checking my gmail to update the status of an item or to enter one in, I won’t get unnecessarily interrupted every 5 minutes because of some trivial request (or worse, spam). Even if you say you can ignore the notification and keep working, you’re thinking about it (don’t be anti-mind-like-water) and you’ll be very tempted to go open that email and break your concentration.

Thanks for the continued comments, links and trackbacks. I’ve learned a lot from this experience. Check back for the practical review.

GTD with Gmail (Part III)

For the second half of the processing phase of GTD with Gmail (make sure you read parts I and II first), we’ll discuss how the Gmail inbox is identical to David Allen’s vision of the GTD inbox and how processing and organization nearly become one seamless step.

“In to Empty” is the main idea (I’m trying not to make this too much of a general GTD lesson). When I leave the Gmail inbox by closing the browser or navigating away it must be empty. This works out well because each item has been labeled with the appropriate context, project, and/or status labels, trashed* or starred. Once I’ve applied these mechanics to each item, I archive it and my organization is nearly taken care of (recall the outer 8 categories of organization from David’s workflow diagram).

The only portion of organization that still remains is the “trash collection” that must occur with Gmail. Items in completed projects can be assigned a context label and that project’s labels can be removed to make navigation of active projects easier. One of Google’s strengths is searching and Gmail is no different. The reference material is usually a few keystrokes away, and if I use the specialized “context-based” label searches along with good language mechanics in my email items I can optimize these searches.

I’m going to take a break for the weekend and come back with Part IV of GTD with Gmail: Review and Do, which we’ll blast through quickly. After these short theory based articles I’m going to put the whole thing into practice with some real examples in a how-to article. I appreciate all of the comments, tracebacks and linking. Traffic to this site has increased by an order of magnitude in the past few days and the more brains that get wrapped around processes, the more good ideas come about. Be sure to read the comments as well. I’m certainly not the first person to do this and there are lots of excellent variations on ideas. Have a great weekend.

*We haven’t really talked much about trash but it doesn’t make sense to trash anything that isn’t absolute garbage. If the information may be useful sometime in the future, keep it. With Gmail old items won’t get in the way like they can in paper-based systems and can always be found with a simple keyword search. Embrace the power that google is giving us (for free, in fact).

GTD with Gmail (Part II)

Part II of this feature details the first half of processing items in GTD with Gmail. If you haven’t read how the collection process works, skip down to yesterday’s post – it is crucial.

Once emails (things) have been collected in my Gmail inbox they are processed. Gmail’s labels and stars are the keys to my implementation.

I have a label for the statuses of ‘Deferred’, ‘WaitingOn’ and ‘Someday,’ two labels for each open project (Next and Reference) and a label for each context. Statuses have no label prefix, contexts have the bang (!) prefix so they show up first in the list of labels, and projects have an asterisk (*) prefix to distinguish from the statuses. I use projects less frequently than traditional GTD implementations because many Projects can be managed quite effectively with the thread capability of Gmail without having to assign a label (using only contexts).

I use the stars to denote the Next action. Since many of my projects wind up with just a context associated with them, the title essentially becomes the “project folder name” and each action associated with the project is a different email in the thread. A star can be associated with any email in the thread and lets me know what the next action is.

Today’s GTD with Gmail advantage is this: I use the same Gmail account for all of my email, so all email coming in follows the same standard GTD process. No open loops: How happy it makes me. Tomorrow, we’ll finish the processing phase and talk about some new tricks.