I am the first to admit that I am a product of the old guard.  What do I mean by this?  Well, when I started running a business in 2001, when the internet provided unbridled commercial opportunities and there was a scarcity of talent to develop for them, there was a certain modus operandi: keep your cards close to your chest.  Shedding this behavioural axiom feels like the equivalent of standing up naked, in front of a live TV audience, promising them you really are still going to the gym and it’s all a work in progress.  You can expect mixed reactions.

But in the last thirteen years, a lot has changed.  We have seen the meteoric rise of internet-enabled devices and the framework, especially via social networking, for people to express themselves more freely.  In fact, not just “more” freely, but FREELY, period.  With this certain stream-of-consciousness we have also seen how businesses, once the “big blue”s of this world – hidden behind glass and steel, dictating the new world order – have become much more bottom-up, and even grassroots in appearance, if not in total nature.

I would argue that smaller teams in larger businesses will become more fashionable, because they tend to get things done more efficiently.  The challenge has become less about the big wins, and more about how the small, inter-connected wins can be made to work well together.  This, after all, was the original spirit of Web 2.0 (remember that?!).  What Web 2.0 represented was the idea that instead of developing a monolithic web site or business platform which covered all functionality, you could actually interact with other sites and use them too.  And they could use you and your services/data.

This is very much the case today.  How many web sites do you visit where you can log in using credentials from another service/site? This flexibility and openness is not necessarily less secure, though some might argue against global logins – and there are good reasons to be cautious of this.

But, authentication is one of many possible services available on the web, and exploring this loosely-coupled architecture is becomming faster and easier than ever. Through a much greater spirit of discovery, we are bearing witness to an age of more open experimentation, more open discussion, and more open engagement amongst interested parties.  Clients, friends, rivals, competitors.   Finally, we can also celebrate the “failures” too.  The increasingly scientific nature of modern thinking allows egos to be left at the door, and the excitement and joy of new adventures in technology to be more fully appreciated.

Many of us are into technology because of this excitement and enlightenment, myself included.  It’s childlike and, IMHO, a desirable quality in a person.  When you accept you are but one person, you accept a universal truth shared by everyone – and in so doing, acknowledge that while your time is precious, sharing whatever you can from it is a great investment.

On that basis, I am intending to up my blogging rate ten-fold, to try to document the events of my days and weeks and the challenges I face in them.  My experiment will be to see if in doing this – i.e. openly blogging much more of what’s going on in my microbusiness, there is a positive effect on people around, the interest in my business services and, ultimately I suppose, a positive effect on me.

And I will be open about the result.  Stay tuned!

When making my morning brew, I started pondering how to make it more interesting.  Sure, you can add flavour (and waistline) “enhancements” like cream, sugar, maybe some vanilla…  But such unimaginativeness doesn’t last long.

Image courtesy of oddee.com. You can
also buy coffee from the dark side.

What’s needed is a whole new coffee experience. 

Scouring the web for new things to do often turns up very interesting results.  For instance, there’s a whole web site dedicated to Putting Weird Things in Coffee.   Some of those weird things include cheese, meat (!) and even black pudding.  The fascination with meat is prevalent elsewhere, too. Hmm.

But you don’t need to go so far to enhance the flavour of coffee.  One simple food-enhacing staple – salt – has also been used extensively and blogged about for some time.  Clearly, it might be worth trying.

Spices, of course, have provided that added “something” to a good coffee for many years.  Adding spice instead of sugar is also a neat dietary trick for those careful watching calorie consumption.

Taking it up a level

What you put into coffee is only half of the story though.  How much caffeine you ingest daily is another thing.  Curiously, at the time of writing, 66 people “Like” this Facebook page entitled “Extreme Coffee Drinking“, which has no content and not even a picture.  As one quote says, “Coffee: do stupid things more quickly and with more energy“.

Extreme coffee drinking seems to be a sport amongst some.  It’s not merely a question of having multiple cups per day.  Whether the evidence is conclusive that lots of coffee each day can kill you, is certainly still to be debated.

Things can get a bit extreme, though.  Death Wish Coffee, as reported here, promotes extreme levels of caffeine as its USP.  A step too far?  Maybe.  But, it can hardly be contested that we love coffee, and our interest in all things joe-related, together with its growth in the West, continues unabated.  Coffee is recognised as a personal experience, so the growth of single cup products may indicate that social coffee drinking is diminishing in favour of a more insular, smart-phone focused experience.

Taking it too far?

While at university, I recall many a lovely coffee in what is now claimed to be the world’s oldest internet cafe – CB1 (Google Maps link).  I’m not sure about the validity of this claim, but there’s no disputing the charm of a good coffee shop.

But these days, though it’s not all academia, with bustling coffee shops populated by artisans, guarded closely by the intelligentsia.  Caffeine addiction and dependency/withdrawal symptoms are a real problem for some people.  Luckily, the web has many suggestions to combat this.  I suppose one could make a visit to an internet cafe and research this on his or her own…

Perhaps indulging in a caffeine kick is not the best long term policy, but it certainly starts the day well.


.. and why you should consider it, or, “…and how to be more efficient”.

I’m an avid tasker and a fan of the GTD methodology, but when I use tools that have lots (and lots!) of features I tend to slip up easily and do silly things.  An example is adding a repeating task to my task list.  A repeating task? Why is this an issue?


Google Tasks: Simple.
Too simple, for some.

I simplify this slightly, but in David Allen’s approach to task management, anything that is time-related should be put into a calendar.  Therefore, if I am allowed to set up a repeating task, this means I need to do something with a certain regularity, which further implies I must actually do it at some point in order for it to warrant the repetition which I have ascribed to it.

In ToodleDo and other “expert” task managers, the ability to manage tasks has advanced to the point where you can essentially control your calendar through your task manager.  This approach really suits some people but, to me, this essentially is the tasks-first, time-second approach.  It is truly a GTD-esque system and I have had a love/dislike affair with it for several years.  I have never “hated” ToodleDo – it’s a great system, but isn’t as integral with my working environment as I would like.

Why move?

To me, tasks should be lean and mean.  I don’t really want to spend my time managing them – I want to be doing them.  And various factors always weigh in that can be managed outside of my task list.  I become less efficient if I start duplicating events into tasks.Part of me loathes the traditional “Weekly Review” of the GTD system.  I have a daily review and the most important things are always the ones that get done – it’s a self-managing approach which I’m happy with and doesn’t require over-thinking.  Removing the opportunity to over-manage tasks is A Good ThingTM in my book.  All I want to do is store my tasks somewhere and interact with them quickly.  Using Tasks in Google will accomplish this.

Yes, but what about contexts, projects (folders), statuses & goals?!

GTDers rejoice! Toodle-
Do lets you live the dream!
In defiance of pure GTD-ism, here are my views on these three aspects:
  • Context
    In GTD, the context of a task is, broadly, how, when or where you might do it.  What I kept finding about my contexts, as I was setting them, were that they kept resembling more basic primary situations.  For example, I started with “shopping”, “online”, “errands”, “home”, “phone” and “work”.  Except, when I started looking more closely, these contexts could be whittled down – and needed to be, in order not to conflict with my Projects/Folders.”Errands” and “shopping”.. well, I would generally be out and about for both of these, so why not make them simply “out-and-about”?  This would mitigate the risk of not running an errand while out shopping.  Phone calls would typically be work-related, but not always – so I would either make them during work or in personal time.  Realising this, I started to see that all of my activities would be split, broadly, between work and personal time.  Therefore, if I was working, I would want to make work phone calls.  At home, I would want to catch up with my friends online.With always-connected capability (phone, internet, 3G, etc) my contexts eventually became two things: work or personal.  That’s it.  With a Google Apps for Business account (work) and a personal GMail account (personal), I can separate my work and personal tasks completely.
  • Projects/Folders
    My Folders (“Projects” in GTD parlance) in ToodleDo would typically resemble the types of task I needed to manage.  You could argue that this is the wrong way to manage tasks, and instead use Tags for this purpose.  While true, Tags are amorphous while Folders are structured and, in ToodleDo, Folders resemble the only way to aggregate tasks into suitably-managed “blocks”.My Folders are things like “cases” (support), “customer/project”, “finance”, “phonecalls” and “systems”.  These are unlikely to change as they closely match my general daily activities.  Google’s Tasks can accommodate this with top-level lists.  Within each list, I can have a task (with indented sub-tasks) which allows enough manageability without overcrowding my senses with due-dates, contexts and estimated duration.
  • Status
    This is a real easy one and probably the one thing I disagree with GTD about.  The overall status of my tasks is logical: either incomplete, or complete.  If I am waiting on somebody, I will already know this.  If I am doing my task, I will probably know this too!But what about if I wish to do my task “someday“?  Well, shocking as it may sound, but that’s how I view all my tasks.  They are things to be done, sooner rather than later, but someday is the best I can plan for.  And this is what it’s all about: planning effectively.  Therefore, to have a status of “planning” seems idiotic: unless I’m actually doing a thing, I’ll probably planning to do a thing!This is the key:  the status of a task in GTD could be mistaken for the status of a person – you.  If my status changes, that might mean my ability to do that task is deferred.  That doesn’t mean I won’t do it, or that the task somehow becomes like me and is also unable to do anything until another time (such as when I am well, or back from a holiday, etc).
  • Goals
    …. I include here as a passing reference.  One aspect of goal-setting is the ability in ToodleDo to track progress on tasks relative to goals set.  In this regard, Google’s Tasks is clearly inferior.  But managing goals can exist outside the context of a task management application and, I argue, it should.  If goals are important, one’s whole life should be managed into achieving them.

They said it couldn’t be done.

Well, actually, they didn’t really say that.  I did.  But it’s true – it couldn’t be done, easily, until now.

Here’s what you need:

  • A ToodleDo account (www.toodledo.com)
  • An Astrid account (www.astrid.com)
  • A GMail or Google Apps for Business account (www.gmail.com)
  • A smartphone capable of running Astrid’s mobile app, installed from your device’s play/app store.*

* I have only used this on Android 4.1 and have set up both of my Google accounts as sync accounts on my phone.  As always, your mileage may vary.

Here is the order of my approach – no warranties offered, it just worked for me:
  • Install the Astrid app on your smartphone.
  1. In the app, navigate to Settings   (see pic to the right)
  2. Select Sync & backup
  3. Click on Synchronize now
  4. Authorize the log-in using your destination Google account
  • Create or Log-in to your astrid account using your desktop web browser, as astrid.com
  • Still in the Astrid app on your phone, go back to the Sync & backup settings and select Astrid.comensure that you can log in using your astrid.com account credentials.
  • Run a sync on the phone (menu > Sync Now) – this will sync your two task lists (Astrid and Google).
  • Now, log in to ToodleDo in your desktop browser and navigate to Tools > Import / Export / Backup and select CSV Import / Export.  Choose to Export all incomplete tasks.    You can also export all completed tasks if you want, but there’s no point syncing them (IMHO).
  • Back at Astrid.com in your desktop browser, click on your “name menu” at the top-right of the page, then Import Tasks. (see above-right screenshot)
  • In the next page, use the drop-down to select ToodleDo.
  • Import your CSV backup of incomplete tasks from ToodleDo – this may take a couple of minutes.  Be patient!  NOTE: I saw a javascript error/alert when doing this, but my tasks still imported ok.
  • Back on the phone, tap “Sync now” again.
  • Voila!  Your original tasks are now in Google Tasks!

this week (wk 10)

work

  • General
    •  Quick wins 🙂
  • CRM
    • System:
      • Complete populating Products/Quotes system
      • Complete virtual inventory
      • Remove email contacts (& from TB Address Book)
      • Fix web2lead form
    • Sales
      • compile charity list
      • Marketing/Intro letter to local .org.uk’s (in progress)
    • Configure e-mail marketing; send communications
  • Systems:
    • Update shared accounts to new limits
    • Update server software to latest stable
  • Projects
    • Ri**
      • Admin panel tasks
        • test – scripting
        • release
      • Checkout/PSP testing
    • Cl**
      • Complete template & get sign-off
      • Build site
    • Fa**
      • Convert template to CSS & hand back for approval
    • Wa**
      • Complete visual design, do CSS
  • [recurring] Organise
    • networking group:
      • training
      • social events
      • 1-2-1s
      • f/up referrals
      • changes to web site
      • contact prospective visitors
    • sales leads / prospects / meetings for next week
    • week in view
    • finances
      • Q1 administration

life

misc

  • Fix bike
  • Buy bike lock & lights
  • More stretching

last week (wk 9)

work

  • General
    • XHTML/CSS template conversion
    • CRM meeting with client
    • Hosting project planning
    • Transfer notes to TD
  • CRM
    • System:
    • Sales
      • compile charity list
      • Marketing/Intro letter to local .org.uk’s (in progress)
    • Install for customer
    • Configure e-mail marketing; send communications
  • Systems:
    • Update shared accounts to new limits
    • Update server software to latest stable
  • PHP
    • Admin panel tasks
      • test – scripting
      • release
    • Checkout/PSP testing 
    • IE6 layout compatibility testing
  • [recurring] Organise
    • networking group:
      • training
      • social events
      • 1-2-1s
      • f/up referrals
      • changes to web site
      • arrange visitors
    • sales leads / prospects / meetings for next week
    • week in view
    • finances

life

misc

  • Fix bike
  • Buy bike lock & lights
  • Order car tyres
  • Meal at friends
  • Birthday curry
  • Other birthday drinks

this week (wk 6)

work

  • System: 
  • Sales
    • Arrange 1-2-1s with visdes’s
    • Marketing/Intro letter to local .org.uk’s
  • Systems:
    • Update shared accounts to new limits
    • Check and update VS disk space
  • PHP 
    • Admin panel tasks
    • build
    • test
    • release
  • Checkout testing
  • [recurring] Organise
    • networking group training 
    • arrange visitors
    • sales leads / prospects / meetings for next week  

    life

    misc

    last week (wk 5)

    work

    • System: 
  • Sales
    • 1-2-1s with visdes’s
    • Tie down opps
  • Systems:
    • Update shared accounts to new limits
    • MTA switch
    • Check and update VS disk space
  • PHP 
    • Admin panel tasks
    • build (in progress)
    • test
    • release
  • Checkout testing
  • [recurring] Organise
    • networking group training 
    • arrange visitors
    • sales leads / prospects / meetings for next week  

    life

    misc

    This week
    Work
    • [ ] Refine some elements on Zend Framework eCommerce system
    • [ ] Prepare 10 min presentation
      Zend Framework logo.
    • [ ] Arrange projector / screen
  • [ ] Attend networking event
  • [ ] Set up sales meeting
  • [ ] Finances
  • [ ] Progress Christmas cards
  • [ ] Catch-up phone calls
  • Life

    • [ ] Food shop
    • [ ] Swimming x 2
    • [ ] Kung Fu

    Misc

    • [ ] Get presents/cards
    • [ ] Cook something I’ve never cooked before
    • [ ] Tidy up downloads/images
    • [ ] Time to wash the car / dog (?)
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    Stencil of a shopping cart with the head of th...I

    Last week

    Work

    • [X] It’s all about the shopping cart system :-), but if there’s any time left…
    • [X] Organise and attend various 1-2-1 meetings
    • [-] Update CRM database with new data/purge old
    • [-] Modify company site (content/volume/images)
    • [-] Price review
    • [ ] Review marketing and sketch out action plan
    • [-] Finish templates for sales process
    • [-] Finish help documentation for new web-based calendar tool

    Life

    • [ ] Continue documentation effort for F/LOSS project
    • [X] Kung Fu – reacquaint myself with yellow sash routines
    • [ ] Swimming x 2

    Misc

    • [ ] Cook something I’ve never cooked before
    • [ ] Test a couple of lenses for the DSLR

    This week

    Intentionally short in number but still high in volume.
    Work

    • [ ] Continue the Zend Framework shopping cart system
    • [ ] Produce marketing data
      – [ ] Mail merge
      – [ ] Review & print
      – [ ] Envelope
    • [ ] Attend networking training
    • [ ] Attend other networking event (optional)

    Life

    • [ ] Continue documentation effort for F/LOSS project
    • [ ] Swimming x 1 
    • [ ] Attend wedding party

    Misc

    • [ ] Get presents/cards
    • [ ] Cook something I’ve never cooked before
    • [ ] Test a couple of lenses for the DSLR
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    I think it may be a good idea to start calling this “Fortnightly [p]review”…


    Last week

    Work
    • [-] Update CRM database with new data/purge old
    • [X] Layout fixes for customer web site
    • [-] Modify company site (content/volume/images)
    • [ ] Price review
    • [ ] Review marketing and sketch out action plan
    • [-] Draft templates for sales process
    • [-] Add help documentation for new web-based calendar tool
    • [X] Hosting set-up
    • [X] Prepare for new project (TBC)
    • [X] Complete SVN/Bugzilla integration project
    • [X] Housekeeping
    Life
    • [ ] Continue documentation effort for F/LOSS project
    • [X] Kung Fu
    • [X] Swimming x 2
    • [X] Finish sci-fi book
    • [X] Continue Personal Development
    Misc
    • [-] Uphold commitments @ old residence – see through to completion
    • [X] Cook something I’ve never cooked before (excludes dog, cat, rat, etc)
    • [X] Check out lenses for the DSLR

    This week
    Work

    • [ ] It’s all about the shopping cart system :-), but if there’s any time left…
    • [ ] Organise and attend various 1-2-1 meetings
    • [-] Update CRM database with new data/purge old
    • [-] Modify company site (content/volume/images)
    • [ ] Price review
    • [ ] Review marketing and sketch out action plan
    • [-] Finish templates for sales process
    • [-] Finish help documentation for new web-based calendar tool

    Life

    • [ ] Continue documentation effort for F/LOSS project
    • [ ] Kung Fu – reacquaint myself with yellow sash routines
    • [ ] Swimming x 2

    Misc

    • [ ] Cook something I’ve never cooked before
    • [ ] Test a couple of lenses for the DSLR
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