Taking Notes

March 12th, 2007

Taking useful notes is really, really important across all fields – not just in an academic context. I use the cornell index card system for note taking, writing my notes on index cards and later ‘tagging’ the notes in the left-hand column.

## The Proper Cornell System ##

Wikipedia details the Cornell system in great detail here – there are a bunch of places online where you can print out paper, and if you’re working in a field where you need to take detailed notes on the same subject, you may well find it handy in it’s virgin state.

## My Cornell System ##

Personally, though, I find smaller chunks of text easier to handle, which is why I use a modified cornell system on index cards – with a space for tags on the left and a space for followup tasks at the bottom. Generally I can get one or two subjects on each card, which works well for me.

I’ve made a little pdf template with the rather awesome D*I*Y Planner widget kit and OpenOffice.org draw. Give it a try if you’re into the whole index card thang – otherwise, this is a good PDF generator to roll-your-own notepaper.

Candy Tasks

March 9th, 2007

There’s a lot of talk in our little realm of productivity about handling and managing tasks, but relatively little on prioritizing them – what to do when and why. The Good Book itself talks about prioritizing based on energy and importance of the task, but I like to do something else.

There are some tasks that I really, really don’t want to do. Not many, and if anyone finds they have a lot of these tasks I recommend they find a different job, but if I do find myself needing to do something, like write a dull essay that I just can’t get excited about, or clean the bathroom, or just Leave The Comforting Cocoon That Is My Bed, I find it’s best to couch it between ‘candy’ tasks – things that are productive, that get me where I need to go, but that I really enjoy doing.

So I’ve got some reading to do on Neolithic death and burial for one of my courses – a subject that in and of itself I find interesting, but much of the writing is dull. I really like writing flash fiction though, as you can tell from my other blog, so I like to couch things – I set a target of, say, ten pages, and in between reading these pages I write some flash or go for a walk or exercise or something else fun.

This does entail a degree of scheduling, which I know The Good Book strongly advises against (calendars are for hard landscapes only), but I find that laying out the day ahead in advance really helps quite a bit.

On Confidence

March 8th, 2007

So Lifehacker have posted a link to 7 Helpful tips to Immediately Increase Your Confidence, which is a valuable little page that I recommend you all read – if you’ve looked into personal development for very long there’ll probably be nothing all that new here, but it’s definitely worth a look.

I have issues with confidence myself, although it’s rarely paralyzing – I get nervous about granular tasks, like public speaking or occasionally cold calling on the rare occasions I have to do it, but never about wider career spanning issues. These tactics have certainly helped a little bit, but they don’t Immediately Increase Your Confidence – they contribute to it over time, as it takes a while to shift over to the correct mindset.

Those kinds of titles really bother me about self-help, because it sounds like a silver bullet type of issue. You’re not going to wake up one day and suddenly be More Confident, because confidence is a mental habit that you have to wire your brain around and get used to.

Taking Care Of Yourself

March 1st, 2007

So Wil Wheaton has made an awesome post on something we all forget to do from time to time, but something that’s dead important: taking time out for yourself.

Being dedicated to making other people’s lives better is all good, but if you don’t take care of yourself, you’re not going to be any help to anybody.

It also reminds me of an important point from The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron – she calls them artist dates, going out and doing something creative and fun, just you and yourself, in order to get back in touch. Kind of like spending time with your inner child.

School Productivity: Five Ways To Work Well On Your Mac

February 27th, 2007

So MacApper has posted five neat little tools for enhancing productivity on your mac. I can personally vouch for the awesomeness of iFlash, particularly if you’re interested in languages. Sidenote not so much though – it’s a nice program, but I’m more comfortable with Quicksilver’s append to text file function. But, different strokes for different blokes – we all have to find the best ways to be productive.

Productivity & Geekiness II: first week reflections

February 19th, 2007

So I’ve been using my personal productivity scoring system (outlined here) for a week now, and I have some Reflections and Tweaks as a consequence.

It’s Actually Not That Hard

My first and most important point is that it’s surprisingly not as hard as I expected to keep the system running – reflecting on the day’s events in the evening is something I try to do anyway through journalling, and this scoring system has the added consequence of keeping me positive – there’s no point dwelling on the bad things as I don’t get any points for them.

Points!

Another thing I had difficulty with at first was the attribution of scores: it may seem at first glance like my blueprinting for last week was not as effective as my thinking or relaxation, but that was before I came to a realization:

This is not a grading system – it’s a scoring system. I only score 40 points in Blueprinting most days, because that’s all the points I need to score – or for that matter should score.

Granularity!

Another positive impact I noticed is that the exponential scoring for Actions has encouraged me to enforce more granularity in my action descriptions – I break each task down to it’s lowest sensible denominator and don’t have any tasks that are actually projects anymore, because in breaking up my tasks properly I get more points.

Having said that, as a consequence of the new Massive Point Values I can reach on productive days I’ve ended up multiplying every other point value by ten. This way I’m reaching Mad Points every day, averaging 500 points every day. Proving, therefore, that I am a Productivity Ninja.

The Now Naked Issues

The process has also shown up some weaknesses in my current days: I consistently score under fifty for ‘Thinking’. This may be due to the way the system is at the moment, of course (minutes/12 may be too litte, methinks), but just the end-of-the-day thinking that I do is plainly not cutting it.

The Future

Next, I want to do some more tweaking, and then produce a paper form not unlike Dave’s Printable CEO. This may be a bit of a silly form as well (I’m thinking of showing just how much of a geek I am by making a character sheet with terms like ‘Wisdom’ standing in for ‘Blueprints’, ‘constitution” rather than ‘Action’, etc. Oh, and there’ll be a section on the right for each ‘monster’, or action completed. Yes, you may now point and laugh).

Productivity & Geekiness II: first week reflections

February 18th, 2007

So I’ve been using my personal productivity scoring system (outlined here) for a week now, and I have some Reflections and Tweaks as a consequence.

It’s Actually Not That Hard

My first and most important point is that it’s surprisingly not as hard as I expected to keep the system running – reflecting on the day’s events in the evening is something I try to do anyway through journalling, and this scoring system has the added consequence of keeping me positive – there’s no point dwelling on the bad things as I don’t get any points for them.

Points!

Another thing I had difficulty with at first was the attribution of scores: it may seem at first glance like my blueprinting for last week was not as effective as my thinking or relaxation, but that was before I came to a realization:

This is not a grading system – it’s a scoring system. I only score 40 points in Blueprinting most days, because that’s all the points I need to score – or for that matter should score.

Granularity!

Another positive impact I noticed is that the exponential scoring for Actions has encouraged me to enforce more granularity in my action descriptions – I break each task down to it’s lowest sensible denominator and don’t have any tasks that are actually projects anymore, because in breaking up my tasks properly I get more points.

Having said that, as a consequence of the new Massive Point Values I can reach on productive days I’ve ended up multiplying every other point value by ten. This way I’m reaching Mad Points every day, averaging 500 points every day. Proving, therefore, that I am a Productivity Ninja.

The Now Naked Issues

The process has also shown up some weaknesses in my current days: I consistently score under fifty for ‘Thinking’. This may be due to the way the system is at the moment, of course (minutes/12 may be too litte, methinks), but just the end-of-the-day thinking that I do is plainly not cutting it.

The Future

Next, I want to do some more tweaking, and then produce a paper form not unlike Dave’s Printable CEO. This may be a bit of a silly form as well (I’m thinking of showing just how much of a geek I am by making a character sheet with terms like ‘Wisdom’ standing in for ‘Blueprints’, ‘constitution” rather than ‘Action’, etc. Oh, and there’ll be a section on the right for each ‘monster’, or action completed. Yes, you may now point and laugh).

Bookgem review

February 15th, 2007

So I ordered a BookGem book holder a few months ago, and I must say I rather like it. It’s a slightly odd-sounding concept – the thing is a portable folding book stand – but it works absolutely perfectly for my purposes.

I use it to hold copy that I’m typing out – I like to write fiction longhand when I get the chance, mostly because it slows me down and forces me to re-read everything when I type it up, so it’s very handy for that. Also, I use it for reference books a lot when I’m working on an essay – I hold the book open on the required page when typing out quotes or taking notes.

I mostly don’t use it as advertised – i.e. simple recreational reading – mainly because I read up at a desk. But if you’re looking for a cheap, portable and flexible copyholder, the BookGem is well worth a look.

If you’re curious, Here’s how it works.

Hesitation – or The Difficulty With Ch-ch-choices

February 14th, 2007

People seem to hesitate on the simplest questions. I always thought it was just me, but apparently not. For example, I was in a coffee shop recently, and heard this little exchange at the counter.

“Cup or mug?”
Long pause
“Um… er.. Cup! Yes, cup, please.”

Choices are difficult and can easily slow you down. In the example above, it didn’t make any difference if the man had a cup or a mug – it’s a matter of preference for some people I suppose, but it’s not something you should overly concern yourself with.

And to stop this from becoming a customer-service-y Creating Passionate Users post, here’s how this is relevant for personal productivity:

Handle your choices up the line. When you’re planning out a project, make as many choices as you can about how to handle the project, what to do when, as early as you can. You can always review them later if you have a better idea, but if you don’t have a better idea, you won’t waste time hesitating and trying to determine what to do.

Personal productivity & geekiness

February 8th, 2007

So I was reading Dave Seah’s blog the other day, and came upon his Printable CEO paper forms, and I love them – partly due to the design, but also because the point-based rewards on the main printable ceo really got my brain firing. There’s something about checking off boxes and filling things in that appeals to the geek in me – Dave compares it to standardized testing, but it always reminded me of character sheets.

Pretty much every pen & paper RPG has or had them at some stage or another. They’re sheets of paper preprinted with boxes for filling in attributes, equipment, notes, saving throws, armour class and all that jazz. There’s something about them that appeals to me, not just the thrill of checking off a box, but of putting a number in it, changing things around, and always having that imposed structure for my notes. I guess that’s why I love the Cornell system so much.

Back to Dave’s Printable CEO – the sheet gives you different amounts of points for different things, based on how well it improves your business – 10 points for billable work versus 2 points for blog articles or self promotion, for example. This reminded me a lot of the experience points used in most RPGs – they gauge a character’s progress by awarding points for different actions, and the more experience points you gfet the better and more accomplished you are.

Surfing through Dave’s blog also took me to Phil Newtons notes on his own paper based tracking system, with bits based on the b-Alert system. I liked the b-Alert system immediately, and soon lots of different things came together in my mind.

What about a points system rewarding progress in the six different areas of the system?

So here’s where I am so far, but what do you guys think? Anything you’d add or take away?

b (Blueprints)

+1 point for each blueprint made
+3 points if it is secure

A (Action)

Number of individual major tasks completed, squared (e.g. 1 point if one task completed, 4 if 2, 9 if 3, etc).
Risky action: +3
Action made you feel a little uncomfortable: +2
1 action failed: +2
2 actions failed: +1
3 actions failed: 0
4 actions failed: -1
etc
(adding points to failures in the hope that they would function as a learning experience: I’m also thinking this will encourage me to go on with something even if I’m not sure if I can do it, since I’ll get the XP bonus anyway 😉 )

l (Learning)

Books: #Pages / 10
Blogs: #Articles / 10
Classes or other learning activities: #hours x 2

e (Exercise)

#Minutes spent / 6

r (Relaxation)

#minutes spent /6
#times laughed x2

t (Thinking)

#minutes spent /12

Man, I am SUCH a geek…