Recently in the productivity Category

Creative re-energizing...

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I'm so glad that I was able to attend the UX Immersion conference here in Portland, Or. So worth the price for two days of immersive workshops and a day of feature speakers. Today's the last day of the conference but I feel completely refreshed and re-energized - stretching out creative muscles that have grown too used to familiar patterns. Besides meeting some truly interesting and very smart peers I find the creative boost to be the best part of these gatherings. At the mixer last night a bunch of us were kind of laughing about how it would be so beneficial if company decision makers could attend these kinds of industry conferences. How we feel like we attend these things, tired and worn down from evangelizing the best practices as per industry standards. We laughed while analogizing: if we were boxers, the conference would be our corner and the speakers the trainers who refocus and reenergize us before pushing us back into the ring to once again fight the good fight. Hey man, sometimes we even win! All laughing aside, these kinds of conferences are invaluable.

I think one of the best takeaways from the conference so far was from the Rachel Hinman workshop on Prototyping the Mobile User Experience where she challenged us to cast off the shackles of designing for an experience we're already comfortable and familiar with (the desktop) and truly delve into the context of the mobile experience. Mobile is not a desktop computer, just as web is not print. It's very easy to get into the groove of the familiar design patterns we use day in and day out. What's not so easy is to realize they simply don't translate well to a different context. Plus, by trying to use the same design patterns in a different context you often times miss the opportunity to take full advantage of the native power of that context. Mobile is not desktop so don't design the gui on mobile, take full advantage of the nui affordances.

As well, the feature talks on fitting User Experience into an Agile development project struck some chords with me. Like many others in the audience, our development teams are transitioning from the traditional waterfall project management methodology to agile and like many others I feel we're struggling with folding User Experience into the development process. Hugh Beyer's talk was most informative to me - definitely yes, the UX person needs to be a full member of the development team so that their issues become part of the development issues. And adding a longer Sprint 0 for planning and research just makes sense. I'm glad the conference organizers were videotaping the feature talks as I'll definitely be referring back to share them at the office.  

Today, I'm looking forward to the workshop on Mobile Design for the Enterprise Intranet, a topic of close interest for me as a team member of exactly that kind of project back home. I'm sure I'll be getting a boatload of ideas to bring back.

Groupwise sync to iCal / iPod

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I had the strange urge to blog today about the trials and tribulations of trying to get Groupwise (our Enterprise calendaring software which we must use at work) to sync up with my iPod touch. It's more than just that really, I keep my personal appointments that don't affect my office availability separate on my iCal, because, well, my work mates don't really need to know my after work schedule do they?, and sync that to my iPod touch as well. At the end of the day, I just wanted to have the whole mess available on my iPod which goes with me everywhere. It's not quite a simple solution though, it happens that one needs to install a 3rd party piece of (Windows) software and have Google calendar act as an intermediary step.

So, here is how to accomplish the grand sync (in a really roundabout way!)
Step 1: Set up a Google Calendar (you don't have to share it with the world!)
Step 2: Download CompanionLink Software's CompanionLink for Google (not free though - you will need to register it for $29.95 US to keep using it past the trial period)
Step 3: In iCal, add a subscription to your Google calendar
Step 4: Configure CompanionLink for Google to sync your Google calendar with your Groupwise
Step 5: Sync up - once the sync is complete everything should now be on your iCal
Step 6: You can now sync your iPod touch which will sync your iCal data as well.

I had originally installed CompanionLink for Google on an XP Desktop but recently switched it to a Parallels Vista install on my MBP

Bonus: if you're on a MacBook / MacBook Pro, install Windows either via Bootcamp, Parellels or VMWare Fusion and install CompanionLink for Google there. I personally prefer the Windows client for Groupwise over the Mac client so I installed that on my Parallels Vista install as well.

What a lot of bother just to get everything onto my iCal so I can (a) have it all on one calendar and (b) sync it with my iPod.

essential 3rd party apps for mac (updated)

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Well, it's been a while since I last listed a bunch of apps that I simply could not live without on my mac. I figured it's probably time for an updated list so here we go:

  1. WindowShades X - by Unsanity. ($10 US). Still using it. Still lovin' it.
  2. Himmelbar - by Softbend (free). I'm still using Himmelbar but less and less as I've found new kid on the block Overflow to be just a tad more useful.
  3. Overflow - by Stunt Software. ($14.95) I picked this up as a freebie from the Mac App a Day website last December and I'm finding that it's very useful for people like me who need to organize their apps in sensible palattes. Plus it keeps your Dock a manageable size - bonus.
  4. Google notifier - by Google (free). Updated to include alerts for both your Gmail and you Google Calendar on your menu bar. Is very nice!
  5. NewsFire - by David Watanabe ($18.99 US). Still my hands-down choice for a desktop RSS Reader client.
  6. Yummy FTP - by Yummy Software ($25 US) OK this app beats Cyberduck and Transmit (although Cyberduck is still a good choice for a free app). The speed is just blazing fast on file transfers.
  7. Mac Janitor - by Brian Hill (free). I'm still using this handy app.

And that's pretty much it in a nutshell. I'm always on the lookout for productivity apps so let me know if there's one out there that just shouldn't be missed.

mind sweep ...

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Tomorrow is the last day of work before I go out on vacation for the next two weeks so the post "Back to GTD: Do a fast “mind-sweep”" from Merlin Mann's blog 43 folders was more than timely. A mind sweep (or I call it a data dump) is a wonderful thing where you can remove all the nagging "oh..this needs to be done" kind of thoughts from your mind and put them down on paper as actionable items. I think it's essential before leaving the office for an extended absence simply so you can get the real r&r that you deserve and return to work refreshed, energized and ready to plough through the list. I'm so on this!

whoa - meeting madness...

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This week just past and next week looming may actually set a record for me in terms of meetings. Out of the 10 work days I think there may be about 3.5 days where I can work on projects or support tickets - craaazy. Summer is always our busy time since the students are few and there's more time for departments to focus on their website needs. So how does one manage productivity when time is at a premium and resources are scarce? It does seem to defy possibility but strangely enough it feels as though I have been getting stuff done. It helps to follow one of the GTD tricks - the inbox tray with sheets of paper each containing a specific task. I use that for the support tickets that have been queued seemingly forever and needing more in-depth analysis to solve the issue. Those I keep with me since I'm travelling a lot back and forth to Fredericton so I can work on them in between meetings. As well, I queued up larger project tasks on my whiteboard back in the office to work on when I'm not in a meeting day and am happy to report that most are now crossed off - ready to be erased and replaced. I have not, however, been able to start any new projects yet - and I don't anticipate that I'll be able to until after my vacation and hopefully by that time I'll be able to secure some contract help to assist with the overflow work.

And, of course, for whatever reason, it always seems busiest right before you go out on vacation (only 1 more week till vacation!). At this point I'm so looking forward to the break, but I think there will be a bit of a working component to it. I wish someday I'll be able to take a month off in the summer with no worries, but for now just two weeks will do.

As a side note, even though it's been crazy busy at work, I did get through the CSS Mastery book and it was a really good read. I learned some stuff and will be implementing some stuff in future design work so it was well worth the purchase price for me. I'd definitely recommend it.

on the road ...

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I'm on the road pretty frequently, either travelling to Fredericton for meetings or, like this weekend, travelling to Halifax for a conference (CANHEIT 2006). Fredericton is about an hour and 15 minutes from Saint John and Halifax is around 4.5 hours. To make the most of the time spent travelling, I like to multitask when possible - work planning, work & meeting prep, eating on the go - are some things that can be undertaken to leverage the time spent in travel. For work planning and prep, it can be very handy to have a small recorder with you (unless you have an excellent memory), and for eating,

Getting to the meat of the problem...

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Roger Johanssen (of 456 Berea Street) pointed out an excellent article by Derek Powazek called The Art of No. Read it.

The article centres around asking "Why?" instead of saying "No" when approached to implement what seems to be a ridiculous idea (to us as designers, developers etc.). I'm sure all of us have been in the same situation, the client comes to you with what seems to be a stupid request and the knee-jerk reaction is to just say no. But the better response to these requests is to ask why? As in "Oh yes? That's interesting, why do you want us to do this?" which should open the conversation to an elaboration of the problem/s they're trying to solve.

In my team (we're called Solutions), we are always trying to get clients to come to us with the problem that needs solving (not with their solution which they want us to implement) simply because we're well positioned to develop a solution that will address their needs while fitting in with all the other solutions we've developed or maintain. And this is critical when you have as large a solutions architecture as we do. To me it is equally important to get to the meat of the problem whether it's to implemet a large scale application, or as simple as an addition to a webpage. Why, indeed.

Such a simple question - such powerful results.

productive meetings ...

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via 43 Folders: 9 tips for running more productive meetings.
Yes, the words productive and meetings can be found in the same sentence together. I have to say that of the many meetings I go to in the run of a week (both professional and personal) most of them are quite productive. In fact, it's a bit of a rarity (although not impossible) for me to find myself in a meeting where I just want to stick pins in my eyes. Apparently, from the complaints I've heard - that's not the case for others. But in addition to the invaluable information found at the above link, Point number 4 (No electronic grazing) just about killed me. I hadn't heard that term before and the mental picture I derived from it was priceless.

happiness is an empty inbox...

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One of the best things about January is the opportunity to take advantage of "clean-slateism" and take control of your email inbox. Over the year/s mine had become depressingly full so I selected everything except items with a 2006 date and moved them all over to another mailbox called 2005. I also setup a 2004 mailbox and archived them both. Next, I went through and pared down my various mail folders, eliminating some and emptying others. Ahhhh. That was nice! Now the challenge is to keep no more than 20 or so emails in my inbox at any one time.


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