5 Steps to GTD in Notes

Thursday, June 24th, 2004
A member of the GTD Forum recently asked if anyone had implemented GTD using Lotus Notes and a Treo 600. I started to respond with my recommendations, based on my own experience; before I knew it my post had turned into a mini-essay.  

My response: Five steps to implementing GTD within Lotus Notes

What value, wireless E-Mail?

Thursday, June 24th, 2004
For me, the measure of success in evaluating a new technology or productivity tool is the degree to which it becomes transparent to the actual work being done, and the level of productivity that is gained as a result. A doctor should not have to think about his scalpel or stethoscope; neither should a writer have to think about his pen or legal pad. In the same way, a knowledge worker should not have to think about his information processing tools. Any time he does, he robs himself of the opportunity to get his real work done.

Yesterday, Michael Hyatt blogged about his experience, using the Blackberry. Michael presents a cogent overview of his experience using his Blackberry to help him get things done.

As an eProductivity specialist, I enjoy reading about people's successes (and challenges) as they attempt to work various technologies into their "systems."

Technology now exists to enable us to process, or at least access, our email and calendar from anywhere; but where should we really handle this information?

Two months ago, David Allen, in his blog: "Coaching to 40,000 feet," wrote about one of his clients:
"He tossed his Blackberry ("Crackberry" as he called it!), agreeing with my recommendation that e-mail should be processed most efficiently for most people from at least a laptop, and he ordered a Palm to distribute his Outlook lists into for portability. (Though there are exceptions, this is usually the best configuration for most people in an Outlook environment)."

This casual comment touched off a flurry of responses about the value of a device that can provide instant email. I've been watching the log files with interest ever since, to see who would pick up on his comments -- either to agree, or to share an alternative viewpoint.

I agree that for most people, including myself, email can be more efficiently processed at a computer -- a context in which it can often be completed or processed down to the very next action. I authored one of the first wireless e-mail solutions for LAN messaging  in 1992, when I was CTO of Peloria Technology Corporation. In those days, we were dealing with simple one-way and eventually two-way devices, basically pagers.  Since that time, the on-device technology and speed of delivery has vastly improved, but the process of dealing with e-mail on the road has changed little. Often, e-mail on a mobile device is still treated as a page or alert -- which can be important and useful; however, the user must still return to their desktop to process these messages a second time to decide what to do with them.  This is not as efficient as it could be.

To be fair, David did not fully explain the reason for his view that e-mail is better processed at the computer, but I suspect the fact that the same message must often be processed twice (at the device and at the desktop) had a lot to do with it.

For many of us who live the mobile lifestyle, waiting until we can get back to our desk to check or process our email is simply not fast enough.The demands of modern competitive business often require that we be in-touch. The ability to respond or make a decision quickly, based on new information, can be a determining factor in the success or failure of a project, or even a company. So for some, the cost of double processing, is more than offset by the value of the information.

David did allow for these exceptions. (Perhaps Michael and I fall into the "exceptions" category, or maybe we are just exceptional people.)  

In the end, I believe that what matters most is not where you process your stuff, but whether or not you are getting things done.  Having to process email twice is not much different than folks who capture their thoughts on a voice recorder -- they have to process their ideas twice. Both approaches are inefficient, yet they aren't. For some, the extra mobility outweighs the inconvenience of double-processing.

While many of the current generation of wireless devices now allow for onboard deletion of messages, they continue to fall short of their potential by not allowing messages to be filed or converted into projects and actions at the device. Developers and device manufacturers still do not seem to understand the value [or potential] of being able to fully process your information on a mobile device. They provide us with wonderful tools, yet they often miss the mark by only a feature or two. In this case, the ability to really process the stuff that we receive wirelessly in a seamless fashion.

What I would like to see, is the ability to file an email in a folder and have that sync to my desktop application. I would also like to have the ability to convert an email into a project, action, or calendar item. These seem like simple things but they would have a profound impact on the utility of these devices.  Perhaps they should attend one of David's GTD seminars or have me participate in their usability testing. If they did, and if they truly got it, I'm sure that we would see big changes in the usability of the these products.  (This is my eHint to: RIM, PalmOne, Sybase and Microsoft)

For me, I continue to do the best that I can, using variety of eProductivity solutions to support me in my work.  Having the ability to quickly review my projects and actions and at the same time receive or send receive e-mail or calendar updates in real-time, from anywhere, remains a powerful productivity tool.

A while back, I wrote about how I was using a wireless Palm along with Pylon iAnywhere. I have continued to use this solution to provide myself and clients with real-time push of email & calendar updates from/to the office. (This solution works with both Lotus Notes and Microsoft Exchange, by the way).

Image:What value, wireless E-Mail?

As with the Blackberry, the e-mail processing is not perfect (the folders on the mobile device do not yet sync to the desktop), but the advantage of being able to do a quick scan of my email and calendar is worth the extra effort of possibly having to occasionally process these items twice.

The real beauty of this solution, for me, is that it has now become transparent to the way that I get things done.

Do you have another viewpoint or experience to share? I'd like to hear from you. Feel free to post a comment.