CONNECTING: Technology Tips for Getting Things Done by Susan Boland
I keep tripping over this thing called GTD®. Gobbling Turkey Day? Getting There Directions? Going To Disney World? While I would love any one of those things, it actually stands for Getting It Done® and it is one of those ubiquitous management phrases floating around. According to The David Allan Company’s website, “GTD® is the popular shorthand for “Getting Things Done®”, the groundbreaking work-life management system and book by David Allen that transforms personal overwhelm and overload into an integrated system of stress-free productivity.” The David Allen Company, The Definition of David Allen’s Getting Things Done®, (2008), http://www.davidco.com/what_is_gtd.php. I’m not hawking the book or the system, but I am a fan of using technology to help me accomplish the things I need to in as efficient a way as possible. Unfortunately, I’ve had all too much contact with technology that becomes a black sink hole of my time! Thus, I’ve compiled a list of some of the more useful technology tips that help me, and can maybe help you, save time.
1. Use an RSS Reader and subscribe to feeds for current awareness research.
If you haven’t already discovered RSS and subscribed to feeds, this is one area that can save you time. RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication or Rich Site Summary. It is an XML (Extensible Markup Language) format that enables efficient distribution of Web content. Rather than visiting each individual Website or blog that you get news from, or subscribing to and reading dozens of e-mail newsletters, you can use a software program to collect headlines. The RSS feed contains the information while the aggregator or reader collects and stores the information, as well as decodes it so you can read it. Once you are ready to read your news, you’ll need to find RSS feeds. Usually if a site offers a feed, there will be an icon letting you know: or
For basic, easy to get started RSS Readers:
- Mozilla’s Firefox browser allows you to read RSS through its live bookmarks feature. See http://www.mozilla.org/products/firefox/live-bookmarks.html (last visited 5/15/08).
- Google also has an RSS Reader. See http://tinyurl.com/36spe3 (last visited 5/15/08). With Google and the Firefox browser, the feeds roll off after a certain amount of time.
- Bloglines is an RSS Reader that will actually archive feeds. See http://www.bloglines.com/ (last visited 5/15/08).
- Outlook 2007 can read feeds too, see http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/outlook/HA012304631033.aspx (last visited 5/15/08).
- The Thunderbird email client also has a built-in feed reader, see http://www.mozilla.com/en-US/thunderbird/ (last visited 5/15/08).
There are many other reader/aggregators out there. To find the right news aggregator for you, check out these reviews:
- Frank Gruber, The State of Online Feed Readers (March 30, 2006), http://www.techcrunch.com/2006/03/30/the-state-of-online-feed-readers/.
- About.com, Find the Best RSS Feed Readers / News Aggregators, http://email.about.com/od/rssfeedreaders/Find_the_Best_RSS_Feed_Readers_News_Aggregators.htm (last visited 5/15/08).
- PCWorld, Find the Best RSS Reader for You, http://www.pcworld.com/article/id,126189-page,1/article.html (last visited 5/15/08).
2. Organize your feeds.
There is a temptation to read every feed you subscribe to. This can lead to a mental breakdown. Feeds can be overwhelming, especially if you subscribe to a feed where posts are made almost every hour. Organizing your feeds enables you to give yourself permission to prioritize where your time will be spent. Most feed readers offer ways to organize your feeds. I happen to organize my feeds into purpose folders that are in order of priority: Faculty Liaison Feeds, Library Feeds, Technology Feeds, General News Feeds, and Fun Feeds. Some Readers allow you to tag individual messages as well as organize them into folders. No matter how you organize your feeds, don’t be afraid to hit the Mark All As Read button!
3. Limit your web browsing or time your tasks.
Sometimes you just need a little help to keep yourself on track. Perhaps you need to work on a project but can only devote a certain amount of time to it. Additionally, as useful as the Internet is, it is also huge time sink. It is easy to get distracted by an interesting article or site that is tangential to what you were originally searching. One way to keep yourself on track is to limit the amount of time you can spend browsing on the Internet. For those of us who are easily distractible or without the willpower to do this voluntarily, there are technology tools to help!
- Code Jacked, Take Control of Your Browsing Time with Browser Timer, http://www.codejacked.com/take-control-of-your-browsing-time-with-browser-timer/ (last visited 5/15/08). Browser Timer will actually shut down your browser when the amount of time that you specified passes.
- Online Stopwatch, http://www.online-stopwatch.com/ (last visited 5/15/08). The online stopwatch will keep track of how much time you are spending at a particular task. While it won’t shut down your browser, it will let you see how much time you’ve spent browsing on the Internet.
- Countdown Timer, http://theinsomniacsociety.com/timer.html (last visited 5/15/08). The countdown timer is a browser based timer that not only allows you to set a certain amount of time to accomplish a task but also allows you to set up an alert when that time expires.
- LeechBlock, https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/4476 (last visited 5/15/08). LeechBlock is a FireFox extension that allows you to block up to six websites at certain times of the day. Thus, you can avoid the temptation to look at your favorite technology website in the morning by blocking the site but set it to unblock in the afternoon when you have time available.
4. Use FireFox Extensions.
One of the perks of using FireFox as your browser is all of the useful extensions available. Here are just a few:
- Zotero, http://www.zotero.org/ (last visited 5/15/08). Zotero is an extension for a researcher that allows you to capture and store all types of files, including web pages. You can annotate and manage your research, and export your citations. This is invaluable for a research project.
- TinyURL Add On, http://tinyurl.com/2qfukv (last visited 5/15/08). TinyURL is a program that allows you to turn a long URL into a short one. This is especially useful when posting URLs into documents or emails. The FireFox extension allows you to create a TinyUrl right from FireFox rather than going to the TinyURL page (http://tinyurl.com ), cutting and pasting, and then cutting and pasting again.
- Session Manager, https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/2324 (last visited 5/15/08). Session manager saves and restores your tabs and windows. This is handy if you accidentally close all tabs when you meant to only close one.
- Download Sort, https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/25 (last visited 5/15/08). This extension allows you to automatically send downloads that you are saving to specific places. You can set it up so that all of your pdfs automatically download in one place, your jpgs in another, and your Word documents in yet another.
5. Use Thunderbird to check multiple email accounts.
Thunderbird, http://www.mozilla.com/en-US/thunderbird/ (last visited 5/15/08) is a cross-platform email client that allows you to manage multiple email accounts. It also has a built-in RSS Reader. Rather than check each email account individually or set up forwarding rules on each account, set up Thunderbird so that you download email messages from each account using one software application. Best of all, Thunderbird comes in a portable addition so you can take it with you on a USB drive, CD-ROM, or MP3 player. See http://portableapps.com/ (last visited 5/15/08).
6. Use Remember The Milk or other task based software to help you manage your list of things to get done.
- Remember The Milk, http://www.rememberthemilk.com/ (last visited 5/15/08) is a web-based program designed to help you manage your tasks. In addition to letting you list and organize tasks, it also provides integration with email, instant messaging, text messaging, Blackberry, Twitter, iPhone, Google Calendar, and many other software applications and devices. Remember The Milk has great search features too.
- Another good option for managing tasks is TiddlyWikki, which is available at http://www.tiddlywiki.com/ (last visited 5/15/08). See http://www.checkettsweb.com/tw/gtd_tiddlywiki.htm for a Getting It Done version of TiddlyWikki. TiddlyWikki is portable too!
- ToDoList at http://todoist.com/ (last visited 5/15/08) is another web-based task manager with many of the same features as Remember The Milk.
7. Use mind mapping software to plot projects and actions.
Mind maps allow you to brainstorm and connect ideas to the actions that need to be taken to implement them. I find these most useful at the beginning of a project. You don’t need technology to mind map – you can create mind maps with paper and colored markers but technology can make them easier to share and store.
- MindMeister, available at http://www.mindmeister.com/ (last visited 5/15/08) is an online mind mapping tool with a free basic version. You can collaborate and share mind maps. The free version limits you to a small number of maps.
- Bubble.us, available at http://bubbl.us/ (last visited 5/15/08) is another online mind mapping tool. It is flash-based and has fewer export options than MindMeister.
- Freemind, available at http://freemind.sourceforge.net/wiki/index.php/Main_Page (last visited 5/15/08) is a java-based mind mapping tool. It does not offer the collaboration features of the others but is a good stand alone tool.
- CMap, available at http://cmap.ihmc.us/ (last visited 5/15/08) is another mind mapping tool free to individual non-commercial users or educational users.
These are just a few technology tips and tools for those of us trying to get things done with or without a system.