You Need To Decide

Who is this for? Those who fiddle and tinker to the point that all they’re doing is fiddling and tinkering…instead of actually doing.

It’s no secret that I’ve got a bit of a thing for testing out apps. Whether they are task management apps, notetaking apps, writing apps, email apps, or calendar apps, I tend to put many of them through the paces on a regular basis. Not everyone can do that without getting stuck tinkering or fiddling – and I fall prey to that roadblock now and again too. But ultimately I know what I’m expecting out of an app when I start to use it, which helps me decide on whether or not to keep them around.

Knowing what you want out of an app is critical, but knowing what you want to do with the app is even more so.

Take Evernote for example. It’s one of those apps that can do a whole lot, which is both its strength and its weakness. Its ubiquity allows it to be with you almost anywhere and anytime, but unless you use it intentionally then that ubiquity doesn’t really benefit you. When you start looking at an app like Evernote, you need to make a concrete decision on what you plan to use it for before you download it. How you come to that decision doesn’t really matter (I’d bet that reading sites like this one often shapes that decision), but you need to come to that decision in order to get the most out of the app from the onset. (By the way, here’s how I use Evernote.)

No matter what tool you’re using, you need to decide what you’re using it for before you add it to your workflow. Otherwise it won’t add to your effectiveness. Instead it will add friction – which is the nemesis of flow.

OmniFocus Reimagined

Who is this for? Those who want to dive into the mind of someone who not only uses OmniFocus, but admires its design and utility so much that they want to share their thoughts on how to make it even better.

Chris Sauvé has put together an excellent two-part series called “What’s Eating OmniFocus?” where he breaks down some of the things that bug him about one of the most powerful task management apps out there. Then he went ahead and designed some concepts that may solve some of those concerns.

Part one can be found here. Part two can be found here. If you’d like to see his full re-imagining of the OmniFocus iPhone app — complete with over 70 screenshots — go here.

creativeLIVE Launches New Studios in San Francisco with Two Day Event

Who is this for?: Those who want to learn from the top experts in a live and engaging environment, as well have access to those workshops down the line for career and personal growth.

A little less than 30 minutes ago, creativeLIVE began broadcasting its two day event which marks the unveiling of its first studios outside of Seattle (its city of origin). The event is a massive one, featuring the likes of Tim Ferriss, Reid Hoffman (founder of LinkedIN), Guy Kawasaki, and many more to share their entrepreneurial secrets with the globe – all from within the confines of creativeLIVE’s new digs in San Francisco.

For those of you unfamiliar with creativeLIVE, here’s a brief description on how how its model works:

  • You can sign up for any one of their classes prior to the event and watch it live – as it happens – for absolutely free. creativeLIVE has already held classes with experts such as Michael Port, Sue Bryce, Derek Halpern, and the aforementioned Tim Ferriss, to name a few.
  • When the class is over, you can then buy access to the class to watch at your leisure, but while the class you’re watching is live, you can buy access to the recorded version of the session at a significant discount.

There are other elements that make creativeLIVE a top-notch educational platform, such as the ability to “audition” to attend a class in person, the use of live hosts (who engage both with the live audience and those watching online), and stellar production quality that makes it feel as if you’re watching a professionally produced television broadcast – or perhaps a new evolution of broadcasting that incorporates elements of traditional television programming. I;ve taken in a few classesI had the opportunity to chat with Chase Jarvis late last year about creativeLIVE, and you can read that piece over at The Next Web. But this time around I spoke with Mika Salmi, CEO of creativeLIVE, who is incredibly excited about what has brought the company to where they are today – and where it is taking them in the future.

“Since you last spoke with Chase, we’ve gone from about 30 employees to 70, viewers have watched over one million live hours of creativeLIVE sessions, and we’ve been able to run two streams simultaneously from our Seattle studios,” explained Salmi. He went on to say that with this two day event – called “Secrets from Silicon Valley” – that creativeLIVE would be running three streams simultaneously this time around.

Salmi says that creativeLIVE has always been focusing on three critical components of the educational experiences it offers:

  • It offers an engaging live experience;
  • It works with top experts in their field to faciliate the sessions;
  • It makes these sessions as accessible as possible to as many as possible, primarily with the free component.

If you’ve got time over the next two days to tune in, I strongly suggest you do so. With topics being covered like Gary Swart speaking on How to Get More Done, Chris Guillebeau talking about The $100 StartUp, and Pamela Slim discussing How to Quickly Move from Idea to Action, this is going to be one great event that you won’t want to miss. Head to http://creativeLIVE.com/live and check out how “the world’s largest live video education platform” is helping people from all over the globe do better.

The Thing About Focus

Who is this for? Those who are worried about keeping focused on the right things versus the wrong things.

We’ve been pretty silent here at Workflowing for the past week and a bit.

Schechter and I have both been traveling, and with plenty on our plates before and after said travel, our focus has been split … somewhat. The reason I consider it “split … somewhat” is because we had an inkling this would happen. We knew that when we started develping Workflowing in public that in its early stages there would be other things we’d committed to that would keep our focus elsewhere for periods of time.

And we were okay with that. Why? Because in order to have focus, you need to accept that you will have to put things aside.

That doesn’t mean you can let things slide – especially if the expectation is that you’ll give those things some of your focus. For example, I had writing assignments that I couldn’t let slide – as outlined in a post earlier this week on Productivityist – but I prepared accordingly so that I could give those assignments the focus they deserved when I could afford to give them that focus. The result was that I delivered as promised and no one was let down in the process.

By being up front about how this site was a “work in progress” (so to speak) and then taking that one step further and broadcasting that on Twitter, we gave this site the focus it needed before we shifted focus to the other things we needed to focus on. So we didn’t really split our focus at all. We shifted it – and we did so accordingly.

This week on Mikes on Mics we talked with Julien Smith, who recently unveiled what his new company, Breather, was all about. During the discussion, we talked about “zooming in” and “zooming out”, and Julien makes a point of saying how he couldn’t focus on being a founder of a brand new venture if he was focused on being a best-selling author at the same time. Making that distinction – and that decision – is going to have a huge impact on the effectiveness of your workflow. Admitting that you can’t be everywhere all the time despite having access to everywhere most of the time is huge.

We did that over the past couple of weeks – and we’ll do that again. Maybe not in the same way, but we’ll still do it so that we can shift our focus rather than split our focus.

Did we have the tools to do this with us? You bet. Would it have been done well? No. Neither would the other things we had to do. Going forward we’ll need to figure out what happens when neither one of us can be here to man the ship because clearly it will happen. As I mentioned in an exchange over on App.net with Kevin Rothermel, while the Internet is everywhere, our focus can’t be.

The takeaway here is that it is perfectly fine to pay attention to what needs attention rather than all that needs attention. That’s how good work becomes great work – which is the kind of work we all should be striving to do.

The Front End Work

Who is this for? Those who don’t completely buy into the idea of setting up a workflow for enhanced productivity.

There’s always a challenge in getting people to escape their email inboxes or go beyond their to-do lists (hat tip: Erik Fisher), but it’s a challenge that is worth tackling because establishing a larger framework is essential to improving overall productivity. Essentially, that larger framework is a workflow – a framework that can also consist of smaller workflows if desired. Right now, the desire should simply be to establish the first framework – the bigger one – so that you can ultimately be more productive because that initial sell is the hardest.

Why?

Because no one really wants to do what I call the “front end work”.

The front end work doesn’t offer any instant gratification. In fact, it delays the gratification you’d get by simply crossing items off of your to-do list. The front end work is difficult. It’s a tough slog and it involves a lot of of setting up a system to help manage your work rather than tearing down each bit of work as you no longer need to do it. The front end work is a project unto itself, and it’s the most important project you can take on because it can will lead to greater successes with future projects – whether that seems immediately apparent or not.

The front end work comes first.

Instead of writing down a simple to-do list today, write down what you need to have in place to make sure your to-do list holds more meaning and depth. Whether you intend to use analog or digital products as part of your workflow, set them up first so they can be the foundation that you can gather your projects and tasks in. Don’t overdo it. Make it simple so it doesn’t seem so difficult to set up and implement.

Do the front end work now, and you’ll be able to get a whole lot more done later.

Note: Workflowing is building a set of resources that will help you with this front end work. As with anything, those resources will change and grow. We’ll keep it updated regularly, because we want to help you set things up for yourself so that you don’t get upset with yourself when things don’t get done as well as you know you can do them.

The Evolution of Email

Who is this for? Those looking to see where email is — and email applications are — really headed.

Email is changing, and I’m happy about that because it certainly needs to change.

Look at the apps we’re seeing hitting the landscape:

All of these apps are asking you to treat email differently. Some are asking you to foster relationship with those you communicate with via the platform, humanizing email more in the process (Cloze falls into this category) while others are trying to legitimately morph the platform into a task management utility (nearly all of the others I’ve mentioned above).

Apps like Asana, Flow, and IQTell are also bringing communication into their apps so that you can steer clear of the seemingly inescapable email inbox and focus on “the real work” instead. They’ve taken the idea of electronic communication and are finding a way to make it work within their own platforms rather than trying to merge the idea of a task management app and an email app into a whole new type of app (which I would call an “email management” app). Honestly, Cloze is the only one of the apps that covers all communication bases rather than just email, which means it becomes a communication inbox rather than an email inbox. I like that idea, but it’s a hard one to get used to.

Why?

Because Cloze doesn’t have the same functionality (yet) of apps like Outlook, Mail.app, Gmail, Postbox, and so on. That is a barrier to entry for a lot of people to use Cloze consistently – myself included.

It seems to me that people either want to be able to do everything within heir email app (in other words, have an email management app) or steer clear of it as much as possible. I’m a fan of the latter, but I am not blind to the appeal of the former. The learning curve may not be much different (especially since you may have to learn a whole new app for email management), but the idea of having two places to manage your “stuff” – and email application and a a task management application – is a challenging thing for me to sell – and for many to buy into.

So … what’s the real evolution?

No matter what way you decide to go, the answer is that you must deal with email as it is checked. It can’t stay in your inbox. It needs to go somewhere – and that means you perform the action associated with it, store it for later, forward it to someone else, or delete it. That’s it. Once you start treating email that way, then it doesn’t matter what you use because you will be treating your email better. By doing that, you’re treating others, your work, and yourself better.

That means the evolution isn’t the apps you have … but the approach you take.

Book Review – Workflow: Beyond Productivity

Who is it for? Those looking to take a deep dive into the concepts of productivity, workflow, creativity and mastery that goes far beyond the “how to”.

Kourosh Dini has already written an incredibly useful – if not the most useful – ebook on the popular task management application, OmniFocus, with Using OmniFocus. His latest work, Workflow: Beyond Productivity is very different, and will be increidbly useful to perhaps a very different audience. It dives deep into the realm of workflow and indeed goes well beyond productivity, compelling the reader to really spend some time thinking, fostering, and mastering their own workflow.

The book clocks in at over 500 pages, so it is isn’t a quick read. Nor is it meant to be. This kind of work is something you need to dwell on as a reader, digesting it slowly. Dini calls it an “eTextbook” and that’s an apt description.

The text is composed of five “books”, each of which focuses on a particular element of workflow:

  1. Book One discusses intention and organization. This book is almost like a prologue in that it prepares you for what’s to come by putting you in the right state of mind.
  2. Book Two is where the rubber begins to really meet the road as Dini writes about stations, habits, and sessions. This is where you’ll learn how to start developing the muscles needed to enhance and embrace your ability to develop a solid workflow.
  3. Book Three is all about silence, agency, and decisions. I found that this was the book that asked the reader to work on understanding and developing the idea of mindfulness when dealing with both work – and play.
  4. Book Four focuses on mastery and magic. Once you make it to this point, you’ll start to notice an “a-ha” moment has the propensity to occur. It’s almost as if Dini guides you through all of the ’“front-end work” of productivity to get you to this portion, where workflow mastery – and the magic that comes with it – really starts to kick in.
  5. Book Five is an excellent end point, as it discusses communication, meaning, and action. I found this to be the book where awareness and mindfulness were at the forefront, especially considering that every other phase of workflow had been explored and dissected.

There is more to this book than just the sheer amount of depth, breadth, and care that went into the text. Workflow: Beyond Productivity also comes with flash cards (something I’ve not encountered in this platform before) that allow the reader to review definitions of terms and questions that are asked throughout the work so they can achieve a deeper understanding of them – which will assist in their journey to mastering workflow. There is also accompanying video, which can be used in conjunction with the music section of the text (and most certainly should be to get the most out of that section).

Let me be clear: this isn’t a book that will be for everyone. It’s not only a “how to” book but it is very much a “why to” book as well. I have found that having both elements equally explored can really take your work and life to new heights, and Dini has gone further and deeper with Workflow: Beyond Productivity than I’ve ever read in one collection. It’s an academic work, and it’s something you’ll spend time “studying” more so than simply “reading”, and it is priced as such.

Workflow: Beyond Productivity is a master class in workflow that, as indicated, goes well beyond productivity. I recommend it highly and suggest you buy this DRM-free eTextbook (and its companion materials) for the introductory price of $29.95 through the end of May (click here to purchase). It is one of those rare works that will truly help you in the quest to stop doing things and start doing the right things.