Seth Godin’s list of zoom and skype call tips – plus

Seth Godin just put out a list of tips for when you are on web conference calls. It’s a great list. I read everything he posts. But I think the simple guidance should have been “either attend the meeting or don’t.” If the meeting is worth your time and you can learn from it or contribute to it – be invested in it. Fully invested in it. Or don’t attend. That’s a good rule for face-to-face or remote meetings. So, my list would be:

  • Is this meeting worth your time? If so, block off time for the meeting and don’t try to multitask. Most of the time you aren’t multitasking, instead you are task switching and most humans don’t do it very well, honestly.
  • If you need to attend remotely via a web conference, use video whenever and wherever possible. Visual cues are very important in communication. Invest in a good camera.
  • And use a good headset or use the most soundproof room you can find.

Seth Godin’s list is still great and applicable. So maybe my list is more of a pre-call checklist? First determine if the meeting is worth your time and then actually invest it (and then apply Seth’s list of tips).

Link to Seth Godin’s post:


My most used iPhone and iPad Apps in 2013

Ok, it’s the end of another year (wow, 2013 went by fast!), so it’s time for another look at what apps I actually used during the year. There are a ton of apps available and new ones are coming out all the time. Honestly I think I have app exhaustion. I just upgraded my iPhone and during the upgrade I took advantage of it to not bring all the apps I had before over to the new phone. Simplify my life a little.

I won’t say these are the best apps or even the coolest apps out there, but they are the apps I use almost everyday. For the iPhone:

  • Evernote – Still my number one app. Evernote is a note taking app that sync’s notes between my laptop, iPhone and iPad. If you do not have it go get it now.
  • Google Search – love the voice search mode, much better than Siri
  • Googe Maps – was using the mobile browser version, but now they have a nice app
  • Google Authenticator – please tell me you have 2-factor security turned on for your gmail
  • Google Chrome – much better browser and it links up to my browser on my laptop
  • Waze – free navigation tool, but I can say on my last few trips during the holidays Waze had issues connecting to it’s routing server so I ended up just using Google Maps. I missed out on the police notifications, but at least Google Maps worked.
  • TripIt – can’t be beat when traveling
  • Kindle – don’t like reading on my phone, but works great on my iPad
  • Dropbox – online storage
  • Box – online storage
  • Skype – I have a remote team so Skype is essential for communication. With DC traffic I end up running late sometimes so I can just open up Skype and dial in (hands free of course) to the Skype call from my phone. I have learned it is better to have someone else start the call when I do this, just in case I drop the call.
  • Keynote, Pages, and Numbers – I hate working on my iPhone, but I can and have in a pinch. Keynote, Pages and Numbers work well and I love them on my iPad and MacBook Pro.
  • Twitter – cause sometimes you just have to share and Facebook keeps changing their privacy policies (I do not even have the Facebook app on my phone).
  • Reminders and Calendar – these are the applications that are native to iOS. I was using apps for this functionality, but Apple has caught up and the native apps they provide more than meet my needs now.
  • Rdio – I have all my music in the cloud (Amazon, Google and iTunes Match) but I still find Rdio handy for music I don’t own and I have been using it more than the iOS Music app lately.

And here are the apps I find I use the most on my iPad at work:

  • Keynote – Apple’s version of PowerPoint
  • Numbers – Apple’s version of Excel
  • Pages – Apple’s version of Word
  • Evernote – note taking app that sync’s notes between my laptop, iPhone and iPad. Again, go get it now if you don’t have it!
  • Skype – IM and web calls
  • Adobe Connect, joinme, and Fuze – online meetings for when we need to screen share
  • Google Search – love the voice search mode, much better than Siri
  • Google Chrome – much better browser and it links up to my browser on my laptop
  • Kindle – I love the feel of a real book, but this way I always have my ebooks with me
  • Dropbox – online storage
  • Box – online storage
  • Feedly – news reader
  • BBC News – for news of course

And on my Mac I find I use:

  • Evernote – sync’s note between all my laptops, my iPad, and iPhone (also works with droid)
  • Google Chrome – best browser out there still
  • Caffeine – let’s me turn off the auto sleep mode when I am giving a presentation
  • Window Tidy – allows me to have screens side by side in an easy quick way. Honestly I haven’t used it much this year…
  • Pocket – allows me to save articles I find to read later
  • Skype – with our distributed team at work we are on Skype all day every day for IM and calls
  • Box and Dropbox – again
  • ClamXav – antivirus for Mac
  • And I find I am actually using the native iOS Calendar and Reminder apps on my MacBook Pro now.
  • Oh, you are using Grab (in the utilities folder under applications)for capturing screen shots, right?

If the apps I use aren’t what you are looking for you can find the Apple Design Award winners from WWDC2013 at (and I agree Letterpress is addictive).  And Apple has their best of 2013 up on the iTunes store now.

Hope the list is helpful. Happy New Year!

Asana – the future of team project work?

I recently discovered Asana. On their web site they say “We’re building the modern way to work together, a fast and versatile web application that connects everyone with what’s going on, their shared priorities, and who owns each part of the effort.

My one sentence summation is Asana is a revved up web based task list for teams. It’s simpler, but it also seems cleaner, than the 37signals Basecamp product. And you know I am a big fan of Basecamp.

Asana is fast and easy to use and anyone that can browse the web should be able to use Asana. Asana has made it very easy to create a work space then create projects under that work space. Under projects you create tasks. You can assign tasks to individuals (even if they haven’t signed up for Asana yet), assign due dates, attach files, assign followers of that task, and add notes. Assigned team members or followers can add comments to a task. And you can easily see the history of the task. You can create new tasks via email and the keyboard short cuts are a great time saver.

Asana also has apps for iOS and Android. I am using the iOS app on my iPhone and iPad and the apps give you all the functionality of the web based version.

I am using the standard (free) version of Asana which allows up to 30 members. For $100 a month you can upgrade to a premium workspace for up to 30 members that has project level features and priority support. For $300 a month you can have up to 50 member, $550 allows up to 75 members, and $800 a month allows up to 100 members.

Asana is missing some of the features of more mature products – you can’t assign a milestone date to a project (you may be able to do this with a paid plan?), you can’t see all late tasks for a project (you can see late tasks by person), no association of tasks to each other (IE predecessors), no threading of notes, no way to see all attached files across a workspace, etc.

And of course the big weakness of Asana, and honestly all project task lists, is you have to 1) put in all the tasks and then 2) maintain it. The tasks have to be actionable, but you don’t want to overwhelm the team members with minutia. Also, the team members have to agree to participate. A task list that never gets up dated isn’t helping the team get the project done. That was one of my biggest issues with Basecamp – getting all team members to consistently mark off the tasks they had done. Even with reminder emails, I ended up having to go over the tasks in our team meetings. With Basecamp, and I’m sure with Asana, it was quick and easy to walk through the open tasks, but still it wasted time in a meeting instead of freeing up that time to do “real” work.

Asana is cool, and they are getting a ton of buzz right now, but they are trying to break into a pretty crowded space. There are many other completing tools out there (Basecamp, Producteev, Zoho, Jira, even MS Project, etc). But if you are working on a team project with less than 30 members and want to improve your efficiency and communication I say try out the free version. There is very little to loose and maybe a lot to gain.


And, for my own personal task list, I still love Omnifocus.

I saw your email, but I didn’t read it.

That is a real quote someone had the nerve to say to me: “I saw your email, but I didn’t read it.” And this was while I was doing them the favor!
I tried to respect this persons time, so I had sat down before our meeting and wrote up a list of everything that needed to be done before our meeting to make us as efficient as possible.   I even put in details on what we would be doing and tried to answer questions and concerns I thought that might come up.  Then in the first 5 minutes of the meeting it became clear that the person hadn’t read my email.  Then he just fessed up with a “I saw your email, but I didn’t read it.”
Guess I have to respect the honesty, but needless to say our meeting took much longer than it needed to.  And I don’t know how many other “favors” I’ll do for him in the future.
Please don’t be that guy.

Ready, Aim, Fire!

I wrote my last post about project management. How you should know what your targets (due dates and milestones) are before you start firing (start development).  But the same is true in business too.

How often are decisions made focused on the now, the immediate need? It may fix what is broken, or at least the visible symptoms, but does the solution fit into the larger picture?  Will it cause other issues later?

Many times, in this tight economy, this is driven by a perceived lack of resources, but as I have posted before (in my review of Rework) when resources are scarce is the time when you need to be more creative. Not enough money to keep up your MS Exchange infrastructure?  Dump it and move to Google Apps email (Enterprise level email).  Not enough money to expand you SAN for network drives for your users?  External hard drives are cheap now.  Not enough money for your DR plan for your production site?  Move test and staging to a different location and make that your hot swap (just make sure you built the infrastructure properly).

Sometimes a disjointed strategy, or one that not all the leaders have bought into, can also cause decisions to be made that are fine for the silo’ed department, but maybe isn’t the best decision for the entire company.  I have to believe that those VPs really do think they are making the best decision for the company.  I hope it isn’t just ego getting in the way.

And, it could just be the company has grown so big, or is spread out in multiple locations that it becomes real difficult to make the “right” decision that works for the entire company.  And finally, I will admit in certain cases there isn’t one “right” decision. Sometimes you have to pick the lesser of two not super solutions and make it work.

But in general, when making large IT purchases or fixing broken business processes it is so much better for the company long term to take the time to make the right decision now.  It isn’t easy to do the leg work and do the research.  It isn’t easy to get agreement across departments.  It isn’t easy to sacrifice your political capital.  But it is so much better than creating new problems for yourself because you didn’t do the work. And it is so much better than having to un-do it later and then put in the right (better) solution.

Ready, FIRE, Aim, aim, aim…

How many times have you seen a project fall off the rails because there wasn’t a real documented plan?  Everyone on the team knew what they had to do, the assignment was clear, but the PM hadn’t put together a good project plan.  No milestones were documented, due dates were not firm (except the final due date at the end), and time wasn’t allowed for internal review. How often is QA skipped because there isn’t enough time? It’s the ready…, Go!, ok change, ok change, ok change mentality…

I know some people look at Work Breakout Structures (WBS) with disdain, but to me you have to be able to see the whole task, with all the intermediate due dates and milestones to know how long you really have to get the work done.  Without a WBS how do you know if you are on track? With a WBS you can just look at the date and the tasks being worked at that time and it is pretty easy to see if you are on time or not. Without a WBS how do you know if something slips early in the project how that effects other later tasks?  What is dependent on that task?
The other benefit of a WBS is if you have resources and days assigned you can easily see who is over booked, who is not fully booked, and maybe balance out the work load a little. Before you kill someone with too much work!  🙂
Finally, the biggie to me is, with a WBS it is real easy to show a client what a change request does to the schedule.  It not just “we can slip this in, it shouldn’t be a big deal.”  Without a WBS you can talk about it, but that doesn’t mean much.  With a WBS you can actually show the real impact.  So much harder to argue magic (magic in this case = this little task takes up no time at all) when you have real numbers and dates in front of you…
So remember the order should be Ready, Aim, FIRE!  You are much more likely to hit your target (due date).
Some of the tools I have used to create WBS:

Should I even be doing this?

Everyone I know is too busy.  Work is crazy!  Too much to do and not enough time.  Heck, that is true for life in general now!

The question (that I don’t ask myself enough) to ask is “Should I even be doing this?”
Why am I doing this task in the first place?  Am I doing this because it is a habit now? Or, the last person in this job did it?
Who is consuming the output of the effort?  Do they derive a value equal or greater then the effort that goes into doing the task?  Or does it end up an unread email in someone’s inbox?
Is there someone better suited to do this?  Either better skilled? Or at a more appropriate pay grade (up or down)?
Can I make it more efficient?  Am I attending a regularly scheduled weekly hour long meeting? That is 50 + hours a year!  Can you honestly answer the question of “what is the value you bring to yourself, your team, or to the meeting?” Do you like the answer?  If not, why are you going?  Can you just stop going?  Will anyone notice?
Ok, maybe you can’t just stop going…  But is there an agenda?  I bet there isn’t.  Can you ask the leader to create one from now on?  Can you attend just part of the time? Or actually, do everyone a favor – is there a way to make the meeting only 30 minutes?  I have learned that meetings expand to fit the time allotted.  Allot less time!  Can you do the meeting in 15 minutes? How about 10?
I have said it before – email isn’t work.  Turn off your email client and get real work done!  You might be surprised at how much you can do when you aren’t distracted!  Try checking email just on scheduled intervals – maybe first thing in the morning, lunch, mid-afternoon and then right before you leave.  Instead of spending half your day on email, you are now only spending 30 minutes to an hour a day.  You just gained 2 – 3 hours!
Do you have an agenda of what you want to accomplish each day?  You are pretty much guaranteed not to get it done if you haven’t thought through what it is you need to accomplish.  It is easy to spend your day in endless meetings and checking email if you don’t have a clear picture of what you really need to accomplish.
So next time you think you are just too busy and it is impossible to do all the work you have, ask yourself “Should I even be doing this?”
Helpful external links:

Does your company have too many people paid to say “No?”

Does your company have too many people paid to say “No?”

Is it harder then it should be to get simple things done?  Have employees been trained that it is impossible (or at least hard) to make change or to improve things so they have given up (think most Federal Government jobs)?  Talk about killing innovation!  When it is hard to even get your job done and to make incremental change, why would anyone be crazy enough to try to innovate?
Some companies just seem to slide into a culture of No.   “No” is safe.  It is easy to say “No, you can’t do that. Convince me why we should.”  They exert their power.  They may even get patted on the back for saving the company money (at least in the short term).  Good thing you shut down that crazy idea.
Soon everyone becomes a road block. The company is able to cut short term expenditures, but there is no growth.  Even if the leadership talks about grand vision and goals, if they don’t change the culture of No it will never happen. That vision will be killed by 100 little No’s from everyone “just doing their job.”  Then management will wonder why that grand idea didn’t come to fruition. Must have been a failing on how it was implemented, right?

Maybe it’s time to convert some of those “No” people into “How can we do that?” people?

Mind map follow up

I've had a few people say they needed more direction on how to make mind maps.  Where do you start?  

First off let me say, you can't do it wrong.  How you use a mind map, as long as it works for you, is perfectly ok. I suggest just jumping in and start using mind maps.  I found the way I used mind maps changed as I used them over time.  I find now that most of my personal maps are pretty plain jane, very little color, few links, and I rarely use groupings, just straight boring mind map. But I do use color to make sure I see important items or points (or things I need to follow up on). I only use links when I have to.  And I use groupings only when I need to group really close ideas to each other that are in separate topics (and normally then only when I am going to share the map with other people).  But I know other people use color, links, groupings, images, etc.  Your choice.

I use mind maps for everything I use to write on paper. Since I have a mind map tool on my laptop and on my Droid (even on my iTouch) I don't carry paper anymore, everything is electronic. Meeting notes, projects, research, brainstorming, you name it it is in a mind map! 

I have attached a couple of examples, if they help you please feel free to use them.

Some other great resources:

Click here to download: (2 KB)

Mind Maps (or taking notes like your mind thinks)

In Grad school my classmate, Fish, turned me onto mind mapping.  I don't know if I would have made it through school without it. It really helped me organize my notes in a way it was easy to review and absorb, if that makes sense?  Finally I was now able to take notes closer to how I actually thought. And studies have show that mind mapping increases learning / study efficiency up to 15% over conventional note taking (1).  Since then I have been using mind maps at work and any other time I need to take notes or brainstorm.  

Mind maps are a way to group your notes into organized lists, well really clusters (see the image for an example).  It is not a simple list, you have nodes of ideas with a main idea or keyword in the center then you are able to link other thoughts around that central word. Then you can add concepts and thoughts around those new ideas. And on and on.  Most mind mapping tools allow you to move these ideas around and color code and group them. 

I also use mind maps when brainstorming, think of the ideation method of using sticky notes on the wall during brainstorming process, but now you can do the same thing on your laptop. It allows you to see connections, concepts and themes that you might not have seen in a prioritized list. It's more visual. 

I know other people use mind maps for other things too – Problem solving, prioritization, non-linear lists, etc. 

Some Mindmap tools I have used include:

FreeMind (good tool if you are just starting out and it's FREE!)
MindJet (great tool! and it has spell check, which I need, but kind of expensive, but you get what you pay for, right?)
Thinking Space (so I can do mindmaps on my Google Android Motorola Droid and they have cloud capabilities to allow you to move them from your laptop to your phone, very nice!)
XMind (my new favorite Mind Mapping tool and much cheaper than MindJet)
Personal Brain (works slightly differently than the other mind map tools I have used, don't know if I like it yet) (online mind mapping software and allows you to convert from one MM software extension to another)

1) Farrand, Paul; Hussain, Fearzana and Hennessy, Enid (May 2002). "The efficacy of the 'mind map' study technique". Medical Education 36 (5): 426–431.

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