Tag Archives: management

Getting Things Done, Remember the Milk, and First Things First

I regularly use an app called Remember the Milk. Remember the Milk is a to-do list that syncs across my computer and smart phone. It has multiple lists so that I can categorize things a little bit. It has priorities so that I can sort things according to near-term and far term. It does due dates. It does notes. It saves URLs. It’s a pretty comprehensive little app.

Remember the Milk is my “bucket” for the Getting Things Done method. David Allen suggested in Getting Things Done  that he needed to have some trusted, central location to put to-do items. By having such a trusted place to put all his to-do’s, he could put them out of his mind and focus on doing something. Trying to keep track of all the things he was afraid of forgetting in his head made him almost crazy. He calls this trusted to-do list his “bucket.”

I try to do the same. When I’m reading email or working on a project, I look for to-do’s. Even cleaning the house brings up to-do’s (like buying soap or ordering vacuum bags). Trying to hold those in my head would drive me crazy. My head is full. Instead, they all go in the app. If I have an idea for a blog, it goes in the app. If I remember that I need to change the oil in the car, it goes in the app. Then they get sorted out later.

How do I sort them? I find that Covey’s First Things First method is most appropriate for me. He divides things according to importance and urgency. Things that are important-and-urgent are Quadrant I. Things that are important-but-not-urgent are Quadrant II. The non-important are divided into Quadrants III and IV accordingly.

2016-11-16 05_39_59-Krita.png

Everything goes in the bucket. The bucket get sorted into the quadrants. The to-do’s get done immediately, go on the calendar (if there’s a due date) or go on the scrum board (if they are Q2 – important but have no due date). Some things get thrown away. The shorter the list, the happier I am.

6 Month Review of the Scrum Method

The Allen Lab has using the Scrum method for 6 months. It is been remarkably productive. With two graduate students and three undergrads, we produced the data for two papers. One paper was submitted and provisionally accepted. The other is in preparation. We also produced a grant application.

The Allen Lab Scrum BoradThe Allen Lab Scrum Board

I give a lot of the credit for this to the Scrum method. I am new to lab management. My graduate students are very young and my undergraduates are just getting started. They have done amazingly and deserve the rest of the credit. I was not as productive in graduate school or in my postdoctoral work. I produced one paper per year (which is not bad) but this has been eye-opening.

It’s actually very difficult not to try to “convert” people. I feel almost like Scrum is a religion or something. I keep thinking about promoting this to other people in the department. I really don’t think that’s appropriate, so I keep my mouth shut. I’m the new kid and I am not a management consultant by any means. Every lab is different. I recognize all of this. Even so, I rather wish that I had trained in Scrum when I was a graduate student.

Maybe it would not have made much of a difference: there wasn’t a lot of “team science” when I was in graduate school. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or not. Maybe graduate students need more practice in team management. On the other hand, maybe it’s better to learn to do everything yourself. I don’t have a good answer for that, but I know what’s productive in my lab.

From Chandler to Sunbird, Goosync and my Nokia

Some time back I posted a little review of my experience with Chandler and the Getting Things Done. I liked Chandler, but it ended up being a bit slow for my old PC. I found the Lightning add on for Thunderbird, which is an implementation of Sunbird, the Mozilla calendar. After having some installation problems with Lightning under Ubuntu, I went full Sunbird and I have not looked back. It stands alone, integrates seamlessly with Google Calendar, it seems to have very little overhead. It has alarms that beep at me when I have meetings and it has a Task List that works really well for a GTD workflow.

Hard Landscape Items go in the Calendar. Tasks get added to the Task list. Subordinate task get added to the “notes” section under the current Task. I only see the 5 Next tasks for my 5 projects. The backlog of 25 other tasks that will come up later are not visible until I move them up. I like that because it makes me feel less overwhelmed by choice.

I had a problem before with my uncommon Nokia phone. There is not a super-easy to sync my phone’s calendar with my Sunbird calendar. Enter Goosync. Goosync is a paid service that (for a very small yearly fee) syncs my phone’s calendar with my Nokia calendar. My Nokia was a bit of a pain to set up, but it’s on a pay-as-you-go service and it wasn’t easy to get the data service to work. So if you have data access with your plan, I expect that Goosync can make life easy. So now my phone beeps along with my computer. Perfect. I need all the help I can get.


Gumption traps and how to get motivated, part 2: Exercise

Exercise is a major way I stay motivated. When I was in high school I ran with the cross country team. When I was younger than that, I ran with my Dad. All told, including the intermittent months off, I imagine I’ve run an average of about 6 miles a week since 1995. Fitness guru? Maintaining my appeal for for my girlfriend? Well, that is an issue… but self motivation is important, too. During the weeks when I run, I feel like I’m more awake. On a day that I run, no matter what else happens, I have one string positive in the accounting of the day.
Of course, if you’re having trouble motivating yourself, it will be hard to motivate yourself to run. But as step 1 to a higher ‘energy level,’ you could do a lot worse than a 20 minute jog… or a walk for that matter.

Have a look around for some good shoes. I happen to like Saucony shoes for my wide feet.

Other than that, just make it part of your routine. Substitute walking to the grocery store form time to time. Carrying two bags for a mile is a nice little workout.


Sam Harris, reason, the common agenda, discussion of Deep Topics

Sam Harris gave a speech to the American Athiest Alliance about how he doesn’t think atheists should identify themselves as such.He wants atheists to be champions of reason, maybe, but campaigners against belief?No.He makes an interesting case. I think the video would be interesting for any person who thinks about these things. Sam Harris, by the way, wrote The End of FaithOne of Sam Harris' books and Letter to a Christian NationOne of Sam Harris' books, of which I have read neither.

There are some really subtle issues here that surround the contention that atheism constitutes just another religion.The idea is this: there are a lot of people who identify themselves as atheists, and they have a social agenda based on their stated and committed belief.Based on this, they form a de facto religion.The fact that the core belief of this “religion” is that there is no god is somewhat irrelevant; if the group of people take up the structure of a religion, so the theory goes, so it should count as one.

I can see the logic in that argument, but most atheists I know are not that kind of atheist.They don’t belong to an atheist club and they don’t see themselves as ascribing to an external social agenda.They don’t commit themselves to the belief that there is not a god; they simply don’t care.It might be better called Apatheism (apathy-ism). That’s different again from agnosticism, which holds that the issue might be important, but we just don’t have an answer.

Apatheism can’t be called a religion in the same way that the American Athiest Alliance can be called a religion, even in the superficial sense.The point is that, on the whole, the agenda of thinking, caring people is not served by anyone representing themselves as anti-religion. For people who care to talk about these issues like truth and morality (the non-apatheists) the common ground is the desire for reason and understanding what is going on.Those desires are served by people being kind and reasonable to each other.

And when it comes to intellectual pursuits, intellectual honesty and integrity are things upon which people of any creed may insist.Even people without any other creed can insist on intellectual honesty and integrity.And that’s enough to accomplish our shared agenda.Nobody needs to insist on anybody giving up a belief as long as it is either (1) held up to standards of reason, or (2) held only as a private conviction and not as a social standard.

Reason is the cornerstone of a civil social space for a diversity of opinion and perspective.The Big Upshot is that I am not going to insist that people agree, but in the interest of a discussion I insist only that they be reasonable – that is that the views that they contend that I should also hold must be internally consistent and consistent with the observations of the world which we can all share.And even then, I certainly acknowledge silence as another option.

Thanks for reading.