Saturday, March 29, 2008

Going Dark… Wise Vacation Tips

Brad Feld posts a blog of what I consider to be a good idea, and something I will be employing very soon.

His 5 categories of vacation:

  1. Spend Time Away: This is a complete disconnect for at least a week. I have been doing this four times a year since 2000 and view this as a key part of my existence on this planet. It gives me a week to catch my breath, rest, spend time with Amy, explore new things, and clear my brain. I've felt completely invigorated every time I've returned from spending time away.

  2. Go Dark Weekend: When I find myself feeling burned out, I do a go dark weekend. I turn off my computer and cell phone at 6pm on Friday night and don't turn it back on until 5am Monday morning. I cancel anything that is scheduled for the weekend and just do whatever I feel like doing. This is usually a once a quarter event; occasionally more frequently depending on how busy I am. I'm considering doing this around each of my marathon weekends also.

  3. Excursion: This is what Fred was just on. It's a vacation to a neat new place with your immediate family and possibly some friends, but there is still structured work time. In Fred's case, he scheduled 90 minutes early in the morning for calls and tried to be disciplined about only checking his blackberry during "down time." I was in Scottsdale at the Phoenician from last Friday until Tuesday for my dad's 70th birthday - I'd put this in the same category. I spent lots of time hanging out with my family, running, playing tennis, eating, and sleeping late, but I kept on top of my email, had a few scheduled calls, and was available for important things that came up.

  4. Downshift: This is what I'm currently on. Amy and I are at our place in Keystone for a 10 day stretch. We've got plenty of friends coming and going so there's lots of social time. I've got a chunk of phone calls scheduled each day (10am to noon) but no board meetings, no in person meetings, and lots of random thinking / reading / chilling out time. I'm completely available for important things, but I'm not initiating anything substantive this week.

  5. Visit: We all know this one - it's the infamous family trip where you go visit your parents / relatives or they come visit you. It's a key part of life, but you often return more tired then when you departed.

Where's your mindat?

Friday, March 21, 2008

Jack Sass Radio

If you haven't checked out Jack Sass radio, then you haven't lived. Not only is it a kickass internet, open-format radio station with live musicians, comedians and even a Chick McGee look-a-like (a la Matt Mitchell) – it has beer. Lots and lots of beer!

Subscribe to Jack's daily podcast thru RSS and visit for the live show schedule (every Tuesday and Thursday night 7-9PM Central).

Recent and Upcoming Guests:

February 26th, 7-9 PM - Jason Witt
February 28th, 7-9 PM - Henry Pile
March 4th - 7-9 PM - Chris Nathan
March 6th - 7-9 PM - Donna Frost
March 11th - 7 – 9 PM - On Tracy Lane
March 13th - 7-9 PM - Sawyer Davis
March 18th -7-9 PM - Uberphonics
March 20th - 7-9 PM - Rodeo Pony
March 25th - 7-9 PM - Multiple Comedians
March 27th - 7-9 PM - Mellow Down n Easy



A week on a volcano… coming up!

My wife and I have a work sponsored trip to Maui coming up in May. We went on one back in 2005 to Nevis / St. Kitts. It kicked ass. 5 Stars all the way.

I'm excited because this time around some of my best friends and co-workers also won the trip and will be making the journey with us.

We will be staying at the FOUR SEASONS in Maui. Here is our itinerary, so far.

Saturday – Fly in

Sunday – Team building event

Monday – Waterfall hike

Tuesday – Spa Massage

Wednesday – Rafting around the island

Thursday – Open time

Friday – Fly out

It is pretty structured but there is lots of free time too. We have a Jeep rented for the week… my question is, what should we do or see while we are out there?


Clear Context: The Killer Apps' killer app?

For several months I had been playing with Visual Basic scripts, teaching myself on the fly as I came across something that I wanted Outlook to do for my GTD system. I had created several custom buttons such as FILE TO REFERENCE, TASK FROM ITEM, FOLLOWUP TASK, and Category tasks for my top customers. When suddenly I stumbled across – I say suddenly because I had repeatedly been reading about this wonderful Outlook add-in program in my Google Reader, but never made the connection to what it was doing.

I’m about 3 weeks into my 30 day trial of ClearContext IMS (Information Management System) and I have to admit that I am digging it so far. I’ve been using my hybrid version of GTD and TWC (Total Workday Control) over the last 3+ years. With a few minor tweaks to my habits, I was up and running.

Here is what I am digging, and what I would improve for future releases.

DEFER: I love pushing something off, purposely, for a period of time. I am pretty hardcore about having my inbox clear once a message has been read, so this gives me a chance to defer items that I don’t want to take action on right now.

Future Idea: I tend to defer items to specific times repeatedly, usually 8am tomorrow, 1pm this afternoon or 4pm today. But the interface for doing that can be cumbersome since it defaults to tomorrow by default. What about an option that lets you set favorite times that can be chosen with a mouse click? Wow – instant time saver!

DELEGATE / FOLLOW-UP: Most people I know do not use the task pad, or do not use it effectively. So when delegating a task to somebody on my team thru task pad, it is most assuredly lost or forgotten. In fact, I have received completion emails for tasks that were assigned years ago, because that person was just getting around to reviewing and cleaning up their Outlook. Delegate to the rescue! By just clicking the DELEGATE button I can send an email, and create a task in my Waiting For bucket and be confidant that my task is landing in their inbox and won’t disappear with the click of the ACCEPT button.

TOPICS: I wasn’t sure how I was going to use this at first. For quite some time I had been using the TWC method using a Reference folder that was sorted by categories thus allowing everything to be dumped into one place. That was great for simplicity – it was a no-brainer and Outlook rules could handle the tagging of most of the categories for me. I liked that I could have multiple categories for one email, effectively duplicating it in several spots. There were very few drawbacks to this method.

When I was introduced to TOPICS in Clear Context, I was a little hesitant to throw away something that was effectively working for me up to this point. But then I said, what the hell – I tweak everything – let’s give her a go. I work in sales with a set of accounts that doesn’t really change so each customer account got one folder and then a “.Reference” folder for everything archived that isn’t tied to a customer account. I have found that it is just as good as the TWC method of one folder tagged by categories. Since each customer has their own folder, everything still has distinct edges.

I love how you can tag one email in a thread, and the whole thread gets tagged by that topic. Then I read that last email in the thread and FILE TO THREAD all the emails at once. It’s naice!

However, here is where I am having issues with TOPICS. Most people put no thought into what the subject line of their email is. Since I work in sales I get the obligatory subject: “Quote” or “Quote Request” or “Question”. I use the rules to tag TOPICS/CUSTOMERS by their domain (ie: gets tagged as XYZ Co topic). As I stated my love of the thread tagging above, it is here that it breaks down. Even though customer A and customer B send an email with the same subject (“Quote Request”), and are completely distinct threads, the system will tag the email incorrectly based on who sent it first. I suppose the overwrite function alleviates this, but I wish that it would work that out on its own and know the subject is a different thread.

CONCLUSIONS & FUTURE IDEAS: Overall it has been a great tool and I’ve been recommending the hell out of it to my co-workers. The demo online does a great job of showing what ClearContext does in just 2 minutes. And the stability has been unparalleled in the arena of Outlook add-ins, unlike say, the add-in.

Here is one idea I would love to see in this tool – customizable Out of Office. One that would let me do things like send an OOO that doesn’t say “Out of Office”. I’d love to let my customers know key information about my availability (at lunch, in a training, expect long response times, etc…) but if they are not in my contacts list, it could respond with a different OOO or none at all. And one that doesn’t send a reply every single time. Just like OOO, it is not an endless loop.

I'd love to hear how others are using Clear Context in a sales environment!

ClearContext team, great job! Keep it up.