I’m Chanpory, and this is my site on how to live and work better as a designer.

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Timer by Kevin CollinsHi, everyone. David Moldawer here, book editor and podcaster and your new co-blogger on LifeClever. Very happy and excited to join Chanpory here on this most excellent blog. On LifeClever, I’ll discuss everything from my favorite stationery items to my most elegant productivity hacks. I’m a fervent Mac user, but I also use a PC at work, so I’ve got ideas about making the most of either system, as well as how to use Web apps to bridge the gaps. If there’s a topic or system or application you’d like me to cover in particular, please email me at david@lifeclever.com.

I’ve been a Getting Things Done junkie since Merlin Mann introduced me to the concept on 43 Folders. (How long ago was that, anyway? I find it hard to remember life before GTD…) Like many of you, I’m an incorrigible GTD tweaker, constantly trying out new methods to eke the last few ounces of productivity out of my day. (Yes, I’m aware that all that tweaking often wastes more time than you’d ever save, but I’ll get to that dilemma in a future post.)

What You’ll Need for Today’s Hack:

Just Doing (or Not Doing) It

For me, the essence of productivity is being able to do, or not do, things without nagging worries. Should I be doing something else? Is this the most important thing I could be doing at this exact moment? Is there a meeting I’m supposed to be in right now? See, I’m a bit of an absent-minded professor, minus the scientific brilliance or academic standing.

So if I decide to kick back on the couch and watch a Bridezilla marathon, I want to turn on, tune in, and drop out without forgetting an important phone call or neglecting to do an errand or just not going to work in the morning.

(As a child, I had that “getting to school late and my backpack’s empty and where did my clothes go?” dream just about every night.)

On the other hand, I don’t want to perch by my computer or cellphone waiting for reminders, either. Sometimes, particularly over the weekend, I want to be able to get away from that stuff.

Enter the pocket tickler.

Is That a Tickler In Your Pocket, Or…?

I bought myself a Polder timer, a simple, cheap, and reliable doohickey I can clip to my belt or stuff in my pocket. I set it to buzz when it’s time to move on to whatever’s next. Sure, my cellphone has a vibrating reminder function, but a) that means people can call me (argh, people!) and b) it takes several steps to set an alarm (argh, friction!).

With the Polder, I just set how many minutes or hours I have until I have to do something else. Because it vibrates, I don’t have to worry about an embarrassing beep going off during a meeting or while recording a podcast.

(There are a couple of vibrating watches you can find on Amazon”which I would have preferred had my design-blogger wife not shrieked in horror when she saw what they looked like. So I use the Polder.)

Pocket TicklerWhen the timer vibrates, I pull out my Levenger Shirt Pocket Briefcase (actually, a cheap but perfectly adequate knock-off) and check my dedicated pocket tickler card. All the hard items on my calendar get copied onto that card at the beginning of my day. Any errands I need to do at a certain time, like after work or during lunch, get marked there as well. Also, I include my 3 most important tasks. If it isn’t on my pocket tickler card, it doesn’t really need to happen that day.

Once I’ve taken care of the time-sensitive items on my tickler card, I scan the rest of the day quickly, set the buzzer again, and get back to doing, or not doing, as I please.

The Polder is also handy for:

  • Writing sprints
  • Public speaking or podcasting for a set duration
  • Chores (i.e. the 20-minute cleaning sprint after work)
  • Power naps
  • Reminding yourself to stop and smell the roses
Have an alternative method for jogging your memory? Post it in the comments.

19 Comments

  • Don

    gravatarNov 26, 2007
    9:42 am

    David-

    Good article. I found it interesting that you mentioned “Should I be doing something else? Is this the most important thing I could be doing at this exact moment?”

    I read a book called “Aligned Thinking” by Jim Steffen before I ever read ‘Getting Things Done” It is an excellent book and helps you answer the question “What is the most important thing I should be doing right now?”

    I use some of the Aligned Thinking and GTD methodology in a hybrid system to help me get through the day and gives me the feeling that I actually accomplished something. I still have days where I have done a bunch of tasks but never feel like I actually ‘got anything done’

    I try to gauge my progress over a week and make sure that I was able to get a bunch of things done in a week because each day is not going to always be as productive as you think it will be. -Don

  • joshua

    gravatarNov 26, 2007
    11:04 am

    Sounds a bit obsessive compulsive for the weekend. Isn’t that a time for relaxing? Do you use this method during the week too?

  • David Moldawer

    gravatarNov 26, 2007
    12:14 pm

    Don–thanks for the recommendation. It’s been added to my Amazon wishlist.

    Joshua–I use this method every day. I do try to keep work at work, but when you’re a blogger and podcaster the continuum between work and play begins to blur. I want my hobbies to move forward efficiently just as much as my work projects. In other words, the stuff I do on the weekends is fun, but it still consists of a series of actions that need doing. And the pocket tickler helps keep me relaxed instead of worrying if I set my latest episode to go live on my site or not. Hope that clarifies.

  • miklb

    gravatarNov 26, 2007
    4:48 pm

    Nice way to introduce yourself…with an affiliate link filled post. Consider me unsubscribed from Life Clever…guess the compromise on the pay-per-post was a split on any profits?

    Poor taste…poor, poor, taste.

  • Chanpory

    gravatarNov 26, 2007
    9:50 pm

    Miklb, sorry to see you go.

    As I’m sure you know, blogging is work. It doesn’t pay very much. And even with David’s help on hand, I’ll still be working at least 15 hours a week on the blog–that’s in addition to my full-time day job.

    The little money the site gets from Amazon pays for the web hosting costs, helps me support my recently widowed mom, and gives me pocket change to buy delicious coconut muffins for myself.

    I’m proud of David’s post. It’s useful, relevant to the site, and you didn’t have to pay to read it.

    By the way, there’s only two affiliate links in this 700 word post.

  • Andreas

    gravatarNov 27, 2007
    2:50 am

    Great post David, looking forward to your future posts!

    And Chanpory, I think you deserve the coconut muffins. Keep up the great work guys!

  • teacherninja

    gravatarNov 27, 2007
    6:08 am

    I like the post! As a ADDer trying to GTD, I’ve found the pocket full of index cards and timers helpful, but I like the idea of the pocket timer or watch.

    And mklb would love my blog (plug!) because it has no ads and no other bloggers who plug themselves or their sites. Oh, and it’s not as useful as this and makes no money either. What are you gonna do?

    Nah, he’d probably hate it because I’ll link to this post and he’d go full circle…

  • David Moldawer

    gravatarNov 27, 2007
    6:16 am

    For those readers who were offended by the affiliate links, I want to clarify that Chanpory never asked me to do that, and I don’t get a cent from any of them. I just figured that if I was going to recommend products at Amazon anyway, I might as well help keep the lights on here at LifeClever. Is there a good reason not to use Amazon as a go-to store in these situations? Or to avoid affiliate links? If anyone has a better alternative, I’m all ears. But I’m going to keep recommending useful products like the Polder timer and the relevant links because hey, that’s how I found that timer myself through another site. It’s helpful, right?

  • teacherninja

    gravatarNov 27, 2007
    6:48 am

    One reader was “offended.” Don’t be reactionary–it was fine. If you’re worried about it, do a link to amazon and one other site instead of just amazon. I see many references to book in blogs and they add links to amazon, b&n, and powells instead of just one.

  • miklb

    gravatarNov 27, 2007
    7:50 am

    I do not have a problem with affiliate links in general, nor do I have a problem with a site monetizing to cover costs, and put a few extra muffins in the belly of the owner, my comments were in reaction to the fact that it was the first post of the new blogger. If the levenger links are not affiliate, then it may not seem as bad, but looking @ the URL, it appeared so, and considering the links to amazon were, I did make an assumption.

    And not to sound like the blog police, or be just uber critical, but you are saying you found the timer from another site. I didn’t see reference to that in the post. I guess I was assuming this was an original idea, or am I missing something in your comments?

  • Snowflake Steamroller

    gravatarNov 27, 2007
    8:34 am

    Damnit!

    Now, I have to go right now and blog my system…

    Mumble grumble thanks…..

    :P

  • David Moldawer

    gravatarNov 27, 2007
    8:37 am

    I just meant that when I originally saw the Polder timer itself, not the method I’m describing, because it was recommended by another blogger, although I don’t remember the specific one. My point being, we find new products through the recommendations of other bloggers, and that links to a site to actually buy one have been helpful to me personally.

    Teacherninja–point taken. I need to get back into thick-skinned blogger mode.

  • teacherninja

    gravatarNov 27, 2007
    9:01 am

    I know we’ve gotten off topic here, but I’m glad to hear miklb stayed to clarify his point. Not a common practice in the blogoshpere, but a good one. I agree with miklb that affiliate-only links are annoying and obnoxious. But I also agree that having the link to the product is helpful, if at least just to see what folks are talking about. I also don’t always buy the thing right from the first link. I tend to shop around anyway.

    Glad we had this talk, guys. No you two go outside and play nice.

  • Famous Patrick

    gravatarNov 27, 2007
    9:46 pm

    Nice tweak! I love my Palm, but it isn’t practical to carry with me all of the time, and clipped index cards get messy when carried in the back pocket, so I finally ordered a pocket briefcase because I couldn’t find an adequate cheap knockoff. If you could point me where to buy a knockoff, I would appreciate it.

  • yoda

    gravatarNov 27, 2007
    9:55 pm

    lifeclever, the shark has thee jumped. grace my RSS feed nevermore.

  • teacherninja

    gravatarNov 28, 2007
    5:20 am

    I use this cheap knockoff for my index cards: http://www.officedepot.com/ddSKU.do?level=SK&id=178792&N=302639%20100000&An=storeFront

  • EricEtt

    gravatarNov 29, 2007
    11:30 pm

    Before I got my Blackberry (still looking searching for my own workable system on that one – trying ToDo Matrix software right now) I was actually pricing passport wallets because those are the right size for index cards and I don’t like my Levenger pocket desk.

    I think I need the digital equivalent of this system and am trying to think of how to accomplish that. My watch has 3 alarms on it (and it’s not a clunky digital watch – it’s a decent suit watch) and I’ve always thought that might be part of the deal.

    I also need to give myself the discipline of creating that dial-tone items for the day list in the morning.

    Thanks for the post and I personally think the author should ignore the affiliate link comments…they’re part of the deal and everyone knows that. They actually tell me that the author takes this whole thing seriously. If they’re were gratuitous affiliate links, that would show, but these were/are germain to the topic.

    Pax, E

  • David Moldawer

    gravatarNov 30, 2007
    8:38 am

    Thanks, Eric. And yeah, there are definitely ways to do this digitally. I’m waiting for a $300 Verizon-ready iPhone with a vibrate function. Until then, the humble index card.

  • Eric Ettinger

    gravatarFeb 6, 2008
    11:02 am

    Gang,

    I had mentioned that I was struggling with finding a system that worked for me, with my Blackberry, and thought I’d share the results.

    I tried to use index cards and found the following barriers.

    1.) Tired of hauling around cards. Tried a passport wallet and it was too big and cumbersome. (Had high hopes on the passport wallet (since I don’t like my Levenger pocket desk) so was pretty bummed about that. It was just too big and awkward.

    2.) Got tired of copying things from card to card – i.e. when a card only had two items on it, I had to write it onto another card.

    3.) Couldn’t quickly scan over my various to do’s as I had to flip through cards.

    I finally took the time to write out the requirements for my GTD system, and then ranked those requirements. Here’s what I came up with, although these are not in order.

    1.) Easy to use on Desktop, as well as on mobile. (Blackberry 8830). (Definitely a hugely important part of the equation. Too many apps tie you to one or the other, this had to be easy to use, and easy to use on both platforms. This is the biggest hurdle, by far.)

    2.) Ability to jump around within different contexts and scan what’s needed, quickly.

    3.) Didn’t want to use an app dedicated to tasks as they typically contain too many fields, or can be awkward to navigate around within the app. This includes the native task program in Outlook and on the BlackBerry.

    4.) Must work with, or without Internet access, although general assumption is that I’ll have it usually.

    5.) Easy to synch desktop and Blackberry. (In my case, I have the [great] advantage of a employer-provided Exchange server with Blackberry Enterprise Server running on it. This is dial-tone to my solution, eventually.)

    6.) Take an Occam’s Razor approach – the simpler the better.

    So, here’s what I ultimately arrived at.

    …drum roll…

    The Memo part of Outlook.

    1.) I create memo’s in Outlook to signify my different contexts.

    2.) It synchs wirelessly and almost instantaneously either way…i.e. from BBerry to Outlook, or vice-versa.

    3.) I can work with the same (lack of) effort at my desk or on the BBerry.

    4.) I set up my desktop to show ALL of my contexts at once, so I can (very) quickly scan everything and jump from context to context. (You can see a screen shot of this at [http://www.etthost.com/gtd/gd-gtd-screengrab.gif]

    TaDa.

    Thus far, this has worked for me and it’s now mainly a question of discipline to use the system, which I am finding to be the most difficult part. But, the more I stick to it, the more I like it and find it works for me.

    Just FYI, part of my inspiration on this was seeing an article (can’t remember where or when) about a Google exec who said she kept her to do in a simple text document. I actually played with Google Docs as a solution, but a) it assumed 100% connectivity, which is dangerous, and b) you can’t edit Google Docs documents on your handheld, you can only view them.

    Anyway, being a notorious lurker I thought I’d take the time to share what I’d come up with. Am doing it here because this post got me really thinking about the requirements of my solution and led me to a system that works.

    good luck everyone, I know how hard it can be to find the solution that fits your requirements.