Productivity in Motion (Part 1)

Tuesday, September 28th, 2004
There is nothing quite like the excitement of watching a robot - one that you and your teammates have designed, built, and programmed - move autonomously across the playing field to carry out its missions while the crowd cheers from the stands. (visit site)

When the "Run" button is pressed
and the robot leaves its base to execute its missions, the team will find out how well they did thinking through and preparing to solve each of the challenge missions. They will have to effectively teach the robot "next action management," which is what I hope that they will learn in the process.

I call it "Productivity in motion."

The transition from thousands of individual parts to a completed robot that is ready to compete in an autonomous competition requires the same critical thinking and project management skills that it takes to send a spacecraft into space.

As I have shared before, one of the many things that I really enjoy about coaching the U.S. FIRST Jr. Robotics competitions is the opportunity to teach children some of those vital critical thinking skills while having fun building robots.  Not only do the kids have to design and build a robot, they have to program it as well.

Since the dawn of computing the success of any programming project has been the ability to break down a tasks into specific next actions
. Of the many skills that I model for the kids, a powerful one is the Getting Things Done (GTD) methodology, by my friend, David Allen. I teach kids the basics of GTD -- often without them knowing it -- simply by modelling its use in action. Early on, the girls become accustomed to asking "What's the successful outcome?" and "what's the next action?" It is this step-by-step analysis that helps the kids learn to break down a complex problem into small but manageable tasks. While I am teaching the kids how to prepare for a robotics competition, I am really teaching them how to prepare to solve many of the kinds of challenges that they will face in the future.

Thanks to this year's sponsors, I will be introducing the girls to various productivity applications, including OneNote, Mind Manager, and ResultsManager. I'm looking forward to giving the team not only powerful thinking skills but excellent productivity tools to use as well.

I have set up a web site where you can follow along as we prepare for the U.S. FIRST Jr. Robotics Competition. The girls will be blogging about their experiences each week and I will blog from time to time (on both blogs) about the various productivity applications that we are using and the lessons learned.  It promises to be quite an adventure.

Does this sound interesting to you? If so, here are your next actions:

1. Sign up for the RSS feed for this web site so that you can stay informed of the latest news.
2. Visit the LEGO Mountaineers web site to see the pictures and follow the team's activities.
3. While you are there, be sure to read: Productivity in motion, Part 2.

If you would like to share your thoughts on this topic, feel free to post a comment below.

eProductivity Update: 09/28/2004

Tuesday, September 28th, 2004
I received many inquiries about eProductivity consulting and my updated eProductivity Template for Lotus Notes.

Image:eProductivity Update: 09/28/2004

I have been focused on several key client projects as of late, which has required that I delay the launch of the  eProductivity.NET web site a little while longer.

I will be posting an update on current events with respect to the template and the site very soon. (If this is something that is of interest to you, be sure sign up at eProductivity.NET. )

In the mean time, if you have a pressing need, you can send me an email via the "contact" link at the top of this page.


Good-bye mouse, hello ActiveWords

Saturday, September 25th, 2004
ActiveWords will save you time - clear and simple.

Inspired by Jason's recent post on High tech productivity, here's my long-overdue summary of a product that I began working with about a year ago...

In short, ActiveWords will allow you to develop a list of shortcuts that you can call up using a simple keystroke (CTRL+SpaceBar). No menus to navigate, just type in a word and go. These shortcuts can launch applications, open web sites, retrieve information, replace text in a document, or fill out forms - you get the idea.

Image:Good-bye mouse, hello ActiveWords

No time to think about creating a list of shortcuts? ActiveWords will do that for you, too. I let ActiveWords watch what I'm doing and then propose shortcuts. It's a little irritating at first, but in a short period of time, I have developed a list of keywords that I like.

To tell the truth, I installed the product a year ago, allowed Buzz Bruggeman, ActiveWords evangelist, to show me how it worked, and then got distracted with client projects, writing, speaking engagements, etc. Big mistake. I could have saved a lot of time had I been using ActiveWords to help me navigate Windows.

I recently switched laptops and ActiveWords was one of the first applications to get loaded onto the new ThinkPad. It has made a huge difference for me in launching programs and performing routine tasks. (For those of you, who use a TabletPC, there is an InkPad version of AW coming.)

I'm particularly excited about the scripting capabilities of this product. With it, I hope to be able to write scripts (in my spare time, of course) to automate many of the repetitive tasks that I need to do in Lotus Notes and other key productivity tools that I use.

I plan to recommend this tool as a standard part of my eProductivity consulting toolkit.

You can download a free trial at the ActiveWords web site.


Mental laundry - follow-up

Saturday, September 25th, 2004
It's been a busy week -- lots of consulting and client projects to deliver and work to do for the kid's robotics team. I was pleasantly surprised to return to the many encouraging comments and e-mail that I received to my recent entry, Minds ready for action. The Bible is full of wisdom and admonition concerning the effective use of time and effort - productivity. While not a trivial task, a cover-to-cover survey with this focus promises to be most interesting.

The concept of collecting these notes in one place has been one that I have been kicking around for about a year. While I spend most of my time as an eProductivity Specialist, showing my clients how to put technology to work for them, I also invest time researching methodologies and systems that I can put to use. I can think of no better place to start looking for key principles. While I do not claim to be a Bible scholar, I am an eager student in this area, and this subject has my interest.  

For those of you who took the time to write this week, thanks for your words of encouragement. I'll think about moving this off my Someday/Maybe list.

In the mean time, I'll continue to share my observations from time to time. If you would like to receive a ping when I do, or if you have any further thoughts or observations, feel free to post a comment or send me an email, using the contact link above.


Minds Ready for Action

Sunday, September 19th, 2004
This passage of scripture inspired me today; I'd like to share a portion of it:

Therefore, get your minds ready for action...
I Peter 1:13 (NET Bible)*

I became intrigued by the concept of getting one's mind ready for action, so I decided to research it further.

According to the study commentary in the NET Bible, this figure of speech refers to the Middle Eastern practice of gathering up long robes around the waist to prepare for work or action. In the Greek, it literally means "binding up the loins of your mind.”

The idea is that the wearer of long flowing robes would find it difficult to move about swiftly or with agility. By picking up the loose ends, as it were, we are free to move about with ease.

When we pick up our mental laundry, we are able to quickly focus on things of importance.

Back to minds ready for action: Think about your mental robes... What are the things that prevent you from being ready for action?

I have been thinking about blogging about some of the other productivity principles that I have learned in my personal Bible studies. I wonder what public interest there might be in this subject?

Comments welcome.

* For my friends, some of whom are Bible scholars, I realize that I have quoted only the first few words of this verse, and those out of context; I do not mean to imply that these words are more important than the rest of the verse; far from it.

Correction 9/22/04 6:47 PM PST

I goofed. I pasted in the wrong reference for the passage above. I originally provided James 1:13; the reference should have been 1 Peter 1:13.  Fixed.

This year’s FLL robotics challenge

Thursday, September 16th, 2004
This year's robotics challenge appears to be the hardest one yet. Several missions to accomplish -- all in under two minutes.  I'm still working on getting the new group blog site up for our Robotics team. For now, I'll post the girl's latest entries here..

Thursday, September 16, 2004
Today my sister and I helped my dad set up the playing field so that it will be ready for our next team meeting this weekend. It looks really cool.

Image:This year´s FLL robotics challenge

We brainstormed on different ideas the we have for the different challenges. We are going to start experimenting soon. This year is going to be really exciting.
Posted by Wendy

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Today we got the challenge for this year's LEGO Robotics competition. It is very exciting! This year has the hardest challenges that I have ever seen. We have to program our robot to do a lot of things that a disabled person might have trouble with. Like opening a gate, putting a ball through a hoop, feeding animals, and putting things away.

Also our research challenge is that we invent a robot to solve a problem that a disabled person might have in our community. We will really need to work on our robotics skills. I look forward to another great year of LEGO League.
Posted by Wendy

Well, there you have it; the team's first public blog entries. Shortly, I'll have the new team group blog site operational. There, you will be able to follow the progress of the LEGO Mountaineers through their eyes and blog as they prepare for and compete in this year's competition.  I look forward myself to seeing what they have to say and to adding my own perspective about our experience using various productivity programs, such as MindManager, ResultManager, and OneNote 2003.

Mind maps as a study tool

Monday, September 13th, 2004
I recently blogged about MindManager, and how I have been using it for a variety of business applications.  As a technologist, I really enjoy evaluating new software and hardware in order to advise my clients. On the personal side, I am planning to teach our Jr. Robotics team how to use MindManager, ResultManager, and even OneNote to help them capture and manage their ideas for the competition. (More on this and a link to the girl's blog soon.)

For the past 8 weeks, I have been noting my progress using MindManager exclusively as a note-taking tool for a New Testament Survey course that I have just completed. I wanted to see if I could take an entire course, using only mind maps as my knowledge capture tool. I also wanted to see if the visual capture, representation, and retrieval of information could be accomplished in real-time, on my laptop, as efficiently as I have been able to do in the past by hand...

Mind mapping has helped me increase my understanding of the material that I studied; it also improved my ability to quickly recall information in context. It was easy for me to visually organize the topical relationship between my notes - both while I was studying as well as in review.

[Image Missing]
Image:Mind maps as a study tool

I found that taking notes in class on my ThinkPad was easy, however, I was concerned that it might be distracting to the professor or to others in the room. (Michael Hyatt has addressed some of this in his post on why he bought a TabletPC.) Therefore, for the first part of this experiment, I primarily used MindManager outside of class to make maps of each book as I read and studied them.

One unexpected result
of making mind maps for everything that I read or studied, was that it increased my study-time. However, It also increased my ability to recall information, so it was well worth it. I attribute this to the ease with which it was possible to go into greater detail -- sometimes much more than was required for the course. I found that it is simply more fun to study a visual map of my knowledge rather than a page of notes in linear form. Ultimately, I did have to limit the scope of my maps, based on my available time. Again, this is not a flaw in the methodology or the technology -- just me, learning how to best adapt these tools to my needs.

I consider my experiment, creating visual outlines in real-time, to have been a success.

Both my note-taking and my studies of the Scriptures have been enhanced as a result. Mind Manager, as a capture tool, facilitated the process greatly. I am starting to add ResultManager into the mix so that I can capture assignments and actions in real-time.

In addition to the digital maps on my laptop, I now have a 3-ring binder at home with large fold-out maps on each book I have studied and its background. (Yes, I know, I could keep the maps on my computer, but I still like the feel of flipping through paper.) I'm sure that when I get a TabletPC, I will think differently. (Open invitation for Marc or Michael to respond.)

For the student in us all, I highly recommend visual mapping as a study aid;
MindManager is my tool of choice to create and manage my maps.


*The source materials I used for the course were, the New English Translation (NET Bible), as well as two reference texts: Survey of the New Testament, by Paul N. Benware, and The MacArthur Bible Handbook, by John MacArthur.

Notes, OneNote, where to keep my notes?

Thursday, September 9th, 2004
I've been working with OneNote 2003 today. To help me evaluate the product, I plan to process a chunk of my current in-box (paper and e-mail) into OneNote. This will give me an opportunity to capture, process, and organize information from the multitude of inputs that I deal with daily.

[NOTE: Original date of this post was September 7, 2004. I am posting this again today, because a problem prevented some people from posting their comments. If you would like to post a comment and are having difficulty, please e-mail it to me using the link at the top of this page. I will post it for you.]

Image:Notes, OneNote, where to keep my notes?

A digital 3-ring binder

At first glance, the current release of OneNote appears to be primarily focused on individual note taking and research support, and I like what I see so far. For starters, I've copied some of the action contexts that I use into OneNote so that I can try it as an action management tool. I'm sure how OneNote will work out for me in this capacity. It appears that OneNote is more appropriately suited as an action support tool. Time will tell. I suspect that after I enter a quantity of items, I will think of a better way to organize this information, which will probably provide me with the opportunity to reenter everything again.

Rich storage

As a rich information capture, storage, and organization tool, OneNote offers many powerful features, including apparently unlimited folders, sections, and pages, along with web integration. Each page can contain rich objects, such as ink, images, MS Office files, and even audio/video. I've been doing this [storing rich objects in documents] for over a decade with Lotus Notes, so it was easy for me to apply existing work styles to the test.   (It's too bad doclinks don't work between the products.)

Things I look forward to...

As a capture tool, OneNote certainly makes the process of getting information into digital form easy. I'm sure that at some point, Tablet PC's will become available with a built-in scanner (like the HP CapShare) or a hi-res camera. When they do, there will be little need for a traditional notebook. Even in its 1.x iteration as a digital notebook, I see a lot of potential.

I wish I had a program like OneNote when I was a kid in school!

I think every student ought to have a program like this and know how to use it.

Collaboration in OneNote

I'm particularly interested to see how OneNote can be used in a collaborative environment. I still need to review the help documentation -- yes, I do read the documentation -- so that I can learn more about how this product can be used in this way.

OneNote contains some hints at future groupware capabilities. The menus currently show support for shared whiteboard (peer to peer) and, with a suitably configured SharePoint server, the ability to share files as a group. I'll probably invite Michael Sampson to join me for a shared OneNote meeting so that we can both see how it works as a collaborative tool.

But can it replicate?

A feature that I would really like to see, is some form of transparent replication between computers. My expectations in this area are quite high, however, as I have been spoiled by everything that Lotus Notes can do. I wonder if I can get OneNote to deposit its .ONE files into Lotus Notes so that I can have my information accessible everywhere? Hmmm, I'll have to work on that one...

OneNote isn't just for text or ink. It can record sound and video, too.

A neat feature of OneNote, that I know I will find useful, is the ability to record audio on my laptop while taking notes. The notes are synchronized along with the audio track. OneNote will allow me to click on the notes to hear the corresponding audio and vice-versa. I expect that this will be helpful useful for some of my extended meetings where I will both record and type my notes. After the meeting, as I clean up my typed notes, I can refer back to the specific audio segments as needed to insert any missing information. Years ago, I used to do this with VideoNotes.

You can search all of your notes

Like Lotus Notes, OneNote provides a full-text search capability, allowing you to search any of the notes that you have entrered, no matter where you entered them or in what form. (This includes the text behind digital ink.)  The search results are returned in a nice hypertext view.

Familiar look

It's really too early for me to comment in detail; however, I can say that I like the familiar (and proven) notebook tab metaphor. It appears to copy Lotus Notes's tabbed sections to provide a logical way to group related information together. Unlike Notes, however, OneNote provides additional levels: Folders, Sections, Pages, and even subpages. This make it easy to visually organize information hierarchically.


This may seem trivial, and there may even be a setting to adjust this; OneNote's folder tabs do not appear to automatically resize. I've become so used to this feature in Lotus Notes that to not have it seems like a gross oversight.

Image:Notes, OneNote, where to keep my notes?

Notes and OneNote

As I write this blog entry, I have to work hard to keep my references to [Lotus] Notes and [Microsoft] OneNote straight. I cannot help but wonder what confusion this will cause as customers refer to both products as "Notes." This reminds me of the VisiCalc days. When SuperCalc and then Lotus 1-2-3 appeared; folks still called these and other spreadsheets, "VisiCalc." Perhaps this is a fitting albeit unintended tribute to Lotus, for their pioneering work creating Notes in the first place?

The ultimate test - a group of students...

I've come up with a way to really test OneNote to see what works and what does not in a small group: I plan to include OneNote in the suite of software that I will be teaching to our U.S. FIRST Jr. Robotics team. The kids won't hesitate to tell me what they think and I won't hesitate to blog about it.

All in all, for a first generation product, I believe OneNote shows significant promise for digital note capture, organization, and retrieval.

I look forward to watching this product and others like it develop further!

Thank you's and more information:

A word of public thanks is due to Marc Orchant, for his willingness to answer my many geek questions late at night, by phone,  and by email. When it comes to all things Tablet, Marc's got a strong grasp on the technology.

If you who want to learn more about Tablet PCs and OneNote, be sure to visit Marc's blog, Michael Hyatt's blog and the TabletPC Buzz forum.

Right now, I'm trying to figure out how to retrofit my LiveBoard to turn it into a monster Tablet PC on which to run OneNote and MindManager.  If get that working, I'll blog about it.

Meanwhile, of you have any thoughts, feel free to post a comment.

Bearly pressed into service

Tuesday, September 7th, 2004
For the past several years, my wife and I have led the local AWANA Cubbies program in Pine Mountain Club. This year, I have been unable to be involved much, so Kathy is currently leading the program with the help of a wonderful team of volunteers.

Kathy still calls upon me from time to time - whenever she needs unusual assistance.  

Tonight was one of those nights when I was called upon to do something unusual...

Image:Bearly pressed into service
Cubbie Bear and some of his friends pose for a picture.

After the meeting, Cubbie Bear stopped by my office...

Image:Bearly pressed into service

What? Even bears have to check their e-mail sometime.

Jr. Robotics Challenge 2004 kit arrives

Tuesday, September 7th, 2004
This weekend, we unpacked two boxes, containing the US FIRST Jr. Robotics Challenge 2004 Kit of parts.

Image:Jr. Robotics Challenge 2004 kit arrives

The first box contained the playing field. The second box contained the 1438 parts that we will need to assemble into the various props needed to complete the challenge.

What is the U.S. FIRST Jr. Robotics Challenge 2004?

The U.S. FIRST Jr. Robotics Challenge is a robotics competition, developed by Dean Kamen, for middle school students. The robots are built using the LEGO MindStorms robotics development system. This will be my third year coaching a team in this competition -- it's something that I enjoy doing as part of my ICA Robotics outreach.

I'm in the process setting up a new team blog site that will tell you more about it. It will be a group blog, operated by a group of lovely young ladies that call themselves the LEGO Mountaineers. They will be sharing their experiences as they learn about robotics, computer software including, MindStorms, RoboLab, MindManager, OneNote, ResultManager, and hopefully, a group collaboration tool. You will be able to follow along, day by day, as the team progresses towards the competition, so stay tuned!

If you haven't already, now would be a good time to subscribe to the RSS feed for this site.

Hi-tech magic

Tuesday, September 7th, 2004
Sometimes, my little red ball cannot solve all of my client's remote support issues. When this happens, I rely on another tool, which I keep nearby in a pencil cup.

Today was one of those times...

The same client, who shall remain anonymous, called again today to ask for assistance. Thanks to the internet and a brief wave of the tool, her problem was soon solved and we were both able to get back to work...

Image:Hi-tech magic

Happy client = happy consultant.

I love it when things work out for everyone.

How does he answer so quickly?

Thursday, September 2nd, 2004
I'm about to let you in on a little secret: it's that red ball to the right of my ThinkPad.
Image:How does he answer so quickly?

When a client calls, I reach for the phone with my left hand and the red ball with my right. Then, as the client asks their question, I flip my wrist and read them the answer.

Image:How does he answer so quickly?

Every consultant should have one of these.

Image:How does he answer so quickly?

A., now you know.... :-)

The Latin Road

Thursday, September 2nd, 2004
My daughters and I are excited to begin studying Latin and world history. Two of our friends, who also home educate their children, have graciously offered to present year-long courses in these subjects to some of the home educated students in our community. This is a real treat for us, as both are professors at The Master's College, and they each bring a high level of expertise with them. On the first day of class, 30 home educated students attended.

Image:The Latin Road

When asked why they wanted to learn Latin. Some of the young people said that it was because they wanted to improve their English grammar, others wanted to score high on their SATs, others said that they wanted to learn Latin because their friends were, and still others said that their parents had made them attend. :-) One young person admitted that he and his friends wanted to learn Latin so that they could talk about people in a language that no one would understand.

Whatever their reasons for attending, I am certain that they will learn many things over the next year.

Our family is grateful for the opportunity to participate. I'm looking forward to learning with my daughters, too.

Image:The Latin Road