Link Roundup #7

western saddle with a lasso on it


Intentional Change Theory: Achieving Manageable, Meaningful Change. Useful post on five steps to achieving real change.

Relax! You’ll Be More Productive. Article from business consultant on being more productive from being more rested and refreshed. Recommends working in 90 minute cycles then taking a break. Has some science and experience to back this up.

Make Use Of – “Welcome to MakeUseOf, a booming daily blog that features cool websites, computer tips, and downloads that make you more productive. The aim of MakeUseOf is to guide you through the web and tell you about hot websites that you have never heard of, best software programs, and all kinds of “how to” tips for Windows, Mac and Linux computer users.”  Looks like a nice place to find out about useful apps, and has some basic useful downloadable guides to popular software and operating systems.

Teens Stay Online More than They Did Just 3 Months Ago: Tablets a Big Reason Why.  What are the implications for college students?  For example, is this making studying more or less difficult?

Research management tools are getting more sophisticated, and I suspect will get much better over time.  ReadCube and Utopia Documents both add some interesting capabilities for exploring PDF documents.  See, for example, this article from Computerworld:   Utopia Documents Makes PDF Articles Easy to Explore, Not So Much to Read.  Also Readcube: An Excellent All-in-one Tool for Organizing, Finding, Reading, and Annotating PDF articles.

South Illinois University Picks Windows 8 Tablet over iPad; Highlights Costs and Managability.  I’m fascinated by stories of how higher ed is deploying and using tablets.  Some experiments will fail, some will succeed, will be nice to start hearing reports at conferences on which is which.

Google’s Keep Note-Taking Web and Android App Gets Its Official Public Launch.  Seems to have far fewer features than OneNote and Evernote, and those two already have a large user base, but might be useful for someone new to notebook software.

Create and Share a Virtual Wall of Documents and Media with Padlet.  App allows instant creation and sharing of a variety of formats of information and it can be easily disseminated.  I can see a lot of use for this for college students doing group work or for assignments in class.

Using iPads at School?  Sophia Now Provides Free Training to Teachers.  About tablets in higher education.  The article sounds like it is not aimed at teaching how to use an iPad per se but tips on using tablets in the classroom and using certian apps such as Dropbox and Evernote.

American Chemical Society Introduces ACS ChemWorx (TM).  Chemworx is built on colwiz, and research management software developed by scholars at Oxford University.  I’ve been interested in colwiz for a while, as it has more features than Mendeley or Zotero, but haven’t found much information on it.  It is also interesting that ChemWorx is designed to be a software that guides the entire research process, from the literature search to publication and collaboration.  There’s a little more detail from CAS, a division of ACS.

Can You Really Be Productive with a sub-$100 Tablet? While this is a review of a particular tablet, the title’s question is of interest to the education market, and the answer, for this tablet at least, seems to be yes.


Book Review: Bit Literacy by Mark Hurst

Bit Literacy Book Cover

Bit Literacy is not a particularly new book (it is currently available free on Kindle and iBookstore!).  It was, after all, published in 2007, but its tag line: Productivity in the Age of Information and Email Overload, still strikes a familiar chord in us all.  Hurst also recently floated to the top of the public eye again with his February 28th blog post “The Google Glass Feature No One Is Talking About”  which has been shared in multiple languages more than 20,000 as of March 12th.  It is a piece worth reading, but at the risk of being somewhat cliché, I don’t intend to really talk about Google Glass today.

My current focus is Hurst’s book.   Hurst defines Bit Literacy as the toolbox of skills and applications that allow an individual to thrive in the information age of the world today.  He begins the journey in our email box.  His premise, like those of many productivity experts, is that email should only be touched once and that email is not the place to store to-do list items.  A discussion then follows on the features of common to-do tools and the limitations.  Hurst describes a method of handling to-do lists that I love.  He also created a tool that applies the method very cleverly called Good Todo.  It works with all email systems, on various platforms but comes at a price.  His free trial is very limiting as you can only have ten to-do items a day.  The full version is currently $36 a year.

What I like about his tool and his method of handling to-do items is two-fold.  First, effective to-do lists should be more than a simple notation.  Instead, Hurst advocates items that are similar to email in that there is a single descriptive line, but that can be clicked to see more details of the item.  Second, he advocates having to-do items split onto separate days like a calendar.  We only look at the to-do items we will be actively working on today and place other to-do items on subsequent days.  Each day, any incomplete to-do items would move to the next day’s list.  This concept allows us to create a workable method of moving emails and reminders for future events to the date on which they need to be addressed and solves the problem of keeping track of to-do items that might be weeks or even months away.  Hurst’s tool is also set up with an almost infinite series of email address variations so that emails can be forwarded to the correct to-do list date.  This can be accomplished by duration (ie, send an email to the to-do list one week later) or date.  It is a slick method that is intuitively appealing to me.  The only other application (or combination of applications) that I am aware of at the moment that comes close is Microsoft OneNote in conjunction with the Microsoft Outlook calendar. Outlook has the capability of linking with OneNote pages and thus could be used to link more detailed to-items in a method similar to Hurst’s method.  The catch is that a large subset of the population doesn’t use Outlook as their calendar, and my place of work falls within that subset.

But Bit Literacy does talk about more than just to-do lists.  Hurst also addresses the information overload from all types of media today.  The reality is that no one can keep up with the pace of the information bombarding us each day.  There should be no guilt involved with this realization; rather, the goal is to identify a small subset of sources that we consider essential to being informed.  There can be work sources, sources informing your hobbies and personal life and sources that are consulted on a less frequent basis.  The key is carefully considering and then deliberately choosing which sources we allow onto our list, and keeping the “stars” (sources we regularly read cover-to-cover) a very small, elite list.

The author next discusses methods of organizing and handling photos.  The goal is to collect photos in one place, keep only the very best photos that are taken, and organize them in a way that will be easy to retrieve, to share and to enjoy.  Scrapbook aficionados  will resonate with his ruthless discard of multiple shots, keeping only the very best photos of a given event or subject.  While I like his ideas of take a lot of photos, keep only a few – the best- I personally find his organization scheme (by year photo taken, then by month) to be unwieldy.  I would personally  never find my photos again if I had to remember the year I took them.  While this does make sense as metadata to capture (to identify how old the subjects were, when that vacation happened), organization by topic makes more sense as the high-level sort for me.

I have not covered all the topics that Hurst addresses in his book.  He has chapters devoted to file management, management of items you create, etc.  I have only hit the highlights.  Do I recommend his book?  I found it to be very readable, and as I indicated at the start of this post, an ebook version is currently free on Kindle and Apple’s iBookstore.  I have hit what I considered to be the highlights here.  The major take-away for me is his method for handling to-items.  I’m not ready to invest in his Good ToDo app yet, but I will continue to ruminate on his concepts and framework as I consider my current systems and how I might improve them.

Year for Productivity; Session 6: Calendars – As Old as Time, as New as Tomorrow

year_productivity_graphic_6 Now that we are past the Mayan Calendar scare of 2012, we can talk about the use of calendars in productivity without looking at the date and wondering when the world will end. The problem is that writers on productivity are divided into two camps as dogmatic as “You got chocolate in my peanut butter” vs. “You got peanut butter in my chocolate”. The first camp argues that your calendar should only be used for events that have a specific time associated with them:

Out came a rule that fit those times, and it’s embedded in today’s productivity books: “Only put appointments with other people in your calendar.” (Its corollary is: “don’t put anything else in your calendar.”) Some have modified this to say that you should only put major commitments that “must” happen on a particular day and time in your calendar. (The weak definition of “must” makes the rule a hazy one.)

(Wade, Evolution of the Calendar). The other camp argues that you should schedule everything that you need to devote time to, including scheduling time for creative, brain-intensive work, time you are available for meetings, etc. (see, for example, the Feltner post).

In MPOW (My Place of Work) we use Zimbra, a web-based software that combines calendars and email. Calendars can be shared among users of the system if all parties agree to the share, which makes it easier to schedule meetings. It is fascinating to look at and compare how people use their calendars. One of my colleagues who is particularly busy and organized, schedules time to work on specific projects among all the meetings she attends. Other people people looking at her calendar have a hard time figuring it out, since there are 2-4 items on her calendar for every time period. However, since she accomplishes so much, it works well for her. I have fewer events I’m required to attend, so I only mark those on my calendar and use the unscheduled time for working on the projects in hand.

Sometimes you have had an idea percolating in your head for some time, at an almost-but-not-quite conscious level. Then you read or hear someone express that idea so eloquently that it bursts into your consciousness like a thunderbolt. That happened to me the other day while reading Francis Wade’s “8 Edgy Ideas from Time Management 2.0“. He refers to Time Management 1.0 as static systems some productivity guru has devised and expects readers to follow step-by-step, year by year, forever after. What he calls Time Management 2.0 is a dynamic system wherein each person takes the skills most useful, uses them, and updates his or her system with new techniques as needed to improve the system or take into account new circumstances. I think most all of us do so, but either don’t articulate it to ourselves or feel guilty that we aren’t, for example, following every single GTD step. So that is what my colleague and I are doing – we each use our calendars in the way that works for us. What’s important is to take some time to read about other people’s techniques and adapt what seems useful. In other words, ideally one should be open to ideas for improving productivity but not get locked into just one system. Instead, adopt a methodology that is flexible, fits the way you work, and is updated as new techniques or life changes may suggest.

Now that we’ve had that refreshing digression, back to how to best use your calendar. The practice of setting up appointments with yourself for working on projects is called time blocking. As already mentioned, some people are for it, and some are against it. Maura Thomas, in Personal Productivity Secrets, approaches it sensibly. She has three rules: (1) Don’t time block too far in advance, as schedules change often; (2) use it selectively for the most important things; and (3) don’t make your time blocks too long. (Thomas, p. 158). A recent New York Times article (Schwartz) discussed research about natural work cycles. It arose out of sleep research that showed that people cycle through the different depths of sleep approximately every ninety minutes. So researchers then looked to see if a similar cycle applied to time awake, and found that it did. People are most able to pay attention for ninety minutes and then need a break. So if you do time block, it makes sense to do so in ninety minute intervals.

A couple of the readings mention an interesting productivity tip using calendars known as either Jerry Seinfeld’s Productivity Secret or Don’t Break the Chain. It involves deciding on a few goals that you’ve had difficulty achieving. Set aside a specific amount of time to work on them. As you get that done, put a red X on your calendar for every day you work on that goal – and don’t break the chain, i.e., work on it every day. (see Isaac and Dachis). Dachis, for example, set aside 15 minutes a day for each of three goals, and found himself accomplishing a remarkable amount in that time. This is a version of the Pomodoro technique, though he doesn’t call it that, combined with marking progress on a calendar.

The best way to be productive using calendars may be to take something from all of these ideas, in a way that works best for you. Combine time blocking, Pomodoro, Don’t Break the Chain, and the ninety minute energy cycle. Block off ninety minutes each day to work on your top three goals. Work on each for thirty minutes. At the end of the ninety minutes, put a big red X on your calendar and then take a break. Get up, walk around, don’t look at your computer for ten minutes or so. Lets call it the Modified Don’t Break the Chain technique.   My co-blogger Crystal reminded me that our calendar system Zimbra allows us to mark an appointment as either free or busy. If you are in a job that requires you to be highly responsive to the needs of colleagues or your users, you might want to mark your time blocks as free, if the calendar you use has a similar function.

Those of you who decide to try one of the methods discussed here, please add your comments as to how well it worked, or if you use another technique that works for you please share comments on that as well.

For Further Exploration and Insight:

(1)  Try the modified Don’t Break the Chain Technique for a week.

(2)  Write in a comment how well it worked for you.

Selected Readings:

Allen, D. (2001). Getting things done: The art of stress-free productivity. New York: Viking.  Section on calendars and the tickle file is p. 136-139.

Dachis, A.  “How Seinfeld’s Productivity Secret Fixed My Procrastiantion Problam“.  Feb. 20th, 2012,

Doodle – great online site for scheduling meetings.

Feltner, J.  “Use a Calendar and a Schedule to Improve Productivity and Reduce Stress“.  June 14, 2012,

Isaac, B.  “Jerry Seinfeld’s Productivity Secret“.  July 24, 2007.

Schwartz, T.  “Relax!  You’ll Be More Productive“.  New York Times, Feb. 9, 2013.

Smith, C.M.  “7 Ways You Shouldn’t Be Using Your Calendar“.  June 22, 2011.

Thomas, M. (2012). Personal Productivity Secrets: Do what you never thought possible with your time and attention … and regain control of your life. Indianapolis, IN: John Wiley.  Discussion of calendars is on p. 155-158. – Calendar page.  Includes printable calendars of various sorts.

Vardy, M.  “How to Use a Calendar to Create Time and Space“.  March 7, 2012.

Wade, F.  “The Evolution of the Calendar:  How to Use a Calendar Today“. September 21, 2012.

Wade, F.  “8 Edgy Ideas from Time Management 2.0.”  Special report available from

Wax, D.  “Back to Basics:  Your Calendar“.  July 18th, 2008.


Six Thinking Hats Off for the Week

Here at Kennesaw State, we in the Sturgis Library have just started a professional development reading group.  Our first book was on neither librarianship nor education, nor even on leadership.  It wasn’t one of the year’s hot new books, either.

We kicked our group off with Edward de Bono’s Six Thinking Hats, first published in 1985. six thinking hats book coverIt’s simple, direct, and fun.  We applied it to two related issues we are facing right now and found it so helpful we want to spread the technique beyond the ten or so people who attended that session and start applying the technique to certain kinds of decisions and discussions.

So why do I mention this on  a personal knowledge management blog? Because in the end, personal knowledge management is more than collecting.  You have to plan and come to decisions, and for that you need a process.

Six Thinking Hats is a method of thinking that sets up a process of using one thinking skill at a time.  Unlike approaches that identify which type of thinker one is, Six Thinking Hats is based on the premise that each of us can learn to use all of the thinking skills.  The key is to separate the skills and concentrate on one at a time so that the brain isn’t fighting itself by engaging in multiple types of thinking at the same time.  In other words, you don’t need a creative thinker and an analytic thinker and a planner; you can do it all yourself, it you will stop and take the time to set up the method and then stick to it.

The hats are:  all hats

  • White: the information hat; neutral facts and figures; thinking about what information is needed and how to get it
  • Red: emotion, hunches, and intuition
  • Yellow: speculative, finding value and opportunity in ideas, optimism, why things may work
  • Black: caution and analysis; critical thinking, difficulties, why something may not work
  • Green: creativity, provocation, forward movement, alternatives
  • Blue: thinking about how to think, control, process, overview, structure, action plans

You can arrange these in an order that suits you, probably starting and ending with blue.  I find that different types of decisions or stages in a process may call for a different order, or more or less time spent with a different “hat.”   I also find that I need to iterate certain stages. When I am  going through the hats on my own, I can be more ad hoc than I would when working with a group, but it is worthwhile to set up the method and stages carefully, and stick to them.  On my own, I put on the red hat perhaps more often than I would, at least formally, in a group, especially if I feel like something is holding me back or if I am procrastinating.  While many people just make themselves get on with the task, I do better if I go to work on myself laterally and identify what’s holding me back.  Often, it’s an emotion.

One of the great things about the Six Hats method is that it prevents you from either getting carried away with enthusiasm (yellow hat) for an idea, nor killing off an idea prematurely (black hat).  Also, acknowledging the role and validity of emotions helps me deal with them more fruitfully.  When I am looking at the emotions separately, rather than letting them rumble under the surface, I can better identify them and their source, see how they are influencing me and decide what kind of action I need to take.

I also find that I enjoy the playful aspect of the six hats; the whimsy relieves what would otherwise be tedium of the routine and the stress that occurs when I tell myself I it’s time to be creative.  We used to think of work and play as opposites, but they certainly don’t need to be, and in some situations it’s counterproductive to try to eliminate joy and playfulness from work.

There is a ritual aspect to the six hats that appeals to me as well.  I know I have overdeveloped my black hat skills, and I love to wear the blue hat.  I can happily plan and design processes forever!  But I need to get on with the actual work, and wearing the hats in turn, combined with a timer, can help me move along.

This is what a Six Hats process to write a blog post on using the Six Hats for PKM would look like, expressed as a concept map:  Not very comprehensive, a bit tongue-in-cheek, just some basic thoughts so you get the idea —

Six hats process Cmap

Map developed using Cmap.

Have a good week everyone, I’m off to Chicago where I will need another kind of map entirely. – Elisabeth

More Resources:

Edward de Bono Discusses the Six Thinking Hats  Indigo TrainingUK  Uploaded 7/4/2008, accessed 3/12/2013.  The master speaks.

The Six Thinking Hats  Damian Gordon Uploaded 8/23/2008, accessed 3/12/2013.  Animated video reviews the different hats.

Edward de Bono, Six Thinking Hats, various editions since 1985.


Year for Productivity: Session 5: It’s all about the P’s: Paper, Productivity and Pomodoro


Paper as a productivity tool?  Really?  In this day and age of super connected mobility with online resources? Believe it or not, paper still has a great deal to offer to our productivity toolbox.

Kevin Purdy, in a LifeHacker Top 10 post from 2008(Top 10 Printable Paper Productivity Tools), suggests:

“There’s a reason there’s still so much paper around in this hyper-connected, everything-online age: the stuff is cheap, portable, compatible with all your applications, and everyone masters the interface by the time they’re out of the first grade.”

His list has stood the test of time and all of his suggested sites are still active link destinations today.  There are sites that offer free downloadable paper types (graph paper that you can even customize the block size), printable rulers for measuring on the go, a template for students using Cornell’s method of note-taking, a nifty format tool that will convert a PDF into a printable booklet, and, what I consider to be the jewel overall, the D*I*Y Planner.  This outstanding site allows you to create a paper planner that is customized to your own needs and whims. Best yet, the templates are all free.   If you can’t find the perfect form at D*I*Y Planner, head on over to David Seah’s site.  He also has a collection of templates to master paper-based workflows.  Some are creative commons and some are for a small fee.

Note-taking and Paper:

In a brand new NY Times bestselling book out this year, Mike Rohde introduces his visual method of note-taking.  The Sketchnote Handbook illustrates his method even as it imparts guidance and principles to enable the reader to apply the method for himself.  Chock full of free-form, quick drawings and multi-sized lettering, it has the appeal of a graphic novel, enticing readers to explore its pages and enjoy its fun presentation while it imparts a clear, easy to implement method for better note-taking. If you are a person who constantly finds yourself doodling during phone calls, webinars, meetings or presentations, this might be just the method for you.  I think this method will also appeal to students who grew up with the graphic format of the technique.

The Sketchnote method only requires the ability to draw five simple shapes: a circle, a square, a triangle, a straight (relatively) line, and a dot. Any sketch can be formed from these shapes.  The idea is not to create art, rather, a visual representation of a thought.  While Rohde prefers a small moleskin notebook and pen(s), the Sketchnote process could also be performed digitally on tablets or smartphones with a stylus. Another option is a new product that is discussed in your exercises. A nifty “Evernote Smart Notebook” produced by the Moleskin folks!

Regardless of whether you use  paper productivity forms or sketch your notes, the underlying states of clutter and information overload from paper-like items is a challenge for each of us.  Some swear by the method of going “paperless”, others say paperless is not the answer either.  Dr. Audri Lanford coined the term “paperitis” to describe this situation.  She, along with her husband host the site by the same name: Paperitis.  They have “been helping businesses save time, money and trees by going paperless since 1985”.  While they are a consultation service, their site is rich with articles and tips on making a start with taking back control. If for no other reason, they have a great set of cartoons that will make you smile.

Pomodoro Technique:

The final topic we are going to consider today is the Pomodoro Technique.  This technique, developed by Francesco Cirillo in the late ’80’s (per his book intro), is a way of breaking time into small chunks (25 minutes) of intensely focused time.  A free pdf of his original book on the technique is available. In 2010, Steffan Noteberg, also published a book on the method worth considering.  It offers a nice introduction to the technique as well as discussing the psychology and physiology that is behind the success of the system.

The technique itself is simple. Choose a project you need to complete. Block out time to work on this project, and arrange that time in 25 minute intervals with 5 minute breaks between. During those 25 minute intervals, you may do nothing but the project.  No answering phones, no reading emails, no putting out fires… Well, ok.  If your office is literally on fire, you are allowed to evacuate until the fire professionals call the all clear, but when you come back, start that 25 minute block over again.

The original technique was developed using a simple kitchen timer (hence the picture of the tomato and the name Pomodoro which is the Italian term for tomato), but application developers have quickly jumped on the bandwagon, creating a plethora of apps that apply the technique and even produce progress reports for your use of the technique over time.  Wikipedia has a nice list of a number of different Pomodoro applications. There are apps for your iphone and ipad, for your Chrome browser, your android devices… just a google search will pull them up.  One that I find useful is focus booster – Live.  It is available as an app, but I like the simple online version that can start that 25 minute countdown by just a click without any messy downloads. If you are an online gaming buff that is motivated by the sands of time slipping away on your quest, Pomodoro might be just the technique for you to try. (Magic sword and damsel in distress not included.)


For Further Exploration and Insight:

  1. Chapter 4 of The Sketchnote Handbook is available for preview. Go to the author’s blog to download the sample chapter. Chapter 4 in the book and describes the Sketchnoting Process. You can also view three short podcasts by the author at his site.
  2. Having read Chapter 4 in exercise #1, try practicing the method while listening to a pre-recorded webinar.  If you don’t have one already waiting in your to-do queue that you need to view, you could watch the video of David Allen presenting his Getting Things Done method that Mary introduced in Session 4.
  3. The Moleskine company has collaborated with the Evernote folks and created a special Evernote Smart Notebook.  Take a few minutes now and check it out here at the Getting Started Guide.  How might this tool help your workflow and productivity?  Could you combine it with the Sketchnote method?
  4. Review the Pomodoro Technique.  Try to apply the method on a project you need to start today.  How often did you  have to keep yourself from straying from the task?  How much did you accomplish during the session?

Selected Readings:

Broida, Rick. Pomodoro Technique apps roundup. PC World, Feb 2012. Accessed 03/2013 from:

Cirillo, Francesco. (2006) The Pomodoro Technique.  Accessed 03/2013 from:

D*I*Y Planner: the best thing in printing since Gutenberg.

Nöteberg, Staffan.(2010) Pomodoro Technique Illustrated: The Easy Way to Do More in Less Time. Pragmatic Bookshelf

Official Pomorodo Technique Website:

Purty, Kevin: Top 10 Printable Paper Productivity Tools  from LifeHacker’s Top 10 Posts from 2008.

Rhode, Mike. (2013). The Sketchnote Handbook: the illustrated guide to visual note taking. Peachpit Press.

Rohdesign: Website of Mike Rhode. Find his ongoing sketchnote podcasts here


Calendar Image courtesy of ammer/

Links Roundup #6

western saddle with a lasso on it


iPad Pro is Somewhat of a Deal, But Doesn’t address Productivity Issues. The point the author makes about productivity still being easier on a desktop or a laptop is so true, especially the item about having only one window or tab open at a time.

iPad Challenged in K-12 by… Sony?. A few colleges are experimenting with giving tablets to faculty and students, and I see no reason this program couldn’t work in colleges as well as K-12.

Wiley makes scientific PDFs interactive with the ReadCube Web Reader from Labtiva.   ReadCube adds some interesting features to PDFs.  You can see it in action here.  I think we’re moving towards software that integrates managing research from the literature review to publication.

Surface Pro Review Roundup.  Snippets from several reviews of the Surface Pro.  Lots of pros, negatives about battery life, weight.

Wanted to give a shout out to Addictive Tips website and newsletter. They do nice reviews of apps/software for a variety of platforms. The reviews are especially useful in that they mention other apps that do the same thing, and they also give details on features, screenshots, and links to download the app.

GMail on Steroids – article from Ask Bob Rankin. He generally does a good job of explaining geek speak for the non-geek or geek wannabe.  This post talks about Google Labs and third party add ons to GMail.

100 Best Android Apps of 2013. PC Mag updates this article as needed, and this is the current iteration.

Is it a Tablet? Is it a Laptop? Digging into the Microsoft Surface RT. Review from the Scholarly Kitchen blog on the hardware, software, and usability. The gist is that it is a start for Microsoft in the tablet arena but they have a LONG way to go to catch up with the competition.