Time Management or Focus Management?

Horse with heart blinders Productivity tools, books and blogs proliferate today.  Time Management techniques, calendars and planners have never waned in popularity through the years.  The introduction of the smart phones and tablet PCs were widely touted as the ultimate way to remain plugged in and achieve the control of our work and home lives of which we always daydreamed.  So why does the average person still complain so often about feelings of being overwhelmed and there just not being enough time?  Is the culprit our understanding how to best utilize all the tools at our disposal?  Are we just inherently lazy?

David Allen, the father of the GTD (Getting Things Done) technique,  recently commented on the impact of smartphones on the GTD system.  Surprisingly, his opinion was that while mobile devices did make managing calendars and communication easier, the impact on the GTD process was minimal. In fact, he comments, “I think it’s as much adding to the distraction factor as it is to the leverage factor.”

So, is our problem one of time management or one of focus?  This is not a new concept.  In fact, Stanford University researchers Ophir, Nass and Wagner reported as early as 2009 that they considered “processing multiple incoming streams of information is considered a challenge for human cognition” (Cognitive control in media multitaskers; 2009).  Their tests showed that mega-multitaskers, rather than performing better, actually had a more difficult time focusing on individual tasks and were more vulnerable to environmental distractions.

Have we been striving for the wrong goal all these years as we learned to multitask and deal with increasing streams of information? Would our time have been better spent honing our ability to focus intently and think deeply and methodically about each project on our plate individually? Equine trainers recognized the value of decreasing outside distractions for their horses long ago and created blinders for their animals to wear. These trainers found that horses wearing blinders were much calmer and better able to channel all their energies forward to the tasks they were being asked to complete. Their overall performance improved significantly.  Do we need to think about developing our own form of “blinders” to everything but our most important projects?

A number of people have added a daily block of time for “being totally unplugged”.  They solely focus on a chosen task for that time block and do not allow interruptions for any reason. Knowledge management expert Thomas Davenport (“The Attention Economy”, 2002 and “Thinking for a Living”, 2005, to list only a few of his books) is currently a visiting professor at Harvard Business School while on leave from his post as Distinguished Professor of Information Technology and Management at Babson College. In his 2001 article, “The rise of knowledge towards attention management”, published in the Journal of Knowledge Management, Davenport addresses the importance of focus; he states:

” One of the key battlegrounds in the future knowledge war will be the management of attention: understanding how it is allocated by individuals and organizations, knowing how to capture it more effectively for important information and knowledge, using technology to get, keep, and protect it.”

All the skill we can develop at finding and organizing information is for naught if we are so involved in keeping all our balls in the air that we never manage to stop, focus, synthesize and effectively apply the information we have gathered. We are not managing knowledge or adding to collective wisdom until that process occurs. A sobering concept, but, as Davenport reminds us, one that is key to our continued success and development as knowledge workers.

Readers, what other techniques have you implemented to help you in dealing with focus or attention management?  I’d love to hear from you.

Link Roundup #2

western saddle with a lasso on it


Microsoft Office Coming to iPad and Android Devices Early Next Year. From TabTimes, an excellent website and newsletter for all tablet news.

50 Great Apps for Librarians – Website built around a presentation by Richard Le and Tom Duffy. Includes info about the two librarians, the presentation, handouts, a form to suggest apps, and more apps (i.e., apps suggested by other users. The presentation divides apps into Android and iOS, with categories for specific topics and for reference apps.

Delicious Bookmarks Get Redesign – Many people moved away from Delicious when there was a scare it would be going away, but it survives and has a team that seems working on improvements, including a soon-to-be-announced iPhone and iPad app.

20 iPad Apps for Productivity. While I don’t use an iPad, not all of these apps are iPad-specific. and if they are now may get ported in the future. Aimed primarily at business users, but many will also be of use to academics.

Livescribe Sky WiFi Smartpen Review. Smartpens may be of particular interest to students and to faculty who have to attend a lot of meetings. Livescribe has a large percentage of the U.S. market for digital pens, and generally users give the company good reviews. The new Sky pen adds wireless syncing of notes using Evernote. This review gives detailed information on the product’s pros and cons.

Windows 8 – Disappointing Usability for Both Novice and Power Users
. Recent article from Jakob Nielsen, THE usability guru. When he talks, people listen. On the other hand, Windows 8 is new and will likely be improved. Overall, it sounds like one of the most innovative products from Windows in years, and such innovation should be encouraged.

Which is part of what the C|Net critique of Nielsen’s usability studies says in “Why Jakob Nielsen’s Windows 8 Critique is Old-School Thinking“.

Devices and desires redux

Two hours before I left for two weeks in France, I acquired a new Android tablet.  Unbeknownst to me, my husband had purchased his first iPod the day before and decided to take neither his old Android nor his laptop with him.  So it wasn’t until we got to the airport that we each learned that the other was traveling with an entirely new device, and I didn’t realize until we got to Paris that he didn’t have his familiar Android with him. Of course, the reason I didn’t take mine was because I had trouble downloading new books the morning we left, couldn’t update the very old device, and went out and bought the cheapest and most appealing thing I found at the nearest office supply store, which luckily for me was the Google Nexus, which I like a lot.

But there we were, in another country with completely unfamiliar devices.  Not only that, but Google got too smart for us, sensed our location, and connected us to google.fr, which wouldn’t  let either of us into our existing Yahoo email accounts for 3 days.  It also decided that the apartment we rented in Paris was my home address and the one we rented in Nice was my work address – though I didn’t find this out until I got home and opened my traffic-monitoring app.

Oh what fun, to be sitting on the terrace of the Pompidou Center staring at a screen instead of the view.  I was trying to appreciate the view, but I was drawn to the screen again and again, deeply anxious, unable to let folks know we had arrived (something I never worried about before ubiquitous connectivity – they  just had to assume I had), cut off from news from home, such as confirmation from the catsitter that she could operate the locks, find the food, that Scarlatti hadn’t escaped, etc. (humans can take care of themselves, the cats have become dependent) . . . . Neither of us could make our device, or Google, see reason.

For some reason, Google relented two days later, for both of us on different devices almost simultaneously, and neither of us had done anything to which we can attribute the change.  We can’t even draw a lesson from this.  Was it the new devices?  Was it the all-powerful, leave-it-to-us Google?  (I won’t go into the rest of the awful Google story, and for the record, I am still excited, in a good way, about the Google sensor-driven car.)

I love the Google Nexus tablet, if I don’t love Google’s mysterious machinations.  It’s light, slim, elegant, a good size to read from (still hard to type on, though much better than a phone).  It survived two weeks without even a screen protector, much less a case.  One of the essential books I downloaded was a detailed guide to the history of the buildings and streets of Paris (Thirza Vallois, Around and About Paris, v.1) so that I could stumble on the streets better even as I learned who had fought over Marguerite de Valois (no relations to Thirza that I know of) in which house.

Of course I had saved restaurant suggestions in Evernote, which is also where I put my own daily notes and photos.  Having Evernote on the phone is great, because after I take a picture, the “share” function on the camera offers two suggestions: email and Evernote. The tablet is a much better workplace for annotating photos in Evernote before I forget what they are, though I did that in the evening, not on the street.  I can type well enough on the phone to add a few clumsy notes in Evernote.

That was a vacation use, but it suggests that the same use of Evernote could be made in photo-based research.  I find that these days, I resent carrying even a laptop, with the extra weight of battery and case, which probably amounts to 10 lbs all told.  The difference between the 3 lbs. total (absolute maximum) of the Google Nexus and the 10 lbs. of the laptop is just astonishing. ( I am astonished at my querulousness, considering that the first machine I ever carried into the field weighed around 40 lbs.  – this was in the late 1980s, when I worked for the World Bank and dragged this monster to several West African countries – but I am nearly 25 years older now.)  Of course, the difference in bulk is a big consideration these days as well – a laptop counts as a whole piece of carry on luggage, while the phone and tablet go in my purse, and the cords go in the carry-on.

I didn’t mean to invest in another Android at this point; I was going to wait and get a Windows 8 tablet and a Windows 8 laptop, since I need a new laptop desperately.  But I am glad I did.  The Nexus allows me to do a certain amount of work-related reading and writing.  I think that the developers of some of the programs I use for PKM will produce Android versions in the not-too-distant future.  I have hopes for Webspiration, for example, which I have just signed up for.  Various kinds of information mapping are key PKM functions for me, and I have high hopes for Webspiration, the corporate and higher-ed version of Inspiration, which has long been around in the education market.  I’ll report on my adventures with this program shortly.

Oh, and I have added a protective cover to the Nexus, which takes away a bit of the fun but none of the function.

Defining Personal Knowledge Management

I was recently asked to define Personal Knowledge Management.  This seems like an easy question, especially for an author of a blog about the topic.  The problem is, PKM is a slippery character, meaning different things to different people and used in totally different contexts.  One explanation that is simplistic, but that I particularly like, I first heard on an online video with Harold Jarche in October 2010. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ddLDvwHivR8)  He described PKM as a process.  It is the way in which we make sense of the noise around us.  We process all that information in various ways, weeding out helpful from disposable.  We might write about it, talk to other people about it or simply think about it.  From that synthesis process, we begin to create our own ideas about the information we received.

L. Efimova in the 2006 article “Understanding Personal knowledge management: a weblog case”  defines PKM as “an approach that complements organizational KM by focusing on ways to support productivity of an individual knowledge worker.”  This places PKM firmly into the professional world without considering the after-work aspect of a person’s private life and the knowledge management needed there as well.  I feel like this is short changing the true personal complexity of the issue.

Patti Anklam from “the app gap” (http://www.theappgap.com/the-3rd-km-personal-knowledge-management.html ) described PKM in 2009 as “the tools that we use and strategies we employ that make it easier for us to identify, locate, and process knowledge.”

In each of these definitions, the emphasis is on the synthesis and processing of information into knowledge.  This synthesis and evaluation process is the facet of the PKM definition that I think separates it from another term that is often used interchangeably with it: Personal Information Management (PIM).

Priti Jan (“Personal Knowledge management: the foundation of organizational knowledge management” in SA JNL Libs & Info Sci 2011, 77(1) )  identifies several key characteristics common to PKM:

  1. The scope is limited to personal knowledge.
  2. It encompasses working, private and social knowledge of the individual.
  3. The goal is to make the knowledge easy to access and use
  4. The process never ends… it is dynamic.

So PKM is our attempt to make sense of our own corner of the world.  Isn’t this one of the core desires of most librarians who enter the field?  We all seem to have a desire to create some sort of order of all the information that our libraries collect so the user can access and use it.  Perhaps, instead of being something brand new, PKM is simply another library to order, albeit a library many times bigger than any other.  Therefore, who should be better equipped to tackle this 21st century problem than librarians?

Link Roundup #1

western saddle with a lasso on it


   We’re testing out having an occasional link roundup blog post that points to useful articles about productivity tools for academics or pkm in general.

(1) Adobe adds cloud access to Reader app for Android

(2) Microsoft Training Staff to Explain Windows 8 vs. RT Crucial difference, as 8 is backwards compatible with older Windows software and RT is NOT.

(3) 50 Apps That Can Make You More Productive – Author Jill Duffy writes a weekly “Get Organized” column for PC Mag. She has an interesting discussion and then definition of productivity tools:

I review a lot of productivity software, and there are days when I’m not even sure what that classification means anymore. It used to refer primarily to office suites, apps like PowerPoint and Outlook, but now can mean anything from a contact management app to a social networking service. If you can find answers to hard questions quickly from the people who know, hey, that counts as having increased your productivity.

At the heart of all great productivity tools is a solution to a specific problem. Some look toward efficiency, aiming to take an existing product, such as email, and make it easier to use so we waste less time futzing with it. Others seek to silence the noise of the net, bolster collaboration, or unite disparate data.

The 50 programs, mobile apps, plugins, and services in this list are among my favorites for helping anyone be more productive.”

The quote above may not look like it belongs in a link roundup article, but the definition of productivity tools is interesting and may be used for starting a conversation in a later blog post.

(4) DotEPUB allows conversion of web pages to EPUB or MOBI format. The toolbar extension is currently available for Chrome and Firefox.

(5) Technology Speed Dating: Internet Librarian Program Program summary from Sarah Houghton, aka Librarian in Black. Introduces a number of apps, etc. that might be of interest to librarians.

(6) And another program summary from Sarah Houghton – 50 Great Mobile Apps for Libraries, which covers both iOS and Android apps. All the apps are available from the authors’ site.

(7) TabTimes Windows pageTabTimes covers the tablet world with a focus on business use of tablet computers. Lots of news and reviews, and the Windows page has considerable coverage of upcoming Windows 8/RT tablets.

Ilaro app for iPhones “brings research project management, note taking, timeline management, and subject tracking to mobile computing.”

Papers is Now Officially Part of Springer Science + Business Media. Includes a nice description of Papers’ functionality: “Papers radically improved the way researchers handle their scientific literature by centralising search, downloads and organising references and documents in one tool, functioning as a personal library for research. The literature can be cited in the word processing software of choice, and can be shared with colleagues.” It started as a Mac product, and there are now Windows and iOS versions.

Grovo: Tuesday Tool Tip

Grovo is not itself a tool, but provides training videos on many other web tools. Videos are short with simple but effective graphics (Not as simple as Common Craft explanatory videos, but the concepts are similar in many ways).

The topics Grovo covers are a wide variety of web-based tools. Registration for the site is free, though premium subscriptions are available offering more business-oriented tools.The top page lists the most recent courses and the duration of the lessons in that course. The page is a little misleading in that the courses listed are only the most recent ones added to the site and do not give a sense to the newcomer of the broad range of products covered. The top navigation bar includes a link to “Sites” which elsewhere is more descriptively titled “Product Directory”. Next is “Subjects”, and the subjects are Business Tools; Social and Communication; Productivity; Lifestyle; Entertainment; and Internet Basics.

Productivity? Ah, I knew that would get your attention! On the Productivity page there are (as of this writing) 25 topics listed. For each topic, there is at least one and sometimes more “courses”. Each course consists of “lessons”, which are the individual brief videos covering a specific task. Most of the topics are specific web services, but there are some, like “Online Research” that don’t fit this pattern. Topics on the Productivity page include Evernote (19 lessons), IFTTT (6 lessons), Dropbox (28 lessons), Box (35 lessons), Prezi (20 lessons), Slideshare (8 lessons), Google Docs (102 lessons), Google Apps (58 lessons), Firefox (15 lessons), Chrome (12 lessons), and several more.

You can enroll in courses, and after each lesson answer two multiple choice questions. Answer enough questions correctly and get a certificate for the course.

The broad subjects are a little porous, as some tools fit more than one category. So a lot of items are listed on business, social and communication, and productivity, and it is hard to know where they most belong. LinkedIn (78 lessons) is under business and social/communication, as is WordPress (56 lessons). The page for a topic lists the courses and the lessons in each course. Click on the course link and see all the lessons with the duration of the video listed (this is the best place to find how long each video lasts). Many videos are under a minute and almost all under two minutes.

Another feature at the top of each page is “Goals” – basically individual tasks. They have a list of goals, including Create a Blog, Get Started on the Internet, Find a Job, and more. If you select a goal you can personalize it by answering a couple of questions. It then gives you a list of lessons, the course they are in, your progress, and the lesson duration. I did not find the personalized goals particularly useful.

The lessons themselves are surprisingly valuable given how short they are. The ones I watched were informative, with good visuals that help in understanding the steps involved. All the ones I watched told me something I did not know before. It is easy enough to have a page or tab open to Grovo and another to the application, and go back and forth applying the lesson learned to the task, such as improving your LinkedIn profile or creating recipes in IFTTT.

Perhaps most applicable to academia is the course on Online Research, which has four lessons with a total duration of 6:03. The lessons are (1) What is Online Research (1:20), (2) Managing the volume of Online Research Materials (1:49), (3) Gauging the Authority of Online Research Materials (1:23), and (4) Gaining Access to Online Research Materials (1:31). How good is it? It isn’t exactly what I think librarians would produce, but it does get some important points across, such as not all sources are equal and pointing users to their local college or university library.

Premium subscriptions are $9 per month or $99 per year, and offers access to all content. Generally the items that have a cost are the ones aimed at businesses – for example, Expensify for Companies, Facebook Admin, etc. Some of these are useful in academia such as WordPress Posts, and some of the Facebook and Twitter courses. Universities and many nonprofits without a lot of cash to spare need to learn social media too! On the other hand, the site has to have a way of bringing in revenue in order to create and maintain content. Grovo does need to make it clearer which courses are premium content. Adding a $ sign to the icon for the course would help. Currently if you mouse over part of the icon for a course it displays the label “Premium”, but that is difficult to find.

Is this a product specifically geared to academics? No, but many of the tools are ones used in academic workflows. Overall, Grovo can help you better understand and more efficiently use tools you like or suggest possible new tools you have not tried before.