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October 26, 2004

What’s with What’s Next?

There’s a time for planning and a time for doing. MasterList Professional is designed to make it easier to do both these things, and to switch as needed from one to the other.

The What’s Next? Section of the Home tab, and the What’s Next? Screen in the System Tray tool are there to make it as easy as programmatically possible to get on with the doing of completing tasks from your Current List. With a single click, you can complete a task, garner its Productivity Points and move on to the next thing on your list.

One change I’m planning to make before I release MasterList Professional is to make What’s Next not quite so easy. In the current build, a single click and the task is marked complete, and disappears. That’s just a little too fast. So, because you might have clicked the wrong task, or decide that you’re not quite done with that task, I’ll be changing the behavior so that completed What’s Next Tasks stick around until you move to another section of MasterList Professional.

October 25, 2004

Using the Current List

As you work with tasks in MasterList Professional you’ll find that you have a lot more projects and a lot more tasks than you thought. But once you get all those tasks into MasterList Professional, how do you focus on what you want to get done now?

Any task marked Current ends up on the Current Tab. It is your magnifying lens for the things that you can currently do something about, be it that hour, that day or that week.

Three things to keep in mind with the Current Tab:

-At first, keep it short, and work it through. You want to be able to look at your Current list and know that you can work through it. Keeping your list to about 8 hours of work feels comfortable for most people to start
-Use a variety of Current Views, each highlighting your list in a different way. Depending on how my day is going, I might use the Easy to Do view, Hard things First view or the Most Points view.
-You may have a important, lengthy task on your Current List for days or even weeks. While it’s there, schedule specific blocks of time in the Scheduler towards getting it done.

October 22, 2004

Roadmap Friday, October 22, 2004

Well, the good news is that I’ve rebuilt the Checklist structure so now checklists are rtf documents. This means you can create a checklist in Word and import it or copy it in, or word process your own within MasterList Professional.

Now I’ve got to retrofit this code into New Task, Existing Task and Task Appointment dialogs. And then its back to bug killing.

No Beta 6 today, but look for Beta 6 in the next several days.

October 21, 2004

A question of Headings

One of our most active Beta Testers, Thomas Rushton in the U.K.,  asked a good question in our support forum (safariforums.com): what do you do when you want column headers on multiple lines in the various grids in MasterList Professional?

Fortunately, this is one feature already in place: just click the View button by the name of the view, pick View Properties and check the “Headings on 2 lines” checkbox.

One of my top objectives in MasterList Professional is to make it extremely easy and fast to create as many views as you need to see your tasks from the perspective you need at that moment. So in each view, you can set the font, size, color of tasks and headings, and the order, visibility and width of each column.

But wait, there’s more!

I’m really enjoying ripping out hundreds of lines of problematic code right now: I’ve found a much better way to handle checklists. In fact, I’m hoping this new approach will make creating tasks much less error prone, improve printing and other nice things for Beta 6. However, given this, odds are low of either me getting Beta 6 out tomorrow or that I will have a relaxing weekend. Ah the joys of being a micro ISV!

October 20, 2004

Aligning Email to Projects

This morning, not quite ready to start programming, I decided to take my own advice given so freely here regarding setting up my Outlook email folders to match my MasterList Professional projects.

It was dirt easy.

After creating a temporary folder (“AAAAAA”) I created new folders in it (Control-shift-E in Outlook 2003), one for each project. Then I started going through all my existing folders, moving them or their contents as appropriate into the new folders. After the last old folder was deleted, I moved my new folders back into my Inbox.

Most were easy to do, some weren’t, and a lot of junk got tossed. And, given emails that I could not file, I added a new Project.

It took about an hour, and for the rest of the day as emails came in, it was a breeze to file them away.

I guess I should take my own advice more often!

October 19, 2004

Why MasterList Professional?

If you are reading this, you might wonder why I’m writing MasterList Professional in the first place. After all, there’s no shortage of programs – computer or paper – for tracking your time, getting first things first and project management. So why invest so much of my life in a YATMA – Yet Another Time Management Application?

The short answer is that Time Management does not work, never has worked and can never work. It’s a mirage that recedes as you spend more and more time looking for that oasis of calm effective productivity.

There, I said it: hordes of businesspeople are now preparing to beat me about the head with their leather bound calendars and PDA’s. But the fact remains that the traditional time management approaches fail miserably and worse, they lead to completely unnecessarily stressed out lives.

Planning to manage time is as nonsensical as planning to manage gravity: everyone here gets 1,440 minutes a day, everyday, no more and no less. Yet pick up any time management book or application on the market today, and that’s the focus.

Traditional time management combines focusing on the one thing you can’t change – time, with creating rigid plans of how to spend that time. For dessert, you’re advised to delegate as much as you can and work through your daily To Do list in priority order.

Well, Elvis has left the building, and my daily plan lasts up until the first hot email and I don’t have anyone to delegate “the hard stuff” to. How about you?

MasterList Professional is built on the premise you cannot manage time, only the value of what you do with your time. MLP is built around the twin ideas of giving you quick control over all the tasks in your life and quickly seeing how you can get the most value out of your 1,440 minutes a day.

Value Proposition ahead

In designing MLP as a task management application, I started with the approach that everything you do that needs to be written down belongs to some larger focus, has a value, a level of difficulty and most importantly, some rough measure of how much time is needed. That’s why every task in MasterList Professional has at least those four elements.

Then I added Metrics – the ability to be able to see the value of what you planned to do – is a key part of MLP. So too was tossing out the Daily To Do list in favor of keeping a manageable Current list of things not worth blocking time out for and a Scheduling tool – with manual and automatic modes – for those tasks, for those valuable tasks, that it makes sense to schedule time to get done.

Some tasks – the things that are going to make a difference in you life should get the full monty of task appointment and checklists; other tasks should be handled like President Bartlet in the West Wing: What’s next? MasterList Professional is build to support task management at either end of the street.

Like I said before, I do plan my days (“…plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.” – Eisenhower), but I unplan them and replan them 6 times a day. Being a micro ISV who also does custom programming and sleeps, my priorities shift rapidly, and I’ve designed MasterList Professional to meet that need.

Another need is how to keep track of everything going on without spending all my time on tracking everything going on. That’s what the Project Overview on the Home tab and the Projects Overview Tab are for. And that’s why in all the task tabs you can have as many different Views of your tasks as you need.

One of my favorite saying is “Nothing is more useful than a good theory.” I hope my theory of task management turns out to be as useful for you as it has already been for me.

October 18, 2004

Best Practices: Ducks in a Row

Once you have your MasterList Professional set up the way you want, think about the following four ways you can make your life easier: redo your web site bookmarks, paper files, computer files and email folders so they align with your Projects.

Right now, you have probably have at least 4 completely different filing systems for what is one thing: your life. This state of affairs can make it hellishly difficult to know where to file any particular bit of information.

While desktop search engines can help you find things (Google’s new desktop search tool is extremely fast), they can’t help you decide where things belong.

Two weekend’s ago, I spent the day “relaxing” (non-programming) by first cleaning up my projects by creating new ones that better describe what I’m doing now, then moving tasks by the bunch to my new projects. This can easily be done in the Utility Functions dialog. (I also learned the hard way that I’ve still got a few interface/bug issues to fix in there, but at least as of Beta 5 the rename project bug is fixed.)

After organizing my MasterList Professional Projects, I redid my main file cabinet where all the non-tax paper in my life goes using my Projects as main sections. Now, when I print something from a web site, or get some piece of paper I don’t have to ponder how will I find it again when I’m next working on that Project; It’s already in the Project.

Draining the Swamp

Currently, I’m draining the swamp called My Documents on my main PC. It’s a more complicated approach: create a temp folder called AAAAA, fill it with folders, 1 per project, and start filing things there. Then over the next few weeks, when I need a break from bug hunting, I’m going to go through all 103,367 files and 8,267 folders and delete them, or put them in their correct Project Folder.

There will be some folders that are going to remain right where they are: My Pictures, My Music, My-this-and-that installed by one program or another. But I strongly expect if I get the rest of my ducks in a row, it will be far easier to find what I want when I want it. Everybody needs a hobby, right?

Roadmap Friday on a Monday.

MasterList Professional Beta 5 is now out to you, the beta testers, as of tonight. I had planned to get it out this past Friday, but a project for a client needed more time last week than I expected, so it’s Roadmap Friday on a Monday time.

Beta 5 was 1 part bug fixes, 1 part our new forum at www.safariforums.com , one part this blog and all the other parts an incredibly nasty bug that prevented MasterList Professional from even opening on some beta tester’s pc’s. It was the bug from hell, and ate a month of development time.

After many tests, much help from 6 beta testers, countless hours on the internet and more than a little frustration, it turned out to be a slightly non-standard form icon coupled with a slightly bent third party control that caused the whole mess. After four weeks of frustration, it took about four minutes to fix these bugs once I isolated them on a pristine Windows 98 pc.

Which is why my laptop has been lobotomized in the name of bug extermination: every MasterList Professional build that goes out now will have been tested on a fresh Windows 98se PC, a fresh WinXP PC and two “dirty” pcs. Hopefully, that will prevent a repetition of this type of major bug.

What about the Roadmap?

My (very optimistic) plan is to have two more Betas to find and kill the last bugs and build out the last features including a revised way to do checklists and autoscheduling over the next two weeks. Then release and start selling. Rest assured however that I will not release a buggy MasterList Professional, thanks to your bug reports and suggestions.

I hope to have all the other things I besides writing MasterList Professional done right in the same timeframe. To be a successful micro ISV (Independent Software Vendor) I’ve got about 300 other things to do beside code. But they are easier things, and I’ve got a good program for tracking what needs to get done.

I expect that after the first couple of bug-fixing updates, I can start moving in a whole range of features that add to what I want MasterList Professional to be, and what you, the beta testers, are telling me. You’ll find more detail (and even more detail in the weeks to come) at www.safariforums.com, but we’re talking about both a long list of features I’ve had to put on hold until Version 1 is done, out and selling.

Expect to see at our forum (www.safariforums.com) polls where you can let me know which new features you’d like to see as we move forward.

October 15, 2004

Where am I?

This is my first blog posting to what I hope will be the successful story of how a 20 year contract programmer becomes a successful micro ISV selling a great product via the Internet and not so incidentally paying his bills.

That product is MasterList Professional (MasterList Professional), and if you are looking for looking here for my political affiliations, favorite wines, pet peeves or rants, sorry, this is all news, all the time regarding MasterList Professional. A little micro ISV will slip in, but within the context of doing a better job of supporting and selling MasterList Professional.

I will admit two personal bits: before I switched to programming in 1983, I was a news reporter for a major news organization. (We used to call them news organizations, not media; there’s a difference.) So, hopefully, I can keep the marketing gush low and the value for your time high as I dust off my old writing skills here.

Other personal bit? Well, cats. I sort of rank the world as cats, then dogs, then people, then politicians. But I won’t bore you to tears with purrfect puns and little stories about what Sake and Sambuca did today. Maybe Sambuca stories: he arranges his catnip toys in geometric patterns and spells words using scrabble tiles. My backup plan if the software thing doesn’t work out is a wall calendar of his better efforts.

This is a sub head.

Look for them to break up the copy, make it easier to navigate the verbiage and find what you want. Yes, they are underlined. No, they are not links.

The road ahead

1. Postings Monday through Friday, unless things are totally crazy.
2. Each weekday will have a running theme, kind of like finding the food section in the newspaper on Thursdays. Tentative plan:
a. Best Practices Monday – best ways to get the most value out of MasterList Professional
b. Philosophy Tuesday – What’s the task management theory behind MasterList Professional and why should you care?
c. Open Wednesday – TBA.
d. Safariforums.com Summary Thursday – Also launched today is safariforums.com where you can find detailed info on (what else) MasterList Professional from me and (hopefully) active beta testers and then users.
e. Roadmap Friday – It time to get this app to the start line, so my goal for Fridays is a new release to beta testers, a new update to my pre and post release plans (the Roadmap).
3. My overall goal here is the most usable information in the fewest possible words.

Thanks for your time.

ToDoOrElse?


  • Who?
    Bob Walsh, (Author, managing partner of Safari Software, Inc. a micro-ISV)
    What?
    Exploring the intersection between Getting Things Done and building a micro-ISV.
    Where?
    Live from Sonoma, California USA.
    When?
    Once or so a workday.
    Why?
    Because there's a way to get everything done, I just know there is!
    Micro-ISV?
    Micro Internet Software Vendor, a self-funded startup company: See mymicroisv.com for information and resources.

Also:


  • Micro-ISV: From Vision to Reality
    At Amazon.
    Buy as an ebook.
  • (begun Jan. 3, 2006)
  • Search todoorelse.com
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