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Ubiquitous Capture

Twyla’s Box: It’s Where Everything Goes

Self-Reliant Film » Blog Archive » Twyla Tharp: Getting Things Done (with Boxes)

This post by Paul Harrill is a great take on what I've been saucily referring to as, "Twyla's Box." (Yes, again with the Twyla Tharp book.)

I'm sharing it here, because in addition to delivering a thought-provoking slap at the self-abuse of productivity pr0n ("Certainly if you find yourself reading productivity book after productivity book you’re missing the point" [ouch]), it includes a canny synthesis of the overlap between (the best, non-fiddly parts of) GTD and those patterns that seem to help folks like Twyla Tharp to keep making for decades. Nice work, Paul. Loved this (and sorry for arriving so late to the party; I am now subscribed).

So, first a quote from Paul's post, followed by (forgive me) a long-ass re-quoting of Tharp's chapter, "Start with a Box", which I've lovingly copied straight from Paul's swell post. Paul said:

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The Problem with Ubiquitous Capture

Years ago when I started my first job out of college, my employer sent its new crop of computer consultants to South Bend, Indiana for a week-long training session. Typical stuff: we watched a hilariously inappropriate sexual harassment video, learned how to use the company’s timekeeping system (a thick client C++ program named, aptly, “Data Time Entry”), and generally got used to the idea of living out of a suitcase.

Late in the week, an entire day was devoted to a presentation by a FrankinCovey trainer who showed us how to use the fancy leather-bound, three-ring binder/planner/organizer that our company purchased for us, complete with a storage case for archiving calendar pages. She ran us through the whole Covey system. We watched a video of one of Stephen Covey’s motivational seminars-cum-religious revivals and made lists of our goals, hopes, and regrets. I raised my hand and told a story about how lousy I felt for saying something nasty to my mom before I left that week. “Call Mom to apologize” went onto my Weekly Compass, marked Priority A.

At one point, the trainer demonstrated a little pocket notebook that could be detached from the binder when you didn’t want to lug around the whole thing, “a satellite that always returns to the mothership,” she called it. We snickered while she pantomimed writing down someone’s phone number at a Bears game; she was crazier than the guy in suspenders from the day before who taught us about management with a modified version of Monopoly. Most of us were planning to buy Palm Pilots with our first paychecks anyway. But I didn’t realize then how prescient that moment was. Training class Matt would laugh Matt circa 2008 all the way down I-90 if he could see me now.

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Preemptively Save Christmas '08 with the Amazon Gift Organizer

Amazon.com : Amazon Gift Central

With the holidays' major combat operations now complete -- but while the trauma of bell fatigue and the stink of Orange Julius are still fresh in your mind -- I wanted to share a simple tip on something that was really useful to me this past Christmas and that might make your own life easier for next December or any other giftable event along the way.

So, you certainly know that you can create an Amazon Wish List to let people locate and purchase items you would enjoy having as gifts; that's been around forever (and most needy cam girls have the iPods and panties to prove it). And you may even have caught on that you can now have multiple Wish Lists (with differing privacy settings). And if you're a power user (read: "Amazon Prime dork"), you will surely be utilizing the very helpful Shopping List for finding and re-ordering repeat items like printer toner and blank CDs. But were you aware of the crazy-useful "Gift Organizer?" Well, okay, then.

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The Missing iPhone To-Do App: Not Missed

I thought for sure the one thing that would nag me about the iPhone when I finally got one was its lack of a to-do list app. To my surprise though (and maybe it makes sense, as I'll explain), now that I have an iPhone I haven't felt the need for a to-do app at all. It's an egregious omission for most people to be sure, but for me it's turned out to be a non-issue. To understand why, I need to provide some context.

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Provide context for better ubiquitous capture

Although the first priority in ubiquitous capture is getting it down, the red-headed stepchild trailing in at number two is providing context. And I don't mean the GTD kind of contexts, but the kind of context that minimally explains what this information means, where and when you collected it, why it matters, or anything else that will help you find a meaningful place for it in your life later on.

Example? Sure. Here's one from my real and recent world. Index card with one word on it:


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Meet Sandy

iwantsandylaunch.jpgI Want Sandy is an email-based, automated personal assistant created by Rael Dornfest and values of n, makers of Stikkit. I've been messing around with her (in a totally platonic way) since Cory Doctorow mentioned it last week, and it's really slick.

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The Backs of Envelopes are Blank for a Reason

I wanted to piggyback off Merlin's post about paper yesterday because, A) I thought it was spot-on, and B) he scooped about 90% of what I wanted to write today. Nonetheless, he nailed something that sent me into a tizzy of note scribbling and bedtime brainstorming, about paper's sweet spot:

Still, for thinking, capture, and live collaboration, paper is one of the best friends you’ll ever have. And as long as we use it properly, it’s going to continue to enhance the creation of all downstream media.

This struck such a nerve because lately, I've become increasingly aware of how paper plays that role in my work. Like I said before, I'm the last person you should be listening to for advice on personal systems, but no matter what shape or form of digital doodads I'm using to hold my stuff, I always have some paper handy when I really want to get busy. Lately, it's been a Moleskine notebook, but it could be index cards, Post-It notes, or some good old fashioned college-ruled; it doesn't matter. My best work always comes out of sitting in front of the word processor with a pen and paper right next to me, ready for brainstorming, ad hoc project planning, and straight-up doodling.

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The downside of the outboard brain

The fate of human memory

Clive Thompson writes on a phenomenon I think about constantly: if you really do start entrusting all your ephemeral memory work to external systems, might your wetware start to atrophy?

Apparently, yes:

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Tip of the Tongue Strategies

Even the most diligent among us can't always remember to pocket a pen and paper everywhere we go (or, shhh!, won't admit that sometimes we just don't want to), but of course that's always when our best ideas hit us. Last night when I was walking my dog, I'm convinced I came up with the answer to global warming, but before I got home to write it down, I had a conversation with a neighbor, checked my mail, and watered the plants, so I might as well have been thinking about the lyrics to "Sussudio" for all I could remember. And try as I might, I couldn't bring it back.

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Merlin at IDEO: "Know How" Talk with Scott Underwood

Scott Underwood from IDEO was kind enough to invite me down to their Palo Alto HQ for a tour of the renowned design group (they designed Apple’s first mouse!) and to participate with him in one of the company's internal "Know How" talks. It was very informal (and -- because this was during my recent "100-year sinus infection" -- I was completely high on cold medicine).

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An Oblique Strategy:
Honor thy error as a hidden intention


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