Michael Castello makes home-made pizza, does DIY projects around the house, camps in the great outdoors *and* is saving the world as an MD/PhD student. But don’t get too excited, ladies ;) This man’s taken - happily married to a beautiful wife and living the life in SoCal.
Lucky for us, Michael makes GTD and Producteev work for him. This post is about how he manages tasks in grad school as a med student.
For me, digital task management began with Microsoft Outlook somewhere in my “tween” years. By the time middle school came around, I was syncing it with a Windows Mobile PDA, awkwardly carrying it around wherever I could. Today, I find myself using Producteev to try and wrangle the myriad of to-do items that come with being a married MD/PhD student who has too many hobbies.
I use a number of different devices, so I interact with Producteev in just all about of its forms in the course of my day. On my desktop PC, I use the web interface and try to process anything I woke up remembering that I needed to accomplish. At school or in the lab, I use a MacBook Pro, and have recently fallen in love with the desktop app. It allows me to break Producteev out of the browser, sorting it to its own space and minimizing the ability of the rest of the internet to distract me while I am processing my tasks. Finally, on the go I use my smartphone, running the superior Android OS. Until there is a native Android app for Producteev, I sync with Astrid - which is actually how I discovered Producteev in the first place.
Overcoming Smartphone Challenges
One of the many things I like about Producteev is how easy it is to assign all of the relevant meta-information to a task as you are creating it. While my fingers are still on the keyboard, I can set priority, due date, workspace, and tags, so as soon as I press enter, the task is formatted exactly how it needs to be, no further processing required.
I’ve found, however, that adding that extra information is more than a little cumbersome on a soft keyboard smartphone, simply because the symbols take extra effort to access. When I’m on my phone I’m usually in the middle of doing something else and don’t have the time to carefully format a task. I deal with this by having Astrid set to put all new tasks into the brain dump workspace. If I think of something while mobile, I enter it as quickly as possible, saving the categorization and cleanup for when I have time at a full-size computer, such as at the beginning or end of the day.
Other Integrations & Experiments
I’ve been playing around a bit with integrating Evernote with Producteev. If I take meeting notes in Evernote, I can not only search through them later, I can also email the entire note to Producteev as a task, with all the surrounding information attached. Be aware that if the note has a lot of images and other content (such as a clipped web page), it can generate a good deal of garbage notes as well.
For processing email-based tasks, I generally either still forward the email to Producteev with the appropriate syntax in the subject line or switch to the app and enter the task myself.
I’m hoping in the future to make more use of the shared workspaces, both at home between myself and my wife and between the members of my lab. I see this as being helpful for identifying tasks that require cooperation to complete and for sending others to-do items that they can prioritize as they see fit.
I’m not a strict follower of Getting Things Done (GTD), but I am enamored with the idea of organizing and breaking down tasks into items with clear contexts and end points. Heavily inspired by this article, I set up a number of different context-related workspaces. Each one contains tasks that I must complete or remember in that specific context: Home, Lab, School, Errands, Computer, and Communication. I also have a workspace for projects, and a brain dump. Keep in mind that each new workspace will need to be separately configured to integrate with Google Calendar and other services.
With this many workspaces, the overview pane becomes quite valuable - I can quickly get an idea of what has be accomplished over the next few days regardless of context. I can also switch to a specific workspace to keep other types of tasks from looming and overwhelming me. I’ve found that this has helped me focus a great deal - I can concentrate on lab tasks while at lab, even as I think of and add things I’ll need to do later at home.
I’ve found that having a separate workspace for projects and other “some day” items is helpful. This is where tags come in especially handy: A project often has a number of steps, which I try to break down into individual tasks. Tagging all of these with a project helps keep them together, and priorities can be used to assign them a kind of hierarchy so it’s obvious which one has to be tackled first.
At this point I’ve been actively using Producteev for about nine months and it’s been extremely useful for helping me organize and remember everything I need to accomplish. It’s always a struggle to not get overwhelmed and to take decisive action to complete a task, but anything that helps lower the activation energy required is a boon - and Producteev makes for a wonderful catalyst.
Awesome news: starting with the new school year today, we’re launching Producteev for Education and giving away our Premium plan to anyone with a .edu address.
Students are one of the most common demographics on Producteev. They use it for everything from managing their homework to keeping a simple shopping list. But, with Producteev’s freemium model, it’s been pricey for students to collaborate with others. Now it’s free!With ProducteevEdu, you can now easily manage tasks for yourself or with your group, classmates, professors, and more - the possibilities are literally endless. And using our web, native, and mobile apps, you can take your tasks to go and manage them from anywhere!
Remember Producteev integrates with students’ favorite tools too, so you can sync with Google Calendar and email in a task! With our newest crowdsourcing feature, you can even keep a workspace completely private but get help on a specific task by sharing it on twitter, facebook, or over email in one click!
Producteev for Education is already being embraced by superusers and newbies. After doing a private demo at Columbia University (two team members’ Alma mater), student governments, developer groups, and labs on campus have contacted us about getting it implemented in their environment.
We’re really excited about how students will use Producteev! We hope you’re excited too, so don’t put off productivity a minute longer - sign up today!
Bonus: Anyone can use their unique sign up URL to refer peeps and have a chance to win a Kindle, iPod, or even access to the awesome Producteev3 beta! =)
What comes to mind at the mention of the word ‘school,’ or ‘college’? Ok, besides the parties! ;) It’s all the things you have to do, right? This is where the syllabus is your guide! Use it to get things scheduled and out of sight, out of mind. That way, you can enjoy other things (pssst, where’s the party Friday night?)How Producteev can help you lead an active social life ;)
- Plan your complete syllabus. That’s right, plan ahead to have more time later.
With each syllabus, scan through assignments, plot titles and due dates accordingly, on any Producteev application (web, mobile, desktop). Tip: set reminders to give yourself a little nudge. These are available via e-mail, IM.
- Label to-dos. Trust me, you’ll thank me later. ;) Assign a ‘label’ to each class. This helps you file them and provides a good visual, in addition to our calendar view.
- Add notes to anything. Now don’t get carried away, though you’re probably suspect for getting note-happy! The caveat is to make notes action-oriented so that you’re actually helping yourself move forward, instead of just collecting useless information. Tip: click on the number of notes (to the right of a task title) in your task list to expand the note window.
- Free & collaborative. Study buddies? No problem! Sign up below for the completely free version for groups and individual students!
- Procrastination just got easier! ;) Well, more like, you can move deadlines around with ease. Adjust dates, as your schedule sees fit. You can either change due dates in the SCHEDULE pop up, or from the Calendar View.
Ridiculously easy interface. Not a tech-whiz? No problem! Just one look at the interface, and you will see that it is very basic and user-friendly. There are also video tutorials to help you get started, as well as additional videos to help you get moreso into the nitty-gritty.
It’s never too late, but why wait? Sign up to begin using Producteev for Education now! Doing everything you’re expected to do as a student is now a piece of cake!Recommended article:
20 Ways to Plan for Student Success with Producteev
You’ve recruited the individual members of your team. You’ve established your goal. You’ve developed a plan and a timeline. Now the trick is to get all those unique individuals working together toward the same goal. Given the varied personalities, communication skills and personal agendas individual members bring with them to the team, getting your team to work cooperatively can be a challenge.
In the most productive teams, members are individually and cooperatively focused on reaching the team’s goal. Members understand the interdependent nature of the team: that their individual work depends upon and affects the quality of others’ work and, ultimately, the ability of the team to reach its goal. Members respect, appreciate and recognize each person’s unique contribution to the team’s efforts, but place the greatest emphasis on cooperative achievement of the team goal.
Experiential team building was all the rage not long ago. The team would travel offsite for a “fun” day of rope games and unusual problem solving, typically at an outdoor education center. Unfortunately, too often there was little follow-up and any lessons learned never made it back into the workplace. Today, the emphasis has shifted to in-house team building exercises that can be accomplished at the beginning of a meeting.
Follow these key steps to plan a productive team building exercise:
1. Keep it simple. It should be quick and easy to set up in a typical meeting room.
2. It doesn’t need to be expensive. You can get a lot of mileage out of basic office supplies or a few items from your kitchen pantry.
3. The exercise should be geared for normal office clothing or team members should be told ahead of time to dress appropriately.
4. People have a hard time relating to large groups, so divide the team into small units of 2 to 4 or 6 people. By breaking down barriers and creating partnerships within these small groups, team members will be better able to relate to the larger team.
5. Instructions must be easy to understand, especially by any non-native English speakers in your group.
6. Limited instructions may be part of the team building exercise. Forcing people to figure out what to do or how to do something helps team members identify skills and abilities in themselves and their peers that can help them define their roles on the team: leader, facilitator, problem-solver, communicator, etc.
7. The exercise should engage all members quickly.
8. It should present a problem that has multiple solutions to allow for creativity, but that can only be solved through collaboration and cooperative action.
9. You can increase the difficulty level of any exercise by adding a complication such as “no talking,” or by speeding things up by asking, “How can you do it faster?”
10. At the completion of the exercise, it is crucial that a facilitator, often the team leader, lead the team in reflecting on what happened, the choices made, and how they interacted with each other. Team members should discuss what they would do differently next time. Reflection is critical to identifying and reinforcing learning.
Try these team building exercises to get your team off on the right foot.
1. Scrambled Jigsaw. Before the team arrives, place a jigsaw on each table. To manage the time element, use large-piece children’s puzzles of 100 pieces or so. Remove 5 pieces from each puzzle and move them to another table. As the team arrives, divide members among the tables. Instruct teams to fully complete their puzzle, by any means, in the shortest amount of time possible. As puzzles are completed and teams realize pieces are missing, they will be forced to negotiate with other teams to complete their puzzle. This exercise promotes flexibility, communication, negotiation and cooperation.
2. Creative Assembly. Purchase 3-D punch-out wood dinosaur puzzle kits. Divide the team into groups of 2 to 4. Without comment or instruction, give each group the unpunched puzzle pieces, one complete puzzle per group. Do not let the group see the boxes, pictures or instructions or in any way identify what you have given them. Instruct each group to assemble its project, telling them they can only use what is in front of them. You’ll get some interesting and creative constructions, a lot of laughter and some good natured frustration, particularly with the winged dinosaur kits. When time is up, ask each group to describe its construct. In this exercise, creative thinking, brainstorming, problem-solving, cooperation and consensus will certainly get a workout.
3. Slight of Hand. Divide team into groups of 4 to 6. Hand each group 4 tennis balls. Tell them each person must handle all 4 balls in the shortest time possible. Do this several times, each time asking, “How can you do it faster?” This exercise will progress from the obvious passing of the balls down a line, to around a circle, to some interesting ball drops and hand swiping. Your team will practice cooperation, quick thinking and creative problem solving in this exercise.
4. Going Up. Divide team into groups of 2 to 6. Give each person one 8 1/2” x 11” sheet of paper and one 5” strip of masking tape. Instruct each team to build the tallest possible free-standing structure. This exercise promotes cooperation, creative thinking, problem-solving, consensus, leadership and division of labor.
5. Gnome Dome. Divide the team into groups of 2. Give each group 20 gumdrops and 12 toothpicks. Instruct each group to build a dome. Problem-solving, creative thinking, cooperation (and possibly snacking) will be practiced during this exercise.
6. Poisonous Web. Stretch a piece of rope across a door frame, securing it to the frame or connecting wall with duct tape. You’ll need two pieces of rope, one 3 feet off the ground, the other 4 1/2 feet off the ground. You are creating a “window” 18 inches wide that you describe to the team as a “poisonous spider web.” The team must work together to get all members through the opening without touching the ropes. They must go through, not under or over the ropes. If a team member touches either rope, the entire team must go back to the beginning and try again. This exercise builds cooperation, leadership, creativity and problem-solving. It also forces team members to trust and depend on each other.
7. Hang Ups. Hand each person a wire coat hanger. Tell the group they may work individually or create their own groups. Instruct them to make something useful from their coat hanger. Set a time limit of 5 to 15 minutes. Ask each person/group to describe his “tool” and its use. This exercise will indicate which of your team members are natural leaders or born socialites as well as which are more shy and may need to be drawn out when working with the group.
8. In the Picture. This is another puzzle game. Divide the team into groups and give each one a jigsaw puzzle from which you have already removed one piece. Each team will complete a puzzle with one missing piece. Ask each team what this represents in terms of the team. You’re aiming for discovery of the importance of each individual to the successful accomplishment of the team’s goal, but you may get some interesting responses about proper planning, supply officers and quality control.
9. All Aboard. This is another physical game. Depending on the size of your team, place a 1-foot to 3-foot square of cardboard on the floor, or mark off a square with masking or duct tape. Draw numbers, one for each team member. In order of the numbers drawn, team members must stand in the square. As the number of people in the square increases, members will have to work together and get creative to get everyone aboard. This exercise practices cooperation, problem-solving and leadership.
10. Bridge the Gap. Divide the group into teams of 2 to 4. Give each group a small ball of modeling clay and 12 toothpicks. Instruct them to build the longest cantilever bridge they can. Award points for speed of construction, length of bridge, ability to stand without tipping over and ability to hold weight (to measure this, stack quarters until the bridge tips or breaks). Team members will practice creativity, problem-solving, consensus (and manual dexterity).
To be successful, teamwork must be more than a method of dividing up the work to get the job done. Teamwork must embrace a cooperative attitude of mutual respect, shared responsibility and open communication. Teamwork recognizes each team member’s individual contribution to the team in the context of the interdependency of those efforts in cooperative pursuit of the team’s goal.
Coming soon to a Wi-Fi connection near you
Awesome infographic on how people waste time at work. Are you guilty?
Team Spotlight: Mark Hamilton- Developer, Musician, Fearless Martial Arts Warrior
- Multiple Workspaces
- Less Stress
I’ve been on the Produceev team for over 4 months now, but I first fell in love with the service over a year ago. The feature that first hooked me in was the ability to turn emails into tasks. I hate having a full inbox, but with just a few keystrokes in Gmail I can forward the email to email@example.com and archive it for good. In around a minute I can clean out and tag around 15-20 emails. By assigning stars, labels and deadlines for all these tasks directly from my email client, (just add “##Follow Up 5* Tomorrow” to the subject,) I have effectively curated a task list that I can scan at a glance.
At the time of this writing I have 8 workspaces. Two of these are used for testing new features, one is for personal tasks, and the remaining five are for collaboration and other projects.
I keep between 2-3 of my workspaces open during my day at the office. I leave them in separate tabs and use the “pin tab” feature in Google Chrome to keep it tidy.
Neat Tip: Ctrl+1 in Chrome will display your first tab, Ctrl+2 will display the second, etc.
Having these always open eliminates any incentive for me to jot down my notes on paper. Besides—paper notes don’t have push notifications.
When I’m working on projects, I create new tasks as new issues arise and ideas pop up so I don’t forget about them. All the ##bugs that are introduced are prioritized and tracked, and all the ##issues that I have to bring up to the team are dealt with quickly.
At this point, I’m left in a very comfortable position. Since the software is handling all of the dates and priorities while I’m working, I don’t have to worry that I’ll forget about anything. If I sort by deadline or priority I can see exactly what needs to be done first without having to go through my email account, notes, and various other online services. Most importantly, throughout this whole process Producteev isn’t sucking up all my time dealing with project management since adding and editing tasks are quick processes.
My Personal Workspace gets a lot of traffic from me during the day, too. I drop in articles to read later, set reminders to catch up with friends, and add an occasional note to check out new technology or videos. I also use it for more the important things, like making sure I pick up my son’s records from school and getting my taxes done. Personal time is hard to find sometimes, so breaking things down into really small tasks is what makes this workspace feel less overwhelming.
Since the Producteev service is centralized on the web, it synchronizes with native applications, like the iPhone application. There’s also a light mobile web version that you will see automatically by going to Producteev.com from your phone. I’m using both. I love the notifications and offline features of the free iPhone app, but I also keep bookmarks directly to my most used dashboards on my home screen.
Lastly, I am still able to create milestones and a basecamp-eque workflow with my fluid style of working. For instance, in a major release cycle I can just create a new label (e.g., Version 1 Release) and assign it to all the tasks that fall under that milestone. If I need to see all the tasks within that milestone, I can just use that label’s filter. I find that Calendar view on the web app helps out a lot here by letting me drag tasks around for this.
Producteev is Indispensible
The burden of managing the tasks lies on the software. It rarely takes more than 15 minutes per day to manage my tasks, so I can focus on what I love doing (programming) rather than worrying about what I need to work on next. I automatically get reminders and notifications when I need to do something. I also don’t have to worry about sorting through notes, meeting minutes, emails, and a countless number of online services to remember what I need to get done. It’s all in one place.
If I have to meet a critical deadline, I can sort tasks by due date to make sure I hit my personal goals for the day, and if I’m running behind schedule, I can judge that quickly by looking at my list. On the other hand, if there’s no rush, I know I have some extra time to work on less critical, lighter tasks; this is stuff that normally get pushed around for ages. Additionally, the mobile and web apps are available virtually anywhere for a lot of platforms, so I can— and do— use it anywhere.
I’d like to go into more detail about my day here, but I’ll save that for another time. There’s just so much to get done!