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For the last 9 months (ok that’s a complete guess; let’s just say for a while) I’ve been the cold dead hand guiding the ou’s twitter account @openuniversity.  Historically this account has pulled in OU news feeds via Twitterfeed and has tweeted OU / BBC co-productions about an hour before they are due to be aired on TV and Radio (which is pretty cool I think and achieved thanks to the work of the good folk at Open2.net who also feed their twitter account in the same way.

Now the big thing about Twitter (and of course most other soshul medja) is that it’s two-way, it’s a conversation – it’s part of the read/write web.  This is one of the reasons that I hate the BBC’s Testmatch special twitter account which just broadcasts random things and NEVER gets involved in a bit of banter.  It’s also the reason I’ve been feeling a bit unhappy about what we were doing (or rather weren’t doing) with @openuniversity.

As part of day-to-day ‘sentiment monitoring’ I keep an eye on twitter mentions of the open university – there’s actually quite a lot. Potential students pondering new courses, existing students bitching about / praising  OU courses – basically the sort of stuff that people discuss in the normal world.  Anyway I’ve always held off following these people on twitter (as @openuniversity) in case they found it a bit uncomfortable, but about ten days ago I decided to give it a go.  Since then I’ve been having a bit of back-and-forth banter (both with students and other universities) and helping out students who send questions to @openuniversity (‘can i get an iCal feed of my tutorial dates?’ etc).  All of this has lead to an increase in followers (I started ‘talking’ c.5 feb).

OU twitter followers graph

which hopefully suggests it’s become a more useful service for people.  Obvious right?!

For the past year or so I have use Gmail as my email client for work and personal email (in fact I’ve moved away from Outlook completely, and only use Office when I have to share documents with colleagues who don’t use Gdocs).  I like to think that had my setup pretty well configured, so much so that when i saw this tweet from @problogger

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I thought that there was pretty much nothing I could be taught: The rest of this post is about how wrong i was!

Getting Things Done is (according to the Wikipedia page) ‘action management method created by David Allen’, but more inportantly for me, it’s firefox/gmail plugin written by  Andy Mitchel. So, What does it do?

Well, the idea is that you forget about your email inbox as being a mass of information relating to everything you’re working on and separate it out  so that it becomes a project management tool.  You do this by setting up special gmail labels.  Everything you prefix P/ (e.g. P/Platform) is designated as a project (you set up as many P/ labels as you have projects).  Labels beginning S/ are stauses (Next action, Actions, Waiting For, Finished etc) which you attach to emails and which allow you to create custom to-do lists based on projects.  C/ labels are context (e.g. work, personal etc) and R/ labels I use as resources (meeting minutes, contracts, agendas etc).

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The time consuming bit is going through you existing emails and assigning each one to a project (if it is related to one), labelling it a resource (if it is), and giving it a status.  I only went back to Dec 08 on this cos I just don’t have time to do it all.  Now when you receive emails into you inbox you action them immediately (if they’re 2 minute jobs), or you label them up (perhaps they are something you want to add to a particular project’s to-do list so the label is S/Action P/my project – all available via a handy drop-down) and archive them.

Similarly GTD GMail makes it easy to send emails to yourself or others that are prelabelled so that when you get replies they are preconfigured to be neatly filed away.

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One of the real powers of GTD is the custom searches that it allows you to create (which again are available via drop-down).  So, I have custom searches that show me the to-do lists I have on each project and I can easily create a search that shows me all the minutes for a particular project – nice!  Thanks to the stupid amount of GB gmail gives me I never have to print these off and file them away – they’re just easily findable via my email client.

There’s loads of other good stuff (custom filters, to-do list print options etc) I could get into but I only started using GTD on Wed so I’m still getting to grips with its more arcane aspects.  Anyway, if you have any questions or tips gime a shout!