Category Archives: Productivity

BirdSpotter – The Birdwatchers Log Book

I’ve been a keen birder, twitcher if you will, from an early age. Whilst I don’t have much time in the field at present I’ve decided to embark on a project that I’ve had on the back burner ever since I first go into web applications about 10 years ago; a web based birders log.

So has been born. Check out the blog on the site for announcements and information about design and features. If there’s anything you’d like to see then leave a comment over on the blog and I’ll add it to the list.

Goalpro 2008 Reviewed

A face lift, but no new functionality to speak of, doesn’t warrant the hefty upgrade fee for this goal tracking software.

Review of Goalpro 2008
Rated as 2/5 on Dec 30 2007 by David Hollingworth


It was some time ago that I stopped using Goalpro 6 in favour of MyLifeOrganized (MLO) for organizing my goals and getting things done. At the time I felt that Goalpro had an outdated user interface and lacked certain functions that GTD requires such as contexts. Whilst Goalpro has some nice features, like the scratch pad, it just didn’t cut it for me as a tool for day to day use.

I was interested to try out the new Goalpro 2008 version released recently to see if there was any new functionality that would tempt me back to Goalpro. I have to say that I was very disappointed with what I found. Sure there’s a new set of icons that give the tired user interface a bit of a face lift; but really that’s where it ends. The “what’s new” list give a few other items that have changed like the ‘completely revised journal’; but when I looked at the journal it looked exactly the same as the previous version. Other examples include new Calendar and Success Tree options; but it fails to say what those options are and again the Success Tree and Calendar look exactly the same as in Goalpro 6 with the exception on new icons.

Then you come to the price. A purchase isn’t cheap at $89.95; but if this software fits your requirements then it’s worth paying the price. It’s the upgrade price that gets me; a whopping $59.95 for no new functionality. That is nothing short of a rip off and is certainly very, very poor value for money. I, for one, won’t be upgrading.

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Challenging Goals

When we set a goal it has to be a challenge. A goal that’s set too easy has little motivational impact; there’s little reward from achieving something that’s very easy and so there’s not much to motivate us.

On the other hand setting a goal that’s too hard is also demotivating. If we don’t believe we can achieve a goal then we won’t put any determination into getting them done.

Setting a goal is therefore a balance between setting it too easy and setting it too hard. This is where the A (Attainable) in SMART goals comes into play. We have to believe we can attain a goal and yet not set that goal too easy; it has to be a challenge.

How do you know when you’ve set a goal that’s too easy or too hard? Leave a comment and share your experiences.

Why Not Get Hassled?

If you’re like me then you need a gentle prod every so often to remind you to work on the targets you’ve set for yourself. If this is the case then the Hassle Me site might be good for you.

A very simple idea, you provide the frequency you want to be hassled in days, the text of the hassle, like “Go for a ride on your bike”; and a number of email addresses. HassleMe then emails you a reminder at roughly (not exactly) the number of days you’ve asked to be hassled. The slight randomness helps to prevent the hassle just becoming part of the routine “select / delete” part of email processing.

Try out the service (it’s free). If it works for you then great, if not then simply put it back on the shelf.

Keeping The Focus

In my last posting on attaining goals we looked at maintaining an All Projects list and a Current Projects list. However even my Current Projects list is too large to be easily manageable with eight projects on it, six of which are active.

To be really productive you have to be focussed and this means concentrating on one project at a time. Every time you switch projects it takes some of your productive time to get into the mind set for that project, pick up the tasks and get yourself organized. All this is time that is not actually moving the project forwards. If you spend your time doing a bit here and doing a bit there then you’ll make little progress across a broad spectrum of projects. This can rapidly become demotivating as seemingly little progress is made on any front.

With the index card system it’s easy to maintain the focus. Every morning, as part of the morning routine, review the Current Projects list:

  1. Has a waiting project become active? Then mark it as active.
  2. Is an active project now waiting for something? Then remove its Active sticker
  3. Which project is needs to be focussed on now? Mark this project with a different colour.

Here’s my Current Project list for this morning:

Current projects list showing project focus

This immediately puts me into the mind set I need to do focussed work on this project and makes the project stand out from the rest. Every time I glance at the Current Projects list I know just where I must focus my attention. Once I’ve completed all the tasks I can on this project then I’ll move the Focused Project sticker to the next most important project and start to focus there.

Soon we’ll look at breaking goals and projects down into the individual tasks needed to get them done and looking at how these fall into the organization structure.

Daily & Weekly Review Routines

I wanted to highlight an excellent posting by Leo over on on the subject of creating daily and weekly review routines.

I disagree somewhat with Leo’s assertion that David Allen leaves out structure from his Get Things Done (GTD) philosophy, personally I found it highly structured; but perhaps that’s just my mind imposing my structure on it, as Leo has done in his article.

Anyway, give the posting a read, I’m sure you’ll find it useful.

Keeping Track of Goals

If you’re anything like me you’ve probably got dozens of on-going goals or projects that you went to get done. How do you keep track of all of these and ensure nothing gets missed?

Part of the answer is in having regular reviews; but then you need to have something organized to look at when it comes to review time. Now you can either go high-tech (computerized) or low-tech (paper based) in this and there’s often an on-line debate as to which is better and what tool is best for the job. It’s not what you use that matters, it’s making it work for you that counts.

My current goal tracking system starts with an All Projects list.

The All Projects list is used as a high level overview of all the goals I want to achieve. An entry on here ensures none of my goals slips under the carpet and gets forgotten about.

I was amazed when I wrote out my All Projects list that I had so many things I wanted to get done. It was no wonder some things never got addressed – there were just too many of them to keep them all going around in my head. Here’s the first page of the list in full and thumbnails to the second and third pages if you want to take a look:

All Projects List - Page 1

All Projects List - Page 2 All Projects List - Page 3

That’s one big list of projects; but some of these aren’t active yet. In fact I’ve only got eight active projects out of this list of thirty one. When I decide I’m going to address a project or a goal I move it onto a Current Projects card.

Current Projects

Now I can see the eight goals or projects that are currently active and need me to spend some time on so that’s narrowed the field down somewhat. However some of these projects are temporarily on hold so I use transparent sticky tabs to highlight those projects that can be worked at present:

Current Projects Showing Active Projects

At every review this shows me which goals I should and can be addressing now. At review time I can check my All Projects list for anything that has come into scope and needs further work; these get moved to my Current Projects list. I then check my Current Projects to see which projects need my immediate attention and which are on hold.

In a future post I’ll be looking at how the project cards integrate with task lists and to-do lists. Until then I’d love to read how you manage your high level goals, particularly if you’re using a low-tech system.

Loosing Weight – Reviewed.

Thumbnail of my goal review card.
I set my weight loss goal on 25th April and it’s now mid-June so it’s definitely time for a review. I had a fairly major life change at the end of May when I was made redundant. So another reason to take stock and review.

I followed my goal review method and above is the resulting map (please click the thumbnail for a larger view). From this you can see that:

  1. Relevance is still very high – loosing the weight is still very important to me
  2. But that the walking goal I set for the month of May didn’t pan out as expected. The feedback here is that:
    1. Things started well for the first week or so
    2. Then I got ill with a stomach bug
    3. For the latter half of the month the redundancy proceedings took over and completely threw out any sort of routine

    It boils down to the fact that I found it impossible to establish the new walking habit at lunchtime because I needed to be more flexible at that time. I could have done it; but I chose not to!

  3. Any new sub-goals to contribute to my weight loss goal?
    1. I can cycle instead of walk. I’ve always enjoyed cycling and used to cycle a lot in my thirties. This needs a new goal set with targets. I’ve much more motivation to cycle than walk, and I’ve a new bike!
    2. Do the ‘I Can Make You Thin’ 90 day challenge. This is a book (and a TV series) from Paul McKenna. I followed the TV series and I believe the challenge is based on some sound principles. This too needs a SMART goal that I started to sketch out on my review card.
  4. Finally, Next Actions! What am I going to do next to kick start the weight loss goal again?
    • Set a SMART cycling goal with weekly targets, making it very easy to start so that I can establish the habit.
    • Set the 90 day challenge and follow through the work book.

I’ll be following up on these new goals in a latter posting.

By the way, I have lost some weight! I lost 5 pounds during my stomach upset and, at the last weighing, I’d kept them off!

Goals Review Time

Life has a habit of dealing out distractions. Just when you think you’ve everything tied down, you’ve the goals set, you know how you’re going to get there and everything is going swimmingly and then the slightest little thing an take you off on a tangent.

When you realize this has happened then it’s time to take stock and have a thorough review. This isn’t about, “Oh dear! Oh dear! I shall be too late!” as the White Rabbit in Alice In Wonderland was wont to say. This is about saying, “This is where I am now, what’s the next step I need to take”.

Here’s my recommendations for a goals review;

  • Make a list of your top level goals, hopefully you have these in one place somewhere already. If not then write them down now.
  • For each goal in turn take a separate piece of paper (I prefer index cards myself) or use some software like MindManager; and write a single goal on that paper.
  • Now ask yourself:
    • Is this goal still relevant to you? Has your life changed in any way so that the goal simply isn’t worth pursuing? If the goal doesn’t pass this test then bin it now.
    • What are the challenges you’re currently facing in the completion of this goal and what resources do you need now? Note down anything that comes up, it’s possible there are some hidden blockers here that will have to be addressed. The sooner their out in the open the better.
    • List any and all sub-goals. Revisiting the goals in this way can often bring additional goals out into the open that you didn’t know existed. Or possibly take you down a different path to your goal.
    • Lastly decide what the very next action is to be for this goal and any sub-goals. Write them down, it helps to make them stand out from the rest of the list or map so you can quickly identify the tasks next time you look at the paper.

Do this for each goal in turn. When you’re done collate all the ‘next actions’ for your goals and start work on the first one. Now you’re both physically back in touch with your goals and have readjusted your mind set into goal oriented mode.

Planning For Success

Benjamin Franklin once said:

By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.

You’ve possibly heard that quote so many times you’re blue in the face with it; but never the less it’s true. If we want to achieve our goals we must prepare for our success.

Recently I suggested you make a list of your long term goals; anything that you want to achieve in a few months time right out to life long goals like having a nice home to retire to. These goals may seem very remote and consequently you may find it difficult to plan for them; but these are the goals that require the most planning to ensure success.

Let’s take the retirement home as an example. Suppose you want to be in a position to purchase a house to retire to in, say, 20 years time. So you create your SMART goal:

  • Specific – purchase a 3 bedroom house with a sea view. You’d want to make this much more specific; but I shall save space.
  • Measurable – You’ve bought the house and moved in.
  • Attainable – So long as you start early enough this is attainable (alternatively you could rob a bank; but I don’t condone such action to attain your goals).
  • Relevant – contributes to my family and environment values.
  • Timed – You’ve 20 years.

So where do we go from here? Forget about the goal for 20 years and then say, “OK, missed that one”? No!

The next step is to brainstorm all the things we think might, in some way, help us to get to our goal. To do this set aside some quiet time where you’re not going to be interrupted. If this is a goal to be shared with your partner or work colleagues then include them in the brain storming session.

Here’s a quick brainstorm I did for our example goal;

  • Raise the finances
  • Find a new house
  • Sell the current house
  • Move house

The first item, “Raise the finances” needs some further investigation as we’ve identified here another goal, a sub-goal of the goal to buy a house by the sea.

Sub-goals need to be treated in just the same way as the main goals; they need to be SMART;

  • Specific – “Raise the finances” isn’t specific. We need to specify what our goal is, I.e. how much we want to spend on the house in 20 years. Raise 2.5 million in savings is specific.
  • Measurable – Just look in the savings account or get a statement from our stock broker.
  • Attainable – Yes because we’re putting the work in now to achieve our long term goals
  • Revelent – Yes because it contributes directly to the parent goal
  • Timed – We have a little less than the parent goal to get this done; say 19 years.

Now we have a (slightly) shorter time scale goal to raise 2.5 million in savings in 19 years. So we perform the same process on this goal; brain storm all the things we need to do to accomplish it:

  • Get a better paid job – one that earns at least 100K a year
  • Invest savings

Two new goals! Both of these need to be done as soon as possible to get the maximum financial gain. Investing the savings we can accomplish within three months. The search for a better paid job might take 6 months. Again these goals get the SMART treatment.

By now you’ll have got the picture. Keep breaking each step down into it’s sub-goals and make each sub-goal SMART. At the end of the process you’ll have mapped out all the stepping stone that are going to take you to your goal, even if it is twenty years in the future.

If you’ve any questions at all on this process please don’t hesitate to leave them in the comments. Next we’ll be looking at making goals work for you on a day to day basis.

Stay tuned!