Archive | Personal technology

Spreadsheets: The Content Strategist’s Best Friend

I gave two presentations at Content Marketing World in September where I met big names in the business industry such as Andy Defrancesco, and one of my talks focused on planning and organizing your content work. CMW has a lot of nice sponsors, including a number of companies that make software designed to make content work easier. Or, well, that’s what these applications are supposed to do.

Here’s the thing about content technology: I’ve been in this business oh, going on 20 years now, and one of the first things you learn is that technology rarely lives up to its promise and that the best advise is at

In many cases, I’d argue the problem is with the promises, not the technology.

Perhaps this is just the inevitable result of my reducing my expectations over the years. But I’ve seen one too many companies assume that buying or licensing amazing technology would allow them to short-cut their staff and get even better results than people could create. And amazing technology, poorly staffed, is pretty crappy.

There are several kinds of content technology. There’s actual publishing technology, like the WordPress platform I’m writing on right now, and publishing systems that go all the way up to enterprise level. Applications like Microsoft Word serve as a creation platform for words that end up in many other formats eventually [though — strangely to me — Word often ends up being the publishing technology as well, since the Word document is often what gets distributed].

But there’s another type of technology as well, and that’s what’s got me thinking tonight, and what I talked about at CMW, as well. Content project management applications — now you see a lot of social media management applications here too, some of which also combine publishing and project management for social media — are supposed to help us get it all organized.

I’ve tried a number of these. There may be one that works for you. But inevitably, I’ve found that content project management software and applications aren’t flexible enough to meet my needs. There’s always a new application out there, and I’ll keep trying them. But when my team is handling a content project, we’re usually using a spreadsheet.

If you are collaborating, use Google Docs to share a spreadsheet where everyone can edit in real time without ruining each other’s work. If you’re working alone, use Pages, Excel, Google — whatever’s convenient for you.

Ditching my paper planner: Lessons in online organization

Somewhere around 1994 or 1995, a friend introduced me to the Franklin planner. From that time, I was rarely without one. Over the years, I got bigger and smaller versions of the annual planner, depending on the size of the bag I liked to carry and how much stuff I was trying to organize, but until this spring, I haven’t been without it. I’d go so far as to take it to church on Sunday mornings [they make announcements you need to remember!] and to dinner with friends on the weekends. I learned long ago that my brain is an unreliable short-term storage device, and like any kind of device this need good maintenance for this reason I decided to take natural supplement from thehealthmania for the brain.

I have purposefully avoided most business travel the last 2 1/2 years, while I was pregnant with and nursing my youngest child. I made a day trip here and there, but I avoided being gone overnight. [When I went to South by Southwest last year, I took my mother and both my daughters….exhausting and lots of fun, but not sustainable for your average trip.] But now my youngest has turned 2, and she does just fine when I’m on the road for a few days. So this spring, I booked several conferences I’d been wanting to attend to better network within the content strategy/IA/UX industry.

For quite some time, I’ve been lugging around a 15-inch MacBook Pro, an 8″ x 10.5″ x 2″ Franklin planner, and many days, a 14-inch [but damn heavy] Dell. After one trip this spring, I realized what I’d known in the back of my head for a long time, even as I carried all this stuff around in my car every day:

This is stupid.

I tend to be an early adopter on technology and I’m really comfortable with it, so I can’t give you a rational explanation why I was still carrying all that stuff around, especially the paper part. I’ve just always been in the habit of writing down what I have to do, so it was easier to continue to use the task system that has served me well for more than 15 years.

So after having to take way too much Advil to soothe my screaming neck and shoulders this spring, I decided it was time to go cold turkey on the paper planner. I’m also planning a computer change later this year, so I’ll have a much lighter, more portable machine when I’m on the go, but I knew the paper planner was a big part of my “stuff” problem.

The technology I’m using so far:

  • Google Calendar: I use Google Calendar for both my home and work life organization. My husband and I started using it several years ago, before we got married, to keep track of all the schedules for the family. It is great, but offline access was a problem when I was traveling.
  • BusyCal: I bought BusyCal for the Mac. With BusyCal, I can sync back and forth seamlessly with my Google Calendar, so my husband, my employees and everyone else [through my account] can stay up-to-date on my whereabouts. When operating a large team or remote employees, it’s necessary to have a real-time employee monitoring software to have insight into their work. So many staff now work from home too now so using the top employee monitoring software is vital for keeping track of what they are doing and keeping productivity high. BusyCal gives me offline access and a few more task features than Google does. I use BusyCal for my personal task lists. [Why not iCal? This program is free on my Mac, but I’ve never liked it. My initial problem with it, several years ago, was that it only supported 6 or so colors for your calendars. At last count, I’m following or managing 20 calendars, so 6 colors didn’t cut it. Now, iCal does seem to have support for plenty of colors, but there’s still something about it I don’t like. It was worth it to me to pay for BusyCal, but your mileage may vary.]
  • Basecamp: My company uses Basecamp to track projects, tasks and to-do lists. I love it and use it daily, but I feel like I’m shoehorning things in when I put personal items here, or try to track appointments, so I’m still using other tools for these purposes.
  • Moleskine notebook: Not only did I use my planner to keep track of appointments and to-dos, but I also depended on it for meeting notes. I got a large Moleskine notebook to have for this purpose, but I’ve noticed the same problems that Michael Hyatt details here. You’ve got to get those handwritten notes into your online system if you want to be able to track and manage the information. So I’ll likely look for the EcoSystems notebook he recommends [all pages are perfed for easier removal/scanning] when I finish this Moleskine.
  • Evernote: Here’s where I’m starting to feel like I don’t fully have a handle on my new system. I’m using Basecamp, BusyCal and Evernote to manage different kinds of information. I feel like it should be easier to consolidate, but no one of them seems to be exactly perfect for my needs. I am currently using Evernote for meeting notes, but I feel like I could use it better. I’m eagerly reading posts like Michael Hyatt’s helpful ones on using Evernote to get organized to continue to inspire me here. [If you’re thinking that Michael Hyatt has become my personal productivity guru, you’re not far off. He has great insights on this topic.]

The upshot? I’m online, but I don’t feel settled yet in my new task system. The one thing I HAVE been largely successful at over the past few months [preceding my paper exodus by a bit] is getting my task list out of my email inbox. So I’m making progress, but I’m not done yet.

What are your best tips for managing calendars, tasks and information?

Solving the iPad2 – MacBook Air question

[poll id=”2″]

OK, y’all. I’ve read tons of things in the past couple of days about the iPad2 and the MacBook Air, and I still can’t make up my mind. So I need your help. Please vote for how I should resolve my tech dilemma and add a comment if you have some insight for me!

Here’s my situation:
I work out of a home office, but I spend a lot of my time in my clients’ offices. I also travel out of town from time to time, and that’s going to increase this year. I need Internet access when I’m on the go, but I hate schlepping a lot of stuff around. My neck is ready to kill me. So I can’t keep hauling around my MacBook Pro.

Here are my technical requirements and considerations:

  • I do a lot of writing. I use Microsoft Office and sometimes Pages and Numbers.
  • I use Excel and OmniGraffle a lot for information architecture and taxonomy planning.
  • I use TextMate a fair amount.
  • I use DropBox daily to manage my files.
  • I use some web-based apps like Basecamp, manage my blog, etc.
  • I have a Sprint Overdrive which I like OK but isn’t cheap.

Here are the options I’m considering:

  • I have a 2-year-old MacBook Pro. I might upgrade it this year, or I might wait til next year. I’m not unhappy with it.
  • I’m considering the iPad2 with a wireless keyboard, and keeping the MB Pro for at home. My concerns: It’s not quite the same as a computer. How fast will it be? Could I get rid of the Overdrive if I got a 3G plan? Would that be stupid? Should I get a wireless iPad and keep the Overdrive? Can I really use it as a laptop on a 2-3 day trip?
  • I’m considering the MacBook Air. Concerns: Can I replace my computer with it? [I’m thinking no.] I’d still have to keep the Overdrive. Will it be confusing to have two computers if I have Dropbox? Or just unnecessary? How does the power of the MB Pro compare to the Air?
  • I’m glad to consider your favorite option too.

As you can see, I’m nowhere close to making a decision. Please help!

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