Processing ELI Notes

Some folks treat conference attendance as an art form. A former colleague of mine used to spend weeks preparing for the American Psychological Association annual meeting–scoping out the speakers, planning the dining and recreation agenda, figuring out what folks he wanted to make contact with. He described his behavior at the conference:

I’m the type of conference-goer who attends every session, takes copious notes, captures every handout, and sucks up everything the vendors have to offer. Once I get home, though, I feel no compulsion to do anything with the notes, handouts or vendor swag. Most of it sits is in my official conference tote bag until I eventually chuck it out.

I take a somewhat different approach. I try to go to a conference with a few general ideas about what I think I’d like to learn and then go with the flow a bit in trying to find information or contacts that contribute to that. Face-to-face conferences generate their own energy–that’s the primary reason they continue to exist–and I pretty much try to respond and follow along. When I get home, thought, I usually do try to take all the notes and figure out how to integrate the learning from the conference into the projects that I’m working on.

In the GTD methodology, that means 1) collecting all the ideas, thoughts, and questions in a single place, 2) processing them to figure out which ones require some concrete action, 3) group the actionable ones into specific contexts (physical or mental location) where they can best be done, 4) make sure that all the items are stored in a trusted source where you’ll remember to do something with them.

I had a two hour layover in Atlanta and I used the time to generate a list of 67 possible actions that were triggered by the conference. Some of them take a minute or two (as long as I remember them when I’m in the right place); others take a lot longer. Here are some samples.

  1. Download and print Henry Jenkins white paper on Digital Media and Learning. (The context requires being at a computer with power and a network connection.)
  2. Read and take notes on Jenkins paper for inclusion in the brown bag on student attitudes toward technology. (The context can be pretty much anyplace. I store most of these long papers in hard copy in a reading file–my dogpile.)
  3. Get Postman’s End of Education from the library. (The context is physically being at the library. This is one of 5 books that were mentioned at the conference that I want to read but not buy. There are also 3 to order–probably second hand from Amazon.)

I store all the items in a Mac application called iGTD that allows me to easily tag items and then organize them by either context or by project. Now the only challenge is to develop some compulsion to actually do the things on the list.

Finding Focus

Last year at this time, I launched a little experiment. I set aside the amount of time that I normally would spend taking or teaching a class–about 10 hours a week for 15 weeks–to see how much I could improve my overall fitness. The results were pretty gratifying–I dropped my BMI (the dreaded body mass index) by 50%, brought my resting heart rate into the 60’s, and reduced my the diastolic arterial pressure by 12 points or so. The experiment had two goals: getting in better shape and learning more how I could make changes in my own behavior when I needed (or wanted to).

The second of those goals was important to me. Spending an hour a day on the Arc Trainer can seem like an incredible waste of time–even when listening to some good podcasts. Looking at it as an experiment in my own “learning how to learn” put the effort squarely in the long tradition of adult educators like Allen Tough and his work on intentional change. That helps make the investment seem a little more meaningful.

This semester, I think I’m going to try a different experiment. I’ve been fascinated for some time by David Allen’s book Getting Things Done and the impact on so many in the geekosphere. I’ve played around the edges with some of the tools, but I’m wondering what would happen if I really focused for a semester on developing an integrated approach to the “art of stress-free productivity.” Stress-free? Wonder what impact that would have on the old diastolic.

Keeping Up Can Make You Dumber

Creating Passionate Users: The myth of “keeping up”

Kathy Sierra, who blogs at Creating Passionate Users, has written a nice reminder of the dangers of the “myth of keeping up.” As Gardner points out in a recent comment, you know you’re engaged in an exercise in futility when your “books I have to get list” is longer than your open loops list:

I need to get that GTD book, but my “get that book” list is even longer than my open loop list … some days it really does feel like a never-ending downward spiral.

The first step (sound familiar) is to acknowledge that no one really keeps up:

So… it’s time to let that go. You’re not keeping up. I’m not keeping up. And neither is anyone else. At least not in everything. Sure, you’ll find the guy who is absolutely cutting-edge up to date on some technology, software upgrade, language beta, whatever. But when you start feeling inferior about it, just think to yourself, “Yeah, but I bet he thinks Weezer is still a cool new band…

There are some specific suggestions for beginning professionally responsible and still getting out from under pressures of feeling that you have to keep up with everything.

  • Find the best aggregators
  • Get summaries
  • Cut the redundancy!
  • Unsubscribe to as many things as possible
  • Recognize that gossip and celebrity entertainment are black holes, including Slashdot and the Guardian.
  • Pick the categories you want for a balanced perspective, and include some from outside your main field of interest
  • Find a real living breathing person who help you sort out what you need to know from what’s nice to know and what exists only on the edge cases.

The Creating Passionate Users bloggers are all authors of Head First books (, a “brain-friendly” set of programming books from O’Reilly. According to the web site, “they’re all passionate about the brain and metacognition, most especially–how the brain works and how to exploit it for better learning and memory.”

Balancing Blogs With Getting Things Done

I spent some time at the end of last week at the Association of Collegiate Computing Services (ACCS) meeting in Charlottesville, where I gave the Thursday morning keynote and sat in on a few sessions including an excellent overview of the Sakai and iTunes University by James Hilton, soon-to-be CIO at UVA. (You can hear James Hilton talk about the podcasting experiment at Michigan in this podcast.)

Driving home, I really felt like a major league fraud. It’s hard to talk authentically about the energizing potential of Web 2.0 when you haven’t posted to your blog in a month.

Bed and  BreakfastAt the beginning of April, Janna and I headed out of town for a trip, and I realized that it was the first weekend in five that I had taken off, butI didn’t have a whole lot to show for it. I had put my off blogging, commenting on blogs and even reading blogs. That weekend I made an April Fools Day Resolution to put some concentrated effort into getting a handle on my workload.

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