Friday, June 27, 2008

eProductivity for Lotus Notes...Want To Be Way More Efficient?

Many of you have already heard of Eric Mack's eProductivity software, a tool for implementing the Getting Things Done methodology in Lotus Notes. If you haven't, it's definitely something you should check out. If you want to increase your effectiveness and efficiency in dealing with all your stuff, then eProductivity might just be the application to take you over the top. It's an outstanding tool and a great example of the power available in Lotus Notes-based systems.

If you hurry, you might be able to get in on the 24 hour preview program Eric is running right now. Run, don't'll be glad you did.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Add Tagging To Your Mail (Or Any Other Application) Without Design Changes!

If you'd like to find out how to add simple tagging capabilities to your Lotus Notes applications without making any design changes, then keep reading...

As a way to increase my productivity in processing e-mail, I stopped using folders for filing a few years ago. This is especially easy in Lotus Notes 8, since the search capabilities are much nicer and have been enhanced in such a way as to make me very happy I made this choice. Basically, when I process e-mail, I determine if the message is actionable and if so, I decide what to do with it and then remove it from the inbox. I don't file it in a folder...I just choose the "Remove from Folder" action. Clean, simple and gets the job done. I did find, however, that quite often the text that is included in the e-mail does not contain the actual meta data that I would later want to search on. Thus, I found myself editing messages and adding the key phrases related to the e-mail before I removed them. Of course, what I was doing is known by most people as tagging and I realized that a simple mechanism for tagging is exactly what I wanted.

In my last job, I had a highly modified mail file that I used for my GTD system as well as for other productivity enhancements (and as a playground for off the wall ideas, I must confess). When I came into the tech sales role at IBM, I decided early on that I should use the generic mail template, since I would be doing so many demos for customers. As a result, my initial tagging mechanism had to morph to something that required no design changes. I thought that whatever I came up with should be useful for others, but didn't want to spend the time building a complete solution in another NSF. So, I decided to see if I could utilize Formula language in a custom toolbar button. The result, while not elegant by any means, is quite efficient and works well for me, so I thought I'd throw it out here to share.

Here's the scenario. I select the document in question and click my "Tag It" toolbar button. To allow for choices from tags I've already used (for continuity and best search results), I pull up a dialog box of previous tags and also allow new tags to be added. Once I have the necessary tags for the document selected, they are saved into a new field on the document. That's pretty much all there is to it from a user point of view. Here are a couple of screen shots to illustrate:

In order to make this work on a per application basis, I save the list of tags used in a profile document. The first line of the code pulls up the list of previously used tags, while the second line retrieves any of the tags that might already be assigned to the selected document. The next few lines provide for a multi-list dialog, along with logic that checks for the selection of "-add new-". If the "-add new-" option is chosen, the user is prompted to enter new tags (separated by commas) and the updated list of selected tags and any newly entered tags are written to the "txt_CustomTags" field. Finally, the last line makes sure any new tag values are written back to the profile document for use next time.

REM {Get tags stored in database};
Tags := @GetProfileField("TagsProfile";"txt_CurrentTags";@UserName);

{Get any tags from the selected document};
DocTags := txt_CustomTags;

Selection := @Prompt([OkCancelListMult]; "Select Tag(s)"; "Please select the tag(s) to apply to this document"; DocTags; @Trim("-add new-" : @Unique(Tags : DocTags)));

@If(Selection = 1;
@IsMember("-add new-"; Selection);
  @Set("NewTag"; @Prompt([OkCancelEdit]; "Enter New Tag"; "Please enter the new tag(s) you would like to apply to this document. Separate tags with a comma"; ""));

UpdatedList := @Trim(@Unique(@Replace(Selection; "-add new-"; "") : @Explode(NewTag,"," )));

txt_CustomTags := UpdatedList;

@SetProfileField("TagsProfile"; "txt_CurrentTags"; @Unique(UpdatedList : Tags); @UserName)

For completeness, I also include a toolbar button to wipe out any tags on the document (FIELD txt_CurrentTags := @Unavailable).

So, as you can see, while adding a true tagging mechanism would be ideal, this solution makes it very easy for me to tag documents in my mail file and then use the standard Notes search mechanism to retrieve them more easily. While your mileage may certainly vary, it's a great way to give users the tagging ability without changing any database designs.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Collaboration Comes To MindManager

One last post about mind maps and we'll move on, I promise! :-)

It's no secret that I am a big fan of visual mapping techniques. Mind maps allow you to capture, quantify and organize information in ways that mirror how our brains actually work. They allow you to see beyond simple linear lists to understand relationships between ideas. While traditional mind mapping as developed by Tony Buzan utilizes paper and colored markers, pencils, crayons, etc., the sheer amount of information we deal with as information technology professionals and indeed the medium we work in make electronic mind maps much more compelling. While there are many choices of mind mapping software, my tool of choice is the outstanding MindManager Pro 7 from Mindjet.

MindManager puts the power of mind mapping at your fingertips. I've been using MindManager for a few years now, but I think that MM7 is a big leap forward. Mindjet has done a great job of continuing to progress the tool with each release and the move to version 7 has been no different. I love that I can be productive with the software using the keyboard or the mouse, depending on my desired work mode at the time. It has a lot of powerful features that obviously couldn't exist in a paper-based map, such as task tracking, filtering, integration with Microsoft Office (I know...we need to get them to support Lotus Symphony!), the ability to interact with a map in presentation mode, and many more. MindManager allows the user to very quickly generate maps, certainly much faster than most of us could build a paper map. While the default styles aren't highly artistic, they are perfect for use in the business environment where people tend to be more conservative. That doesn't mean that MindManager can't produce stunning maps. Quite the contrary...the formatting features are plentiful and allow the user to produce very attractive maps with minimal effort.

I'm a big believer in getting your hands dirty in order to truly understand something, so rather than hearing me go on and on about features, I encourage you to check out the Mindjet site and download the free trial version of the software. With a little practice, I think you'll find the ideas of mind mapping to be truly compelling. To get an idea of the kinds of maps people use in the everyday world, check out the Map Gallery.

Before you go, there are a couple of major innovations in MindManager that I want to tell you about. The first is the fluid UI or Ribbon, introduced in the new line of Microsoft Office products. The second is the addition of collaborative and web functionality that is sure to see adoption of MindManager increase.

Let's talk about the collaborative stuff first. Actually just introduced yesterday, Mindjet Connect provides users with the ability to create shared workspaces in which they can share their mind maps and work on them collaboratively with a team of people. The collaboration features include real-time team editing, chat functionality and instant meetings. While I would have loved to see these features as integration points into the Lotus suite of products, just the fact that Mindjet has recognized the need to enable better collaboration is a plus. As part of Mindjet Connect, a slimmed down web-based version of MindManager is available, bringing the major functional points of the software to a browser near you. I look forward to playing with these tools more in the future, but for now I have to say congratulation to Mindjet for the new evolution in mind mapping software.

Now...on to the Ribbon fluid user interface. Although I had read a lot about it, I had not had an opportunity to actually use it until I installed MindManager Pro 7. I tried to approach the new UI with an open mind, as I heard cheers and jeers from both camps...those who loved it and those who hated it. For me, I was immediately enamored by the new way of working. The fact that the multiple layers of drop down menus were now gone seemed to immediately improve my productivity.

Basically, I see the Ribbon UI as a hybrid between the menuing system, tabbed dialogs and the toolbar, but one that is far easier to use than all three metaphors combined. I think that the way related commands are logically grouped together helps speed recognition and the fact that the more frequently used features are larger in scale allows me to target them much faster with the mouse. Another benefit of the Ribbon UI over the traditional toolbar or drop down menu is the fact that the full text of each function is readily visible. Thus, I don't have to worry about memorizing which icon is which or spend my time hovering over the toolbar icon waiting for the popup text to confirm that I've selected the correct option. All of these features are immediate productivity enhancements for me.

I find the fact that the Ribbon is contextual to be very powerful. Elements change, become grayed out or become active based on what I'm actually doing at that moment. In addition, I find that I am saving time by using the Ribbon instead of choosing between right-clicking an element, going to the menus or using the toolbar. I'm not sure if the Ribbon in the Microsoft products work the same way, but I really love the fact that many of the options exposed by clicking on an element in the Ribbon bring up a little submenu that uses pictures. For example, it's easier to select boundary shapes now than in past versions of MindManager, since I can click the Boundary Shape element in the Ribbon and I get a visual representation of all the types.

While it appears that the Ribbon takes more screen real estate than standard toolbars, it still seems reasonable. I actually like the slightly bigger size as it makes it easier to click the appropriate option. A bonus is that you can easily hide the Ribbon completely by double-clicking the menu area of the Ribbon. The options are still only a click away and this allows you to free up the area if you're working on a big map. Since MindManager allows you to so easily move from place to place on a map, however, this hasn't been an issue for me, so I just leave the Ribbon visible at all times.

When I opened the program for the first time, there was probably a minute or two of confusion as I couldn't see any File menu. Then I realized that the big "MindManager Button" replaced this menu. It didn't just replace it, pumped it up several levels. It leverages the same mental model as the Start button in Windows and the fact that it is large and in the corner makes it very easy to acquire (a great example of Fitt's Law). I love, love, love the fact that it is divided into two "panes", one showing the traditional options (New, Open, Save, etc.) and the other changing context based on the option I'm hovering over. It's a very intelligent system and just immediately made perfect sense to me. If I'm hovering over the "Open" command, it shows me a list of my most recent documents. If I'm hovering over "Export", it gives me an easy to read and understand list of my export options. This is really nice...thumbs up for this functionality.

Overall, I find the Ribbon UI to be a big leap forward in the user interface of MindManager. It is similar enough to the standard concepts we are used to in most commercial software, but it has improved the user experience in such a way that I feel I am now more proficient with the software and can perform certain tasks faster than I could before. Although sometimes change is hard, I would encourage anyone hesitating about upgrading because of the new UI to give it a try and allow yourself a little time to get used to the Ribbon. It is a great interface concept and I think most people will come to appreciate it.

If you've stayed around this far, then it's either for my highly engaging and witty writing style ;-) or because you are truly interested in the ideas of visual mapping. If it's the latter (which I hope), then please check out MindManager and let me know what you think. I'd love to hear your feedback and I'd be glad to offer any pointers or assistance as you explore this new path.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Lotus iNotes on the Apple iPhone

Pretty funny that we are back to calling it iNotes! ;-D

It may not be the perfect soluton (yet), but the new iNotes "Ultralite" functionality on the iPhone is pretty nice from a UI perspective.

Check it out...

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Heck Yeah - Of Course I'm Experiencing Cognative Dissonance!

One of the things I love about reading Tim Ferris' blog is that he gets a chance to sit down and talk with many very interesting people. I have to point out his latest post, since it's a dilemma I identify to be a superstar at work (not doing so hot at that right now) while being a superstar at home as well. Usually, such conflicting demands diminish your performance in one or both domains, so the trick is finding the right path to balancing them as best you can.

In today's post, Tim includes several gems from Dr. Stewart Friedman on this issue. I think it's a great read for anyone that is trying to improve their life and I urge you to read it and then follow up with some Dr.Friedman's books. I know I will be...