FocusedDan is moving to DWStratton.com

First, I must apologize for the lack of postings over the last year. I got swamped at work and… well… that is how it goes.

I am restarting this effort because it has meaning to me. I want to explore Focus more. A year ago last March is when I first started tinkering with it. Here we are a year later and I am still tinkering. There must be something to it.

Up to now, I have tried to keep the different aspects of my life separate. I had this blog, a website for my woodworking and another for the books I read. I am combining them all into one location. Focusing my online life, if you will. PLease join me over there. www.dwstratton.com

As I was upgrading my iPod Touch to version 3.0 last night, I tweeted that it was the best PDA I have ever owned. That prompted Barbara Baily (HRGuruBarb) to tweet back asking me how it functions as a PDA. There is no way I could fit that response into 140 characters.Twitter does have its limitations.

First, a little background. I was a dedicated Franklin Planner user for many years. I loved it literally took it everywhere, but hated how bulky it was and how it literally turned me into the one-armed man. I finally scraped together enough cash to buy a Palm Pilot V. Even though I bought the folding keyboard, I found I couldn’t enter things into it fast enough for me to want to replace the planner. Besides that, the task manager was bad. After that, I dabbled with PDA after PDA, searching for the right one that would do everything I wanted fast enough to give up paper and pen. Don’t ask my wife how much I have spent on PDAs – it will only depress her.

Over the past two years, I have adopted the Getting Things Done (GTD) methodology into my productivity lifestyle. I have tried task manager after task manager. I’ll write another post about all the different ones I have used and abandoned. Currently, I am using Toodledo, an online tool that also prints out a handy booklet I fold up and put in my pocket.

Rewind to last February. The iPod that I have used since 2004, fell out of my pocket onto the tile floor. I held my breath, scared that it was toast. I got the infamous click of death. For the first time in 5 years, I was without an iPod and a musical emotional wreck. I needed my music with me. Over the next couple months (I was out of discretionary funds for a few months), I investigated and drooled over the Apple website. I bugged friends over which to buy. I finally settled on the iPod Touch because it could play movies, didn’t have a cursed hard drive and was the latest in chic. What I hadn’t planned on was how quickly the application feature of the Touch was going to take over my life.

First, I discovered that it would import all my contacts from Gmail. Cool. I like having those with me all the time. Go ahead and down load those. Hey! It syncs with Google Calendars, too? Sweet! Now I have my family and work appointments on my iPod. It was about a month into using it I discovered Toodledo had an application for the iPhone that would also work on the Touch. Awesome!

The Touch application not only presents all the tasks, but stores them on the iPod, syncing them automatically whenever whenever an Internet connection is available. This little application quickly became the heart of my task management. That really became apparent the night the Toodledo died.

A couple of weeks ago, Toodledo had a server crash and was down overnight. My wife, whom I have converted to all things online as well, was beside herself. She was frustrated that she couldn’t get to her task lists. I was blissfully sitting next to her, flipping through my task list on the iPod and doing my weekly review, knowing that nothing was going to get lost or have to be reentered. That made her even more frustrated. She had been just about ready to print out a new booklet when the site died, so she had nothing. That is the danger of having things all online. And I wasn’t winning points. (note: I will probably have to buy her a Touch soon.)

So, slowly, app after app, I have been moving things to the iPod. I love to read. There are several book reader applications. The latest application I have discovered came this morning as I was playing with the new 3.0 update. They now include a voice memo recording application. Frankly, Quick Voice has more features, but both do that final thing I have wanted – record voice notes while I’m driving.

The more I move things onto my iPod, the less I use the Windows Mobile phone from my company. Now, I only use it for work related email. I could move my work email onto the iPod as well, but the policy requires I password protect it first. I’m not willing to have to type in a password, so I still carry it. Since it is a phone, I don’t mind. Could I get an iPhone? Yes, but the company won’t pay for it and I’m not going to pay for it on my own.

What makes the Touch the ultimate PDA for me? Apple did the interface right. For the same reason the iPod has commanded the protable music player market, it will dominate the PDA market soon. It is the easiest to use and definitely the most extendable. I didn’t think I would ever say that about Apple. They finally figured out how to turn loose the hoards of developers out there to do the heavy lifting of customization. For very little money, I have outfitted my Touch with the applications I use every day to make my world run. When Mindjet creates a version of MindManager for the iPhone/Touch, I may sell my laptop. (Not really. I still type faster on a real keyboard.) Everything I use for productivity would then run in the palm of my hand, wherever I may roam. Life is sweet.

Thanks to my beautiful wife

Thanks to my beautiful wife

A force multiplier is a factor that dramatically increases the effectiveness of an item or group. The military uses this term to describe tactics or conditions that greatly enhance their army’s ability to overcome. Technology, for example, can be a force multiplier, allowing a smaller army to overcome a larger, less advanced army.

A Focus Multiplier is a factor that increases the focus of a group or individual. That increase in focus can result in an incredible amount of good things happening.

My wife is a talented and dedicated gardener. She has taken an acre of weeds and turned it into an Eden that constantly draws compliments from passersby.  A couple months ago in early spring, I received an email from my wife. She was overwhelmed and stressed. She was falling behind. She laid out a 2 page list of things that needed to be done and asked for my help on Saturday. I took a look at the list and realized it was much more than one Saturday’s worth. I started on Friday, enlisted the kids and we piled into that list. By early afternoon, we had 75% of it knocked out and my wife happy and relaxed. She was back in control and has commented several times how much that focused effort helped her.

I have a shop for my woodworking, but for the last year, it has been such a mess that I could hardly move around in it, much less want do do anything in it. For the last nine months, I have said I need to get out there and clean it. I have even started a few times, but didn’t get very far before I gave up.

For the last three weekends, my wife suggested I not do anything in the yard for her, but clean the shop. I would go in there and move a few things around, shift a pile from one side to the other and give up and go work on something else. Today, though, she returned the favor of a couple months ago. She offered to come out and help me. She became my focus multiplier.

As you can see from the picture, my shop is now clean and arranged nicely. I wish I would have taken a ‘before’ picture so you could see the difference. I am so grateful to her for her help. Just having her there, quietly vacuuming, wiping (something I would never have done myself), arranging or organizing was enough to keep me going when I wanted to quit. And I wanted to. Several times at the beginning, I just about called the whole thing off. Since she was there, giving her time, I couldn’t do it. I had to keep going. She helped me find the focus I have been missing for nine months.

She is wonderful! I normally get very stressed by cleaning and organizing. I am a pack rat. I hold onto everything, just in case I might need it 20 years from now. Normally, she asks simple questions as she cleans – “Do you need this? Could we throw this away? What is this for?” Those questions usually cause me to hyperventilate and shut down. Today, she didn’t ask those questions, but quietly just started organizing my mess. It didn’t take too long for me to start identifying things that should be thrown away – without having a stress attack. I threw out more things today than I ever would have thought possible. Whether she meant to do it this way or not, it was wonderful and so relaxing.

Thanks honey, I really appreciate it. You taught me a lot today. Thanks for being my Focus Multiplier. I love you.

I love Mondays. It may sound odd, based on popular culture, but I really do. For some odd quirk of fate, I usually have only one or two meetings on Monday, instead of the normal 8 to 10. I have what feels like acres and acres of free time on Mondays. It is a beautiful thing and should be the most productive day of the week.

Lately, I have fallen into a rut on Mondays and I end up accomplishing very little. Today, however was different. In thinking about it on the way home from work today, I think I have a clue about what changed. Two weeks ago, our vice president decided our director in India needed some enterprise exposure. That means he wanted him to have a direct report outside of India. Yup, they decided on me. I have the honor and distinction of being the very first manager in the United States to report to a director in India. I don’t think it is a bad thing. I like this guy. He is smart and a quick study. And eleven and a half hours off-schedule to me.

For us to get time to talk, I have to go in at 7:00am. That way he and I can talk for a few minutes before he goes home for the day around 8:00pm his time. Today was my first day on that schedule. By altering my start time of the day, I felt like I had been at the office a long time before anyone else even came in. That little alteration to my day caused me to be able to focus better than normal. I got more accomplished today than I have in the last few weeks. I checked several items off my list and still fought several ‘fires’. And I still only stayed 40 minutes late.

That is my suggestion for today. If you find yourself in a bit of a productivity rut, change your schedule around. Get up and start an hour earlier. It might help. Let me know if it does. I’m curious.

I have been saying for 2 months (maybe longer, I’m scared to check) that I was going to start this blog. I have a tendancy to let the ‘perfect get in the way of good’. Tonight I said “no more”. I sat down and just dashed off the first post. And now here I am working on the second. Getting started seems to be half the battle for me.

After I finished the first post, I jumped over to Google Reader to read a few of my favorites. I love The Happiness Project. What was Gretchen’s post today? Thirteen tips for actually getting some writing done. I think #2 is what I need to focus on right now: “Remember that if you have even just fifteen minutes, you can get something done.” Coincidently, it took just 15 minutes for me to write the first post. Thanks, Gretchen. One of many great tips I have picked up from her. Highly recommended.

focus6rdMy fascination with focus started a few months ago when I was talking with a coworker. She and I were comiserating on how difficult it seemed to get anything done at work. We both agreed that we were pulled in so many directions all day long, that it was nearly impossible to focus on any one thing for any length of time. She confided that even when she had a block of time in which she could work, she found it very difficult to concentrate and found herself doing things she hadn’t intended to do. She called it Learned ADD.

I have thought a lot about that exchange. I notice I have that problem. I can set up time to do a task and find myself surfing the web without realizing I switched. I find that if I spend very long on a task, my mind drifts. This wasn’t always so. Even a couple years ago, I was able to concentrate so hard on a task, I would look up and hours had gone by and piles of work were accomplished. It frustrates me that I have somehow lost that ability. How can I get it back?

I have been studying focus, concentration and ‘flow’. I have some ideas that I am trying to see if it helps my ability to focus. If today was any evidence, I am not there yet. I struggled for three hours at work to do something productive and found myself bouncing around from task to task, not really wanting to do anything. I was tired. Exhausted. Burned out. I think I need a vacation, but can’t afford neither the time away from the office nor the vacation hours. We have a large trip planned for July and I need the hours for that trip. Plus, as usual in an organization that has gone through many staff cuts, there is so much work to do, it is really hard to break away.

And yet, I know I need a mental break. Is it possible to use focus to acutally relax? That is something else I am thinking about. So, what do I do? Take on another project. I may need professional help.