Friday, June 16, 2017

Time budgeting

I transitioned to OneNote a couple of months ago.  I did it in part because I was frustrated. I wasn't giving myself credit for the things I was doing well, and I was beating myself up over the things I wasn't finding time for.  I needed to figure out how the things I was doing connected with my goals/interests/priorities.  After some goal setting, organization, and improved tracking of my to do list (which used to reside in a hand-written notebook), my need for a more effective time management approach became obvious. 

It was a chicken and egg thing honestly--the move to OneNote was really underpinned by the need for better planning.  How do I manage to accomplish both short and long-term goals -- goals with deadlines and goals without?  How do I keep the noise of work, all of the more immediate distractions that vary in importance (e.g. the network going down again...) from derailing the other less time-sensitive priorities like writing a paper or training?

Time Management
There is a lot of advice about time management--a Google search for time management resulted in 96.7 million results. Over my working career I have read "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People" by Stephen Covey and "Total Workday Control with Outlook" by Michael Linenberger as well as countless articles on LinkedIn.  I attended supervisor training that covered time management.  When I had kids I learned how to leave work at work--because it was simply impossible to get work done at home.  But something was still missing.  I was leaving work at the end of a day or week thinking "What did I do this week?"  I felt frustrated when "office stuff," like an unexpected phone call, prevented progress on an analysis.  I was constantly underestimating how long things took -- even things I had already done!

The Need for Planning
I ended up stumbling on semester planners (here's another good one) while I was doing my goal setting in OneNote. Oriented for faculty at universities, these planners help professors outline their semester goals, like "submit paper X" and ensure they plan the time to work on that goal while accomplishing the daily work of teaching, advising students, and faculty meetings.  Importantly, the method of semester planning starts with a longer-term outlook, the semester goals.  My team at work does a fair job of identifying yearly and six-month projects and priorities, so that part is already done, but I will work on making those even more specific over time.
What I've been missing is the step that translates those longer-term goals into each week.  My habit was to plan on the fly.  I reacted to the most immediate/pressing items and that resulted in putting off other priorities.  When something "interrupted," I had no clear understanding of the consequence. In other words, what would I specifically NOT be doing by responding to a last minute request from someone?  Similarly, I didn't schedule time for specific activities.  If I was working on a proposal review, my deadline was when it was due.  I wouldn't try to block off time on my calendar or dedicate a specific amount of time to the task.  This unstructured time management led to me spending much more time on other people's work or requests, and interrupting my own goals, which didn't always have deadlines. If my calendar had an "empty" block, I would commit to a request without considering its impact on my already identified priorities.  Since I had no way to compare the request to other things on my plate, I couldn't adequately prioritize. Should the request be done now, scheduled for later, delegated to someone else, or not done at all?

Time Budgeting 
In The Sunday Meeting, Kerry Ann Rockquemore encourages you to build in time for your priorities around fixed appointments. [Her approach is very similar to that advocated in "Getting Things Done" by David Allen.]  I finally recognized that what I needed to do was budget my time just like I budget my money. The word "budget" makes more sense to me because it has a concrete meaning: I'm figuring out how to allocate a resource.  The term "manage" implies that I'm trying to make more or less of time.  But I have a fixed amount of time, I can't grow it, all I can do is spend it more conscientiously.  Time budgeting, combined with identifying my goals and interests, enables me to evaluate how my daily and weekly activities are contributing toward those goals.  For example: is writing this blog post a good use of my time today, this week, this month?  What am I not doing by spending my time this way?  Is that okay?  And FYI, time budgeting results in 1.44 million hits on Google.

My method, in more detail
I bristle at the idea of tracking every 15 minutes, and that's a key reason I didn't avidly pursue consulting jobs where time is budgeted so clients can be charged.  So it took some desperation to adopt the approach described by Tim Slater of the University of Wyoming  in a presentation about how to use Outlook to budget your time. I love what I do, I'm fully engaged in my job, and I'm highly self-motivated, but I was starting to lose track of the many projects I'm connected to.  I simply had to allow more time for email management and cleaning my office (seriously, it's a mess!).  And ultimately, I wanted to be sure that what I was doing was connected with my higher goals.  

I schedule my next week on Friday afternoon or Monday morning (that's my "Sunday Meeting").  I have my to do list open in OneNote and my Outlook calendar open.  All fixed appointments are entered first and I give them a category which color codes them.  Quick aside: I set up my categories primarily around my "big goals" so I can make sure I know how my individual smaller activities connect to those big goals.  You can do multiple categories, so if I need to track time on a project, I can categorize a project activity both by the big goal (e.g. conduct research) and the project (e.g. Salem Sound eelgrass mapping).

Then I build in the other things I have to do.  I block off all of my time in the week with a specific task (not just "writing" but writing what?).  I estimate the length of time things will take.  I try to build in lunchtime since I usually eat lunch at my desk but that is not consistent with my goals of staying healthy and connecting with colleagues.  If necessary, I go back through and adjust the time allotted, remove certain things to the next week, assign them to someone else, or decide it won't get done. I think about what evenings I can use to catch up on emails or read a paper and I put them in the calendar (I do my best to limit evening work to one hour 8:30-9:30 pm).

As the week progresses, I try and stick to the schedule.  With my particular position, so far I have completely failed to stick to the schedule since there are too many unknowns that crop up over the course of the week.  So I adjust the calendar to reflect how long something took (the review that took 4 hours instead of 2) or add the thing I actually did (finding a heater for someone in a cold office instead of emails).  When I make additions, whatever didn't get done either bumps something else in the week or gets dragged to Sunday for rescheduling next week.  Here's what it looks like:

*Note: on Monday and Wednesday you can see some doubled up time.  The appointments that are light blue are uncategorized. Those are things I keep track of like a meeting a staff member is going to or standing appointments for meeting that I go to when I can.  If they get a category, it means I did them. On Thursday you can see one box that has 2 categories; the 2nd category is the small box in the lower right.

Another key tool I use, and this is very important: I drag emails to my calendar.  Did you know you can do that?  Just click and drag the message to the "Calendar" tab.  (Full directions here.)  This is HUGE.  I don't have to go dig through my emails to find the thing I'm supposed to schedule/read/review/respond to.

I have been budgeting my time since mid-March 2017 (3 months at the time of this writing).  It's still working for me the only disadvantage is doing the 30 minutes of work needed to stick to this each week.  Here are the advantages I've noticed:
  • Much fewer tasks are dropping through the cracks--especially things like following up on emails or studying various topics.  Not only do they make my to do list, they get scheduled.
  • It has been amazing to know what won't get done when something else pops up.  Finally I can prioritize. 
  • I am doing better estimating how much time something will take.  In the past I almost always forgot that I would need to do post-meeting follow-up like transcribe notes, let other folks know what I learned, or file materials.  Now I'm scheduling that time into my calendar.  Same thing for travel; I'm gaining greater awareness of how much travel time eats into my week.
  • I am directly connecting the "little stuff" I do to the "big stuff" I want to do. In other words, I am more aware of how what I'm doing is contributing to the life I want to lead. This awareness has already led to an uptick in satisfaction. 
I still haven't managed to clean my whole office, but I grab snippets of 5 and 10 minutes and am getting through some of the piles. How do you budget your time?

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Productivity tools: update

I've been using OneNote for two months now.  I like it.  It's flexible, aesthetically pleasing, and very easy to use. My primary use of it on a day to day basis is as a digital to do list -- I have a long long checklist.  When I think of something, it goes on the to do list.

I still need to develop the right system in OneNote.  I watched a few OneNote videos and paid attention to how people organized their OneNote.  I have two notebooks: work and personal.  My personal notebook has a few tabs--relationships, self, and finances.  (Influenced by Laura Vanderkam's TED talk.)  My work OneNote is much messier so far, since I'm currently focused more on how to use it than how to organize it.  I can handle messy for now.  I used to have an article tacked to my wall: "Messy is the new neat." It resonated with me since my style is to let a mess grow and then after awhile I figure out how to organize the material.  So I won't beat myself up on having a pretty messy OneNote right now.  It seems to be a good container for all my "stuff" -- notes, websites, jotting down phone numbers, and keeping my lengthy to do list.  It's a really individual thing to figure out how you're going to use it and organize it.  As I explore how it's fitting into my daily life, my system is evolving.  I'll set up a notebook and see how it "fits" -- do I use it?  Do I think about it?  Do I turn to it/remember it when a related issue comes up?  But I still need to learn how to use it more quickly for it to feel efficient. I have no doubt that will come with continued use.

The mobile app and cross-platform compatibility has been fantastic.  I have it on my phone, my home laptop, and my work desktop.  Wherever I am I can jot down to dos and notes.  I took notes using OneNote at a meeting I recently attended.  I felt a little awkward typing into my phone--I wanted a sign that explained I was taking notes about the meeting, not emailing or Facebooking!  One thing I might do at future meetings is use a pen on a tablet instead. I have to assume the stigma of using a phone in meetings will disappear soon enough.  After the meeting, having my notes already digitized led to my post-meeting report to my colleagues being done more quickly.

It's a work in process.  I'm still using OneNote every day mostly for personal to dos and work to dos, as well as random thoughts and ideas.  It's a really nice interface for thinking about goals and priorities.  I'm confident it will be a prominent tool in my toolbox from here on out.  What I'm not sure of yet is how central it will be with respect to project management (which I do with Trello) and budgeting my time (which I do with Outlook).  Right now it's just my digital notebook, but even in that limited capacity it has improved my efficiency around goal setting and keeping track of things that are hard to classify.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Camera research

Here's the latest installment of camera research.  A low def video camera with a large topside drove this round of research which was done by Kate Ostrikis in our Gloucester office.  We want high def, something that can be mounted on a pyramid or towed, video or still, waterproof.  Ideally it will be GPS enabled -- we're tired of merging GPS data into exif data.  Small size and good on battery since it could be used on small boats with low power availability.  


Comparison table:
Company
Product
Cost
Camera res
Screen size
Cable length
GPS
Ocean Systems
Splash Cam Deep Blue
 $   1,600
Hi Def
7"
50', 100', 150', 200'

JW Fisher
VRM-1 TOV-2
 $   5,000
0.8 lux color
5"
500'
GPS optional
JW Fisher
DV-2
 $   3,295
0.8 lux color

up to 1000'
GPS optional
Aqua-Vu
HD700i
 $      700
720p hi def
7"
100'

Doyle Marine
Snake Mate
 $      900
color TFT high res
7"
90'

GoPro
Hero5 Black
 $      550
4k video/12mp photo
2"

GPS

Each has its drawbacks in terms of cost or ease of use or image quality or durability or GPS connections.
We're leaning toward using the gopro, but we need to figure out how to get a surface view and determine what happens to the GPS signal.  Maybe if we can get the gopro on a cable that plugs into or wifis to a phone for recording?

Kate's presentation is here (pdf 2.6mb).

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Productivity tools

Happy New Year!
My routine in the first couple of week of the New Year is to archive my emails.  Unfortunately, I have 2600 emails in my Inbox, and my first step is to clean that out.  Unfortunately, we're having ANOTHER network slowdown, and I can barely access my emails.

So I'm focusing on a little challenge that has bugged me for many years: notes.  I take a prodigious amount of notes.  I do this for a variety of reasons: to keep busy, to help me remember things, to do lists, jotting down random thoughts, to record meetings, to record my daily activities, to record when someone calls and tells me something.  I also have a couple of files with "notes," including interesting articles from the web or that someone sent me or that I clipped out of a magazine.  How do I improve my access and use of that information?

Now that I've been in my current job for a decade, what am I supposed to do with notebooks and files full of notes?  Some issues come up every 5-7 years.  What's an efficient way to keep track of who I spoke to and what happened?  I think I need a searchable (digital) notebook.  Yes, I'm ready to move from my handwritten notes to a digital platform.  Some of my slowness to adopt digital notetaking is that it has been considered quite offensive to have electronics out and on at meetings (a no-no just a few years ago).  But it's becoming more acceptable.

There are two dueling products: Evernote and OneNote.  I installed Evernote on my phone a few years ago.  I have about 50 notes, mostly from jotting ideas down from scientific meetings.  Those notes are patiently waiting for me to do something with them.  OneNote is Microsoft's version.  I don't remember using OneNote, though it is possible I tried it out.

I headed to the Google-sphere to find 380,000 returns for my search Evernote vs OneNote.  Here's my assessment:
1. Since I'm essentially starting from scratch, importing/exporting functionality is not a requirement.  Evernote trumps OneNote here, but it doesn't matter for me.
2. Cost is a consideration.  I have a subscription to Office 365 at home and I have all Windows/Microsoft products at work.  OneNote is free right now, and even if it costs later on, it might be bundled with my Office 365 subscription.
3. I want robust webclipping.  Sounds like EndNote wins here, but OneNote can do it too.
4. Note tagging and searching.  Both can do this.
5. I want to be able to share notebooks with other people.  Both can do this.
6. Interface with Outlook maybe for project management?  OneNote only.
7. Aesthetics.  Sounds like this is a toss up based on individual preference.  I like that you can hand-write notes into OneNote, I like that you can have nested notes and a less linear note-taking process in OneNote.

So, OneNote it is.  Wish me luck.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

ScanPot Day 1

Some of the folks I work with have been busy doing field work all winter, but I've been in the office for much of it.  So it was great to get back out on the water after a few months.  And we couldn't have picked a nicer day: sunny, 50 degrees, with <1 foot seas in Buzzards Bay.  A rare treat.


We were out on our first field day for a NFWF-funded project we call "ScanPot."  We're quantifying the efficiency of using sidescan sonar to identify lobster pots on the seafloor in flat-softer bottom (low backscatter) and rough-harder bottom (high backscatter).  We're partnering with a commercial lobsterman on the project and using his boat.

We're using a Klein3000 200/355 kHz sidescan we borrowed from the wonderful folks at MIT Seagrant.  We collect data onto a laptop running SonarPro v. 12.  We collected both the high and low resolution imagery, but only looked at the high resolution imagery on the survey.

Here's a shot of the Klein. We used a hand cable since we were in shallow water and only doing a few hours of survey work.
Here's our tow set up -l bracket aluminum on cylindrical posts.
Here's a stack of 4 lobster pots
Here's a lobster pot as imaged by the sidescan (it's the square white box near the bottom of the red circle)


We were hoping to image the pots at a 75 meter range, but beyond 50 meters the resolution was too compromised.  So we'll have to do our full surveying at a 50 meter range.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Sandwich eelgrass results

The area we studied in Sandwich does not have, as far as I know, previous maps or estimates of eelgrass coverage.  I don't know how old this meadow might be.  The closest previously mapped eelgrass is from aerial photographic analysis Mass DEP does.  They mapped a bed to the northwest.  There was also work done by Woods Hole Group, a consultant for a town beach nourishment project.  They mapped a small bed near the spit in the middle of the picture and some patches off a groin in the southeast corner of the picture below.  The US EPA identified this bed as a good location for a blue carbon study.  Eric Nelson of EPA snorkeled in the area to check it out and gave us two points indicating the approximate shoreward edge of the bed.  Those are the two bigger dots just south and east of the spit in the middle of the picture below.  The area is about 0.5 miles away from the meadow DEP mapped.
Our goal was to map the extent of the bed near the EPA points.

We mapped a total of 21.1 acres and interpolated 8.3 acres based on the aerial photo we had.  Total acreage = 29.4 acres.  This is less accurate than what we did in Cohasset since there is no previous information and there is a significant eelgrass-algae mix with many boulders.  The seaward side has a lot of Fucus algae which has large air bladders and looks the same as eelgrass in the sidescan.  We weren't sure if we made it to the southeastern extent of the bed with the sidescan, so we examined the 2013 USGS aerial photos.  Vegetation is really obvious in the aerials, but differentiating eelgrass and any type of algae in the aerials is impossible without groundtruthing.  Therefore, interpreting the aerial photo without groundtruthing is, well, a crapshoot.  We did due diligence and studied bathymetry to define a shoreward and seaward edge, but this is a tough area.  Take areas without groundtruthing with a grain of salt.

Here are some photos to give an idea of what it looks like on the bottom:

Patchy eelgrass
Dense eelgrass
Red algae found in deeper part of study area
Cobble bottom
The last image is from the spit that defined the northwestern edge of our study area.  It was a pretty cool spot.  As it deepened, more and more algae encrusted on the cobbles.


Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Cohasset eelgrass results

Here is the DEP map.  It was done by digitizing aerial photos flown in 2012 which were groundtruthed with underwater video.  Target scale 1:10,000.
84 acres of eelgrass (large meadow in the middle and small meadow to the southwest).

Here is our map. It was done by digitizing acoustic imagery collected in 2015 which we groundtruthed with underwater photos.  We used aerial photography to extend our survey to the north where we didn't have acoustic coverage.  Target scale 1:1,000. 
82.7 acres of eelgrass.  Since our survey didn't cover the northern part of this meadow, we double checked 2013 aerial photos to see that it was still there and then used part of the DEP 2012 delineation to add it on to our acoustic delineation.

Here are some photos to give an idea of what it looks like on the bottom:

Patchy eelgrass

Dense eelgrass

Granule-pebble bottom