Thursday, June 21, 2012

How To Get a Daily Email of GQueues Tasks

This post is part of the series, "Tips & Tricks Thursdays," which highlights ways you can take advantage of GQueues to be even more productive.

Many GQueues users have requested the ability to get a daily email of tasks that are due. Building this into GQueues is definitely on my list of improvements to make. However, in the meantime here's a trick you can use to get Google Calendar to send you these emails.

First, make sure you have activated calendar integration for your GQueues account.  
Activate Google Calendar integration
Then go to Google Calendar and choose Notifications for the GQueues calendar.
Choose notifications for GQueues calendar
Then check the box to receive an email for your daily agenda.
Select email daily agenda
Now you will receive a message every morning at 5am with the GQueues tasks that are scheduled for the current day.
Daily agenda email

Thursday, June 14, 2012

How To Create Tasks for Co-Workers via Email

This post is part of the series, "Tips & Tricks Thursdays," which highlights ways you can take advantage of GQueues to be even more productive.

GQueues of course allows you to assign tasks to others or share an entire list with someone to collaborate. However, sometimes you may want to put a task on a co-worker's queue without having it appear in your own lists or as an assigned task. Here's how to do it:

Every GQueues user is assigned a unique GQueues email address, which can be found in the Settings panel.

GQueues unique email address
You can create a task for yourself by sending an email to this address.  The subject line will be converted into the task description and the body of the email into notes.  You can use the Quick Add Syntax to set other task properties such as the date, tags and queue.

Create GQueues task via email

So if you want to allow a co-worker to create tasks in your account, just give them your unique GQueues email address (to make things fair you may want ask for their address in return!)  By adding the address to your contacts and giving it an alias you can then easily create tasks in the other person's account.
Create GQueues task via email for co-worker

Matt's Inbox with task

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

What Is Your Email Strategy?

If you're like me, you probably have a number of habits for dealing with email in your life. Some practices are intentional - tricks you've learned to keep up with the deluge of messages. Other habits, perhaps less than ideal, are formed as a result of just trying to get through the day. For most of us, email is a primary mode of communication, essential to our work and livelihood. Yet, how many of us have taken the time to think about and plan a strategy for managing email so it doesn't manage us?  As my life grows more hectic I decided it's time for me to test an intentional, strategic approach.

Emotional Inbox

Before planning a new email strategy, it's important to uncover and acknowledge the emotions surrounding our current inbox habits. My inbox evokes both excitement and guilt. I love the thrill of a new message - it gives me a small rush of adrenaline. I have a Pavlovian response to my phone's vibration and my laptop's notification popup. Many have become addicted to this titillating sequence, this instant gratification. My inbox also houses a large amount of guilt. I hold tight to the notion that I must reply to every single email, and then feel guilty when this proves impossible. When I procrastinate responding to certain emails, they linger in my inbox for months and anguish arises whenever I see them. Neither of these emotions are ideal. In fact, while the content of messages can arouse certain feelings, it seems almost silly that the tool itself affects me so deeply. Weakening the emotional hold my inbox has on me is an important goal of any new strategy I employ.

The Great Distraction

Besides eliciting unhealthy emotions, email also serves as one of the best procrastination devices in my life. Whenever I want to postpone difficult work or don't feel like focusing I can always turn to email. Checking email gives me a rush; responding to and clearing a message reduces my guilt. It's such an effective technique because I can always justify its importance. Replying to email is integral to my business and life. However, responding instantaneously is not really as crucial, but I often choose to overlook this distinction. Of course the problem is that most meaningful work requires periods of focus, as Leo Babauta so succinctly notes in his new eBook focus. So while email is important, constantly interrupting my other work is largely counterproductive. I need a better system.

Mail Processing Center

There is already a great deal of advice for strategically managing your email, and I read a number of articles to help figure out a better approach for my life. One prevalent technique which I plan to test over the next few weeks is to set specific periods for checking and dealing with email during the day, and to ignore it at all other times. While closing down email seems particularly formidable, hopefully it will help break my automatic excitement when a new message pops in, and allow me to focus on more challenging work.

Along with set email times, I have decided to not check email on my phone. When I'm away from my desk it's better that I focus on what's going on around me and the people I'm with. Logically, this new habit makes sense as well. I already have a rule that I don't respond to work emails on my phone because it's so inefficient (typing on my iPhone is slow, and I almost always need to include links and screenshots). So if I'm not going to reply, it's gratuitous to read the message once, and then mark it unread so I can read it again later on my laptop when I'm ready to deal with it.

Lastly, I plan to practice improving my decision-making skills, so I can process my inbox more efficiently. This means dealing with an email in my inbox only once. I read it and either respond or create a task if it requires more time/work later. The key is that after I've read it once, it gets cleared from my inbox, so I don't keep re-reading the same messages and feeling guilty about not responding.

I'm not really sure how this two-week testing will go, but since email is such an integral part of my life I know it's worth trying to find some better ways to manage it. What is your email strategy?

Thursday, June 7, 2012

How To Add Images to Task Notes in GQueues

This post is part of the series, "Tips & Tricks Thursdays," which highlights ways you can take advantage of GQueues to be even more productive.

Attaching files to tasks is not yet available in GQueues, though it is on the roadmap and will be developed in the coming months. However, there is a simple trick for including images with tasks which you can use right now. When typing the notes for a task, paste in the URL to an image already on the web.  This could be a publicly available image or even one stored in your Google Drive.

When you click out of the notes, a thumbnail will be appear for easy reference. Clicking the thumbnail will display the full size image at its original location.  

Note: The image URL must end with one of the following extensions: .jpg .jpeg .png .gif .bmp .webp

Monday, June 4, 2012

Share Images in Google Chat with Drag and Drop

In my everyday life and work developing GQueues I often find myself chatting with someone and then need to share an image to reference in our conversation. Since Google Chat doesn't support sharing images, this usually involves sending them an email with the file attached, telling them it's sent, having them wait for the email, open the attachment and then we can continue on. Does this ever happen to you? If so, you know what an annoyance it is and waste of time.

In my quest to become more productive and simplify my life, a few months ago I decided it was time to end the pain. After a weekend of coding I finished GChat Pix: a Chrome extension which automatically uploads and shares an image just by dragging a file from your desktop to the chat window. If the other person has the extension too, they will see a clickable thumbnail directly in the chat window; otherwise a link is displayed.

I've decided to share this with everyone for FREE, so if you use Chrome and want to chat with images get the extension from the Chrome Web Store and give it a shot. Watch the video below to see it in action.

Note: since the extension is free, the maximum file size right now is 1mb and images are only available for 24 hours - the extension is intended for ephemeral sharing, not long-term file storage.

Chrome users, remember you can also get GQueues and the GQueues Chrome Extension so you can access the app from the new tab page and create tasks from any website.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

How to Go Full-Screen and View More Tasks in GQueues

This post is part of the series, "Tips & Tricks Thursdays," which highlights ways you can take advantage of GQueues to be even more productive.

In Tuesday's post about mindful productivity the idea of focusing your attention is shown as paramount to being highly effective. When you're ready to do some serious prioritizing it can be useful to see as many of your tasks as possible. Today's tips will show you how to maximize your space in GQueues.

Full-Screen Mode

To enter full-screen mode go to the gear menu and choose Full Screen
choosing full screen from the menu
This hides the left panel of queues so you can focus on the tasks at hand.  
To return, just click the exit full-screen mode link at the top.
You can also use the keyboard shortcut f to toggle in and out of full-screen mode.
Full Screen mode in GQueues

Compact Display Density

To see more tasks on the screen at once, change the display density to Compact, which decreases the text size and reduces the white space between tasks.
Choose compact from the gear menu
Compact display density in GQueues
To go back, just choose the Comfortable option from the menu.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Pondering Mindful Productivity

Several years ago, overwhelmed by the stresses of life, I signed up for an introductory meditation course in the hope of finding some tranquility. I sat in a dim room with nine other frazzled professionals as the instructor taught us to concentrate on our breathing, letting all other thoughts float away like clouds blowing past the peak of a mountain. As we practiced sitting and breathing we also learned several Zen principles to leading a more mindful life. One in particular, the idea of focusing on the present moment, I've found quite helpful in approaching my life's endless to-do list.

Accepting My Tasks

Though seemingly obvious, a prerequisite to living in the present moment is to first accept it. If you are always fighting the present, wishing it were something else or longing for the future, you cannot embrace the moment fully. Likewise, before you complete a task you must first accept it as something worth doing. Often I will find a task at the bottom of my list that has been ignored and postponed for quite some time. It's on the list because at some point I decided it should be accomplished, but if I look deep inside I realize that I haven't yet accepted it as one deserving my energy. Yes, it seems a little odd that soul searching is a necessary part of getting things done. For me, embracing a neglected task usually involves thinking about how it helps achieve the other goals in my life. Once accepted, then I will actually set about completing it.

Case in point, for the longest time I planned on merging the retirement accounts I had acquired from various jobs into a single IRA. It was the responsible thing to do, but an insipid chore I continually procrastinated. One day I embraced the task by mentally connecting it with the goal of simplifying my life, and then easily completed it within a few days.

Focusing Attention

In our breathing exercises we honed our concentration, letting go of all the thoughts and stresses that cluttered our minds so we could experience "right now" with more clarity. When I apply this same practice to my daily tasks I find that not only am I more efficient, but I produce better work. Much has been written about the concept of "flow" - the complete immersion in an activity - primarily because the results are astounding when one enters this mental state. True, blocking out distractions takes discipline and practice. While sitting on the meditation pillow I could rarely go ten seconds before my mind wandered off to the stresses of life. Ignoring texts and instant messaging is nearly impossible for me, but when I do, accomplishing my current task is so much easier. When I set out to develop a new feature, or fix a difficult bug, being fully present and focusing on one task at a time allows me to complete higher quality work, quicker.

Enjoying the Moment

Being present to the current moment also allows you to enjoy it more - precisely because you're actually aware of what's going on. Of course the same holds true when I'm working through my to-do list. Normally I loathe the tedious chore of updating the company books. However, as I enter the numbers in QuickBooks, if I stop worrying about all my other tasks and focus on doing a good job, I realize it's not all that bad. If I remember how this helps me reach the goal of growing my business, and that being precise now will help avoid problems in the future, I realize this once despised task is actually the best thing I could be doing right now.

By the end of the 8-week course we learned to transform the necessary act of breathing into a source of peace and renewal. For most of us, our to-do lists are a necessary reality of life. However, if we focus our attention as we complete the tasks, we discover we can experience the fullness of life itself instead of just getting things done.

Photo by Ian Burt

Thursday, May 24, 2012

How to Create Task Templates in GQueues

This post is part of a new series, "Tips & Tricks Thursdays," which highlights ways you can take advantage of GQueues to be even more productive. 

Many people use GQueues to manage all aspects of their life.  One question often asked is how to create "templates" - or entire sets of tasks that can be reused whenever needed.  In this post I'll cover three ways you can create task templates so you can save time and keystrokes.

Duplicate Queues
If you have an entire queue you want to use as a template you can simply duplicate the queue. For instance, if you run an annual summer conference you may want to copy last year's tasks as starting point for your planning. Some people even create a "Templates" category where they store these queues for easy access later.

Duplicate a Queue

Duplicate Parent Tasks
You can use a set of subtasks as a template by duplicating the parent task.  For example, you may have a set of tasks to complete every time a new tenant moves into a building.  The parent task can be duplicated and then moved to the queue for that specific property.

Duplicate Subtasks in GQueues

The Quick Add Window
For more complex sets of tasks you can use the Quick Add Window. Let's say you distribute a newsletter every month, where certain tasks are delegated to others with regular deadlines based on when the newsletter will go out.  You can write out all the tasks using the Quick Add Syntax and save this in the notes of a repeating task called "Create Newsletter Tasks."
Repeating task with Quick Add Syntax
Then, every month simply copy the notes into the Quick Add Window, which will create all the tasks, assignments and due dates for the upcoming newsletter.

Quick Add Window
Tasks created by Quick Add Window

Have you tried any of the methods above?  Are there other ways you're creating templates in GQueues?  Leave a comment to share your experiences.

Monday, May 21, 2012

What the Piano Taught Me About Stress-Free Productivity

Productivity is en vogue.  A quick search reveals a plethora of pointers about increasing one's productivity. Whether you're interested in getting things done, cultivating zen habits, or becoming a highly effective person, there's a system and list of tips just for you.  Though the sheer amount of advice can be overwhelming at times, after you read enough you start to notice themes and commonalities.  One popular tip that particularly resonates with me is to determine your Most Important Tasks for the day and tackle them first, focusing your energy on doing them really well.  It's a lesson I was taught early in life by my mother, a patient piano teacher who always insisted I was learning much more than how to play music.

Reduce Stress with Priorities

During my daily 30-minute practice sessions I had a tendency to play the familiar, easier music first, postponing new pieces (particularly those with lots of sharps or flats) to the end of the week.  Of course I would find myself stressed-out, frantically trying to learn the most difficult works the day before my lesson.  After a number of Saturday mornings with me sitting ill-prepared on the piano bench, my mother took the opportunity to offer some guidance.  If I spent the first 15 minutes each day working on the new pieces, she said, chipping away at each section, by the end of the week I would have them down, while still having plenty of time for the easier music.

Focused Energy First

It's a simple lesson in setting priorities, but one that is easy to ignore. With the onslaught of emails, meetings, and never-ending "emergencies," it's easy to postpone your most important, most challenging work until later.  This prolonging increases stress, and unfortunately when you do finally get to the tasks, you often lack the energy and focus needed to do your very best.   In my development of GQueues I've tried to instill the practice of doing my most important work first.  I pick one or two tasks for the day that are directly connected to my larger goals for the business.  I set about those right away, knowing that while I will be pulled in many directions throughout the day, my priorities are clear.  Though I don't always accomplish everything I intend, I usually make much more conscious decisions about how I'm spending my time.

Maintain Balance

Although I no longer take music lessons, the piano continues to teach me and help with balance in my life.  While practicing was a chore growing up, tickling the ivories has become a particular source of rejuvenation the last few years while running my own business.  During long days of development I often take 15-minute piano breaks from intensely focused periods of coding (usually 1-2 hours).  The rhythmic respites provide a much needed shift in mental exercise and leave me feeling refreshed for another work session.  When I decide I'm too busy for breaks, I actually get less done in the long run, as my productivity wanes when I stretch myself too far.  Focused, uninterrupted periods of work followed by short breaks keep me productive while reducing stress and helping me reach my goals.  And that's music to my ears.

Photo by C_Ambler

Monday, May 14, 2012

Fresh, New Look

In case you haven't seen it yet.....GQueues got a facelift this past weekend! The re-design is based on direct feedback from the user community.

While the new, cleaner look makes it easier to read and manage tasks, it also enables the addition of several new features users have been clamoring for:
This new, but intuitive look will hopefully allow you to manage your work more efficiently and be even more productive. Login now to try it out yourself or check out the new video below for a quick glimpse: