How I work

There's a meme going around at the moment, with people answering some set questions from Lifehacker about their working practice. Ruan Peat has blogged about this and was kind enough to put my name in the 'who would you like to see answer these questions?' bit (a rather clever idea which I'm going to file away for future advice on creating viral marketing campaigns) so just for Ruan - and anyone else who might be interested! - here are my answers. picture of some highlighter pens

Location: York Current gig: Academic Liaison Librarian / Trainer Current mobile device: iPhone Current computer: I don't even know. It's a PC, definitely. One word that best describes how you work: Inquisitively

What apps/software/tools can't you live without? Twitter is the only thing I couldn't live without - there are others like Evernote which I find very useful but whose utility I could probably get from elsewhere if pressed. That said I find myself all at sea when I can't use Outlook for email - it genuinely stresses me out.

What's your workspace like? It's always either very messy, or starting to get messy having just been tidied up. People assume I don't mind mess but actually I'd much rather it was organised. Everything about me is inherently disorganised, and it takes so much effort to triumph over that and be organised in my actual work, that my workspace is always likely to suffer... The one part of the idea of senior management that really appeals to me is having a lovely big office. I'd keep that tidy. Probably.

What's your best time-saving trick? I do almost nothing to the best of my ability. That sounds glib / annoying / unwise to state publicly, but it's true. Good enough is good enough! The search for perfection has cost many an information professional their contentment. I do a LOT of different things so while I try to do all of them well, I couldn't do as much if everything I did was as perfect as I could make it.

What's your favorite to-do list manager? Evernote - it's brilliant. Syncing between devices is the sort of vital functionality that makes me very grateful I wasn't born 10 years earlier; I really need this sort of tech.

Besides your phone and computer, what gadget can't you live without? iPad - I use it all the time, not least because I can't read my own handwriting. I use it to take notes, look things up, as a teaching aide in workshops. It's probably the most useful thing I've ever bought.

What everyday thing are you better at than anyone else? Not accepting perceived wisdom. And by that I don't mean I'm some sort of maverick who never plays by the rules - I'm not that at all, often I test the perceived wisdom and it works just fine so I'll follow it. But sometimes things which have always been done just aren't as good as starting from scratch, so I think I'm good at teasing out meaningful innovation.

What are you currently reading? I've found it very difficult to read actual books since writing one of my own. I've become very unambitious - my ideal scenario would be to forget what happens in 10 or so of my favourite books and then re-read them...

What do you listen to while you work? I like this questions because what I listen to is vital to how I work. Where possible I won't listen to anything, because I want to be open and approachable to my colleagues in an open plan office - but if I'm either A) under real time-pressure or B) really struggling to work something out or C) have several annoying, scrappy, TRICKY things I have to get done, I'll plug my headphones into my phone and start listening. I have several Spotify playlists set-up for just these occasions, depending on my mood - the most often used one is a relaxing jazz-tinged one (lots of Madelaine Peyroux and Gretchen Parlato), followed by a proper jazz one (Avishai Cohen, Brad Mehldau), a Dance one (Photek, JoJo Mayer's Nerve, DJ Semtex) and a classical one (a whole load of Graham Fitkin, amongst other things). With these on I get an ENORMOUS amount done in a short space of time, it's amazing and I love it. A constant sound of music effectively means what I hear is balanced - as opposed to the quiet and loud unpredictability of office happenings, which jolt me out of my concentration - which means I stop hearing anything at all and focus completely on what I'm doing. It's odd because the music needs to be right for this to work, but I don't actually listen to the music as such, I'm only aware of it peridocally. It's a bit like driffting in and out of sleep with music on in the background. (Except, instead of being asleep, you've just OWNED your To-do list...)

Are you more of an introvert or an extrovert? Very much an introvert, but most of the students and academics I interact with probably don't realise that.

What's your sleep routine like? Rubbish. I need lots, get little; I'm not that good at it unless sleeping conditions are perfect. In an ideal world I'd stay up till 1 in the morning and then wake naturally at about half-ten. I do not live in an ideal world.

Fill in the blank: I'd love to see ______ answer these same questions. Hmmm, Andy Priestner perhaps? I can't imagine he'd be a fan of doing so, though...

What's the best advice you've ever received? You see this question a lot, but the whole 'let me give you some advice' scenario seems to happen a lot more in movies than in real life, and I'm not sure I've been given that much. My Dad taught me, more by example and just chatting about it than him specifically trying to impart wisdom, not to worry too much about things I can't control. My guiding principle is that happiness is more important than success, which luckily everyone close to me also subscribes to.

Is there anything else you'd like to add? What I really enjoying, for some reason, is refining things. I like taking existing things (whether originally created by me or other people) and constantly making them better and better each time. It's great.

10 online tools I've found useful in 2010

Other stuff I'm still using from last year includes wordpress.org, the KING of blogging platforms! And Slideshare of course, I'm using that more and more. Photofunia I still occasionally use if I want to put a photo into some kind of interesting context with the minimum of fuss. Flickr creative commons for images. iGoogle is still the starting point for my web use - I find being able to log into any PC in the world and find the same home-page, with all my bookmarks etc, very helpful. Pbworks wikis are ace - you can set one up for anything, even if it's just to have your own 'in the cloud' storage space. And finally Twitter - it's just over a year since my first ever Tweet, and it's arguably the single most valuable tool I use, I think. It's great for a million and one reasons - if you're an Information Professional not currently on there, I too used to be a big skeptic but trust me, it's worth it.

This is the final pre-Christmas blog post, so, have a good one! :)

- thewikiman

5 ways to make life easier with Evernote

The evernote elephant logo

I didn't use the bit.ly sidebar for ages - I thought, how much better can it be if I already use the bit.ly website whenever I need to? Then I installed it and found out the answer - it's actually much quicker to be able to shorten the URL of any page you're on, rather than copying and pasting that URL into bit.ly's homepage, plus you get useful statistics. With that in mind, I started to look for other 'how much better can it be?' scenarios to see if they too could make my life that bit simpler or more efficient.

I'd heard people raving about how good Evernote was, but I'd never used it. My rationale was similar to the bit.ly thing - I can make notes in Word on my PC, or my laptop, and I've got a note-pad app thing on my iPhone; how much more useful can a specialist note-thingy be? The answer is much, much more useful - go and download Evernote now. It's free.

The point of this blog post is to catch people like me who've never bothered to investigate Evernote and tempt them into taking the plunge - I'm not going to tell you much you won't know if you use it already.

  1. Create ONE TO-DO LIST TO RULE THEM ALL For me the main reason Evernote is so instantly useful is that it syncs between all devices. So if you have it on your Work PC and make a note there, then press 'sync', the note will appear on anything else you have Evernote installed on - home PC, laptop, phone etc. This really appeals to me for various reasons - mainly the idea of always being able to access key information where-ever I am, and whatever I've forgotten to bring with me... Also, not having to faff about when I think of something important at home, remembering to then write it onto my paper to do list when I get to work etc. I have several to-do lists in Evernote now - work stuff, home stuff, blog stuff, LISNPN stuff, career stuff, plus a self-explanatory one called 'Today'. The fact that all these things are no longer fragmentary and I always know where they are, all in one place, and how to get to them, soothes me to my very soul.
  2. Take notes at events Why take notes in Word or whatever, which involves later emailing them to other devices / accounts or saving them onto a stick, when you can just use Evernote? No more getting home from a conference and calibrating all your notes into the right place - if you use the basic word-processor-esque note-taking functionality in the Evernote on your laptop, then press 'sync', it'll appear on your Desktop, your work PC and your phone, instantly. If you don't have your laptop with you, use your phone to take notes and hit sync and it'll be on there anyway. And so on. (As an aside, I also take notes of things I see which I think may suitable for future birthday / Christmas / anniverary gifts for my wife - I use the notepad functionality on my phone, but I'll start using Evernote now because I can discreetly photograph stuff she says she likes without it being obvious I'm filing it away for future giftage... the point being, you can take notes about LIFE, not just work.)
  3. Photograph cool stuff You can use the camera on your smart-phone to take a picture in Evernote - this then appears as a note. Similarly, once you have Evernote installed, your Print Screen button works in the same way (and you can choose which parts of the screen to 'print' too). Examples Evernote use are of taking pictures of wine-bottles, or business cards, when you're out and about. You could also take pictures of slides if the presenter you're watching hasn't provided paper copies, or a printed schedule at a conference, or building or room plans, and a whole host of other stuff which may violate intellectual property rights and should therefore not be attempted by anyone. The great thing is turns any writing in your photos into searchable text, so you can easily locate what you're looking for later. (This also means you could do really ace stuff like, someone leaves a post-it note stuck to your monitor with "Phone John Smith, British Library, 01482378" written on it, and you don't have time to phone them right away, so you take a picture of the post-it note, then when you get a chance later on you type 'British Library' into the search box and it finds John and his number.)
  4. Combine it with Twitter If you allow Evernote to access your Twitter account, you can then create notes in Evernote by putting @MyEn in a tweet, or DM'ing @MyEn. So if you want to check a link when you get home or read an article later, or simultaneously tweet about an event and make notes on it, or just write yourself a to-do list on the move, you can do so using Twitter and the relevant info will appear as a note. (A note on your desktop PC, your work PC - etc etc, you get the idea...)
  5. Put everything on it for conferences In 2008 I wrote all my travel info down on a piece of paper (stuff like reservation numbers for train tickets, departure times, hotel references etc); in 2009 I began writing them down in Word and printing them out; in 2010 I've added them to my Outlook Diary which I can then check on my phone, at the station/hotel/etc. From now on I'll put them into Evernote - they will be on all my devices, they're accessible on the move, and I can get at them even with no reception and my phone in airplane mode. If I'm speaking I'll put a copy of my notes on it, a link to the Prezi / Slideshare etc - even if my USB stick with all that stuff on is stolen I can still access the necessary info from my phone, and even if THAT is also stolen I can just download Evernote onto a PC at the venue and get what I need that way. I may also put a CV on it, with a list of all the trainings I've attended etc, because I have to have that stuff somewhere so why not have it easily findable and auto-synced across all the IT stations in my world? And who knows who you might meet on the move, who might be interested in your work history... - thewikiman

NB: See the comments section for a sixth thing to do with it - tracking online reputation.