Wednesday, 17 October 2012

@Pending vs @Waiting in GTD

When I orginally set up my email programs (Gmail for personal, Outlook for work) for David Allen's Getting Things Done (GTD) method, I created folders for @Action, @Someday, and @Waiting, as well as named folders for projects to contain support and reference material.

As time went on, however, I found a new type of email that didn't really fit in those categories: things that are mine to do (I'm not @Waiting for someone else) and there is a next action on it (so it doesn't go in the project folders) but I can't do that action yet (so it doesn't go in @Action).

In short, I'm waiting not for a person, but for the time to be right, such as a meeting coming up this week that I'll need the directions to, or a webinar announcement with its login information. I was worried that if I put it in @Waiting, it would get lost.  Since it's time based, it should probably go on my Calendar, but the email contains more information than I want to copy to the Calendar.

So I added a folder named @Pending. Here are the "hard edges" rules I use to decide what goes where:

  • If the email is just a notice, I add it to the calendar and delete the notice.
  • If the email has significant details, I add it to the calendar and file under @Pending until the event occurs. Then I delete it (usually) or file it under the proper reference folder.

Oct 2012 PSU and CPU Released

The October 2012 Patch Set Update (PSU) and Critical Patch Update (CPU) for Oracle products were released yesterday, 16-Oct-2012.  The Availability Document, which lists the patches to get for different products, is My Oracle Support note 1477727.1.

A couple of interesting things this quarter.  Critical Patch Updates are being renamed Security Patch Updates, or SPUs. The release schedule is the same, as is the content.  MOS note 1430923.1, "New Patch Nomenclature for Oracle Products", describes the change.

The PSU/CPU also includes patches for the SHA-1 hashing algorithm to address two vulnerabilities.  There are special notes about how to apply patches this quarter because of these.  Always read the README, and don't assume that you know how to do this quarter's patch just because you've done them before.

The PSUs for 11.2.0.2  (starting with 11.2.0.2.7) and 11.2.0.3 (starting with 11.2.0.3.2) now use the new Composite Patch format, which makes overlay patches to previous updates less troublesome.  MOS note 1376691.1 describes the new format and its advantages.

The January 2013 PSU/CPU will be the final ones for Database 11.2.0.2,  Oracle Fusion Middleware 11.1.1.5.0, and Oracle Fusion Middleware 11.1.1.4.0 for Portal, Forms, Reports, and Discoverer (PFRD).

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

The Magic of Doing One Thing At A Time

Tony Schwartz has a new article on the Harvard Business Review blog network. In The Magic of Doing One Thing at a Time, he talks about how multitasking is less effective, not more.
The biggest cost — assuming you don't crash — is to your productivity. In part, that's a simple consequence of splitting your attention, so that you're partially engaged in multiple activities but rarely fully engaged in any one. In part, it's because when you switch away from a primary task to do something else, you're increasing the time it takes to finish that task by an average of 25 per cent.
Not only that, but the constant switching from task to task burns up your limited resources of energy and attention. To use a computer analogy: you can write a program that fetches (retrieves) one row at a time from a database, or you can write the same program to do a single bulk fetch of many rows. The single-row approach is much less effective, because of the overhead of switching back and forth between your program and the database engine.  The bulk fetch is more effective by far, because it eliminates most of the overhead.

In the same way, when we multitask we spend a lot of our energy on simply switching back and forth between the several things we've got going. When we dedicate ourselves to a single task at a time, we still spend the same amount of time doing the tasks. But we save time overall because we have spend less time managing the tasks.

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Change Data Capture for Oracle in SQL Server 2012

I just ran across this article on Microsoft's SQL Server Integration Services blog.  SSIS was always impressive, even back when it was called Data Transformation Services (DTS), because it could move data between any OLEDB data provider, not just Microsoft SQL Server.

Now apparently the latest version of SSIS goes one step further, mining the logs of an Oracle instance to provide Change Data Capture (CDC) services.  For those who need to maintain both platforms and get them talking to each other, this is an interesting read.

Sunday, 27 November 2011

My GTD Weekly Review process

I created a simple Excel worksheet the other day, called Checklists. Each tab in the spreadsheet file is one checklist of how I do various processes, such as setting up a new task.

Here is my GTD Weekly Review checklist.  It doesn't cover every step, but is basically a set of reminders to make sure I don't miss an important step.
  • Collect loose stuff.  I check my pocket notebook, travel Inbox folder, etc. to make sure all my captured "stuff" is in the Inbox.
  • Weigh and measure myself for the week.  (most violated step on the checklist!)
  • Update logs.  I keep various logs to track my progress over time. For example, my fitness log has records of my weight and measurements back to the late '90s.  I have capture forms that I carry with me for some of this stuff, but I want to get them into electronic form periodically.
  • Move pagefinder forward in planner.  I'm still using a paper planner for calendar and action lists, and it's a week-on-two-pages format.
  • Copy appointments from monthly pages, last week, Outlook. When I make a future appointment, it goes only on the monthly calendar page. During weekly planning, I build the calendar for the upcoming week. I also reschedule anything incomplete from last week's calendar page. Unfortunately, I can't integrate personal with company calendars at this time, so during weekly planning I add any meetings created via Outlook invites.
  • Reconcile calendar. My company uses a task scheduling system. I synchronize my paper calendar with it weekly and do new task setup for any new assignments.
  • Process electronic Inboxes.  Work and personal.
  • Process physical Inbox. The Inbox on my desk gets to zero less often that the electronic ones do.
  • Review @Watching. This Outlook folder is for potential upcoming tasks that I've not been assigned to yet, but want to track the email discussion. Some of these can go away after a while, some need to be setup as a new task assignment.
  • Review @Waiting. Do I need to send reminders to anyone that I'm waiting for an answer from?
  • Review Someday/Maybe list.  Does anything on here need to go away or get promoted to a current project?
  • Review Current Projects list.  Make sure that everything has a "next action" identified and on the proper action list, or that I'm consciously deciding not to move forward on it this week. Some things may need to be dropped or moved to Someday/Maybe. I don't do this step every week, but that's okay because it shouldn't get out of whack over the short term.
This currently takes longer than I would like, and I'm looking for ways to streamline it. But for now, this is how I do Weekly Review in my Getting Things Done system.

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Thoughts on Customer Satisfaction Surveys

"Close to the Customer" has become a mantra of many companies ever since Tom Peters and Bob Waterman introduced the phrase in their book, In Search of Excellence. And often, our attempts at being close to the customer involve taking their temperature on a regular basis via customer satisfaction surveys.

That's a good thing. However, at some point, some executive takes it one step further and thinks: "We'll hold our (employees, partners) accountable for customer satisfaction by basing part of their (compensation, promotion, renewal) on the results on these surveys."

I think that's the wrong move, for several reasons.

It skews the results, and in the totally wrong direction. People don't like to get bad news anyway, but if their salary or bonus or other compensation depends on how little bad news they get, they'll do everything that can to avoid negative feedback.  "Good," you might say, "They'll please our customers so they won't get negative feedback." No, they'll game the system.  For example:
  • They'll hint or even downright tell customers how to respond.  "If my service isn't a perfect 10, let me know so I can fix it."
  • They'll cherry pick, only sending surveys to customers whose projects went well and "forgetting" to send the survey when they went bad.
  • They'll avoid risky engagements, such as new products and sensitive customers, delegating them to less experienced colleagues. So paradoxically, the most experienced people withdraw from the places they're most needed.
  • They'll avoid being heroes and parachuting into existing projects that are not going well, because their name will be associated with the low-satisfaction project.
  • They'll prefer to do the safe and reduced-to-practice services that they know well, instead of innovating or being willing to take on tasks they haven't done before. This leads to stagnation and boredom.
  • In rare cases, they'll even cheat and file bogus surveys themselves to raise their scores.
On the customer side, the problem with customer surveys is that customers get so many of them already, and when survey scores influence compensation the company has to send one for every interaction, not just periodically. Even though a survey may claim to require only "a few minutes of your time," most are far too long. This discourages response rate, or worse, encourages down the middle lukewarm responses that are easy to give but reveal little.

The net effect is to reduce corporate learning. It's unfortunate, but true: you learn from the bad news. It's hard enough for even the very professional to seek out bad news over compliments because they know it will help them improve. Add a monetary disincentive, and even saints can turn into sinners.

A lot of this is unconscious, of course. Though a few bad apples will play the system consciously, customer be damned,  I believe most folks really do care. The unconscious motivations are corrosive.

The bottom line: if you want to get feedback from customers, great! Encourage them to not hold back and tell you everything you could have done to make it better. Then act on that feedback. Just don't hold a gun to people's heads and hold their paycheck hostage.



Sunday, 14 August 2011

Another use for the blind copying (BCC) email field

Many email etiquette guides caution against using the blind copy, or BCC,  feature of your email program. One article on Business Email Etiquette calls the practice "impolite and sneaky". Another, from Net M@nners.com, allows that there are both polite and impolite reasons to use BCC.

The most common and acceptable use of BCC is with mailing lists, says this article on LifeHack. You send a message to many people without revealing all their email addresses to each other. This protects their privacy.

Recently, I've begun using it for a different purpose. I'll include my own email address on an outgoing email, but in the BCC field so it doesn't show on the message that others receive. This plants a copy in my Inbox so I can easily drag it to my @Waiting folder as a tickler to follow up if I don't hear back.  It's easier for me to stay in the Inbox and drag the new message, than to switch back and forth between Inbox and Sent. This is especially the case if I'm accessing my email from a client's network via Outlook Web Access, in which switching folders is a bit more work.