Ian Singleton

GTD and the paperless office

Posted in Boddd by iansingleton on April 18, 2011

For the first time ever, I’ve just written to a productivity consultant to ask if he’s ever come across anything to do with “GTD and the paperless office”.

David Allen in Getting Things Done writes about having a filing system available such that the documents you need appear on the day when you need them. But I can’t find anything that allows me to do the same thing in the digital realm.

Posted in Boddd by iansingleton on August 19, 2010
Back at the start of August, I set myself the task of working through all of my scans to decide which of these I valued the most. These were the ones that I would defend the hardest; the ones that I would move into the citadel if I had to preserve only a few. 22000 scans, give or take a couple of hundred. In paper terms, that’s 44 of those packs of paper that you buy to put in a photocopier. I decided that I’d give myself until Christmas to work through them all. That meant looking at 150 each day.
I finished this morning. It’s taken me just under three weeks. And in those three weeks, I’ve used just under four hours to look at every single scan.
It’s actually pretty each to do so when they are laid out like this. You can skim straight through the stuff that you know that you won’t ever look at again – instructions for domestic appliances I no longer own, invoices for projects – and for companies – long dormant.
And in a sense, it’s irrelevant, because all 22000 scans, compressed, take up slightly more than a Gb in storage space. Small enough to fit on a USB stick on my keyring. And all backed up to two online storage facilities.
It’s actually about moving them into the front of my mind. There’s a line in the Baz Luhrman song Sunscreen, in which the narrator urges the listener to “Keep your old love letters. Throw away your old bank statements.” Which is pretty much what I have done.
And the result?
I selected the “important” ones and re-exported them at full size and high resolution. How many did I choose to “save”?
791, or about 2.75% of the total.

Back at the start of August, I set myself the task of working through all of my scans to decide which of these I valued the most. These were the ones that I would defend the hardest; the ones that I would move into the citadel if I had to preserve only a few. 22000 scans, give or take a couple of hundred. In paper terms, that’s 44 of those packs of paper that you buy to put in a photocopier. I decided that I’d give myself until Christmas to work through them all. That meant looking at 150 each day.
I finished this morning. It’s taken me just under three weeks. And in those three weeks, I’ve used just under four hours to look at every single scan.
It’s actually pretty each to do so when they are layed out like this. You can skim straight through the stuff that you know that you won’t ever look at again – instructions for domestic appliances I no longer own, invoices for projects – and for companies – long dormant.
And in a sense, it’s irrelevant, because all 22000 scans, compressed, take up slightly more than a Gb in storage space. Small enough to fit on a USB stick on my keyring. And all backed up to two online storage facilities.
It’s actually about moving them into the front of my mind. There’s a line in the Baz Luhrman song Sunscreen, in which the narrator urges the listener to “Keep your old love letters. Throw away your old bank statements.” Which is pretty much what I have done.
And the result?
I selected the “important” ones and re-exported them at full size and high resolution. How many did I choose to “save”?
791, or about 2.75% of the total.

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Less

Posted in Boddd by iansingleton on August 17, 2010

One of the things that has arisen as a result of Bodd is my interest in minimalism. Here’s one guy who is trying an extreme version. http://cultofless.com/. The difference is that he’s a twenty something US college graduate. I’m more than twice his age.

Today I hit the 19000 mark. I’ve elected to “save” 575 scans. Which comes in at about 2.75%. There’s the line in Baz Luhrman’s Sunscreen where the narrator says “Keep your old loveletters. Throw away your old bank statements.” That’s pretty much the conclusion that I have reached.

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Update

Posted in Boddd by iansingleton on August 16, 2010

When I started Citadel, I thought it would take me until Christmas to process all of the paperwork that I have ever received. Today I got to scan 17800. Which means that I’m 81% of the way to the end.

When I started, I reckoned that I would keep more of the material the nearer I got to the end – it would have more relevance to my life. In fact, today I chose to keep just 21 scans out of the 2249 I review – that’s less than 1 per cent. Overall, to date I have chosen to keep 491 out of those I’ve looked at so far. That’s a keep rate of 2.75% or nearly three times the average of today. That’s because what I was looking through today consisted of lots of invoices and statements plus all the paperwork relating to one project, now long dead.

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Halfway there

Posted in Boddd by iansingleton on August 12, 2010

When I started the review of my scans, I reckoned that I would look at 150 each day in a process that would take me until Christmas. Less than two weeks in, I’m already fast approaching halfway.

First, the simple stats. I have chosen to “keep” 335 images in eight review sessions which have, in total, taken just over two hours.

And the keep is in inverted commas, because this process has taught me that many of the presuppositions with which I entered it are wrong.

  • It isn’t about choosing what to keep and what to discard. It’s really about choosing the things that I would like to see again. So what I should have done is select all the invoices and bank statements and pushed them to the back of the queue. I’m unlikely ever to WANT to look at them again. I might HAVE to, but that’s a different motivation.
  • It isn’t about choosing what to keep and what to discard. I don’t need to discard any of it. The original scans database grew to about 15Gb in size. That’s still a big old amount of data to move around. When compressed down, though, it drops to just over 1Gb. And when I put that database into Picasa on a netbook yesterday, the details on a magazine cover were still visible.
  • The figure of 150 a day came from dividing how many scans there were by the number of days until Christmas. It sounds like a real chore to go through 150 pages in a ring binder or a filing cabinet. When they scroll past you as thumbnail images, though, it’s the work of not very much time at all to process them.
  • There’s a great moment, normally accompanied by a smile, which is “I’d forgotten about that.” The real lesson from this exercise is that if all of these records are a means of triggering a memory, there’s something going on here about making those memories easier to access.
  • I used to think it was impressive that there were so many of them. Now, I think that would be more useful if I accessed them more frequently. There are two parts to that.
  • The first is that I didn’t access them because there were so many of them. I was slightly daunted by the sheer number of them.
  • The second is in in the phrase “access them more frequently”. If I look at 100 images a day, for example, the number of times I’ll look at a particular scan is much greater if there’s a pool of 335 of them rather than 11000.
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Citadel – a week in

Posted in Boddd by iansingleton on August 9, 2010

This morning I fired up iPhoto at 8.46. Nine minutes later I had worked through another five hundred scans.

The nature of what I’m doing is changing. To begin with, I was creating an archive of things that were of sentimental value. Now, I’m saving also things that are of potential interest and/or value to me elsewhere.

For example, this morning I found an article that I had kept from the Telegraph. I didn’t realise that the UK was the only Western nation that allowed ES embryonic stem cell research. I wonder why that bothered me in the first place and why I haven’t done anything about it until now? Giles Redpath, CEO of Euphony. Why did I keep a profile of him?
And there was an article about creating your own Mediacenter. It had links to two websites – http://www.xpmce.com and thegreenbutton.com – both of which I can follow now.
There was an article from the Observer in 2005 by Will Hutton  about a possible future war between USA and China over oil. the article was written in 2005 and it says that the price of oil has just risen above $60
As this demonstrates, I’m unlikely to wish to preserve everything for posterity. One of the important tenets has been not to editorialise at the ingestion stage. Scan everything. Data storage is cheap enough to be effectively free and if you get the workflow right then it takes very little time to process any particular piece of paper. The result in the overall archive is that the trivial sits next to material that is interesting or important. And sometimes both.
This review process has shown that sometimes the archive hasn’t worked as well as it could have done. For instance, I carefully kept an article from a Sunday newspaper in 2005 about things to do on a tourist city break to Rome. I made precisely that kind of City break in February 2008, so almost three years after I had scanned the article in the first place. But I didn’t take
the guide with me. Or even check to see if it existed. Or find any notifications about its existence.
And sometimes, in reviewing all the material, you come across something – like the newspaper article on the right – and I just think how interesting and how glad I am that I kept this. And without Boddd I would have lost it for posterity it would have been lost. Not for posterity. But certainly from my life. Which is what I’m starting to think that Boddd is really all about.
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Citadel update

Posted in Boddd by iansingleton on August 7, 2010

I decided from 1st August to work through my scans, creating a subset of the ones that I would choose to keep if I had to come up with a list of the most mortant. Hence the name, these are the most valuable, the ones which need the greatest protection, the ones that would be retreated to the citadel in the event of an attack or a fire.

I decided that this would be a project that would take until Christmas. So I calculated that I needed to look at roughly 150 each day.

And here, a week on, I’ve now looked at 7,000 – or the first third. In a total time of just over an hour, spread through the week. At the moment, I have chosen just over a hundred scans that I would keep for posterity. Almost all are pictures, and almost all of those are pictures of my children. I wonder what that says about my life?

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Citadel

Posted in Boddd by iansingleton on August 1, 2010
It’s been nearly six months since I got the scans into iPhoto. or the first time I’ve started to run through the scans, deciding which I would keep if I had to print them all out in the event that computers no longer worked. To be honest, if that were ever to happen, I don’t think I’d have much time to spend looking at old stuff.
The question which determines the cut is this –
Which of these would my life be poorer without?
I had planned to do 150 a day which would mean that the whole thing will be complete by Christmas. In fact, I did twice that.

Again, to head off the criticism at the pass about how laborious the process is and how unwieldy the end result, out of the first 350 I would keep 11. The process took five minutes and seven seconds. Extrapolated up, that means I’ll end up with about seven hundred keepers and the whole thing will take about five and a half hours stretched over six months.

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The New New Bodleian

Posted in Boddd by iansingleton on January 27, 2010

When I was a student, the most impressive library in which to go and work was The Bodleian. Across the road from the original building was a library called The New Bodleian.

The way it worked was that you would arrive in the main cataloguing room which contained huge directories of books. You’d fill in a little pink slip which contained the book’s title, author and ISBN number together with a reference number for the seat in which you would be sitting.

After a period of time – about half an hour – you’d go to the collection point nearest to your seat where, magically, the book awaited you. This was after somebody had disappeard into the stacks, invisible to the readers, below the library.

What I want to create for my paperwork is a digital version of the Bodleian. For the purpose of this exercise, it’s called Bodd.

I want to be able to see all of the document types that I have – photo, newspaper article, invoice – and also the subject matter – Eleanor, icanplayit, film-making. And the way to find those is to use the tag fields on the jpegs themselves.

Backstory

Posted in Boddd by iansingleton on January 22, 2010

Like everybody else and every business and organisation I can think of, In my life I’ve accumulated a lot of paperwork.

One of my regular jobs was for a publishing company to produce a preview of that year’s upcoming titles. For the first couple of years I shot all of the covers using a rostrum camera. And then one year I used a bit of the rostrum camera hire fee and bought a scanner.

When the job was over, I started to scan things. As I write this, the number of scans has reached almost 21,000.

People react to this story, generally, in one of three ways:

“You’re mad! Spending all that time doing this!” I timed myself last week. I spent 43 minutes on scanning.

“What if your computer crashes? You’ll lose the lot!” All the material is backed up. To three different online backup facilities; to five different portable hard drives; to a USB pen drive; to four different computers.

“How can you ever find anything?” In many ways, this is the most interesting question. And it’s what this project is really all about.