On Chasing the Right “Zero”

I like the quote by Merlin Mann and reference by Shawn Blanc because I think it is an important perspective to keep in mind that all the inputs we process should be associated with helping us to produce outputs however indirectly. Focussing on outputs gives meaning and purpose to why we should bother to selectively pay attention to the inputs that continually bombard us.

On Chasing the Right “Zero”:

Merlin Mann:

Put to best use, Inbox Zero is merely a philosophical practice of learning to be parsimonious about which and how many inputs we allow into into our lives—and, then, to responsibly but mindfully tend to those inputs in a way that is never allowed to hinder our personal commitment to doing the work that really matters to us.

To paraphrase Robert Louis Stevenson: Inboxes are good enough in their own right, but they are a mighty bloodless substitute for work.

(Via Shawn Blanc)

A System Approach to Going Paperless

We live in an information packed world which is growing by leaps and bounds everyday. With all that information it is easy to get overwhelmed and get your space cluttered especially if you are trying to manage stacks of paper.

One way to reduce your paper overload is to use some digital tools to not only reduce the clutter and space for old filing cabinets but also to make your information instantly retrievable.

A system that works for me consists of the following tools:

  • Scansnap scanner
  • PDFpen OCR or Devonthink database OCR
  • Spotlight searching
  • Dropbox file syncing
  • Scansnap Scanner

    I really love my scansnap scanner because it is compact on my desk and it can quickly scan paper in colour or black and white on one or both sides. Most of all it is quick and easy and can be setup to automatically use a scanning software workflow. The scansnap is designed for paper feed so if you have other items like books you may want to also invest in a flat bed scanner.

    PDFpen OCR

    My preferred format for digital documents is PDF and PDFpen is a specialized tool for doing all things PDF including Optical Character Recognition (OCR). There are various types of PDF documents but the most useful kind are those where the scanned image has its text portions converted to digital text because it can then be found when searching for keywords. PDFpen has lots of features for pretty much doing whatever you want with PDF documents including things such as editing, annotating, signing, appending, merging, etc.

    Devonthink Pro Office

    As useful as PDFpen is for working with PDF documents, in my workflow I actually use Devonthink Pro database to OCR and capture PDF documents first because in one step I can organize my document in a database. I can still use PDFpen later if I want to make changes to the document. In addition to the regular database functions Devonthink also has some Artificial Intelligence to find associations between documents that you might not recognize when manually filing. This helps you to become even more organized and do more with your information.

    Spotlight Searching

    The Mac operating system includes a search capability that can find keywords not only in the file names or keyword fields but also anywhere in the text. This is extremely useful as people have found when doing Google searches on the Internet. You don’t have to rely on remembering which file folder you saved the file to and you can find files in several ways such as topic, date, and filetype. There is also a show in finder option to quickly access the desired file. This works for all files and for those that were saved in Devonthink that database has additional searching capabilities.

    Dropbox File Syncing

    With file sharing services like Dropbox you are not limited to accessing documents on your main computer. You can also access them from your iPad tablet and iPhone. There is also a feature for quickly sharing files with friends or clients. Dropbox is a free service that adds a folder that syncs between all your devices. You save files from any device into the Dropbox folder and you can then access them from any of your devices. Once you have this capability you will never want to go back to trying to remember what computer you saved a file to. If you decide to use Dropbox do yourself and I a favour and use this Dropbox affiliate link. It is a Win-Win where you and I both get an extra 250MB of storage space for helping to spread the word about this excellent free service. There are options to pay for additional storage as well if you need it.

    In this article I have focussed on my Mac and IOS based system for going digital to organize your information better. It is also possible to implement a paperless system using Windows or Linux but perhaps not so elegantly.

    Evolution of Computer Interfaces

    The Sixth Sense video from the 2009 TED in India has some thought provoking ideas not just on the evolution of computer interfaces but also the merging of the “real” and virtual worlds.

    Although some ideas (e.g. Projection of information onto people) emphasized visual techniques too much and didn’t anticipate other senses like voice recognition and virtual agent feedback whispered in your ear, it is still compelling to consider the implications of when ultra-small projectors are included in our cell phones. I especially liked how much more flexible and integrated a workflow combining the computer with paper could be.

    What is also exciting with respect to affordability are new products like LEAP which appear to extend capabilities similar to Microsoft’s xbox kinect at a price of approximately $70.

    Although it is still in the early stages, SIRI is exposing the capabilities that will eventually become commonplace for voice interaction with a virtual assistant.

    Apple doesn’t normally issue concept videos but they did do one 25 years ago called the Knowledge Navigator which included many of the items we are more familiar with today. Clearly this vision is something that Apple has worked to implement as new technologies gradually have made the capabilities possible in a consumer product.

    Incredibly the knowledge navigator video released in 1987 was released for real only one month late according to calculations made by the web site waxy.org.

    Based on the dates mentioned in the Knowledge Navigator video, it takes place on September 16, 2011. The date on the professor’s calendar is September 16, and he’s looking for a 2006 paper written “about five years ago,” setting the year as 2011.

    And this morning, at the iPhone keynote,[October 4, 2011] Apple announced Siri, a natural language-based voice assistant, would be built into iOS 5 and a core part of the new iPhone 4S.

    So, 24 years ago [from 2011], Apple predicted a complex natural-language voice assistant built into a touchscreen Apple device, and was less than a month off.

    Clearly there are many computer interaction breakthroughs in our near future.

    What good are you going to do with the powerful capabilities of an intelligent virtual assistant at your beck and call?