• Zenlist close their GTD service

    The folks behind Zenlist announced their decision to close their website:

    We will be shutting down service on 11/15 due to lack of interest, poor development progress on our end, and a general feeling that Tracks is not yet ready to be a hosted solution unless significant contributions are made.

    zenlist.com hosted the Tracks application, a software written in Ruby On Rails that supports the Getting Things Done methodology for self organization and task management.

    I've been using Zenlist for some weeks, but recently reverted to using Backpack after repeated outages and downtimes of Zenlist. I can only use Web 2.0 applications that I really can rely on.

    It seems that they finally gave up on getting Tracks to run smoothly -- or couldn't be bothered since the service apparently didn't quite get traction, anyway. On the other hand, there could very well be a connection between lack of interest and an unstable service.

  • You like to be where you can laugh

    This morning, the conductor not just took a short glance over people's tickets, but took the time to chat a bit with kids and intensively comparing the photo on my commuter card with the real thing: "Well... Hm... Okay. Hair two millimetres longer on the picture, but... Okay." He then complimented on the photo of the woman vis-a-vis and left us smiling. Having some fun on my early morning commute isn't that common, and didn't happen at all when I had been driving to work alone in my car. So this will unconsciously, but certainly, affirm my decision to take the train.

    There are a lot situations that you're used to endure, but not to enjoy. It's where you think, "I may have to be here, but I'd rather be somewhere else." The daily commute is one such situation, and being at work is one of those, too. So if you want people to draw a connection between work and fun, put some fun in for them!

    For example, I often do unexpected things that make people laugh. As a boss, I'm not expected to make public semi-rude comments about my team, so I do. Of course, I make it obvious that I'm joking. There are so many ways of turning wrinkled brows into smiles. (Oh, here's the conductor again consulting the girl over there on keeping her teddy bear warm.) Noone likes brown-nosed people, so in management meetings (that most people outside our department probably consider boring) I blatantly confirm that I share my boss's opinion (and try not to get beaten up by my fellow leads). What happens is that there's more energy around the table for some time.

    Put a smile on people's face. Brighten up their day. Help them feel they're at exactly the right place to be.

  • If you have a clear goal, send clear messages

    I wish we had a saying in German that stresses the importance of clear facts and messages as well as the english "To assume makes an ass out of u and me." It's true: if you have to guess about things you may very well end up guessing wrong. So you don't want people guessing about you, neither.

    Two examples out of my recent experience show why sending clear messages is not as common as it is helpful.
    Example one: A coworker recently complained to me, "I can't believe he hasn't finished his task yet, given that the deadline is tomorrow!" When I asked him, "Did you tell him that you want him to have it finished until today?", he answered, "Well, we already talked about the deadline three weeks ago!"

    Another colleague had gotten heavily irritated by coworkers that always interrupted his work, coming directly to his desk instead of just sending an email -- or even coming round immediately after sending one. Because body language alone didn't seem to get the right message over, though, he asked me what do to about it.

    I think both cases are in the long run about sending or not sending clear messages. In the first example, yes, there has been talk about the deadline, but to not follow up with a clear mutual agreement that this crucial task has to be finished until then is neglecting the fact that people don't just work on one task. In today's workplace (if it is anything like mine), there are so many projects and distractions begging for everone's attention that we have to make clear statements to ensure people give our goal or project at least nearly as much importance as we do. To assume that people will meet a deadline that has been disussed once quite a while ago is dangerous, to say the least.

    But that doesn't mean you have to continually harrass your colleagues or subordinates. After explaining why meeting your goal is important, get the other participants to acknowledge that importance and then agree upon on a delivery date. Put that agreement in writing so that there is something you and your counterparts can fall back to. Then finally get the heck out of their way and let them fulfill their responsibility.

    And that brings me to the second example. Let them do their job. If you made clear that the task you want them to do is important and they acknowledged that they share that sense of importance, leave them some air to breathe and some time do work their magic.

    People that just come up to my desk and interrupt me either think that I don't have important things to do -- at least not as important as what they want to talk to me about -- or don't think about my situation at all. There are only a few people like my boss that are entitled to push my "priority override" button. Most people belong to the second category, the "not-thinkers". But there's an easy way to make them think (and sometimes, even understand):

    The best way of communicating that you don't like being interrupted is, well, communicating. (I wonder if that really is news to you.) Humans do that best with spoken words, so tell them that they are interrupting the task you're doing, that you're not happy about that, and neither won't be the people that gave that task to you. Explain to them that recovering from interruptions takes an enormous effort and be clear that you therefore only want to be interrupted when there's a real emergency. For all other cases there's always email (or even a ticket system, which I highly recommend). They don't want you to be interrupted while you're working on their projects, do they? Well, the Golden Rule applies.

    People that don't meet agreed upon deadlines or ones that keep disturbing you even after explaining the consequences of interruptions need special treatment. This could mean a more intensive talk in private, or a talk with their boss. But that's another topic.

    Ergo: be clear what you think and what you want people to do or not to do. Telepathy isn't a gift as widely spread as you might assume.

  • I am not a cow

    It's a Tauren, dammit! Yes, that's right, I started playing World of Warcraft yesterday. I couldn't resist Armin's pushing any more.

    After reaching level 5, I have to admit that it's really fun and captivating. I can see why people spend hours and hours playing WoW.

    I don't know yet if I'll get a die-hard player myself, but for now, I'm looking forward to my next round and even more the first raid with my colleagues' guild.

  • Starbucks: a not so hot spot

    I had to go to the citizen registration office today, so I couldn't get my early train. I decided to spend my waiting time after the registration (which was short and painless) with a Caramel Macchiato at Freiburg's Starbucks.

    Having read about US Starbucks having free WiFi, I expected my local one to follow suit, but I got disappointed. Because the only Internet access offered there is provided by Deutsche Telekom at a horrendous rate of about 8 Euro per hour, I rather used my 3G/UMTS connection from my E61 for getting my early morning dose of blog reading. I use Vodafone's PDA rate for low data volumes, paying 9 Euro per month for 30MB -- enough for doing a little WWW every so often.

    The coffee recipes may be the same delicious (and expensive) ones as in the home land of Starbucks. But to get me as a more frequent customer, Starbucks Germany better get their act together in the WiFi department.