An overview of my planning and productivity system in 2019

Google Calendar, Microsoft OneNote and Todoist

My personal organisation system has evolved over the years in an iterative rather agile approach.

This post outlines the major building blocks of my current system.

Continue reading An overview of my planning and productivity system in 2019

Trello coloured lists for Tampermonkey updated to v4.x

Coloured lists make identifying their purpose quicker at a glance
Coloured lists makes identifying their purpose quicker at a glance

This evening I updated a script I first wrote back in March 2014. I wrote about it on the old University of St Andrews web team blog.

The script, which runs in the browser using an add-on such as Tampermonkey, lets you define Trello list titles to search for, and then apply a background colour to it.

Continue reading Trello coloured lists for Tampermonkey updated to v4.x

Reinstalling Windows 10—my process

Trello board for reinstalling software on my PC
Trello board for reinstalling software on my PC

About two months ago, I reinstalled Windows 10 on both my desktop and laptop computers. This post is about what I do to make sure the process is as smooth as possible.

Installation files

Something I have done for years (since Windows 98) is to store most of my installation files in a directory.

I store mostly drivers, plus applications that are either rare or that I have purchased. I don’t store applications that update regularly (e.g. web browsers, WinSCP, IrfanView, etc.).

Within my installation directory I organise the files into sub-categories, like this:

Installation files organised into categories
Installation files organised into categories

This allows me to find drivers and applications more easily. It’s also roughly how I organise the installed applications on my Windows start screen:

My Windows 10 start screen categories more or less match how I organise them in the installation folder
My Windows 10 start screen categories more or less match how I organise them in the installation folder

I store these files on a separate hard drive from the one that I install Windows on; I always install Windows on its own drive. This allows me to quickly reinstall Windows without worrying about overwriting the installation files.

I also backup these files to an external hard drive. I currently use a 2TB Seagate Backup Plus drive (USB 3.0).

Trello board

For each computer, I have created a separate Trello board to guide me through the installation process.

I have boards for my desktop and laptop computers, plus my work computer. I also do the same for my Android smartphone.

Everything I need to know to carry out a smooth reinstallation
Everything I need to know to carry out a smooth reinstallation

Each board outlines my backup routine for each computer, any applications or services that I need to uninstall or deactivate before the reinstall, and then for each driver or application I record the steps I need to take, options to select, or any problems that I’ve encountered, etc.

The first few columns on each board outline the order in which I like to install things: drivers first then essential system applications. Within each column, again the arrangement of cards shows me the order that applications need to be installed, e.g. motherboard drivers, graphics card drivers then Windows updates.

I use images on some cards to make it quicker to identify them.

Images help me quickly identify to what the cards relate
Images help me quickly identify to what the cards relate

And as you may suspect, the column names on these Trello board match one-to-one the sub-directory names in my installation folder.

I then use Trello labels to track the status of each driver or application. I can see at a glance which applications I regard as essential and which I install only the first time I require them.

I use red labels to indicate any problems; purple labels tell me whether I need a reboot after installation; navy labels indicate work-related applications; and light blue labels give me a clue as to where to find them.

Labels help me track type of application plus installation status
Labels help me track type of application plus installation status

SafeInCloud

The last piece of the puzzle is where I keep any registration or serial keys. I store these in my encrypted password safe, SafeInCloud.

I use my password safe to also store registration keys for software applications
I use my password safe to also store registration keys for software applications

Conclusion

Since moving to this workflow, I have found the process to be very straightforward. I can track everything using my smartphone using the Android apps for Trello and SafeInCloud, and I can easily record any problems or lessons learned meaning that each time I do this it gets easier each time.

Do you have any top tips for reinstalling your computer?

Viewing Trello label titles on cards

UPDATE: Trello now includes this capability ‘out of the box’.

On a desktop or laptop browser, simply click the label colour—it will expand to include the name of the label.


It’s no secret that I’m a fan of Trello.

I use Trello pretty much exclusively on Google Chrome, as there are plenty of plugins written to extend its capabilities; far more than for Firefox, which surprises me a little.

One of my favourites is Scrum for Trello, which allows me to add Agile story points very simply. My new favourite is this: Card Color Titles for Trello.

Default labels

In Trello you may set an unlimited number of labels. Originally, there were only six, organised in the order of the original Apple logo.

Here are the labels that Trello themselves use for their development board.

Trello label names
Trello label names

When applied to cards, the labels appear as coloured bars at the top of each card.

Trello development board with standard labels.
Trello development board with standard labels.

The problem is, and particularly now with unlimited labels, it can be difficult to remember what each colour means—especially if you use different labels on different boards.

Card color titles for Trello

That’s where the Card Color Titles for Trello plugin comes in: it adds the name of the label to the label.

Labels, colours, titles—it all makes sense now
Labels, colours, titles—it all makes sense now

I’ve been using this for the last week and it has been so useful, particularly at work where we have labels for MoSCoW prioritisation. It has made re-ordering cards so much easier and quicker.

It’s definitely an extension to add if you use Trello on Chrome: Card Color Titles for Trello on Chrome web store.

Todoist vs Trello vs Wunderlist for managing small tasks

Since moving from Outlook (Exchange) to eM Client (Google) a few weeks ago I have needed to find a suitable task management application to replace Outlook’s excellent task tool. I’ve found a really nice application in Todoist.

I used Outlook tasks a lot on both my desktop PC and my mobile phone (Windows Mobile then Android), so my requirements were:

  • Must be cloud based.
  • Must sync quickly between mobile and desktop.
  • Must have a native app for both Android and Windows 8.
  • Must be able to handle multiple contexts/projects.
  • Must be affordable.
  • Should have a usable Android widget to both add new tasks and view a particular context/project.

Wunderlist

Wunderlist interface has a brown, wood-effect background with two columns: contexts on the left, tasks on the right.
Wunderlist (Windows 8 modern UI app) is really pretty.

The first application that I consider was Wunderlist which I had trialled a few years ago before moving to Exchange. I thought it was time to give it another go.

I migrated my tasks into Wunderlist and used it for a few days.

I really love the aesthetics of Wunderlist. It looks uncluttered and simple, and I selected a rich wood-effect background to complement the dark grey wood wallpaper both my PC and smartphone.

Following the GTD methodology, I was able to create multiple contexts (e.g. computer, desk, finance, garden, home, shopping, etc.). Moving tasks from one context to another is as simple as dragging and dropping tasks. Further details can be added to individual tasks (due date, reminders, subtasks and notes).

I really liked the ability to star important or favourite items, and to view all tasks, grouped by context in the order shown on the left-hand sidebar.

Wunderlist was looking promising, and I probably would have continued to use it had it not been for two issues.

The first issue I had was more of a niggle: the Android widget it really fiddly to use. I love that you can scroll left and right between contexts but I found with my not-too-enormous fingers that I had to jab at the screen four or five times to hit the sweet spot before it moved.

The second is a known problem: there are sync issues between Wunderlist 2 and 3. The web interface and Android both use the newer version 3, the Windows 7 application uses version 2. When I used both in conjunction I discovered discrepancies in my data.

I didn’t want to use the Windows 8 modern UI app or have to access my lists through Chrome, and the niggle with the Android widget was enough to get me looking elsewhere.

Trello

Trello uses the model of cards pinned to lists.
Trello uses the model of cards pinned to lists.

I’ve long been a fan of Trello from Fog Creek Software. We use it extensively at work, and I use it to manage all my personal projects. So I quickly migrated my tasks from Wunderlist to Trello and used it for a few days.

As much as I love Trello for managing larger projects I didn’t really warm to it as a simply list/task application.

Contrary to my experience with Wunderlist, I was quite happy to use the web interface but then that’s how I have used it for the last few years. The Android app is great and improves with each release.

The Android widget didn’t give me the information that I needed, though: it isn’t granular enough for my requirements. All it offers is a list of cards assigned to me, optionally grouped by due date. The problem here is that it lists EVERY single card assigned to me, starting with those cards that are dated in the past. Right now that is 461 cards. All I wanted to see was all the cards within a particular board, or even better within a particular list on one particular board.

Todoist

Todoist interface has two columns: list of contexts or projects on the left, checkbox list of tasks within that project on the right.
Todoist has a very clean interface.

That was when I discovered Todoist which appears to be available for just about everything: web, Android, iOS, Windows, Mac OS, web, Outlook, Thunderbird, Gmail and Postbox. I’d love to see a plugin for eM Client—that would make my productivity life complete!

Todoist has a very minimalist and uncluttered look. On the left are your contexts, which Todoist calls Projects. It also offers labels and filters, but I don’t use either.

For the third time in a week I migrated all my tasks to yet another application. But this time they’ve stayed there… the ones that I’ve not checked off.

Todoist has met all my requirements. It is cloud-based, the Windows and Android apps work beautifully, I can add multiple contexts/projects, can easily drag and drop items from one list to another.

The Android widget does exactly what I need as doesn’t suffer from the same navigation issues that I experienced with Wunderlist. I’ve found that I use that a lot now, and the big plus (+) in the top-right corner of the widget allows me to add tasks quickly to any of my existing lists, and assign a due date too if I need.

The only thing that I miss from Wunderlist is the ability to view all tasks in one long list, [see correction below] but something that I found myself using much more than I ever did with Wunderlist is scheduling tasks. This is probably because Todoist offers two new views: ‘Today‘ and ‘Next 7 days’. (A perfect example of how user interfaces can affect user behaviour.)

CORRECTION: I’ve discovered a “View all” option listed under Filters. This lists all tasks by project. I wish there was a shortcut for this at the top of the application.

What is quite fun too is that Todoist shows your productivity trend and gives you points (which it calls ‘Todoist Karma‘), which I guess is there to help motivate you.

Graph and bar chart showing my productivity trend for the last seven days.
My productivity trend for the last seven days.

When you tick off items your points go up, when you don’t your points down.

I’ll definitely be sticking with Todoist for the foreseeable future, and I may even buy the upgrade to Todoist Premium which is a snip at GBP £18.00 per year, which gives you more project and label colours, task notes and file uploads, reminders, iCalendar feeds, etc.