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Home/Office/Remote setup and synchronization.

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  • Home/Office/Remote setup and synchronization.

    I am, as are many others, just starting the GTD system . One confusion I have is how to synchronize between home and office and mobile workstations. This is especially important to me because I telecommute and travel often. I am in the I.T. world, so the majority of my "Stuff" is electronic; however, there is still a lot of paper floating around.
    The book says that I should have identical reference libraries and lists in my main office, my home office, and in my laptop bag. How do you do that?

    I would deeply appreciate any suggestions regarding how you may have implemented a similar situation.

  • #2
    (Long response)

    Originally posted by garrett
    ...One confusion I have is how to synchronize between home and office and mobile workstations. This is especially important to me because I telecommute and travel often.
    I'm in a similar situation: I have an office in Bellevue, and a home office in Shoreline. (This is the Seattle area.) I mention the locations because it is a 45 minute commute when there is no traffic, and there is always traffic in Seattle. Because of this, it is important that I not have "Oops, I need ____ from the office!" when I am working from home, or vice versa.

    Now, the paper that I have is, for the most part, printed versions of electronic documents... this is an easy solution-- just print it twice. If you keep a "take back" folder in your briefcase, you can simply print two copies of things, file one, put the other in your "take back" folder to be filed when you get to the other location. (I tend to put a PostIt on the document so I know where to file it.) For non-electronic documents that you need at both locations, there is alway the trusty photocopier.

    This worked for me for a while... and I was pretty satisfied with the situation. After a while, however, the as time progressed with my GTD system, this got to be a hassle, and the files got bigger. My solution has been to move everything into digital format-- I scan every piece of paper that comes my way, and I keep my "paper files" on the hard drive of my laptop. The document management functionality in MS Office is actually quite good for scanned documents, and it really does work well for me. Additionally, being able to browse in Windows XP as a "pictures" folder means I have a thumbnail and quick preview of the document-- almost like looking in a real folder.

    This is a little bit of a hassle, but if you buy a high quality scanner (read: spend at least $150, don't buy one of those $39.99 scanners) it will take well under a minute to scan something and "file" it away on your hard drive-- about the same as printing a label with a labeler and putting it in your file cabinet. Another tip: scan at relatively low resolutions. (I use 150dpi.) It will take less space on your hard drive, and it will also take less time to scan. However, 150 is a lot better than "screen" resolution (72dpi) when you want to print... a nice compromise.

    Of course, there are always documents that you need to keep originals of, but the key here is that you don't frequently need to REFER to the originals, so they needn't be synchronized between the two locations.

    The other advantage of this is that you have EVERYTHING at hand, all the time. There is never a point where you are on a client's site without a key document, or in a hotel room in Nowhere, NM without a document (or magainze article you remember reading 3 years ago) that you want to refer to. I'm really quite happy with this.

    As for dealing with the paper files you've already acumulated, this can be done in stages. Indeed, I am still in the process... I scan 10-20 of these files a day, a couple days a week, and it has taken me a month or two to get to where I am, which is about 75% done. However, this is something I simply do while I am on hold, or while waiting for files to download, etc. And there is a finish line in sight-- you gradually see your old file folders getting emptier and emptier, which gives me a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment: I am successfuly eliminating the vast majority of paper from my life.

    Another neat benefit... when someone asks you for a document, you can easily email it to them, or print it. There are definite productivity gains that you realize after you've lived with digital versions of paper documents for a while. Imagine being on the phone with a collegue and saying "yeah, I thing I read about that in a magazine article back in May... let me check. Ah yes, here it is. I just emailed it to you." Excellent.

    One thing you need to remember: Backups become ESSENTIAL. You need to make sure that your hard drive (or at least your document folder) is backed up NIGHTLY, and that this backup is trusted and secure. My methodology is as follows (although this may be more complex then what is needed by many people.)

    Every night, my laptop wakes up at 3 in the moring (when I am, presumably, otherwise engaged) and backs up all my documents to a file server (which is actually just an old $100 garage sale quality PC with a big hard drive added.) If you like, this could be an external USB hard drive, or anything. The key here is that it is going to a hard drive, not to tape or CD. My files take up several gigabytes, so they would take a lot of CDs to back up, and if I were going to tape it would take way too long.

    Every Friday, the server writes the backup archive to a DVD-R, which is subsequently stored in my safe, and the previous week's DVD is put in a safe deposit box. The reason for this is because, in addition to documents, I have my home inventory with digital photos, scanned copies of appraisals, etc. that I would want to have easy access to if my house burnt down, for example. Because I am terminally lazy, I actually have outsourced the act of swapping out the DVD's to a data management company at a cost that is absolutely rediculous... but I trust them more then the 14 year old neighbor kid that would probably be a more pragmatic solution. There is a lot of sensitive stuff in here-- bank records, stock trade confirmations, tax returns, etc. I want to make sure that it isn't going to fall into the wrong hands. (I use Windows XP with the file encrypted file system, so if someone stole my laptop, they still couldn't get at the data easily.)

    This makes me sound paraniod and overly cautious... well, I am. I have done systems administration for mission critical applications, so I tend to err on the side of caution. However, I do want to make sure that you understand the importance of making sure you are covered if your hard drive fails. (Trust me: it will, someday.) Having an intelligent and trustworthy backup system in place means that you have eliminated the problem of "single point of failure" for all your important data. Hard drives fail, laptops get stolen. Make sure your critical data isn't the victim. Your laptop you can easily replace... make sure the same is true of your data.

    Originally posted by garrett
    The book says that I should have identical reference libraries and lists in my main office, my home office, and in my laptop bag. How do you do that?
    Well, my solution actually solves this... however, I think the intent of that passage of the book was that you have similarly organized systems, not that the systems contain the same content. I don't think that DA expects people to have 2 copies of everything... he just wants to make sure that you organize your systems in the same way so that you don't have to keep 2 systems in memory.

    Hope this (long winded) post helps! Good luck!

    --- JRJ

    Comment


    • #3
      Re: (Long response)

      This was a really good post - sometimes being 'long winded' is worth it!

      I would very much like to try something like this but am not there yet. In fact, I don't yet own scanner!

      Here is a question:

      Besides the utilities available in Office, have you (or anyone reading this post) come up with good indexing / file name conventions, etc. for scanned documents?

      For example, say I scan all my Waterhouse montly statements, all my mortgage statements, etc. - my concern is that they be in more of a true database format so I can query on a few keywords (obviously not words from the document, as it is an image, but perhaps keywords entered when the document is registered in the system) and get the 'September 2002 mortgage statement' etc.

      Any thoughts?

      Comment


      • #4
        Originally posted by zootski
        This was a really good post - sometimes being 'long winded' is worth it!
        Thanks for the kind words.

        Originally posted by zootski
        Besides the utilities available in Office, have you (or anyone reading this post) come up with good indexing / file name conventions, etc. for scanned documents?

        For example, say I scan all my Waterhouse montly statements, all my mortgage statements, etc. - my concern is that they be in more of a true database format so I can query on a few keywords (obviously not words from the document, as it is an image, but perhaps keywords entered when the document is registered in the system) and get the 'September 2002 mortgage statement' etc.
        This is a really good question. I have been experementing with a couple of different ways of handling this. What I finally settled on was using "Meta data" inside the images for keywords.

        Basically, image files in Windows XP have a surprising amount of meta data... when you right-click on the image and select "properties" you will see a "summary" tab. On this tab, the following fields are available to you:

        Title, Subject, Author, Keywords, Comments

        Using the "Keywords" field to put in the words that I might use when searching for this image makes the system far more searchable. Since Windows indexes the data here, searches are quite fast when you restrict them just to your document share.

        Another thing I have experemented with is OCR, but not for the reasons you might think... OCR (Optical Character Recognition) is not very good-- it runs about 98% accuracy, which isn't enough to be practical. However, for pulling keywords out of documents it works great. I have been working on a system that runs OCR in the background when the computer is idle, and maintains a relational database of all my scanned documents. (OK, so you caught me: I'm a programmer.) There are high end solutions that do this, but they are all fairly expensive, and for my needs, would be similar to swatting a fly with a Buick.

        Good luck!

        --- JRJ

        Comment


        • #5
          Using the "Keywords" field to put in the words that I might use when searching for this image makes the system far more searchable. Since Windows indexes the data here, searches are quite fast when you restrict them just to your document share.


          This could be very helpful - despite my interest in keeping my distance from Full Microsoft Immersion, I too use XP, and will probably not be dumping that OS real sooN!

          I noticed that on the other board, there is a discussion about various tools, including Zoot, AskSam and Filemaker Pro. The latter could well be helpful for this task as Filemaker is very much pitched at organizing multimedia.

          [/i]

          Comment


          • #6
            Re: (Long response)

            Originally posted by zootski
            Besides the utilities available in Office, have you (or anyone reading this post) come up with good indexing / file name conventions, etc. for scanned documents?
            In re file names, I use a couple of conventions. For dated documents, such as receipts, invoices, or the like, I use a format like so:

            2002.12.25-Description.ext

            and place the document in an appropriate folder

            For articles or anything with an author I use

            authorlastname-article title.ext

            and place the file in an appropriate subject folder.

            On a related subject, after many years and many platform/OS/software changes and being left with documents I could no longer open, I've settled on storing documents in one of two formats: ASCII text or PDF. Anything that's just words goes in ASCII text, and anything involving graphics goes in PDF. I'm 100% confident that I'll always be able to read the text documents, at least in my lifetime, and I'm 90% sure I'll always be able to read the PDF. FWIW.

            Ken

            Comment


            • #7
              My 2 cents

              I also have experimented with using meta tags and I found a "gotcha" if you plan to burn docs to CD - the CD file system doesn't support the meta information! (as I found out the hardway 6 months ago). I'm not sure about DVD burners. In any case, make sure to test this before you commit to meta tags.

              As far as scanning/database programs, nobody has mentioned Paperport in this thread - it does an excellent job and can OCR keywords from documnents in the background.

              I agree with the 150dpi recommendation ... it's the best combination of scanning speed and acceptable legibility for most documents. However, OCR works best with at least 300dpi, so I use this setting when I need to extract as much text from a document as possible.

              Doug

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