Your comments will be noted
October 31, 2005 8:48 AM   Subscribe

I need a way to keep track of small bits of information. This pertains to BOTH my virtual world and “meatspace.” Here is a typical scenario that explains what I mean. I am an I.T. Manager and sit at a desk for many hours throughout a day. However, I also walk around a moderate sized manufacturing plant as well as a remote plant frequently. Many times in my travels people stop me and ask for things or give me information, “Hey, my printer’s not working…” I say I’ll get back to them but then end up forgetting by the time I get back to my desk. Little pieces of paper get bunched and mangled into my pocket so that hasn't worked well. Small notebooks get left behind, or I forget to take them with me when I go make my rounds. I have written notes on the side of my hand…and that works great, but I don’t want to have to write notes on the side of my hand! I have tried using an IPAQ thinking it would allow me to hand write my notes and then sync them with my pc but the perceived fragility of that thing made me not want to use it and risk breaking it ($$$). I ended up selling it. I liked that idea…just wasn’t cost practical. What has worked best has been a combination of many Post-its scattered about my desk looking like a big salad along with a notepad for those other occasions when I need more space than a Post-it. Then I email myself at home or back to work with information that will carry me between both places. This works but it is far from perfect and does not cover making rounds. Ideally, I would like to find a way to merge both worlds so that I can have the portability of the paper solution and the technology to merge the two …but obviously in a practical way. Thought of using a voice recorder but again, I am concerned about the cost/fragility ratio unless it was small and maybe wearable…plus, speaking into a small device would make me feel awkward with a bunch of manufacturing gorillaz looking at me. I am definitely willing to sacrifice technology to achieve my objective as the need to track this information is more important than my desire to play with toys. I would use a paper-based solution if I could keep track of all the confetti (which is basically what I am doing). Is there something out there that you guys use that works?
posted by SparkyPine to Technology (22 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
This is exactly the sort of thing that PDA's were designed for, and they're getting cheaper all the time. With a $100 Palm Z22, you can sync notes between several computers. And if you have a printer with an IR thingy, you can beam notes directly to print from your PDA.

Also, [more inside].
posted by mds35 at 8:57 AM on October 31, 2005

I use an iPaq with a thumbpad attachment, like this, which makes writing things much easier than dealing with the handwriting recognition and all that. I'm not sure why you felt it was fragile; I've abused mine and it's holding up well.

Why don't you just say "Hey, enter a trouble ticket" or "Hey, send me an email"? Admitting that you won't remember their request isn't a weakness.
posted by cmonkey at 9:02 AM on October 31, 2005

It strikes me that what you have done is manually implemented, using your memory and post-its, a ticketing system. As you're discovering, that doesn't scale.

I would suggest you look into more automation, not less. I would also suggest that the right process for a worker to report that a printer isn't working is not "wait for SparkyPine to wander by and tell him," but rather "call the IT department and open a ticket." That has the advantage of being faster, and it's not dependent on your memory, and it works even if you're not around.

The functioning of your department shouldn't depend on your ability to remember lots of tiny bits of data. Computers are better at that. Go get a ticketing system (RT is good, straightforward to implement, and open-source).
posted by bac at 9:05 AM on October 31, 2005

Best answer: I *love* my notetaker wallet:

It's your wallet, so you never lose it, and it's everything you need to capture little notes to yourself.
posted by ccoryell at 9:05 AM on October 31, 2005

A ticketing system will work, but you'll probably need cooperation from management or else it'll never work ("Oh, but I just have a quick question" and a multitude of reasons their problem does not warrant a ticket).

If you're running Exchange there are smartphones that use the Sprint cell network to connect to your Exchange server -- you can write tasks down here and they'll sync with your server. No need to dock. I'm sure other cell providers offer similar service.
posted by geoff. at 9:18 AM on October 31, 2005

I suspect one slight thing to start out with would be to limit your space on the front page, i.e. [more inside].

But the only thing that has worked with me is a notepad, I just could not stand using a PDA or a phone, impossible to do quickly enough on the move. Sorry.
posted by keijo at 9:30 AM on October 31, 2005

Best answer: Don't think about this as a technology problem, think of it as a behavior problem. You don't need to buy a tool so much as you need to build a habit. If you can't get used to carrying (whatever you end up using) around with you, no technological solution is going to help.

The most straightforward and low-cost-of-entry solution would be the small notebook you mentioned early on. So go to a good art supply store and buy yourself the coolest little compact notepad/notebook you can find -- something you can comfortably leave in your pocket 24/7 and which is distinctive enough (like a Moleskine or a Rhodia) that it won't fade into the background if you happen to leave it on your desk. Then make it your life's work for a couple of weeks to take it everywhere you go. It needs to become like your keys or your wallet, something whose absence you immediately notice. Build whatever structure around it that you need -- a post-it on your steering wheel for when you leave home in the morning, a reminder in your calendar, whatever. Once you can have it with you at all times without having to think about it, you'll be golden.

(For what it's worth, I think your "manufacturing gorillaz" would be more impressed by a Rhodia than a Moleskine. The Moleskines are a little "euro" with their fancier binding and their sewn-in bookmark -- the Rhodias look a lot more like something a hands-on kinda guy would use.)
posted by Lazlo at 9:32 AM on October 31, 2005

In my experience, working exactly this type of job I might add, you need to change the behavior of your customers/users. You can certainly answer general questions when making your rounds, but any requests should get logged via whatever method already exists -- at the very least, voicemail or e-mail. If it's a request, just answer, "Great! I can do that for you, just leave me a voicemail so that I won't forget." Repeat as necessary. Add phrases like "I won't be able to get to that today" and so forth to emphasize that instant gratification is not part of your job description.

Really, it should NOT be your job to remember 100 different in-person requests. It should NOT be your habit to be ingratiating when they dump these little things on you. A well-run IT department has a ticketing system not just so you can remember these little things, but for both accountability (to make sure you're really following up on all those requests) and performance metrics (to justify the money they spend on you, if nothing else). Yeah, it's a double-edged sword -- you can now have someone looking over your shoulder on specific tasks.

Ultimately, if you have a ticketing system, you'll be able to tell people "call/e-mail so that I can get this request logged". They may take a while to adjust, but they'll adapt and your professionalism will make an impression.
posted by dhartung at 10:05 AM on October 31, 2005

I use a Hipster PDA. It costs almost nothing and is easily constructed with common office supplies. Therefore, I have no concerns about losing/dropping it.

Every task that I need to do I jot on a separate card. When I get back to my desk I place them all into an INBOX card file (queue-FIFO). When I get a chance to work on those, I start from the front and begin getting things done. After the task is finished (or delegated), I throw the card away.

Works well.
posted by unixrat at 10:09 AM on October 31, 2005

Best answer: After reading some of the newer replies, let me add that a ticketing system works well IF...
* Everyone is informed that this is THE PROCESS.
* Everyone can access a computer (or phone someone) to log a ticket. Many manufacturing areas aren't set up like that.
* You can be a hard-arse about making people use it.

If you can do all of the above, the ticketing system will be the best thing since sliced bread. However, if you start letting people making personal requests skip to the front of the line, then your system will quickly break down as everyone tries to do it.
posted by unixrat at 10:13 AM on October 31, 2005

An IT manager who doesn't have a Return key?

cmonkey definitely has it though: if you're managing these people, make them come to you. Have them email you, memo you, whatever works for them.

(And seriously: that was a really woolly and over-long post. If you can focus on sharpening those types of things, the discipline will help you keep track of many short items.)
posted by bonaldi at 10:51 AM on October 31, 2005

Check to see if your cell phone has a "voice memo" option. It's like leaving yourself voicemail, but all the info is stored on locally your phone. Plus, your co-workers will think that you're just making a phone call.
posted by hooray at 2:55 PM on October 31, 2005

Response by poster: Yeah, see...lecturing me on what y'all think I "should" do is not what I am after...thanks anyways. After 5 years, the culture of the place I work lends itself and me to behave the way we do. Unixrat has a clue. PC's are not ubiquitous in a manufacturing plant. The Hipster is a riot, too! I like the RT software but, again, not working in a cube farm makes it not practicle.

The Notetaker Wallet is VERY interesting....
posted by SparkyPine at 3:03 PM on October 31, 2005

Response by poster: Oh, and bonaldi...I'm glad I don't work with you! No offense but I've seen "IT Nazi's" before and they are no fun. I'm all about not being like that.
posted by SparkyPine at 3:04 PM on October 31, 2005

Hey SparkyPine,

Since you marked my answer best...

I have an extra (damaged) notetaker wallet in my give-away box, I can mail it to you if you can't wait for them to come back into stock.

The problem was that the lining inside the inner pockets failed.

email me at carl at coryell martin dot org.


posted by ccoryell at 3:18 PM on October 31, 2005

No offense taken, SparkyPine. I certainly didn't mean to imply you should be an IT Nazi, either. My fear is that by being Mr Fun and Available IT dude -- chasing after people instead of letting them come to you -- you are wasting time that could be better spent on seeing to their needs in a more structured way, taking care of core tasks ... and finding that pesky return key :)

If you're so deluged with these sorts of requests that you can't keep them in mind, you need a better, more formal process to sort and prioritise them -- not to try and adapt yourself to the torrent.
posted by bonaldi at 3:28 PM on October 31, 2005

Eh, I ordered a NoteTaker wallet but remain unenthused. The expandable pen is nifty but it doesn't have room to stash everything I need to carry in my wallet - just one slim, credit-card sized pocket plus the notepad (if you're a moneyclip guy, this may not be a problem).

Moleskine's are great. The small size is easy to carry everywhere. If the elastic is too "euro" - cut it off. Start carrying one of these with you everywhere and you'll find yourself very dependent on it. Don't underestimate the importance of the "cool factor." The more you like it, the more likely you are to carry it, and actually have it when you need it (one reason the Hipster PDA doesn't work for me).

Finally, mini-cassette recorders are cheap enough ($30) that you don't have to worry about fragility. Don't worry about looking like a dork, there's something about making an audio note that convinces people you're really listening to them, which sounds to me like a big part of why you're making rounds in the first place, rather than referring everyone to a trouble-ticket system.
posted by zanni at 3:41 PM on October 31, 2005

I have lived by voice memo since 1996. Many cell phones have voice memo capability, or you can buy a voice recorder* and keep it with you. ALWAYS. Then just transcribe it later. Doing this changed my life. I have earned a lot of respect at work because people know I always do what I say I will do, and it's largely due to the fact that I never forget anything. (warning: never forgetting anything is also a curse)

Notepads / daytimer / moleskine? Blah blah blah. By the time I get the pen and paper out, the thought is gone. Or I'm driving, and writing is not an option. Voice recorders rule. Check your cell phone!

* The trick is small but functional. Last time I checked, there were zillions of crappy voice recorders, but only Voice-It made really good ones; sadly they are now discontinued. I hear the mp3 players often have this capability now, in fact I think mine has it, but I've never needed it since both my cell phone and watch can do voice recordings.

Obviously, I'm a bit obsessed with this capability ...
posted by intermod at 7:08 PM on October 31, 2005

What about 3x5 file cards?
posted by davy at 7:58 PM on October 31, 2005

I have voice recording on my Sanyo VM4500 (Sprint) cell phone but it takes opening the phone and six button pushes to record a message. Add to that the very limited voice memo memory and it's slightly too inconvenient for me to actually use it.... What cell phones have the best voice recording functionality?
posted by Jonasio at 4:46 AM on November 1, 2005

I agree with cmonkey... I can't hold anything in my brain, so I get people (friends, business associates, everybody!) to email me everything; questions, information, phone numbers etc. then it's all in one place.
posted by semidivine at 2:02 PM on November 1, 2005

I suspect you already know the answer: you have to get organized about how you accept and track tasks. The tool you use to do it is less important than the approach you take. I've found that these four questions help define how formal a system of organization is needed.

1. How do you collect new items?
You mentioned time at your desk and time wandering both near and far. I'm guessing that while at your desk you get calls and emails and, while wandering, conversations and calls. Do people leave voicemails and/or post-its on your monitor while you're wandering?

2. How do you store and organize items?
You need to have One True Source for your list of tasks; if you have more than one, you suddenly have to manage coordination between the multiple sources and you begin to spend noteworthy time managing task organization. Once you know where your One True Source is -- notebook, Exchange task list, ticketing system, whatever -- you should map how all the channels of incoming tasks you listed in #1 find their way into your task repository.
This mapping is just something like, "when people catch me on the floor and ask me to follow up on something, I will write it in my pocket notebook immediately. When I return to my desk, I'll immediately handle anything in my notebook which takes less than two minutes to resolve or delegate; all other tasks I'll enter into my Exchange task list."

3. How do you work on items?
The specific issues here are communication and detail tracking. Do you regularly need your task repository on hand in order to remember exact details of a given task? If so, you may prefer a notebook or small paper planner such as the FranklinCovey compact or pocket series.
Do your tasks frequently take days and lots of communication with others (e.g. equipment vendors, customers, other in-house service departments) that you must track? Does your customer require periodic status updates? If so, do they want to get them at their convenience or are they willing to wait until you call? The more interaction, the more useful computer-based systems are.

4. What happens when you finish an item?
Do you need to hang on to info about when you did it and/or how you did it, or should it softly and siltenly disappear? Keeping the info around is often handy for budgeting next year's expected time and justifying the need for a new hire; it can also be useful to document interesting solutions.

For me it comes down to whether or not you're the only one who accepts, works on, and completes the tasks you're getting from these various sources. If you are, then pick the solution most personally comfortable for you. If you're not, you might consider a ticketing system to help coordinate the work.

Adopting one (and I'm an RT fan, too) doesn't mean requiring your customers to deal directly with it -- you can choose to front for them, accepting tasks in all your usual ways and doing the data entry yourself, essentially treating the system as your shared task repository.

You might find, however, that those people who already send you tasks via email are happy to send them directly to the system and, as they notice that fewer things fall through the cracks if they email it to the system rather than save it (and twelve other issues) fow when they next see you. Every little bit helps.

Good luck!
posted by purp at 2:18 AM on November 2, 2005 [1 favorite]

« Older DMCA Hastle   |   Dissociating Mental Imagery? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.