Taking the plunge with a new task management system (Teambox)

Prior to using Asana, the team have gone thru Basecamp, ActiveCollab, and GoPlan. We’ve been changing task/project-management systems so much that we just got used to it. At the back of my mind, I welcomed it, because it allowed me to start from zero and review tasks that are still worth pursuing.

Asana, however, was the longest one we’ve ever used. We’ve been using it for more than 6 months, I believe. We loved its email integration – just send/forward an email to a specific address, and it will automatically be created as a task, and include the email attachments. And since we work in a company heavily reliant on email, this was a big plus.

Asana was also very fast. I can see almost in real-time what tasks were updated by others. We also love, although never really maximized the potential, of its integration with Dropbox.

We’ve always wanted to upgrade, especially since we know we need about 50++ users, but there was something about Asana that was just never right.

  • The user interface was just very overwhelming. This was our biggest problem. Our team simply hated using it. We have more than 50 projects and lot of tasks under each project. We have done everything to make it look simpler (dummy projects and dummy tasks to segregate), but we just couldn’t make it work.
  • Tasks lists interface is too linear. It was a pain grouping them together, the groupings are not too distinct, and the tasks at the bottom always end up being neglected.
  • Calendar is not integrated within the UI. In order to to view the tasks in calendar form, we need to integrate with 3rd party calendars. We need to do this for every single new project that comes along. And that is a lot.
  • We were happy when they implemented subtask, but they made it too complicated. The subtasks were not even assigned to the parent project automatically. Each subtasks were treated independent of their container project.
  • Asana was great in reminding us of our tasks, but it does not aid us in planning them. Everything just looks too cluttered.

As more of our team started adopting Asana (we already maximized the free allocation of 30 users), we knew it was time to upgrade. But do we stick with Asana, or go with something else?

Our requirements were:

  • 50 to 75 users with a maximum budget of $300/month
  • Calendar view of tasks
  • Ability to create tasks and attach files via email
  • A user-interface we can work with in all stages of our process – brainstorming, strategizing, planning, and executing.

Initially, Asana was still on the list. We’ve  been using it for such a long time, and I was secretly trying to find a reason to stick with it. I wanted proof that the things we needed were at least planned, and that all we had to do was wait.

But I couldn’t find those reasons anywhere. Not even in their monthly newsletter when they mention their roadmap. The only things I saw were words like memory retrieval, workflow, big teams, growth, etc.

After a week of researching the likes of Do.com, Mavenlink, PivotalTracker, Producteev, Teambox, Teamly, Trello, and Wrike, we shortlisted it to two: Teambox and Trello.

You could tell how I discovered and fell immediately in love with the vertical view of tasks. It was being used by Teambox & Trello as a kanban system, but I knew we could use it to segregate subprojects. And that was a big thing for us, as we have a lot of adhoc one-week projects that suddely come up.

We almost went with Trello. We fell in love with its simplicity, speed, and their mobile apps. The deal breaker was not being able to mark anything as resolved — it forces us to use it as kanban instead.

Teambox was the sweet spot. It’s not perfect though. They have a big problem with speed, I don’t like the fact that you can’t create private projects that absolutely noone can see, and we really need subtasks support. But I like the capability to switch views of tasks (vertical/horizontal) and the integrated calendar & gantt chart.

Weirdly enough, what finally sealed the deal was their Help site. I was able to find out what exact feature they have included in their roadmap. Nothing vague. Only specifics.

I hope & I pray that we will be sticking with Teambox for a long time. Will let you guys know.

“Ring once” on the iPhone

I got to give credit to Nokia for the “ring once” feature on their phones. It is a handy feature which spares me from frantically rummaging thru my bag just to silence an endlessly ringing cellphone.

The iPhone, however, does not have such a feature. iPhones loop ringtones endlessly & embarrassingly.

The workaround

  1. I downloaded an mp3 of a single “ring!” and loaded it up in GarageBand,
  2. Added enough “silence” to fill up the 40 second limit, and
  3. Exported to iTunes

Below is the video version of the entire process:

Now using (ugly) Toodledo … Good riddance, (pretty) Remember the Milk

It was not easy to say goodbye to Remember the Milk. I’ve shelled out $25 for a Pro account (& I’m cheap when it comes to these things).

I also got a ton of tasks already up & running in RTM. Since they conveniently didn’t put an export feature, this has increased my reluctance to transfer to another task management system.

Another reason for my hesitation is that Toodledo, my best alternative, has an ugly website. I love my websites pretty. And RTM is pretty.

Unfortunately, it seems like pretty is all they have going. Continue reading Now using (ugly) Toodledo … Good riddance, (pretty) Remember the Milk

The search for the perfect digital filing cabinet

It was a choice among DevonThink, Yojimbo, Together, & EagleFiler. There are supposed to be a handful more in that list, but they were immediately junked either because they were primarily note-taking apps or lacked serious organization.

These apps, unfortunately, have yet to be christened with a short & sweet category such as “text editor” or “graphic viewer.” No one really knows what to call it — file managers, archival system, bloated explorer/finder?

Software vendors go the easy route and just refer to them as apps meant to “keep your files together in one place.”

And so the name digital filing cabinets. After all, these apps are meant to organize your folders & files, much like your favorite GTD steel cabinet, you David Allen fanboy you.

What you’ll get

The standard feature set of digital filing cabinets include:

  • Two ways of organization: folders & tags.
  • Files or information about the files are stored in some database to facilitate searching
  • Previews
  • On-the-fly creation of notes (& instantly tagging them thereto)
  • Web archiving

And then there were two

The list aforementioned was further cut down to two: EagleFiler and Together. The rest were ditched either because they store files in a proprietary database system, or their interface is something I can really not work with. (I’m a girl. I need something pretty.)

I found myself using EagleFiler more. Sure, I love Together’s shelf, it’s portrait view, and sleeker interface; but it finally boiled down to speed. Together could not handle the amount of files I had, even when I separated them into different libraries.

Two other things I can’t stand with Together: inability to work simultaneously with more than 1 library, and the default .trnote extension for newly created notes. Really now.

After 2 weeks, I uninstalled EagleFiler and ended up with Path Finder.

“But that’s not in the list!” you exclaim.

Care ko.

Managing your Firefox profiles for easy backup – bookmarks, passwords, and settings

In Mozilla Firefox, your bookmarks, passwords, and settings are saved in something called a profile. This is stored in your hard drive.

Your profile is typically located at C:\Documents and Settings\[User Name]\Application Data\Mozilla\Firefox\Profiles\xxxxxxxx.default

Whenever you need to reinstall Windows, this might create problems, as most of us don’t usually back up our Application Data folder. You probably would want to save your profile instead in your data directory (or folder that you back up frequently)

To move your profile:

  1. Exit Firefox.
  2. Move your profile folder to your desired directory. For example, at E:\Settings\Firefox
  3. Locate profiles.ini. This is typically located at C:\Documents and Settings\[User Name]\Application Data\Mozilla\Firefox\
  4. Open profiles.ini in your favorite text editor. You should see the following:


    Note: xxxxxxxx is an eight-character random value that is automatically assigned by Firefox upon installation.

  5. Change this to:



    IsRelative is changed from 1 to 0 because absolute paths (not relative) are used.

    The Path value is changed to reflect the new path of the profile. Simply replace this with your new path, then replace xxxxxxxx.default with the name of your profile directory.

  6. Save profiles.ini
  7. Restart Firefox.

Mobile phone technostress: Keeping it under control

A highly-charged and always-on-the-go job is more susceptible to technostress, and in my experience, a mobile phone adds more to this than anything else.

Here are some things I learned along the way in how to keep my sanity:

Ring Once

Set your ring tone to “Ring Once.” Do yourself and others around you a favor. You only need to be alerted once when someone is calling. Your phone does not have to ring ceaselessly while you rummage thru your bag for your phone or while you decide whether to take the call or not.

And by the way, if you were not alerted on the 1st ring, what are the chances that you will be alerted on the 2nd ring? Pretty slim, if you ask me.

(Note: This tip is not advisable for those high-risk and health-related professions.)

Get another number

I carry 2 phones with me — one for “public” number (for work & friends), and another in a much smaller phone. This is my “in case of emergency” phone number, and strictly reserved for family. This is the phone I never turn off.

That reply can wait

There is an unconscious obligation to reply to SMS as soon as they come in.

Ask yourself why. Do you think it rude not to? Are you worried that people expect you to reply immediately? If yes, do you think it is right for them to continue to keep this expectation?

Sending SMS in quick succession is fun in times of boredom, but generally, I treat SMS like email — something that should be handled at a set time, and in the proper frame of mind.

I used to get chided for my “delayed responses” (in SMS lingo, delay means more than an hour of lead time). But I realized that I cannot allow myself to be interrupted for every SMS that comes in, and that I need to take control over my phone, instead of it controlling me.

Archive your SMS

My phone allows me to create an Archive folder. After I have replied to a message, I move it to this Archive folder. This keeps my Inbox clutter-free, allowing me to easily view the SMS that I still need to attend to.

I could also delete the message. However, as my job requires me to document all messages from clients (as they usually contain requirement changes and clarifications), the Archive system works best for me.

Turn it off

If you can’t take a call, forget the silent mode. Just turn your phone off.

I attend a school with very strict mobile phone rules. I found out that the best way to please both the school authorities and my clients is to simply turn off my phone during class. My clients are more understanding when they receive an “out of coverage” recording messages rather than a series of unanswered phone rings.

Alternatively, you can also divert your phone to your voice mailbox. That way, you will still be able to receive SMS.

SMS before calling

Except for dire emergencies, always send an SMS before calling, asking if they are free to talk. Call only when you get confirmation. That way, you will be sure that your intended recipient has put himself in an environment where he can give you and your call its due attention.

I have implemented this practice with almost all my call recipients, and they in turn have returned the courtesy. The “callee” appreciates the fact that I was polite enough to inquire about their availability, and that they can take the time to physically and mentally prepare themselves for my call.

The caller, on the other hand, appreciates that when I take their call, I am ready for it, and have the necessary note-taking instruments at hand.

It works. Trust me.

Decreasing the size of Firefox’s tabs

Firefox 2.0? Ho-hum. After all, how can such a great browser impress us further? But a spellchecker’s there, & that’s always good; and a feed reader, which unfortunately didn’t live up to the standards of Sage.

The scrolling tabs need some time to get used to. The tabs are also wider. This means that it only takes a few tabs to be open for it to start scrolling — not fun for the multi-tasker in you.

There is a way to decrease the size of the tabs, though:

  1. Enter the following in the address bar:

  2. Look for browser.tabs.tabminWidth & doubeclick it.

  • Enter desired size. The default is 100 pixels. You can set it to 80 or 90.

  • Disable PDF viewing in Firefox

    You’re happily surfing, and you realized too late that one of the URLs you’ve clicked was actually a PDF document. You hate it. It takes a long time to load, makes your browser hang, or confuses so much with the toolbars that you unknowingly close your browser.

    There is a way for you to disable in-browser viewing of PDF files. Instead of automatically opening the PDF document in your browser, you will be asked if you want to save the document in your computer instead. Definitely a much better alternative.

    1. In Firefox, open the Options window by going to Tools > Options from the menu.
    2. Select Download.

    3. Click the View & Edit Actions button. The Download Actions window will appear. In here, you will see a list of file extensions, and the “action” associated with it — meaning, for each of the file extension listed, there is a corresponding browser plug-in which will run the file extension.
    4. Select PDF, then click on the Change Action button.
    5. Then select Save them on my computer.
    6. Click OK.

    Learning to touch type

    The obvious benefit of touch typing is the increase in typing speed. When I learned how to touch type, I discovered another little known advantage: Touch typing actually improved the thinking process. Transforming my thoughts into words was faster and easier — all because I didn’t need to shift my eyes to the keyboard to make sure I was hitting the right keys.

    Yes, once upon a time, I too was a contented pindut pindut typist. I’ve been joyously pounding on my keyboard ever since I got hold of a typewriter. I’ve also written hundreds of documents and user manuals just using my two poor index fingers, and saw no real benefit in changing my ways.

    Then Ry came along who encouraged us to give our poor fingers a break. It was a skill I never knew I needed, and now can’t live without.

    Page Up

    So how does one learn how to touch type? I tried a variety of software, and figured out that Stamina was the least frustrating of them all. It’s not perfect — if you’re a total retard on touch typing as I was, you really have to read the help file.


    One thing you have to keep in mind to keep your fingers on the home keys.

    The home keys are ASDF and JKL;.  There are little pimples on the F and J keys which marked where you should position your index fingers. Consequently, the middle fingers should reside on the D and K, the ring fingers on the S and L, and the pinkies on the A and ;. Both thumbs should rest on the spacebar, although only the right thumb is used when pressing it.

    Whenever you need to move your fingers away from these keys, always bring them back home. For example, if you’re going to move your middle finger in order to press I, move it back to K immediately.

    Another golden rule: keep the fingers relaxed, and minimize finger and wrist movement. This was not an easy task for me — I was just learning to touch type, and my entire body, and yes, fingers included, tense up involuntarily. Talking to myself helps: “It’s just a keyboard, honey. Not a ticking timebomb.”

    Page Down

    The Lessons, or practice sets, can be found in the Mode menu. As almost everyone else, I started with the Basic Lessons. The goal is to go thru the lessons without looking at the keyboard.

    There is a keyboard graphic which will guide you on which finger to use. You will actually find yourself pressing the correct keys by simply knowing the finger assignments.

    After the Basic Lessons, you can move on to Phrases. I actually never finished Basic Lessons myself — typing the same character combination can be a real test on anyone’s sanity.

    After a few days of Phrases, you could move on to External File. This is where you can actually practice touch typing using your preferred text. The web is a vast resource of possible external files (I personally prefer Newsweek and Time Magazine). Simply copy the article, and save them to a text file.

    A tip for those using External Files: Make sure that you replace these characters — “ ”  with – " ‘. See the difference? The first set of characters is actually not represented by any key in a standard keyboard. In order to display these characters, you have to press ALT plus a series of digits.  It is recommended that you replace these characters with those that can easily be generated by pressing a single key.

    Replace this With this
    Left quote, double Quotation mark "
    Right quote, double Quotation mark "
    Left quote, single Apostrophe
    Right quote, single Apostrophe
    Em dash Dash


    After 2 weeks of Stamina, I have increased my typing speed to 81 words per minute, or 406 characters per minute.

    In spite of this, I don’t see myself uninstalling Stamina yet. For one thing, I am still trying to get the hang of touch typing HTML/PHP. And I have to admit, there’s another benefit of Stamina – it is very relaxing. Whenever stress starts taking over, I just let my fingers do the typing ;)