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Where’d You Get Your Information From, Huh?

Back in April, I published a post detailing how I was using Google Tasks as part of my experiment to manage my work and personal projects. I lamented at the time (April 12, 2018) that there wasn’t a Tasks app. Seventeen days later, Google launched a Tasks app. It’s very simple and very straightforward, and it’s been very helpful.

While I am updating posts, I will mention that after writing that my place of work hadn’t approved Google Calendars, it has since approved Google Calendars. Now I can start begging for Tasks app approval.

Let’s Push Things Forward

A few weeks ago I wrote a post about how I set up editorial calendars to manage my projects at work. I hummed along for a couple of weeks, as efficient as a bird building a nest. Then I went on a work trip, which disrupted my nascent routine. Then I got home from my work trip and…

So now I have a bunch of old tasks in a calendar I’m not looking at and a bunch of new ones scattered around my notebook, which is what I was trying to put a stop to when I started the whole exercise.

Deep breath, step back, start again.

In the meantime, I’ve finally given up my work BlackBerry for a work iPhone. I had plans to download all of the Google apps as I restarted my calendar project. Unfortunately, Google Calendar is not approved for use on department-issued iPhones.

Great.

So I’m in the process of moving the whole project over to Apple’s apps. It’s a work in progress right now, but it has given me an opportunity to rethink the process. There were two things that irked me a bit about using Google Tasks and Google Calendar. One, Tasks gave you the option to set due dates for tasks, but didn’t offer any sort of notifications. So a deadline could pass without warning. Even though it is on me to be checking my calendar, it would have been nice to get a heads up as the due date approached.

Two, if you set up multiple lists in Tasks and then checked them on Google Calendar, the tasks for each list only display on calendar when the list is active. So I can see items on my to do list on my calendar, but I can’t see items on my outstanding issues list unless I switched to that task list. It was a bit awkward.

So I will revisit this in a few weeks to see how I am doing. We have a work conference coming up at the end of the month and I want to make sure that I’m still keeping up my practice that week.

Blaze Ahead and Go Home Happy

In my last blog post, I wrote about experimenting with editorial calendars to manage my task lists. I’m not sure if what I’ve set up resembles a traditional editorial calendar, but it has been useful so far.

I’ve always kept to do lists, either on paper or using apps. My problem has been that I never differentiated between tasks, projects, and goals. I would jot down very specific tasks, like “follow-up with my supervisor about our draft guidelines document,” then mixed in broad items, like “redesign website.” My lists were a mess. Here’s what I’ve done so far to tackle the problem.

My office uses G Suite, so I started in Google Calendars with creating calendars for my four main, broad areas of work: applied technology, data management, information resources, and general office tasks. These calendars work with  my default appointments calendar and the Google Tasks calendar to give me a comprehensive, color-coded picture of what I have on my plate.

I like Google Tasks because I can mark emails in my Gmail inbox as tasks, then get them out of my inbox. (I do something similar with Outlook, because I have two work emails.) But there are a couple of drawbacks. There isn’t a Tasks app and the Tasks calendar doesn’t appear in the Google Calendars app. It is very much a desktop application. The workaround on a mobile device is going to https://mail.google.com/tasks/canvas in a browser. Also, unlike in Outlook’s task bar, there is not an option in Google Tasks to set alarms for tasks. I can set a due date, but I have to pay closer attention to my calendar to make sure I don’t miss the deadline.

Anyway, within Google Tasks, I created six task lists: four for my areas of work, then one called To Do List and one called OUTSTANDING ISSUES.

To Do List does what it says on the tin. I try to keep the list concise by recording one-time action items that I need to address, no matter what area of work they fall under.

OUTSTANDING ISSUES shows tasks that are in someone else’s court. It dawned on me when putting this together that I have a habit of marking things off my to do list without determining whether or not I would need to follow up. I had technically completed the task, but I still had more work to do. It’s a bad feeling when I realize I asked someone a question three weeks prior and never got a reply. Now I can keep track of what I need to follow up on.

The task lists for each area of work don’t serve as to do lists, but instead show my duties within those areas. For example, my Applied Technology list shows the main projects that I work on, such as advising on ILS and membership systems, administering tech surveys, and managing our LISTSERVs and Facebook group. I use the notes box in each task to list sub-duties if applicable, such as making sure the folks at LibraryThing and TinyCat still like us.

The notes field is turning into a bit of a bonus for me because I am using it to mark down recurring tasks. I am generally good about keeping tabs on things like running reports on the first of the month, but I have never written them down before. After getting them out of my head and into the notes, I can then add them as recurring appointments within respective area of work calendars. The coloring coding helps me keep track of what’s on tap each day.

That’s fine for now but what comes after? Well, I am sure I will be making adjustments as I go along as I come up with new ideas or better ways of noting things. Also, I need to stay disciplined because I know my history of starting and abandoning productivity systems.

The key thing is I am having a lot of fun working on this (and doing something similar with my home projects). If it’s fun, it won’t feel like a chore, right?

Now Get Busy

My wife and I write a blog about the Eurovision Song Contest called Eurovision Lemurs. We do a lot of writing this time of year as the participating countries select their entries.  We will stay busy until well after the last piece of confetti drops in the middle of May.

After the Song Contest ends, we usually end up going silent until the new season begins. This year, we set a goal to have one new post every two weeks from June through December. We have a few topics we have always wanted to write about, so summer and fall would be perfect times to tackle them if we just were a little more organized. And also didn’t suffer from post-Eurovison depression.

So we’ve set up an editorial calendar using Google Calendar. I’m going to use it for this blog as well, since I really want to make a proper go at it this time.

Even though the writing projects have nothing to do with my job, I also plan to take the editorial calendar mentality to the office. I have a Post-it easel pad in my cube on which I wrote down all of the major projects I have on my plate. It acts as a sort of to-do list, but it occurred to me recently that it is missing actionable deadlines.

I’ve read a bit about time blocking, and I do see the value in scheduling segments of the day to work on projects without distraction. But I never really got into the habit of doing it. Finding another angle to approach it may help. So let’s see if an editorial calendar works. More to come…

Google-Translating Content

I recently read an article at Fair Observer about the difficultly of translation (tweeted by James Neal). “Google, Duolingo and the Problems of Internet Translation” describes two ways to translate: the machine translations by Google and the crowd-sourced translations from Duolingo. Victoria Livingstone, the author of the article, wrote that the trouble with these two ways is that the results usually do not properly capture nuances in language.

From the article:

To give an example, last semester I taught a course on Spanish-English translation. Although my students were all advanced learners of Spanish, many of them made exactly the same errors. For example, when they translated the last paragraph of Jorge Luis Borges’ short story, La busca de Averroes, almost all of my students translated “referí el caso” incorrectly.  If I had compiled their translations, I would have ended up with an English version that read, “I referred to the case,” when a correct translation would have been something like, “I told the story.”

Her example cites a fictional story, and obviously creative writing is more prone to subtlety and colloquialism than technical writing. But even the driest, most plain writing can lend itself to translation issues.

I work on a website that provides access to databases to Spaces around the world. The site and the resources are primarily in English, so a certain knowledge of English is expected of users.  But it is still my goal to make the language I use on the website as plain as possible to make sure users understand what they’re getting when they access the resources.

Originally, I tried to write to a Lexile score. I later had a revelation a while ago that I should write sentences that a user can copy and paste into Google Translate and be able to read in their own language with a minimum amount of garbling.

The way I’m doing it is translating what I write into seven languages: Spanish, Portuguese, French, Russian, Chinese, Persian, and Arabic. I then re-translate it back into English to see what I get. If the English is a mess, then I re-write the sentence.

Here is an example. I wrote the following short description of one of our resources:

This website has documentary films about human rights, culture, women’s issues, and other subjects. Because it has long videos, it may not work well with low bandwidth internet services.

I then Google-translated it into Spanish:

Este sitio web cuenta con documentales sobre los derechos humanos, la cultura, temas de la mujer y otros temas. Debido a que tiene videos largos, puede que no funcione bien con servicios de bajo ancho de banda de Internet.

Here is how Google translated the Spanish back into English.

This web site features documentaries on human rights, culture, women’s issues and other topics. Because it has long videos, it may not work well with services low bandwidth of Internet.

Not bad. The bit about low bandwidth Internet services is a bit of a mess, but I think it’s okay. Next up is French:

Ce site a des films documentaires sur les droits humains, la culture, les questions des femmes, et d’autres sujets. Parce qu’il a de longues vidéos, il peut ne pas bien fonctionner avec des services à faible bande passante Internet.

And back to English:

This site has documentary films on human rights, culture, women’s issues, and other topics. Because it has long video, it may not work well with low bandwidth services Internet.

Again, not bad. That last sentence is a bit mangled, but not unintelligible. I won’t translate into all seven languages for you, but as a last example, here’s Arabic:

هذا الموقع يحتوي أفلام وثائقية حول حقوق الإنسان، والثقافة، وقضايا المرأة، وغيرها من المواضيع. لأنه يحتوي على أشرطة الفيديو طويلة، فإنه قد لا تعمل بشكل جيد مع خدمات الإنترنت عرض النطاق الترددي المنخفض.

Back to English:

This site contains documentaries about human rights, culture, and women’s issues, and other topics. Because it contains videos long, it may not work well with Internet services low bandwidth.

S’alright? S’alright.

But again there is an issue of nuance. For all I know, there is a French word for bandwidth besides “bande passante” that Google’s translation programs are not aware of. Or maybe the word in Quebecois French is different. I am translating at a very basic level, and a lot could be lost in that translation.

I can’t worry too much about that, though. If I can get the site readable enough, then I’ll be happy.

© 2018 Chris Zammarelli

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