A calling ...

"We are called to be architects of the future, not its victims."

"Make the world work for 100% of humanity in the shortest possible time through spontaneous cooperation without ecological offense or the disadvantage of anyone."

- Buckminster Fuller

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Remember The Milk - Sync Outlook Tasks to Cloud



Confession: my major malfunction is time management. Some people in education would consider a problem with time management to be the kiss of death for a teacher. In fact, time management is the single most criticized aspect of my teaching. Because I am so excited with my time management solution, which is admittedly a work in progress, I want to share my discovery of Remember the Milk, a $25 per year task management software developed by an 18 year old student in Mexico as a project, which syncs beautifully with Outlook, including categories, notes, dates, etc. I love RTM! Microsoft needs to hire the developer!

Teachers tend to be the ultimate control freaks. My weakness with time management is the single factor that has infuriated mentors and administrators about me, and prevented teachers and administrators from recognizing my many strengths. As a person dedicated to find ways to accommodate and differentiate -- that's why I am working on becoming a Special Education Teacher -- I refuse to allow a single weakness destroy me or any students that I work with. As a lover of gadgets, I am predisposed to technologically based prosthetic devices.

Despite my acknowledged weakness with time management, before becoming a teacher, I was a successful Operations Manager of a facility responsible for delivering over $2,000,000 per month in building and industrial materials to DC-Baltimore-West Virginia markets, implemented a strategy that eliminated a major "shrinkage problem" within the warehouse, and implemented a random drug testing policy.

Time management has always been a weakness, but I have always found a work around. I recently completed an intensive 1-year Master's program in education. In the end, however, my ability to go 48+ hours without sleep nearly led to falling asleep at the wheel on the beltway, a loss of control over my calendar, and the high-low pattern which led to wildly divergent evaluations.

As an Operations Manager, I used an Outlook based time-management process that I had used for years as an Inside Salesman in a calling center which had the feel of a stock exchange at peak times. My neck still aches and my fingers still tingle from hours of cradling phones in my neck while typing orders. Ironically, despite working for an employee-owned company, despite being a top producer, because my requests for headsets were continuously ignored, I was forced to draft a letter, signed by every salesperson on the floor, citing the chronic problems caused by excessive neck-cradling, in order persuade my manager, currently the President and CEO, to invest in headsets. Apparently, I went about it the wrong way, but we got our headsets! But that is a different story. As an Operations Manager, using a desktop application was not problematic since most tasks could be handled in batches.

When I became a teacher, I stopped using Outlook, because as a desktop based application, Outlook did not "sync" with my paper-based planning calendar, and because teaching tasks tend to be asynchronous and do not lend themselves to batch processing. Plus, firing up a computer calendar during a meeting was slower than writing it in the paper planner. (How things have changed -- now, everybody brings their computers to meetings. Now teachers in Collaborative Learning Teams (CLTs) are using OneNote to collaborate.) Thus, I abandoned Outlook once again.

Fast forward several years and I began using an inexpensive Windows Mobile Asus A626 handheld computer to sync to Outlook. Honestly, I have the calendar and task features to help me keep track of the kinds of boring details that never stick in my short-term memory. My ASUS A626 became an effective mental prosthesis, i.e., a crutch -- but it worked!

 Just when I was starting my Master's program, my desktop computer crashed. No problem, I simply bought an ACER Aspire Windows 7 laptop at Staples for under $400. That's when my problems with Outlook and synching to my handheld computer began. When the free trial period began, thinking that I could save money by using Google Calendar, the lack of a simple way to sync Google Tasks with Outlook, however, was a non-starter. When I tried to upgrade Outlook after the trial period, which I missed by two days, the upgrade process was confusing. During summer semester, we front-loaded the coursework, so I was taking 18 credit hours. Ouch! Thus, fixing my calendar quickly dropped off my radar.

Later, when I was able to come up for air, I found the cost for upgrading to a version of Office that included Outlook to be prohibitive. Near the end of my year of pain, I stumbled upon Outlook's University Edition, which included Outlook at a reasonable price. When I fired up my old ASUS A626, the first thing that happened was that all my contact information, which had been stored in my handheld, was wiped out. Compatibility issues made me scream -- not really, because I had already written off my contact information after I botched the conversion of XP to Windows 7 on my old desktop.

Fast forward to yesterday, I had been becoming increasingly frustrated because every time I hit Send All in Outlook I would get error messages. Worst of all, in the process of trying to find a suitable "internet based" syncing solution, I had created an extra Outlook data file. That made Outlook unhappy. Moreover, the corrupted Outlook data file I had created caused ActiveSync, the old Windows Mobile solution -- no longer supported by Microsoft-- to misfire, causing me to fiddle with my ASUS A626 gadget until 1:30 am. I went to bed mostly unsatisfied! When I went to bed, I turned off my cellphone, so that I would not get annoying robo-calls this morning from SEMMS, the substitute teaching job matching program.

There was a silver lining. At about 10 pm, after 3 hours of unscheduled time -- I did not follow my preexisting plan -- I discovered Remember the Milk. In the process, I discovered Microsoft's Hotmail Connector, which does what Google Calendar does, but does not do what Remember the Milk does.

This morning, when I deleted the corrupted Outlook data file, voila! My ActiveSync started working again. Now, I have my handy ASUS A626, which syncs to Outlook again. As a result, if I update my tasks on my handheld, the tasks will update in Outlook when I sync. Or, of I'm using my laptop, my tasks will update to Remember the Milk -- when I can afford a real smartphone, I will be able to update my tasks through a browser, which I will need to do since ActiveSync is no longer supported.