My Trusted Information System

The Trusted Information System is an extension of the GTD idea of Trusted system. Here I describe my system configuration, how it meets my requirements and the benefits of each module.

trusted information system
Modules making up the trusted system – Ayoa mindmap

There are many ways to build an information system: either an integrated ERP like Odoo or multiple modular software that clip together with dataflows.

Data flows between the various systems

The objective is to find the best tool to manage my business, to think about software tools functionality and the most appropriate tool to match the business functionality.

What am I trying to manage?

Managing orders

First and foremost I want to manage orders. When I get an order, I want to ensure that it has sufficient priority (top priority) overall.

I want to deliver on time, so I measure hourly word rate to use as an input into estimates, which allows me to estimate how much time an order will take and is part of the agreement with the customer on delivery timescales. I am able to agree delivery timescales because I have reasonably measured how long work takes.

Managing specific project opportunities

Second, I am managing potential new orders. This means being on the lookout for new opportunities. In practice this means looking out for emails from existing customers or from the translation platform (proz.com) to which I’m subscribed. I may also make direct approaches to potential customers (agencies) – which means managing a customer list.

customer data stored in Access

Managing market opportunities

Managing opportunities is somewhat more qualitative. You may have a huge number of emails and need an effective way of focusing on the important and real opportunities, that they are at the top of your priority list and that spam, dead-end opportunities or time wasters do not use up your valuable time.

Consider also that opportunities may not just drop into your email inbox. You may need to be out there looking at market tendencies, keeping an ear to the ground, thinking about where the market is going, your current positioning and where you are likely to be in the future.

Market Tendencies

A good example of a prevalent and current market tendency in translation is MTPE (Machine Translation Post Editing). Documents are pre-translated and the translator, depending on the quality of the translation, may either proofread or redo a translation.

Estimating the expected time taken is harder because the quality is variable and therefore the time required is variable. And the tariff is lower than manual translation. However in general MTP E takes less time than manual translation and so although the tariff is lower, you achieve the same turnover by increasing the throughput number of words.

My analysis of the MTPE phenomenon would go into the Evernote library and I might plan actions based on this analysis in either Ayoa (for content) or Todoist for action such as ‘read more about it’, ‘update my prices to account for MTPE’, ‘modify the database project type to include MTPE’ …

Defining services provided

The other part of managing opportunities is establishing and updating the services to provide. This means monitoring the market more generally, seeing where there is a demand for new services, determining my offer, whether I have the skills and if so at what price.

Existing customers may request new types of services.

My trusted information system

  • Evernote at the heart, Surrounded by Ayoa, Todoist, Sortd
  • Todoist, a fast and lightweight task manager
  • Ayoa is a great content planner (but not fast)
  • Nothing protects email like Sort’d because you can combine threads.
  • Evernote is great for audio journaling, content creation and links to Ayoa for content planning
  • Quickbooks does accounts better than Odoo and provides valuable indicators for my GTD Review
trusted information system
Overview of my trusted information system

Sortd to manage email

Not all email is about job project opportunities, indeed there is a good deal that has nothing to do with revenue generation. You may be subscribed to newsletters, if you manage your website you may get administrative messages requiring you to perform maintenance. You may have ad hoc adverts, general queries, requirements to update details or any number of emails following up ad hoc issues, questions and projects.

kanban view of gmail in sort’d

The volume of messages can be overwhelming and difficult to manage nonetheless because of multiple threads which are in fact the same subject. Sort’d does a really nice job of simplifying and managing your incoming mail. It allows you to combine multiple threads under a custom header. You may want to group together threads from several correspondents, or several exchanges with the same person.

In my world, there may be several emails relating to an order. An initial email offering the job finding out whether I’m available. A confirmation email with PO, a system message saying the job has been allocated and a further message from the project manager with further details. In reality, these messages all relate to the same project, but sortd allows you to group them together, making your inbox easier to read and more organised.

I could have mail email come into either Todoist or Ayoa, but how to manage multiple threads? Sort’d does this nicely.

Odoo is an excellent ERP

I used to use Odoo to manage my world, but I now use several software packages for different purposes. Odoo was a good fit because there is a single flow from opportunities to invoices but I needed specific data output that was impossible [for me] to produce in Odoo – I don’t have the development skills in Odoo but in Access.

Access to manage orders

Managing orders is quite transactional – it is about getting a PO number, doing the work, ensuring that you invoice and follow-up unpaid invoices.

order project management in Access

I use Access to manage orders, vocabulary (technical terms), order statistics (key performance indicators), visual management statistics. Access (the central order management system) also stores customer PO number which allows me to invoice at the end of an order.

However, as a translator, I use Access to store vocabulary to be consistent across a project, provide a basis to double-check translation terms but also to manage my operational statistics:

Key performance indicators

I manage my key performance indicators and operational statistics in Access. These are the specific database outputs to manage translation (projects) and to generate the graphs about my recent translation projects:

Production time effected per month

Measuring production hours


WPH (words per hour productivity)

Measuring work rate in Access

Hourly rate – (time taken / number of hours) to ensure that all projects are ‘profitable’. I use Access to time all my projects and then produce statistics based on all projects.

Production Timer

I measure average word rate for every project:

Word rate measured for each project
  • Margin – I set specific margin objectives and measure turnover and costs in Quickbooks.
  • Average price per word (Order price / number of words)

Discounts may be given which reduce the overall average word price and not if the avg word price is too low.

Quickbooks to manage accounts

I use Quickbooks to establish estimates and orders and output turnover, costs and margin, end of year accounts and breakdowns of costs by category. Quickbooks is excellent to track who owes you what and therefore to follow up late payment.

Todoist task manager

I could use sortd to manage ad-hoc tasks but the android (mobile) application is not yet fully functional and not fast enough. And when compared with Todoist, lacks functionality.

todoist long

Todoist however is very fast, available on all platforms, and provides an easy way to schedule work on the calendar, organise projects, inputs comments to brainstorm a task. Todoist now has a kanban view, which provides a whole new perspective on your task organisation.

todoist kanban view

Essentially Todoits is part of the trusted system because I know that once I put an item in, I know I will see it again because it is reliable. I regularly review my inbox and know I will be reminded to focus on the task in hand.

Todoist has that inbox function recommended by GTD, which allows you to brainstorm new tasks, file them in the right place and so increase their chance of getting done.

Kanbanist

Kanbanist can also provide a valuable over kanban overview of to-do list by tag.

kanbanist overview of todoist

Ayoa content planner

I currently use Ayoa as a content planner. I am constantly planning content for posts. Ayoa allows me to mind map and (new) create whiteboards to organise my thinking, organise these into work breakdown structures and then schedule onto a Gantt chart. You can link mindmap to tasks.

Mind map in Ayoa linked to tasks

So Ayoa would be a perfect system. I can structure ideas, thoughts into achievable tasks and schedule them into an available timeslot. But unfortunately, Ayoa is not fast enough on Android to be an everyday task manager (unlike Todoist).

A task manager really needs to be fast, you can’t waste time inputting or recalling your task list. And you need it to be available swiftly to capture the new task idea before it evaporates.

Evernote library and information base

Last but not least is Evernote. I often think that Evernote is the backbone of my system. It is the underlying library, a record of my activity, thoughts, reflections and doodles which represent the varied nature of inputs into “the system”.

Many uses for Evernote
The many uses of Evernote

Just as I get many very varied emails, Evernote helps me to catalogue and categorise market opportunities, thoughts, plans, rough plans, draft articles, research material and helps me to pull it all together when composing a new post or organising a project.

The link from Evernote to Ayoa is important because I can promote a note from Evernote to Ayoa if I think it needs action, or create a new Evernote when playing in Ayoa.

Of course, Evernotes can also be sent straight to Todoist using Zapier automation.

evernote to todoist zap with zapier

Kanbanote – an Evernote overview

Kanbanote provides an additional view on Evernote

kanbanote organising evernote content
Kanbannote – a useful overview of Evernote

The Trusted System

The system described above is my trusted system, composed of multiple software and non-software systems. I trust it because it is operational and consistent.

The trusted system – mind maps, Sortd, Ayoa, Todoist

The objective of my trusted information system is to sort and focus on priority opportunities and it does this for me effectively. That is not to say that Odoo or another ERP could do the job, but I needed to customise the standard software to give me the custom reports that I need.

David Allen has never claimed that the trusted system needs to be one single software system. For him, it can be separate lists and systems. And this proves to be the case despite worthy discussions on the advantages of the integration available in an ERP such as Odoo. The essential quality of the trusted system is that it is trustworthy!

What makes a system trusted?

Ultimately it is that nothing gets lost – that your good ideas get put into the system and that you are confident that they will find themselves ultimately being actioned (or a decision made to archive them in the library). Even if this is the case and you cannot action everything, at least your good idea will be there for next time around when you re-evaluate your projects and your availability (PDCA).

Essentially it is the system that works for you, that allows you to establish and organise next actions, horizons and provides the data that you need to complete your GTD review. Qualitatively it is the system framework within which you organise yourself to get things done and not procrastinate.

This relationship between objectives and actions is the source of trust. For the system to be trusted, you must have evidence that your organisation is effective – that the actions you establish are contributing to fulfilling your objectives and that indeed your objectives are broken down into effective actions.

Measurement

Part of establishing this trusted relationship between objectives (where I want to go) and actions (what I’m doing to get there) is to measure key enterprise data.

Analysis of the current path against intended trajectory

An example of this in industry is to use visual management boards.

Characteristics of the Trusted System

  • The Trusted System shows me what I need to do now, and after that, in a time sequence.
  • It allows me to distinguish between real things to do and goals, objectives, somedays and desired outcomes.
  • The Trusted System allows me to translate goals into actions with tasks linked to a goal

When you go back to the system to check, monitor and feedback, interact with the system, the data must be displayed swiftly and consistently.

The system then becomes part of you, part of your everyday work. It is an extension of you and your thinking, not just a chore or an obligation but a useful tool.

The system is a reflection of your thinking and helps you think. It forms a positive feedback loop.

The perfect tool

It is difficult to find one perfect system – I thought Odoo was perfect until I found it lacking the precise outputs I need to measure my activity and performance.

I guess all task management software editors would like to have the perfect tool, the perfect trusted system. For this to be the case the system needs to be like functional like Ayoa but faster, like Sortd because of its excellent email thread management and yet available and synced on all platforms like Todoist.

Evernote could include task management functionality but it really doesn’t. It only has reminders, so it is currently constrained to being a library although an excellent and powerful one.

Todoist doesn’t include any mind mapping, unlike Ayoa. And other mind mapping software although good (simplemind) now include a to-do list. Ayoa provides task planner for Evernote and links mindmaps to tasks.

Putting up with imperfections

I could make a choice and just use one or at least fewer systems and put up with the inconvenience of not having all the desired functionality.

I could write to the various editors and persuade them to get all of this functionality into one system. I could write on forums to suggest realistic changes that could be made to each.

For instance what could be changed in Todoist to make it more to my liking. What could be changed in Ayoa? I have made these comments in various forums tickets particularly with Ayoa and they have chosen to pursue their development strategy without focusing on speed or the android app (both for sorted and Ayoa).

Everyone has their idea of the scope of functionality to include in their system (see system boundaries). For now it is up to me to make the best of the tools available.

I’m tempted to add Odoo back in again to my suite of management tools. That would potentially add more complexity. However I very much like the way that Odoo manages opportunities. Perhaps I could use it for production planning or (as a replacement for sortd), merge opportunities as I currently merge emails in sortd.

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