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Review: Etelos Projects Offers Good Ideas, Poor Execution

Review: Etelos Projects Offers Good Ideas, Poor Execution
Etelos Projects Main Screen

    Etelos Projects for Google Apps is a new online project management application that is distinguished from other project managers like Basecamp by its integration with Google Apps. Etelos uses the Google Calendar for scheduling, Google Spreadsheet for task management, and a set of iGoogle homepage widgets to add to and review your projects. It also offers limited upload space for files related to the project. The service is free for users managing a single project, with 10 MB of file storage; for more, you have to upgrade to paid accounts at rates roughly equivalent to other online project managers.

    I have been in the market for an online project manager I could integrate that would allow me to access and work on Google Docs and Spreadsheets, and Etelos’ integration with Google Apps (the all-in-one package that integrates with your domain) seemed promising. Unfortunately, Etelos Projects does not live up to my expectations, offering an overall poor user experience that seems less like growing pains and more like the result of a wrong-headed approach to the problems project management systems are meant to solve.

    Setting Up Your Account

    Signing up for Etelos Projects is a little burdensome and somewhat non-intuitive. As far as I can tell, the only place you can sign up from is the “features” page, by clicking on the “Free Trial” button at the bottom. That gets you a standard account setup page, after which you are sent a confirmation email with your username and password, and a link to login. You need to use that link, since a cursory look at the website revealed no clear place to log in to your account.

    The link in your email, however, does not lead to a login page either; instead, you are taken to shopping cart populated by your free account. Clicking “checkout” takes you to another license agreement (you are asked to accept the terms of service when you sign up, too), which after accepting takes you to a new page saying your instance of the software is being installed and to check your email for another login link, username, and password.

    Neither the link, username, more password are memorable, but bear with them; once you use the crazy login, you are given a chance to change both username and password to whatever suits your fancy. You are asked to “update your profile”, mostly with information you’ve already entered when signing up, and then offered the choice to finish or to add more users. Once you finish, you are taken to your Projects homepage, which looks very Google Apps-y, which is promising — if you use Google Apps, you should have no difficulty navigating between the main sections of the site. The URL is crazy, though, so you’ll probably want to click the link at the bottom to add widgets to your iGoogle homepage if you want to find your projects again. There are three separate widgets, one for tasks, one for projects, and one for time logs; I went ahead and installed all three (which is a simple matter of clicking a link and confirming the add on iGoogle).

    Using Etelos Projects

    Etelos Projects Project Screen

      Now click “Start a new project.” Because Etelos is apparently taking cues from Windows 95, it will pop up a confirmation, asking if you really want to start a new project. Click “yes.” The new project screen asks you for some details about the project – name, status, notes, due dates, and who you want to share or collaborate with. Etelos Projects offers three user roles — the project owner, who can do anything with the project, collaborators, who can make modifications to files, and sharers, who can view the project only. I am working on an article titled “Sexuality, Gender, and Taboo” for a book being published next year, so I thought I would use that as a test case to try the system out. I entered my title and added a due date, which apparently has to be done using the drop-down calendar, as typed-in slashes are immediately deleted.

      Etelos Projects Tasks Screen

        Clicking “Quick Add” above the project title allows you to add tasks one after the other. You enter a title for the task, a description, an estimated time, and a due date if relevant. After each task is entered in this mode, a “Create Another Task” button comes up that you have to click to add another task; unfortunately, your tasks do not appear on the page to review what you’ve entered so far or to check for errors. Clicking “tasks” takes you to the task page, where your tasks appear in reverse from the order you entered the (blog-style, with most recent additions at the top). Next to each task is an icon for editing the task, and another to log the time you spend working on it.

        Editing a task opens a new page, where you can update the status, add notes, share the task with collaborators or sharers, change the priority, and mark it as “business”, “development”, or “personal”. You have to manually save your tasks using the “save” link at the top right. Doing so refreshes the page but does not close the task.

        The timeline feature creates a pretty nice Gantt chart of your project. However, it moves completed tasks into a new chart at the bottom, based on how much time you logged using the time log function. You can also get a list of any emails you’ve sent to sharers or collaborators. There is an export function, but you have to enter your Google Apps information under “settings” first. Once set up, you get a decent enough spreadsheet of your tasks, timeline, etc. As I mentioned, you can attach files to your projects, but can only upload them and not import them from Google Apps.

        Conclusion

        I was excited about the prospect of integrating a project manager with Google Apps (which I’ve never been able to get to integrate into my domain, but whatever) so I could access, modify, and review files from within the project management framework. Alas, Etelos Projects did not, to this untrained eye, live up to the excitement. The Google integration amounts to exporting project details only — as opposed to offering a workspace where Google Apps can be used to work on your project. The iGoogle widgets offer access to your project data without logging in, which is good since I’m still not sure what URL to enter to access my projects, but they are easily the slowest widgets on my iGoogle page (and I have a lot of widgets). Where Basecamp and other project managers use AJAX to make things like adding tasks easy and attractive, Etelos adds far too many steps to each action and wraps it all in an ugly and non-intuitive interface. I would like to say the difficult sign-up was worth it, but it’s not; it is completely in keeping with the overall aesthetic and usability philosophy of the web app as a whole. The time tracking seems to work well, and I appreciate the sharing aspects (though not having anyone to share with, didn’t test them out much), but overall there’s nothing here worth recommending. If Etelos wraps the whole service in a new, simplified interface, it might rate consideration; until then, stick with Basecamp or join me as I keep waiting.

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        Last Updated on September 18, 2019

        How to Take Notes Effectively: Powerful Note-Taking Techniques

        How to Take Notes Effectively: Powerful Note-Taking Techniques

        Note-taking is one of those skills that rarely gets taught. Almost everyone assumes either that taking good notes comes naturally or, that someone else must have already taught about how to take notes. Then, we sit around and complain that our colleagues don’t know how to take notes.

        I figure it’s about time to do something about that. Whether you’re a student or a mid-level professional, the ability to take effective, meaningful notes is a crucial skill. Not only do good notes help us recall facts and ideas we may have forgotten, the act of writing things down helps many of us to remember them better in the first place.

        One of the reasons people have trouble taking effective notes is that they’re not really sure what notes are for. I think a lot of people, students and professionals alike, attempt to capture a complete record of a lecture, book, or meeting in their notes — to create, in effect, minutes. This is a recipe for failure.

        Trying to get every last fact and figure down like that leaves no room for thinking about what you’re writing and how it fits together. If you have a personal assistant, by all means, ask him or her to write minutes; if you’re on your own, though, your notes have a different purpose to fulfill.

        The purpose of note-taking is simple: to help you work better and more quickly. This means your notes don’t have to contain everything, they have to contain the most important things.

        And if you’re focused on capturing everything, you won’t have the spare mental “cycles” to recognize what’s truly important. Which means that later, when you’re studying for a big test or preparing a term paper, you’ll have to wade through all that extra garbage to uncover the few nuggets of important information?

        What to Write Down

        Your focus while taking notes should be two-fold. First, what’s new to you? There’s no point in writing down facts you already know. If you already know the Declaration of Independence was written and signed in 1776, there’s no reason to write that down. Anything you know you know, you can leave out of your notes.

        Second, what’s relevant? What information is most likely to be of use later, whether on a test, in an essay, or in completing a project? Focus on points that directly relate to or illustrate your reading (which means you’ll have to have actually done the reading…). The kinds of information to pay special attention to are:

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        Dates of Events

        Dates allow you to create a chronology, putting things in order according to when they happened, and understand the context of an event.

        For instance, knowing Isaac Newton was born in 1643 allows you to situate his work in relation to that of other physicists who came before and after him, as well as in relation to other trends of the 17th century.

        Names of People

        Being able to associate names with key ideas also helps remember ideas better and, when names come up again, to recognize ties between different ideas whether proposed by the same individuals or by people related in some way.

        Theories or Frameworks

        Any statement of a theory or frameworks should be recorded — they are the main points most of the time.

        Definitions

        Like theories, these are the main points and, unless you are positive you already know the definition of a term, should be written down.

        Keep in mind that many fields use everyday words in ways that are unfamiliar to us.

        Arguments and Debates

        Any list of pros and cons, any critique of a key idea, both sides of any debate or your reading should be recorded.

        This is the stuff that advancement in every discipline emerges from, and will help you understand both how ideas have changed (and why) but also the process of thought and development of the matter of subject.

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        Images

        Whenever an image is used to illustrate a point, a few words are in order to record the experience.

        Obviously it’s overkill to describe every tiny detail, but a short description of a painting or a short statement about what the class, session or meeting did should be enough to remind you and help reconstruct the experience.

        Other Stuff

        Just about anything a professor writes on a board should probably be written down, unless it’s either self-evident or something you already know. Titles of books, movies, TV series, and other media are usually useful, though they may be irrelevant to the topic at hand.

        I usually put this sort of stuff in the margin to look up later (it’s often useful for research papers, for example). Pay attention to other’s comments, too — try to capture at least the gist of comments that add to your understanding.

        Your Own Questions

        Make sure to record your own questions about the material as they occur to you. This will help you remember to ask the professor or look something up later, as well as prompt you to think through the gaps in your understanding.

        3 Powerful Note-Taking Techniques

        You don’t have to be super-fancy in your note-taking to be effective, but there are a few techniques that seem to work best for most people.

        1. Outlining

        Whether you use Roman numerals or bullet points, outlining is an effective way to capture the hierarchical relationships between ideas and data. For example, in a history class, you might write the name of an important leader, and under it the key events that he or she was involved in. Under each of them, a short description. And so on.

        Outlining is a great way to take notes from books, because the author has usually organized the material in a fairly effective way, and you can go from start to end of a chapter and simply reproduce that structure in your notes.

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        For lectures, however, outlining has limitations. The relationship between ideas isn’t always hierarchical, and the instructor might jump around a lot. A point later in the lecture might relate better to information earlier in the lecture, leaving you to either flip back and forth to find where the information goes best (and hope there’s still room to write it in), or risk losing the relationship between what the professor just said and what she said before.

        2. Mind-Mapping

        For lectures, a mind-map might be a more appropriate way of keeping track of the relationships between ideas. Now, I’m not the biggest fan of mind-mapping, but it might just fit the bill.

        Here’s the idea:

        In the center of a blank sheet of paper, you write the lecture’s main topic. As new sub-topics are introduced (the kind of thing you’d create a new heading for in an outline), you draw a branch outward from the center and write the sub-topic along the branch. Then each point under that heading gets its own, smaller branch off the main one. When another new sub-topic is mentioned, you draw a new main branch from the center. And so on.

        The thing is, if a point should go under the first heading but you’re on the fourth heading, you can easily just draw it in on the first branch. Likewise, if a point connects to two different ideas, you can connect it to two different branches.

        If you want to neaten things up later, you can re-draw the map or type it up using a program like FreeMind, a free mind-mapping program (some wikis even have plug-ins for FreeMind mind-maps, in case you’re using a wiki to keep track of your notes).

        You can learn more about mind-mapping here: How to Mind Map: Visualize Your Cluttered Thoughts in 3 Simple Steps

        3. The Cornell System

        The Cornell System is a simple but powerful system for increasing your recall and the usefulness of your notes.

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        About a quarter of the way from the bottom of a sheet of paper, draw a line across the width of the page. Draw another line from that line to the top, about 2 inches (5 cm) from the right-hand edge of the sheet.

        You’ve divided your page into three sections. In the largest section, you take notes normally — you can outline or mind-map or whatever. After the lecture, write a series of “cues” into the skinny column on the right, questions about the material you’ve just taken notes on. This will help you process the information from the lecture or reading, as well as providing a handy study tool when exams come along: simply cover the main section and try to answer the questions.

        In the bottom section, you write a short, 2-3 line summary in your own words of the material you’ve covered. Again, this helps you process the information by forcing you to use it in a new way; it also provides a useful reference when you’re trying to find something in your notes later.

        You can download instructions and templates from American Digest, though the beauty of the system is you can dash off a template “on the fly”.

        The Bottom Line

        I’m sure I’m only scratching the surface of the variety of techniques and strategies people have come up with to take good notes. Some people use highlighters or colored pens; others a baroque system of post-it notes.

        I’ve tried to keep it simple and general, but the bottom line is that your system has to reflect the way you think. The problem is, most haven’t given much thought to the way they think, leaving them scattered and at loose ends — and their notes reflect this.

        More About Note-Taking

        Featured photo credit: Kaleidico via unsplash.com

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