The Getting Things Done workshop at TCUK15

At the TCUK15 conference this year, John Kearney and I gave a workshop covering some techniques for “Getting Things Done” as well as general productivity tips. All of this was aimed at helping our technical communicator peers get all the things done.

Prior to the conference, we sent out some optional homework.

  1. You can start by looking at Karen’s TCUK14 slides. Note the link on the last slide that goes to a bigger reference list on her website.
  2. That brings us to the second homework item: Reading about the science behind GTD.
  3. Think about a project (or the pile of stuff you need to do) that you can bring to the workshop. Having a real-life example to work with is ideal. You can bring it on an electronic device or in a notebook or just a few sheets of paper.
  4. Consider bringing a “GTD tool” with you to the workshop. A notebook and a pen is just fine. If you are bringing an electronic device, try downloading Evernote or OneNote. Both are free and very popular to use for organising tasks. We’ll use them to demonstrate GTD principles, but it’ll be up to you to find what tool or method works best for you. After all, you are the one getting things done! By the way, if you are already using a tool that you rather like, bring it along for a show-and-tell during the workshop.

The workshop slides are on SlideShare, which will please those of you who have asked for them. The rest of this blog post is the raw (and very long) script that we put together for structuring the workshop. It grew from our discussions and planning sessions on Skype, Google Docs, and Twitter DMs! Thank goodness for technology when two speakers live in two different countries! By the way, the script is not verbatim.

We welcome your questions in the comments.

Part 1 – Introductions

Welcome to the GTD workshop for technical communicators! Note: We use GTD as the abbreviation for getting things done, but our talk is also about general productivity, not just the David Allen stuff. It’s just easier to refer to the whole thing today as GTD.


Normally I eschew intros. Participants want substance immediately, not CVs. However, this intro tells a story. I think GTD (Getting Things Done) is a journey, a life-long path, if you will. This is the story of my journey and of John’s journey. I’ve told the story of my start on this path in my GTD presos in 2014. A chance remark from a colleague at work during a slightly hectic time with deadlines in 2013 made me realise I was losing CONTROL (remember that word) and PERSPECTIVE (remember that word). With my colleague’s help, which I fortunately had the courage to ask for, I went back to reading David Allen’s Getting Things Done book, and actually read it and started implementing its ideas.

I also realised that the bigger picture was about my productivity. It wasn’t just GTD tips and tricks from David Allen. It was about any and every step I could take to stay in CONTROL of my work and maintain the appropriate PERSPECTIVE on my work – past, present, and future. I became more conscious of how I did my work and learned to think more about how and where I could improve my work processes. My goal was to truly enjoy my work and not reach burnout, exhaustion. To achieve or re-gain my creative skills and have fun.

I used to brag how I could always get the job done whether I had 2 hours or 2 weeks. I’d deliver something under whatever constraints there were. I was a prof. writer, after all. Using styles and templates meant I was already a step ahead, right? I did deliver, but often by using weekends and evenings and getting drained. This began to irritate Spare-Time Karen. She wanted to read books, meet her friends, see an exhibition, but work always interrupted. Work priorities ate up spare-time priorities. And Information-Junkie Karen kept finding new things to investigate. The work/life workload was getting out of control and way out of balance.


So, how did I get interested in this?

I’m the kind of person who has a hyperactive mind. I like variety in my worklife, and enjoy juggling problems and commitments. The issue with that is that it’s not a very good model for working when a huge pile of work arrives on your desk, or when you volunteer for something, and so on and so forth.

Also, I could use some discipline when it comes to getting into the things that interest me. When I’m at TCUK, my brain is on fire when I think of all the new things I’m learning and all the ideas I’m having. I love it, and it keeps drawing me back.

The problem is that in the weeks that follow all my good intentions to blog about it, to Storify my tweets, to write up a report to share with my colleagues, all those cool things are just so hard to pin down. Why? Because I’m constantly moving on to the next thing that interests me.

In GTD, I saw an opportunity to learn about something that could help me harness this energy. So, when Karen and I were talking about TCUK15, I suggested tentatively that perhaps we could run a workshop on this. To my delight, she jumped at the idea, and here we are.

So from my point of view, I’m still at the “joy of discovery” stage. I know that I’m starting to have really good results with GTD, but I need to learn more. When David Allen said “We teach what we need to learn,” that really struck a chord with me. So that’s why I’m here, and I hope to learn things from this workshop too.

Part 2 – Our first exercise

[Based a lot on this TEDxAmsterdam 2014 video of David Allen.]

We want to kick off this workshop and your understanding of the Getting Things Done models with a little exercise. Please hold your questions for a little while.

David Allan talks a lot about “mind like water” in his writing and his presentations. It’s a martial arts reference, and it sounds vaguely familiar to me from other contexts. Think how water in a pond behave when you throw a pebble into it. The pebble goes plonk, ripples flow outward, and then all is still again. The same happens if you throw a big rock into the water. The water takes in the interruption and is then smooth again soon after. It’s this concept he refers to. The pebbles and rocks that approach your mind are emails, calls, plans, and much more. Can you absorb them calmly, or do you duck and run? David Allen says that having his mind in this state lets him be himself and handle whatever is thrown at him. He trusts he will be able to handle things appropriately thanks to his GTD toolkit.

We’re going to work with ways to get you to the “mind like water” stage.

Right now, think about something that is coming up in your future. Planning a party, planning a presentation, writing a new user manual, whatever. Think. Close your eyes if that helps and think what is uppermost in your mind. Maybe this thing is always on your mind, but it’s actually draining you – you continue to postpone working on it, and you haven’t yet taken any action on it. It’s just there and nagging you. That would mean it is driving you and you are not driving it! You are not “thinking about it appropriately so you can appropriately manage it”.

By writing it down, you’ll soon see that you are actually a planning machine! At least your brain is. It uses what David Allen calls the natural planning model, as you’ll soon discover.

PURPOSE: Now look at your topic, what you wrote and ask yourself: what is the main reason this exists? What is its primary PURPOSE? Write that down. You need to start out with a real purpose, a real intention that you want or need to have happen. That Christmas party needs to happen. That manual needs to be written. Why? For what purpose? Writing stuff down helps you get more ideas. You commit something to paper and free up some space in your head for more thinking. Oh, and if you wrote that your topic is writing a manual and the purpose is “because my boss told me to”, think again. We’ll get back to that. J

VISION: The step that follows PURPOSE is VISION. What is your vision of success? Write it down. What would mean success for you? How would you describe it? The Christmas party greatly improves the poor relationships between those 3 departments. That new user manual is praised by a previously negative customer as being the best user manual they have ever come across. If you said “my boss told me to” with writing a user manual, you may be hard pressed to come up with a vision. Maybe there is a message there. Maybe you know the new user manual is not what is really needed. Maybe that is why the project has been haunting you. By thinking through the steps we are taking now, you may be able to redefine a project where appropriate. Maybe the project is really “convince boss we need embedded videos in our help”, its purpose is to finally heed the many requests you have encountered for providing videos about handling the foobar because it is too darn tricky to just write in words, and thus, your vision becomes hoards of ecstatic customers heaping praise on you (or rather, your company) on Twitter. Perhaps the second vision is that you are ask to head up a department for new types of documentation deliverables.

IDEAS: Whatever you come up with, you mostly likely have a vision of a reality that definitely does not match your current reality. But your brain already realizes there is a discrepancy. The brain is trying to fix this by generating all kinds of potentially useful ideas. You are having a brain storm. J Ideas are popping up randomly. Now write down whatever pops into your mind now that could be potentially relevant to your project or topic – assuming that you actually want it to occur. Take a few moments to do this.

STRUCTURE: While ideas are popping up all over the place, another part of you starts creating a structure out of those ideas. You’ll think logically, critically, rationally. You evaluate. “I should do X before I do that idea.” “This idea is more important than that idea.” You’ll figure out what are the better ideas, the more important ideas, the first things you need to do. You’ll figure this all out based on sequences and patterns that you are probably already familiar with, or priorities that you know. Right now, just choose the 3 most important things that you need to deal with – just a simple little plan from the ideas you had in the previous step. Your tendency to begin structuring means that if you are planning a party, you are thinking about which restaurant to pick and who to invite. You begin to consider which of those two things you need to do first.

NEXT ACTION: The last step now is to figure out what the very next action should be. What must be the first step in this project? If you had to actually start this project right now, what is the very next action you need to take. It must be a physical, visible action. “Set up meeting with Bob” is not good enough. It would be “Book meeting room A in Outlook for the 25th of next month for meeting with Bob”. Write down your very next action.

This is what David Allen calls the natural planning model.

How many of you feel that you have gotten something done just now? That you have a definite next action or at least have used a few moments constructively thinking about a situation in your life?

This is often a step we skip. Few of us take time to think things through like this. We should relax and trust our brains to help us out with this natural planning model.

Unfortunately, most people do what he calls the unnatural planning model. There’s a problem at work, and the manager calls all team members together to brainstorm: who has a good idea. But that is stage 4. You don’t know what a good idea is until stage 4 and you just met! THIS is why people resist. Quite naturally. Or they “get busy” to look like they’re doing something because they don’t really know why they are doing something! There is no planning, no clarity, and trouble erupts along with pressure and stress. You end up in reactive planning mode.

David Allen says it’s not a matter of whether you do the natural mode, but when and at what cost. Do you let everything fall apart, call in a consultant out of desperation, and then the consultant says, “What’s the thing you all have to do and why?” David Allen says we “get busy” or panic because our greatest fear is the fear of being out of control. We don’t want to make mistakes or be wrong. Has anyone ever spoken up in a big business meeting and asked “I don’t understand what this is about”? Few ever do. Most people don’t trust that they know how to plan. We are afraid to jump into anything we don’t feel like we can engage with. Fear. Anxiety. Worry. Frustration. We have got to recondition ourselves. By trying this natural planning model, you should be able to get on top of anything and get a lot more creative space and remove that pressure.

Prioritising is also crucial. It does NOT create more time, but it adds more significance to what you need to do. What I can do today that will make the future better.

Having good habits in place is what helps us survive the rough spots.

Part 3 – So what is GTD?

GTD is basically about self-management, which Google calls “management of or by oneself; the taking of responsibility for one’s own behaviour and well-being.”

The keys to self-management according to David Allen are CONTROL and PERSPECTIVE.

It’s about emptying your head – freeing your mind – to do all the fun stuff – or to actually get your work done. 🙂

The concepts are for everyone, but how you apply them is up to you. Your measure of success is how YOU, not anyone else, feel each day. Today is just an intro to the concept of GTD. Your real exploration comes when you go back to your office or home.

The natural planning model is just one level of the GTD universe. To explain more about GTD, let’s zoom into the workflow David Allen developed.

It can take a day to get through all these steps the very first time you dive in. When you get into the rhythm, the workflow becomes a natural part of your daily routine taking only a few minutes or “happening automatically”.

  1. Gathering. Collect EVERYTHING to get things out of your head or off your desk where they are causing you stress. It’s all the stuff life is throwing at you all the time.
  2. Processing. This is using David Allen’s question “Is it actionable or not?”
    • No: eliminate (trash), incubate (someday/maybe), retrievable (reference)
    • Yes: Then what is the NEXT ACTION?

      1. Defer it
      2. Delegate it (good skill to learn)
      3. Do it. (Note: 2 min. tasks should be done immediately, but when first starting, many 2-min. tasks can add up to hours, defeating the purpose. First time? Just collect them.)

      As you process, skip nothing. Setting aside for later sets you up for more work.

  3. Now organise and prioritise. E.g. in the pile of customer visit information you’ve gathered and processed, what can you do first? When I did this, my next action was “Ask Frank who in sales can I speak to about finding the appropriate customer to visit”. All I needed to do was talk to Frank. When I had spoken to him, the next action popped up almost by itself.
  4. Now everything is ready for review. Review regularly! This is hard! It helps you always stay on top of things – which is the CONTROL part. The hard part comes from your brain continuing to keep a list in your head.
  5. When all is in place, you can begin to Do – and get things done. What you are doing includes the “next actions” from all of the above. Remember that next actions must be very specific. The key to getting things done is having next actions that are tangible, physical actions. You do not need major insight to do these things. That would take too much time. You need your time for the big things like what’s the meaning of life. Next actions should move you ahead. When you are not specific, you can flounder and have nagging thoughts about the incompleteness. Should I call, should I email, should I stop by the office or the desk? On and on. And if you cannot find a specific physical action, maybe that is a sign that something is wrong and you need to go back in the workflow to figure out why. It’s like a built-in QA test on your project.

Look back at this list

  • Gathering
  • Processing
  • Organising
  • Reviewing
  • Doing

and notice how CONTROL and PERSPECTIVE are present in these steps.

Your processing and prioritisation come from knowing the purpose, vision, etc. for your projects. By mastering this workflow, you gain the necessary control for following the visions of your projects.

Control is conscious, focused engagement, that makes you aware of all options at any one time and place.

Perspective is being aligned and clear about decisions, directions, and priorities. It’s also the level of your focus. Are you way up at 50,000 ft thinking about the purpose, or are you down on the ground working on next actions? Or somewhere in-between at the level of the vision, projects, etc. Perspective is how you control your tasks. If you need to get more things happening in your projects, lower the level. If you are losing perspective, elevate the level. You need the right level for your tasks.

You can work on getting the balance between control and perspective for the rest of your life, if you wish, and it doesn’t add to your “burden” of things to do. You hone and refine and learn from working on these things, and you should see improvement over time. At first, it can all seem abstract, but over time, you should find it provides a framework. This UX newsletter that I never read. Maybe I should unsubscribe because I am not working with UX right now and intend to go in this other direction? Or, I want to transition to UX because that is one of my major life projects, so perhaps I should make time for reading it regularly. And thus, you process according to your decisions.

Technical communicators need skills to be able to adapt without losing control and getting stressed or ill from the turbulence. Try these GTD skills and other productivity skills and see whether they can be the support to get you through your work more efficiently or to help you transition to new career choices. They can help you get back on the GTD wagon when you fall off.

  • Do your 2-min. tasks when they pop up
  • Do a daily and weekly review

Your energy should go to doing your actual tasks. Be careful that you don’t put too much energy into the administration of those tasks! Learn to let go of what isn’t really relevant and what is not your responsibility. Hanging on to things that are not your responsibility is what adds clutter to your mind.

David Allen summed up his general philosophy in an Atlantic article: it’s to “make as few plans as you can, capture every single thing that is potentially meaningful, and make sure you’ve got the appropriate maps (or lists) to be able to know where to focus.”

Part 4 – How does – or can – GTD apply to Techcomm?

So how does GTD apply to Techcomm? We looked at our own lives and came up with some ideas from our own experiences.


  1. Juggling the demands of content for two applications, with two working models. For one, the developers provide much of the content, so I’m a Tech Editor. For the other, the developers know very little about the content. And the releases coincide. I’m not currently using GTD techniques for this, but it’s starting to inform my thinking when it comes to dealing with people. I’m becoming a better and more consistent communicator because of it.
  2. Dealing with helicopter bosses: when landed with a pile of work, you may know the goal, but nothing else. Instead of being paralysed with fear, or frightened into unplanned action, you can map out a GTD list and present your requirements to your boss (and others involved).
  3. Dealing with legacy issues: As a Tech Author, you will likely have complex legacy doc issues landing in your lap. It happened with me recently, when I was asked to find the original document of a PDF sent out the customers by our Support function. I started searching in quite a haphazard way, until I remembered my GTD principles. A really knotty problem became much clearer and easier to handle once I planned things out first.


  1. Gets you respect from your boss. When you start practising your new productivity/GTD skills, you boss should notice and comment positively. Mine has at my mid-year review. He sees how we can deliver. He also sees how we have the control to speak up in time if there are delays.
  2. Gets you respect from colleagues.
    • Mentioned an improved time-saving process to a remote colleague. Ended up demoing it for 1 hour to him. He has requested a demo to his entire team. Upon hearing that, my boss wants the same demo for the rest of my department.
    • Due to our improved time-saving process (I’ll mention this later), two higher-level managers have definitely gained respect for our methods. I have seen this in their eyes. I believe it will add more weight to our input in future situations. In other words, GTD is what is helping us improve our value.
  3. Can save you from imposter syndrome. (Ensure audience knows what this is: basically, you’re not good enough or not deserving of some praise.) While listening to Riona MacNamara’s talk, “Imposter No More” at the Write The Docs conference recently in Prague, I realised that GTD can help sufferers fight their symptoms. The control you gain removes the feeling of being overwhelmed. It gives you the opportunity to prove your value – even to yourself. A whacked perspective can be what triggers your imposter syndrome, and GTD gives you that perspective back. I think this is a big deal that I am happy to discuss at any time during the remainder of the conference.
  4. If some of my earlier points haven’t made it clear, your lists and processes are your work externalised. People can see these things. You can respond quickly to requests for status info and the like. You aren’t digging for that needle in the haystack because your haystack is all ship-shape. It shows people you are in control.

So, based on what you have heard so far, and regardless of how much you know about GTD prior to this workshop, do you have ideas for how GTD can apply to techcomm?

Break for 15 minutes

Part 5 – Examples from real life from Karen & John

  1. I use colour-coding of my email along with some categories. Both are features of Outlook, but Gmail has labels and stars that are quite similar. I’ve gone from a black and white wall of meaningless text in my inbox to a mild colour variation – not a lot, but just enough so that I can process some mails more easily and much faster than before. Find out whether you can do something like this in your mail client.
  2. I add hashtags to my Outlook mails. Yes, you can actually edit subject lines for received emails. You can do the same to Gmail, but that requires you to make a reply or forward, say, to yourself. This is my taxonomy, or folksonomy, that helps me retrieve information when needed using keywords that are meaningful to me. The search facility in Outlook and in Gmail are so powerful, but the hashtags ensure your mail has the right keyword for a search.
  3. I often send my emails to OneNote (at work) or Evernote (at home). OneNote has a button for this and Evernote provides you with a unique mail address. In OneNote, I then store the message in a suitable folder. Examples are Flare tips, especially those that include .exe or .bat files. Less suitable to store in email. Better to store in OneNote where I can add info about the tool or tip. Having an easy way to send mails to your productivity tool is great. Oh, and I delete the copy in Outlook. No need for it.
  4. The big GTD tool in my life is being presented here at TCUK15 on Wednesday at 2.30 PM. My colleague, Mattias Sander, will explain how he set up Flare to not only be our authoring tool, but also our work management tool. Basically, we put our to-do list inside our authoring tool and I cannot express enough how awesome it is. I can see at a glance where I am on a particular project: writing stage, reviewing stage, editing stage, etc. And when I am done, I am done-done, as they say in Agile. Let Mattias explain it all if you are interested. Suffice it to say, we have a tool that truly helps us do our work and eliminates wasteful steps in the documentation workflow.
  5. Having the structure of GTD helps you if you have fallen off the wagon. It gives you a place to climb back on. It can also calm you during panic attacks.
  6. Prior to our software releases, I book review meetings for what we call domain managers. I do this 2 months or so in advance to ensure I can grab their time. This has worked successfully the last 3 releases. I think it adds to the respect we are gaining.
  7. GTD helped me plan for TCUK! I was delighted when I learned I’d get to present, but then I was terrified. It was Chris Atherton who helped me refocus using the GTD model when she asked me what the key takeaway of my presentation would be; what vision or idea did I want to share? I.e. what was my purpose and vision? The required tasks just fell out of the process naturally from there, relieving my anxiety, and making the entire process easier.
  8. Of course, it’s not just about work! I have a plan to take a holiday in New Zealand and Australia, based around the World Masters Games in Auckland in April 2017. Now, normally I might think of this event as being so far in the future that I don’t need to worry about it, and deal with occasional spikes of anxiety as I suddenly realised it was time to pay my entry fee, book my tickets, etc. With GTD, I can simply draw up my plan, deal with the things I need to now, and simply come back to the list on a regular basis.

Part 6 – Tools and Methods

  1. Squeeze ball for reading! Helps you focus. Also, small bean-bag ball to toss in air or back-and-forth for focus. Techniques to help you stay focused when you read.
  2. Noise-cancelling headphones. Oh.Em.Gee says I. Sensitive to sound? Worth every expensive penny. Also helps with focus.
  3. Have a tool that works for you: Evernote, OneNote, Things for Mac, Remember the Milk, Todoist, Tasks in Outlook or Gmail, Paper and Pen! Note that Evernote, OneNote, and Things support GTD directly. I don’t know about others.
  4. Set up folders in your mail client or electronic notebook, or a physical file or notebook for:
    1. Next actions
    2. Waiting for
    3. Projects
    4. Someday/Maybe
    5. Reference
  5. Scan or photograph objects, sketches, whiteboard scribbles so you can save them electronically. (I also do this with receipts, guarantees.) Advantage is that you can now tag them wherever you store them. The image itself is not searchable (image, duh!) in, say, Evernote, but you add tags like #NewManual #whiteboard #TOC #Version6, and you’re set.
  6. Record or dictate ideas, rather than jotting them down on paper or electronic paper. Walking down the street, coming out of the shower? Grab your phone and record for later transcription, or dictate with e.g. dictate feature in iPhone. It’s about emptying your head ASAP!
  7. “Clip” things from the web: links, quotes, articles, but do it consistently so you remember where to find them – and then tag them. Evernote and OneNote have clipping tools for your desktop or browser. There are others out there. It’s crucial to maintain the source of your clipping, too.
  8. Use a little paper notebook. I mention this specifically because David Allen made an interesting point in the Atlantic article that I agree with. Digital risks being out of sight and out of mind. You don’t see the pile of stuff you need to do, and you can overlook things. You need discipline to check your electronic devices for your work to ensure nothing goes bad. And it can be awfully nice to have luscious paper and a gorgeous pen to work with. Also, you don’t need to worry about batteries. 🙂
  9. Make lists to organise by context – called siloing. Some say it’s great, but it takes getting used to. These lists don’t replace project plans, but help track your next actions without the need to dig through each project to find a note to “call Frank”. Typical GTD thing to do in notebook, Evernote, OneNote, wherever. David Allen recommends these as starters:

    1. Agendas
    2. Anywhere
    3. Calls
    4. Computer
    5. Errands
    6. Home
    7. Office
    8. Waiting for
    9. Someday Maybe
    10. Projects

    Instead of putting a note on the calendar to call the plumber (which I often do), you add it to your call list. Then, when you have time to make phone calls, you call the plumber, order theater tickets, book dentist appointment in the same workflow. Add note to bring up financing your TCUK15 trip with boss to your agenda list. I find errands to be handy for those non-milk-and-eggs purchases. If you heard about a new tea shop or office supply shop, put them on the errands list and you might finally remember them next time you are out shopping. If you use this structure, use it diligently, and you will remember to check it each time you get home, get to the office, have a moment to make calls, go shopping, go to meetings.

  10. The terror of unstructured time! In my experience, one of the hardest things to do is to deal with a large amount of time when you have a long lists of tasks or jobs. You can end up cherrypicking easy tasks, or worse you can get distracted and end up leaving things until the last minute. I’ve found the twenty-minute trick to work really well here, at home and at work: I set a timer on my phone, or perhaps put on a podcast or a selection of music I know lasts around twenty minutes, and then I focus on burning through a task or small group of tasks in that time. This really focuses the mind, gives you that impending deadline feeling! And between periods, you can stretch, make a cuppa, check email, before starting again. If I do this at work, I definitely go home with a feeling of genuine accomplishment.

Part 7 – Hands-on – Go get things done

Now it’s your turn for the next 45 minutes. You don’t have the luxury of doing this where it really matters – at your desk or wherever you need to get things done. However, we hope you have a clear idea in your head of where you need to start work. If you brought material with you on a laptop, or just want to use paper and pen, great.

Think about the points we’ve made here and see what you can do to improve productivity in your life and get more things done. Call on us if you want some input. Bathroom breaks as needed during this time.

Work on your own, if you prefer, or work with others.

After 45 minutes, we’ll encourage you to share some of your ideas. You are welcome to just continue working, but if you discovered something on your own or after talking with others, we’d love to have you share your discovery with the whole group.

Part 8 – Sharing

Sharing is really crucial to learning even more about GTD. You will do your own thing, but when you share ideas, you inspire others and get inspiration for yourself.

Part 9 – What’s next?

We’ve been gathering, processing, organising, prioritising. Now we get to “do”. What are we going to do next? What is YOUR next action after this workshop?

You could practise on the conference itself:

  1. Blog about TCUK15 by a certain date.
  2. Write a single-author or multi-author article for Communicator! in one year’s time about how gaining control of your work, while maintaining your perspective has helped with a career change, job promotion, job hunt, etc.
  3. Make some new knowledge gained here at TCUK15 the focus of a project where you will apply GTD to master the skills for your job.

Or you could apply GTD to another sphere:

  1. Plan your next project.
  2. Sort your backlog of work.
  3. Plan a foreign trip!

Additional references with notes from our workshop preparation

What are you trying to obfuscate?

I found two excellent posts on Paul Bradshaw’s Online Journalism blog that I had to share. (Unless you’ve already read them, in which case, great!)

In one post, he asks the £10,000 question: who benefits most from a tax threshold change? What wonderful real-life examples. Go read the article and see whether you can spot the difference in these charts. Take heed of his point about making the raw data available.

The other post discusses the means of presenting data. This builds on lessons learned from Dan Roam’s “The Back of the Napkin” and Stephen Few’s “Now You See It”. A rough summary reads: just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.

Remember to think about the content. The content. What are you trying to tell the reader? What is appropriate or suitable for the situation? Are you actually trying to confuse them? Really??

Paul Bradshaw updated his article with this gem from a New York Times senior software architect entitled Word Clouds Can Be Harmful. It is a must-read. It includes the statement that you can whip out when someone asks you to make a fancy-schmancy visualization:

…if it obliterates the ability to read the story of the visualization, it’s not worth adding some wild new visualization style or strange interface.

Ah, to think that attending a lecture by Paul Bradshaw last year could lead to such delight in reading these valuable blog posts.

Takeaway links

Igniting Accessibility for Ignite Denmark

Giving a 5-minute Ignite presentation is such an amazing learning experience. The expression mind-blowing is suitable to use.

What’s Ignite?

It’s an inspiration network. You have 5 minutes and 20 slides to “ignite” the audience with your passion. O’Reilly has the Ignite story for you. I think anyone who carries the label “communicator” ought to try an Ignite presentation at least once in their life.

Ignite Denmark manages the Danish sparks. I attended the World Usability Day / Ignite Denmark joint event in November 2010 and got so inspired that I foolishly promised to give a talk on accessibility at the next Ignite Denmark event, which was 1 March 2011. 🙂

This is the result of that promise.

My Ignite Presentation

I gave the presentation in Danish. The transcripts – in English and in Danish – are further along in this blog post.

I posted my slides to SlideShare.

The Credits and Thank Yous

I am very grateful to the following people:

I was nervous, but I had a great time doing this. Ignite is the perfect setup for talking about accessibility to the general public. This is what is discussed in accessibility circles on Twitter – raising awareness about accessibility in the general public so that everyone can get involved in making the world more inclusive.

The Transcript in English

The numbers here correspond roughly to the slide numbers. I include them for navigation purposes. I had some garbled sentences in the Danish (nerves!), so I tidied things up a bit in the English while keeping the original spontaneous flow. In fact, dissecting my speech in a transcript is kind of embarrassing, but the written word is completely different and more merciless than that spoken word. 🙂

  1. Hi. I am a technical communicator, writing manuals, user guides, and that sort of thing. I am passionate about accessibility. You can’t see that on the title slide because it is written in Braille: “Ignite Accessibility”. That was to tease you about communication.
  2. Accessibility, it’s about doing something so people with any type of disability can “get at” some thing – information or whatever. People with a disability – that’s us. It is all of us. The World Health Organization actually says that [quoted in the slide].
  3. They say it is a universal experience. I am passionate about accessibility thanks to my mom. She ignited this passion in me. She was a special education teacher, and I have known about this topic since I was 7 years old and
  4. I just think it is natural. In fact, I am so passionate about accessibility that I see it everywhere, even in a picture of ducks [where one duck is seemingly excluded by the others]. I think it’s kind of funny that someone else [at the evening’s Ignite presentations] included pictures of ducks. So being excluded, not being a part of the community,
  5. Not being able to hear a joke because you cannot hear, not being able to attend an event because there are stairs and you have someone saying “oh, couldn’t you come up the stairs? What’s the problem? Why can’t you participate”. But there are barriers. So
  6. … it’s about seeing these situations and being more open to them. There was a lovely old man – he wasn’t afraid to stick out his neck [making a reference to an earlier presentation about daring to dare]. William Loughborough, who died last year, was very involved with web accessibility, and he cursed all those who didn’t think about it
  7. in the year 2010, now 2011, because there are so many things you can do with it. There’s assistive technology, which lets you use computers and other things like a bike, a racing bike, which, despite your not having legs, lets you live out your potential, live your dream – something we’ve talked quite a bit about tonight.
  8. And we who design things, whether you design words, develop, or whatever – when we do not listen to users with needs who say “make room for us”, then we fail. We fail as designers if we don’t think of these things.
  9. And it takes so little. A simple little sign that shows the way. You don’t have to worry “gasp! Can I do this? Where is my destination?” A simple little sign, just from listening to users.
  10. And there is also potential. Maybe there is a little boy who is passionate – again with all those dreams we’ve discussed – passionate about being a chemist, a great inventor, and he can – because there is technology that makes it possible for him to live out his dreams, live his passion.
  11. And if you don’t have compassion/understanding, there’s money in all this. People with disabilities is the third largest consumer market in the US – people who use products related to their disability. A million, a trillion dollars. 80 million pounds in the UK. [I speak numbers that don’t match the slides. The slides are correct.] There is money in all this.
  12. And there is the law. Plus that, if you plan things well from the beginning and integrate things from Day 1, things are more harmonic, they fit together, you have something for everyone and not just something that you add on as an afterthought,
  13. But something that everyone can enjoy from Day 1. So if you think, OK, this sounds interesting, but where do I get – I’m confused – where can I find guidelines or information? Well, for people who work with the Web, the World Wide Web Consortium has made something called
  14. the Web Accessibility Initiative, and they have a ton of resources. Really good stuff. They have business cases, for example, so if you need to discuss with someone yada yada yada, they have the information that you can use to convince others that they need something that is more accessible.
  15. There is also a book [Just Ask], written by the person [Shawn Lawton Henry] running the Web Accessibility Initiative. It describes how you can integrate accessibility into your design. And even though I talk about the web, I think this can be applied completely to all other professions.
  16. For example, there is a book called “Seeing Voices”, which I have fallen in love with because it is about Deaf culture, and I learned that deafness, in my opinion after reading this, is not a disability, but a culture. Your eyes and your mind are opened to the perspectives of completely different worlds, so to speak.
  17. And you find so much – the sign in American Sign Language [ASL] for love [with reference to what is on the slide behind me] – you win so much, you get new communication opportunities that open up. All the problems, all the challenges that you come with,
  18. They can be solved by involving the entire world. So we can be more inclusive with all these things. And we have to work fast. In 2050, 30% of Europe’s population will be over 65. We must make things possible to use, so we can sit here and come to Ignite or whatever when we are 90 years old.
  19. There are loads of people working on this. This [refering to slide behind me with Twitter names] is just a fraction of those people I follow on Twitter who are super clever. They live out their dream, that’s for sure, and that is fantastic.
  20. And I can only encourage you to join the ranks. Think accessibility in your lives and then we can have that “over the rainbow” experience. Thanks for listening [I make a quick ASL sign for love].

The Transcript in Danish

  1. Hej. Jeg er en teknisk kommunikatør, skriver manualer, brugervejledninger og den slags ting, og jeg brænder for tilgængelighed. Det kaldes “accessibility”. Det kan I ikke læse deroppe fordi det er skrevet på Braille: “Ignite Accessibility”. Det var lige for at drille jer om kommunikation.
  2. Fordi accessibility, det handler om noget for at gøre at folk med enhver handikap kan “komme til” nogen ting, information eller hvad det nu er. Fordi folkene med handikap, det er os. Det er os allesammen. Det siger World Health Organization faktisk.
  3. Så de siger det er en universal oplevelse. Og jeg brænder for tilgængelighed fordi det’ min mor. Det er min mor der har tændt mig for den her passion. Hun var specielundervisningslærer og jeg har kendt til det siden jeg var 7 år gammel og
  4. Jeg synes bare det var naturligt. Altså jeg brænder faktisk så meget for tilgængelighed at jeg ser det allevegne, selv i nogle ænder, hvilke jeg synes var meget pudsig at vi har lige haft nogle andre ænder [tidligere på aftenen], men at det at være ekskluderet, at ikke kunne være en del af fælleskabet,
  5. at ikke kunne høre en vittighed fordi man ikke kan høre, at ikke komme til et arrangement fordi der er nogle trapper og så nogen der ikke tænker på “hov, kunne vi ikke komme op ad trappen?” Hvad er problemet? Hvorfor kan du ikke være med? Men der er nogle forhindringer. Så
  6. … det gælder om at se de her ting, at være mere åben til det. Der var en dejlig gammel mand som – han kunne nikke en giraf en skalle [reference til en tidligere presentation om at turde]. William Loughborough, der døde sidste år, var meget aktiv indenfor web tilgængelighed, og han forbandede allesammen der ikke tænkte på det
  7. i år 2010, 2011, fordi der er så mange ting man kan gør med det. Det er det man kalder assistive technology, altså mulighed for at bruge computere og andre ting. Også en cykel, en racer, på trods af at man ikke har nogle ben for at udleve sin potential, at leve sin drøm – det man har snakket om her til aften.
  8. Og vi der designer ting, om du er designer af ord, af udvikling, af hvad det nu er for noget, når vi ikke lytter til brugere der har et behov og siger “kan du godt lade os komme til”, så fejler vi. Vi fejler som designere hvis vi ikke tænker på de her ting.
  9. Og der er så lidt der skal til. Fordi det er bare en enkelt lille skilt hvor du får en vej – du får vist vejen frem. Du skal ikke bekymrer dig, “gisp, kan jeg klare det her? Hvor er min destination?” Lille simpel skilt, bare ved at lytte til sine brugere.
  10. Og der også noget potentiel. Måske er der en lille knægt der brænder – ligesom alle de her drømme igen – brænder om at være kemiker og stor opfinder, og det kan han godt, fordi der findes noget teknologi der gør at han kan bruge sin, at han kan leve sine drømme ud. Lev sin passion.
  11. Og hvis du ikke har medlidenhed, så er der altså penge i det. Det skulle være det 3. største forbruger marked i USA – det er folk der bruger produkter der har noget at gøre med handikap. En million – en trillion dollar, 80 millioner pund i UK [ord stemmer ikke helt med tallene på skærmen]. Der er altså penge i det der.
  12. Og så er der lovgivning. Og plus det, at hvis du planlægger godt fra grunden af, og integrere ting fra Dag 1, så bliver ting mere harmoniske, de hænger sammen, du har noget for alle. Ikke bare noget der bliver klappet på bagefter
  13. men noget som alle kan nyde fra Dag 1. Og hvis du tænker, ja, OK, det lyder interessant, men hvor skal jeg hente – jeg er forvirret, altså hvor er der nogle vejledninger? Jamen. det har – for web folk – det har World Wide Web consortiet, de har lavet noget der hedder
  14. Web Accessibility Initiative, og de har et hav af ressourcer. Virkelig gode ting. De har business cases, fx så hvis du skal argumentere overfor nogen at “hallo bum bum bum bum” de har informationer som du kan overvinde andre om at de skal have nogle ting der er mere tilgængelig
  15. Der er også en bog, skrevet af hende der styrer det der web accessibility initiative. Det beskriver hvordan du skal integrere tilgængelighed i din design. Og selvom jeg snakker om web, jeg synes det kan overføres til alle andre fag fuldstændigt
  16. For eksempel der er en bog der hedder “Seeing Voices” som jeg er blevet helt forelsket i, fordi det handler om Døv kultur, og jeg lærte at døvhed, efter min mening efter at have læst det her, det er ikke en handikap, det er et kultur. Du får åbnet dine øjne og dit sind op for nogle helt andre verdeners anskuelser, om man så må sige,
  17. Og du finder så meget – det tegn i Amerikansk Tegnesprog for kærlighed – du vinder så meget, du får nye kommunikationsmuligheder, åbner op. Alle de problemer, alle de udfordringer du er kommet med,
  18. de kan løses med at inddrage HELE verden. At vi bliver mere inklusive med alle de her ting. Og vi skal arbejde hurtigt fordi i år 2050, bliver 30% af Europas befolkning over 65. Vi skal gøre tingene mulig for os at bruge, så vi kan sidde her og komme til Ignite og hvad ved jeg når vi er 90 år gammel.
  19. Der er en masse folk der arbejder på det. Det her er bare en brøkdel af de folk jeg følger på Twitter som er knalddygtig. De lever deres drømme ud, det gør de helt sikkert og det er helt fantastisk.
  20. Og jeg kan kun opfordrer jer til at melde jer til fanerne. Tænk tilgængelighed i jeres liv og så kan vi have det der “over the rainbow” oplevelse. Tak for i aften [lavet tegn for kærlighed].