Saturday, June 5, 2010

Clouds shed ray of light on organizing your data

Douglas C. Merrill demonstrates how fairly simple online tools can revolutionize the way we do business and carry on with life.


Getting Organized in the Google Era: How to Get Stuff out of Your Head, Find It When You Need It, and Get It Done Right 

Getting Organized in the Google Era: How to Get Stuff Out of Your Head, Find It When You Need It, and Get It Done Right. Douglas C. Merrill and James A. Martin. Broadway Books. 272 pages.

With his rock star good looks and glitzy résumé (Charles Schwab, Google, EMI Music), you'd immediately presume that Douglas Merrill has got it all together; a hip dude for whom everything comes easy. And you'd be wrong.

First of all, he's dyslexic and has had to struggle to learn and develop adaptive behaviors to get through life. He survived and thrived. And later, after he'd managed to wriggle his way up the corporate ladder, he lost a beloved young life partner to cancer.

But neither of these items is in the forefront of this smart and useful little tome, though both inform nearly every page.

Merrill's purported goal with this book is to show how he uses fairly simple online tools — most provided by his former employer, the ubiquitous Google — to do business and carry on with his life. He does that quite well, actually, and even though it's a fairly subjective view, he's objective enough to point out alternatives for different tasks and needs. Sometimes, in fact, he wholeheartedly endorses non-Google products! I'm not making this up!

After I first got a Gmail account when it was new, back in those days when you had to have an invitation, I immediately discovered that it was a great "place'' to upload big files, and park and retrieve 'em later. In fact, I stored plenty of large work samples — audio, video, print and multimedia — as attachments, to simply transfer and ease submission to prospective employers when I found myself "seeking new opportunities.''

Similarly, Merrill writes expansively about tools like Google Documents and how they can be used collaboratively between and among employees and others. While it's not a perfect replacement for dedicated word processors like Microsoft's venerable Word, it's a decent enough substitute so that your content can live in the clouds (or on a server in Mountain View, Ca.) and you can work on it whenever you feel like it online.

Merrill also gives tips for sharing calendars, organizing files and using search. That's the key, he says. Don't bother organizing your files and folders. Just tag them with key words that you use for search terms to find on your computer, in the clouds or wherever. That's the Google way. Search and index everything. But Merrill ably explains how to do it and, more importantly, how it works, so it's replicable and scalable for a variety of endeavors and applications.

Beyond the info on using all the apps in the clouds, Merrill's thread about his girlfriend's illness is powerful and heart wrenching. It's also a good way to show how some of the tools were — or could have been — used to deal with that sad situation.

The other powerful tool Merrill gets into is how he "encodes'' information before dealing with it. We all process information differently, but Merrill's methods, borne of the adaptive behaviors he developed from his learning disorder, fit perfectly with this new way of functioning. It may not work for everyone but for those of us in the business of pushing pixels, it's a great way to start thinking about doing things better.

Originally published in The Miami Herald

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