Passwords – Safe, Secure, but Shared

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Passpack logoHow many web sites do you use every week in your work? Do you use the same password for multiple sites?

If you are like me, you have one or two passwords that are re-used on most sites. This may be OK for your Facebook account, but definitely not good enough for root login to the database server.

Also, your colleagues may share passwords with you, for example a company Twitter account or a company support mailbox.

If you are like me, you probably write those passwords on a post-it note on the screen. Not great for security.

But how can one remember different passwords for each and every web site? That is a lot of different passwords.

Passpack

A while ago we started using a great online password storage called Passpack.

One great feature of Passpack is the sharing of passwords. For example, I can share the root login to our database servers with the techy guys, and I can share the log in to our Twitter account with the social media people.

The sharing even works outside our own company, so I can easily share passwords with our marketing and PR companies.

Even better, Passpack works both on the computer and in the phone. So I can quickly access my passwords on the go. I use Passpack to store many different personal things that can useful: credit cards, banking details, etc.

Security

The passwords are stored online in an encrypted password file. The password file is decrypted on your local machine using a “Packaging Key”. The Packaging Key is basically a password for the password file. The Packaging Key is never sent over the Internet. So, even if someone gets hold of your password file they cannot open it.

I will never share my Packaging Key with anyone, but I can easily and securely share all other passwords with colleagues. Great!

Read more about Passpack’s security features on their site.

No Backups

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Opened hard drive with top magnet removed, sho...

Hard disk (courtesy of Wikipedia)

When was the last time your computer crashed, you forgot your laptop in a taxi, or dropped your phone into the toilet?

Unfortunately this kind of things happen to me all too often.

Over time I have learned that backups are really important, but I have also learned that it is a real pain to set up reliably.

Traditional Backups

Traditionally you install backup software on your computer that automatically backs up your files. The backup software uses one of two approaches, and both have serious shortcomings:

  • Whole disk backup – If the software backs up your whole hard disk, including operating system, it is almost impossible to get that backup running again unless you can buy exactly the same hardware again. Windows is real finicky about drivers for hard disks, processors, chipsets, etc.
  • Specific folder backup – If the software only backs up specific data folders you will forget at least one very important folder.

Online Applications

Lately I have stopped using traditional backup software, and chosen a different approach: online applications.

Whenever possible we use online applications that run in the browser. There is nothing to install, the application runs on any computer with an Internet connection.

This has become an important part of our Disaster Recovery Plan (e.g. if our whole office burns down, with computers and all). Our team members can work from their home computers until we can buy new computers and set up a temporary office somewhere.

Data Sync

Please remember that these online applications store their data on a disk somewhere, and that disk is probably just about to crash.

Therefore you may want to back up the online data.

All data is related to one or a few applications. Some applications can automatically backup the data from the Internet on to your computer or phone.

For example, my phone contacts is a very precious list. Anyone who has lost their mobile phone knows it takes months to get the address book back to a decent level.

My phone automatically syncs its contact list with my email contacts (online in Google Apps email).

Thanks to the automatic sync my contact list lives in three places:

  1. on my phone
  2. on my computer
  3. on Google’s servers

I can always get my full contact list back as long as one of these is still around.

GTD Contexts

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One of the ideas in GTD is to file all your to-do items into different ‘Contexts’.

The contexts help you organise your stuff so that you can easily find the to-dos that you can actually do at this very moment.

For example, it does not make sense to keep the task ‘Get chicken from Tesco’ on the same list as ‘Update logo on the home page’, as you need totally different tools and locations.

Here is my current list of contexts:

  • Agendas – stuff I need to discuss with people I meet often (e.g. colleagues)
  • Phone – phone calls that I need to do
  • Computer – stuff that needs a computer
  • Errands – things to get in town or in a shop
  • Home – things to do on the house (this list is very long at the moment)
  • Office – things that need to be done in the office (e.g. check some contracts in a folder)
  • Plan – stuff to plan during the weekly planning time
  • Someday – things I don’t have time to do at the moment, but I might want to review in the future
  • Waiting for – things that someone else is doing and I want to keep track of to make sure I can follow-up

Are you using GTD yourself? What contexts do you use?

Reading Emails

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One of the main ideas behind GTD is to regularly clear out your mailbox. This is where Google’s email archive functionality works wonders. Basically,

This is the suggested flow for reading emails:

  1. Some action is needed, and it can be done in less than two minutes – do it straight away
  2. Some action is needed, and it can be delegated in less than two minutes – delegate it straight away
  3. Some action is needed on a certain date – put it into the calendar
  4. Some action is needed within the next few days – put it into the GTD system
  5. No action is needed now, but you may want to take some action in the future – put it into the “Someday” section of your GTD system
  6. No action is needed – delete it or archive it in a reference folder

Getting Things Done

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I will write quite a bit over the coming weeks about Getting Things Done (GTD), a book by David Allen. It has the interesting subtitle of “How to Achieve Stress-free Productivity”. Who does not want that?

Here are some of the basic concepts from GTD:

Stuff

The goal of GTD is to help organise your “stuff”. You know, all that stuff you have to do. The stuff on your to-do-list in work, the stuff on your to-do-list at home, the stuff on your to-do-list in your head.

The Empty Inbox

One central theme in GTD is to regularly clean out your inbox, be it emails, voicemails, or a paper tray. Go through your inboxes regularly and organise everything into the GTD system.

The Two Minute Rule

The two minute rule says that you handle stuff immediately if it takes less than two minutes to actually do it. This rule alone gets rid of a lot of my emails, with an immediate reply or action.

Next Action

All the projects you are working on have a ‘next action’. The action that needs to happen next to move the project forward. That action may lay with someone else, if you are waiting for someone else to do something, but you still need to keep track of that ‘next action’ if you have an interest in the project.

Email Storage and Archive

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Emails are great. But there are a lot of them. And if you are like me you want to save each and every email, just in case.

In MS Office I used to have a huge folder structure where I archived my emails. To get the email into the folder I would drag & drop the email inside Outlook, and every now and then I would drop the email into the wrong folder without realising my mistake. That email would never be found again.

Another problem with the folder structure is to know which folder to put it in. For example, an email from our marketing company, Angel, should it be moved to the “Angel” folder or the “Marketing” folder?

Also, my replies to those emails are stored in a different folder, the “Sent Mail” folder. This made it very difficult to know exactly what was said.

Enter Google’s Archive

Google has a great button called “Archive”. When I have finished with an email I click this magic button, and the email disappears from my Inbox, and is safely tucked away under a folder called “All Mail”.

The “Archive” button is fantastic, but the “All Mail” folder quickly grows in size, and now and then I need to find an old email to see what was said. This is where Google’s search comes into the picture.

Enter Google’s Search

Google Mail is great for searching. Whenever I need to refer to an old email I type my search terms into the search box. I always remember something from the email, e.g. who sent it, which company sent it, some words or terms used in the email, etc.

Touch wood, but so far I have quickly found any emails I have looked for.Without maintaining a humongous folder structure.

Also, Google thinks of emails in a different way. They call them conversations, and store both received and sent emails together. So, when I find the email from Angel I also find my reply on the same page. Makes it easy to know exactly where we left off our conversation.

So, if you are still stuck in Microsoft Office I really recommend that you have a look at Google Apps and move your emails over to a clever system.

By the way, I don’t get paid by Google for this, unfortunately.

Difference Between Dropbox & Google Docs

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Some people ask why we use both Dropbox and Google Docs in the office.

Both are systems for sharing files and documents, so why use both?

I think the easiest way to explain the difference is by looking at two file types we use frequently in the office.

Graphical Designs = Dropbox

For our graphical designs we use .AI and .PNG files. If we shared these files via Google Docs we would have to do the following each time we wanted to update a file:

  1. download the file from Google Docs, and remember where you saved it
  2. open the file
  3. do some changes
  4. save the file
  5. upload the file to Google Docs (if you remember where you saved it)

In Dropbox all the syncing happens automatically. Just open the file straight from the Dropbox folder on your hard-drive, do the changes, and save the file. Dropbox automatically syncs the file to the server.

Documents = Google Docs

For documents we do the opposite, we store them on Google Docs.

That way we do not have to check that everyone has the same version of Microsoft Word installed on their computer. In fact, we do not have to install anything at all, it all runs in the browser.

We don’t even have to think about what type of computer our collaborators have. They can open the file and change it through their mobile phone’s browser.

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