Category Archives: Business Advice

Anything and everything related to the business world, primarily in IT.

The context has expired and can no longer be used

I routinely see this error when working with SharePoint 2013 in my development environment. This problem is more frequent when I restore earlier snapshots of my SP2013 server.

SharePoint spits out this error when the local server time is out of sync. To remedy this issue, try one of the following:

  1. Update the date and time on the SharePoint Server
  2. Disable security context check for the web application, as follows
  1. Go to central administration
  2. Go to  "Application management section
  3. Go to "Web Application General Settings"
  4. Go to "Web page Security validation"  disable this option.

Managing Work E-mail with a ‘go-to’ folder

In today’s connected world, do you find disconnecting from work email is near impossible on weekends? Do you ever find yourself involved in personal activity, only to receive an email from a client who is catching up on their email? Do you receive work email on your personal smart phone, perhaps along with your personal email? Are you unable to stop responding to work email in your personal time?

If you answered ‘yes’ to any of the above questions then you might have asked yourself if there is a better way to manage work email polluting your personal time.

Before I explain how I went about configuring my work-email and cell phone, I want to point out that I am not suggesting that I wish to avoid work email outside office hours – that would be a near impossibility in my line of work – just that I want better control of when I am interrupted. I got my idea from watching my fiancé, who has a separate blackberry for work to personal – she is able to put down her work blackberry in the evening and “choose” when to pick it up. If there is an emergency in the office, someone will call her work phone and she can address the issue. Only having one smart phone and numerous laptop computers, I wanted to replicate the ability to “put down” the office at specific points of my evening or weekend, without disconnecting completely.

Enter Microsoft Exchange Rules…

The following configuration assumes you are using Microsoft Office and Exchange Server at the office. You can achieve similar results with G-mail and other email services, as long as you can configure server-side rules to manage email.

(Note: I use Outlook 2010, which the screenshots show, but older versions of Outlook typically offer similar functionality).

Create a folder under your inbox to house work email – I called mine @@Client because I still want internal office email to stay in my inbox.

From the Outlook Home tab, click on the Rules icon in the Move section, and select Create Rule

Click the Advanced Options button on the Create Rule dialog

Choose the option “with specific words in the sender’s email address,” click the underlined “specific words” and add “@”

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Click the next button and then choose the following actions:

– stop processing more rules

– move it to a specified folder

Click the link “specified folder” and choose the folder, under your Inbox, that you created earlier

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Click the Next button, and then choose the following exceptions:

– except if it is a meeting invitation or update

– except if it is marked as High Importance

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Click the Next button, and then give the rule a name, finally click the Finish button

What happens now?

The rule you just created is an Exchange Server-side rule, which means Exchange will process it whether Outlook is running or not. This is important – you do not want to receive email on your cell phone when Outlook is not up and running on your work computer.

If not already configured, make sure that your smart phone shows you the main Inbox folder only for your work account. I have an iPhone and the default “All Accounts” folder shows only email in my main inboxes. If I want to read client specific emails I now have to go and look for the @@client folder under my work account – which is the point!

Working with this new setup does require a certain amount of diligence. If you so desire, there is nothing stopping you ignoring all client email for a period, which will likely hurt you in the short term when next in a meeting and your client asks whether you read their emails. The main point of this configuration is to allow you greater control of when and how you access emails, without technology interrupting you at inopportune moments. As a rule, I check my client folder at least twice a day when in the office working, and during downtimes in the weekend/evenings.

Working from the Cloud

My employer uses laptops pretty much exclusively (as I do at home) for all employees, with the exception of a few, to promote flexibility and portability in our work environment.  I made the mistake yesterday of forgetting my laptop and turning up to the office with no computer to work with.  As was debating on turning my car around (I got all the way to the office) and heading back home when I got thinking.  In today’s connected environment, did I really have a dependency on a single computer to work?  The short answer is no.

When I thought about it some more, having no laptop didn’t mean I couldn’t continue my work day as normal.  I spoke nicely to one of our IT people and asked for a temporary laptop for the morning, hooked it up to the network, logged in, and continued working as normal – how?

The answer is in the tools that I use.  Granted, I’ve moved on from localized development and no longer require a host of specialized tools to work, which makes life easier. Also, I’ve always had a healthy paranoia about keeping work files on portable devices that may inadvertently fall in the parking lot and break into a million pieces, so wove redundancy into my personal workspace some time ago, meaning I was already in great shape for using another computer for work. 

With Internet speeds getting faster and online storage becoming cheaper, there is a definite shift in mentality to store files in the cloud.  I realized this about a year ago.  The following is a list of applications and approaches I use to enable portability in the my day-to-day work:

Hosted Virtual Machines

My job involves SharePoint development, so I cannot escape the need for a development environment.  Many of us still develop on Virtual Machine images using portable devices.  Fortunately, my employer saw this as non-scalable solution and set up virtual servers for all out development.  Our IT infrastructure includes backups, and I can access the servers from any location using secure VPN.

Outlook Web Access and Gmail

All my company email sits on an Exchange server, which comes complete with a web client for accessing my email from any web browser.  If I insist on the thick client, Outlook is installed on most of the company laptops and configuration of my account is 5 minute exercise.  I use Gmail for all my personal mail and never have to worry about loosing my email or servers going down.  On the rare occasion that the company Exchange server goes down, I have my personal email to fall back on if I need to (who doesn’t?).

GTD with ClearContext

I use ClearContext to arrange my inbox within Outlook.  CC uses folders within my inbox, so I don’t have to worry about carting around backups of my settings.  If I choose not to install CC on a loaner laptop, I can still work with my email because filed messages live in Exchange folders and I can put aside new inbox email for filing later when I get back to my laptop – left at home.

Evernote

I am never ever caught out talking to a client without notes from previous meetings.  I know a lot of people like to use One Note, but if you use EN your notes are available on the web, phone, or any other computer (Windows and Mac) that you choose to install the application.  My notes synchronize in a few minutes and I’m up and running.

Drop Box

A well thought out product that synchronizes files across computers and in the cloud.  I use this application on all my computers, and the UI is a simple folder on my desktop – I drag all my files to the special drop box folder and have peace of mind that my files are available on all other computers, or via the web interface.

IM

Using both Communicator (corporate) and MSN (personal), I am able to stay in touch with clients, colleagues and friends.  Both applications install in minutes and require no setup for me to get back online.

SharePoint and Colligo Contributor

My work primarily involves SharePoint, so I would be amiss if I didn’t eat my own dog food.  My employer has a nice extranet where I can always access client work in progress, RFP work etc – it’s policy that all work is stored on our extranet.  With Colligo Contributor – an application that works much like Groove, only better – I can keep a cached version of files on any PC, so if I loose network access I can carry on working on a local copy of my files stored in SharePoint.

Pandora

Say what?

A work day in the office is a little dull if I cannot listen to my favorite tunes whilst working.  Using Pandora – an Internet streaming radio service – I can continue listening from any web enabled computer.

X-Lite

X-Lite is a SIP VOIP client, an my employer uses VOIP.  So if I want to take a call from Starbucks, the road (using mobile broadband), abroad, or a client office, it’s no big deal.  The recipient of my call doesn’t know I’m not calling from the office.

So… Flexibility in a nutshell.  If you’ve not done so already, it’s time to cut the chord from your working computer and get into a portable mentality.  You’ll need support from your employer (something to consider asking in your next job interview), but if you can convince them and it’ll make you more productive – it’s worth any overhead.

GTD: How to prioritize

The steps outlined below are not new to most people, many of us perform these steps subconsciously, but it is interesting to see these steps in text to distill what is involved in prioritizing a list of tasks.

The following list assumes an “action items,” not a “to-do” list.  The difference being that an action list contains items of single step (“send email to blah”, “take out garbage”, “fill in time sheet”), whereas a to-do lists typically contain items of desired goal and often involve multiple steps (“clean basement”, “Develop finance application”), defined by GTD as projects.  For more information, read David Allen’s book on Getting Things Done.

So, what is it we do subconsciously when making a priority decision?  The following steps usually factor into the thought process:

Context – Context is most important, if you’re not near a computer or phone, there’s no way to respond to email.  GTD breaks all action items into context categories (@Office, @Home, @Computer, @Call etc).  The principle being that you can ignore a large percentage of your action item list if you are not in the desired context – why bother with what’s at home when you’re in the office?

Time Available – This factor is inherent in most of us, depending on how much time you have available before your next “scheduled” appointment will depend on what tasks you pick up.  Let’s say you have a meeting in 60 minutes, it is unlikely that you’ll tackle a large job before the start of this meeting.  Your calendar is important for knowing how much time you have between appointments, and your action item list contains one step tasks, which are easy to determine the time required to complete.

Energy – Until I read David Allen’s book I hadn’t given this factor a lot of consideration.  What type of task do you take on at the scrag end of the day, or last thing on a Friday afternoon before a weekend?  Your ability to crank out a task determines your success, so if you’ve been in wall to wall meetings all day and are toast, then the last hour of the day is a great time to clean your desk.  Once again, your action items list will contain many one step tasks, including mundane tasks that may never reach a to-do list.  Even when working on small insignificant tasks, you can go home at the end of the day with a satisfaction that you’ve crossed off entries in your action items list.

Biggest Pay Off – This is usually what most people think of as prioritizing – working on the tasks that are biggest and give you the best pay off.  Assuming you have met all the factors listed above then it is best to pick an action item that gives you the best reward for the time spent.  In a corporate office environment, this is likely working on a task for your best client (or worst if they’ve been sucking a lot of your time of late), at home maybe it’s the one job that gives you most pleasure, or impresses your loved ones the most.

No matter how trivial the list above, what I am trying to highlight in this blog post is that a good deal of tasks on action lists are irrelevant at any one time because their configuration does not match that of the current situation.  Once you determine those tasks that match the current situation, you can quickly prioritize them without becoming overwhelmed or clouded by problems preventing task completion.

GTD – Email from your cell phone

So, you’ve read my previous posts on GTD and now your life is in perfect harmony, but….. you happen to remember something important whilst driving home that has yet to make it into your collection system.  You do not really want to pull over to note down this valuable nugget of information, and writing an email/task on your PDA whilst driving is too fiddly (not to mention dangerous/illegal).  So, what to do?  Simple, subscribe to Jott.com:

  1. Jott.com is a free service that converts voice messages into emails, sign up using your cell phone.
  2. Add Jott’s free-phone number as a speed-dial, if you have voice activated dialing, even better.
  3. Next time you think of something to collect, call Jott and leave a message for “myself.”
  4. Live with peace of mind, next time you open email – presto, there’s you GTD task ready for processing.

Simple huh?

Additionally, if you’d like to blog from your cell phone, you can set up an email address to your blog using BlogMailr and add this address to your Jott contacts. Presto – blog posts on the move.

Tips to sell a used car

A friend recently dropped me an email asking for input on selling a used car, my response was fairly elaborate and thus blog worthy, so I thought I’d post the information, and here it is….

1. Look up your car in Kelly Blue Book – www.kbb.com – this is the holy bible for used car prices and most buyers won’t deviate much from this price unless you’ve kept your car sealed in cotton wool.  Set your price a little higher than KBB, say a $1000, and expect to come down. Do not inflate the price for toys, unless they’re not dealer standard and increase the value of your car significantly.

2. Expect the dealer price to be about $2000 lower than the private sale price, so when you buy your new vehicle, ask for a free appraisal and you’ll have a good idea of the price you can expect to get for your vehicle.

3. Patience is key, I took about 2 months to sell each of my cars because I was prepared to wait for the right buyer.  However, this is a balance, the longer your car is left sitting unsold the more you’re spending on insurance etc, especially if you already own a shiny new car.  If you’re not receiving many bites after 1-2 weeks, drop the price by $1000, assuming you pitched your car higher than KBB. If you’re already at the KBB bottom price then something else is putting people off.

4. Advertise well – Craig’s list is a given because it is free, Autotrader will get you a lot of hits, but usually takes a few weeks for traffic to start coming in (I sold my car and was still getting calls weeks later).  EBay will get your car noticed, but you’ll end up spending abut $50 in seller listing.  Most people use EBay to get an idea of cost, do not expect to receive a winning bid (unless you’re lucky), although you may get calls after the auction asking to view your vehicle. 

5. Be up front in all adverts about: cost, mileage, condition, luxuries (leather seat, CD Player, IPOD int. etc), anything that will attract the readers attention – lots and lots of photos sell a car. 

6. You can try parking your car in known spots around town where people like to look for used cars, although I never tried this theory, I’m told this can get your car noticed.

7.  When you start getting calls, be accommodating, people will want to see your car in evenings after work and weekends.  I had an issue with people coming to the house, so I met most people in a mall parking lot or at the office.  Occasionally I had to jump out at lunch time for an eager buyer.  Mall parking lots are great because they allow potential buyers to test drive your car with you watching.

8.  Advertise that you’ve had your car inspected (if required by the state) – technically it is the buyers responsibility, but for $60, if you know your car is going to pass, then it’s a selling point for buyers.  

9. Post a for sale sign on both sides of the car to attract passers by in the street or other motorists in traffic.

10.  Clean your car – consider detailing for a $100 – as a shiny car catches peoples attention.

Happy selling.

Getting Things Done

For those of you who know of David Allen and his seminars on “Getting Things Done fast!” – skip this post.  Those of you that have no idea what I am talking about, or like me, have only just heard about this, might want to read on.

As far as GTD is concerned, I cannot take any credit, and this blog post is solely for the purpose of passing on the good word.  So what is GTD, and why the hype?

We now find ourselves smack in the middle of “Information Age.” Information is power and the world has gone nuts in striving to feed people with more and more productive information.  Connectivity barriers crash down as a slue of technologies allow us to receive emails, voice calls, and even faxes in remote locations.  What do our brains make of this constant stream of readily available data? 

David Allen invented GTD, in 2001, as a series of steps to empower busy people with the tools to handle the constant bombardment of information and tasks.

Until I started reading David’s book, it never occurred to me that the brain may have a fixed capacity, and the fuller it becomes the more stresses I experience. David’s methodology for “Getting Things Done” aims to show us how to better deal with information overload and avoiding stress so we can be more cognitive and productive. The following are a few points I picked up from the first few chapters:

Work is not just the office – David defines “work” as anything not done.  If you leave the office and then come home to a list of chores – this is work, and it needs doing.

Work falls into one of two states – “doing,” or “done.” The idea is to get to the “done” stage.

Projects – consist of any outcome that requires multiple completed tasks to consider the overall task as done.

The Brain becomes cluttered with many tasks – this causes stress, and every task filling time in your brain is an uncollected, unorganized task that owns a piece of you.  Learn to dump tasks from “brain RAM” to persistent storage in the form of lists.

For each new task/project consider:  What is the desired outcome?  What is the next step?  The act of “doing” is about determining the single next step.  “Done” is the desired outcome – the goal.

GTD consists of the following five phasesCollect things that require attention, Process what they mean and what to do with them, Organize the results, Review what we choose to do, and Do the next step.

Anything not collected and organized is considered “stuff” –  Stuff causes stress and anxiety because it resides in your short term memory and reminds you constantly that there is something you have not done.  This clouds your brain and prevents free and clear thinking for more productive purposes.

Dump everything on your mind – No matter how small or big, or wether work or personal – dump everything on your mind to paper or some sort of list (this is not a task list) so that you can free brain RAM to better process what needs doing next.

As of writing this I am not as yet done reading David’s book and have followed the exercise of dumping the contents of my brain to a single list.  As I read more of the book I shall report more progress and tips to “Getting Things Done Fast.”