Using Agenda as a Manager, Lacking Features and Suggestions

workflow

#1

tl;dr: I really made an effort to write all this up, please read to understand me. :wink: In short: I am struggling a bit with the concept of changing notes vs. adding new ones and I am missing some functionality to group or do a concise search todos in a single view.

Hi,

I lurked around agenda for some time and now, since I am allowed to use a Mac at work, I finally tried it out.

Let me first explain how I usually work and what my situation is: I am a manager leading multiple teams that create software products and do projects. I also am responsible for some of their development in my company along with all the things that you need to worry about when you are managing customers, teams and projects/products.
My usual day is full of meetings and discussions and my main work tools are these:

– A small paper book for notes in meetings
– Two card based tools (like Trello)
– Occasionally Apple Reminders
– Gmail
– Google Calendar
– VSTS (Visual Studio Team Services, which is comparable to eg. Jira)
– OneNote

Work style

Wow, that is a lot, let me briefly explain how I use them and how a typical day looks like:
My usual day is full of meetings that are either status meetings (focus on the now), planning meetings (focus on the soon) or strategic meetings (focus on the future).
The first ones are eg. Daily Scrums or a weekly Management Meeting, where everyone shares some updates. However, those meetings usually also generate some ideas or concrete todos for the future.

The second ones are eg. Scrum Sprint Plannings or prep meetings for upcoming events. Often, I am responsible and moderating those meetings and when they happen, I already have to have planned our or at least have a solid suggestion for what’s next. So, in contrast to most status meetings, I really need to prepare those in advance.
The strategic meetings eg. discussions with potential customers in which I need to present products or discuss project ideas. If those have a „follow-up“ kind of style, then I need to be prepared to know how the last meeting went and should be able to address the todos from the previous meeting.

Also, there are obviously some meetings that are a bit of everything. For example, the weekly management status meeting has a bit of reporting, a bit of planning for soon and strategic elements.

Finally, I also have to do some work outside of meetings. :smiley: That usually happens in some of the tools mentioned next.

Tool Support

Almost all of my projects are organized around agile teams that follow some way of agile method, eg. Scrum or Kanban or some other lightweight task tracking method. To track progress, we use VSTS, in which we track user stories and this is also the place where team members track the product/project progress. However, I try to avoid using the product backlog for items that are more like to-dos, eg. „Get approval from IT Security for app“ or „Create rights and roles model“. Those don’t fit (imo) the product backlog and thus are assigned to people — often myself — to be done.

Some of the todos also come from email. My colleagues, clients, and superiors send stuff around that include todos, eg. „We have to make sure to ask the data protection guys about XYZ.“ — This is the basic horror of project management because the task now is in limbo and if no one puts it on their todo list, it will be forgotten. Usually, it is my job to make sure those are not forgotten and for that first of all, I am a heavy „star“ user of Gmail. Every mail that still has a todo or requires an answer that I can’t give immediately gets a star. However, sometimes emails that I just want to read later also get a star. So I have a lot of starred emails which I go through often and un-star some (which I can complete or put todos somewhere else).

„Somewhere else“ usually is a card based todo tool, like Trello. There, I have an organization of topics. Eg. people management or project A are columns in my trello board. However, I usually dump some tasks and am not a heavy user of due dates or adding much info to the cards. Usually something pretty complex like „Talk to the data protection guys“ will become „Meeting with DPO“. Not assigning info (eg. „Why do we need to talk to them?“) sometimes is stressful for me, because I try to keep all the info in my head and I am constantly worrying that I forgot something important. When I am home and something jumps to my head, I usually try to set an Apple Reminder using Siri to make sure I add it „somewhere“ the next day when I am in the office.

Finally, my probably most used tool is pen and paper during meetings. I do avoid bringing my laptop so I can focus on the speaker and not be distracted eg. by mail or something else. (Yes, I am looking at you, developers who continue to code in meetings!!) I usually make some notes about things that I should keep track of but usually not general information (again, because I try to keep that in my head which probably is not a good idea). Later on, I often go through my notes and strike everything through that moved to a digital place or has been done. I also rip off pages that are „done“ from my notebook. (So, I often need new notebooks…)

If my week gets too busy or something important is coming up that requires some hours of focused work, I set blockers into my calendar. Usually, I don’t follow them, because other more important things came up, so time management is always hard.

Agenda expectations and feedback after a few days usage

When I saw Agenda, I immediately thought that the idea of adding the concept of time to notes was great. Not that eg. Apple Notes didn’t already had a concept of time. But the idea to scroll through projects and their notes seemed great and also fit very well with my usage of the pen and paper. I could just digitize all my pen and paper things and still could assign todos, tag people and even have everything sortable. That was a great idea.
So I started with some of the notes for the employees that I am responsible for and found it great to have an overview over their development and things we agreed on or todos for them, that I could check later on.

That fit very well mostly — that I discovered later — because those „let’s talk about your career“ meetings are immutable. They also do focus on the now and the future but usually, they create more „todos“ for my employees than for me. Also, those todos are not required „right now“ but eg. I have to allocate some budget for a conference or something like that which requires no immediate action and I will definitely remember to do this, even I had not put it in a note.

Then I started using notes for meetings. The first meeting, I enjoyed putting all the info in, assign a date and even some todos. But, the second meeting was related to the first meeting and struggled with how to organize notes. Some info I wanted to put in was directly related to todos form the first note. So, should I edit the first note and add a todo or an outcome? Should I copy some info from the previous note? Should I maybe not organize notes by meetings but by topic (eg. IT Security things) and work in the same note all the time? Then I would remove the concept of time from my notes again. Also not good. Finally, I struggled with the todos: Since they are now scattered across notes, there is no consistent „I need to do this“ view for me anymore. Even if tag those and do a search I am always seeing the full notes.

The next idea I had was to use the pin to top feature so that I could have single Todo list on top for each project but then again I would have removed the aspect of time for the todos and also stripped them of their context.

Finally, I wanted to add some due-tags again to improve my time management. What I really enjoyed was that you could add the concept of time to any tag not only the due tag. So if I added a due(in 2 days) tag that would become a searchable date. That is really important for me because I don’t want to constantly think about when to do something so that it will be done by the due date. Also, there are quite some tasks that I delegate to others and want to be reminded to get a status update for those by some time. Basically, track their due date eg. as a check or revisit tag.

It is great that this works, but still, aside from search, there is no way to see a consolidated list of all items that I tagged this way, only for notes that contain this tag which makes it hard to find things especially if they are embedded in longer notes.
I assume that this already is a feature on your „what you are working on“ list along with support to add some integration with Apple Reminders, so that you can get reminded when something with an (I call it) time-enabled-tag becomes relevant. Maybe it would also be worth considering to add a „simple“ push/local notification feature that will trigger an Agenda internal notification for items that have a time-enabled tag.

Summary

As you can see, I am already trying to do some recommendations, maybe even feature requests. But I hope it helps to understand the way that I am working because I believe to be in your target audience. So, here is a list of improvements that I would like to see (need, to be honest) in order really improve my way of working using Agenda:

– A view that aggregates all checkbox (todo) items, maybe on toggable on top of each project or even one aggregate over all projects as its own view in „Overview“. Great would be a way to jump to the note that the todo item originated from.
– A search or view that does not show notes in full but only the matching item (eg. todo) or paragraph with the ability to „show more“ or „jump to“. That would already fulfill parts of the first item because I could filter on todos that are „due“ or have any other time-enabled tag
– A way to reference or maybe even quote from other notes so that I can start new notes and keep the date feature for eg. meetings but reference things that have been discussed earlier. Again, also with the ability to jump to the referenced note.

Some other minor requests that have probably been already made but I’d like to share my opinion here as well:

– Projects should be reorderable
– Settings should be synced across devices (assign today to new notes, make new notes appear on agenda)
– Tagging people should support an auto-complete feature
– Tags should support an auto-complete feature
– On your website, you have a great visual element that shows the date of the newest and oldest entry with a scrollbar between. That would be great to have in Agenda as well, maybe with sticky dots where notes are placed and their dates, so you can „time travel“
– The highlight of a search term in tags does look a bit awkward with the yellow on top of the tag background/people background
– Something that I can’t personally use as my company does not allow use of Apple Mail, but integration with email would be great. Eg. add an email as an (expandable) item to a project so that it appears in the timeline. That would make „mails“ a first class citizen next to notes in projects. Maybe the same could be done with links that would show a preview of the contents of the page (I am already thinking about how to integrate my Gmail in here… :smiley: Taking this further, calendar entries could be first class citizens as well, instead of being linked to notes… I guess I am taking this too far. :smiley:
– Inline files and images, so attachments to notes should be possible. One great use-case: In Mojave, a native „Insert from iPhone or iPad“ action is available that lets you snap a quick picture of something — eg. my pen and paper notebook would be really great.
– The native mac spelling correction does not seem to work when writing in agenda?

Summary, now really

If you took the time to read all this, I am very grateful that you take care of your customers. I spent like 2 hours in thinking about the way how I work with Agenda and formulate this post, so I really hope it helps you get some insights. If you have any questions or suggestions for me, please comment!
All in all: I am looking very much forward to you improving Agenda and it does not happen often, that I think something really could change the way I work. But with Agenda I do have this feeling, so please rock on!

  • Nicolas

#2

I’ve been using Agenda as my main notetaking and ‘work organising’ tool for a while now. I recognise many of the points you make - and it seems lots of these on the list of the developers.

But I agree with you here:

TBH I’m still struggling with what the right approach (for me) is. Same as when I go back and revise, develop, ideas in older notes - the time-based-ness of the note is lost. I do wonder if something could be done with ‘created on date’ and ‘last edited on date’ items for each note, not just one date. I like your time line idea - the note could show up twice in this case, once on the created date and once on the last edited date.

This exists already using Links. Check out the help docs - there are various ways of making link. Though I’d love to see an autocomplete process for adding links eg type a specfic symbol and start typing the title of the note you want to link with - to make the process much smoother and faster.


#3

Thanks for your feedback, @trebso. Good to hear that I am not the only one still figuring the the best way out.

I probably didn’t make myself clear here. I’d not only like a link to another note (which copy’s the title as link text) but rather quote a specific section of a note. Eg. I have several notes with suggestions from co-wokers that I organized in meetings with each one of them. I’d maybe like to create an aggregated view for that only quoting for example suggestions regarding how to improve the office space. Currently I would have to copy/paste those from the individual notes. Other scenario would be checklists that I delegated to someone organized in notes by person but I’d like to aggregate an overview so that I can check them off easily (so they are checked off not only in the aggregated view but also in the individual notes).

That could also help with the problem of the history of notes. I would feel much better creating a new note and referencing a section of an old note and refine my idea below or above that. Just having a link that maybe is even titled Meeting or Jour Fixe is not too helpful in this case.


#4

Ah, makes sense!

I’m almost certainly reading something between the lines that doesn’t exist, or that I don’t understand, but reading some of the developers’ posts, makes me wonder if we won’t see 'paragraphs’ becoming entities that can be searched for, displayed, given attributes, perhaps even linked to, etc. Category > Project > Note > Paragraph???


#5

That would be useful! :+1:


#6

Wow, that’s some elaborate and detailed feedback, thank you so much! To start with the tl;dr:, part of philosophy of creating Agenda instead as opposed to using task managers is that we want to preserve the history of what you’ve done, creating the breadcrumbs of your past – see also the intro movie. So in general the answer is to try to as much as possible to create new notes for new meetings instead of deleting the content of a note and changing it. This in many ways is what discriminates Agenda from say the Apple Notes app or many taskmanagers.

Having said all that, we do see a lot of space to improve the workflows for repetitive meetings, either by making it easier to reuse lists and have better overviews of checked vs unchecked items (see The features we are working on right now…), but also through templates for example. For the latter we have ideas to built templating features in at some point, but in the mean time, this talk article is a good start, especially because it also describes similar workflows as yours:

I guess what’s most interesting is that what you describe was essentially exactly my role and my needs when I was leading the Papers team within SpringerNature for three years, and was what led to the idea of Agenda :smiley:

I still plan to write some more about that, but in general what I found worked well for me is that on the one hand I had Agenda Projects around the real projects (i.e. Agenda app, Findings app etc) where I would collect ideas, kept a note on the next release etc. Those would go in the Apps category.

But I would also have Agenda Projects for meetings with people. Basically, I would have one for:

  • our weekly management team meeting
  • one for each of the management team members I would quite regular have one-on-one’s with
  • one for my boss which I would regularly have one-on-one’s with
  • a few others that were more for meetings with people grouped by area/topic

The reason to split it up like this is that this way after a while it nicely gives a focused timeline for those meetings you have quite regularly like a team meeting, 1:1, but also daily standups for example. What did we discuss last time? And the week before? And a month ago? Instantly accessible and a great overview/resource. I would also keep at the top always a note for the “next time”, which I used to collect the “agenda” for the next meeting.

But to prevent some kind of “dead by a million projects” I kept those limited to a few and instead would put all other meetings at work in a more general project like “Collaborations”. Which still leads to a nice overview of meet ups and discussions over time for that topic, albeit a bit more diverse.

Together this worked brilliantly for me, led to developing Agenda and I still use this approach today.

As with everything, given Agenda allows for many different ways to organise things it often just takes a bit of experimenting and also some time to make it really work well. You’ll find that it will get better and better as you start building things out.


#7

Thanks for you detailed reply, @mekentosj and also reassuring me, that you are working on some things that will make Agenda even more useful to me.

I think I will try to get used to creating new notes vs. changing old notes. I just wanted to clarify, that the problem I have with that is not that I have to copy/paste the outline of a meeting (like the article suggests) but I’d rather reference portions of old notes to write down how things develop. Concrete example:

Note 1 from Meeting 1

  • suggested to budget for 1 Mio on external staff support for project X, Jeff will talk to controlling and get back to me
  • … [the 20 other items we discussed]

Now, in the follow up “Meeting 2”, let’s assume Jeff came back and controlling said we can only budget for 500k for reason X. I’d then like to somehow reference that specific item of the list and make a note that budget has no changed from our initial idea to something else.

So, my problem is not that I am too lazy to setup the usual agenda, but rather keep track of how things developed without referencing a whole other note (like using a link) or copy/pasting the previous text or changing the initial note. But I think you got it. :slight_smile:

Since I know how it is when you ask your customers in a software project “what do you want?” you get like 1000 items with 800 being completely out of scope of your original idea. :smiley: So I am happy that you take your community’s feedback into consideration and I am looking forward to seeing your next features.


#8

Yes I see your point, though I practice I did really find such deep level of linking unnecessary when I instead would have a specific project with Jeff because he’s one of my key people. Then basically each note is pretty much a chain of meetings and it’s pretty easy to follow back the chain of what happened with say marketing campaign XYZ that Jeff has been leading. If instead you mix a lot of notes from different people within a project say marketing, it does become a lot harder to track.


#9

@scurra

I am in a similar situation as you are — always looking for that one tool to help unite all of these efforts. At some point I came to the realization that part of the problem is scrum. There is no room in scrum for a TODO. What if somebody on my team needs to make a 30 minute phone call? User story seems entirely too complicated. Scrum needs a tool that allows us to add quick TODOs for our team members. In particular, it would be nice if Scrum had an “on the agenda” that was a quick way to capture actions that popped up at the top of the board.


#10

It’s interesting to see you having similar “problems”. I also am struggeling at times with everything that needs to be done but is not really a user story in the sense that a user gets direct value from it. Same goes for technical tasks: I always disliked creating user stories that start like “As a system, I need …” or something similar. On the downside, things like this are not tracked correctly and if you do estimates they screw your whole planning up. Slightly off topic, but if you have found a good way to working with this, please share. :slight_smile:

However, I am pretty sure that Agenda is not designed to be a tool to support Scrum in its essence, so my main wishes are rather to support my daily work that can’t or shouldn’t (depending on your views) reside in a tool that is aimed for software development. Still, I am hoping that they expand the task and todo tracking features, because “decide on things to do” really are the essence why people do all the meetings, right? :smiley:


#11

Nicolas, I recognise alot of your workflows in my own daily work. What strikes me is a tool I used some years ago: IBM Connections. In „activities“ you were able to group different kind of documents to an overall task, like several emails, calendar entries, documents etc. Many tasks involve different documents, replies and so on and all would be neatly stuffed together.
Thats the main challenge I see (for my workflow) with working with Agenda. How to stich all pieces of information together.
Right now, and because I get a lot of mails from different people concerning tasks, I implement a kind of „personal kanban“. I created 3 folders in my mailbox labelled „doing (max. 5)“, „to do“ and „done“. Now, every new task gets a subfolder named „nnnnn check with DPO“, where nnnnn is the next available count number. Like a task number for by date sorting of folders later in the „done“ folder.
Now Agenda comes into play. All meetings are written down in notes, placed in project folders, tagged with people, #todo paragraphs and stars.
What I really miss is a convenient way to link my notes to the numbered to do folders in Apple Mail, in a two-way fashion. Because as for now there is just no forseeable way to get rid of all the emails, and what I really don‘t want is to copy-paste content from mail to Agenda.
My workflow is really a bit special, because I reguarly go through the mail folder „doing“ and „to do“ to see what‘s next and what‘s done.


#12

As I pointed out somewhere on the community chat, if you use Spark email client you can connect to an entire email conversation with attachments saved on a Spark server just creating a link to them on Spark and paste it on a note in Agenda. It is not exactly the same of having direct access to folders inside email, but maybe it can help.