ProPlan Plus – Review

About ten days ago, I wrote about my struggles with online planners, task managers and calendars, and how I could never seem to get the right combination of features, or the right GUI, that meets my needs of replacing my paper based Franklin Day Planner. I have been using my Franklin since about 1994 I believe, and I still recall the “Time Management Training” that came with it – a recorded seminar of Hyrum Smith talking about time management.

One of his statements struck me and has stayed with me, and now I paraphrase as it has been many years since I listened to those cassette tapes that the seminar was recorded to, went like

“If you don’t work on your priorities, then you will always be more frequently faced with crisis or having to do tasks that are critical.”

Of course, Hyrum Smith put it in a much better way probably, but this was the point: There is a difference between tasks of a high priority and tasks that are critical. If you’re always working on critical tasks, it’s likely because you weren’t working on the tasks that were a high priority.

Part of figuring out what daily tasks are a high priority to you includes doing some personal values reflections and figuring out what those values are. You cannot have two values that are equal; they must have some order to them from the highest value to lower ones. When faced with a situation, you will use the most highest value to make your decisions about the situation, then move down your value list and you will find an answer to what you should do, generally speaking.

So in this way, “time management” is not really the way many see it, but is more about “life management.” Hyrum Smith pointed out that really, that is what life was – time, and what you choose to do with that time. And that goes along with the idea that choosing to do one thing means you are also rejecting all the other things you could possibly do at that moment.

Setting goals should also be set with your individual values in mind, and should include all areas of your life: Business, personal, relationships, educational, professional development, leisure and fitness.

When you are planning your day, the “best” way is to plan your daily tasks according to priorities according to your values and goals, and setting them in an order of High, Medium and Low (Franklin uses/used the “A-B-C” method. But then you go further, and assign a 1, 2, 3, 4… to each of your A priority tasks, the same for the B’s – 1, 2, 3, 4… and again for C or low priority tasks. I had yet to come across an online or digital app that really had this flexibility and understood the idea of planning your entire life (not just your business life) around these ideas.

So when I logged into PlanPlus Online after being frustrated with many of the other online “time management” apps, I was really excited! Who ever was involved in creating this online tool completely understood the Franklin system of time management! Not only that, the interface was clean, makes sense (for the most part) and was pretty easy to use and start working with.

After 5 days of using it, I decided to upgrade from the “free trial” as I had easily gone five days without needing my Franklin Day planner, and not only that, I can carry around my “calendar” on my mobile device as well as my prioritized task list.

I loved the fact that collaboration with other account users was very easily done, and I could share my calender with other users as well. While there are options to have a “private” calendar, personally that is not much use to me – I would rather my partner know about all of the “stuff” on my calendar and there’s nothing to keep a secret anyhow. But for those that want that, it’s there.

Delegation of tasks to other account users is easy and everyone gets an email notification.

Overall, PlanPlus Online suited my needs as far as daily task and calendar collaboration perfectly. And the great thing is that it is very easy to use, does not take up much if any browser resources, and is intuitive.

The same “methodology” that Hyrum Smith came up with regard to tasks is also there – a dot for “in process,” an arrow for those tasks you need to move forward to the next day, a circle for tasks you’ve delegated, and a check mark for those tasks that have been completed. You can of course, delete tasks as well.

One Area Of Improvement – But Also Some Brilliance – Daily Notes

Overall, the only thing I can think of that would make PlanPlus Online absolutely perfect is a better method or interface for recording “Daily Notes.” That is the one thing that I found a bit clunky to use for a few reasons.

One reason is that since I’ve used Franklin’s paper day planner, I’ve always used the “Daily Notes” section almost like a journal or record of events. It has helped to keep me on track, and with my previous experience (a previous lifetime ago, it seems) in a law-enforcement role of social policing, I appreciate the habit and idea of taking regular detailed notes in chronological fashion. My Franklin day planner is a mixture of notes about conversations, both business and personal, in what ever order of the day the come up, or about tasks and when they have been started and/or completed, or about some thought that came to mind that I wanted to jot down.

PlanPlus Online has tried to implement this part of the paper based Franklin Day Planner but I am sure it could use some improvements.

Having said that, the idea of creating tags and then being able to categorize a note by one or more tags is brilliant! I can have a “tag” for my son David, where if I write notes of some conversations with him, and then tag those specific notes with “David,” I can easily go back and revisit those conversations. I can do the same with clients – each one can have a “tag” and I can create a note, tag that client in the note, and then those notes can be found using that categorization. They can also be searched, one thing that is more difficult to do with a paper based system, no matter how organized you are.

Contact Management – More Than Task & Calendar Collaboration

In the basic version, not only do you get a great system that will be very understandable if you have experience with the FranklinCovey time management courses, you also get a “Contact Management” feature that’s as robust as anything you would ever need. The entire system has been so well thought out, and I really wish I had come across PlanPlus much earlier.


Login & Use It Without All It’s Features

I have literally been swamped the past two weeks, and I have not had time to figure out what all is available in PlanPlus and how I can use it to be make my task management and collaboration even better. I have not had time to really go through everything so that I can use it to its potential – but you know what? That’s actually a huge accomplishment for the designers of PlanPlus! When you can go into a system, and within half an hour or so, figure out the essentials so everything you need exactly is easy to understand, and get on with your day without having to spend another three hours trying to understand the whole system – what a great tool that is!

I’m looking forward to when I might have some spare hours to play around in there and see what other goodies exist to make my task management and calendar collaboration even more efficient! But the basics of what I need are there and were so easy to figure out that I could start using it almost right away without opening my paper based planner. And their system works.

Great Customer Service!

I’d be remiss if I did not mention the great customer service from Brandon Stromberg, my first point of contact at PlanPlus Online. The first day I had created the account, I was a bit confused about the various programs they had and made a mistake with regard to account signup. Brandon helped me fix that up, and showed a genuine interest in my needs and my interest in the product. He did try to sell me on some things, but was great when I advised him what I was looking for, and why, and that I probably would not be interested in an upgrade at this time. Not a problem.

A couple of days later, even though I was still using their free trial account, I heard from Brandon almost immediately when I explained I was having an issue with mobile device login. We solved that problem pretty quickly.

Today, after a moment of “forgetfulness” on the part of my teenage son, I decided it was a good time to show him the benefits of priority daily planning, writing things down both as tasks and on a calendar, and I purchased another license (for a total of 3 now).

I called Brandon who was more than happy to assist with a bit of customization for me and work through the additional license and the reasons for it.

I’m going to predict that I will not be carrying my bulky paper planner that I have loved to use for many years, on my next flight. Heck, I haven’t even touched it now in well over a week. And even though it has not been opened, I’m still attending to my tasks in priority order, while having the additional benefits of collaboration and some great ways to record and search things.

I’ll go further: As long as the folk at PlanPlus don’t change things that would dramatically change the basic ways of keeping track of tasks, their progress, delegation, and their calendar collaboration, I’ll probably not open my paper based planner again, except for some need to look back on something I recorded there previously.

Will I Give Up Paper?

No, it is unlikely I will ever give up paper for notes, ideas, and “drawing out” my thoughts and sometimes for how I try to explain things to others. I need pen and paper. Additionally, I find recording information with text on a mobile device to be cumbersome and inefficient. I’m a detail guy, and trying to enter text on mobile devices is a pain for me. I rarely use them for text messages or anything else. I have found that the quality of communications between people has been enormously reduced the more we use mobile devices for that purpose, when it comes to text.

But with PlanPlus Online, I can have my Task List and other important information at hand without the need for a three lb leather binder covered planner, when I’m away from home/office.

I still like to make notes, I still like the look and feel of pen and paper (heck, I still even write letters and put them in the mail, from time to time) so I’ll probably experiment with some smaller notebooks that I can carry with me that can take that place.

Frustrated With Online/Digital Task and Calendar Management Applications?

I sure was frustrated! For years, I could find nothing that would really adequately replace my systems in using a paper based planner. Most systems are either too simplistic, or way far too much – too many features all linked together, that you have to spend three hours just figuring out some basic things. I know others have also expressed this frustration.

If you are one of those people, I’d highly encourage you to try out PlanPlus Online. I think you’ll agree that for the most part, they actually “get it” when it comes to the process of creating and prioritizing tasks and keeping a calendar. It should be simple and not complicated. You should be able to use it right away without a heck of a lot of time spent trying to figure things out. It should be practical in that it helps you actually get started at your work, not just staring at a list. You should be able to use it without knowing or having to learn about all the other features first.

If you are happy with whatever system(s) you are using, that’s great. But if my previous frustrations before discovering PlanPlus resonate with you – Go Give Them A Whirl.

Calendar & Task Collaboration – What I Wish

franklin day planner

My Paper Based Calendar and Planner by Franklin

Years ago, I purchased a Palm PDA – at the time, they were all the rage for keeping track of “stuff.” People used them to keep contacts, manage their tasks and calendar, and do whatever else they could do with them.

I had been using a paper based Franklin Day Planner (as shown above), and many told me that I could ditch the bulkiness of paper and be more efficient by having my tasks always in front of me without re-writing them every day. Sounded good.

Except it didn’t happen that way. I eventually returned to my paper based planner because in reality, it was more efficient in the long run (and that’s the key – efficiency). While taking ten minutes each morning to write out your daily task list may seem a time waster when  you can just add to what is already there in a PDA and check off what is done, the reality is that I did not find that all that useful. There are a number of reasons for this.

Let’s first discuss the Franklin day planner system (which by the way is now “Frankin-Covey,” but I’ve been using this planner and the system as taught by the original founder, Hyrum Smith long before they added the “Covey” to the name). In a nutshell:

Three Months Of Daily Pages

You have twelve months of pages, with each day of the month having two pages dedicated to that day. You keep three months worth in your planner – the past, the present and the next month. The reason for this is that most of us, if we need to go back to a journal entry, in most cases it will be something in the recent past. If we are planning ahead, most plans are made for the very near future.

By keeping the other months, both past and future in a separate larger storage binder, you can still go back if you need to, and you can also still plan ahead. Planning ahead is quite simple as you keep a small calendar on two pages in the back of your planner. If you have some appointment for the month after next, you write it there.

Let’s say today is November 6th. At 11:00am, I get an unscheduled phone call from a client, John Smith. I take the call, and on the right side page for the day, I enter the time, John Smith’s name, and then I start taking notes of anything relevant that comes up in the conversation. I will even write non-business related information in point form as well. For example, if it comes up in conversation that John has been ill, I’ll write that down. Perhaps he mentions in passing he is taking his wife out for dinner. I’ll write that down as we speak on the phone.

If John suggests a meeting tomorrow, and I am able to schedule it, I will write that down. When the phone call ends, I turn to tomorrow’s date and in the appointment schedule on the left page, in the appropriate time slot and write John Smith (11-6).

This serves the purpose of having one calendar (even personal items go on my calendar), and also now I know we had a discussion on November 6th including details of the meeting. All I have to do tomorrow is turn to today’s page, read my notes – and I can be reminded as well that John has felt ill, but that he planned to take his wife out for dinner.

At tomorrow’s meeting, I’m going to ask him, “Hey John, how are you feeling today? How’s your recovery.”

I will also be reminded to ask, “How did the dinner date go with your wife last night? I bet she appreciated that!” – and our meeting, while a business meeting, takes on a deeper personal level.

What If John Wants To Meet In January?

Let’s say John didn’t ask to schedule a meeting for tomorrow, or later this month, or even next month. Remember, my planner has three months worth in it, so I don’t have all the calendar pages for January in here. If John wants to meet on January 10th, I can’t go to that page to fill in the time slot we agreed to in our conversation today. But what I can do is go to my two page yearly calendar and in the square for January 10th, write in John Smith (11-6).

On December 31st, when I remove October’s pages from my planner and archive them, I will also add the month of January’s pages, scan the annual calendar, and then turn to January 10th, and write “John Smith (11-6).”

On January 10th, that will come up in my morning, I can quickly turn to November 6th and see the notes I made of our conversation. I can be reminded that John hadn’t been feeling well back in November, and anything else we may have talked about.

I can even go further than this with my Franklin Day Planner as well. This is how the system “integrates” tasks and the calendar really well – simply by taking ten seconds to write something out after turning to a date’s page:

If I have an idea I should confirm the January 10th meeting a week beforehand, I can also write in my Daily Task List (not on the appointment schedule portion) on the January 3rd page, “Confirm John Smith (11-6).” On January 3rd, I see that in the morning, assign a priority to it for the day, and then turn to November 6th as described above, give John a call, have a conversation and confirm the meeting.

Done. Simple. And no need for trying to figure out complicated screens, entering information in the wrong place, and all the information  I need is right there in front of me.

Franklin Planner Daily Task List

The daily task list is where things really come together for me, and as soon as I learned Hyrum Smith’s training on this, it was a like a light-bulb. I wish creators of task and calendar management systems could understand the system, it’s simplicity, and why it works. Perhaps there is no simple way to build this into a “modern” task and calendar management system, especially one where there is collaboration.

But here’s how the system works:

Every day, either first thing in the morning or the evening before the day in question, you create your task list. The idea is to spend 10 to 15 minutes of your time, prioritizing – not simply what is based on “urgencies,” but priorities from all areas of your life. There are some days when an educational task may be more of a priority than a business task. No one but you can say what your priorities should be.

We all know that most of us have lots of things to do, or lots of things we want to do. So, a task list is where you may write down all of it, and then according to your own values and what you’ve decided to make as priorities, go through and put an A, B, or C beside each one. This equates to many task management systems where you can set your tasks to have a “High,” “Medium,” or “Low” priority. But that is where they all seem to end.

With the Franklin system, you then go through all your A’s. What’s the most important thing to accomplish or work on with your tasks marked A? And you go through them, adding a 1, 2, 3, 4 etc to each one. You do the same with your B’s, and then your C’s – those tasks that if you never get around to doing, won’t really have any effect on your highest priorities.

Now you’ve got your road map for your day, and you know what you are going to spend your time on, first.

It’s also important to remember that a task is a task, and not a project. A project on the other hand, is simply a long list of tasks and sub-tasks that need to be done to get a project completed.

Not all tasks are related to projects, however. Sometimes however, completing one task is dependent on completing another. Often, I will refer to a “project” in my task list – but what that really means is that I need to load up my spreadsheets, file folder, or project management software to work on some of the tasks for that project.

Using The Right Side Page Along With Tasks

Above, we discussed the example of taking a phone call, having a discussion, and recording any relevant information or agreements that might take place in that discussion, with a time stamp written by you, on the right hand side page of the day’s calendar.

The same can occur with your tasks, and that right hand page becomes almost like a journal. For example, I may write in the left margin:

08:00 (I prefer to use a 24 hour clock, by the way). Then to the right, “Planning Day.”

My next entry may be:

08:20 – and then to the wrote “Spoke with K”. A conversation with “K…” may have been the first priority to me of the day, after my 15 minute exercise of “Solitude and Planning” for the day.

Having a background in law enforcement and social policing, I know the benefit of keeping notes of activities. It is now just a daily habit for me. This has so many advantages, in that I can see how my day went, where my time went, and next week, I can also look back at the day’s notes and understand better “why” I may have done something. It provides context to how I approached my daily task list that day, and this provides me with information that I can use, even sometimes re-evaluating my priorities.

If during my conversation with “K..,” I make a commitment to doing something next week, I will make a note of that under that entry, and then turn to November 13th, and write in Daily Task List, “K… (11-6)” On November 13th, I can see that I have something I promised to do, turn to November 6th, and read about our conversation and what it was. I can then prioritize that with the rest of my tasks for that day, on November 13th.

Really, it’s a very simple system, everything is there in front of you and is so easy to reference past conversations and future events.

Disadvantages Of Paper Planning System

While for the most part, a paper planning system has worked well for me for 25 years, there of course some big disadvantages in this day and age. While the digital age was supposed to help us become more efficient, which should mean less tasks to do, my experience is the opposite. There is more information bombarding us, technology moves ahead at a rapid pace, and so much of it has to be learned. We have more contacts as well as the opportunities for contacts and business. Business itself is far more competitive than it was 25 years ago.

Many of our business associates don’t work in the same country, let alone the same office. There are time zone differences to also deal with, in some cases. So my list of disadvantages of a paper based system include:

  • It’s bulky to carry around. I am a firm believer in using only one calendar and not having multiple calendars to keep track of.
  • Collaboration with others while using a paper based calendar is difficult.
  • Collaboration on tasks with others is difficult.
  • Sharing important information from notes made with clients and others is time consuming and basically repeating the same thing instead of just being able to share notes.

Obviously, collaboration with others is important in this day and age. Using a paper planner makes that process less efficient, but if I did not have to share a calendar, share notes, or view and/or allow others to view my tasks lists, there’s be no issues.

The Problems With The Calendar/Task/Project Management Collaboration Systems Toda

Where do I start? I’ve tried a number of them, and I think there are two extremes:

  1. They are either way to clunky, unintuitive, and trying to be everything to everyone, that they are actually inefficient. Having to learn each process even on simple things like setting a priority for a task, is just – frustrating.
  2. They are either way too simple and do not even have the basics for a minimum of collaboration, and use “cute” ideas to try to attract people – like using virtual cards or claiming that everything is “visual” and you can do this on your mobile device. Sorry, no – I hardly ever work from my mobile device. It’s handy to have if I need to reference something, but typing in notes, or even sending messages is not something I want to do on my mobile device. Look up my schedule? Sure. But work from it? Only in an emergency.

Some systems also want to be CRM’s (Customer Relationship Management systems) in addition to task, calendar and project management. While I can certainly see the advantage of having all your customer contacts in one place, this is another area where everything just gets clunky.

If in my example above of where I showed how I presently handle a phone call from John Smith, Mr. Smith had previously been unknown to me, I just put his phone number down beside his name. I can get all his details some other time, but he’s in “my system” by virtue of the fact I’ve written his name down.

In the online systems I’ve tried, this is not so easy to do, to pick up the phone, take a call and then start typing out notes of the phone call for this new potential client. Instead, I have to open another section of the system, where it wants me to input all kinds of information about the person, if I am going to add them to the system. Why not just let me have a diary entry area, I can click on the time of day, enter a name or a subject, then write notes? If it’s a name, and it’s not found in the existing database of contacts, it creates it.

Later, if I wish to add more information about the contact, I should be able to. But I should not have to go through hoops to add a name, and start making notes, from what should be a “diary entry” type of thing.

Better Task List Designs Are Needed

I can see an advantage in some ways of having all your tasks already there. You just add them, add new ones as they come along, check off the ones you’ve completed, and it could save you time in writing them out every day.

On the other hand, making that a habit to actually write them out every day, and then a few minutes prioritizing has some big psychological advantages as well. The act of writing them out seems to have an effect on the brain in a positive manner, more so than waking up, turning on your computer and going to your app, and staring at a list of pre-entered tasks.

Even the lists that exist are so unwieldy. Sure, you can prioritize in some systems with three categories High, Medium and Low, but then what? You’re still staring at list of tasks on your screen. The one at the very top may be the lowest priority of the high priorities. If you have enough tasks, the highest priority task might be hidden until you scroll down.

There are also other issues – a task for tomorrow might not be a task for today, but you still want to make note of it. But when you enter it, there it is staring back at you. But you don’t really want to see it until tomorrow. It’s not a time sensitive task that needs an actual calendar entry, just something you need to do. Tomorrow. Not today. I don’t want to see it there today, distracting me from today’s tasks.

Another issue is that I personally write out ALL my tasks, including priorities and things I want to do from all areas of my life. Today’s tasks might include having a conversation with one of my son’s about some subject, writing a proposal for a new project, pay the rent, or whatever.

It does not make sense to me to have multiple “Daily Task” lists.

Calendars & Calendar Collaboration

This is another area that really irritates me. Every person should work from ONE calendar. That’s it. Having multiple calendars is insane. Everything goes on one calendar, personal and business. You should not have a family calendar on the fridge, a personal calendar on your desk, and a work calendar somewhere else.

So having calendars that are not capable of bi-directional syncing is just – horrible. I was looking at one CRM/Task Management/Calendar management system that was capable of syncing to a Google Calendar, but could not sync up with it, or vice versa. But this bi-directional syncing is imperative, if I am planning things with other friends and family, who are syncing theirs with mine, and I cannot get all that information onto my calendar in my CRM system.

No matter what other features that CRM/Task Manager system had, as soon as I saw that it lacked bi-directional syncing, I went looking elsewhere.

Personally, I don’t like logging into Google, and I do all my email work from my Thunderbird application. I just don’t like my email hosted in the cloud. I like my Thunderbird Calendar, and it will sync with the Google account calendar, bi-directionally.

I found one system, Bitrix24, which had the ability to bi-directionally sync with Google calendars, which meant that if a partner or work associate wanted to create an appointment for me, if they had access to my calender on Bitrix24, it would sync with Google, which in turn would then sync with my local Thunderbird.

So in a sense, that is as if I am working with one single calendar. And I can give my partner permissions to fully view my calendar, which she should have in order to do proper collaboration together.

If my partner wants to make an appointment for me, or with me, she ought to be able to see that I have a dentist appointment scheduled for my son, so that’s not going to work, for example.

Solutions To The CRM/Task Management/Project Management System Problems

I don’t develop CRM or Project Management Systems. But I do know that there are a lot of them out there, some that existed years ago, are dead, and people and business keep switching.

Guess what that means? None of them have got it right yet. I can’t help you develop one through development, but maybe I can give you some ideas:

Stop trying to be the one that has the most and biggest features.

Having lots of features is great thing! If they work and are easy to use, and genuinely provide some efficiency. But having lots of features while totally failing at basic user interface issues and understanding how people are productive means that your product is not that great.

Calendar Issues

If your product cannot do bi-directional syncing with other commonly used calenders, then you are causing time management issues. It’s also important that others can have full permissions to view and edit my full entire calendar, if I choose to give that permission.

Start To Understand How People Really Work, Not How You Envision They Should

You might think that every one will appreciate having a full complete list of tasks all in one place. But you’re not thinking about reality. I might want to record a task, but I don’t want to see it until tomorrow, because it’s tomorrow’s task.

If I want to enter it for tomorrow, it should not necessarily show up as a calender event. It’s not. It’s just something that needs to be done, at some point, during the day.

Just like today’s tasks are not calendar events. A scheduled meeting, an appointment, a dinner engagement, the kids’ hockey game – yes, those are calendar events.

People also need to make notes. Their notes should all be in one place, and notes should be made, for the most part, in a chronological manner, and easily seen in both a detailed view and a wide view.

Daily Tasks Are Not Necessarily Time Or Deadline Based

I’m sitting at my desk and it occurs to me that tomorrow, I want to chop wood. So I go to tomorrow’s date, and in my “Task List,” I write “Chop Wood.”

I should not have to see that task now, until tomorrow. It also should not have a time associated with it, or a deadline, or be shown on my calendar as an “All day event.”

It’s none of those things. It’s an activity or task I want to do, tomorrow, and I want to remind myself of that, when I thought of it today.

Some tasks are recurring. I want to work out three times a week, but I don’t want to actually schedule a time; it’s just a task I’ve set for myself, and depending on other tasks that day, may be a higher or lower priority. I won’t know until it comes up that day. Maybe someone else does want to schedule it, and that’s fine. I’m using it as an example however.

Projects Are Task Based, But Not Necessarily The Same

One of my daily tasks might be to review a project, which has it’s own tasks that need to get done in order to complete the project. Projects and their tasks should be kept separately from one’s “Daily Task List.” If I want to have collaboration with someone with my Daily Task List, they may not want to see the 50 five minute tasks that need to be done to complete a project.

Productive People Like To Have The Wide View

When I start my day, I want to have a wide view, but not too wide. I don’t want to see a monthly calendar, but I do want to see my scheduled events for the day. I don’t want to see a great bit long list of tasks that are maybe even irrelevant to me today, but I do want to prioritize the ones that are there for today. I may also want to delegate some and see that I have them delegated, in my wide view.

Even though they have been delegated, I’m still responsible for their completion so they still need to be their.

Some tasks, I may “Move Forward” to tomorrow or some other date in the future.

Some of the tasks, even though a high priority, maybe be “In Progress” but I’m stuck due to some circumstance of needing more information, a resource, or something that has kept me from completing it, but I can move to the next priority task and begin to put it “in progress.”

Really, when I start my day, I want to see what I see in my day planner, and what most people would probably want to see, if they have taken any time management courses:

      Daily Task List (for only that day), a place to prioritize them and order them in importance, to mark them as delegated, in process or completed.
      Appointment Schedule: Similar to a regular paper based planner, I want to see my appointment schedule for the day with the ability to add new appointments if they come up.
      Daily Journal: I want to be able to record my day’s events in chronological order. It is possible that the notes I make there should also be duplicated in the CRM tools. But at the end of the day, I want to be able to see how I got there – where did the time go – and I can scan over the conversations I had, the commitments I made or that were made to me, etc.

I do want the ability to “turn the page” so to speak and see tomorrow’s Task List and Daily Calendar, as well as being able to see the Week, Month and Year.

I want ONE calendar, not a “Company Calendar” and a “Personal Calendar.”

Addendum

After writing the above, it struck me that perhaps the folk at FranklinCovey would have an app that works like a paper based system. Well, sure enough, they do have an app, but it is ONLY task management. There is no real Calendaring functionality and no collaboration. It’s simple, and I can see how it would work for some people but it’s not really all that helpful. As well, one can prioritize their tasks, but only by “High,” “Medium,” and “Low.” Again, not really what works.

Extremely disappointing that the folks who came up with the best paper planner system in the world (as far as I’m concerned) have such a pitiful online tool. It’s pretty much something that anyone with a bit of knowledge of PHP and some MySQL queries with a bit of CSS could create. Certainly not what you’d expect from FranklinCovey.

I thought to myself, “well maybe someone else has experience with the old FranklinCovey system and has tried to replicate it with an online version and better features. So I did a search [online franklin covey calendar task collaboration]

Fourth result on page one of Google: Online Planner – Get Organized with PlanPlus

Curious, I clicked through. One of the first things I noticed was this:

Your Calendar, Tasks, Contacts, and Daily Notes included in one easy-to-use online planner!

“Daily notes? Hmmm.” Then I noticed,

Superior task management with ABC-123, as well as Daily and Master Tasks

Prioritizing with A1, A2, A2,…. B1, B2, B3…C1… daily and Master Tasks… okay, someone who knows about Hyrum Smith’s Franklin Time Management training is involved in this. I didn’t need to read anymore before creating a free account to test this out.

So far, I’m loving it! It’s almost exactly what I have been looking for, for years! I’m loving it so much, I signed my partner up for an account, and I have a very good feeling about PlanPlus Online! I’ll take advantage of the 7 Day trial, give it a whirl, and then provide some feedback about the system

Greek Oregano – Not Your Bulk Barn Stuff

While in Greece, I discovered the ubiquitous olive oils and oregano to be far superior to what I have had in Canada. The difference is actually astounding. Olive oil we’ll leave for another post, but for now, let me tell you about the oregano: It’s just…. amazing!

It’s believed that oregano was first used by the ancient Greeks and they thought highly of its medicinal properties. The word oregano can be translated as “brightness of the mountains” or perhaps “radiance of the mountains.” Some suggest a translation of “joy of the mountains” but my native Greek speaking friend says that it is more closely related to light than joy. But a light that we probably don’t have a direct translation to, in English. A fullness of light, perhaps. Divine light.

Indeed, true Greek oregano is divine, compared to what we have in North America. I’ve read in several places that what we get is related to oregano but it is actually a marjoram. In Greece, oregano is used on almost everything – both cooked foods and uncooked like salads. One of the favourite things for me was breaking apart big chunks of feta cheese that had olive oil drizzled over it and generous amounts of oregano sprinkled on top. Mmmm. So good!

When you open a package of Greek oregano and smell it, the scent is strong and bold. It hits the nose and lingers there, just as the taste does on your tongue. In addition, it is not as bitter tasting as the oregano that is commonly available here.

I brought back oregano for personal use from Greece – quite a bit of it actually, but have ended up giving samples to others. Every person so far that has tried has exclaimed almost immediately, “Ian, this amazing!” The reaction from others has motivated the creation a new business – a partnership called “KirIan.”

When you taste true genuine Greek oregano, you realize you are tasting something quite different than what we purchase here. I purchased some from Bulk Barn – just to compare, and really, there is no comparison. I’m not even sure that what Bulk Barn sells as “oregano” is even common marjoram. There is very little scent, and the taste is bland, almost nothing really, until a bitterness sets in on the tongue. If you take a small amount of Greek oregano and chew it, the taste lingers a good long time, and the essential oils can even leave a bit of “heat” – not in hot spicy way, but in a way you know you’ve just chewed on some really really good oregano!

Many people claim that food in Greece tastes different. Better. Even when trying to replicate a dish using the very same recipe tastes different and not as good here as it does in Greece. My theory is that a big reason for this is both the oregano and quality of olive oil that is available in Greece.

Speaking of recipes, if you click here, you can download some traditional Greek recipes created by my partner! You’ll enjoy them – and will be even better with real Greek oregano!

Canada Border Services Agency – En route To Greece

I flew off to Greece not long ago – my first holiday in some years, and my first time ever going to Greece. Why I chose Greece is another story – but it was for a very good reason!

Not having flown in some years, I was a bit stressed about getting ready for the direct flight to Athens from Toronto. Air Transat by the way, is a great airline and it’s a pity that they don’t do direct flights to Athens during the winter months. I plan on returning very soon. But sadly, there do not appear to many direct flights until Air Transat resumes them in May.

I arrived at the airport quite early because I needed to get a ride, and the schedule of my driver meant that I would be there for quite a number of hours before I could even check my baggage. I was prepared for that, but at the same time, I was quite tired, having had practically no sleep in the previous two days due to excitement of looking forward to the trip.

It was a big relief to me when the time came that I could check my luggage bag and because it was still early, there was no line up. Luggage was checked quickly, the Air Transat staff were friendly and courteous, and I was back outside for coffee and some drags on more than a few cigarettes before the time came to go through security.

It had been awhile since I’d been through security at an airport, but again, with much thanks, the lineup was short and I was through in a very short time. I wandered around the departures level with much time to go before I had to arrive at the gate for boarding. Excited, but also tired, and wishing I had already landed in Athens as I was not looking forward to the 8 hours in the air.

When it came time to board, I noticed one or two Peel Regional police officers walking up to the gate and entering the walkway to the aircraft door. I was mildly curious but didn’t pay it much attention. Then, a few moments later, I observed others in uniform also in the area and walking past the gate onto the walkway or whatever they call them. My curiosity was piqued a bit more – “was there some problem with the crew of the aircraft? Was there some special inspection needed of the aircraft?” But I didn’t give it much more thought when the announcement was made that it was time to board the plane.

I stood in line, got past the ticket checker who peered at my passport and boarding pass, and started to walk towards the entrance of the plane. That is when I noticed the uniformed people, standing on either side of the walkway in a sort of zig zag fashion, questioning passengers that were about to board. And that’s also when I realized it was agents of the Canadian Border Services Agency. That struck me as odd – why would they be questioning people leaving the country?

I was waved over to one of the agents who asked me how I was. An odd question I thought. I gave her an honest answer: “I’m feeling exhausted, actually.” She also asked to see my passport, and I fumbled around looking for it as I had put it away after showing it along with my boarding pass to the Air Transat representative.

The rest of the conversation went something like this:

“Why are you feeling so exhausted?” she asked.

“Because I have not had much sleep.”

“You’re flying to Athens today?”

I’m thinking… “Duh… ummm… this is the walkway to the plane that is flying to Athens… are they trying to make sure we’re on the right plane? They don’t trust Air Transat to make sure I’m on the right plane?” Of course, I did not say that…I just wanted to get on the plane and didn’t think it was a great time to fluster someone wearing a uniform that obviously has some ‘authority’ bestowed upon them by virtue of their employment.

“Yes, I’m flying to Athens today,” I said with a smile.

“Is this your first time going to Athens?”

Well… “what a strange question,” I was thinking. “Who cares? Why am I being asked this?” but instead I responded candidly, “Yes. My first time.”

“You should be feeling exited, not exhausted if this is your first time to Greece.”

Hey.. I noticed that! First time to Athens… now it’s first time to Greece…is this a trick?… but whatever. I want to get on that plane and get my seat.

“Yes – I am excited but I’m also really tired,” I tried to say with some cheer in my voice.

I was truly surprised at the next question, for I was not aware of regulations about money you could carry out of the country but the next question was, “How much money are you taking with you?”

I was actually nervous about the question because I was not taking much. I had been concerned about being asked this upon landing in Greece by their Customs & Immigration, as I did not have much cash on me at all. And flying on a Canadian passport instead of a UK or Irish passport, Greece Customs can ask that to determine, in their opinion, if you have enough to support yourself while in Greece.

But I was not flying to Greece as a typical Canadian tourist. I had accommodations looked after

So the next line of questioning did make me a bit nervous:

“I have 200 Euros on my and 600 US dollars.”

“How long are you planning on being away?”

“Fourteen days.”

She then said with a bit of suspicion in her voice. “That does not seem like enough money to take on a holiday to Greece.”

Now I’m getting nervous. “Can Canada stop me from leaving the country because they don’t think I have enough money with me?? How absurd is that!” I still had no idea what the real purpose of this questioning was.

I replied, “It is enough for me. I’m not really sure what ‘enough’ is, but I’m going to visit my friend, and I’m told we’ll do just fine with the cash I am taking. If it is not enough, I do have access to a small balance on my credit card, and my credit union has told me that my debit card will work at most bank machines if I need that.” I tried to be as cheery as I could, while feeling tired, and my insides were boiling up at having to answer such questions, while also being nervous about what the whole point of it was.

But that is when the whole purpose of the questioning became evident, for the next thing she asked was,

“Are you aware that it is against the law to travel outside of Canada with more than ten thousand dollars and not declare that?”

I let out a laugh. My mind did a double take on both the fact I had no where close to ten thousand dollars, and the fact that if I did have more, I would have had to declare that. Thank God I did not have more than ten thousand dollars to declare!

“No, I was not aware that it was illegal to take more than ten thousand dollars on a trip, and I don’t even have nine thousand, or even more than two thousand that I have budgeted for this that I could declare!”

“Okay. Have a nice trip.”

Wow… that was an incredible conversation. I really had no clue that any Canadian resident is regulated by how much money that they can take on a trip with them, and the limit is ten thousand dollars. To many of us, that’s a lot of coin, but to others, it’s not much. As I thought about this, I could come up with all sorts of reasons why I might want to take more than $10,000.00 on a holiday, if I had that amount to do so. Perhaps it was a three month adventure, traveling through several different countries. Perhaps it’s a business trip – to pay in cash for some olive oil shipment – Greece for one, is a country where cash is preferred for a variety of reasons including distrust of the banking system.

I later discovered that this regulation was in place to somehow prevent “proceeds of crime” (can we say drug dealing?) from being “laundered” and for whatever reason, the government set an arbitrary figure of $10,000.00. Government bureaucrats, MP’s and MPP’s can jetset around the world at tax payers’ expense – don’t have to account for their spending until the next election – and a person who has saved up some money, turns into cash, is restricted with what he or she does with it.

“Crime fighting,” they say. But, no it’s not. In a truly liberal society, there is no onus on the individual to prove that the money they have did NOT come from the proceeds of crime; it is the onus of the prosecution to prove a crime even took place. And it seems, absurdly, if you DO have money to take out of the country, and you convert it to the destination’s currency, but on the day of departure, the official exchange rate puts that currency you hold above the $10,000.00, your money will be seized and a judge will call you “greedy” for trying to attempt to get to close to the limit of the law.

In my research to understand what the questioning I had to undergo before boarding my flight, I discovered that this has happened.
Robert Docherty of British Columbia apparently carefully did foreign conversion rates to stay under the legal limit for a trip to Costa Rica. But two days later, the official exchange rate pushed the value of his cash to over $10,000.00. His cash was seized. Mr Docherty tried to get his cash back, but in the first court case, a judge wrote: “This is a case of a traveller sailing too close to the legal winds. But for greed, this applicant would not be in court.”

Really?? Greed? Who exactly is greedy here? Mr. Docherty? Or the government? If I wanted to take $9,950.00 with me, say.. $2,000 for my expenses, and 7950.00 cash to close a business deal… I’m greedy for trying to get the exchange right to be under the limit, two days before hand? That’s greed?

You know what? Our law makers and our law enforcement agencies REGULARLY launder money through unaccounted for expenses, for expenses they should never have, and our so-called “over-seers” are often just as corrupt, or do not have the legislative authority to bring those people to justice to the very same laws they create.

Our governments launders money that they have stolen from tax payers.

I have nothing against the Canada Border Services Agent that stopped me – she was just doing her job, and in a way that a lot of people would, having been given certain legislative powers, and with an ego that such people have… why not use those powers for her own entertainment as well, right? That’s only human nature.

Of course, her superior officers likely told her and her unit…”Hey.. today I want you to go question everyone boarding that Air Transat flight to Athens.” But ultimately, it comes down to an absurd idea about how you can infringe on an individuals rights, prevent their commerce, and control it – and that is not freedom.

If that Border Agent actually had discovered someone traveling with $10,005.00, seized it, wrote a big report about it, made sure all the evidence was in place, she would probably get a big fat gold star in her personnel file. Another few of those and she might get made up to be supervisor, with a big fat pay raise, and the ability to buy a house up in Dufferin County, with some land and a bit of a longer commute to the airport every day.

All the better for her too, if a judge agrees that the person she seized the money from was being “greedy” two days before, in trying to make the correct foreign currency calculations, but misjudged how the market might go. That person is the greedy one! Not our hard working government employee, who’s job it is to create stats. To justify their employment and get promoted.

When will both socialists…and right wingers.. wake up to reality? Individual freedom, and persons doing what they like, and freely contracting, is the best for all concerned?

I’m not really sure how many people were on that fight to Athens. But I do know that there were probably six uniformed people, making big money relative to the rest of us, stopping us all… do the numbers yourself. How much tax paid money was spent in that exercise.. and how much “illegal” money was discovered?

Multiply that by 24 hours a day. And then 365 days a year.

Feel safer now? 🙂

New Hobby – Cheese Making

draining whey from cheese curds

Initial Draining Of Whey From Cheese Curds

So, I have a new hobby. Cheese making. Actually, I’ve been making cheese for a long time, but didn’t really know it. I like to make my own yogurt, and often will drain off much of the whey from some of it to make a thicker “Greek Style” yogurt, from which I’ll make Tzatziki Sauce. I do this using two basket style coffee strainers inside a sieve and let the whey drain off into a large measuring cup.

But sometimes in the past, I’ve wrapped up that thicker yogurt in cheese cloth and hung it from a nail over my sink to let it drain further for a couple of days. I didn’t realize it, but what I was doing was making a yogurt style of cream cheese. It’s delicious on toast and crackers – or with some dried herbs such as Sumac added. Or even some garlic.

About two years ago, I had heard of people making cheese in their homes and selling it at farmer’s markets. That made me curious, as I love cheese – all kinds but especially feta and various cheddars. It piqued my interest enough to do some research, and I ended up purchasing a feta cheesemaking kit – with the supplies necessary to make feta about 8 times, each from 4 litres (approximately a gallon) of milk.

My first attempt did not go so well; I was not prepared for all the time I would need to spend, nor how difficult it would be to figure out how to get milk to a temperature of precisely 90F and then keep it there for a couple of hours or more. But the cheese turned out okay, and I wanted to try again, now that I had a handle on the process. I checked out some cheese making forums and learned some ways to heat the milk that I would be able to attain and then maintain the correct temperature and a few other tips.

Since then, I’ve made too many batches of feta cheese to count, and presently have two pounds aging in brine in my fridge, that I made a year ago.

How Much Cheese Can You Make From A Gallon Of Milk?

I was pretty surprised when I made my first batch of cheese with a gallon or 4 litres of milk. It’s amazing really – out of all that volume of milk, you only end up with about a pound (just under half a kilogram) of cheese. The rest of the milk becomes whey – which is usable for many things including preserving and aging feta.

When you realize how little cheese you get from a gallon of milk, it makes it much more understandable to see good quality cheese that is so expensive.

Is Cheese Making Easy?

“Easy” is a relative term. Making soft cheeses such as the yogurt cream cheese is very easy and does not require anything much more than good quality cheese cloth or muslin. And a place to hang it. If you want the cheese to last a bit longer in the fridge, it’s a good idea to also salt it. Salt is a preserving agent and combats bad bacteria, while allowing “good” bacteria to live.

I have not yet tried a cheddar or a hard cheese that would require a press, and that type would be more difficult than soft cheeses, but now that I have a press, I do plan on giving cheddar a try, and then also move onto to hard cheeses (cheddar is actually not considered a hard cheese, but still requires some pressing).

The Basics Of Cheesemaking

I might explore some further details for different types of cheeses, but basically, cheese is made with some type of bacterial culture. Traditionally, the culture would be from whatever was natural in the cow’s milk, generally speaking.

Soft cheeses and yogurt are made with bacterial cultures that are referred to as “mesophilic” while hard cheeses are made from those referred to as “thermophilic.” The first type are cultures that thrive in conditions under 100F – probably in a range of 80 to 100. Thermophilic cultures are those that thrive above 100F.

For my feta cheese, I have been using a culture known as “Probat 222.” For 4 to 6 litres of milk, you only require about 1/8 of a teaspoon to inoculate the milk.

Generally speaking, cheese also requires rennet – sometimes called “yeast” in some European countries. Rennet is available both in liquid and tablet form, and can be made from animal sources or vegetable sources. Traditionally, it has been animal sources.

After the bacterial culture is allowed to propagate and ripen the milk for a period of time, rennet is added to the milk which then causes the curd to form, and they whey to separate. After the curd has firmed up, it is then slowly cut with a knife, which allows even more whey to be expelled. Then, the curd and whey continues to be heated, sometimes at a slightly higher temperature while being gently stirred for 20 minutes or more. This is sometimes called the “cooking” stage.

Most of the curd will eventually fall to the bottom, and the whey is then skimmed off and reserved if it is to be used for other things. The curd is then placed into cheese cloth, allowed to drain a bit longer, and then placed into a mould.

For feta cheese, the “modern” way of making it is to then place the curd, wrapped in cheese cloth into a mould, where the curds continue to drain for around 24 hours or longer. The curds will also “knit together.” Then, it is cut into smaller pieces, each rolled around in course salt such as kosher or pickling salt (you can get cheese making salt but I don’t think it’s really required) and allowed to drain another couple of days while sitting on a screen in an enclosed container.

After a few days, you can make a brine with water or use the reserved whey and make a whey brine. The recommended concentration of salt is about 10%. The chunks of feta cheese can be aged and preserved in the brine in a cool place – a fridge is best, of course.

Traditional Feta Cheese Making

Most people may know that feta originate in Greece. I happened to have a most awesome friend in Greece, who’s grandmother made feta cheese in the traditional way. It was interesting to learn that she did not add any bacterial culture, but relied on the bacteria that was already present in the unpasteurized milk, straight from the cow. At cheesemaking time, rennet was added and then the milk was allowed to sit for two or more hours.

In the instructions I received, the cheesemaker should wait only about 45 minutes after adding the rennet before cutting the curd, so I was surprised to hear that they would wait two hours or more. I’m going to try that sometime to see what happens and what the difference might be.

Then, after the curd is cut, it is put inside cheese cloth and allowed to fully drain in that, without being put in any kind of mould. Once it’s been drained of whey, it is cut into chunks and then added to a bowl that contains salt, and left there for several days. After this, it’s added to salt brine in tins.

There are probably a lot of ways to make cheese and while some methods may give better or more desirable results, it’s fun to experiment and learn how others do things!

Obtaining Cheese Making Supplies

In Canada, there are not many online retailers of cheese making supplies. I found one out in British Columbia where I first purchased the feta making kit – and was pretty excited. However, subsequent orders and follow-up with them have not been satisfactory, so I’m unable to recommend that company. They seem like very nice people – I have talked to the owner twice – but unfortunately, they got one of my orders wrong, promised to rectify it, but never did. They also did not reply to follow-up emails or voice mails left at their telephone number.

I’m going to try some other suppliers and will see who I might be able to recommend. HOpefully, soon, as I’ve managed to acquire a Dutch Cheese press and am itching to try out some other cheeses as soon as possible!