Using iOS 6’s VIP Feature to get In-To-Empty Without Getting Bogged Down

I’ve written before about using Getting Things Done, and my Weekly Review. Like a lot of people, I have trouble leaving my email alone. A lot of us seem to feel that emails must be at least read, if not responded to, on a real-time basis. This habit can destroy our productivity, and what’s worse is that we know it. Part of the problem for me is that I have a near obsessive tendency to move “in-to-empty.” This has lead me to handle email on a near real-time basis so I have the psychological satisfaction of an empty inbox.

In is empty.

In is empty.

Another reason I’ve handled email this way is my fear of missing anything, or being perceived as unresponsive to someone I should be responding to quickly. I’ve just started a technique to help me with my email addiction.

I work predominantly on Apple devices, and during my weekly review I have started utilizing a technique to let me keep up on urgent emails, while not becoming bogged down in email and destroying my productivity. Basically, I’ve been employing iOS 6’s VIP feature in email to allow me to quickly set rules, on a weekly basis, that let me focus on the most important emails during the coming week. As I review my projects, I put anyone who is associated with an urgent matter on the VIP list, at least for the coming week. If I expect a lot of back and forth with someone, I don’t want to build in the significant delay that would result from only checking my email once or twice per day. I also update the VIP list if a new and urgent project surfaces during the week.

So far, this has helped me let go of my inbox and only get in to empty once or twice per day. At the same time I’ve been able to keep up with urgent topics and projects. A similar technique can also be employed in Outlook by setting various rules, but that may be a bit more cumbersome.

I don’t know if this is something I’ll keep doing for the long term. It will depend on how time consuming it becomes versus the productivity benefit I receive. I do believe that this will at least let me train myself to focus on those emails that require immediate action, and put off those that don’t.

What workflow techniques do you use to keep out of email?

Means Plus Function Claims – Literally Equivalent

Dennis Crouch at Patently-O posted an interesting article about the drop in the percentage of patent applications that have claims utilizing means plus function language. Means plus function claims are based on 35 U.S.C § 112(f) which states:

Element in Claim for a Combination.— An element in a claim for a combination may be expressed as a means or step for performing a specified function without the recital of structure, material, or acts in support thereof, and such claim shall be construed to cover the corresponding structure, material, or acts described in the specification and equivalents thereof.

The data presented shows a drop from near 25% to roughly 7% of patent applications include a means plus function claim. This may not be surprising as these claims are viewed as somewhat arcane. However, there is good reason, in some cases, to include such claims.

misuseofliterallyIn a typical infringement analysis, the first determination is whether or not an accused device or process literally infringes a claim. If not, it is possible that the accused device or process could still infringe under the doctrine of equivalents. That doctrine states that an accused device, while not literally containing an element of the claim, may still infringe the claim if an aspect of it performs substantially the same function, in substantially the same way, to achieve substantially the same result.

However, the doctrine of equivalents often is not even used because of prosecution history estoppel. This opposing doctrine means that when a claim is amended during prosecution, the patentee surrenders the claim scope, including equivalents, removed by the amendment. This means many claim elements will not be amenable to application of the doctrine of equivalents.

This result can conceivably be avoided in a claim that uses a means plus function limitation. Based on the statute above, the literal interpretation of a means plus function element includes equivalents. That means, regardless of the prosecution history, the patentee may be entitled to cover equivalents.

One strategy to exploit this includes reviewing the claims before submitting an amendment. Often, the elements being amended are at the core of the inventive concept. If you have multiple embodiments disclosed, it may make sense to add a new claim that replaces the narrowed elements with means plus function language so the patentee can still avail themself of the doctrine of equivalents for those elements.

I’d be surprised if only 7% of patent applications would benefit from such a strategy.

GTD Weekly Reviews: A Trick to Keep Myself Up-to-Date

People who work with me know I am a big fan of David Allen’s Getthing Things Done system. It’s a great way to manage all your “stuff” and in particular your work. It’s an intuitive and powerful system that uses contexts for helping you know quickly what tasks Getting_Things_Doneyou can best spend your time on.

At the core of the system is the weekly review. For me, the weekly review serves as a last check to make sure everything is captured in my system. However, like a lot of other people, I have not been perfect about doing my weekly review. I have developed a trick for keeping me honest.

I generally do my weekly review early on Thursday mornings in my home office before heading into work. This keeps distractions to a minimum and leaves me with all day Thursday and Friday to handle anything that may need to be attended to before the end of the week.

I have an old Seth Thomas mantel clock in my home office. The clock needs to be woundSeth Thomas Clock every eight days or else it stops. At the end of my weekly review, I wind the clock. The lack of the rhythmic tick-tock is conspicuous when I work in that office in the evenings or early mornings. It has become an effective reminder and adequately inflicts the requisite guilt to push me to do my review.

If the weekly review doesn’t happen, the clock stops. What’s more, it means my system isn’t working as well as it should. It’s a trick that works for me and helps keep me up to date.

I’d love to read what tricks other people employ to keep themselves honest and up-to-date with their system.