I am hellishly unorganized which is why I live and work in chaos. This is dumb, so I’ve been working on changing that, and things are actually starting to improve. The funny thing is, I owe it all to software programs. Forget finding inner peace and achieving awareness, I needed to find the programs where I could put things so that I could find them, and one program that would remind me what I needed to do now that I could find the things.
It all started when I began to look for old WIPs that I knew were stashed all over my hard drive. You Again was the kicker; I had–no exaggeration-thousands of files for that sucker, many of them duplicates or corrupted copies I couldn’t even use.
So I opened a Scrivener file for each of the books I was working on and started in slotting the stuff I had so that all my current drafts were in one place, along with the really important working notes and pictures.
That still left me with mountains of info, so I made wikis for each book in Voodoo Pad (VooDoo Pad is Mac only, sorry.). That forced me to go through everything, cutting and pasting what I wanted to keep and trashing the rest.
Scrivener and Voodoo Pad were great, but they couldn’t keep track of time in a story for me, so I added Aeon Timeline which talks to Scrivener, thank God, and got all my dates in times in one place.
Now my fictional worlds were finally under control. If only my real world could be. Then Lifehacker did an essay on organizing your life (they do those a lot) and mentioned a program called Things just in passing. I clicked on the link, thought it looked promising, downloaded the fourteen-day free trial, found out it was fifty bucks and went back to Evernote.
But there was a problem. Evernote is great if you have complex life full of events and tasks and projects that you want to organize. My life is relatively simple: I live in a cottage and I make stuff up. So what I needed was a program that would let me make to do lists and then tell me when I had to do that stuff. That’s all.
So I went back to Things, a program that’s so simple, it doesn’t have a manual. (It’s also Mac only; sorry.) I had the basics down in under two minutes. You click on the Projects button and give the project a name–You Again, Kitchen, Chores, Car, whatever. Under that you click on the Add button and you get a line in your To List so you can break down the job into small parts: Synopsis, Hang Shelf, Wash Dishes, Call Toyoto, whatever. Then you assign a due date for each To Do. That’s it. It does other things–you can assign tags and add notes, etc.–but it does the one thing I need–generate daily to-do lists–and it does it really well.
The most valuable thing about it so far is that it’s shown me why my life is in chaos. There was so much to do that it wasn’t possible, so I’d get overwhelmed and shut down. My first to do lists weren’t broken down into small enough tasks, so I’d look at my list for a day and realized it would take forty hours to do what I’d scheduled in twelve. Back to revising the lists, stretching out the time periods for getting things done, making the tasks smaller. My second to-do lists were much better, until I realized that scheduling sixteen-hour work days wasn’t a good idea, either. I can do that for one or two, even three days, but week after week? No. So I went back in and reassigned due dates again, which is easy to do in the program.
It’s going to take me awhile to get the hang of all of this. But even though I’m still in the learning curve, I can now find all my current drafts immediately side by side with my working notes in Scrivener; Voodoo Pad and Aeon Timeline are finally getting my story worlds in sync; and Things is teaching me that not getting things done doesn’t mean I’m lazy, it means I scheduled too much again and to reward myself because the list of things I have checked off is amazing.
If you’re interested in doing any of this, you can find free wiki, timeline, and organizational software pretty easily, so buying all of these programs is by no means necessary. But getting organized? Yeah, that’s necessary, and if I can do it, anybody can do it.
So tell me, Argh People, how do you organize your life?