Organization: This Time It's Going To Work

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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.

Scriv

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.

VooDooPad

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.

Aeon
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.

Things

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.

feature-easy

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?

57 thoughts on “Organization: This Time It's Going To Work

  1. Aeon Timeline talks to Scrivener? I have both and use both and I HAD NO IDEA. How exciting!

    If you ever want to go back to analog on some basic calendar/journaling stuff, this is terrific: http://www.bulletjournal.com . Also, Julie Morganstern has a brilliant system for dealing with bills and filing that I picked up once when she was doing a PLEDGE drive at the station I worked for. I no longer have huge piles of paper to file and I can find my receipts so fast. Let me know if you want me to write that up for you. Very easy to do in the comments here.

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    1. Absolutely. I love Julie Morgenstern’s books. In fact, as soon as I work my way through my To Do list, I’m going to go find what I did with them.

      Should be about June . . .

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      1. This is how it works:

        Make a set of files for each month of the year. Receipts and bills (when paid) go in the associated month’s file. I have two years worth of these files: this year’s and last year’s. When I get to the end of this year, I’ll purge the files from the prior year. When I do that, almost everything in those files can be dumped. You can keep several year’s sets of files if you prefer. These files are kept inside a file drawer. I keep them in the front of the top drawer and they’re very accessible that way.

        On my desk, I have a standing file that includes separate files for: bills, medical, taxes. Sometimes I’ll have other files depending on what’s going on in my life—like if I’m buying or selling a house, or pulling together transcripts etc. for going back to school, or whatever. The papers in these are all “live” and require attention at some point. It’s how I don’t lose my property tax bill. BTW, once I pay that one I move the stub into the taxes file (with all other tax receipts), but most other bill stubs, check stubs, or dupes, or whatever go into the monthly files once they’ve been paid—except for medical bills. Those go in the medical file which contains all the bills for the year I’m in, prescription info, insurance forms, etc. That file gets put into a big envelope at the end of the year. I probably have these envelopes going back too many years. Your call on that.

        The rest of the files in my file drawer go with my credit cards, insurances, house, medical records, etc. With a few exceptions, I don’t file payment receipts in those files. I will put annual statements in them though. With purchases that carry warrantees, I usually put those receipts in a Receipts/Warrantees file and what I’ve spent on home improvement—like plumbing, or anything where I need to keep records I put in a Home Improvements file.

        I’ve managed to keep an almost 60 year life that includes a husband, two (grown) children, various pets, and a house confined to a two-drawer file cabinet this way. (Okay, so there are files stored in the garage, but not too many.)

        OH—in the file drawer, I have manilla files inside hanging files. ALL the hanging files have the file name on the far right. Turns out it’s much easier to find the right file if the names *are not* staggered from one side of the drawer to the other. I don’t remember if I got that from JM or not, but I think so.

        Hope this makes sense. Questions?

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  2. I’ve been vacillating between paper and electronic. I wish I could figure out a way to mesh the two, but am finding it difficult. That being said, however, there are two products that have worked for me pretty well. First, The Planner Pad, only available online, is by far the best paper calendar/planner that I have ever used. Right now I am using this fairly successfully. The planner starts with larger lists which you determine. I have a list for Errands, Paperwork and Phonecalls, and Housework. You list your todo’s according to category. Then you slot those todo’s into the day that you think you can accomplish them. Since there is a limited number of spaces each day, I feel less overwhelmed by my todo list.
    On the other hand, I focus on small details on a weekly basis, and sometimes the larger picture gets overlooked.

    The second tool that I have found very helpful is an electronic one, called Springpad. This program allows you to set up different notebooks and create tasks, checklists, set up links and apply due dates. What I really liked about this program is that I could access it from my IPad, my Windows phone and my laptap.
    I think it is a very good (not perfect) program which was more helpful for keeping me focused on the bigger picture/projects. It was working very well for me, especially in capturing my thoughts and ideas, because invariably I would remember something that needed to be done when I was out. So I could just make a note in my phone, then transfer it to the appropriate notebook. What I also liked about being electronic was that I could access a family calendar that my husband would check.

    Unfortunately, like all organizational tools, neither is perfect or all-encompassing. In the end, I’ve moved to the paper system because I need the physical act of writing. Also, using the electronic devices had too many distractions.

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  3. Getting past the “overwhelmed” phase is probably the biggest hurdle, and it’s what I got out of the famous Getting Things Done book by David Allen.

    I don’t follow all of his advice, but I do think his first steps of dumping EVERYTHING you have to do into some sort of list, paper or digital, and making sure that the list consists of individual actions or steps instead of just the big (and potentially overwhelming) end goal, are absolutely critical to lasting organization. It sounds like Jenny figured that out on her own, but for anyone who’s still feeling overwhelmed, many libraries have the book, and it’s worth a read.

    Whenever I get to feeling overwhelmed, I usually find it’s because I’m carrying too much of my To Do list around in my head again, and being unrealistic about how much I can do in a day. If I stop and write the chores/projects/errands down, and then pick just three things (these are LITTLE things, like “wash the dishes in the sink,” not “clean the whole house”) that MUST get done today, I’m more likely to get something done, and I feel less stressed.

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    1. The Lifehacker article was about GTD, so that’s where I picked that up. I thought it was brilliant, right up there with Julie Morgenstern’s organize-like-a-kindergarten idea.

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      1. What was organize-like-a-kindergarten? Small words please. I’m organizationally impaired and I don’t have an iPad.

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  4. I find the Calendar and the Notes apps on my iPhone incredibly helpful for staying on top of things, more or less. One page on Notes is labeled “Things to buy,” and anytime anything that I need crosses my mind, whether it’s milk or a particular shelf at IKEA that I’m interested in, I just log it onto that page, and it’s always with me.

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  5. IT is one of those areas where ways of organising projects and work are continually changing.

    We used to take what’s known as the waterfall approach (put months of effort into planning and gathering requirements, then writing code then testing and deploying) but that pretty much inevitably left us spending months trying to fix some technical fault in our initial design and at the end you would have stuff that didn’t do want the client wanted.

    These days we work along agile principles (find out which bits are the most important to the client, carve off enough work for 2 to 3 weeks and get that working in production and accepted by the client before going on to the next most important bit).

    It doesn’t work perfectly but it does mean that day to day I am only seeing the next few weeks of work and I’m not getting swamped.

    A lot of our clients also have Kanban boards which show the status of all the bits of work they have in lanes (the idea being that you only have one or two things that you are actively trying to do at any one time).

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    1. Try Trello as a KanBan or as a project management or to do list. It starts with 3 boards/columns for your project, “To Do”, “Doing”, and “Done”. Then you add a card/task which you can assign a due date to. You drag the card to the right column. I’ve added “On Hold” to my columns because sometimes things I want to get done are waiting on others.

      Redbooth is another free & nice project management application.

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      1. Awesome thanks !

        Work is stuck on Microsoft Team Foundation Studio (since it also stores our codebase) but I have a code project which is in need of just a little more management.

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  6. How funny. The urge to organize has been riding me since last week and I started sorting things this weekend.

    I’m a big list maker. I invested in 2 magnetic calendars – one for the current month, one for next month – that I have on my refrigerator. It’s easy for me to jot appointments & reminders on it and since I’m in my kitchen every day… a glance tells me if there’s anything major going on I might have forgotten about. I also have a magnetic To Do List hanging on the fridge. Makes it super simple to jot down things as I run out of them. I find that super helpful and I’m more inclined to get all the stuff I need now as opposed to before.

    I have a method very similar to Julie Morgenstern’s that I use for bills. I don’t stress about them at all. I know exactly where they are, what’s due when, etc. I’m good with my filing after giving up the idea of a filing cabinet and switching to a multi-pocketed binder (way easier to store and pull out when I’m paying bills).

    But the best thing I ever did? Stick a trashcan by my front door. As soon as I walk in, all the junk mail goes straight into the trashcan. Only bills and important mail actually makes it beyond the threshold, where bills immediately get opened and sorted for paying. Then, after I hand everything in for my taxes, I go through my archived paperwork and shred everything I no longer need before tossing it. It takes a few days to do that because it can be such a chore but it keeps my house from getting bloated by paper, which is my #1 clutter enemy.

    I’m usually really organized when it comes to my writing so I can find stuff easily, but I have taken to opening albums on Pinterest for each book and using that to help keep some visual notes.

    My rule for pretty much everything in my house is this: If I haven’t used it in six months (minus seasonal clothing, of course) throw it out. If I haven’t worn it, if it doesn’t fit, etc., in a year? Tossed or donated.

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  7. Now that I am retired life is much simpler, but I find that I still need some kind of organizer. I use Wunderlist free. It syncs with my PC and is on my iPhone. There is a paid one that lets you add files and pictures, but it is too involved for my simple needs, so right now I am sticking with the free one. You can makes different lists, have due dates, and sub lists, even email your list. They (the developers) have indicated they may come up with something in the middle – with a cost, but less, and will let you add some files. I would definitely sign up for that.

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  8. I was cleaning/organizing/bringing-in-the-backhoe-for my office, and stopped to read your blog. While I was rereading “backstory”, the inside of my closet (I’d left the door open) burped out a cat, a box filled with my books, the comforter I never folded properly, the carton filled with mysterious papers, and the guest towels. While I was trying to shovel all the crap back in, I almost buried the *other* cat. Yeah, I understand chaos.

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  9. For a while I was using the Bulletlist form of scheduling and to-do lists. It’s paper based and I have discovered that paper-based works for me for such things. I kinda lost traction when the depression slid into overdrive in January, but I think I’m back to a point where I can get back into it. I find it useful.

    As for writing, I do need to organize it. Names, character info and backstory, timeline. So I’m going to take a look at a couple of those programs you use, Jenny.

    I’m still on the fence about Scrivener. I’ve run through the tutorial a few times with free trials and I have to admit I still don’t have a clue how to use the program. I get small glimpses, but then feel it would be overwhelming to use it because I can’t figure out how. Maybe I should find and read a Scrivener for Dummies book. 🙂

    Organization has become an effort for me. I want it to become less of one.

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    1. Hi Skye,

      Don’t give up on Scrivener. Just modify it to suit you. I’ve taken classes in it, but basically I just put my entire novel in the middle panel, and all my notes and reminders in the panel to the right. That’s it. The beauty of this simple way of dealing with Scrivener is that everything I need is there in one file. I’m sure people’s eye pop out when I describe how I use this powerhouse of a program, but I love it.

      I’ve used various organizational software, but the easiest for me is a sticky that I put in my work journal with the top three personal jobs of the day (bank, groceries, etc.). I just keep moving the sticky until the three are done, then I create a new one.

      We do far too much. No wonder we’re fried.

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  10. I’ve just gotten into Evernote and I really, really love it. I need something that is easy to get things into and I love the tagging feature for finding things later.

    I have made task lists in it to, using check lists boxes and the built-in reminder feature.

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  11. I’m a huge fan of breaking things way down. I used to think I had to make big projects of stuff; but then I’d feel overwhelmed, knowing I really didn’t have the time, let alone the inclination, to even start the projects. I ran across several places suggesting placing limits, but that doesn’t work for me. If I’m on a roll, I’d like to at least finish the little bit I’ve started. Back to my real problem – projects that get put off. That was the whole thing in a nutshell. That’s when I decided that it was better to only do ONE thing than to do nothing at all. So my new rule is that I only HAVE to do one thing, or even one part of one thing. Now, I will quite frequently end up doing two or three; but as I only HAD to do one, anything additional makes me feel productive, which then inspires me to do it again the next day, as opposed to starting something I can’t finish which just makes me feel like a failure. It’s a work in progress, and I admit that this would make some people nuts, but at least there IS progress.

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  12. Since my head is very muddled and I forget/confuse easily, I have to be very organized. If things are messy or disorganized, I feel so confused that paralysis sets in, and I can only unfreeze by organizing. (This isn’t new. I’ve always been this way.)

    I find some key habits/decisions are crucial in keeping me organized. Such as:

    1. Don’t ever have Too Much Stuff. Too much stuff leads to physical chaos. If there is too much stuff, focus on getting rid of some of it–whether this means household goods, papers and files, personal hygiene products, clothes, types of mustard, etc.

    2. A place for everything, and everything in its place. if a thing doesn’t have a place, FIND ONE for it, and always always always keep it there and put it back there as soon as done using. Whether the thing is a spare house key or a tractor, a whisk or a pair of tights, a computer or a deck of cards–a place for everything, and everything in its place. If you finish using something tonight that you expect to use again tomorrow morning, put it away until next use anyhow. If you set something down now that you believe you’ll need to use again in an hour, put it away anyhow. Having a place for everything and keeping everything in its place unless the thing is in use at this moment are huge factors in eliminating chaos.

    Additionally, I don’t multi-task. Whenever I try, I wind up with a bunch of unfinished stuff and confusion. Whether it’s big tasks (write a book, paint and redecorate a room) or smaller tasks (write a short story, do some mending), I need to focus on one thing, stick with it until it’s finished, and then cross it off my list (I just have one To Do list, handwritten on paper) and move on to the next thing. On the house, I do one room at a time. In my work, I write one book at a time. This year, for example, I need to learn a bunch of software, so I’m learning the apps one at a time (via online courses)–can’t do two at once. I’m a one-thing-at-a-time person, or I quickly get confused and overwhelmed and wind up getting NOTHING done.

    For scheduling, I have a plan old paper calendar book, and everything that needs to be done gets written down in there, then checked off when I’ve done it. For example, I’m so forgetful that “take out garbage” and “bring in garbage can” have to be written on there for every week of the year, every year. This way, when I check my calendar at the end of every Weds night to make sure I’ve checked off everything–I see “take out garbage” and know to go do that. If I relied on just REMEMBERING “its Weds” and “garbage tonight,” I would never bet it done. I also have written into this calendar when my monthly pymts (ex mortgage) and automatic withdrawals (ex. student loan) are due, so I remember to pay them and to have enough money in my account TO pay them. Otherwise, I’d constantly be getting dunned for late pymts and an overdrawn account. (For this system to work, each time I buy a new calendar–once a year–I sit down with it for about 2 hours to enter all my regular monthly/annual/weekly stuff. And then, as the year goes by, anything I need to do or remember, I immediately write it into the calendar.)

    I think the thing about being organized is to think ahead, to recognize what you need (ex. someone with a good memory doesn’t need the same things I do; I don’t need the same things as someone who’s tracking schedules or finances or errands or physical goods for multiple family members), and to STICK WITH that–which also means developing methods that work for you, doing things that you will/can stick with.

    I choose a very low maintenance path for most things, and “always putting something back in its place, even if I think I’m going to use it again in a hour” is one of the very few high-maintenance habits I can comfortably maintain over time. But, for example, I’d probably just go to bed and pull the covers over my head (FOREVER) if faced with some other people’s organizational methods which strike me as exhausting! So habits that meet your own needs AND are something you are constitutionally suited to maintaining over the long haul are the two keys factors, IMO.

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    1. One of the best thing I ever did was buy a pretty key hook rack to hang by the front door. I never, ever, ever have to look for misplaced keys again. I haven’t lost them (knocking wood!) in over a decade.

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    2. Your reminders for trash made me laugh. I print out my own blank pages for a week-at-a-glance type of refillable calendar notebook (mostly because I’m too cheap to pay for the commercial ones, and I got annoyed when they started printing them in tiny, gray print, which I couldn’t read at a glance, and since I had to write over the numbers to be able to see them, I figured I might as well just print blanks and fill in the numbers myself), and I’ve customized it with a trash day note on every Wednesday!

      Another good thing about printing your own blanks: you can have pages for more than a year in advance, and I usually have at least two years in the notebook. I schedule doctor appointments and travel and assorted other things a year in advance, so it’s nice to be able to simply put it in the calendar on the page where it belongs, instead of having to keep a list until the new calendars are available, and then not be able to read my writing, and transposing numbers, etc. I don’t trust myself to get the number of days in the month right, so I go online and print out a one-page calendar for the year, to keep my numbering correct. It takes a while to do, but it can be done while watching tv.

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      1. Boy, is this a good topic for me. My organization consists of a long Word document (I never scroll past the first page), a lot of Post-It notes and lists on scratch paper, and my calendar organizer. Does anyone have recommendations for organizational software they like, equivalent to Jenny’s suggestions, for Windows?

        Gin, I’ve had the same paper organizer for years. Do you use a template to print out blank pages? Your suggestion to print out pages for the next year is a good one. I rely on keeping a list, but that’s how I lost a dentist appointment.

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        1. Evernote is also online and can be used in any browser. Plus it has apps for mobile devices. Onenote is another option. It is Microsoft’s answer to Evernote. I also like the app Errands for to do list making & it lets me have repeating errands, like water the plants every Saturday along with clean the litterbox.

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        2. I made my own form. It’s just a table, with two columns and four rows, on a landscape-oriented page. The top row is narrow, for notes, and on the right a spot to write in the month. The other rows are wider, for the days of the week (mon-wed on the left, fri-sun on the right). The last cell on the bottom right is divided in half for Saturday and Sunday.

          Print on both sides of a piece of paper, cut along the middle line, and you’ve got two weeks’ worth of 8 1/4″ x 5.5″ pages. Punch holes and insert in a 9″ x 6″ notebook.

          It’s not fancy, but it works for my purposes, and the price is right!

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  13. As a high school teacher, I have a lot of Sisyphean tasks like “grade papers” (new ones every day, yippee…?) so I try to break that down when I can (“grade first period, grade second period,” etc.) but I find that the Unfilth Your Habitat app (devised by the Unf*ck Your Habitat tumbler, which I find very inspirational) helps a lot–it has a 20/10 timer that has you work for 20 minutes and then take a 10 minute break. Sometimes I skip or work through the “break,” but I find it’s much easier to tell myself “just grade for 20 minutes, that’s hardly anything” than “work on grading for a while” or “just finish this one stack.”

    UFYH focuses on cleaning, another Sisyphean task that I am terrible at. But it really is easier to say to myself “just pick one thing to clean” (like McB said), or, using this app, “just clean for 20 minutes, then back to Facebook.”

    Of course, I still have stacks of grading and a cluttery, dirty house, so who knows??

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  14. I’m old fashioned, but I know how my brain works, so I stick with simple.

    I use a leather covered desk diary that sits at the side of my computer and remains open, showing four days at a time. An insurance company sends it to me each year. It’s nice, roomy, a half page per day with space at top and bottom of lines 9am through 6pm. I log in errands, gym days, appointments, writing time, promo days, and color code or highlight anything super important. I use a pencil so I can erase if needed. I cross the important things out once completed, and when everything is done the entire day is crossed out.

    For my writing I use a PC so everything goes into a word folder. Each published book has its own folder named Book # and title. I put in the completed PDF, synopsis, BCC, cover artwork, promo, e-book files, whatever else there is. Then I have another folder with basic promo, biography, stuff like that. I also keep a writing goal folder for each year. That way I have a record of submissions, etc. New work gets a new file started but isn’t numbered until published, and it holds everything from rough outline, conversations between characters, blurb, synopsis, rough draft.

    I save WIPs to a disc so I can take it with me when I travel, or if I want to work from the couch and the laptop. Every now and then, I update the copy of the ms. in the file folder on the desk computer.

    I also use a magnetic board on the fridge and write important things for the next day or two.

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    1. Tell me you back up your computer – either to a backup drive or Dropbox or Cubby or even a thumb drive. Something. If you don’t, get something set up. Nothing like a computer crash to ruin your year if you don’t have backup.

      Mac users can use Time Machine. I was once at an Apple store & there were two customers feeling very different emotions but both had hard drive failures. One was relieved (used Time Machine), the other was ready to cry.

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    2. Also, backing up to the cloud really is a good idea. Having extra copies at home isn’t enough. I was too lazy to do an offpsite back-up, even though I knew it was the right thing to do, until a member of my local RWA chapter came back from RWA National one year to find that her (unoccupied) home had burned down to the ground while she was gone. No one was hurt, but she lost a lot of work. She was under contract too, and I have no idea how she handled the deadlines.
      There are so many free cloud options now, and they’re really easy to use, so there’s no excuse for not keeping a copy of all the WIPs off-site.

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  15. We look for project management software all the time for robotics that has two features: easy to use and flexible enough to do a little or a lot. (oh, and free is nice).

    This year we started using Trello.com, where you can create projects with checklists, add notes, and share them with other people if need be. I find it really nice for keeping track of things like you have: To-dos, checklists, due dates. However, you can also link to google drive/dropbox files or upload documents to attach to the project card. Pretty nice, and FREE. Looks a lot like things, but online based. There are phone and iPad apps (also free) so you can keep track of things on the go.

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    1. Oh, and I forgot- you can move the cards into columns (To Do, On Hold, etc) and rearrange them by priority (or colorcode), and then archive them when you finish.

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  16. The Things app for iOS is only $10 and works like a charm! I’d highly recommend this route for anyone who a) has an iPhone or iTouch to begin with and b) can’t/doesn’t want to spend $50 for the desktop app.

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  17. I used Scrivener to write my dissertation, and I use Evernote and Things to manage my work and personal life to-do lists. I also pour some whiskey and make lists of Big Life Things on giant post-its periodically and then cross big achievements off over the next few months.

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  18. Ugh. I have to write things on my hands in order to remember them. I clearly need a better system, but I’m always losing the paper I write lists on. And I have to remember my stuff and my four kids’ stuff. I swear I need an assistant.

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  19. Currently on my hand in blue ink:
    Empty receipts (I was supposed to do this earlier and forgot even though it was on my hand.) Dog and Callan pictures – this is because I want pictures at my new job and I can’t seem to remember to get them printed. Also I want to take a group picture of my dogs and keep forgetting.

    Writing on my hand has mixed results but it’s better than writing on paper and then misplacing the paper.

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    1. I made a shopping list this weekend on scratch paper, and put it in my shopping bag. I headed off to the vending machines to buy eggs, put all four cartons in my shopping bag, then headed for the regular grocery store . . . . Amazingly enough, I remembered 90 percent of what I wanted to buy, because I wasn’t going to rustle through the eggs to get to the shopping list.

      My mom was always really against inking our hands up, and so I can’t quite bring myself to write on my hands. It would solve some problems, though.

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  20. My preferred to do list app is Errands. It’s free and let’s me have multiple lists. Home Projects. Perpetual – the tasks on this on repeat, such as clean the kitchen & exercise.

    For groceries I use ShopperLite. It also allows for multiple lists. So, groceries, Kohls, craft store, etc.

    I use Evernote mostly in training or classes or at conferences. It is really handy and now has a new browser extension called Evernote Web Clipper. It allows you to clip information from a website and turn it into a note. You can markup the clipped note too.

    I and others have mentioned Trello. In the same product group is Redbooth, which I also like.

    If you need group chat with file sharing, Slack is a good option.

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  21. “So tell me, Argh People, how do you organize your
    life?”

    I don’t. Am trying.

    Currently I’m trying to consolidate all my tech into Macbook, phone and new galaxy tablet. Read something recently about evernote having some major weaknesses in terms of losing saved stuff, so not too keen on trying it.

    Have to let go of books and stop buying physical books unless they are true keepers. Clothes are easy for me. It is one in, one out.

    I like the idea of breaking up To-do into smaller tasks. Must try.

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    1. Susan! Now I remember!!! One of the most productive people I worked for used spiral notebooks. He’d tick off the things he had to do. He’d fill one up and start a new one. When he retired, he had a whole stack of them. Nothing fancy but it worked.

      Confession: one day, I watched a YouTube of a guy who showed this system. It took him about twenty minutes, and I watched the whole darn thing. It was kinda mesmerizing.

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  22. I’m not organized. My paper life is in geologic layers, new stuff on the top. Eventually, the bottom layer petrifies and most of it becomes unimportant, with the occasional fossil that I dig out and preserve.

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  23. I don’t lose papers, keys or glasses. I lose time.

    I’ve been getting a handle on this since January – still a long way to go, but I’m changing half a century’s worth of habit.

    Current most helpful thing: Each morning, I write what I plan to do that day and how long I think it will take. I’m training myself away from optimism toward realism.

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  24. Also, a tip I may have shared here before for getting things done: Skype buddying. I Skype with my daughter, who’s in grad school on the other side of the country. We chat for a few minutes, then set a timer for 45 minutes and work–sometimes writing or reading, sometimes sorting and cleaning. We can see and hear each other, so it’s good motivation to keep going. At the end of the time, we say what we’ve accomplished, take a break, then do another session.

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    1. I got this suggestion from you over on ReFab. It’s really helped me not only be more productive but also keep in touch with busy friends! Thank you.

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  25. There are so many systems and tools available and every once in awhile I will incorporate something new into my method of doing things. If I were to describe everything, it would probably sound more complicated than it is in reality. I actually enjoy making spreadsheets and seeing a mass of disparate data become organized into something that tells a story, so I can get a little ridiculous sometimes with organizing things. However, I would say that there are a couple of rules that I learned from some work seminars many years ago that I have made absolutes for my work/life system and these form the foundation upon which everything else grows:
    1. I learned my personal energy cycle for the day and organize my work schedule around it. For example, it takes me a couple of hours from the time I wake up until I feel it’s even possible to get “in the zone”. Therefore, I plan my times for waking up and tasks thereafter accordingly. When I first start working, I purposefully do things like scan emails because it both helps me plot what will be important for that day and eases me into the point in time when I’ll be able to truly concentrate and get going with things. I plan to do my most difficult tasks during the period of time when I know I will have the most energy and my easiest, most thoughtless things for the low periods. It means I take a really odd lunch hour because at noon I’m in the middle of my peak, but I swear I can get more done by organizing my life so that I’m working on the hard stuff when I’ve got the most juice to get me through it.
    2. When it comes to paper entering my house, I sort things right at the mail box into garbage, recycling, important and needs action (i.e. a bill or an invitation), and save for later (i.e. a magazine). For example, if it’s a book of coupons from the local store, I take out only the ones my family may use and toss the rest. After years of living with stacks of paper here, there, and everywhere, changing my system so that paper is sorted from the start, and not later after its rested in a pile for an unknown number of days, was pretty revolutionary for my life. Scanning and saving those papers that can/should be saved that way has also been a fantastic tool for me. I’m the queen of folders, sub-folders and file names that are meaningful, so I actually can find what I’m looking for later when things are in digital format. (I took over at work for someone who would save things with the random sequence of letters and numbers that the scanner assigns to documents…I still can’t even figure out how one could function like that! I had to open every stinking document when looking for things! Yeah, it’s been months and I’m still not over that one…)

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    1. That whole biorhythm thing is crucial. I cannot function in the morning. The brain just does not connect. So I can answer e-mail (short ones) and read the news and feed the dogs and that kind of mindless stuff, but I can’t write and I can’t deal with complex problems. But along about two o’clock, I kick into gear, and then I’m full speed ahead until three or four in the morning. I’m at my best when the rest of the world is asleep. This is annoying as all hell to anybody who has to work with me, but I’ve come to the realization that trying to circumvent that natural rhythm just screws up any chance I have of doing good work, so now I just explain to people that I don’t do mornings.

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  26. I have come to the conclusion that we all need a servant or a ‘social secretary’ to keep us organized. The Victorians had these busy lives and behind them-enabling them-were all these servants..the nanny, the governess, the secretary, the cook, the maids, the boot boy. These women could get so much done and their houses were well-run machines because they had an organized army behind them. It is rather discouraging to think about.

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    1. Actually, that would depend on the Victorian. Those governesses, secretaries, and boot boys were on their own.
      And people with money still have all of those helpers today. Nothing’s really changed.
      What we do have is software programs; I am now a passionate fan of Things. I even paid fifty bucks for it, and I’m cheap.

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