Getting Organised

Reading time: 4 mins

I read some advice the other day that suggested that, instead of reading up on how best to be productive, you’d be better served actually doing the things you need to do rather than trying to figure out the best way to ‘be productive’.

I guess the premise being that many people spend a lot of time researching methodologies, trying out applications and processes when, for most of the tasks they are tracking, they would be better to just do the damn thing already.

I fall squarely into that group of people. I’m very guilty of spending too much time figuring out the ‘best’ way to keep myself organised, sometimes at the expense of just doing things.

So, why do I even need any kind of system?

Well, mostly to counteract my awful memory but also, partly, to keep track of random ideas that float through my head, things I don’t need to act on straight away but I know are good enough to log somewhere with a view of revisiting them later.

But what do I actually need?

Let’s break things down. Fundamentally I need to keep three types of things organised:

  • Tasks
  • Information
  • Schedule

For all of these I want to be able to access them all from any device I want, be it my laptops (work and personal), my iPhone or my iPad. Simple enough, right?

Tasks

There are tasks that I need to do and, broadly speaking, I can break them down across three categories: Work (capital W, day job), Personal, and work (lowercase w, side jobs).
Some of the tasks have a hard deadline (given to me, or driven by external forces), some of notional deadlines that I apply myself (or I won’t do them), and others fall into the ‘some time’ bucket (essentially these are the ideas that I need to follow up but which have no real urgency).

So I need categories, but I’m not fussed about sub-categories, and I need the ability to schedule repeating tasks because … well did I mention my awful memory?

Solution

Wunderlist. No, Any.do. No, Reminders. Dammit.

It’s here where I struggle to find an ideal solution but I can see light at the end of the tunnel.

For now, I’m sticking with Wunderlist.

I love the Any.do app but there is no website (or OSX app) to allow me more power and easier editing. No matter how hard I try, this is a must have for me so after a couple of months of Any.do I’ve switched back to Wunderlist (I considered Remember The Milk again but it’s user interface just doesn’t feel nice any more). Wunderlist has iOS apps and and an OSX app, allows for categories and repeating alarms.

The future development of Apple’s Reminders app may sway me away from Wunderlist. Tighter integration with the OS makes it very slick and (work proxy issues aside) the ability to sync my Reminders to iCloud (and so across all my devices) makes it very slick. If the UI improves I can see it being my go to app in the future. Add in tagging, something I’m keen to see in the upcoming Mavericks release of OSX, and the power of the Apple ecosystem, across apps becomes a different prospect again. But that’s for the future.

Information

There is also information I need to store. Be it documents of information, files to backup or share, lists of contacts, or other pieces of digital media that I need to keep organised.

Occasionally the information is snippets, not a full document, but the need is the same.

Solution

Dropbox – for file storage. Not just because I can access it from anywhere, and share folders with others if I need to, but because many iOS/OSX apps integrate with it, allowing me to use it for draft posts, for example, so I can work on them at any time. For the inquisitive, I’m using Byword on both OSes to write my blog posts these days.

Evernote deserves a mention here too. For shorter pieces of information, and particularly for clipping information from the web, it’s excellent. It means I can grab recipes, add to my Evernote powered wishlist, and just generally use it as a database of things that might be useful to me in the future.

I should also mention the Drafts app for iOS here. It’s a simple text based editor which has several ways to take what you’ve just typed and fire out an email, send it as a note to Evernote and more. It’s a good quick way ‘in’ to my information system.

Schedule

Finally there is my schedule/calendar.

Due to personal circumstance this area is a lot more critical than it used to be, as I need to be able to schedule my leisure activities based on the whereabouts and plans of three other people.

Solution

Google Calendar – which allows me to share my own calendar and view those of others, making planning a night with one or more (or all) of those people a lot easier.

Email

One item I’ve not included in this waffling ramble is email. Quite simply because I have an excellent solution.

Gmail + Mailbox

My personal email is all filtered into Gmail. I can access it anywhere I want on any device I have. Where the real bonus for me is that, by using Mailbox for iOS I can now manage my emails much better. If I can quickly reply, I will. If something needs followed up I can quickly schedule it to ‘reappear’ in my inbox.

And that’s where I am currently. I don’t stick to a productivity methodology, I try and just do things when I can, but for now I have a system that works for me and does get massively in the way of me actually doing things.