On of my goals this year is to be more organized. I don't necessarily mean organizing all the physical stuff I have around (although that's part of it), but to improve the organization, and thus, the efficiency, of all the things in my life. I have a _lot_ of hobbies and activities and commitments (some would say too many) and over the past few years I've been slowly building up efficiency in managing them.
Many of you have heard of the GTD (Getting Things Done
) methods. A lot of people swear by it, enough so that a couple years back the CIO gave everyone in the organization a copy of the book. Recently I went through it (in audiobook form, because I had more time to listen to it in my car than to pick up the actual book), and while I think most of it requires a rather difficult shift in lifestyle that I'm not sure is worth the payout, there are several points that I do agree with.
One of the big ones is that if you have a commitment, or a thing to do, or a place to be (or whatever else is in your mind that the book calls 'stuff'), and you don't get it out of your head and into some trusted reference place, it'll either be lost, or rattle around your head taking up brain cycles and causing the feeling of too much to do. Trusted in this sense doesn't really mean something you trust to not lose your data (although, again, that's part of it), but trusted in the sense of something you'll have regular access to, and you can rely on to be up to date, able to show what you need to remember, and that you'll actually use regularly. A sort of external brain, or a vm swap page that you can use to get things down while you're thinking of them so you can stop thinking of them. In years past individuals may have used a variety of tools, like a blotter calendar, rolodex, appointment book, in tray, dayrunner, secretary (a real external brain!), etc. But I'm a believer that technology should make our lives easier, so I favor the newer electronic options. There are also newer non-electronic options like the Hipster PDA
. So far it's working.Â Much of this could be done with a wiki
, but I'm also keen on not having to build the tools unless I have to.Â Why reinvent the wheel?Â Find the tool that does the thing and does it well. Here's what I like:Google Calendar
. I actually prefer Apple's iCal
, but I'm regularly not in front of my own computer, and Google's access from any station is the tipping feature. GCal looks and feels a lot like iCal, and rightly so: things work well in that model, at least for me. Gcal does a pretty good job of offering up access so I can sync it with my iPod, or my phone, or otherwise get it out and into a portable format, as well as being able to e-mail or SMS reminders for information push instead of pull.Tasktoy
. I'm a list oriented person. I make lists for lots of things. Last year I was using Remember The Milk
, which has a very slick interface, but I found it to be too slow, and tasktoy has some really nice features, like setting a cookie for location awareness. If I log in from home, it shows me tasks and lists designated for achievable at home. Similarly if I log in from the office. Tasktoy is also a lot faster. The one think I miss from RtM is shortcut keys so I don't have to use the mouse as much. Maybe I'll look into building some of those with greasemonkey. (*adds that to a list...*) Again, the key here for me is that I can access it from any internet connection. I used to use my palm pilot for this function, and it worked great, but I've moved away from carrying that with me everywhere, because of battery life problems and the desire to simplify the physical stuff in my life (another big theme in my organization). I look forward to the day when my iPod is also a decently functional PDA. For those who are not as list oriented, and those who are, there's a ton of options out there for dumping and remembering those to-do's in your life. Zirr.us
looks interesting, as does Stikkit
Information management. I am a voracious consumer of web based information. I have hundreds of bookmarks, and read dozens of incoming news sources on various topics. For a few years I've been completely sold on RSS
and getting everything to come in that way. It's not strictly speaking a push technology, but it does let the computer pull the information without me having to pull it myself. Again, I'm lucky enough to be looking at a world where more and more of these things can be done online, making for access from many places easy. I aggregate everything from computer news sources, word a day, gaming news, software updates, newspapers, music news, and even all my webcomics
. I even have a custom LJ layout that turns my friends list into an RSS feed so I can aggregate that. Typically anything which is transitory in nature I pull through RSS, excepting e-mail and IMs, as those are more interactive mediums. This lets me rapidly scan through 200-300 items a day, discarding most, and opening into tabs (I love tabs!) anything which needs more than a cursory glance. The two big RSS aggregators online right now are Bloglines
and Google Reader
. Both of them are good. Neither of them works for me. I want my feed items sorted by feed, not by time, I want to be able to quickly mark something as read and to get it out of my sight, because I am ruthlessly discarding anything which no longer needs to be read, or has already been opened in a new tab. And on top of that, I like projects that are under my control and that I can customize (why I use WordPress
for my main blog, instead of LJ, e.g.), so I use a project called Gregarius
, and a plugin that lets me double-click a feed item to mark it as read and hide it from sight.
I've also gone back to del.icio.us
to help manage my information content. They have a new firefox extension that takes over the local bookmarks, and routes everything into del.icio.us. This makes it _very_ easy to keep things in sync at home and the office, and to not have to make a local toolbar with my most used links. It gives you a toolbar that can display different groups of links, and makes it very easy to record and tag link for later retrieval. Previously I used Spurl
, but the sheer number of tools that enhance the functionality of del.icio.us brought me back to it.
Wishlist's are a specialized list, because it fills with things that aren't to do, to get at the grocery store, or to pack for a trip, but are items I'd like to have some day. This list also has to be public to a certain extent, so others can find items at gift giving occasions. Amazon.com provides an excellent service if what you want is on Amazon.com. Over the past year I've moved from Giftbox
, and now to GiftHat
, because of various features, and developer responsiveness (MetaWishlist, excellent as it is, does not seem to be under development any more). I want a list that has a bookmarklet to make it easy to enter items I come across, and like a registry lets gift givers "reserve" items. This past Christmas and the one before I received too many duplicate gifts, prompting the move to GiftHat.
There are a large number of tools that I use to organize my computer usage and to streamline that, but this post is about the external brain tools, so I'll save the others for another post.
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