Getting myself organised

February 3, 2008

I’ve been an organisational magpie for many years. Every so often I dabble with using a diary, either a paper-and-pen one or an online version, or stumble on a different to-do list manager online… and then fall out of the habit a week or so later. There are a squillion blogs (I counted) suggesting ways to keep yourself organised, most of them saying ‘this is how I do it… your mileage may vary.’

So, this is the system I’m working with at the moment.  It’s sort of a mix between Leo Babauta’s excellent Zen To Done and Behance‘s Action method with a bit of wiki thrown in. The first thing I did was to rediscover VoodooPad, a wiki for your desktop. Since I left my last job, I’ve only been working on one computer (a laptop) and wanted to have something I could use offline; being able to use it on multiple machines was far less important. The second was to buy a real paper diary to carry with me everywhere – nothing fancy, just something big enough to keep notes and appointments in.

The diary is my ubiquitous capture thingy. If I have an idea or something to remember, I jot it down in there – unless I’m at my computer, in which case it’ll go straight into the wiki. The wiki is for simply for organising tasks.

If you follow ZTD, you tend to organise tasks by context – things to do at the shops, things to do on the phone – while the Action system manages things by project. I have a slight preference for the latter, and my MasterPlan wiki page is full of links to pages such as ScienceProjects and ProgrammingProjects. Each of these pages is divided further into specific projects: XkcvProject and SudokuProject, to take two from the ProgrammingProjects page.

Each project is then split into three sections: ACTIONS, BACKBURNER and REFERENCE. The Actions section is a list of things that need to be done to get the project finished, or even started. It doesn’t need to be exhaustive, but it does need to list the next step, and the date it was written down. The Backburner section is for things that aren’t mission-critical (as we former NASA employees like to say), but you might like to come back to one day. Finally, the Reference section is for noting things you’ve done or links you need to come back to.

All well and good from the organisation point of view. How does it work in practice?

I’m a big fan of ZTD’s three most important tasks aspect. Depending on how flittery I’m feeling, I might choose one action from three different projects, or I might choose three from the same – it doesn’t matter, so long as I’m not neglecting any of them and am making steady progress. If I’m feeling in a productive mood, I might choose the three tasks I’ve been avoiding for the longest, or the three biggest ones. If I’m exhausted, I might choose the three easiest ones to get me started. It might be a mix. The most important thing is to choose three tasks I can reasonably expect to complete; the next is to do them and to keep going.

This is how I do it. Your mileage may vary.

So what about you? Do you have a similar online-offline system? How have you tweaked the ‘conventional’ systems to suit you? What psychological tricks do you play on yourself to keep yourself active?


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