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The 2009 Reboot: How I’m Staying Organized

Ever since I decided to make 2009 my best year ever I’ve known that I need a simple, consistent system to stay organized and a set of “safety nets” to keep things that way. Here, briefly, is my methodology:

I was a big fan of David Allen’s Getting Things Done methodology, which I discovered about four years ago in high school. There’s more “productivity porn” on the Web these days than anyone knows what to do with, so if you’re looking to jump in to Allen’s system it’s worth having a knowledgeable guide. That link should help you out!

But there are a fair amount of problems with GTD, not the least of which being how narrow its focus is. It requires a LOT of thought and attention every day in order to function the way it’s designed to, and it won’t give you a whole lot of feedback on how much real progress you’re making (everything becomes splintered into bilions and billions of tiny tasks). It’s always much easier (and tempting) to let things slide, and that’s never a good idea.

The best way to combat this is to rethink and re-tweak the system, and Leo Babuata of Zen Habits has done exactly that in his Zen-To-Done” system. I find his ideas extremely complementary to my way of working. The idea of “Big Rocks“, or the concrete work for the week that you absolutely need to pay attention to, gives otherwise freeform and chaotic lists of tasks some necessary context. The same basic process of GTD (where you capture every idea you have whenever you have them, process them when you get home, then select and complete each action individually) remains the same. I highly recommend ZTD; it’s well-thought and incredibly useful.

Enter Software

To handle my lists and quickly enter new tasks, I use Things.app, a fantastic piece of (Mac OS X) software from Cultured Code. I’ve never (well, almost never) been as thrilled with a piece of code in my life. I love Things almost as much as I love actually getting things done. There’s an iPhone version too, which I’m dying to play with when I get one later this year.

For virtually everything else (my life-in-a-database), I use Evernote. Not only can I write notes to myself (including PDFs) and tag and organize them however I like, but those notes are automatically synchronized to a website where I can log in and read them anywhere in the world. I can even take pictures of a sign with a digital camera, upload them to the site, and the text will be recognized so I can search for it in the future. Wow. After trying a ton of related software, including Yojimbo, DevonTHINK and Notational Velocity, I think Evernote strikes the best balance of simplicity and usefulness. And of course, there’s an iPhone app already. Did I mention that it’s free?

A typical day on my Mac involves Things, iCal and NetNewsWire for reading news; Evernote for taking notes, Photoshop and Lightroom for my photography, Scrivener for longer, multi-part documents, Transmit for working with my web server, and MarsEdit for writing Evolation.

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So that’s it for software.

A Nifty Trick to Organize a Room

I’ve been stuck on the concept of rational space for a few weeks now. I want my room to be rational, and I spent a few days at the end of last year coming up with ways to do it. One of the most useful habits I’ve started is to label EVERYTHING with the information that’s relevant to it. A stack of CD cases gets a label saying “these are just cases”, so that I don’t need to open them up and look at them when I see them in a drawer. My subwoofer has L and R taped onto the back so that I don’t have to squint at the 6-point-gold-text-on-black wiring diagram. The computer I need to fix has its serial number taped to the top. This all seems obvious, but when you have inattentive ADD it’s hard to remember all the minutae or be able to find what you’re looking for. The fewer chances to make a mistake, the better. What I’ve found is that in keeping things consistently labelled, the amount of decisions I need to make at any given time (where do I put this? what’s in it? why do I have it?) are reduced dramatically. The room practically organizes itself, since everything becomes self-contained. I still need to get better about putting things away, which is part of the 2009 challenge!

Next time, we’ll look at so-called Internet Addiction and the ways in which I’ll be leaving technology behind this year in favor of living real life. Don’t miss anything– subscribe to my RSS feed and make sure you get the biggest kickstart to 2009 you can!

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