Get your shit together dammit!

40 comments

Recently i've been taking myself on a crash course in organizing my somewhat disorganized life. As things get busier, i find that I can no longer just "do what needs doing" and I need to organize a bit in order to maximize my time. I expect many out there fall into one of two camps: a) Organized and efficient (bastards..) and b) Unorganized and unefficient (the larger group i suspect.) What i'd like to do, as it's a dreadfully slow news day, is get some talk going on how you organize your time, and your efforts.

I'll start by telling you what I've been doing for the past couple of weeks:

  • Making lists - I've been using TaDaList to note down every single thing i need to do on any single day. I keep it on a tab in Firefox, so it cannot be escaped, and i add and delete items throughout the day.
  • Using BaseCamp to organize team efforts - as GW has pointed out elsewhere, it does lack a few things, but in general it's making it much easier to communicate and reach goals for a team that operates in several different countries on several different projects.
  • Using a Wiki for collaborating on shared docs
  • Not being in front of the computer unless i intend to be working.
  • Writing down every single idea, be it for an existing project or something i just thought of in the shower - i reckon most of them are shite, but if they still seem good the following day, i have a friend sanity check it, then it's good to go.
  • Making email something on my todo list, not something i stop to do everytime a new mail arrives.
  • Ignoring most IM's till im free to deal with it

Now, most of that's pretty simple stuff, but it really has made a huge difference to what i manage to get out of my working day. Just writing down things I need to do on a list and ticking them off as they're achieved has made me a lot more efficient.

So, what we need to know now, is how do YOU organize your time? What makes YOU work better, what can you point out to us that may help more?

Comments

Sometimes you just have to get "old-school" to get organized

Now that I've been freelancing, I need to be super-organized. A few weeks ago I was getting disorganized which drives me crazy and entering items into my Mozilla cal and my "Today's reminders" Firefox plugin was a job in itself.

Then I thought back to high school and how I stayed organized while being on teams, doing community service and basically being in every club possible (I could have been the love child of Tracy Flick (Election) & Max Fischer (Rushmore)).

And it was a simple low tech At-a Glance Teacher's Planner. I went out and got one and have been oraganized since. It's amazing how easy it is to simply write something down, make notes and cross it off - no programming required.

Not to mention, turning off Skype and IM when working....

"Not being in front of the

"Not being in front of the computer unless i intend to be working."

holy shit!

Not being in front of the

Not being in front of the computer unless i intend to be working.

Now how in the world can you do that? I have this strange thing that every time I sit in front of a computer I must go into a coma or something because I come to about 2 hrs later and realize that I haven't accomplished a single thing ;)

As for getting things done, I use handwritten lists and attach it to my computer screen so it's really bulky and annoying. I won't take the list down until I accomplish every task on it. The list bugs me so much that I go through the tasks in a very efficient manner.

well, I guess I'm just not that organized...

Paper and Pencil

I write our my goals for the day in the morning on a notepad.

I have goals for the month as well on paper. The monthly goals are bounced of the business plan. Both the monthly and business plan are living documents.

I have the worst luck with task lists on the computer. They fail or get disorganized and most importantly the computer makes it TOO EASY to change the list.

For collaboration I due that same, I am going to start using quickbooks to so my accounting that should help immensely too.

For notes and ideas, again I use a notebook, if its real important than it'll get on my computer.

Me?

I have a super organised wonder woman of a wife. She is my organiser. You can't ignore a to-do once it is logged in Clares database ;O)

Again Basecamp ain't perfect

Again Basecamp ain't perfect but it's actually doing wonders for me. I keep lists of "to do" things and if I have 20 minutes before I have to pick up the kids at school, or 10 minutes while something is cooking, I look for the most important thing that will take that amount time to do, instead of putzing aroung. The template function in basecamp is great. I have a default lists for 'site pre launch', 'wordpress installation', 'site post launch' etc, keeps me from forgetting those silly little code screw ups. I'm still using it for one project in free mode, but am working with external people setting projects in motion and have some client jobs that may fall into place, if so I will be upgrading warts and all. Something I'd really like to experiment with is scanning in printed articles and ftp'ing them into basecamp for my writers to have rather than me sending them in the mail.

Bookmarks is funky, using delicious stand alone doesn't work nor does browser alone. I'm migrating to a hybrid solution somewhere in the middle.

I like some of the wiki's but most of the people I work with go into overload mode when I show it to them.

I have yet to solve the IM thing, if I turn it on I get interrupted if I turn it off I'm harder to reach.

Feeds is another thing I need to fix with a hybrid solution. News feeds I want to check periodically during the day. However "vanity searches" for my websites, clients websites, or RSS research feeds only need to be done once a day.

I'm also looking for a phone with 3G access on a decent sized screen. I had nokia 9200 which was the ugliest brick of phone you have ever seen, but had decent screen size (640 x 200). T-Moblie couldn't get it to work in my area so I got out of the contract. The sidekick is too small and the Treo is too expensive and plain old wierd looking/feeling. The balckberry/crackberry is on my list of phones to look at.

Syncback is an excellent free piece of backup software. I have my laptop, and wife laptop backing up every day onto the file server. I get notified by email when it's done. I then have the file server backing up onto a backup file server. If I don't get three emails every morning I know something is wrong. I also have it set to automatically burn backup CD's once a month. I just need to find a way to back up the mySQL stuff from the 17 hosting companies in an automated fashion.

Always get the shitty jobs done first!

Always get the shitty jobs done first accounts, letters, quotes..! I learnt this one years ago. That leaves the remaining time to do stuff that you enjoy!

Heard good things about

There is a book called "getting things done" that a lot of people really love that i have never been organised enough to buy :O)

if I turn it off

Quote:
if I turn it off I'm harder to reach.

That's not necessarily a bad thing!

I used to write to-do's on scraps of paper but these days I use a spiral notebook. I'm not sure I'm any better organized, but it has the benefit of being superficially tidier.

A quote taped on my monitor helps keep me centered:

"Great things are not done by impulse, but by a series of small things brought together. -- Vincent van Gogh

Backpackit is changing the way I work

www.backpackit.com - I've been using it for just a week and I've been way more productive and organized.

Not being in front of the computer unless i intend to be working. - I couldn't agree more.

cleaning the mess

* Mail– I allocate 1 hour a day and handle it in 1 out of 4:

1. Read and Do
2. Read and File/Label/Trash
3. Read and Forward to the responsible person/co-worker
4. File for future reading and Print (then read it at the weekend or at the train)

* Any task I don't like – Do it first…

* Quiet hour Once a day – an Hour with no mail, no phone, no IM,, no Clients, No colleagues, no NOTHING… just go through my 2DO-list and, add & delete (and thinking – whenever that happens)

These days my mess is now particularly with bloglines…

I used to use scraps of

I used to use scraps of paper to write to-do's on, then I started carrying around little spiral notepads. Now I use a Palm PDA and that works pretty good.

My father ..

makes lists for everything and although when I was young we made fun of him I have started to understand the concept a lot more these days.

The problem with lists though is that at times making the list themselves become a job.

One other way to get/stay organized is to keep my desk clean and not cluttered with whatever papers and other shit.

Something to do for tomorrow I guess

Unorganized is good

I'd say that being unorganized is good - at least as good as being organized.

There are, however, things wherein you simply must become somewhat organized. Like when you're installing codestuff and you have to remember surtain procedures. That's when it's a good idea to make a list.

From my own point of view, being unorganized makes me capable of taking on tasks that suddenly appears from nowhere, or use some thinkingtime on ideas that pops up. Only 'extremely important or hard to remember' things are maintained in a bulleted list - and they never change since they're a kind of protocol for todo's.

If I took the shortcutlinks on my pc desktop, I could probably outmatch google in amount of data :-)

As with Gilad, my main consern at the moment is blog's, feeds and other types of news. They consume way to much time.

My sure cure

for being disorganized.

?Find a hard working college student that is obsessed with being organized, someone a little anal retentive, a little compulsive and who will work for cheap... Hire him/her...

?Find a hard working

Quote:
?Find a hard working college student that is obsessed with being organized, someone a little anal retentive, a little compulsive and who will work for cheap... Hire him/her...

That's the one.

We used to have a housekeeper with OCD - Fantastic! - until the treatment starting working

TADA list tip

If you have a "things I need to do today" list in TADA and you have a bookmark for it in firefox go to properties and check "open in sidebar"

I'll try that, it's a bloody

I'll try that, it's a bloody good tip in general, didn't know you could do that!

Thing is though, if it's open on a tab i just cannot escapte it :)

I have a widescreen laptop

I have a widescreen laptop and I keep the sidebar set at a width so the main panel is ~1024. If you like the sidebar try the all in one sidebar extension.

A clean desk is the sign of

A clean desk is the sign of a sick mind.

BaseCamp

Graywolf/Nick,

Any thoughts on netproject.net's open source project management software? We're considering moving to that or basecamp for certain types of projects.

Open source

Quote:
Any thoughts on netproject.net's open source project management software? We're considering moving to that or basecamp for certain types of projects.

what about www.phprojekt.com or www.dotproject.net - both open source project management systems you can host your self(found on most fantasticc/ cpanel accounts)

Anyone tried them?

Not keen on a paying for a service, might be inexpensive now but, I’ve been stung before by services that started out cheap.

>>laptop what kind of laptop

>>laptop

what kind of laptop GW? I have to buy one next week and need a large screen, i have no idea where to even begin searhing...

>>netproject

Hmmm never heard of it till now, but i'll check it out. I can tell you that BC is inexpensive and very, very slick.

BC

Yea, seemed so. We're testing it and over the weekend testing netproject. The later seems much more feature rich and has some good calendar views. I suppose we'll use it if there aren't many bugs as it's open source so modifying it won't be difficult and it seems to better accomodate growing needs the future might present.

#1 rule for me: no hosted

#1 rule for me: no hosted solutions. Never rely on something you don't control.

Louise bought this a week or two ago: pmm.nl --sort of mind-mapping meets stickynotes. She loves it, I didn't. UI seems clunky to me.

You might enjoy this article: http://www.marktaw.com/blog/GettingThingsDone.html
Lots of insights.

I tried treepad after that article --didn't like it either.

Personally, I use "spatial memory" (translation: notes & stuff scattered everywhere)

But my big, BIG coup in getting at least some if it jotted down was when I customized the old usemod wiki. It's my real desktop now.

I'm not much into being

I'm not much into being organized. I wish I could find some anal-retentive person to clean up my stuff but, then again, I prefer not having to interact with anyone. Hell, if I'm going to tell them where I want it put I might as well do it myself.

In many ways, I think organization would hurt creativity. I tend to bridle when things get structured so I work from an array of postponed chores --usually sorted least-favorite, descending.

>We used to have a housekeeper with OCD - Fantastic!
My dad, actually my whole family and our family businesses, had a "right-hand man" years ago. It seemed that no matter what was needed nor how long it had been since it had last been seen, he knew where it was. Best of all, he was telepathic, hhh. No, he anticipated your next need and just had it ready. Not many like that, I'm afraid.

I have an HP ZD700 (they are

I have an HP ZD700 (they are up to ZD8000 now). The good you can get a fast CPU with hyper threading, upgade the memory (I went to 1GB) get a full size keyboard with number pad and big ass screen. The bad, ventilation was poorly thought out so it gets hot if you sit it on your lap. It's heavy and not easy to work with in small spaces (like an airplane) battery life is pretty short (80-90 minutes max). Think of it a full power very portable computer, not a lightweight notebook. If you travel a lot this is not the computer for you. If you want to work from your bedroom, kitchen, living room, office or patio and are close to power this will do the trick.

Other than the short battery life I'm very happy with it .

omnioutliner

everything goes into it, in treed format.
Theres a GTD extension for it that I have to try.
I need to write it on The List, so it happens ;)

Thanks GW, much obliged. It

Thanks GW, much obliged. It doesn't sound ideal, but im going to check it out, maybe with battery mods (if available) the newest version might work.

See what you guys make of this

AirSet

Peter Hurley who works for them pm'd me this and on first glance it looks cool, i've not played with it, but i will do today..

Airset

For me the weakness is that all my personal info is on their servers.

If one ignores the security aspects of that, it does leave you vulnerable to them going out of business (or anything else that might cut you off from your vital information)

Personally I would look for something that was within my control for that sort of use.

I see rcj has already made this point of no hosted solutions "#1 rule for me"

and usually i'd agree with

and usually i'd agree with RC on that, but there are a few points that make it a hard rule to work with.

  • With Basecamp for example, you are collaborating with many different people, and companies. Try doing that with a non-hosted solution.
  • With something like del.icio.us, it's a non-essential app that relies on sharing information for it to work properly.

Im not saying the rule isn't a valid point of concern, just that in some applications it simply isn't possible, or prohibitively difficult to adhere to.

Hosted

I think open source that you host is perhaps preferable, after that a hosted solution where you can export/backup. I have been looking for a calendar solution where I could sync with outlook (which syncs with my phone) for years, even considered trying to write one. Looks like that air thing does this. For most things I would rather *work* with what I am used to but use some of these external things to provide others with views.

For example the 37signals project management stuff is not any good for actual project *management* (has only a calendar view, doesnt have any concept of dependencies or timing estimates, just milestones and tasks) but as a way of sharing just these things with team members it is ok.

I would use a real project management tool, such as a dependency chart or microsoft project, then preferably export but I know that is not possible so retype.

The key

The key is not to get distrac

...heh seriosuly though, Im just the opposite of the "get the shitty jobs done first" camp. That it's the kiss of death for me. I end up getting nothing important done - handling fires and other people's agendas, yes - but never moving forward. We're all different ;)

When I make the most progress is when I prioritize and razor focus on just the one most important item on my list. That one thing comes first - literally becomes an obsession - and everything else just has to fall around it. Even if I can only give it 20% of my time it gets the first 20%.

oh, groupware?

Actually I made something like basecamp a few years ago - naturally I personally think basecamp is nothing compared to that :-)

Okay, I have to say that I didn't program the stuff, I was the developer/architect and project mgr. as that's what I do. We had a team of around ten people working for three months or so. I was hired by one customer, working for their customer, and the project did in fact have a business plan built in, but the customers customer bailed out eventually it seems, so now the commercial version isn't even online. Too bad really, it was intended to kick butts on Yahoo Groups and be profitable as well, but that obviously never happened :-)

Anyway, you can just go ahead and use it, it's still online at my customer, who apparently now resell it to large organizations, so they have it online as a showcase. Yes, free as in beer...

The front page will tell you all about it - if your browser language is set to English, then all the pages will be in English. (Hint: The FAQ is called "Help") I have no affiliation with this site, only that I made "the blueprints" for it, but being subcontractor you don't even get your name on it. As the product is out of the door it belongs entirely to the customer :-)

Here are some links to similar places/stuff. Most of them free:

- http://opengroupware.org/ (OSS, software)
- http://www.phpgroupware.org/ (OSS, software)
- http://groups.yahoo.com/
- http://groups.msn.com/
- http://www.forumone.com/section/services/projectspaces/
- http://www.projectplace.com/
- http://www.takingitglobal.org/
- http://www.mayeticvillage.com/home.nsf/Pages/HomePage
- http://www.communityzero.com/
- http://solutions.corasworks.net/summer05main/default.aspx
- http://www.groove.net/index.cfm?pagename=VirtualOffice
- http://www.meetup.com/ (niche)
- http://www.friendster.com/ (niche)
- http://www.liszt.com/ (niche)
- http://ifriends.net/ (niche)

Good list claus

Good list claus - I bet you're much more organized than most TWers.

Hosted vs. Controlled

Tends to be a dilemma in many services.
On the one Hand - It is very hard and time consuming to develop and maintain all the applications one needs in order to control...
On the other hand - *sharing* data with services like BaseCamp, del.icio.us, Airset, closed-groups or even Gmail and clicktracks pops questions like:

  • Should I trust a 3rd party security procedures?
  • How confident am I with the service being remnant?
  • When is a company Big enough for me to give faith in?
  • What are the Backup options for the service?
  • If needed, can I take my data and use it elsewhere?
  • What will happen if they (god forbid) cease to exist?
  • What if? :-)

The answers IMHO are somewhere in-between hosted and controlled, depends on individual resources and risk management,
Optimally - I'll try and approach new hosted service only after getting solid recommendations from people I trust.
Pragmatically - If something looks helpful and I can;t wait - I'll give if a shot.

Another one ...

... not for project management per se, but a great (free) PHP prog for maintaining specific task lists and allocating them to users/departments is Willow.

how i organize

*LOL* Gilad - I'm much in line with jamesa and rcjordan. I rarely organize. Actually I think that the "need to organize" is a symptom that you have taken on too much work. One of the major reasons for starting my own company was in fact to feel the satisfaction by just "doing stuff well" in stead of constantly jumping from fire to fire, as you tend to do in corporate life.

----------------
Added (disclaimer of sorts):
My client work and project management is something else, entirely. That's mostly structured processes with phases and milestones - it's not like what's written below. What I wrote below is only some tips for "personal organizing", or time management/stress management.

Perhaps I'll do a followup sometime on doing projects with others/teams/for clients, I might be able to write a few words on that as well.
----------------

Okay, so here's my personal version of:

"The zen of organizing efficiently"

Part one: Avoiding it

What I do first is to make sure I'm not involved in too many simultaneous projects. Here, "too many" can be two, ten, or thirty. It all depends. When I get "too involved" (and I do), my first reaction is self-assesment, and clearing the calendar - ie. making space to get some jobs out of the way quick. Once I decide that "this is too much", I postpone or cancel all new projects as well as meetings and milestones where possible. That way I try to finish stuff before taking on new projects.

The disadvantage for me is that it's terribly hard to get new customers, as existing customers and projects are always first in line.

Part two: Preparing for it

You never know when you'll end up in a situation that's a little bit more difficult than you expected. As they say: Shit happens. So, in the ordinary day-to-day run of the mill scenario, prepare for it.

Keep and maintain lists of "ten easy steps to clear the shit out of the fan" and stuff. Make sure you've got backups. Know your software and hardware. Do networking. Try out stuff (like basecamp, cms'es, SEO tools, whatever). Read forums. Experiment with all kinds of stuff. Do research. Chill out. Relax. If there are no apparent "tough deadlines" to meet, then face it and relax. Always remember to relax.

And, when you know that a tough period is coming real-soon-now(TM), relax more than ever. Do nothing productive at all for a period. In stead, do stuff like clearing your desk, clearing the house, walking the dogs, doing gardening. Taking friends, family, girl/boyfriends, kids, and/or relatives out. Go shopping, chatting, to the cinema, whatever. Get you music collection organized. Have a good time. And don't worry. You know you'll be working your butt off shortly, but that's not now, so enjoy that it isn't. What you'll be doing here is clearing away the obstacles for maximum performance.

Build energy and surplus for those tough times ahead, and always plan with a lot of spare time in you calendar.

Part three: Doin' it

When it's too late and you suddently find yourself out on the deep water what you want to do is swim. Just locate the nearest shore, and head for it. Don't make a list of every move first, as the paper and pencil will be the only thing that's floating if you do.

These things should be done before the work starts - in the relaxed phase. If you do them now, they'll only become excuses not to get things done, and you will be looking for such excuses. But, as much as you might like to grab a cup of coffee before you leave the house (i know I do), if the house is on fire you don't really want to do that.

I mean, what you want is to get things done. Take the most urgent stuff and do that first, then the next most urgent, and so on. If two things are equally urgent, always pick the easiest or funniest. Basically, you pull the mental blinds, shut out the world and work your butt off. You can do that for some time - how long is individual, but your aim must be to get out of this phase as quick as possible, as no matter who you are, it does drain your ressources. So, focus on "quick wins" and lots of them, to make that whole process as comfortable as you possibly can. Each quick win will give you mental energy to complete a more tedious task.

Good one Claus

One thing I would add, tasks sometimes seem urgent or important, always know the difference between
- "urgent"
- "actually urgent"
- "important"
- "important to YOU"
- "important to THEM"
- "should naturally die off, let it happen"
- "only urgent because you put it off you lazy ass"
- etc

>Basically, you pull the

>Basically, you pull the mental blinds, shut out the world and work your butt off. You can do that for some time - how long is individual

Bingo, claus. *BUT* most will find that they do not have the luxury of doing that. You have to make your space, acquire the right to shut out the world. Others have to learn to cope, to leave you alone. Those who depend on you have to become comfortable with the idea that you know what you're doing, that -yes- there will be something to show for it all when you finally emerge from your lair.

PS. "hosted solution" is an oxymoron

dotProject

In answer to PaulH, I have just started using dotProject. It is a very easy install and initial set-up. I am trying to get a bit organized because my right hand is going to be heading 3,000 miles away for a while.

There is a learning curve which I am climbing up and the other problem is getting the clients to use it. The couple of times I have stuck some stuff in it and let the client know, he picked up the phone and told me the answers that he should have stuck into dotProject.

I will have a better idea in a few more weeks whether I actually use it or whether it was just another good idea at the time.

To really do project management in this way everyone in the project has to use it, and if you are like me, you have to force yourself to use it - it's going to be an uphill struggle because naturally I am a bit like claus, rc and jamesa -I rarely organize but, sometimes because of clients, I also find myself constantly jumping from fire to fire. Forward planning should be kept uppermost in my mind and hopefully get organized a bit better.

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