2006 The Year of Sorting My Shit Out.... Tips to help us all?

16 comments

OK

A lot of you people have been around for a while in the nicest possible way. But with that goes business skills and knowledge I might not know yet.

How do you handle job lists, use outlook, paper...? I reside in multiple locations, so is there a way of having an online task list, without writing one.

I am going to try and get the admin side of things sorted, so they dont hang over my head and I can try and get on with what makes money.

So what ideas do you have for streamlining the business we work in.

Do you have any other tips? NFFC will no doubt say "systems" but any top notch suggestions.

Any suggestions greatfully recieved.

Cheers

Comments

Palm PDA

More and more I use my computer and Palm PDA for staying organized and sync between my desktop and it.

Calendar
Note Pad
Memo Pad
To Do List
Shopping list
Address book

I suppose I could get by with using Yahoo's online calendar and notepad if it was just work and home, but I find the PDA handy for when there is no Internet available and it is like always having a paper notebook with you. (As an example I keep a running list of book titles I have read by a couple of prolific authors on my PDA, that way when I stop in at a book store I know what I already have.)

I use an add-on for Outlook

I use an add-on for Outlook called Plaxo - lets you synchronize any number of Outlooks. It lets you do it directly via a web interface too. Also excellent for exchanging changed contact info automatically between you and other people who are members of the Plaxo service. The free version works fine - no need for the Pro version, unless you feel you want to pay for what you get. :-)

Also use an iPaq PDA when I'm away from my pc's. Makes life a lot easier.

Getting Things Done in 2006

Recently my life had gotten completely unmanageable and like most people it wasn't until I hit the point of being overwhelmed that I got around to fixing it. Most of these ideas were shamelessly stolen from Getting Things Done by David Alen which I highly recommend.

Email

  • Change your email program to check every 60/90/120 minutes. Checking every 5/10/15 minutes just gives you more interruptions throughout the day
  • On forums and newsgroups don't automatically subscribe to threads you participate in (more on this later)
  • Set up your email into 6 sub folders listed below
    • Action - These are things that you need to do something about today
    • Hold - These are things you are following or working on short term that take more than one day. The confirmation and tracking on the fuzzy pink sock puppets you just ordered
    • Notification - These are news alerts, auto email reminders, that sort of thing. These are not emergency items but things you need to see regularly and delete. For example I have 4 backup jobs that email me overnight when they finish. As long as I see 4 I don't need to read them, but if I see three I have to figure out which one failed
    • Respond - These are items that you need to respond to (duh) but you will get to in the next 1-3 days
    • Waiting - These are items you are waiting for something for someone else on before you can finish it
    • Archive - These are old items you are saving (you will probably take your entire old system and dump it in here
  • Do it, delegate it, or defer it. When something comes in if it takes less then two minutes just do it, keep to the 2 minute rule. If your not the best person delegate it to someone who is. Defer it - if it takes too long to do right now perform triage and prioritize it and put it in the right category so you do it late
  • Set up message filters or rules to presort as much as possble, the inbox should be things that can't be categorized automatcally.
  • Hit all of the folders once a day and get as much done as possible

Forums and Newsgroups

  • Don't subscribe to something unless you absolutely positivly have to, and even then don't do it.
  • New Posts - Most forums and newsgroups have a new or recent posts link learn to use it.
  • For places that don't or distributed places you want to comment set up a delicious account and tag all of them with a tag like 'replies', 'watch' or 'follow up', here's mine. This is an idea I learned from Nick.
  • Check your follow up's only once or twice a day.
  • Participating in forum discussions is productive, participating in debates isn't. Learn to tell the difference and stay out of the later as much as possible.
  • RSS is your friend learn to use it, but not abuse it. Checking your RSS more than your email means you have a problem.
  • Set up two RSS accounts or readers, stuff to check daily, stuff to check weekly.

Keeping it Organized

  • Organize your files by project instead of type. Example domain 1 and domain 2 and put everything underneath them. Don't lump all your excel files in one folder and your word documents in another.
  • Use something like Roboform to keep track of log ins and passwords. Dump it to a had copy every three months and put it in your safty deposit box so someone can get it if you get hit by a bus.
  • Make sure your backups are working. Archive them to tape or CD once a month and store them in a locked fire-resistant case designed for computer media. I picked up this one from my local office supply for less than $50 and it's waterproof and can keep CD's safe at 1700 degrees for 60 minutes
  • Use a Ta-Da list of things you want to do remember like books to read, music to buy, videos to rent, small nations to conquer, etc.
  • Use a writeboard, personal wiki, or something else an idea tickler or incubator for things you think of that you want to come back to.
  • Use a hipster PDA or some other method of capturing ideas when you aren't infront of your computer. The key is getting systems in place to capture the ideas in your head. You are trying to capture 100% of your ideas or things you need to do. A system that has holes in it is worse than no system at all.

Not that my solutions are perfect or will work for everyone but they work for me. I tend to live in a browser so I prefer online solutions to plain old paper and pen, but both methods will work. So c'mon how else do y'all keep your shit together?

I ditched my Palm. Just

I ditched my Palm. Just another piece of crap to carry around. Plus, battery life is short, and the screens aren't visible outside (you remember, in the sunlight). The rest of my 10 cents:

Simple lists can be kept online with tools like http://www.tadalist.com/ or http://www.rememberthemilk.com/

No syncing problems. Print them on a piece of paper if you want to carry them around.

Read your cell phone manual. I was surprised how much functionality is built into my free, cheap Samsung phone. Calendar, reminders, alarm clock, etc. I carry the damn thing anyway, so why not use it.

Read David Allen's Getting Things Done and cook up a simple implementation for yourself. Tweak it in a month. Don't get all fancy by writing applications and scripts to support it.

Gmail is a nice way to organize your mail. Labels make more sense to me than Outlook/Thunderbird style folders. Plus, I'm never in one place, or at the same pc, so web mail is the way to go. I do download my mail once/week and burn it onto a CD (I don't know why, now that I think about it).

A little paper address book works pretty well.

VPN Routers and clients are

VPN Routers and clients are great for accessing the main office. This allowed me to work at home by login into the office network. I could access all the files on all the computers.

Outlook Exchange Server - Allows master contact lists. I can assign tasks or receive tasks from the team.

3 items, 4 rules

Here's what I do:

Items:

  1. Cell phone w/PDA. I know they're pricy, but the biggest problem with PDA's is you don't have them when you need them. Most people carry their phone with them all the time.
  2. Outlook, synched with the PDA at least once a day.
  3. A paper-based planner, Franklin-Covey makes the best IMHO.

Rules:

  1. If it comes to you electronically, deal with it electronically. If someone sends you an e-mail that will generate a task or appointment, drag-drop or copy-paste or whatever to create a task or calendar item in Outlook. If it comes to you analog, user your planner. If you're in a meeting or on the phone, write the task or notes or whatever you need in your planner. Most people can't type and think as fast as you can write and think. Get it down on paper.
  2. Keep all contact information and schedules in one place, which should be Outlook. So if you've written a phone number or made an appointment in your planner from a phone call, at your first opportunity get it into Outlook. Next time you synch up with your PDA/phone you'll have the information right at your fingertips. Ideally you would also copy any todo's or tasks from your planner to Outlook also, but that may not be realistic. I'm pretty disciplined when it comes to this stuff, and I can't even manage that. Just make sure you check it off when it's completed, wherever you have it.
  3. Don't use scraps of paper or sticky notes. If you need to write something down get it in your planner, whatever it may be. If it's in your planner you'll still have it in two months when you think 'Wait a minute, I already talked to this person about this, now what did I do with my notes...?'
  4. Backup Outlook. Just in case you blinked, I'll say it again. Backup Outlook. At least once a week, more if possible. Outlook stores everything in a single file, which corrupts surprisingly frequently. I can't tell you the number of times I get panicked calls in my real job from our employees that have corrupted Outlook files. You'll loose everything, which is not pleasant.

Whatever you use, get a workflow down and stick with it. Getting organized takes an investment in time. Don't be afraid to take a couple of weeks or more checking out hardware/software, then getting your calendar and phone lists updated, and getting comfortable with your program. It will more than pay off in the long run.

--Edit--

Buy and read 'The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People' by Stephen Covey. If you can, attend a seminar. I've been using that program since a laptop was a Kaypro the size of a suitcase (remember those?), and I make the people that work for me attend a seminar every year.

>nffc Pfftttt! What does he

>nffc

Pfftttt! What does he know? Hell, he was always crying in his tea and telling me he's having to work too hard. I currently have him on my patented "12-step program to a virtual lifestlye," so there's some hope for him yet, hhh.

Step #1 - Who needs 12 steps? Cut that to 5 or 6.

Step #2 - Kill the phones. ALL phones and phone-like devices ...yes, this means cells & pdas. They are for your outbound calling convenience only. People will beg and plead for you to be easily accessible --screw 'em, if it's important they'll figure out how to get a message to you.

Step #3 - Kill the (paper) mail. Concentrate on getting your address OFF all mailing lists. Sort your incoming mail by postage --if the sender is using any sort of bulk-mailing rate, throw it in the trash UNOPENED.

Step #4 - Gut your email. Use mailwasher pro and write your own barbed-wire filters. (Most of my email is read on the server. Screw Outlook.)

Step #5 - Get usemod wiki (search threadwatch, there's a thread here). Use that for your start page.

Step #6 - Get an old cgi script called remindme. Set it up STRICTLY for business and must-do personal items. Once set up, your server will send you an email to prompt you re your routine tasks.

Remind Me script...

RC: Is this the script?

One of the things that has taken me forever to learn is that

It takes time to get organized, but that is time well spent.

I've learned that taking 20 minutes in the morning to get my stuff together for the day or even taking a week to figure out a new process is time well spent because I'll be so much more efficient later.

I use a personal wiki to keep all the little bits of notes I like to take on things.

I've also learned I'm one of those people who *has* to have a schedule. Time to get up, time to work, time to walk the dog. I guard that schedule and I refuse to do things outside of it. Otherwise, I'll find out that I will work all the time.

Fire your clients

Worked for me, all my lists went away!

No clients means no jobs which means no lists thus no need to synch which means NO PROBLEM!

However, you might want an alternative source of income like webmaster welfare aka AdSense before making such a plunge.

>remindme

>remindme
here it is, g
http://www.tesol.net/scripts/RemindMe/

it's multiuser, but don't let anyone else know about it -K.I.S.S.

2 more steps for real business

These two are somewhat related

Step #7 - Get some decent, but easy, accounting software. I've been on quicken and qucikbooks since the first release. Before that, I wrote my own checkwriter which was a PITA, but the point is that you HAVE to have control over your money and assets. I'd recommend a full bookkeeping setup rather than just a checkwriter so that you can track more than your bank balances. Currently, I'm using quickbooks 2005. Like all intuit stuff before, it has a serious bloatware problem and is chock-full of intuit self-promotion but you can spend about 30 minutes and nuke most of that. Caution: don't get overly complex in your tracking, just go for the big stuff.

Step #8 - Minimize the paper filing, convert to a "tub file" system. You'll need some files for currently active items but buy yourself a nice plastic crate with a lid and write "2006" on it. Pay a bill, staple the stub to it, and throw it in the crate. Next year, buy a new crate and repeat the process. Seal the old crate after tax season and put it in storage.

Some great thoughts above

Problem with organisation systems is not so much the systems is forcing yourself to learn good habits rather than bad ones. I have read a bunch of "how to be organised" books, I know more memory systems than I could realistically put into practice, have at last count three pdas and a filofax. You have to use them for them to be any use :O)

Procrastination and saying "yes" too much are my big issues I reckon.

>forcing yourself to learn

>forcing yourself to learn good habits
> You have to use them for them to be any use

That's largely why mine work for me. I assume that I'm going to take the path of least resistance and just set up whatever is required to take advantage of that. There's little or no difference, for instance, in throwing a paid invoice in a plastic crate or the trash can.

Another David Allen Fan Here

I first read David Allen a couple of months ago, and I'm pretty sure I was inspired to do so because someone mentioned him here on TW.

For me, his focus on "the next action" was particularly valuable. I have a tendency to dream dreams without breaking them into practical action steps, and his thoughts about that were likely the most valuable thing I read in all of 2005.

Another useful point was that A-B-C prioritizing is not always the most effective way to approach your to-do's. Time spent cleaning up fiddly odds and ends can be well spent not only to get them off your list, but even more important, to get them off your mind. A clearer mind is a major step towards improved productivity when you do turn your attention to your big stuff.

Interesting

Interesting, buckworks; that's exactly how I do it -- I take care of the little things that stick in my mind first (assuming they're *little* things of course).

It goes without saying that organizational systems need to be an aid, rather than a hindrance. So, while we have our own system in place, I'd say that it's important to set up something that works, is logical, and reminds you of what you need to do in a way that works for you without requiring inordinate amounts of time to maintain it.

For instance, in the back of each client folder goes a sheet of paper with FTP and other information, so there's no having to look around for it even if the project was completed five years ago. If we're building a site (that is, not just doing a couple of things), a sheet of paper is clipped to the front noting each step that needs to be done. Add as you go; check them off as they get done, so that, at the end, there's no wondering what's done or what's left out. It's all there. When you're done, file it in the folder. I don't file folders away until the project is completed.

We generally use the same system as rc -- the "tub filing" for tax-related papers (bills, etc.), although there are folders for specific things.

I also have a big framed white board with erasable pens for delineating the "big picture" of what's in the works. Helpful if you're working on multiple projects, want to note things for the future, etc. Nice to erase them when they're done.

Although I burn client projects to CD ROM, we also have an external hard drive for backups (they're around $300 for 400Gigs now). Terrific for backing up all the other stuff -- email, your own sites, projects in progress, etc. Really nice, too, because you're not "burning" anything ... just drag/drop/copy and it's backed up and easily accessible -- and it's a relief to know it's there.

I find this generally keeps us oriented and everything moving along as it should.

This is a good thread. :)

handle paper once

One I am going to use is "handle paper once". I cant count the number of times I have handled some bits of paper. If you dont need it I am going to throw it or file it or deal with it to do the file/throw action.

Some really good idea going on here, cheers.

Even bought a few of the books to read, just got to allocate time to do it.

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