Staying organized

It took me a numer of years to find a personal organization system that I could embrace. I started with the Franklin-Covey paper-based planning system but things always fell apart when I didn’t want to transfer uncompleted tasks to the next day. I didn’t make it more than six months before I abandoned the system.

For the next few years after that I dabbled with a few different approaches, mostly trying to keep a laundry list of tasks in Outlook. Things didn’t really improve or progress during this time until I discovered a book called “Getting Things Done: The Art of Stree-Free Productivity“, by David Allen. I remember being attracted to the system for three primary reasons:

  1. Next Actions. The concept of determining what the next physical action needed to complete a task or project is. A simple yet powerful concept. I try to apply it to everything.
  2. A clear distinction between what should go on your calendar vs. task list. I know it may seem like common sense (at least it does to me now), but at the time I didn’t see anyone articulating it quite so well. Taks that are bound to a specific date or due on a certain day go on your calendar. I also use my calendar to host “ticklers” which are essentially reminders to add something to my task list on a certain date. Things that go on my task list need to be done but are not tied to a specific date.
  3. Context-specific task lists. I now organize my tasks into categories that make it easier for me to determine what to do next. Whether the action is to call someone (my calls list), which I can do between meetings or anytime I have a phone handy and enough energy for the call or something I have to get done while physically in the office (my office list). It helps to segment what I need to get done so I can make more intelligent choices as I go through my day.

I have to admit though I still have times when I struggle with the system. Integral to the process is doing a “weekly review.” A time when you clear your desk, inbox, and mind to get everything into your system. Even after a few years using the system I’m still not as consistent as I should be in doing a weekly review. Each day I try to do a quick review that usually consists of checking my inbox, reviewing items I moved onto a someday/maybe lists, and reviewing my projects list to see if there are next actions I should be doing. It helps doing the quick daily, but I need to do more to keep my system strong.

I use Microsoft Outlook for tasks and calendar with a Treo 650 phone to take my system with me wherever I go.

How do you stay organized?