There have been a few bloggings recently discussing techniques for organising yourself and your projects, so I thought I’d share the system I’ve been using for the last couple of years.
In summary, it’s just a flipbook that you use like this:
- Brain-dump your tasks into your “inbox” in one side of the flipbook.
- Manage your tasks daily, prioritising the tasks in your inbox and writing them into the other side of the flipbook.
- Do the tasks in your flipbook, ticking them off as you go.
- Revel in the feeling of triumph when you finish your tasks for the day; success in the face of chaos!
A Little Inspiration
During my final year at university, my project supervisor was really interested in different techniques for self-organisation/life hacks/whatever you want to call it. He was reading David Allen’s Getting Things Done and applying some of the principles himself. He would always have his “inbox” folder with him, which was somewhere to put things as they came to him, whether it be a report or a quick note on the back of a napkin. Items in this folder would get sorted periodically and either filed, actioned or put aside for later.
He also mentioned that keeping your inbox as empty as you can was a good way to stay on top of things. Likening this to an e-mail inbox: the e-mails that you can handle straight away, handle them – others, file appropriately.
When it comes down to it, organisation is subjective. What works for one person won’t work for another. On the other hand, some people are just beyond help. =) Anyway, I want to share how I used these ideas to come up with a system that works quite well for me.
The Manage-Do Concept
Undertaking a project on your own, you find that you take on two roles. Half the time you’re a project manager, figuring out what needs doing and when. The rest of the time you’re a worker, doing the actual tasks involved in order to reach the desired goal.
Realising this gave me the idea of using a flipbook (like your typical policemen’s flipbook) to organise myself – not just my projects, but pretty much everything. No matter how hard you might try to separate work and home life, the two are always merging – especially if you’re self-employed. You might suddenly think that you need to pay the gas bill during your lunch break. Or you might come up with that killer new software feature when you’re putting your laundry in the washing machine. Having one book like this makes sense and takes up less space in your pocket.
I use my flipbook in both directions. I go through the book in one direction for managing things and in the other direction for doing things.
This is my “inbox” for things: the “manage” side of the book. It’s a big waiting list of things I need to do with one item per line and space at the end of the line to tick each one off. Some things I find useful to break off into dedicated inboxes. For example, I have a “people” inbox for those things I need to remember when I bump into someone or when e-mailing. Another example might be to have an inbox for contextual aims, like things I’d like to get done when I’ve got a spare moment and a piece of paper handy.
Together, these inboxes form my organisational aims at the highest level. Sometimes specific tasks will find their way in, but in general, these are aims rather than objectives.
I regularly attend to these inboxes and plan the next couple of days. I figure out what I need to get done and when I am likely to be able to do them. As I have a general overview of things in the manage side of my book, I can prioritise and order tasks to best suit the next day or the week ahead. I list activities for each day in the flip-side of the book: the “do” side.
Do the Do
As with the manage side of the book, each activity has one line with space to either check it off as done, mark it as “postponed” or “will do later”, or cross off completely. I sometimes also add context to an activity. For example, it can be useful to list several things I need to do while I’m at an Internet connection.
If I’m honest, I don’t always stick to the plans I make, but the system is flexible enough to handle when things don’t quite go as planned or when deadlines changes. Just as long as I leave a little space to add any new tasks, it’s fine. Also, if I’m not sure how things are going to be over the next couple of days, I can plan day-by-day rather than several days at a time.
Why Not Use a PDA?
I borrowed a PDA from a friend last year and used it for a few months. I found having a single point of reference really useful. I had a note pad, diary, to do list and address book all in one place. But when I had to give the PDA back, I found it good to get back to my old system, even though it meant that I had to use a separate diary and address book. I found the Pocket PC software didn’t allow me enough flexibility as I’d hoped.
On the PDA, when tasks got completed, they got deleted. I found it useful to go back through my daily lists or my inboxes to trace when I did something or whether I actually did something at all. A couple of tasks on the PDA had mysteriously disappeared on me, leaving me wondering whether I (or the PDA) had deleted them accidentally or if I just didn’t remember ticking them off. Also, I couldn’t break down my to do list enough.
Now, with some tweaks to the to do list and a little more integration with a decent diary program, I’d find a PDA so much more useful. One place to keep notes, maintain a calendar, add new contacts, run mind mapping software… It’d also be great to be able to keep everything in one place and then just back it up occasionally, instead of keeping information in a few different places.