Sometimes, ya just gotta organize youreself. You’ll know it when it happens because everything is probably off-kilter and you feel like you’re barely able to keep your head above water.
Sometimes, having a new tool to work in can motivate and inspire you to get more done, as well. Other times, it can just be a big pain in the ass.
So I’ve decided to compile a list of my favorite organizing tools, that are decidedly not pains in the ass – because – well, who needs more pains in their ass?
Most of these tools are cross platform, that’s part of how they made it onto this list.
Trello – Organizing your thoughts
If you remember back to high school, at least back when I went to high school, they had us do book reports by writing things on index cards. I carried this little method right over into adulthood with me – without looking around and realizing that nobody else really did.
When I design software projects at work, I’ve got a pile of notecards on my desk and I’m shuffling them around like some relic from the 80’s. And people do notice this, and ask me if I’ve heard of computers.
Haha. I write software for a living. So maybe it is a little strange that until recently, I hadn’t found a software version of the old notecard pile.
Trello came along, and it’s basically everything I want – you’ve got columns and in each column, you can place as many cards as you’d like, and each card can have a description, comments, and other goodies in it.
I use the description for the stuff that won’t change – for example, if the card represents a task, the description will be a description of the task. I use the comments for things that are more status based, like where I am on the task.
But don’t hold back with Trello, you can do SO much – ideas will start coming to you fast and furious if you keep an open mind and don’t wonder “How am I supposed to use Trello?” – instead wonder “How can I creatively use Trello to solve my problems?”
Trello is also available for Android, and IOS.
Any.do – organizing your tasks
Trello can actually do what Any.do does, but I like the way Any.do does it better than Trello. Trello to me is more in the ideas space, Any.do is a task manager.
It helps you organize those random to-do things that aren’t schedule based (although you can schedule things, and have recurring tasks) .
I love the way the timing is organized, actually. It’s broken out into a few categories:
Today, Tomorrow, Upcoming, and Someday.
These deserve a little explaination.
Today is for things that you’re going to try to do today.
Tomorrow is tomorrow’s stuff.
Upcoming is stuff that isn’t today, and isn’t tomorrow.
Someday will never end up on today , tomorrow, or upcoming unless you put it there, so it’s kind of like your wish list.
It’s a subtle way to organize and keep yourself focused on the value of tasks, rather than a schedule.
I also like how it’s worded when you enter a new task: “I want to …”
Good Job, Any.do – make use of that positive language. It actually helps.
There are some task sharing and group features that I’ve never used – probably because nobody that knows me actually wants to have anything to do with my schedule – but the functionality looks pretty good. Maybe I’ll make some friends someday.
Mind Mapping – Organizing ideas, taking notes, memorizing
Mind Mapping is a great technique that probably warrants its own article, but there are already a ton of articles and books out there on it, so you can google it yourself if you need to know exactly how to do it.
It’s on this list because I think it’s a super valuable tool to get ideas out of your brain and onto paper. Normally, I’ll grab an actual sheet of paper and a pen to do a mind map, especially when things start to get complicated.
You know that feeling when your head starts to hurt because you’re holding too much stuff in there? That’s when it’s time for a mind map.
The idea is that we think and remember in images and spatial references. This much is actually proven. Mind Mapping is a great way to remember a ton of information. Its a quick way to take notes. During review, you’ll be surprised at how much you already remember – when compared to a similar review on traditional notes.
There are apps that are good for Mind Mapping, but I think in this case, pen and paper is best. You want a free flow of ideas, you don’t want to have to translate through a complicated interface – your flow will be interrupted.
So far, I don’t think any of the apps have figured out how to make Mind Mapping as easy as it is on paper.
Pomodoro Technique – Time management
If time management, inturruptions, deciding what to do next, and focus sound like things you need help with, take a serious look at the pomodoro technique.
The basic idea is that you dedicate a 25 minute period of time (known as a pomodoro) to the next item on your task list (see Any.do for your task list!). You turn off your phone ringer, you close your email (notifications), you close your door, and you start working, and you don’t do anything else for 25 minutes.
If a distraction occurrs, you can take a few seconds to put it on your task list, but you don’t stop what you were doing for nobody or nothin’!
Unless someone is bleeding. My Mom actually unknowingly used this technique when she was napping – stating that unless someone was dealthy ill, bleeding, or injured in some way – we were not to disrupt her nap. She is a woman ahead of her time, for sure.
There are apps (both web and Android, IOS) that serve as pomodoro timers, which help, because if someone does stick their nose in your office door when you’re in the middle of a pomodoro, you can tell them that you’ll be available to talk to them in … 17 minutes, or whatever amount of time is left on your timer.
The Pomodoro Technique is designed to help you focus hard for 25 minutes, which is near the max amount of time most people can focus on anything anyway. Then you get a break, and you do another pomodoro. Some tasks may take multiple pomodoros.
In addition to the benefit of plain ol focus, there are tracking methods as well, that will help you learn how fast (measured in pomodoros – 25 min chunks of time) you typically get things done. This knowledge helps you plan out your tasks even more accurately, and manage expectations.
These tools are some of my favorites – ranging from conceptual to apps. They’ve made a difference in my life, and out of the hundreds of things I’ve tried – they are still around, which tells me that they are working.