I have tried many different methods of organizing action items, to do lists, priorities and schedules. Every time a new and promising technique or technology shows up on my radar, I give it a go, hoping I might learn a thing or two. I’ve used Covey’s system, Getting Things Done, and others along the way to developing habits of organizing that work for me.
Which brings me to my first and most important point: each of us organizes things differently because our brains are organized differently. Due to our unique combination of genetics, personality, and experience, we all see, store, and remember the world differently from each other. You thought there was one world “out there?” Well, I’m here to tell you, there are multiple worlds, and they are all “in here,” inside each of our minds and the way we interpret experience to create what we think of as “real.”
That makes creating a single method for organizing that works for everyone a nearly impossible task. Even more challenging is the fact that our individual organizing needs and styles change from day to day and moment to moment based on things like our mood (I’m having a bad day, so I should do things that will help me feel better), or location (I’m on-site with the creative team, so a picture might be worth a thousand words) or content (how do I help this engineering team see the forest in addition to the trees?).
With the advent of the iPhone, I thought I would finally have an electronic organizer that could replace the paper I habitually carry around with me to organize my day and week. After all, the key features I needed were 1) something I could write on that was small enough to fit in my pocket and 2) something I was sure to have with me when I needed it.
It turns out that the iPhone has a variety of options for keeping lists of things, some of which let you prioritize, set due dates, etc. I’ve used the very simple Notes application that comes with the phone as well as Jott (which has the very satisfying feature of swiping across an item to draw a line through it and mark it off the list) and OmniFocus, which is based on Getting Things Done and includes optional due dates, photos, and voice recordings.
The shortfall of these applications as compared to a good old piece of paper is this: they all assume that one method of organizing works all the time. Their well thought out structures require me to fit my thoughts and priorities into a predetermined organization that may be great for some things and terrible for others. I’ve been around enough to know how I think best in different circumstances. When I have to change the way I think to use a tool that is supposed to help me organize my thoughts, it’s no longer a good fit.
A blank sheet of paper, on the other hand, is an inviting space that asks me the question: how do you want to organize your day? It remembers what I write down, what I cross off, what I connect to another thought or action or picture. It has no issue when I decide half way through my day that there’s a better way to organize for the week. It works with me so I can change how I think based on changing priorities, moods, and circumstances.
The software I’ve used that comes closest to the flexibility of paper is probably Microsoft OneNote. OmniGraffle, MindMeister, and MindManager are also good for certain kinds of thinking. None are available in a mobile version yet. I keep hoping that Apple or an iPhone developer will fill this gap with an organizing app that flexes with my thought process.
I continue to experiment with electronic organizing apps because I like some of the things they do well. But when I’m serious about organizing my day and week, I pull out my pad of paper and get down to business.
If you have used other tools or methods that work well for you, drop me a line, I’d love to hear about them.
Other organizing / thinking / planning tools that I and others have found useful include:
Google Docs & Spreadsheets