Organizational Savviness


Awesome post — one of the best, most informative I’ve read — about one man’s organizational system. Trent Hamm runs a personal finance Web site called The Simple Dollar while juggling a full-time job, a family, hobbies, not to mention all the other things that life demands of us. Unlike many of us, though, he’s hit upon an excellent time-management system that anyone can implement. The post includes links to a list of organizational management books that Hamm recommends (and others he doesn’t care for).

As a freelance writer who juggles a novel, tons of research, freelance articles, a budding screenplay (with B.), a play (…that I haven’t touched in a few months, but I’m hoping to get back to it in the next few weeks!), 4 blogs, a one-day-a-week job, a household, family, friends…the list goes on and on and on…I need to be able to organize everything with a system that makes sense to me and which doesn’t end being overwhelming. Otherwise, it’ll immediately go by the wayside.

I was already using Mozilla Thunderbird and Lightning. Thunderbird is Mozilla’s free email client and is an excellent (and did I mention free?) alternative to Microsoft Outlook. Those of you familiar with Outlook will be comforted by Thunderbird’s interface, as it’s very similar to that of Microsoft’s version. Unlike Outlook, however, it doesn’t have a Calendar option, so you’ll need to download Lightning. An add-on specifically created to integrate seamlessly with Thunderbird, it’s also very easy to use. You can switch back and forth between the Mail and Calendar windows with a single click of a button, and there’s even a viewing pane on the right side of Thunderbird where you can immediately see appointments for that day, the next day, and/or soon, as well as your Task List.I haven’t tried Sunbird yet and don’t know if I should go with that or stick with Lightning. My understanding is that Sunbird is a stand-alone client and therefore won’t integrate with Thunderbird. As I almost always have my email open and like the idea of being able to just view all of what I need to do (including emails to respond to) in one glance, I think I’ll just to Lightning.

By the way, all of these software programs are super-easy to download and (especially if you’re already Microsoft versions) even easier to use. All of my Google emails (I have 4, one for each blog) download directly into Thunderbird, so I can organize everything into separate files and see all of my emails all at once. I’ve programmed Thunderbird to automatically check emails every 5 minutes, so I immediately know when a message comes into any of my Google accounts without having to open each one into a browser.

It’s not hard at all to configure Thunderbird to do all of this. Google supports Mozilla software and vice-versa, so you’ll just need to follow Google’s step-by-step instructions on how to configure your email client program (i.e., Thunderbird) to handle POP mail. If you have any questions, I’d be happy to try and answer them for you.

The only downside that I can think of is that, at this time, you can’t synch it with your Palm Pilot or Blackberry. Hopefully the folks at Mozilla will be able to work with the PDA guys to get that fixed.

I also have two little notebooks that I keep in my purse at all times. One is more of an idea book where I dump everything that pops into my head — blog post ideas, novel ideas, book recommendations I read or hear about, to-do lists, etc. The other one is more of a general household idea book, reserved mostly for to-do lists for the home (e.g., go to Target, call property manager to fix fence, get oil change) and shopping lists.

In addition, for those times when I need to jot down something critical while I’m driving and don’t want to have to pull over, I have a Sony digital voice recorder that I bought at Best Buy for less than $50. This particular one is super-small, maybe 5″ long, 2″ wide and 2″ thick, requires 2 AAA batteries (spares of which are always in my purse), and will hold a charge for hours and hours. Each recording can be filed into its own separate folder, and it even comes with software and a USB connection so that I can download the audio files into my laptop. (If only it could transcribe it, too!) It’s easy to use, very light and can be slipped into your pocket, and doesn’t require tapes, so you’ll never have to stop what you’re doing in order to flip over a cassette. Or worse, you run out of time on a cassette. This one purportedly can record over a 100 hours of audio.

I mostly use it for interviews, where it comes in handy as it’s small and unobtrusive (unlike old cassette recorders of old) and can run on and on and on.

Next to try out: Google Notebook! I’ve already sampled Google Docs, but I haven’t had much occasion to use it. Someone did recommend uploading my novel as another backup option, though. I already backup my novel on a data stick, and I email a copy to myself every time I make a change in it. (If you’re doing NaNoWriMo and haven’t been backing up your novel every time you work on it, you’re setting yourself up for a really nasty heartbreak if your computer craps out on you. For the love of God, please back up your novel! Email it to yourself, get a data stick, or upload it to Google Docs or another online office app. You’ll never ever ever regret it. Trust me on this one. I know from whence I speak.)

Happy Thanksgiving!!!