Yeah right. I’m sure with the new year, everyone has an idea to lose weight, get organized, ditch email or read more comics. How close we come to any of those is a matter of focus and discipline, but let’s all try!

Getting Things Done is the subject of many books and methods, especially for today’s multi tasking electronic world. The distraction of 25 Crazy Thongs Miley Cyrus Wore and You Won’t Believe What This Adorable Puppy Did to This Shoe! is a constant menace for all, and some experts think we all have some degree of ADD because of it. Everyone hopes there is a magical bullet or app or cute little notebook that will suddenly make us more productive and task oriented. I think a lot of these bullets are like The Container Store, an overpriced emporium that suggests to the dreamers that if we can just guy enough shoeboxes, everything in life will be better. If I just jot it down, I’ll know how to do it!

Dustin Harbin was discussing getting more organized on Twitter a bit yesterday, and he had two links which I investigated. One is Bullet Journal, a system for making notes in a notebook. Unfortunately, it requires being able to read your own handwriting, so that rules out my using it.

He also linked to the hints from Turkish software engineer Semih Yagcioglu whose How I Work offers such common sense stuff as getting up at the same time every day. (Seriously, this is a BIG goal for me in 2014.)

I wouldn’t call myself organized or focused, but I do use a couple of tools that I’m better off with. Of course, I use Evernote, like everyone else, teamed with a browser plugin that automatically tags and stores everything. It really is the best easy data dump and syncs perfectly over all your devices. When I’m moderating a panel, I put my notes in Evernote and use my iPad to refer to them during the event. I guess it can look distracting using the iPad, but it also helps me keep track of time. It isn’t ideal as you can’t really jot a note on an iPad without looking like a jerk, so I bring paper and pencil to the lectern as well.

I still miss Google Notebook, which allowed you to create massive collections of links and notes with a click. Evernote’s browser plugin does pretty much the same thing, but it doesn’t sync with every other Google product. Of course, I am less interested in the products that Google is emphasizing now anyway. Seriously, with the popularity of Evernote, I’m surprised Google let this feature die.

I use Wunderlist for to-do lists. This is a simple, free app that syncs well and has a transparent interface. It is lacking one vital tiny thing however — you can’t archive a to do-list! For someone as easily distracted as me, looking at all those other lists often pulls me away from what I thought I wanted to do. Of course, why would I want to look at old to do lists? I find that reviewing old projects often jogs my memory of other stuff I wanted to get to some day.

You can also share a task list list with others, and this is really useful when you have a team working on a project, or even just when you have a spouse.

Gmail has a to do list function, but it seems super clunky to me. Does anyone use it?

Sadly, both these tools are but tiny tin screwdrivers before the giant clanking automaton of my daily tasks. The problem is not an app, it’s me! Every day I usually have so much to do, and so many projects that I want to move forward on, that I soon get overwhelmed and just goof off on twitter or IM while I plan to tackle the whole mess when I’m good and ready. This is not a good way to get anything done. My very organized friend Zena Tsarfin recommended one technique which actually works great for me. Since, despite all our performance enhancing drugs and free software, we can only do meaningful work on a finite number of projects every day**, write down the top FIVE things you need to get done on a post-it and whenever Twitter or Facebook calls, refer to the post-it. When I begin to founder, the post-it is a handy life raft.

Because of my distraction problem, Inbox Zero is a big goal for me. I have about 50,000 emails in my various inboxes total, and many of them are those annoying mailing lists you have to sign up for whenever you buy something online. I’ve been using Mailstrom to trim it down, but as of Monday 1/6 Mailstrom will be a pay service, and while I say more power to ’em for actually charging for their services, I probably won’t subscribe. I can just hit “delete” the old fashioned way.

I don’t believe there is a “magic app” for anyone. There are techniques that anyone can use to get more organized, but to some extent, I think we’re all the victim of our own brain architecture, and this has to be taken into account for any change in behavior. The best method for doing anything is the one that you can stick to, and they don’t have an app for will power. Yet.

How about it, Beat readers? Do you have any tips or tricks or goals for the new year? Share in the comments!

Pile 1
**Unless that day is situated in the week before Comic-Con.


  1. I have some big big personal goals for this year. Some of the biggest goals I have ever set. And a lot of them rely on other people.
    I’ve talked with them about these goals, and asked them for input. Then I set realistic deadlines.
    Then I broke those goals down into steps, so I can actually accomplish them one by one. Otherwise this all just stays massive and unattainable.
    I’ve found that I sleep easier when I know what my next step is, when I need to do things.

    I realize this all sounds like it’s from a seminar on time efficiency, so pardon me for that; I tried this technique last year, and it worked for me.
    This is the only way I can manage to get big things done on time, and not get distracted by the ‘next shiny object’.

  2. Not an endorsement, but Google introduced a new notetaking service called Keep a while back – . The gmail to-do list is definitely too clunky, and I presumed they would phase that out after a while.

  3. I read of a high powered exec who just let go of Inbox Zero about a year or so ago. Like letting go of being bothered by Spoilers, this has been really liberating.

    Switch to Priority Inbox in Gmail.
    Use the star function in Google to mark messages you feel like you need to get to.
    Look at the ones you maybe need to get to.
    And just ignore that unread number.

    If it really bothers you, every now and then, just delete them all. You are unlikely to miss anything, especially if there are lots of lists.
    Search “in:inbox is:unread”
    Click the Select All button in the upper left.
    Select the option that says “select all items that meet this search.”
    Hit Delete.

    Free at last, free at last. Odds are, you just nuked miles and miles of list junk that maybe you could have done something with but were never going to.

  4. I work across different operating systems and after being bitten by disappearing (or worse ‘improved’) ‘free’ services I decided to control syncing for myself. Successfully used Dropbox to maintain a shared folder (containing lists, project files) across platforms and I’m now trying out BTSync which does the same thing but cuts out the reliance on Dropbox itself as a service.

    I like the simplicity of the top-five post-it list approach. Until recently I was in a situation where I was constantly overwhelmed with a mass of ongoing projects on different cycles and a never-ending flood of response management and firefighting requirements. I kept track with a simple searchable daily journal, briefly listing what I’d done, contact and job details, key quotes etc. It not only freed me up from remembering a mountain of tiny details it also provided evidence that there had actually been progress and relative achievement over time, in a situation where there was no real endpoint and often no clear deadlines for much of what I was doing. Keeping it that simple rather than strapping myself into a proprietary organizer system also meant I kept it up. (If I’d had time to employ a more structured set-up I wouldn’t have needed it).

    Happily (although my bank manager doesn’t agree) that all came to an end and now I too face the task of getting up at the same time every day. For 2014 my goal is to work on the initial step – the actually getting up bit :)

  5. I agree there is no magic app. Even the good ones have loopholes or problems.

    I have two apps. FREEDOM and ANTI-SOCIAL. They simply kill the Internet and / or block specific sites on a timer. You can only get around it by rebooting your computer. This is specific to me and my distractions when I’m working on my comics. However, someone like Heidi needs to be open to breaking news all the time, so these may not work for her.

  6. I’m seconding Charles Knight’s method! I started to ignore my computer, iPad, and phone and got a LOT of stuff done last year. If they aren’t part of the solution, they’re part of the problem and all that other stuff my grandfather used to say.

  7. Keep a time diary to see where your time goes, then plan each day in advance, hour by hour. I don’t always stick to it, but I get more done than if I have no timetable.

    Randy Pausch’s time management video helped, but it takes over an hour to watch!

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