To do today: tell me how you stay organized


So, readers…help a list-crazy-but-never-quite-organized-enough person out.

I’m a sucker for the Next Best Thing (NBT) that will magically keep me organized, and yet I rarely commit enough to anything to give it a fair shake.

I’m all about the lists, but WHERE to keep them? And HOW BEST to use them?

After an intensive discussion yesterday with ubertechnology user friend Rush who uses everything and makes it work for HIM, I’m still left wondering what will work best for me.

And this Web 2.0 world full of zippy, cutesy, helpful free apps is just a giant candy jar for people like me who aren’t always sure that a simple pen and notepad, calendar and address book work better than the NBT.

Use Gmail to corrall and mastermind all email addresses? Use Google calendar and contacts? Use this beautiful new address book from Real Simple? Use Ta-Da Lists? Use Backpack? Use Sandy? Todoist? Jott? 30 boxes? Google stickies? Remember the Milk?

I’m not over burdened with traveling and meetings, but I do manage, like all of us, tons of projects at home and at work with plenty of easy-to-forget details in both places.

It can’t be harder to manage than my life already is—any system I adopt can’t be its own project! It has to be visually appealing, it has to be intuitive and I need to be able to access it easily at home and at work.

I’d love to hear about your system, any system, and why it works for you, even if it is just a gorgeous Moleskine notebook and a freshly sharpened #2 pencil.

Because I’m going to stick one of those pencils in my own eye if I can’t get more organized than this.

Edited to add: I just tried Jott and Sandy. I think I might need to marry Sandy. Thank goodness that would be legal in my state. Er, if I wasn’t already married, that is.

Edited again to add: I had no idea how much I would love hearing about your systems. Please, keep sharing! This is like organizational p-o-r-n.


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31 Responses to “To do today: tell me how you stay organized”

  1. Stephanie Says:

    I don’t have a system persay, but I just buy a quality, leather-bound planner with yearly and monthly calendars in the front, then daily calendar pages, with pages for notes in the back. I record everything in there from doctor’s appointments to work meetings to assignment due dates to birthdays, etc. If I make a list on the fly at work or when I don’t have the planner handy, I just insert the sticky note into that week’s page and chuck it when I’ve accomplished everything on the list. I’m sure this isn’t helpful, but it definitely works for me!

  2. Anna Says:

    Of course it is helpful! I love hearing what works for others. Thank you!

  3. The Casual Perfectionist Says:

    I use Outlook. It’s sync’d with my Palm Pilot. I keep the master calendar in Outlook. Right now, there’s no need to color code, because it’s pretty simple. When Claire gets old enough to have her own activities, we may color code, or not. My hubby clears things with my calendar before committing us to anything. My hubby’s friends know to contact me about availability for ski trips, camping trips, etc. I’m the gatekeeper of the schedule, and it works for us. (Wow…this makes me sound so controlling, but it’s not like that! It’s not like I tell him if he can or can’t go, it’s just that I remind him what we’ve got where. Does that make sense?)

    In Outlook, I have a To Do List. I put all kinds of things in there from “change the furnace filter” to “pay the Electric bill.” (I use Quicken for our budget and all bills.)

    Every day, I snyc’ my Outlook with my Palm Pilot, so I always have everything with me (in a small compact version that fits so easily in my purse.) All our Contacts, To Do items and calendar. I even have a copy of my “journal” which is a Word document where I write bits and pieces of things that I’d like to blog about. It’s all right there and easily accessible.

    Once I’m home, I sync’ again, and anything that has been added while I was out and about goes on the calendar, To Do List, etc.

    It’s what works for me/us!

  4. thelandofka Says:

    I use my Outlook for work to put our schedules on and I have a word document that has my weekly to do list, plus what I am making for dinner. I also have a journal I keep in my purse for some things I want to keep track of and write down (it’s kinda hard to draw a dress design in Word!). It all works great if I keep up on it…some weeks that is hard to do.

  5. Michelle Says:

    I tried a bunch of different electronic organizing sites/systems, but I keep going back to old-fashioned paper calendars – still trying to decide which one I like best.

    Last year I tried the BusyBody planner – – and it worked out pretty well, and this year I’m trying out Mom Agenda – – which I think I actually like a little better.

    It’s not a perfect system, and I still end up with sticky notes all over the planner, but it mostly works for me.

  6. Amily Says:

    I’m a former Meeting Maker user (what my work used). I put everything in it.

    Currently, I have a daily log book of feedings and diaper changes, a list of my other “to do’s” on a stickie pad, and a calendar for DR’s appointments. My cell phone has phone numbers, my email has my contacts email addresses and an excel spreadsheet has home addresses and children’s names.

    I guess the old pen and paper is still my favorite way to organize though. Let me know what you choose to do because maybe I will become “virtually” organized someday. What does Rush use???

  7. The Lisa Show Says:

    Even when Palm Pilots were all the rage here, I never succumbed to the temptation. It’s always pen and paper for me. I use a hardbound planner. I love Moleskines too. 🙂 I looked at Sandy and it looks tempting, but I know I’m gonna give up on it after a week.

  8. Maggie Says:

    I am another very faithful palm/outlook user. I have used it for several years, and can’t imagine doing it any other way. It is the only way that I have found to keep everything at my fingertips, as well as keeps me from having to enter recurring things multiple times. In addition, I think it makes a great distraction for those times when you’re stuck in a grocery store line with a cranky kiddo, or when you’re stuck waiting for an extra few minutes and want to jot some things down for a post or to do list or whatever.

  9. Jess Says:

    I use Google documents. I track my wedding budget, my wedding guest list, and all household bills using their spreadsheets. I like it because I do most of my own stuff but it provides one consolidated place to store it all and check/update things from anywhere.

    I’ve heard good things about Quicken too, though.

  10. Nicole Says:

    I have a nice little spiral bound, old-school paper engagement calendar (with pretty Sierra Club pictures) that I take with me wherever I go. I write in pencil, so it’s easy to change. Phone numbers in the cell. Email addresses saved on the work server or email application address book. Of course I’m only responsible for myself, my puppy and sometimes my boyfriend. I suddenly feel like I have it easy…

  11. Kate Says:

    I am a very old fashioned teacher….Day planner, sticky notes and many different colered sharpies. There is something very theraputic about a variety pack (the pretty colors) of sharpies. Just the 96 box of crayons with the sharpener built in, but better!

  12. erin Says:

    I am a pen and paper girl, but I’m intrigued by Sandy and some of the other sites you’ve listed here….will be checking those out…

  13. Rush and Sarah Says:

    Awh, shucks, Anna. Thanks for the props.

    I do use everything you mentioned there, plus Grand Central Goosync and a smattering of Greasemonkey scripts that make all the Google goodness work the way I want it to.

    But if I had to use only the bare bones, it’d be Google calendar (easy to share! Great for couples!) and Remember the Milk. RTM is the best place to remind me to check back on someone in 2 weeks, and and to update my photos in flickr every day. Best of all, it keeps things out of sight until I need to see/do them. And if you like to tag or further organize, RTM has more options than I spirals on a notebook.

    Of course, it’s all about what you need, what you carry, and how willing you are to do a bit of list maintenance and commit. By the questions you are asking, you are on the right track!

  14. carrievoris Says:

    oh i’m so taking notes on all of this – thanks, anna! i’m going to go add some of this stuff to my to-do list. (always pencil and paper…)

  15. Mary Says:

    Jason and I started to use MS Office Groove recently and LOVE IT! It is a very user-friendly shared workspace. Anything in progress for work I save in Groove. Last week I was reviewing 30 documents when the power went out for four hours. Luckily Jason was home and I just kept churning via his laptop. Plus it has a calendar, messaging, issue tracking (where our current To Do Before We Move list resides), etc. Between the boys, living in different time zones, trying to sell the house, the list goes on and on … this has been a great organizer since we both can access it.

  16. Shannon Says:

    Great post, Anna. At work, I kept a daily list on a pad of paper. When I stopped working, I kept those pads and I imagine that when I go back I’ll be able to pick up my last pad and just keep going from there.

    At home, I am still struggling to find a system that works. So far, Excel spreadsheets for budgets and money stuff and Word documents for random lists. For day to day, I use a very large calendar that works well – and random bits of paper that I am always losing.

    I am always on the hunt for ways to simplify things and items and gadgets to keep things clean. Any piece of furniture that I buy from here on out, needs to have drawers or doors – no more empty shelves for me.

  17. Katy Says:

    we hung (magnetic) metal strips inside of the cupboards. the one closest to the pencil jar holds the running grocery list.

    that is the only system i have in place that works as it should.

    otherwise, i use a “composition book”–the pre moleskine era marbled black–as a datebook. i paperclip whatever papers i need for the day to the front (today it’s the nursery school tuition i need to drop off and a coupon for larabars.)

  18. Sarah Says:

    I lost my paper calendar (thankfully only days after I copied most things in it onto Google Calendar) a few weeks ago. It’s been rough going!

    I keep intending to break down and get a Blackberry or PDA or similar, but I also know I’ll need a good one for nursing school when I do that in a few years and I don’t want it to be obsolete by then, so I figure, eh, I’ll stick with Google calendar in the meantime.

    It’s not ideal, though (Google calendar) ’cause I tend to ignore the emails it sends me. How bad am I?

  19. Anisa Says:

    Wow – great questions, you brought may of the things that were in my draft of how to get organized in the new year (but I never finished my research). I used to use a Palm pilot but did not like the mac interface so have gone to back to my moleskin notebook I love and my filofax calendar. I really like the act of writing or drawing with a pen but eventually need most of it electronically. I use 30 boxes for my website but may try google calendars because everyone raves about it. Also I am using a new product, BatchBook to manage my contacts that I love.

  20. B. Says:

    I also depend (a lot) on my wife!

    With that said, I have tried a handful of hi-tech and low tech solutions/crazes (i.e. Franklin Planner, Palm pilot) and, for me, I have found that the optimal solution has been a pencil and a Sierra Club engagement calendar. There is enough space to write down important dates/meetings for both work and home and you don;t have to be near a computer or staring into your phone to enter the info. I also keep attached a small binder clip to the pages of the calendar. The clip holds a folded 8 1/2×11 sheet of paper with my personal to-do list.

    I keep my work list(s) in a seperate “computation” notebook and cross things off as I go. I also use a large white board.

    For someone with lots of appointments/meetings/deadlines or a hard core traveller I would imagine that something like Google Calendar would be handy. Maybe it is what I need? I will be checking out Jott and Sandy too…

  21. applecyder Says:

    Very low-tech here. Moleskine for ideas/projects/craft purchases, tiny sticky notes for grocery lists that fit in my wallet, and my personal/family appts go into my work calendar (meeting maker). I’d love to have an inspiration board at home like these folks, but I never get around to it:

  22. Ellen Says:

    I received “momagenda” as a gift this Christmas and I really love it! Yes, I agree that you do need to use yellow sticky notes at times but the whole set up is great! Lots of room and spaces for the different family members. John uses a calendar system on Goggle and it sends him emails about things he needs to do when the time approaches. I think he is really liking that.

  23. Mike Says:

    I’m just not good at this stuff. Better, but nowhere near where I want to be. I mean, you’ve seen my desk! I try to survive with Outlook and the palm. I guess it’s working — so far!

  24. Chelle Says:

    OFFICE: Hardbound sketch book for running list of important tasks; job folder with job sheets on computer desktop sorted by due date; calendar for meetings + deadlines in Entourage which syncs across webmail; copy of Entourage calendar posted by desk and copy carried in personal datebook for quick recap if away from computer. (I’ve abandoned my color coded stickies this last year and gone to Entourage notifications. So far so good.)

    HOME: Personal datebook for essentials; webmail for easy access anywhere; cell phone for important numbers and Moleskin reporter’s notebook for inspirational notations. Also, I always carry a container in back of my car with sketch pads, charcoal and pastels for the “just in case I get a creative moment” while going to and fro.

    And finally, we have an antique secretary / desk we keep in the dining room with an organizer for bills and a place for paperwork to be filed. We keep our incoming and outgoing mail, as well as lists of things to do for each of us here. (It is a thing of wonder to keep us less crazied. Besides, it is a good excuse to have an antique desk in the dining room, since things don’t always make it upstairs to our office room!)

    Sorry if I’ve bored you…


  25. andiana Says:

    I like what B. has come up with (except that I don’t have a wife to depend on). For me there’s nothing like a month-at-a-glance calendar that fits neatly into my purse to take care of appointments, meetings etc, etc. It used to contain all the hockey games and swim meets. It’s much less crowded now. For to-do lists I always carry a small spiral notebook, courtesy of CVS. Having it readily available in my purse, lets me also jot down spontaneous treasures of information – eg a recipie from an unexpected source, the name of a fabulous book, etc. etc.

  26. Kim Says:

    I’m currently into ical, a mac application. I’m not sure if it’s available for pc or not, but I love it and it’s keeping me on track…. so far.

  27. Lisa Says:

    I can’t believe I missed this post! I am always looking for ways to be more organized. Here is what I do:

    Home: I use an eighteen month calendar that is posted on the fridge. As soon as an invitation or event comes through the mail, it gets written on the calendar where everyone can see. (The trick is to make sure that you check it every day). I also use a grocery list that is posted next to the fridge. Everyone is supposed to add an item when they use it up – but my husband rarely remembers!

    Work: I use my outlook calendar and put any daytime events like dr. appts. or haircuts on that calendar. I also use the task portion of Outlook for scheduling weekly tasks that need to get done at work. If I get an invitation for a weekend or evening event, I just forward the e-mail to myself at home and put it on my family calendar.

    I also just started to use ta da lists. It’s great b/c I can check my lists (or add tasks) from work or home.

    I am terrible about birthdays, but some of my friends use Birthday Alarm. I just went and added some birthdays to my account – I hope that keeps me from forgetting any more this year.


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