Order is part of the good life, and I confess to a life-long obsession with getting organizing. I still have my copy of the first modern bestseller on time management, How to Get Control of Your Time and Your Life, which I bought when it first came out in 1973. (Bill Clinton bought it, too, and mentions the book in the opening of his autobiography.) I was 15 and working as an au pair for a family in Palo Alto, after leaving the hippy commune in Oregon. (The commune, as you might guess, was not well organized.) Thatís when I set up my first tickler filing system.
In my twenties, I created my own filofax before Filofax existed. I even acted as literary agent for a book called The Organized Executive, selling rights to a UK publisher on behalf of the American author.
Some colleagues think Iím super organized and super productive, but the fact is that I donít have the instinctive, task-limiting mental filters that other people have. I have to make good use of organizing systems – from paper to-do lists to programs and apps that help me maintain a clear view of whatís ahead.
But lately I have been feeling weighed down by all the productive tools in my life – the devices and programs and apps that are so miraculous. Every time I started a new task, I ran into a backlog of unsorted folders, flash drives I wasnít sure about, and a ridiculous number of photographs automatically uploaded to both Dropbox and OneDrive. (That, of course, is a huge mistake.)
I resolved to conquer the files and emails and task lists that seem to get in the way of more important things. My goal is to be more productive and more creative. For those who are experiencing similar practical and psychic overload, here is a list of tools I can vouch for, and that Iíll be making better use of in 2015.
My first tech tip is to†use the tools God gave you†before looking for something new. By God, I mean Microsoft or Google or the software programmer who wrote your favorite app or program, that oldie you love and live by, the tools that are already on your computer or your mobile device, taking up hard-drive space and bandwidth.
These mega-companies often offer solutions to common problems. For example, hereís an article about using Microsoft Outlook more effectively: http://www.techrepublic.com/blog/10-things/10-ways-to-control-your-inbox-in-outlook-2010/. Microsoft Office is full of cool things, in fact, though it is hard to find them. I turn to experts for directions instead of trying to fight my way through the woods. Techrepublic.com is a good source, but my favorite is the ubiquitious Lifehacker.com. One recent discovery, yet to be put into practice, is a system called Personal Kanban that I read about on Lifehacker: http://lifehacker.com/productivity-101-how-to-use-personal-kanban-to-visuali-1687948640.
Iíve become a fan of Microsoft over the past year. At my company, Berkshire Publishing Group, weíve always depended on Microsoft products, but I used to denounce them routinely for being expensive, inelegant, and over-engineering. But they are winning me over with their cloud services and mobile apps. We now have virtually unlimited cloud storage for US$6 per person per month, a business Sharepoint account as well as separate user accounts, and access to web versions of the basic Office programs we use all the time.
Microsoftís OneDrive is similar to Dropbox but has integrated versions of Word, Powerpoint, Excel, and the marvelous OneNote, which is similar to Evernote, and now free (both the desktop and browser versions). I added the free Onetastic for some additional tools.
My business has been transformed by Voice Over Internet Protocols (VOIP), starting with Skype (now owned by Microsoft) and now moving to WeChat (a Chinese app similar to Whatsapp).
I can no longer imagine doing library archive research, not to mention all kinds of ordinary office exchanges, without Camscanner on my Android phone. I can create scans of documents quickly, and the app straightens the documents, brighten them, and even, in the paid version, provides a decent text using OCR (Optical Character Reading).†The same companyís Camcard is so good at reading business cards, in English and other languages including Chinese, that we joke that itís actually sending the images to India to be typed by a human being.
I also rely on Acrobat Export PDF https://www.acrobat.com/en_us/products/exportpdf.html, which costs $25 and saves a remarkable amount of time and aggravation by letting me convert most PDFs to Word or Excel.
Adobe, by the way, offers older versions of its expensive programs for free download, and this free Photoshop is good enough for me https://helpx.adobe.com/creative-suite/kb/cs2-product-downloads.html#. I also like Microsoftís Photo Editor, packed with the Office Suite, but my tech folks frown on it as too light-weight.
To figure out where the lurking duplicate photos and other files crowding your hard-drive live, try TreeSize Free http://www.jam-software.com/treesize_free/.
PS: I still use a paper binder called Time/System, but I have made a number of changes. I now keep my priority tasks for the week in OneNote and print a copy for the binder. And for 2015 I stopped buying an annual refill and made my own daily pages, A5 size, custom fitted to my personal requirements. I started with the free Word file at Philofaxy http://philofaxy.blogspot.com/p/diary-inserts.html and used search-and-replace to customize every page. I have a supply of A4 paper from the UK, and print a month or two at a time, cutting the pages in half with a paperknife and then punching. It saves a little money and I like the idea that I can add personal features. There are a remarkable number of high-quality printable forms online, if youíre into this kind of DIY.