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Staying Organized: What Tools should I Use?

Some weeks at work are calm, with just a few meetings and only one or two things to keep track of. Then there are weeks like this week, when the meetings are numerous, the to-dos are flying left and right, and the number of things to keep track of increases exponentially. It’s about at this point that I start to despair that I will ever actually keep track of it all. I’ve had a hodge-podge of tools that I’ve tried to use in the past, with only middling success. I’d love to find the right tool (or toolset) to meet my needs, so I’m throwing it out here to help organize my thoughts, and to open it up for any input my multitude of geeky and resourceful friends might have.

What I Need (or at least really want)

  • Calendar to keep track of meetings
  • Ability to attach notes to meetings – would allow me to keep track of my thoughts in preparation for the meeting.
  • Task manager to organize and prioritize tasks. Tagging/filtering for work/personal/etc would be a bonus.
  • Ability to take notes/record meeting minutes. Once they are in the past I don’t necessarily need to tie the meeting notes to the calendar item – rather, I’d like to just be able to tag and search the notes when necessary.
  • Ability to reasonably input data from my work computer when I’m at my desk. (If I have a mobile device, if at all possible I don’t want to have to step away from my computer to enter the data into another device.) I guess this implies syncing w/ my work PC.
  • Ability to sync w/ my work calendar would be a bonus, but seems like a low-probability item given that IT restricts syncing w/ the company network to company-issued devices.

What I’ve tried in the past:

  • Google Calendar – this syncs fairly well with my iPod Touch. However, this is limited by the fact that I can only sync it at home during the evening (no Wifi access at work). It also doesn’t provide much useful ability to attach notes to meetings.
  • Tasks – This nifty web-based tool from Alex King is serviceable for recording to-dos, including recurring items, etc. Works great any place I’m actually at a computer.
  • Evernote – tried it for a little while, but it didn’t seem exceptionally usable. There is an iPod Touch version but again I run into the syncing issue. I need to be able to sync more often than once per day.
  • Notebook – this retro analog device works well with a #2 pencil or black ink pen. It’s great for recording notes but quickly it gets messy and disorganized. It works best when I bring it back to my desk and then copy to-dos into Tasks or onto a paper task list.

A little analysis

OK, so let’s face it: my desire for something that stays synced up on a regular basis is a limiting factor. Given that syncing with my work network is unlikely impossible, I’m pushing myself toward a personal device w/ some sort of over-the-air network connection.

When I posted my first lament on twitter this morning, Mark Simoneau recommended Cultured Code’s Things. And I’ll admit, it does look pretty sweet. It doesn’t specifically do calendar integration, but it does very nice, slick task management, including tagging, categorizing, grouping into projects, etc. There is an iPhone/iTouch version available, which will sync with the desktop. The only big hangup for me is that it only runs on a Mac. Which makes this Windows-office user a sad panda.

I’m tempted at times to just go to using a paper daily planner. Advantages: it allows me to take notes, add agenda notes to calendar entries, input method is relatively quick. Disadvantages: no syncing, sorting, or searching.

So any thoughts from you all out there? I’d love to just go with a solution like Things on a 3G-enabled iPad, but that’s $700 I can’t afford right now.


  1. AnotherCoward AnotherCoward

    When you say "notes" you mean side commentary similar to side wiki? Not something that is formally attached as part of the event description?

  2. AnotherCoward AnotherCoward

    FWIW – you can attach documents to a google calendar event via a lab gadget. documents are not automatically shared to attendees, so maybe this is something closer to what you are looking for … or not 🙂

  3. Let me try to expand a bit on my thought, Spencer. Basically, there is a set of data that is relevant to me in my day-to-day work. (Being in project certification now, I deal with a multitude of different projects for small amounts of time. So, lots of small details to keep track of, lots of context switching, and important to keep records.)

    Sometimes that data is associated with a meeting – at least for the time leading up to that meeting. A meeting may then cause creation of additional notes (data for me to store/reference later), to-dos (needing to be tracked).

    Sometimes the data comes in with a due date – making it a to-do. I need to track those and make sure I get them done on time.

    Sometimes that data comes in without a meeting or to-do – it's just information.

    Regardless of how it comes in or what context is attached to the data, I'd still like to be able to catalog it, tag it by project/product, and store it for later.

    In as few buckets as possible. And easily accessible both at my workstation and on-the-go.

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