Thursday, May 17, 2012

Notebook free

For a number of years I was obsessed with using a particular notebook. I would order them in bulk and I would get antsy if I was nearing the end of my last one and I hadn't procured more of them. The Ampad Project Planner was the ideal notebook because of the column of white space down the left side of every page. Not only is this a great area in which to doodle, it is also excellent for going back and adding notes about notes I had already taken.

I stick to my assertion that I'm not a particularly organized person, but in an attempt to keep myself organized, I had a system where I would highlight information pertaining to various topics that I knew I'd need to reference again in the future. The topics I highlighted were various types of meetings, instructions on how to do new tasks, etc. This method involved going back over my notes with the highlighters, keeping track of numerous notebooks, and remembering which notebook contained which important data. And then interspersed among the important data that I referenced over and over were mundane notes that I had no more need of after the day I wrote them.

So, this method was far from perfect. But it's the logical way and the method most people use, right? When I show up to a meeting, everyone shows up with his or her notebook to doodle in... er... take notes in.

I've had an iPhone for several years, but I never thought to use it for work. That is, until I got an app for taking notes on the iPhone, the iPad, and on any number of computers. I use the desktop version of the app during the workday for things like taking notes during conference calls, saving off various bits of information that came to me in different formats so that they're all in one place, and keeping a master list of bigger projects I'm working on. I have folders where everything is filed, but it's not even that big of a deal if I don't put a note into a sub folder since everything I type in the app is searchable. And to think I used to wish my notebooks were searchable!

I first started using the app to save off information not related to my job. I have a folder for home ownership in which I put the names and numbers and notes about people I've called to come work on our condo. I have a travel folder in which I put notes about places where I want to go. I have a shopping folder in which I save gift ideas (photo, info, and URL) and things I might want to / need to buy someday. I have a recipes folder that I populate using my laptop while reading Bon Appetit. When I see a recipe I want to save, I find it on their website and then copy the content into a note in the app, photo included. I also have saved in there the directions on how to use our rice cooker because it's ridiculously complicated and neither of us can ever remember how to use it nor where the directions are stored.

Not only can I include text and photos from websites, but I can also add scanned images or photos. In my shopping folder, for example, is a phone pic of the types of video tapes that Jeff is always asking me to pick up for him at B&H.

I have chosen to share the recipes folder with Jeff. The app is free and I have not come close to using up all the space I am allotted. I could envision using the shared folder feature much more robustly someday. 

Before I totally gave up on using a notebook at work I worried a little bit about the security of my data. What if there is some disaster that causes all my data to be erased? I suppose that is a possibility, but then again notebooks can get lost or stolen. And notebooks are not backed up on multiple computers like my notes are that I create in the app.

So anyway, I'm not here to promote any particular app and there are various ones that perform this function. So, I will just say that I use Evernote and I'm sticking with it because it's the one I started with. I have heard good things about Springpad and it seems to get a lot of good reviews (although I think it's more slanted toward the visual whereas Evernote is more slanted toward text plus visuals). I suggest you research note-taking apps and see which one appeals to you if you are interested in going notebook free.

The next time I attend a meeting that lasts longer than an hour, I'm going to bring my iPad and my wireless keyboard and take notes that way. I bet I'll get some curious looks, but my notes will be searchable and instantly shareable.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Conquering email

I started to type this up as a series of Facebook posts, but I realized that I have quite a bit to say on this topic, so I believe it merits a blog entry.

I recently figured out on my own how to separate out my to do list from my email inbox. I was a little worried that it's a bit too time consuming, but now that I have verification that it's a good system, I will fret no longer.

The article does not expressly state this (probably because it's not written exclusively for users of Outlook), but it's very easy to drag and drop an email into the Tasks pane, turning it into a task. I then edit the task as necessary. 

And if there is a series of actions involved or some follow-up calls to be made before it's completed, I simply edit the task and add that info in at the top. I then drag the original email to a folder called Tasks To Do so that when I need to follow up with the requester, I know where to find the email.  

Then what do you do with the emails, you might ask. Do you just delete them? The task is done, so why not, right? No! Accountability, people! I have a terrible, awful, no good memory, which is why I started journaling, and is also why I save a record of every task I complete. If I'm asked a couple weeks later if I did something, I very well may not remember, even if I did do it.

Another Lifehacker article suggests employing a folder called Hold:
...a temporary holding pen for important messages you'll need quick access to within the next few days. If you're waiting on someone else to get back to you with crucial information, or you're maintaining a thread about a time-sensitive topic, keep it in the Hold folder. ... Examples: a FedEx confirmation number for a delivery that's on its way, or a message from a co-worker that says, "I'll get back to you Tuesday re: The Big Project."
That's a new one for me. I think I'm going to start employing that. I normally just keep those in my inbox and they annoy me because they just sit there and then they fall beneath the fold and cause clutter. Hold folder it is!

The rest of that post is about putting everything that's done into one big Archive folder, which I think is going to cause a big headache later on that can easily be avoided with a bit of one-time organization.

Email yes, desk not so much...
I have about 20 folders in Outlook that are saved onto a shared server NOT my own hard drive. (As you can probably guess, I learned that the hard way.) Some are on specific projects/tasks (like app, intranet, redesign, social media). Others are more just buckets of places to save things off: Eloqua FYI, how to, personnel (promotion or re-org announcements, etc. that I may need to refer to later on).

I also have a Done folder with sub folders containing the most common types of tasks I complete. This may seem excessive, but I always have a record of what I have completed.

I suppose you could just save off everything into one massive archive and search for it, but more often than not, I need to browse the folder containing the bit of info I'm seeking. Plus, I set those folders up years ago and they have barely changed, so it's not like it's a huge imposition to archive an email into the appropriate archive folder.And if a project ends, I can simply save that whole folder off into an Archive folder.

What is amusing about all this organization, of course, is that to look at my desk at work you'd be shocked to learn that I put this much time into organizing my email in-box. But believe me, if I could Shift-Ctrl-V each receipt, menu, and print-out someone gave me that has notes scribbled on it, I absolutely would.

Next up, I will talk about how I've stopped using a notebook at work.