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| April 6, 2009
Column: The Secret to Getting Things Done, Keeping It Simple
As I mention in my review of Things, I am a busy guy. Busy, busy, busy. So busy that it makes me sick. No seriously, as in I am physically ill. Right now, on writing this, I am attempting to get over a cold. I'm entering the second week of this cold because I teach during the day, and I'm teaching classes that only I can teach. Nice to have that kind of job security, but that security does not come without cost. Along with being a freelance consultant, I'm also a writer. I have two titles, both fiction and non-fiction, in the works. When I'm not doing that I work the public speaking circuit talking about everything between writing, to Social Media, to Social Media for Writers. And if you don't think all that is enough — I'm a dad. My kid's superhero moniker is "Sonic Boom" so that can give you some insight on what she is all about. This is my life in a nutshell. On looking at it, you have to wonder how I keep everything straight. For that, I thank my iPhone. My iPhone has some great applications already built into it; and when you add to your account MobileMe, this slick gizmo from Apple becomes something more than "just a really cool phone." I have gone through many "phases" with day planners and life organizers, both physical and digital, but the iPhone is proving itself to be an essential tool in keeping my daily routine on schedule. Enter in my other iPhone friends (Would I call them iFriends? iPhoneFriendlies? Maybe that's another column, another time...) who noticed in my first two months being a user that I had a few applications loaded. "What's up with this?" they would scold me playfully. (At least, I think it was playfully...) "You need to start loading up this iPhone!" I would look at them and ask, "With what?" As my friends know how busy I am, I was inundated with many Productivity application suggestions. So I went shopping. Window shopping. (Yes, you can go window shopping on a Mac, sacrilegious as it may sound...) I browsed through the various applications, reviewing what the paid downloads offered over the free ones, and I was a bit overwhelmed by it all. Then I stopped for a moment and considered all this organization, considered all the options being offered to sort and categorize one's lifestyle, and asked myself "When do I have the time to organize all this stuff?" Sounds a bit like distorted logic, but track with me here. Once upon a time, I purchased for myself this super-duper, all-encompassing, goal-tracking, life-prioritizing, project-planning organizer. The serious investors in this day planner kit could purchase it in a leather-bound binder, but I opted out for the vinyl beginner's level. I sat down one Saturday afternoon, followed the kit's instructions, and started planning out my projects, prioritizing my prerogatives, and tweaking my To Do lists. When I was all done, I looked up at the clock. The sun had set. It was late. I had to go to bed. "Well, that chunk of time must have just been for the initial set-up," I thought to myself. I then hauled this binder that was to be my life with me wherever I went, as the instructions informed me I should do if I were to suddenly need to jot something down. I figured having my planner within reach would be great if inspiration suddenly were to take hold. I could either quickly make notes on this sudden idea, see if I could work it into my current schedule amidst other appointments and responsibilities, or — if I found myself surrounded by hordes of Orc warriors or mutant zombies — simply use the binder to bludgeon them to death and make a break for it, and then make a note on how I made the daily goal of "living to see another day." However, there was a problem I had concerning new ideas or possibilities. Having them filled me with dread because that would mean I had to consult THE ALL-MIGHTY PLANNER to see if I could fit it into my life. No, I could not "glance" at this calendar, I had to "consult" it, similar to the Oracles Leonidas confronted in 300, only without the floating naked chick. (I have feeling the F.N.C. came with the deluxe, leather-bound upgrade, but I digress...) If I could fit the random in there, I would then have to carve out a full afternoon to re-shuffle and update my schedule in order to make room for it. And with all this organization, I was still unable to sync up this physical day planner with my digital lifestyle on the computer. So, in a sense, I had two lives that were not seeing any union anytime soon. Fortunately, the iPhone, by its design and data capacity, is a godsend in this. Right away, it solves the problem of the binder-from-the 7th-Circle, and now I have apps that are the equivalent to this one-time, must-have day planner kit. In some instances, the apps from iTunes offer more. But again, what good will it do you to organize your life on the iPhone when none of it can sync up with anything on your desktop computer? No need to worry, you borderline obsessive-compulsive Mac users, because those Productivity developers just so happen to have a desktop version of the iPhone app you just purchased. Yes, you thought the $24.99 for that app was a hefty investment, but if you want full coverage, then you're going to need to desktop version which will only set you back a mere $79.95. Then once you watch the instructional video, get comfortable with the interface, sync up your iPhone, make the edits to your various goals, and get everything in order... ...you discover you just missed an important deadline for a project at work. The inherent problem of organizers, whether they are paper and pen or completely digital in nature, is they can easily devolve into timesinks. We can spend so much time organizing goals, projects, and To Do's into particular categories, timetables, and spreadsheets, that we lose time in working on accomplishing goals, projects, and To-Do's. When and where do you draw the line in the time you spend organizing and re-organizing your schedule? If you do not, this productivity can easily mutate into another "p" word: procrastination. Yes, you are being productive in updating your status on whatever project you are working on; but if you are the only person you are reporting to, perhaps you already have a good idea how far ahead or behind schedule you are. Now here's where I really bake your noodle and tell you that since purchasing the iPhone I have become a far better organized person, and now I feel as if I have a better idea of what is going on in my life. So what magic productivity app am I using? OmniFocus? Things? Todo? Actually, I'm using iCal. That's right, iCal. You know, the application that comes pre-installed on your iPhone and (oh yeah!) on your Mac? When I take on projects I pull up iCal, either on the Mac or the iPhone, and enter in the details. I can then set multiple alerts for multiple times and receive notifications on both my phone and computer of what is due when. iCal also allows you, from the desktop, to organize your various due dates and appointments into categories much like the organizational tools offered at the App Store. And whether or not you have MobileMe, syncing the two together are effortless and stress-free, both on your nerves and on your wallet. But what about the way these various organizers can sort out your random ideas into their own categories? Well, in your iPhone you do have this handy "Notes" application and you can sort your ideas out there, just in a very raw format. Perhaps iCal and Notes are not as powerful as the afore mentioned productivity apps claim to be, but I do find that I am getting along just fine in life by doing what many organizers do not: keep it simple. Before investing into iPhone apps and subsequent desktop applications that will allow you to sync up phone with desktop, consider what you already have on your iPhone. Have you outgrown iCal, or do you not have iCal on your computer? Then maybe a simple organizational app might do the trick, but why not outgrow iCal first? There is a lot it can do, and by keeping your appointments and deadlines organized simply, you will find your everyday life becomes a lot simpler to handle. If you're needing a block of time to organize your organizer, no matter what format your day planner is in, then there is something dramatically wrong in how you are doing things. It might be a good time to step back and go back to the basics in how you're organizing your day. And when you keep it simple, there is a lot you can get done. Especially if you are armed with a well-organized iPhone.