#oneaday Day 932: Take Control

I’m generally a pretty disciplined sort of person. I’m good at prioritising, and if I have something that I have to do I’ll make sure that I complete it before I do things that I want to do.

It’s when it comes to prioritising the things that I want to do that things go a bit pear-shaped.

It’s easy to stumble through your days as normal and just let things happen. But if you do that it’s easy to fall into routines and patterns and then wonder where the minutes, hours, days go. Those things that you want to do sometimes get forgotten amid your default activities, your comfort zone, the things that you do without thinking.

In order to fit in all the things that you want to do, sometimes you have to take drastic steps. Steps like scheduling your time.

This approach doesn’t work for everyone. Some people are terrible at sticking to schedules, others simply don’t like the lack of flexibility. But I’ve discovered (and rediscovered) several times over the years that I actually seem to work better and be rather more efficient if I plan out my time carefully rather than simply taking things as they come. It’s a hangover from quite enjoying the sense of “structure” from school and university (even if — ssshhhh… I didn’t always show up to my university lectures and seminars) and it’s something that I should really start doing more of in my daily life if I want to fit everything in. Because even with scheduling, it’s sometimes tricky to squeeze all your desired activities in, and that’s when you have to decide how to make compromises and sacrifices. Thankfully, with the things that I want to do at the moment, I haven’t had to make too many of the latter.

The ironic thing about people not wanting to organise themselves these days is it’s so easy to do so now thanks to technology. You can make your phone remind you to do things, set email-based nags to pop up in your inbox, create task lists that synchronise between devices, take snapshots of things and store them “in the cloud” (urgh) for future reference. You can even get social and be public about the things that you want to do, making use of your friends as a means of browbeating… sorry, “encouraging” you to actually get on and do stuff.

I use a few simple tools to sort myself out. Firstly and most simply is Google Calendar. I use this in favour of iCal on my Mac because it’s easier to sync between devices, is stored online rather than tied to a single device and works with iCal and iOS anyway. Google Calendar is a decent tool with enough features for what I need to do — multiple colour-coded calendars, email reminders, the ability to invite people, time zone support — and it proves valuable when I have taken on lots of things and only have a limited time in which to do them. It was especially valuable this time last year when I was going to Gamescom in Germany and every developer and publisher in the world suddenly wanted a bit of my time. (Apart from EA. They ballsed up my appointment — their fault, not mine — and wouldn’t let me in to their stupid high-security compound. Fuck them. I went to go and see Larian Studios instead, which was much more fun.)

Alongside Google Calendar, I’ve tried several other tools over the years. Evernote is pretty neat, for example. Epic Win was a cool idea that gamified your own productivity, but development seemed to stop quite a while back and it’s still lacking a few features that many other task manager apps offer. Most recently, I’ve been playing with Springpad, which I like a lot, despite a few rough edges.

Springpad is quite a bit like Evernote, but with a few interesting twists. It’s based around the concept of “notebooks”, which are ways of grouping related content together. Within a notebook, you can create a wide variety of different notes, ranging from simple text notes to checklists (mini to-do lists, essentially) via tasks, recipes, books, product information (scannable via the RedLaser barcode-scanning interface on the mobile apps) and all manner of other stuff. A webclipper bookmark allows you to easily clip things into your notebooks, and the interface generally does a pretty good job of figuring out what kind of content you’re trying to store — I tried it with a recipe from BBC Good Food earlier and it successfully recognised it as a recipe, though failed to import the ingredients list correctly.

Springpad also features a “social” component which allows its users to make its notebooks public, too. While I’m not entirely sure that this has been particularly well thought out, it does provide an interesting alternative use for the service, effectively turning it into a kind of blogging platform. Notes can be used as entries, the more specific types of notes used to provide specific information, and the site’s in-built commenting facility allows users to build up a community. It’s a neat idea. I’m not entirely sure how useful it is, of course, but it’s a nice idea.

So anyway. Armed with these simple (and free) tools, I’m attempting to organise myself a bit better. After two days, I’ve already managed to do a bit more than I would have done otherwise, which is pleasing. I shall continue with this system for a little while and see if it’s something that I want to make stick. It will be an interesting experiment if nothing else, and it might actually spur me on to get some things done that I’ve been meaning to get done for a while.

Further updates on exactly what when I have something to share.

2 thoughts on “#oneaday Day 932: Take Control

  1. Anne

    How appropriate for you to write this post today! I’ve been struggling with how to manage my time –– I’ve been working from home for about 2 years now, but things have actually started to get “serious” now that I’m doing my PhD, and I’m finding at the end of the day I just never get as much work done as I wanted (I don’t think it’s an issue of having too high expectations, just too many non-essential things I want to do, as well). I’ve never heard of Evernote, so I think I’ll try that! I like that it appears to be available for all devices, so hopefully I can sync it with my computer and Android tablet.

    I also wanted to quickly say that even though I don’t always comment, I read your posts every day! I quite look forward to getting your updates in the morning (my time), actually :) Well please do write up another post about how you’re finding your time management working out over the next couple weeks; I’d be very interested to read it!

    Reply
  2. Pingback: Versatile Blogger Award | Mados

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