A year or so ago, I wrote about how I make time to write, even if it's just jotting down disjointed thoughts as they come to me, but I’ve never shared the ins and outs of how I stay organized. Organization is important for anyone, but I think it's especially important for writers who freelance for multiple clients and/or work full-time on top of having a writing career.
Personally, I like to keep my work tasks somewhat separate from my personal creative/ life tasks. My system is also primarily digital. A couple of months ago I completely shattered my phone, which made me go completely cold turkey from digital for, oh, about a week or so, when I tried bullet journaling my work and personal life. Long story short, it didn’t work for me. I still use paper sometimes, but I personally find my digital method to be so much more efficient...as long as it's backed up. ;)
At work, I primarily use the Tasks tool in Outlook to organize my action items. It’s my home base. Everything, and I mean EVERYTHING, on my to-do list is scheduled as a task with a due date. When a task is complete, I clear the flag so it disappears. My calendar is reserved for actual meetings with people. At my previous job I used my calendar as a to-do list, but it cluttered up my calendar and made it hard for others to find free chunks of time to schedule meetings with me. So then I starting using Trello for my to-do lists, which worked well, but now that I have Outlook, I no longer use it.
Something I really love about the Tasks feature in Outlook is you can flag emails to appear as tasks (designated by an envelope icon). I like to keep my inbox fairly empty, so this is super helpful. Instead of letting emails sit, I flag them for a day when I know I’ll have the chance to take action, and I always keep an email marked unread unless I’ve had the chance to take action or schedule it as a task.
Sometimes I’ll refer to my Tasks and handwrite a to-do list for my desk that includes JUST the items I’ll complete that day (including my work and personal tasks). Even though everything is already on my digital list, I like having the smaller list right in front of me. I usually throw this list away at the end of the day or by the end of the week, making sure everything I still need to do gets added to the master task list on my computer so I can view it from wherever I am (even if I’m at home).
To organize my email, I make different folders for big projects, which makes searching through my archives a lot easier. There is such thing as too much here--too many folders, too many tasks, too many things to look through, and it defeats the purpose and makes things harder to find, making you less efficient. I routinely skim the folders and remove things I no longer need to refer to so it stays streamlined.
I use the Notes feature in Outlook for notes for my one-on-one meetings with my boss, things I regularly reference, or notes for ongoing projects that aren’t emails. But again, if I have an action item, I schedule it as a task. I never bury to-do lists in the notes. Notes are purely there for reference, and I delete them when I no longer use them.
I routinely also go through the documents on my computer and delete anything I no longer need for my records or portfolio. I used to keep everything and use about 1% of it, so now I have a good eye for what I know I’ll use… and what I won’t. Programs like CCleaner can also help you search for documents that haven’t been modified for years… a good indication that you probably don’t need them anymore.
For my personal life, I rely on the notes app in my iPhone (that’s backed up to the cloud) and my Google calendar.
Because my phone is synced with my work stuff, I have the option of viewing either my work notes or my personal notes. I love keeping the two separate but being able to view both sets of notes from the same device if I want to.
These are the categories of notes I use in my personal life (currently):
- Long term action (where I put things I need to do that are too long-term or big picture to add to my calendar)
- To buy (things I need to buy at the store...like groceries)
- Writing ideas/brain dump (where I record things that pop up in my brain)
- 2016 goals (my goals for the year)
- 2015 goals (purely for reference)
- 2015 highlights (purely for reference… a list of good things that happened to me throughout the year)
- 2014 highlights (ditto)
- TV shows to watch
- Movies to watch
Books get added to my Goodreads, if you’re wondering. I refer to my long-term action list frequently and schedule what I can to my personal Google calendar (unlike at work, I don’t care about cluttering up my personal calendar with tasks because no one sees it but me). Once it’s there, I delete it from my list. I get email alerts as things pop up, so I never miss anything. For example, when I needed to schedule a vet appointment for the real life Curious Cat, I wrote it in my long-term list. Once I called for the appointment, I added it to my calendar and deleted it off my list. Right now on my list I have, “plan next CCP writing meet-up.” Once I pick a day when I want to sit down and do the planning, I’ll add it to my calendar. The only exception is sometimes on the weekends when I’ll write a list of things to do in my long-term action notepad that I know I’ll do (and delete) all in that weekend. In that case, I don’t bother adding it to my calendar and I just do them.
The most important thing I’ll say here is the less you can have on a list and the more you can schedule on a calendar, the better. Lists tend to grow long and take longer and longer to get through, which can seriously hamper your motivation. I try to routinely take things off of my lists and add them to my calendar so I actually do them.
Usually, writing ideas are born on the Notes app on my phone. If it’s an idea for a blog post or a story idea that I know I won’t get to right away, I add it to a longer Google doc that I created just for writing ideas. Again, my lists are there purely for reference if I need some inspiration. When I know I want to write something, I schedule it on my calendar so I don’t forget.
The only paper record I keep is my daily log that I try to update every night, or at least on the weekends. It’s pretty much just a few sentences about what I did that day. I like to refer to it to track productivity, spot patterns, and record personal thoughts/emotions that aren’t necessarily fodder for writing, but are still important to me.
I also have a system for organizing my drafts and portfolio of published pieces, but I don’t want to make this post too overwhelming. Next time.