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Summary:

I’m on the road this week, and it’s times like these when I really appreciate the tools I use to stay organized. Even while working remotely, I’ve managed to stay on track and not get behind because these tools rarely let anything slip through the cracks.

I’m on the road this week, and it’s times like these when I really appreciate the tools I use to stay organized. Even while working remotely, I’ve managed to stay on track and not get behind on work because these tools rarely let anything slip through the cracks.

Here are my personal favorites; the tools I’d definitely hate to have to work without:

  1. Gmail. Although there are plenty of times I wish I could avoid email altogether, it’s still a fairly decent tool for keeping me organized, especially by using Gmail. The “Superstars” feature (available in Labs) helps me to highlight and flag emails that require some sort of action or attention on my part. Labels allow me to organize types of communications and information for quick sorting and recognition. The advanced searching functionality helps me find things quickly and easily, and canned responses (also available in Labs) save me from having to reinvent the wheel when sending routine messages. So long as I make sure Gmail is working for me, instead of the other way around, it really keeps me organized and productive.
  2. Google Calendar. I keep all my time-sensitive appointments and recurring to-dos organized in Google Calendar. On a busy day, it’s very easy to forget about phone calls or other items on my schedule, but customizable alerts keep me in check. If I anticipate an overly busy week, I’ll set myself multiple reminders to make sure nothing slips by me. I also love the ability to create multiple, color-coded calendars. I’ve created three primary calendars to organize specific types of activities and tasks: A “personal” calendar (color: pink), a “work to-dos” calendar (color: blue), and a “booked calls” calendar (color: orange). This provides me a quick overview of the week, and if, for instance, I see an orange appointment block, I know I have a call scheduled with someone.
  3. TimeDriver. I used to attempt to manually coordinate my schedule with that of clients, interview guests, and other business contacts, but it became a nightmare, and several times I came close to double-booking myself. Although I’d love to have an assistant handle a lot of these types of tasks for me, tools like TimeDriver are a good substitute. I simply set my availability for the coming weeks, and when it comes time to coordinate appointments with others, I send them a link to my calendar, and they pick slots that work with their schedules. I know Google Calendar could provide this functionality in some ways, but I prefer TimeDriver for this purpose.
  4. Zoho (Writer and Spreadsheet). Lately, I’ve been in the mood to simplify my organization. One thing I’ve been doing is creating a simple weekly to-do list, organized by day, within Zoho Writer. As I work through the list, I strike through tasks, making it really simple to see what’s left to do. I also like being able to see my accomplishments at a glance; I can look back over the entire week and see the tasks I’ve completed, which really helps me maintain focus. I used to create my to-do list on paper or within Backpack, but the paper list tended to get lost under notes and other items on and around my desk, and the Backpack list seemed to be ever-growing (more like a catch-all, master to-do list). The new system is simple and also keeps me from having to rewrite the list as things get moved around.
  5. Pen and Paper. I know there are tons of note-taking tools available online and within different gadgets, but my personal favorite is a simple, 5″ x 8″ notepad and a good pen. I have to be able to catch notes and ideas on the fly, and paper is a good way to physically organize things into the right order or priority. I used to use (and occasionally still use) index cards, along with every size and shape notebook on the market. I eventually settled on the 5″ x 8″ since it seems to be the perfect size to capture and divide thoughts without wasting a lot of paper or running out of room. Although I’ve gotten away from paper-based systems in almost every other area of my work, I think pen and paper will always have its place in my organizational toolbox, even if it is old-fashioned.

With the right mix of applications, it’s much easier to stay on track and prevent things from being overlooked or forgotten, and with all the great tools available online, it’s possible to stay productive no matter where you are.

What tools keep you on track and organized?

Photo by Flickr user brdwatchr1, licensed under CC 2.0

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  1. Lorilee Rager Thursday, August 5, 2010

    great post! old fashioned pen and paper is my #1 but it does seem to get lost under piles on my desk! I use Basecamp & iCal, but really struggle with a simple to do list. Thanks!

    1. Amber Singleton Riviere Lorilee Rager Thursday, August 5, 2010

      Glad you liked the post, Lorilee. I agree. Managing a simple to-do list can sometimes be the hardest part, which is why I’ve been experimenting with the one in Zoho (so far, so good).

  2. So I’m curious. If you use Gmail & Google Calendar, why do you use Zoho instead of GDocs?

    1. Amber Singleton Riviere BC Thursday, August 5, 2010

      Good question. I used to use Google Docs and still do in some cases, but I switched about a year ago because it wouldn’t hold formatting when copying/pasting from Google Docs into my blog HTML editor. Zoho did a much better job of that for me, so I started composing blog posts there, and eventually, it just became my go-to online word processor. I was actually frustrated with having to switch, but it’s worked out okay, and now I’m used to it.

  3. Throw away your to-do spreadsheet and try this instead.

    Light, simple, fast, fully featured and a doddle to sync about as it uses a simple file system (dropbox,livemesh etc.) and amzingly… Free!

    http://www.codeproject.com/KB/applications/todolist2.aspx

    1. Amber Singleton Riviere MH Thursday, August 5, 2010

      Thanks for the recommendation. I’ll have to check it out.

  4. My tools align very closely with yours. For all of us who use pen and paper I advise using a journal or a notebook that is more than a .99 cents deal at Wal-Mart. A 6-10 dollar notebook like a moleskin journal won’t so easily get lost in the pile. I use google wave for online notes and meetings and now that its been discontinued may have to move back to etherpad on my own server. Any suggested alternatives?

    1. Amber Singleton Riviere Chris J Monday, August 9, 2010

      Agreed, Chris. I’m fairly picky about the notebook and pen I use and recommend splurging for note-takers. Interesting that you were using Google Wave for online notes. Springnote and Backpack aren’t bad, but I can see where Google Wave would just integrate with something you’re already using. Have you tried figuring out a Gmail work-around, maybe having one or more labels reserved for notes? Just thinking out loud here, but it might work.

  5. Pen and paper really is under rated isn’t it! The ability to get things written down in an instant. What do you use for planning / goal setting (I ask with a bit of a bias, as I’m on the team behind Milestone Planner). Low level stuff is good, but how do you keep the 10,000 foot / strategic view in sight?

    1. Amber Singleton Riviere Benjamin Wednesday, August 11, 2010

      Thanks for the recommendation, Benjamin. I actually like writing out my longer-term goals on paper, too, and sometimes use a Zoho doc or a Backpack page to keep my big-picture view in one place.

  6. Amber,
    Since I have acquired an iPad and iPhone 4, I have begun to experiment with a ToDo/Toodledo combo. They sync with Google Calendar. That lets me function on both platforms plus the web via toodledo.com online.
    Nothing is perfect though. I would really like an online + iPad tool that incorporates contact info.
    As to blog posts, I love Live Writer the free tool from Microsoft and I dictate 90% of them with Dragon Naturally Speaking–it works with Google Docs, too.
    I’m sure this is TMI. Sorry.

    1. Amber Singleton Riviere Newt Barrett Wednesday, August 11, 2010

      Sounds like a pretty good setup, Newt. How do you like Dragon Naturally Speaking?

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