37signals’ online organizer tool, Backpack has been a favorite with GTD geeks and web workers for some time now. It’s sleek, it’s cool, it’s got all kinds of Ajaxy goodness. And it can be used in many different ways to make you more productive.
There are a million uses for Backpack, but what follows is a list of 10 productive uses for them. Why use Backpack? As a web worker, you need a tool that you can access any time, anywhere – not just from your home computer. And Backpack is a great tool because of its intuitive, easy-to-use interface. It’s also versatile and seriously useful.
10 Productive Uses for Backpack
- Capture. If you’re a fan of writing down every thought, idea, task and fancy that pops into your head – and if you’re not, you should consider it – you might carry a paper notebook everywhere you go. And paper is great, but you’re less likely to use it when you’re at your computer, or using your laptop or mobile device. And if you’re driving, it’s seriously hard to jot down ideas. Enter Backpack. At your computer, you can quickly pop open your Backpack front page (name it “Inbox”) and jot down a new note. Now all your notes are in one place, neat and organized, and you can easily paste them into other documents if needed. And when you’re on the road, you can use cell phone notes for Backpack – it’s a free service, and you can call a toll-free number (U.S. and Canada) and leave a voice note, which is then forwarded to your Backpack page.
- To-dos. We’re always looking for a better to-do list. Backpack works as well as the best of them, because it’s simple. Enter a new item, drag and drop them around, check off the completed ones. No fancy fields to enter info. And for GTD fans, you can manage multiple to-do lists in a snap. Create mini-lists for your calls, work tasks, errands, home tasks and more. Now, when you need to do something, just look at the appropriate context list, instead of looking at a huge long list that you have to scan through. And this to-do list is accessible from anywhere, unlike one you might save on your computer.
- Mobile productivity. If you have a Treo, mobile phone, or wireless PDA with a web browser that can display basic HTML, you can use a slimmed-down version of Backpack on your phone. Just enter /mob at the end of your page’s url, and you can get it without all the Ajax. Using your mobile device, you can now view all of your pages, add list items and notes, make a new page, and view and add reminders. And you can send yourself text messages and alerts from Backpack, so you’ll never forget anything again. That means you can be productive from anywhere. Or don’t be productive, but at least know what you aren’t doing.
- Reminders. A cool little feature on Backpack, the reminders can be especially useful. A client wants you to check back in a week? Enter a quick reminder and forget about it. Need to send an invoice on the 30th? Have a deadline in a fortnight? Don’t want to forget your wedding anniversary for the third straight year? Set a reminder. And they’re super easy to do: just enter the reminder and a date, and you’re done.
- Project planning. One of the seriously useful ways to use Backpack. A complicated project could require a bunch of lists, notes, photos, links, a timeline and more. You can put those all on one page in Backpack, and keep everything organized. Use reminders and the calendar feature to keep the project moving along and on time. Attach files you might need to reference later. Here’s an example of a wedding planned using Backpack. And you can share the project page with others who might also be working on it.
- Simple collaboration. There are more feature-filled collaboration tools out there (37signals’ Basecamp being one of the more popular ones), but if your collaborative needs are simple, Backpack has a “writeboard” feature. Invite people to collaborate on a document, and multiple people can edit it, comment on it, and see changes from previous versions.
- All lists. Keep all your lists in one place. A list of ideas, articles to check out, goals, checklists, schedules. Your waiting-for list (for follow-up), your someday/maybe list, your dreams. By keeping them all in one page, things stay simple and organized. No more little Post-it notes all over the place, no more flipping through your notebook looking for that grocery list, no more writing down a list of goals and forgetting about them. I like to keep a growing list of article or blog post ideas that I refer to every day.
- Log. Backpack is great for logs. I do an exercise log, an articles log (for invoicing later), a work log. It’s a very simple and fast way to log anything – just open the page, enter, and get out. And now you have a record of it for later, which is hugely useful. The key is making it a habit to log things as soon as you’re done doing them.
- Personal time. Don’t just get your professional time organized. Shovel your personal stuff into Backpack as well: movies to watch, books to read, books you’ve already read, places to travel, cool gadgets to buy. Your kids’ extracurricular activities. Grocery lists. Checklists for packing. Chores lists. Pretty much anything in your life.
- Today. One thing that works well for me is creating a “Today” page and making it your home page (you could also make your “Inbox” your home page). On this page, just put three things you want to accomplish today. I like to put an inspiring quote or poem and photo. And I usually have an “agenda” list for a couple of key people in my life (boss, wife, not in that order), where I keep a list of things I need to talk to them about. Don’t dump everything on this page. Just a few key things you need to do today. Everything else that comes up, you can shunt into your inbox or to-do lists. At the end of the day, review your Today page, and if you’ve checked off those 2-3 things, you were successful! I try to clear off my Today page every day.