Organization is about systems, not software


4-Step Computer Security Upgrade

Learn to encrypt your files, secure your computer when using public Wi-Fi, enable two-factor authentication, and use good passwords.

Today I had a revelation: software, as good as some of it is, doesn’t have much to do with productivity, which is the fruit of organization. Software allows implementation of systems, which are where organization lives.

I have been dual-booting Ubuntu Linux and Windows XP Pro, thinking about Web 2.0 and XML, and learning about Getting Things Done (GTD). And in the process, really thinking a lot about how I store, manipulate, and use data.

And I realized that as much as I like Outlook, I can do the same thing in Gmail/GCal, Thunderbird with Lightning, Time Matters, or a stack of index cards. Likewise, Word is great, but all you really need is Notepad. I’m not into full-on GTD, but I understand the concept, which I arrived at in my own way in my quest to free myself from platform-dependence and complex solutions to simple problems.

So if the key to productivity is organization, what is the key to organization? A trusted system to store to-dos, appointments, ideas, etc. That’s a very GTD thing to say. But what should your system be? Whatever works for you. A stack of index cards, Outlook, a Palm, a moleskine, or whatever you need to keep track of information and projects and free your mind to do work, not think about work.

In the midst of my musings, I realized that anything that ties me to one way of doing things–whether that is Outlook keeping me in Windows or a notepad I could lose–is dangerous. The key is to free the junk floating around in our heads as much as possible. That is what I was doing when I switched from POP to IMAP for e-mail, freeing myself from any one operating system, e-mail client, or computer. That is why I ditched Time Matters as a document organizer and used folders, dates, and filenames on my filesystem, instead.

And now that I have “freed” my e-mail and documents at least partially, I am trying to find ways to do the same with my due dates, to-dos, and appointments. Stay tuned while I search for a solution, and please share yours, if you have one.


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  • Zale Dowlen

    My thoughts are much the same as yours. The difference is that your thoughts go along with actually currently managing people’s files. Regarding calendaring and To-Do’s. Have you given any thought to Google’s calendars and adding a different calendar per case?

  • Sam Glover

    I have considered using GCal, but I have concerns about data security. Also, I can’t be online all the time, and GCal only allows read-only access by third-party apps like Outlook or Lightning.

    At the moment, I am considering options for a data server, either in my office or a hosted virtual server, on which I would like to try running Zimbra, CalDAV, and LDAP. But I’m pretty much a newbie at all of that, and I’m researching security.

  • Zale Dowlen

    Kontact will let you set up other calendars like GMail. So you can add a local calendar that is matter based, i.e.: Jones v Smith, which will show up with the other entries. You can also single out just that matter-based calendar whenever you need to.

    I have not tried this with Evolution or any other groupware yet, but one of the primary reasons for me to switch to Linux was just how much more affordably it handles groupware like Kontact, Evolution or Zimbra.

  • Liz Stuva

    i’ve done a lot of ruminating on this lately, and the thing that really seems to work for me is It’s a very clean, simple interface but is surprisingly powerful. the best thing is the ability to create different “projects” (i have one for each client), and arrange tasks in a “tree” structure. i put my appointments in there as well. then i just query “tod, tom, od” (which gives me today’s, tomorrow’s, and my overdue items) to get my daily agenda. you can link gmail messages to tasks and it has a sidebar for Firefox, as well as mobile access. or you could try, which was built for people with ADD but is very full-featured and would be useful for anyone. i just don’t like the interface of skoach that much, personally.