New Beginnings

The holidays are like bomb. December is full of stress and frenzied preparation that builds and compresses until it finally explodes in shreds of wrapping paper and ribbon somewhere around the 25th.  Then everyone passes out with bad TV/bad food/bad alcohol for a week to try to correct the whole year’s sleep debt at once.

But I love January.  January is when we start to emerge, bleary-eyed, from the rubble of the past year.  For me, it’s when I trade pajamas for real pants, clean and purge my house and workspace, and take some time out to make long-range plans.  December is always so dominated by the tyranny of the urgent that every year I look forward to the time when I can step back and take stock of the bigger picture.  I haven’t laid it all out yet (that’s my plan for the long weekend), but here are some of my goals for 2011:

  • Continue to improve my income-to-work-hours ratio.  In other words, become more efficient.
  • Grow my portfolio at a faster rate than I did in 2010.
  • Grow my client list faster than I did in 2010.
  • Make the Conference of Creative Entrepreneurs the best of its kind.
  • Devote more time to exercise and eating well (always a classic!).
  • Move to a new apartment/house.

What are your goals for the new year?  How do you like to unwind after the holiday madness is over?

Happy 2011 everyone!

Productivity Tools: To-Do List Managers

**Note: this is a kind of update/extension of the post “Worth Its Weight: Things” from 2008.

There are literally thousands of different to-do list applications out there, but most of them don’t save me any time over using a pen and paper.  There are, however, a few programs that really are time and sanity-savers, because they employ the use of tags.

Whats so great about tags?  It means you can sort your to-dos by any category that is meaningful to you.  In most regular programs, you can sort items by priority, due date, person responsible, etc.  All the usual office categories.  But by creating your own tags, you can sort items by where they occur, how long they take, even how fun they are!  For example, maybe you run most of your errands in three places: your local main street, the street near your work, and the big strip mall two towns over.  You can tag the errands you need to run with “local errand,” “work errand” or “mall errand.”  Then, the next time you are headed to any of those three places, you can click on the corresponding tag and all of the errands you run there pop up.  Print out your list and you’ll never again kick yourself for forgetting something while you were out.

But maybe you don’t have time to “Buy a new dishwasher,” even though it’s on your “mall errand” list. If you’ve also tagged your items with the time they take, you’re good to go!  Just select both the “mall errand” tag and the “5 min” tag, and you’ll get only those items you can do at the mall in five minutes or less.  Sweet!  By using tags, you can create and sort a list based on how you already live and work, rather than trying to force everything into a set of arbitrary categories.

If this sounds good to you, I recommend taking five minutes today and test-driving one of the following programs:

For Mac OSX and iPhone: Things by Cultured Code.

Pros: What I like most about Things is “quick entry”: you can enter a to-do item without actually having to be in the Things application.  If I’m working in Photoshop, for example, and I suddenly think of some product pictures I forgot to take, I can hit ctrl-alt-space and a little black box pops up.  I can type, “Take product photos” in the box, hit the Return key and my item will end up in my Things inbox, where I can sort it into projects and/or areas later on.  At no point do I have to switch out of Photoshop to do this, so there’s no delay in being able to get right back to work.  I also like the automatically generated “Today” list, that updates based on your due dates, reminders and recurring tasks.

Cons: Things costs $49.95, which seems expensive for such a simple little app.  If you’re a student or a teacher, you can get it for $34.95, and you can get volume discounts for businesses or a family pack of 5 licenses for $74.95.  There is no ability to nest projects.

For Windows: Tudumo by Richard Watson

Pros: Tudumo has a clean, non-fussy interface, and the ability to integrate hotkeys.  In my opinion, it’s the only native Windows to-do app that’s worth using.

Cons: No quick entry from within other apps, no syncing between computers (yet).  No organization into “projects” or “areas” but you can use “headings” and tags to get around this most of the time.  $29.95 for a single license.

For Web: Remember the Milk

Pros: since Remember the Milk is a web-based app, you can access it from any computer or mobile device.  No syncing necessary (unless you work offline).  It also interfaces nicely with a ton of other popular sites like Twitter and Google (including Gmail, Google Calendar and Google Maps).  A basic account is free, and a Pro account is $25 a year.

Cons: RTM is dependent on your web browsing speeds, and the web site (or the offline app “Gears”) must be open in your browser to function.  There is no quick entry, and a separate set-up is required for each new device or companion site you want to interface with.  There are also no “projects” or “areas” here, but you can customize your own lists and even create “smart lists.”

If you’re looking for a more comprehensive way to organize your life, borrow David Allen’s book Getting Things Done from your local library.

Do you have a productivity tool you’d like to share?  Tell us about it in the comments below!

Worth Its Weight: Things

My husband is a productivity junkie.  Every week he likes to show off some new piece of software he’s found that will improve his daily work speed by nine seconds, and I usually just smile encouragingly and walk away.  Occasionally, however, I try out one of these tools, and this time, I have found one that I love: Things.

Things is a to-do list/task manager for Mac OSX by Cultured Code.  Now, there are a LOT of list-managing “solutions” out there, and I’ve tried many of them, but I always ended up going back to a disorganized paper list, because it was just too inconvenient and/or slow to use software.  With Things, however, I never use paper anymore.

One of the reasons Things is so convenient is that you can type in a to-do item without actually having to be in the Things application.  If I’m working in Photoshop, for example, and it reminds me of some product pictures I forgot to take, I can hit a particular keystroke and a little black box pops up.  I can then type, “Take product photos” in the box, hit the Enter/Return key and my item will end up in my Things inbox, where I can sort it later.  At no point do I have to switch out of Photoshop to do this, so there’s no delay in being able to get right back to work.  Since I type faster than I write, this process is actually faster than using pen and paper.

 

At a good stopping point in my day, I usually open up Things to sort my inbox.  Like in other programs, in Things you have the ability to create projects and due dates to house your to-do items, but the most wonderful and brilliant thing about Things is that you can use tags as well.  Whats so great about tags?  It means you can sort your items by any category that is meaningful to you.  In most other programs, you can sort items by priority, due date, person responsible, etc.  All the usual office categories.  But by creating your own tags, you can sort items by where they occur, how long they take, or how fun they are.  For example, maybe you run most errands in three different places: your local main street, the street near your work, and the big box strip mall two towns over.  You can tag the errands you need to run with “local errand,” “work errand” or “mall errand.”  Then, the next time you are headed to any of those three places, you can click on that tag and all of the errands you can do in that place pop up.  Print your list and you’ll never again kick yourself for forgetting something while you were out.

But maybe you don’t have time to “Buy a new dishwasher,” even though it’s on your “mall errand” list. If you’ve also tagged your items with the time they take, you’re good to go!  Just click on both the “mall errand” tag and (while holding down the Shift key) the “5 min” tag, and you’ll get only those items you can do at the mall in five minutes or less.  Sweet!  By using tags, you can create and sort a list based on how you already live and work, rather than having to adjust the way you think in order to fit into some software company’s idea of what is the best way to organize your life.

 

Things has many other great features, such as an automatically generated “Today” list, based on your due dates, reminders and recurring tasks.  Really, the only big drawback of Things is that it only works on Apple products, like Macs and iPhones.  If you use a PC or are planning to get a Google phone that uses Android, you are S.O.L. my friends.  The developers have said that they are not going to release a version of Things for these other platforms anytime soon.  For the rest of us Mac-only users, Things will remain free of charge until MacWorld, when it goes from beta to full release.  At that point it will cost $39 for early adopters, and $49 for everyone else, which is still much cheaper than your average Filofax.