I’m a list maker, it’s the way I organize my world. While I quickly discovered that my first computer years ago was fine at making lists, I continued to depend on pen and paper as my organizational tools. But in the past couple of years, I’ve grown tired of the mountain of paper notes and notebooks scattered through my life and workplace.
Thanks to mobile devices like smartphones that I can take anywhere, I’ve moved my list-making habit to my computer, tablets and smartphones and linked them all through the cloud. Cyberspace is the list junkie’s friend.
So far, it works well and I’d recommend it. The underlying principle for all these tools is that they must be easy to use and work across as many platforms and devices as possible. And they must meet two needs: help remember where and when I need to be during my day, and give me quick access to material and allow me to easily record ideas and take notes when I get there. That means for me an online calendar and a note taking and collecting application. It also means getting away from email as a means to store notes, memos and reminders. In a world of crowded inboxes and spam, email doesn’t cut it anymore for organizing your life.
I use Google calendar to help organize my day for both home and work. While not as powerful as calendars that come with work-based applications like Outlook, it’s straightforward and simple. It works on Windows at home, OSX at work and tablets and phones running iOS, Android and Windows Phone. Since I use Gmail as one of my main email services, it’s easy to access and uses the same interface. It’s also free. I use it to remember appointments, home projects, birthdays and family events and to list my personal tasks for the day. I’ve configured it to trigger alarms on my phone to remind me when appointments are close at hand.
For work, our newsroom uses a shared Google calendar to record staff absences, meetings throughout the day, freelancer contributions and the dates of upcoming special projects like feature stories. Events on the calendar trigger reminders, set via email to each staff member’s mail, at set intervals (in our case, 24 hours for a first reminder, and then 10 minutes right before the event). The calendar works with our iPhones and allows us to stay on top of our schedules while on the go, although configuring the sharing ability on iOS with Google calendar turned out to be surprisingly arcane (it just works? Ha.)
I use Microsoft’s OneNote at home for my personal lists. It works on just about any device going, including all my Android and Windows devices. It’s the ultimate list maker, organizing itself into digital notebooks which in turn are organized into sections and pages which can hold notes, lists, pictures, audio recordings and website addresses. I have notebooks for renovations, shopping, personal goals, travel and future topics and research for this column. Updating those lists on one device syncs to the cloud and automatically updates OneNote on all my other devices.
OneNote shines for travel. For a trip to San Francisco a few years ago, I created a OneNote notebook that held my flight and hotel reservations as well as a walking tour of the city created by a friend, which I copied from an online IM chat with her. I updated all the information at home on my laptop and then used my phone while on the go. OneNote is free.
In our newsroom we’ve recently moved to the independent app Evernote to sort out the complicated workflow of putting out a newspaper. It functions much the same as OneNote, organizing itself into notebooks that can be shared with other users. It works on just about any device and as with OneNote sorts itself into digital notebooks. Our main use is a single document containing all the tasks necessary to put out an edition of the paper. Once we complete a task, we tick off a check box next to the task, and that information is updated automatically to all our devices and computers through the cloud.
I find Evernote easy and fun to use. The basic version is free but very limited. For a heavy list maker, and for a group of people either in a non-profit or workplace who want to share notes collaboratively, the paid version at $5 a month per person is a necessity.
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