A close friend and business partner recently asked me about my own systems for managing emails, task lists, and generally organizing stuff. I’m confident that I don’t have the best system in place but its working for me right now. Here is the outline I sent to my friend.
Organizing and Managing Email:
I use Gmail’s priority inbox which creates three sections of content: Important and Unread, Starred, and Everything else. About 4 times per day (or more often if I have dead time or transit time) I process incoming mail. Processing incoming mail consists of opening and reading ALL unread email. After opening and quickly evaluating the email I either: Star it (important and requires action), Archive it (may need later but requires no action), Delete it, or do nothing (not important but requires action). This leaves me with a clear set of important emails/tasks that are displayed as starred in my priority inbox. Everything else in the inbox is in the not-important but requires action area below. I try to never have more than 10 starred emails.
In-boxes (more generally speaking):
I capture all thoughts and tasks and stuff that requires action in one of three in-boxes. This is a lesson I gleaned from Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity
- First is email and I’ve already covered how I manage that inbox.
- Second is my to-do list. I use Google Tasks to manage my task list. Its always available on the computer in my Gmail and Calendar keeping it top of mind. It isn’t the most robust interface (Google needs to step it up here) but it fits my needs. It will allow you to assign due dates and input notes per task. I use an app on my iPad called GoTasks (also available on iPhone) that syncs flawlessly with Google Tasks and has a very robust interface that allows you to stack additional features, such as task reminders, on top of Google Task’s feature set. On my Android phone I currently use an app also called GoTasks (not the same developer). It syncs perfectly as well, and is the best option if you have more than one Google Account where you need to sync tasks. If you only have one Google account where you need to sync I would recommend an app called Tasks N Todos which has a much cleaner interface. EVERYTHING goes into this inbox. Every random thought or consideration must be archived by category (Family, Church, Business, etc).
- Third is the home inbox. This is a physical red basket kept on our kitchen counter. Warranties/receipts, mail, and other notes and reminders find their way into this inbox. I check it every day and try to keep up on it the best I can.
Regular Planning Sessions
- The most critical regular planning session is EFC (Executive Family Council). My wife and I sit down on Sunday evenings after the kids go to bed and plan the week. Topics include: Budget and Finances, Church Work, Week’s Calendar, Family Night (Mondays), Date Night, and our current Spiritual Book that we are reading as a couple. This doesn’t generally take more than 30 minutes. The calendar is generally fast because when either of us adds something to our own calendar, that at all involves the other person, we always send a calendar invite. Also worth noting is that we have 2 tools that we use to manage finances. The first is Mint.com and the second is a Google Doc Spreadsheet we call “This Month.” Its a daily inflow/outflow worksheet that allows us to plan every expense and inflow to maximize our savings and ensure we never have a negative balance.
- Personal Daily Planning: This is a 3 minute nightly review of the next days activities. Just reminding myself if I need to wear anything specific (like a tie) and if I need to leave early or take anything with me outside of normal.
Tools I use religiously:
- Google Tasks
- Gmail / Google Calendar
- Google Docs
- Splashtop (for connecting to my other computers)
- My Android/iPad:
- Gmail / Google Calendar
- Google Docs
- Splashtop / PhoneMyPC
- Documents to Go
- NewsRob / FeedlerRSS (Google Reader Sync)
What are some of the systems or tools that you have found work best for you and your family?