One Organizationl System to rule them all/ One System to find them/ One System to bring them all/ and in the madness bind them
June 14, 2010 6:40 PM   Subscribe

Organizational Filter: Looking for core Systems/Philosophies and "build-around" tools to radically self-organize my Personal Life & Creative Projects.

I am looking to achieve 3 interrelated goals/questions, simultaneously:

1) What are a cohesive set of GTD/Orginzational/Prioritizing/Scheduling/Ideation-capture/Actualization Philosophies, Mantras, Habits, systems, Frameworks, what-have-you for my endeavors? Basically a personal, practical "Think, Plan, Create (for fun & for money)" Zen.

2) Find tools that Utilize #1, primarily, to bring my vast, varied, ambitious and only Quasi-Technical/money-seeking projects to fruition (or at least document them so I can put them on the shelf for later) . Interests are eclectic but will focus on journalistic-anthropology/film-making/writing. Also help keep my life in balance: reading, note taking, journaling, working, creating, having fun etc.

3) Apply #1 to my very technical corporate job. But don't REALLY care, I'll probably be leaving in 6-12 months anyway. So focus is on #1 and #2. I view this as merely a proving ground to make sure my system stands up to some "real world" deadlines.

Right now I am adopting Mark Forster's AutoFocus as my GTD base (realizing it needs a lot of tweaking). For Idea capture and rapid project ideation development I have devised some home-brew Composition/Moleskin(TM) books with tons of embedded sticky notes(TM) and tabs adhered inside of them. I am going to keep a mini composition book with me at all times for a thoughts, tasks, checklists, ToDo etc. But there is still much that needs a system or something to manage to SOME degree!

I also want to keep my system mostly mobile (fit into a backpack) so I can go nomad for long stretches at some point (research). That said, I'm about to move into a new apartment soon and, aside from my living room, I want to make everything creative/productive central. I'm toying with the idea of making custom magnetic/whiteboard painted, wall sized, detachable panels for my apartment (more for fun than REAL productivity). But if you have any living arrangement organizational ideas (like functional Feng shui) I'm interested.

As you can see, I am eschewing digital for core analog solutions because focusing on the "perfect digital tool" has caused failure for me in the past, and digital is not reliable. Also, my creativity is very kinesthetic, and keyboards are not able to access it in the same way. I want the core systems to be something I can re-create with just a pen and enough paper if needed. Of course the only tool one ever has ubiquitously is one's mind, but I'm not expecting answers THAT fundamental... But like I said, if you have any good "zen productivity" authors, I'm all ears.

That said, I obviously plan on leveraging digital tools once the core system is in place. Already Have iPhone, will replace desktop with laptop, interested in other cloud based software/services etc. Once I get my system setup I do plan to digitally reinforce it into a cloud based TiddlyWiki, but the one problem I'm considering is analog to digital translation and also content storage/cataloging/archiving (both digital and my composition books). I don't pretend I will log and digitize EVERYthing I write, but I need some way to review which stuff to backup/upload and which can continue to stew in composition-book form and get the best "bang for the buck".

So... this is my trajectory. I know at the moment it looks like:

Step 1) AutoFocus + Zen + Composition books
Step 2) ?

So, please, help me fill out "step two" with any ideas you have and what has worked for you, or really cool tools that might fit into a system like this.

To recap:
Have Creativity
Craving Organization
Want focus driving me to project completion = Productivity
Will leverage large amounts of chaos if needed
Focus on Analog, not digital
Want tools as mobile as possible (limited home basing)
Cheap is good, free is better
Looking for CORE tools, systems or philosophy

Thanks Hive Mind!
posted by DetonatedManiac to Grab Bag (9 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
As far as digital tools, you will like (probably luuurve, in the end) the incredible Zotero, and you might find Omeka useful.
posted by jgirl at 7:33 PM on June 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

Maybe it's just me, but your question phrasing makes it feel like you've suffered Planning System Overdose. My suggestion is, more than anything else, that you should attempt to simplify your thought process by figuring out where your current system is falling short, instead of piling organizational methods on top of each other.
posted by StrikeTheViol at 7:39 PM on June 14, 2010

StrikeTheViol - Thanks, this PSOverdose is probably what I suffer from, but it is self afflicted intentionally.

Not to be flippant, but my current system is no-system, and it actually worked OK for work. But what I am building is a framework for creative flow... but then also turning the output into something practical (or at least monetize-able) later. It's like trying to contain a volcanic eruption, you have to overbuild at the outset or you are doomed.

That is probably hopelessly abstract... try this:

I guess what I am REALLY asking, now that I found the wiki article, is what tools or principals are effective at building a robust Extended Mind for myself
posted by DetonatedManiac at 7:48 PM on June 14, 2010

I went through a GTD phase, and a multitudes-of-notebooks phase, and a save-everything-in-file-boxes phase, and worked through a gazillion different pieces of note-taking software and mindmapping software and flowcharts and outlines and still have bits of ideas lodged in their incompatible custom file formats. I have whiteboard and corkboard and chalkboard. I even have oaktag. I also have a large collection of color coded post-its, file labels of a dozen types, stickers, binder clips, index cards in all sizes, and even one of those awesome old squeezy plastic label makers that looked like a star trek weapon.

You know what I ultimately decided? It was all bullshit ways of procrastinating. I was spending so much time planning for projects that I'd do someday that I wasn't actually doing anything.

Here's my current process:

1) if I have an idea that seems good I write it down in whatever notebook happens to be handy.
2) I then forget where I wrote it down.
3) Every once in a while I happen across one of these notebooks, and have nothing better to do at the moment than read through it.
4) Anything in it that still looks interesting, I copy into the computer, where i have a folder called "Ideas" full of plain text files. Sometimes I expand on the idea as I do this; usually I edit it down.
5) Anything that I no longer have any idea what i was thinking when I wrote it down, I throw away. This is most of it.
6) Meanwhile, instead of spending lots of time obsessively organizing and prioritizing and categorizing and tagging, if I have time to work and feel like working, I work on what I feel like working on.

I could probably dispense with steps three through five, since the grand total of projects I have actually completed based on things in that Ideas folder approaches zero. Now that i think of it I'm pretty sure it is exactly zero.

Step one is important to me, though. Just the act of writing it down is enough to transform it from passing fancy into something that my brain will keep wrestling with when I'm not paying attention, even if I never read those scribbled notes again.

Step six is the only important part. Do stuff. Right now. That is it.

Everything in between is just satisfying procrastinatory busywork of pretending that maintaining files full of carefully organized text and sketches actually means anything to anyone.

And now that I've stopped wasting so much time doing all that fake busywork I get to spend a lot more time on step six.

I have a very strong feeling, based on your description here, that you too could do with dispensing with steps three through five. In my experience if I'm not interested enough in an idea to keep it in my head, it probably wasn't a very good idea in the first place. If I'm not interested enough in an idea to be actively working on it, if I'm just filing it away for later, it's not a very good idea. (If it doesn't even grab my attention, then whose is it going to grab?)

If you're actively engaged with an idea then the notes you scribble down about it will be useful because you're actively using them. If you're not actively engaged with an idea, then you probably never will be. Write it down, just in case, and because it feels good to have that backlog just in case for when the ideas stop coming. But don't waste too much time doing it.

Because -- here's the thing: the ideas never stop coming. And the new ideas are always much more compelling than the ones you had filed away six years ago just in case and now can barely relate to anymore.
posted by ook at 8:31 PM on June 14, 2010 [7 favorites]


I agree with most of what you said, but it seems there must be a synergistic process that embraces the simple list GTD of AutoFocus, with some sort of simple weekly/monthly review that allows me to see what I have focused on (naturally) for the last week/month and then decide what things I am just going to shove off into the archive as dead wood (literally ink-on-dead-wood) and then focus the next week on continuing the 2-5 ideas that actually have forward motion.

But the dead-wood at least has some broad categories (artistic, money making, comedy, film, things to learn, totally random, whatever) so when that spark hits you know which forest is ready to fuel the flame.

I've got to believe that there is at least some light systems overlay I can use that will enhance that process without stopping getting stuff done.
posted by DetonatedManiac at 8:47 PM on June 14, 2010

See, that's the thing. If a project has forward motion, I don't need a GTD or any other system to tell me that I'm getting things done, because I already know I'm getting things done. And if it doesn't have forward motion, all a GTD system turned out to provide was a to-do list I could feel guilty about and/or spend time rearranging.

The one single GTD rule that's proved useful to me is the "if it would take less than 15 minutes to do the task, just do it now instead of inserting it into your GTD system." I suppose what I'm suggesting is an extreme version of that. GTD EXTREME I WILL RULE THE WORLD WITH THIS

It turns out -- for me -- that if the spark hits, it's going to hit something that's already in my head. It's not going to hit something in the archives. All that stuff you're saying about weekly/monthly reviews and sorting projects into active or archived and the like just sounds like shuffling things from one pile to another. Doing that sort of thing wouldn't help me get work done, it would just help me put things in tidy piles. I'd rather get work done.

Have you ever pulled a project from your archives, one that you'd completely forgotten about, and been inspired enough by it to then take it to completion? If so, ignore everything I've said, because you are different enough from me that my advice is irrelevant. If not, consider whether your time might be better spent working on projects than working on planning which projects you'll work on next.
posted by ook at 9:51 PM on June 14, 2010

Are you a productivity hobbyist? Seriously though, I use Things on my iPhone and my Mac to keep track of the multiple small things I need to do in life, mainly because I have a terrible memory and a running task list is insanely useful for me. But GTD and all the associated paraphernalia is really for just that - the mundane stuff that you need to keep track of so as to free up time for the things you really want to do. I've got things like 'take out the recycling' and 'oil bike chain' and 'fix cupboard handle' in there.

I used to have Moleskines, 'capture devices' and software up to my eyeballs and tried to use it to run both the mundane and the creative sides of my life. Now I have a task list in Outlook for work, Things on my phone for my own shit and a daily target for words, plus Simplenote for the rare occasions when I have an idea when out and about (they mostly happen in the shower).

Ook has it right - if an idea is crap, it's no great loss that's it's not captured, indexed, tagged and folksonomied. If an idea has sticking power, it'll last long enough for you to note it down and if it keeps coming back to you once you've written it down, then it's something to pursue. That's all you need.

Your post title 'One System to Rule Them All', suggests to me that you are where I was a couple of years ago, looking for a technical magic bullet for the management and encouragement of creativity. There isn't one. There's just cracking on with it.

However, if you're dead set on some kind of system, Anthony Johnson's Getting Things Written is a creatively-focused, pared-down version of GTD. It has job sheets and everything!

His article on his process for moving from idea to finished piece may also interest you.
posted by Happy Dave at 1:42 AM on June 15, 2010 [2 favorites]

I can see where OOK is coming from-- is the process the goal, or is the goal the goal? But on the other hand, discipline is all about difficult choices and long range planning. If you have all these checklists and you end up sleeping or playing Tetris, the checklists aren't the problem. I can recommend 2 sites that offer motivational speeches-- and "the art of manliness.". The Art of Manliness has had a series of essays recently about commiting to goals and stick-to-it-iveness.
posted by ohshenandoah at 3:57 PM on June 15, 2010

jgirl and Happy Dave... beautiful beautiful... keep it coming!

I am just reading Anthony Johnson's "Getting Things Written" very nice! I guess what I am looking for is examples of other successful people's systems and how they got there. Even if I would never do it that way, it is useful to see their flow.

Also, would be cool to know the physical objects that turn office org (like hanging folders) into mobile-briefcase org (like accordion folio's). I am sure good briefcase management is a lost art given the rise of the LapTop and there are tons of lost tricks out there to maximize it... Like ShortHand or nifty briefcase gadgets that are now passe.
posted by DetonatedManiac at 8:03 PM on June 15, 2010

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