What Works for Me: Digital Edition

This article series explores, in depth, the paper-based and electronic tools and methodologies I use to keep my busy and active life wrangled and in order. Last week I wrote a lengthy exposition about my paper-based methodology and toys. This week it's open house in my computer. I'm going to show you what I do electronically and the toys I use to keep my digital life in order. We'll talk about my system methodologies first. Then I'll share with you some select Mac-based and online tools that keep me productive and organized when I'm on the computer. These are the tools and toys I use daily to get a whole lot done. Next week, I'll give you tips on how to merge your paper and electronic worlds to make your own DIY system. So welcome to my toys and my mind. I hope you enjoy seeing what I use to get everything done.

System Methodologies
Before I get into the toys I use, I want to introduce you to a few methodologies that I use on my system. I apply many of these techniques both at home and at work. Doing just these few simple ideas helps keep my files in order, my mind focused on the work I need to do, and organized so I can find what files or bits of information I need in just a few clicks.

The Inbox. I keep an Inbox on my desktop. This folder is a staging area for all the nifty and useful stuff that comes across the screen that I think I need to keep. It corrals all the incoming information and makes sure my desktop doesn't get horribly cluttered. Currently, I have applications, .mp3 files, downloaded files and images, as well as a few guest DIY articles that need to be edited and/or processed. Every night I try and sort and move these folders into a permanent home either on my MacBook or on our server. Sometimes, I may just look at the download and promptly trash it.

Information Gathering Assistants (IGAs). Beneath this folder, is a smart-folder labeled IGA. This folder holds three DEVONthink files that I constantly use to store information I keep. I like to think of them as my personal digital assistants. Apple's smart folder concept allows me to create a folder anywhere I want and then link files that are located somewhere else on my computer directly into this folder. It's a real handy trick to use when you're always opening certain files up in your day-to-day activities. And keeping it on the desktop means it's always there where you can see and use it.

Just like my three DEVONthink assistant files. One collects everything, another keeps track of the files I use in my artistic endeavors, and the third one contains information on the iPod books that I use. When I see something that makes me want to save it, all I need to do is open the IGA folder and click on the appropriate files. Then I paste the info into a new record and save the file.

Clean Desktop. As a result of these two folders, my desktop is clean and orderly. Same with my system's file structure. I like to think of the computer as an extension of one's personality. (Don't worry, I'm NOT going to get into how organized my home directory is on this system. Unless you really want to know, then you can email me and I'll send you a screenshot.) I have many pretty desktop pictures that I love to show off and when you have a cluttered desktop you can't see what is on the screen.

Data backup. Another thing that I try to do often is to back my data up. We have a home network at the Perch (the name I gave my home) and every so often I'll manually upload important files to my directory on the file server. Unfortunately, I have yet to find THE perfect Macintosh backup utility that'll allow me to sync up only specific folders and content to the same directory without nuking anything else. I'm hoping that Leopard's Time Machine fixes this but we'll see. Backups can be a lifesaver if your system or hard drive crashes. Plus it's always nice to have those downloads of your favorite software somewhere local in case you lost your copy and there's a newer version that you cannot afford to upgrade to.

Smudge, the Macbook
Say hello to Smudge. While I use paper and a work supplied system every day, I'm almost always stuck to Smudge when I get home. I use my MacBook for everything: chatting to friends online, surfing the web and reading news, and writing articles and stories. Smudge IS my online hub and this is where all the magic happens. I won't get into the whole Mac versus PC gambit here because I figure we're all adults and get to select our favorite tool to get the job done. Macs are just my personal preference.

Quzpit, the iPod
The other electronic gadget that goes everywhere with me is Quzpit, my fifth generation iPod. I store music, movies and a few books on this little system. I have about 60 gigs of music on this little drive. For me, music fuels my writing. I work better when there's a beat in my ears and in my head. Without the iPod and music, I'm less productive and scattered.

Software Applications
I have a lot more applications on Smudge than I'm listing here. I'm trying not to overwhelm you with every little detail of my system and lifestyle. Therefore I've chosen a few applications I feel compelled to call out because of their special nature or constant and daily abuse.

This application tracks so many things for me. I've written a review about it in the past so I won't say too much more about it. However, out of all the note-taking and information storing applications out there, this is the one I found easiest and fun to use. I can quickly add and sort data and keep track of it in ways that make sense to me. I also like how it'll read many different file formats. The search capability is also pretty nifty to use.

Apple Pages
I use Apple Pages to write almost everything on Smudge. (For my creative writing endeavors I use an application called Ulysses.) Every week I use Pages to write up my D*I*Y Planner article draft before I tweak and post the layout online to the website. It also gives me the flexibility when I want to create small graphic design projects but don't want to deal with InDesign. I recently upgraded to the newest version (iWork '08) and can honestly say that Apple has outdone themselves. They've expanded many of the word processing and design elements in the application to make it even more accessible and useful to the small home or business user. It's hard to not sound like I'm marketing this little app but it does help me to get my written projects done quickly and on time with more style than the others I know.

Apple Mail
Every night, when I get home, I spend an hour on going through the day's worth of messages. I cannot check email at work anymore so I've had to rearrange how I view my online time. Apple Mail works for me to receive mail from both my personal domain and Gmail. I have almost 10 years worth of emails saved to this application as well. I keep many messages from friends and group lists because I like having a record of what was said. I often wonder what archeologists would say about me and my correspondence habits because I'm such a digital pack-rat with information. Especially emails. I prefer this application because it came bundled with my Macbook and is free. There's no need to download anything extra to clutter up my hard drive.

Merlin Mann has already said a lot about this application. It certainly does a lot. A lot more than I probably will ever use it for. Currently Quicksilver launches applications, locates files on my system, stars emails to friends and looks up their phone number and addresses for me. It's saved me time because I do not need to create a million shortcuts and add them everywhere on my desktop. It's also smart enough to recognize patterns in the way I type, so when I start typing for my favorite applications or files, those show up first.

For you Windows users, I recommend Launchy. It's an application launcher that's quickly becoming the Windows version. I use Launchy at work to open up applications and files. It also makes a handy calculator in a pinch.

Online Tools
While most of the applications I use are installed on Smudge, I do have a good amount of online applications used daily. I use the following applications with Firefox and Safari. They keep me focused on what I want to do on the web by giving me more of what I want and less of the mindless surfing. As it is, I loose track quickly online. These applications also retrieve the information I want quickly.

Google Reader
I have over 30 blogs that I watch for content. That's too much information to gather every day from each site individually. Enter Google Reader, the RSS feed aggregator for website content. Talk about a life saver. I load up reader and it shows me the headlines of all the posts, headlines and images each site reported that day. Then I get to choose which ones I want to read and which ones I don't. And if it's an article I know I may really love, I can star it and google reader will save the article for me like a favorite bookmark. Google reader works for me by giving me a fast and easy way to read most of my websites. And when there's only so many hours in a day, having an RSS reader do the work for you is a big help.

I'm addicted to writing and reading. So are many of my friends. LiveJournal is one of the biggest sites for chronicling your life that I know. It allows you to make diary posts that your friends and even complete strangers can comment on. It even supports the idea of communities, where you can join a journal that contains the thoughts and comments of like-minded individuals. LiveJournal, while I do not post often (mostly due to the fact that I have many other online journals at my domain), allows me to keep in touch with my close friends and communicate with them via the commenting system. It provides me with hours of entertainment as well.

I used to keep my bookmarks on the browsers at home and work. Now I keep them online with del.icio.us. Honestly, I knew about this site before ever using it. It wasn't until a friend of mine wanted an online place to store, sort and keep all her bookmarks that I took the plunge and tested it out to see if it'd work for her. It's a great site and it even allows me to share bookmarks with many of my friends. It gives me one single source to keep all my bookmarks and I can look them up at home or at work. I've also written more about del.icio.us and it's tagging system, in case you want to know more.

So now you know a little bit more about my digital life and the applications I use to keep productive. Next week, I'll wrap up this little series on what works for me with some tips about how to merge your paper and electronic worlds to make your own DIY system.

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Nice article, can't say much about your software picks because i don't have a mac, sucks to be me. But del.icio.us is really, really awesome!

And now what really matters: whre do i get this awesome wallpaper? ;P

my wallpapers

Check out my del.icio.us desktops tag for the J. Corsentino Faerie site and the rest of my online wallpaper bookmarks!

Thanks for reading,


Wow, the concept of the two desktop folders you mentioned at the beginning is brilliantly simple! I am forever downloading random files to my desktop because I haven't decided what to do with them yet, and then I have to move them all because I hate a cluttered desktop, but it never occurred to me to make a folder for them! (Duh, Rachel.) And keeping the other folder you mentioned would save me from having to have MS Word perpetually open. ;)

How do you check your gmail from elsewhere? I find gmail very confusing and have never been able to figure out how to read this mail through a separate email client.

I wanted to mention a blog tool I found that I LOVE. It's called Blogarithm, and it actually sends me an email every day letting me know which of my blogs have been updated, with the beginning of each post and a link to each blog. I find it much easier to have my blogs coming to my email than to have to remember to open up a separate blogreader or visit a particular site.

Be blessed!
~Rachel <><

Desktop as inbox

Personally, I use my Desktop as my inbox. I have tried other folders, but, in the end, the simple -D on my Mac makes it too convenient to choose in "Save as" windows, as well as the simple drag and drop of text or files. But most importantly, because my Desktop is in my face all day every day, it keeps those items in my face, not letting me ignore them, which is what I discovered happened when I tried using other folders. My Desktop contains basically two items, actionable and waiting for. Just like anything in life, it does take diligence to keep it from getting cluttered with items that don't belong, but that is truly easy.

I do have a separate Downloads folder, and an "Active projects" folder (mostly containing aliases to files and folders, but a few files and folders, too). Oh, and a "someday" folder for projects I work on when I'm bored or have extra time (like never!). ;-)

BTW, I've ended up going the same route with my Mail.app inbox. It acts as my actionable and waiting-for list. Waiting for tend to have flags attached, but otherwise, when I read an email, it either gets trashed or "Mail ActOn-ed" into my read mail folder. I generally have one mail folder I use now--Read Mail. Since I use Gmail for all my mailing lists, this works great. I have a few newsletters I get, and they have their own mail folders, but generally, for organization, I use Smart Mail folders, which are like permanent search terms.

That's what works for me. ;-)


What About Unified Applications?

Neat digital habits- how do you feel about having to go to separate applications for all that activity?

As a Mac user, one application you should check out is www.myquire.com. It's in Beta, but is designed to accommodate even the most novice of Web users who want to work together to collaborate on anything that would be part of a busy life.

It is being targeted to non-profits, students and small businesses initially. Great for working with volunteers or business partners who need to share files and don't share a server.



If you have a moment, I'd be really interested to find out a bit more about Ulysses. I'd never heard of it before but it looks intriguing.

Sure thing kate


I'd love to chat a bit more about Ulysses. Have you looked at their website? I recommend checking the site out first. If you still have questions, let me know via my email and we'll chat more about how i use it to organize my literary works.


Thanks, innowen

I'll do that.