Tips and Tricks to Uncover What Works for You

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. Two weeks ago, we explored all what makes up my paper based system. Last week I showed you what apps and techniques work for me in the digital realm. Today I'm answering the question: what does it take to integrate concepts to make a cohesive system that works for you? Keep reading, my answers may surprise you.

I figure its taken me about two years to come up with the system I currently use these days. What started out as a gross infatuation with planning forms and index cards has turned into a living, morphing system that helps me get everything I need every day accomplished. Believe me, it's no easy feat! Sometimes I wish I had 10 more hours every day, in addition to a few naps. But since I can't be like my cats, here's some tips and tricks to help you explore the various paper and electronic tools that can help you be more productive.

Play and Experiment
There's a lot of applications, methodologies, and products (aka toys) out there. Each one offers you a unique style and way of doing things. My first suggestion for you is to keep a open and childlike mind. Learn to enjoy trying new things. Play a lot, search for products that fit what you want to use them for, and experiment with everything you find. Download several applications that do the same thing for you and give each a whirl. Note how each one is unique and different and what you instantly gravitate towards. The same goes with those D*I*Y Planner forms. I know that I printed and attempted to use them all at first. It took me a year of playing with them and experimenting with different ones before I settled down on my current pack.

At the same time, try not to overwhelm yourself with too many downloads, forms, and new products. Creating a system that works for you should be fun and you should want to use your new products. You don't want to make more work for yourself that you decide NOT to use anything. It's an on-going process and can also take time to figure out. What you use today, may get replaced by something else two weeks down the road. Be flexible and allow yourself to grow into a system that can morph as your needs change.

Form a Habit
You need time to develop your own system. It takes at least 21 days to turn something into a new habit. Try and stick with a combination of applications and products for at least 21 days when you're experimenting. That way you can really get the most out of the current system. Use those 21 days to learn what exactly it is about that methodology or product that works for you. Learn about what things you do not like about the system. Are there things you can eliminate or tweak to get the bugs out? If so, eliminate or fine tune the system so it makes you more productive at your job and in your life. After the 21 day period is up and if you're not satisfied with your system, rotate or add a new form or technique in and then try that for another 21 days. Keep doing this until you come up with a combination that works the best for you.

Establish Routines
I like having routines. They help keep me organized and focused on what all needs to be done. As such, I have two classifications of routines: project based and time based.

Project based routines revolve around specific tasks and projects. If I write an article idea down on an index card, I place that into the DIY Planner folder in my hipster. Tuesdays and Wednesdays are my article writing days, so I try not to schedule too much on these days. On these days, when I have an open spot for my weekly column, I take the most interesting or oldest article topic card out and then open up a new Pages document to write my next post. When I'm done and the article gets posted online, the card gets archived into my box.

At work, when I get a new writing job: I grab a Project card, write down all the specifics and then place that in the open projects section of my Circa Hipster. I add a short milestones timeline to the card and check it off as I hit every milestone. I also add project specific tasks to a daily to-do list card that I stick in the front of my Hipster. That little to-do list records everything I need to do in the day (at home and at work) and any meetings I need to go to. I give each task a priority and work on the highest priorities until they're done and then I move onto the next task.

Time based routines include tasks that need to be done in a specific timeline. These days web surfing and email answering fall into this routine. Many of you have probably noticed that if you email me during the day, I'll respond at night. I cannot check my personal email at work anymore, therefore I now take the first hour after I get home to answering emails, reading the RSS feed and playing with Facebook and LiveJournal. Not having access to the internet during the day is new to me. I've always had unlimited access to the web and email at work. Having this routine makes me very picky about what sites I go to and what I do online. If it's an email I cannot write a quick answer for and need to quickly go thru my inbox, I save that message and turn it into a project for when I have more time. And at the end of this hour, I step away from my Macbook and move onto the next task, or chore or go have some fun.

Merging your paper-based and electronic systems together is easier than you think. You can do it in two steps. First, figure out which tool works the best for you for each job or task. Then, assign that job or task to a paper-based or electronic format. Stick with that format for as long as it continues to work for you. For example, it makes more sense to write out my articles on my Macbook than it does long hand. Therefore, I use Apple Pages to draft out my thoughts for each article before I go about posting it to the D*I*Y Planner system. Likewise, I prefer to keep project sheets, to-do lists, and notes in my hipster so that I can have them organized and portable. They're available whenever I need them. And I can archive or recycle the sheets when I'm done with them.

I hope you enjoyed this three part article series on what works for me. As always, feel free to leave a comment or two on what you think. I'm always in the market to expand my toolset and methodologies and am utterly curious as to what works for all of you. So feel free to post your own techniques and products you use and love.

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