organization

Online Systems: That’s a Lot of Info

As we move about our day, we might see a blog post we want to revisit, or a video that looks interesting but can’t watch right this second. Maybe we have a cool idea for something but need to table it for later when you can give it more thought. It’s really annoying to forget these ideas or lose track of something you wanted to follow up on, only to remember it at another inopportune moment (like, I dunno, the dentist’s chair, when you can’t really do anything about it and will probably forget again).

Fortunately, we live in a day and age where it’s relatively easy to have a systematic approach to organizing this type of ‘stuff,’ so you can access it whenever and in whatever way that works best for you.

Everyone’s brain works differently, so an efficient way for me to store information may be totally ineffectual for someone like my brother. My brain is best at retrieving information when it’s separated by “type”- (Work related, Fitness, Just for Fun, Decor/DIY/Baking, etc) but that doesn’t mean everyone thinks that way. No matter how your brain works, there are systems you can implement to save and store incoming information online.


Information that Comes from Internet Browsing

This information is typically in link form. Here are a couple ways to save links for later reading:

Pocket

Pocket is a pretty incredible service when it comes to saving online information for later. You can have it on all your devices, so nothing gets lost between phone to desktop browsing and vice versa. And, part of what makes my brain happy is that you can organize the articles you save into different categories, which makes it easier to find again later. As a bonus, you don’t need internet connection to read articles you’ve saved for later. Pocket will also offer recommended reading if you are looking for new material.

pcket

Pinterest

I like using Pinterest for information in the realm of DIY/Baking/Cooking/Anything vaguely creative. You can create different Boards, which are the categories where you’ll save different articles. Like Pocket, the way you choose to organize this information is totally up to you. My Pinterest Boards have names that make sense to me, but maybe not everyone else.

Some websites have pinnable articles/images. If you’re browsing outside of Pinterest, sometimes a little “Save” button will appear (example below), which allows you to pull that into one of your Pinterest boards. As you “pin” things, you can write a little caption that can either explain what the pin is or why you’ve saved it (like “Recipe for Dad’s Birthday cake).

pinterestsave



Information that Comes from Email/Messaging

Sometimes, information comes at you in a way that isn’t browsing the internet/social media. Most people get a lot of incoming information from email- the kind you don’t necessarily need to act on but need to organize anyway.

My “system,” if I can’t deal with the email right away, is to star it or put it in a folder for later. Then it’s a matter of extracting important information and putting it in the right place– if it’s an event, it goes to the calendar, if it’s something I’ll need to follow up on, it goes in Asana (our project management system), and so on. Extracting and organizing information as you read it can really boost your productivity.

Another idea for gathering incoming information is to use a note taking service, like Evernote, have it synced on your phone and desktop, and pull any information from text/email that you need into a note form, where you can add your own annotations. More on that here. 



Other Tips For Creating Your Own Online Information Systems

  • Be consistent. If your system is only applied every two or three times you collect information, it’s not really much of a system. Find something that is a bit of extra work but doesn’t feel like pulling teeth.
  • Do an information clean-up every month or so. Any notes or articles that you no longer need can be removed from wherever you’re storing your information. This keeps your bank of information easy to navigate. After all, your retrieval method should take less time than it did to find the information in the first place, right?
  • The best piece of advice I’ve seen about organizing information? Put it where you look for it. This may sound a bit obvious, but trust me, when you’re hunting for that article you wanted to read and can’t find it in your usual spot(s), it may be time for something different (just think of all the time you save by not digging around for missing links).

Do you have a system for organizing the “I should probably file this for later” type information that wasn’t mentioned above? Tell us about it!



Note-Taking: The Follow Through

So you have great ideas. You write them down. But…then what? What’s the point of generating ideas if you aren’t going to do something with them? The last step in the process of note-taking is the follow-through. Before you jump into action mode, a good first step is getting organized. Here are some quick tips on setting yourself up for success with follow-through:



Sort it out. So, you have ideas and you’ve recorded them in a place that works best for you. If you aren’t organizing as you go, the first step in following through is reviewing things you’ve written down. For me, there’s usually 3 categories I can place things under: Things I have to do, Things I want to do, and Things that sound cool but realistically I’m not going to do. Everyone has their own way of sorting, and it can be done as frequently or infrequently as you’d like (I like to make a point of it once a week/month). I also don’t throw away the ideas that fall in the third category, but file them away. After all, you never know what might change and those ideas could shift into a different category.

sort

Sorting can be rough work.

Prioritize. In a perfect world, we would have all the time in the world to pursue every idea that popped into our minds. Time and other obligations are unfortunate restraints that must be worked around, and that’s where step 2 comes in. Prioritizing takes two things into account: time constraints and personal interest. The things on our list that have a time limit/some sort of expiration get moved up on the list (otherwise, you risk losing out on the idea altogether). The second is more subjective- if we’re excited about an idea in particular, it’s likely we’ll place it higher up on our priority list.




Break it Down. As a big-picture thinker, I often fail to consider the in-between steps of where I am now to where I hope to be in terms of goal setting. Breaking down the idea into small, actionable steps sets you up for success and gives a sense of progress along the way. When making this list, it’s also important to keep it within the bounds of what’s reasonable. I tend to get over-excited about new projects and lose sight of other commitments/things that need to get done. In other words, I set myself up for failure. Although it’s great to be excited about a new project, try to stay grounded during the planning part of the process to avoid this level of over-committing. progressBe Accountable. Some people are propelled by self motivation and have no problem getting things done. In my experience, my personal goals that fall under the “Things I want to do” category tend to take the backburner. Unfortunately, these things take a long time to get done (if they get done at all) as a result. One way to push these ideas up to the front burner is adding accountability, namely, to another person/thing. For example, if I have a specific running-related goal in mind, there are a couple ways to make myself accountable. To make sure I hit my action steps of training, throwing in a couple group or partner runs usually gets me out the door on tough days. I’ll also sign up for a particular race in advance, which gives me a bit more skin in the game (i.e. registration fee). I’m much less likely to flake out if I’ve already made the monetary investment (and have been known to flake out on races I didn’t pre-register for). A third idea that I haven’t utilized is a coach (because I’m not that serious of a runner). The coach idea is similar to having an accountability partner, who checks in with you about ongoing goals and projects at regular intervals. For more on accountability partners, check out this blog post from a couple years ago.



Incentivize. Adding an incentive, either once you’ve reached your goal or for reaching certain milestones along the way, helps a lot of people stay motivated. This article shares a story about a guy who got to the gym everyday (well, pretty close) by leaving his only deodorant there. If he didn’t want b.o. for the day, he’d have to head to the gym to get it. This probably seems a bit extreme, it did to me, anyway- but it got the job done. Think about some ways you can bait yourself into following through with your plans, even if they don’t make sense to anyone else.

Following through on the ideas you’ve collected is ultimately a personal journey. Some of these tips might be helpful, and you might not be the type of person who needs any help with it at all! You might also have some methods that we haven’t mentioned here.

What helps you with following through?

For more posts about note-taking, don’t miss these posts:

Four Noteworthy Apps (for Taking Notes)

Take Note: Tips on Having (and Keeping) Your Ideas

For more about reaching goals and goal setting, check out these posts:

Tech Thursday: All About Goal Setting



Four Noteworthy Apps (…for Taking Notes)

Last week, we shared tips about getting ideas out of your head and organized. In that post, we stressed the importance of being consistent with where you keep these notes. Some people prefer to have them physically written down, others prefer to have them stored on electronic devices.

For those of you who fall in the electronic note taking category, this is your post! (Or even if you’re in the first category- this post just might change your mind). There are tons of apps out there for notes, with as many or as little extra features as you would like. I’m only going to talk about 4 of the apps I’ve found that offer their own unique twists on the note-taking process that are also totally free.

Evernote: Arguably the most popular note taking app. You can download it on all your devices, that way the notes you take on your PC will be with you on your phone if you’re on the go. Free for 60 MB of uploads per month. If you want to upload more, save emails, have offline access, it does cost a bit of money. There is also a business plan (also paid) which aims to improve collaboration within a business. For a smaller company it might not make a lot of sense, but there are a lot of different people attached to a project, it seems like a useful and convenient way to stay organized.

Things that are cool: You can search through text and images, and easily share notes with others. The website has a pretty incredible blog/testimonial section, and this story about Nisha Harish using Evernote to help write a book about her experience in the Marathon des Sables caught my interest.

This was just the sample page after sign-in, and I already felt overwhelmed

This was just the sample page after sign-in, and I already felt overwhelmed

OneNote (Microsoft): Another app that’s available for free, and on desktop and mobile devices. It also comes with similar cloud-access so you can get your information wherever you are. The interface reminds me of Excel, with different tabs for different sections. From the perspective of a girl who breaks a sweat at the mere mention of spreadsheets, this isn’t how I want to keep track of my notes. Then I actually logged in and tested it out (clearly nothing serious) and it was actually pretty awesome.

Things that are cool: It’s very straightforward and easy to use. You have all the basic options, like drawing notes, writing, sharing, adding pictures-without it being overly complex. Easy to navigate, both in terms of writing a note and accessing it later on.

I had a little fun testing this one out...

I had a little fun testing this one out…



Google Keep: A free Google app that is a more organized version of the Stickies program that Macs have (which I totally loved in my tween-hood). Like Evernote and OneNote, you can share your notes with other people. You can also sync your notes with your other Google apps, add location based reminders (with the help of Google maps). As someone who already uses Google apps AND enjoys the visual organization, this is the app that gets my vote. (Unfortunately, I’m a physical note person).

Things that are cool: As mentioned earlier, I really like the interface on Google Keep. It’s more friendly for visually inclined individuals. You can enable dictation (which the other apps don’t have) and can easily move it to a Google doc for further editing/sharing.

googlekeep

Simplenote: A slight step up above the Note app on your phone- it’s text only and doesn’t let you add any attachments or images, or share with others. However, it does have a cool restore history feature, so if you accidentally delete something you can easily get it back. (Note does not have this, trust me.) You can also tag notes, share the note URL, and invite others to edit. In other words, it has a lot of the same features as the other apps but with a simpler interface.

Things that are cool: It’s pretty minimalist, so if you’re the type of person who JUST wants to jot things down without dealing with annoying extra features, this is your app. The ability to retrieve older notes is a nice safety feature, too.

simplenote

These are just four of the MANY apps you can download for note taking, but they’re a) popular and b) free, so if you’re in the market for organizing notes in a digital way, you’ll probably be able to find something that will get the job done.

June is note month! Stay tuned for more posts about note taking and keeping, and remember to check out other posts as well:

Take Note: Tips on Having (and Keeping) Your Ideas



Tech Thursday: All About Systems

Okay, well maybe not everything. But, as we get busier, we’ve come to appreciate the function that systems provide. The point of having a system is to get things running smoothly, whatever the “things” may be, with a “begin with the end in mind” mentality.

Recently, Nicole chatted with Tim Hoffman about implementing systems in personal and professional settings. All good systems have 3 traits:

1) Effectual (they help reach a desired outcome),
2) Efficient (they ultimately save time/energy), and
3) Flexible (if an obstacle arises).

At Breaking Even, we’ve started systems for documenting processes that we repeat quite a bit, as well as meetings (that’s right, those can be systems, too)!

What systems do you have set up in your life, personal or professional? We’re interested in hearing what others have to say!

Tech Thursday: Getting Organized for Next Year

It’s hard to believe there’s only one full week left in 2014! It has been a big year for us, and hopefully you all as well. This week’s video is dedicated to carrying that energy over into 2015! In order to make the most out of the upcoming year, it’s a good idea to get yourself organized.

One big help in getting organized is making sure all of your password information is up-to-date and accurate. It’s annoying to try to login to your website or LinkedIn, only to find that your passwords are mixed up (or forgotten). Invest some time in making sure you have access to all the online places you should.

Another tip: do a resource inventory. What do you have to work with? A list of email addresses you’ve been neglecting? 500 relatively active Facebook fans? An employee with some extra time who likes taking photos around the office? A cool domain you bought in July and haven’t used yet? Think online assets, physical assets, financial resources, and people resources.

Last, make a prioritized to do list. Write everything down that’s been bothering you or that you’ve been meaning to get around to, no matter how big or small. You’ll need this for next week’s video on goal setting!



Three Reasons Why You Should Rename Your Files Before Sending Them To Me

*Note content has been changed to protect the well meaning.

I open the email from a client and there are three photos: ‘IMG_93245’, ‘IMG_3445’, and ‘IMG_4558’

The text in the email “These are photos of Rachel, Pam, and Sheila.”

I appreciate knowing but having never met Rachel, Pam, or Sheila, I don’t know who is who. So I take a stab at it and figure the order they are attached might be a clue; maybe the first person is Rachel, etc.

Nope.


Here are four reasons (three you actually care about) before you fire off an email to your web developer, social media person, etc. you might want to rename those photo files.

1) It’s less confusing for us. (I swear this is my only self serving reason.)

Here’s the thing, I get a lot of email. And sometimes, I download it onto my computer only to find a stray photo months later and think ‘Oh was this what so-and-so was talking about?’ By naming the photo, it helps me stick it in the right project or simply find it in my email… which brings me to.

2) Renaming your files allows you to find it years later.

Let’s say a year from now, you are redoing your brochure. “Remember that beautiful sunset photo I sent to Nicole? I wonder where that is…”

If you would have called it ‘sunset_near_rental.jpg’ when you initally sent it to me, you’d be able to search your computer for the word ‘sunset’ and likely find it. The generic file name off your camera will not be helpful in this instance.

Now am I saying you should name ALL your files? No way, who has time for that? But if you think it’s nice enough to send to someone like me who shares it on social media or your blog, it might be nice enough to use for some other purpose later.


3) You can see how huge the file is when you rename it.

Usually renaming it will allow you to see how big, or not big, a file is. (Because at least for me, I get to the file info when I rename things.)

I had a client send me a photo she wanted on a slideshow once. It was small but I shrugged, figured she was the customer and always right… so I put it on her slideshow and asked her about it. When she saw how pixelated it was, she knew she had sent me the wrong (too small) photo.

Renaming your files gives you that chance to look at the file again, whether it is in iPhoto, Windows Media Gallery, wherever.

4) File names are picked up by search engines.

You know when you do a Google image search for something and think ‘How does it bring me back such relevant (and sometimes hilariously irrelevant) results?’ It’s not like there’s people at Google cataloging photos on the internet. Instead search engines skim things like filenames and alt text. How else would we know that little girl is also named Nicole Ouellette (like me)?

nicoleouelletteincaption

In other words, there are several good reasons to rename your favorite photos. You can do it however you like (here’s an idea) but the point is, you’re not just doing it for me. You’re doing it for search engines and most importantly, for yourself.

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