Killing Two Birds with One (Digital) Stone

March 28, 2011

For more great images, see cartoonstock.com

In doing the reading for my social media class this week, I came across the perfect material for my next time management blog post.  Thanks, Mark Briggs, for doing double-duty for me this week with chapter 9 of Journalism Next.  In addition to discussing data-driven journalism (see my social media blog for more on that topic), Briggs addresses how to improve your productivity by digitizing your life

Briggs takes as his inspiration David Allen, author of the time management classic Getting Things Done.  Allen’s approach is much more old-school than that of Briggs (Allen advocates for writing everything down and filing it in an appropriately labeled folder), but the core principles he set forth remain the same: identify, capture, and organize.

Below are just a few of Briggs’ suggestions for applying technology to Allen’s foundations.

Organize your e-mail:

  • Use tools like filters and folders to restore a semblance of order to otherwise chaos. 
  • Limit the time your e-mail program is open to avoid constant distractions.  If you can reply to an e-mail in less than two minutes, do it; otherwise, file it. 
  • Aim for “Inbox Zero” – no messages in your mailbox at the end of each e-mail session (I learned recently that my very efficient coworker Joe Labetti subscribes to this approach).

Find the right productivity tools to meet your needs:

  • Find as few multitasking solutions as possible to achieve as many things as possible.  This will help you streamline things and prevent you from having to log in to too many websites to get things done.  (You’ll also exhaust less mental energy remembering passwords.)
  • Putting your documents, lists, and calendar online makes them easier to search, easier to share, and always accessible.  Plus, you’ll have a backup copy in case anything happens to your hard drive–just be sure to save an up-to-date copy in both places.
  • Think of your personal productivity as an equation = what you need to manage + the right tools to manage it.   The things you need to manage like include many of the following: e-mail, contacts, to-do lists, calendars, notes, word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, images, databases, project management, Web/graphic design, and collaboration with colleagues.  When considering the right tools for your various tasks, consider how much you are willing to pay, whether you need to integrate with other systems/devices, and whether you need an offline solution
  • Look into comprehensive solutions like a Google account (docs, Gmail, calendar, etc.), Microsoft Office Live (Word, Excel, PowerPoint), and Zoho (many of the aforementioned features, plus project management and customer relationship management tools).  If your needs are more particular, there are countless specialized solutions available on the Web.  Check out sites like Remember the Milk, Jott, Backpack, and Evernote to help you stay organized and on your toes.

Manage your contacts:

  • Rolodexes are so last century.  Your contacts will be “more sortable, more flexible and more useful if you store them electronically” — whether in a spreadsheet, a database, or a contact management system (Briggs, p. 251).
  • Keep everyone’s contact information in one place.  Add the name of every single contact you make, along with as much contact information as you have; you never know when it may come in handy down the road, and you won’t want to waste time looking for that cocktail napkin he/she scrawled it on back in 1999.

Bring order to your work:

For more on making the most of digitizing your life, check out these great resources:

How are you using technology to manage your time effectively?