February 3, 2009

I’ve given a bunch of both online and paper-based organization systems a try — none of them have quite worked out. The tickler file was my latest and best-paper-based attempt to organize, but in my eyes its limitations are thus: (1) it works very well for certain kinds of tasks but not for others, such as day-to-day, and (2) if you don’t have a volume of such tickler-suited tasks, the whole system falls into disuse.

It works great for anything that involves paperwork, documents, or supporting evidence or research and is time sensitive or on a schedule — like preparing documents for a meeting, remembering to check finances or paying bills, reminders for renewing/returning library books (just put the receipt in the tickler!). I can easily see how law offices in the ’20s may have worked with this, and it even helps me be more thorough with such tasks because I can collect task-related documents in one place.

The tickler would see more action if my office work were remotely of substance or I was running a small business. Without that kind of consistent volume of time-sensitive tasks though, the tickler doesn’t tickle. And it’s kinda stuck in my office file drawer, inaccessible from anywhere else.

With both paper and paperless systems, I tend to overload the tasks and maybe I’m not following the “next action” creed the way I should, but I just fall into the habit to pushing back tasks to the point where that’s all I do with an organization system and I don’t remember what the point of the task is anyway. Eventually I stop using the organization system for a while, and try rebooting with another one a couple months later — a dishevelling cycle.

So now I’m about to give Gmail Labs’s Tasks a try. The major pro is that it’s in Gmail, which I use nearly religiously each day anyway. And I really make great use of Google Calendar, so in theory a task organization system that plays well with two systems I already use routinely may stick better.

But mind you, this is just a pre-game report. The cloud of disallusionment with organization web apps usually obscures my RSS reader from Gmail Task literature. I haven’t the faintest clue of how it works yet, but I do like how Gmail’s blog does a run-down of the pros and cons of paper:

Paper has a number of popular features:

  • Easy editing. Cross out with pen and write something new.
  • Works offline. You can read paper even when your PC is not connected to the internet.
  • Mobile. Fold paper and stick in pocket.
  • Instant boot up. Just pull paper out of pocket — don’t have to wait for it to load.

However, paper does have some limitations:

  • Limited availability. You don’t always have a pad of paper with you to write new things.
  • Not ubiquitous. If you leave a piece of paper in one pair of jeans, you can’t access it from the other jeans you’re currently wearing.
  • Difficult to organize. Eventually turns into a giant mess on your desk.

And after that somewhat playful comparison (italics mine), the Gmail blog goes on about iPhone and Android integration. Well, I’m not getting a new phone anytime soon, but I’ve used Google Calendar with a dumbphone (hybrid of paper and auto-texted reminders) with some sucess. So either Tasks can be done without the $70+ a month for data services, too, or I can add it to my list of failed attempts to organize.


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