An Organizational System That Works (for me, sort of)

As promised in the last post. The next one will be about television.

I’ve mentioned my ongoing struggle to be more organized elsewhere on this blog. The chair position has forced the issue and I think I have a system that sort of works. It’s not perfect, but it’s alright. Keep in mind I hate putting things in their proper place and organizing, despite my love of classification in my intellectual work. Anyway, the system involves the following:

1. Microsoft Entourage calendar. I use this for all date-sensitive activities and as my calendar. It can be accessed from anywhere thanks to McGill’s exchange server (I could just easily use google calendar or any number of other similar products, I just like that it’s attached to my email, where more requests for meetings come). I no longer carry a calendar. This is slightly annoying for meetings but otherwise seems to work fine.

2. Stupidly expensive moleskine notebook. By stupidly expensive, I mean $15-20 (which is a very Starbuck’s-bourgeois price to pay for blank paper) — I picked it up at the paper store over winter break. This is the “little black book” mentioned in my last post and raved about on sites like It opens to lie flat, has lots of small, thin pages, and closes with an attached band and there’s a sash to mark your page. I would happily spend less for these features, but the physical robustness of the book and the physical connection of the sash and band appear to be the keys and anyway I didn’t want to take the time to shop around since it was right there. There are all sorts of “hacks” for these things, but for me it is simply a compendium of to-do lists and notes from events I attend (facts, stuff to read, ideas, etc). When a to-do list has enough crossed off, I move all the stuff to a new one. Some lists are topical, but most are daily and weekly. There is no overall organizational system and no category system, which I found difficult to maintain in the hipster PDA. I’ve also never found a decent software solution for to-do lists. It’s so much easier to write and cross off. It fits in my pocket (my next one will be slightly smaller if I can find such a product) and will probably last me well into the summer. I’m not searching through index cards and trying to keep them in order (like with the hipster PDA, which fell apart in my hands a couple times) and somehow flipping through pages works better for me. I find myself flipping through it as I wait for stuff to happen (for instance, if I’m early to a talk) and so my “weekly review” [1] sort of happens during the down-times of the week. Anyway, I’ve been doing this all term and it seems to actually work. Really well.

3. Delegating memory. If I need to touch base with someone in a week about a meeting or an event, I tell them to remind me. It also helps to have staff, as I can tell my administrator to remind me of something on a given day. She also knows to remind me about things if I don’t get back to her. The less of this sort of stuff on my mind, the better. There are probably other things I could delegate. For instance, Carrie and I were talking about getting someone to email me every week or two about upcoming rock shows, since I miss many more than I go to.

4. The only thing that sometimes falls through the gaps is email, which simply gushes out of the server into my mailbox. I have a very bad habit of not replying to some emails that require a little thought (like notes from friends) and then forgetting about them. I hate that. I also get a lot of queries about this and that which I can’t always deal with right away and sometimes plan to get back to them later the same day or next day, but then more email comes. I know people have devised filing systems for email, but for me, it’s the same problem as the hipster PDA. I prefer not to think about filing if I can avoid it, though perhaps there’s a gross and simple system for me. Right now, I just move mail off the server on a monthly basis and then use my search function to find stuff. Fixing this will clearly be the next frontier.


[1] The “weekly review” concept is basically the idea that you go over all your ongoing tasks at the end of the week and reshuffle your priorities so that the urgent stuff doesn’t overtake the important stuff. The Getting Things Done people have a very elaborate system and time-consuming system, but basically, it comes down to taking time to be mindful of what matters to you ask opposed to what matters to other people.