Taking on a new job is a great time to spot-check the power of your organizing and executing systems. Mine came up severely lacking (as evidenced by how few posts I’ve sent to LifeHack recently). But with all things, “That which does not kill us…” Here’s what I’ve learned lately about my organizing needs, and here’s a few tips that might be useful to you, if you’re not already adequately dealing with managing your commitments and efforts.

Visualizing Your Commitments Helps

I mean this in lots of ways, but in this specific case, I also mean at the baseline, consider having a software application (or you can do this in the analog world easily, too) that gives you a VISUAL sense, an at-a-glance, Heads-up-Display vision of all your commitments. How am I doing it?

I’m using the built in Mac software, Stickies. It’s good because I can throw a little collapsed Sticky on the screen for every commitment I have. I can change colors on them such that pink (there’s no red) means “DO IT NOW” and blue means “follow up later” and traditional yellow means “clear this off when you can.” But the workflow that goes with this is this:

  • INPUT- Email or Voicemail or Phonecall – I get a commitment request. “Can you send me your list of 5 favorite tools?” If I can answer the input right away, no Sticky. I just do it and close out the input.
  • CAPTURE- Write the “to do” Sticky and leave it on the screen (under other apps until I’m ready). If there’s a date attached, use Google Calendar instead.
  • PROCESS- Use yellow for general, pink for right away, and blue for follow-up later.
  • PROCESS- Check Stickies once every 30 minutes as part of a sweep.
  • PROCESS- Clear Stickies when that’s the task at hand.

Variations on the Theme

Some of you are still gasping at the idea of using simple, low-data-value sticky notes. Sure, I love Remember the Milk and a million other to-do apps that have tons of great built-in power. But what I am digging about stickies is the VISUAL element of having my commitments in front of me in a visual way. I can drag groups of items together. I can place FOCUS items in the center of the screen. So, it’s a way to add visual nuance and gestures to what I’m getting done.

If you don’t want an on-box application, try Stikkit or Thinkature. Stikkit is a great app by Rael Dornfest and team, and it’s got some additional functionality that makes it really useful. Thinkature is actually more of a mindmapping tool, but it can be used for the same purpose I’m describing here. You can stack data visually.

Why Visualize

So, the reason I’m pushing the visual on this is simple: lists of lists and commitments stacked by 1,2,3 don’t always give your brain the right queue. It doesn’t say: your plate is full, or you’ve got lots of things to do in THIS area of life all of a sudden.

Those planning methods don’t often let you queue things in non-linear ways. Maybe you want to group by context *and* by priority *but without* some wildcard that only you can describe. I think the visual method of organizing helps in this regard.

What’s your take?

– Chris Brogan is community developer for Network2, a guide to the best FREE internet TV shows you should be sticking on your video iPod or Zune. He keeps a blog at [chrisbrogan.com]

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