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The Quick & Dirty Guide to Personal Wikis

The Quick & Dirty Guide to Personal Wikis

    Personal wikis were a big fad for productivity geeks for a while, but that seems to have toned down a lot through 2008. Wikis are still incredibly useful, and can make you more productive. You can think of a personal wiki like a bit of a catch-all binder.

    Whether you want to manage personal information, use it as a freelance web-worker, or to manage your corporate work, this article will introduce you to a few of the options out there and kickstart you with some ideas for getting productive using your wiki.

    Personal Wikis You Can Use

    This is by no means a comprehensive list, so if you have a favorite wiki, let us know about in the comments section. Here are a few of the popular options. I’ve listed some web-hosted, self-hosted and cross-platform wikis. There are plenty of great desktop apps for each major platform, but we’ll discuss them in another article.

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    Luminotes is a personal wiki with both free and paid options. The free option allows one user account on your wiki and provides 30mb of storage space. It’s WYSIWYG, so no need to learn a whole new markup language.

    Wikispaces offers free public wikis, and private wikis that cost between $5 and $20 a month. For a personal wiki, you’ll usually want private, but $5 is pretty cheap.

    @Wiki is completely free and offers WYSIWYG, file importing and multiple authors. If you’re going beyond the traditional personal wiki and using it for team organization, @Wiki allows you to monitor your wiki through RSS feeds.

    Wikihost is another free service that provides private and public wiki options.

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    TiddlyWiki is pretty unique in the field of wikis and if you want simple and minimal, this is the one for you. Your TiddlyWiki wiki will consist of one page, where you append entries and notes. It has a good search feature for wading through the page and finding the right info as your “wiki” gets longer.

    Wikidot is another free wiki option. It’s unique feature is AdSense integration, but since clicking on your own ads is against Google’s policies, this isn’t likely to help you much. ;)

    MediaWiki—if you’ve got the know-how to get the software that Wikipedia uses running on your computer and the patience to customize it, this may be a good one for you. You’ll need to have a PHP/MySQL server running on your computer, or if you want to use it in multiple locations, on your hosting account.

    Getting to Know Wiki Markup

    Many of the options provided come with WYSIWYG editors, but others don’t. For instance, if you set up a MediaWiki installation on your local server, you’ll find yourself without one (I believe there are plug-ins that’ll add it, though). WYSIWYG or not, getting to know wiki markup is handy, even if it’s just to troubleshoot pages that just won’t behave.

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    Fortunately, Wikipedia has an extensive and comprehensive guide on the subject. You’ll want to pay attention to how links are done—internal (inter-wiki) and external links are two different monsters.

    Note that not all wikis use the same markup language and you’ll have to see what your selected service is using. It’s a pain to learn a whole bunch of markup languages for the one purpose, so choose carefully and then invest the time in just one. Using a system that adopts the MediaWiki markup language is a good move, since it’s the one you’re most likely to need if other people invite you to participate in their own wikis. Honestly, I wish wikis had just used HTML and perhaps added some extra tags for wiki specific features, but you get what you’re given. Unless you’re a developer.

    Got One! Now What?

    Now you’ve got your wiki, what can you do with it? There are all sorts of possibilities.

    Empty your head—use your wiki to empty your head of thoughts and get them down so you don’t need to worry about them. Insomniac? Try this! This is also a core principle of GTD, so if you’re unhappy with your current method, this could work for you.

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    Note-takingEvernote too much for you? Blasphemy! Just kidding—a personal wiki can be a great note-taking app, whether it’s for ideas throughout the day, meetings, or lectures.

    Personal Knowledgebase—keep forgetting how that fancy can-opener works? Write the method down in your wiki (no kidding, I once had a can-opener that I kept forgetting how to use). What about moving house? There are a million and one things that need doing then—least of which is the endless list of companies and organizations you need to inform that you’ve changed your address. Get that list completed in your wiki and you can check it off next time you move.

    Writer’s Desk—I know a freelance writer who used a wiki as a word processor and client tracker in Internet cafes until she could afford a computer of her own. Unusual, but effective!

    Client manager—as I mentioned, my friend didn’t just use the wiki as a word processor, but to keep notes on clients. Keep your client contact details, invoicing dates, project details and past work in a wiki for easy reference.

    Joint projects—work on documents collaboratively with colleagues, or a freelancer you’ve teamed up with. It’s not the best collaborative word processor ever, but it’ll get the job done.

    Project Management—got a big project from a client or your employer to plan out and execute? Perhaps you’re planning a wedding and need someplace to keep track of all the annoying details and headaches involved (I wish I’d thought of this for my own!). Wikis can be highly effective project managers.

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    Joel Falconer

    Editor, content marketer, product manager and writer with 12+ years of experience in the startup, design and tech digital media industries.

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    Last Updated on July 8, 2020

    3 Techniques for Setting Priorities Effectively

    3 Techniques for Setting Priorities Effectively

    It is easy, in the onrush of life, to become a reactor – to respond to everything that comes up, the moment it comes up, and give it your undivided attention until the next thing comes up.

    This is, of course, a recipe for madness. The feeling of loss of control over what you do and when is enough to drive you over the edge, and if that doesn’t get you, the wreckage of unfinished projects you leave in your wake will surely catch up with you.

    Having an inbox and processing it in a systematic way can help you gain back some of that control. But once you’ve processed out your inbox and listed all the tasks you need to get cracking on, you still have to figure out what to do the very next instant. On which of those tasks will your time best be spent, and which ones can wait?

    When we don’t set priorities, we tend to follow the path of least resistance. (And following the path of least resistance, as the late, great Utah Phillips reminded us, is what makes the river crooked!) That is, we’ll pick and sort through the things we need to do and work on the easiest ones – leaving the more difficult and less fun tasks for a “later” that, in many cases, never comes – or, worse, comes just before the action needs to be finished, throwing us into a whirlwind of activity, stress, and regret.

    This is why setting priorities is so important.

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    3 Effective Approaches to Set Priorities

    There are three basic approaches to setting priorities, each of which probably suits different kinds of personalities. The first is for procrastinators, people who put off unpleasant tasks. The second is for people who thrive on accomplishment, who need a stream of small victories to get through the day. And the third is for the more analytic types, who need to know that they’re working on the objectively most important thing possible at this moment. In order, then, they are:

    1. Eat a Frog

    There’s an old saying to the effect that if you wake up in the morning and eat a live frog, you can go through the day knowing that the worst thing that can possibly happen to you that day has already passed. In other words, the day can only get better!

    Popularized in Brian Tracy’s book Eat That Frog!, the idea here is that you tackle the biggest, hardest, and least appealing task first thing every day, so you can move through the rest of the day knowing that the worst has already passed.

    When you’ve got a fat old frog on your plate, you’ve really got to knuckle down. Another old saying says that when you’ve got to eat a frog, don’t spend too much time looking at it! It pays to keep this in mind if you’re the kind of person that procrastinates by “planning your attack” and “psyching yourself up” for half the day. Just open wide and chomp that frog, buddy! Otherwise, you’ll almost surely talk yourself out of doing anything at all.

    2. Move Big Rocks

    Maybe you’re not a procrastinator so much as a fiddler, someone who fills her or his time fussing over little tasks. You’re busy busy busy all the time, but somehow, nothing important ever seems to get done.

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    You need the wisdom of the pickle jar. Take a pickle jar and fill it up with sand. Now try to put a handful of rocks in there. You can’t, right? There’s no room.

    If it’s important to put the rocks in the jar, you’ve got to put the rocks in first. Fill the jar with rocks, now try pouring in some pebbles. See how they roll in and fill up the available space? Now throw in a couple handfuls of gravel. Again, it slides right into the cracks. Finally, pour in some sand.

    For the metaphorically impaired, the pickle jar is all the time you have in a day. You can fill it up with meaningless little busy-work tasks, leaving no room for the big stuff, or you can do the big stuff first, then the smaller stuff, and finally fill in the spare moments with the useless stuff.

    To put it into practice, sit down tonight before you go to bed and write down the three most important tasks you have to get done tomorrow. Don’t try to fit everything you need, or think you need, to do, just the three most important ones.

    In the morning, take out your list and attack the first “Big Rock”. Work on it until it’s done or you can’t make any further progress. Then move on to the second, and then the third. Once you’ve finished them all, you can start in with the little stuff, knowing you’ve made good progress on all the big stuff. And if you don’t get to the little stuff? You’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that you accomplished three big things. At the end of the day, nobody’s ever wished they’d spent more time arranging their pencil drawer instead of writing their novel, or printing mailing labels instead of landing a big client.

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    3. Covey Quadrants

    If you just can’t relax unless you absolutely know you’re working on the most important thing you could be working on at every instant, Stephen Covey’s quadrant system as written in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change might be for you.

    Covey suggests you divide a piece of paper into four sections, drawing a line across and a line from top to bottom. Into each of those quadrants, you put your tasks according to whether they are:

    1. Important and Urgent
    2. Important and Not Urgent
    3. Not Important but Urgent
    4. Not Important and Not Urgent

      The quadrant III and IV stuff is where we get bogged down in the trivial: phone calls, interruptions, meetings (QIII) and busy work, shooting the breeze, and other time wasters (QIV). Although some of this stuff might have some social value, if it interferes with your ability to do the things that are important to you, they need to go.

      Quadrant I and II are the tasks that are important to us. QI are crises, impending deadlines, and other work that needs to be done right now or terrible things will happen. If you’re really on top of your time management, you can minimize Q1 tasks, but you can never eliminate them – a car accident, someone getting ill, a natural disaster, these things all demand immediate action and are rarely planned for.

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      You’d like to spend as much time as possible in Quadrant II, plugging away at tasks that are important with plenty of time to really get into them and do the best possible job. This is the stuff that the QIII and QIV stuff takes time away from, so after you’ve plotted out your tasks on the Covey quadrant grid, according to your own sense of what’s important and what isn’t, work as much as possible on items in Quadrant II (and Quadrant I tasks when they arise).

      Getting to Know You

      Spend some time trying each of these approaches on for size. It’s hard to say what might work best for any given person – what fits one like a glove will be too binding and restrictive for another, and too loose and unstructured for a third. You’ll find you also need to spend some time figuring out what makes something important to you – what goals are your actions intended to move you towards.

      In the end, setting priorities is an exercise in self-knowledge. You need to know what tasks you’ll treat as a pleasure and which ones like torture, what tasks lead to your objectives and which ones lead you astray or, at best, have you spinning your wheels and going nowhere.

      These three are the best-known and most time-tested strategies out there, but maybe you’ve got a different idea you’d like to share? Tell us how you set your priorities in the comments.

      More Tips for Effective Prioritization

      Featured photo credit: Mille Sanders via unsplash.com

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