Productivity - Introduction
Page updated on: 7 August 2008
Whether you are setting up a whole self reliant system, are a busy mom, run your own business or want to work on any project, an organising system is invaluable for making the best use of your time and reduce the feeling of being overwhelmed by long lists of tasks and a full diary. To function well, the system needs to be easy to use, and as compact as possible. Inaccessible and/or crowded files, scattered reference material and loose notes mean extra work in searching for what you need, missed opportunities and appointments, and stress.
A basic system would comprise of:
- a diary/calendar with to do list with means of reminding you of tasks when needed and ignore future tasks until due
- filing system - important documents and project (including possible future projects) back-up material
- a dedicated storage system for all things
- good habits
I gleaned a number of helpful things from Getting Things Done by David Allen ( for UK source, click here - affiliate link), which inspired me to improve my system. The work flow chart shows an overview of the organisational steps. Judging by the near cult like following of his system it is probably very successful.
I won't repeat here what can be read on other websites (links on this page), but will write about my way of adapting the system, and the 'hardware' I created, especially the way of reducing resources and cost, and making the best of a small space. Most of the components utilise small pieces of paper, which can be cut from standard letter paper - I use the blank back of old correspondence.
The system is still in its infancy, and I am tweaking it as I go along, but there are already some tangible benefits, and a few items have made life a lot easier. After feeling overwhelmed with a mass of jobs to do, and not knowing where to start, I have now found the beginning of the tangled thread, and can at last start to unravel it.
Any one project in progress requires more working space than my desk provides, and I also wanted a work station I could easily move outside when the weather allows me to work in the garden. A kind of easel would be the answer. An image google search provided me with plenty of inspiration, and a look around the shed yielded a few pieces of suitable wood.
For indoor use I have three A3 hardboard lap desks, one with integral pencil holder. Bulldog clips hold paper and notes in place, and strips of acetate clipped to the edges form large retaining clips, allowing the notes to be read, but securely held or rearranged. For outdoor use (I like to do paperwork in the garden if the weather is fine) I have a lap desk with drawers for paper and stationary supplies.
The office is furnished with a desk made from an old wardrobe, two nesting tables with added drawers, a few filing racks and carousels, various niches and shelves holding office supplies and files, a chest with hanging files, and a mini settee. It is roughly split up into the computer area, and the cosy manual office with everything at my fingertips. In a small space there is naturally an overlap with parts of the living area. To successfully use a small house, there has to be a sharing of space, and a relaxed view to interlocking components normally segregated, even by walls. Whilst trying to make it function as efficiently as possible and using as much recycled material as possible, the choice of mostly natural materials has given the cabin and its living and work space a unifying mellow ambiance.
The newest addition to my office set-up is this organising pannier, the first of a pair to be attached to the side of my desk chair as well as my garden work chair. Although my desk was reasonably tidy with much of the supplies stored in the desk organiser and nearby drawers, shelves and hooks, I preferred to have these supplies at my fingertips, yet out of sight, and gathered in one container which would be easy to pick up and move outdoors on a fine day. The pannier also takes advantage of dead space on the chair.
Inspired by the need to carry a lot of little bits and bobs around with me and wanting to create a nice home for my new jotter or mini jotter I came up with the organising waistcoat, made with linen and cotton fabric.
I have two main filing systems, one for documents and papers, and the other one projects on the go, reference material and inspiration. The first one is reasonably well organised and sparse, but the second one is a bulging mess. Can't find what I want, and it is taking far too much space for the actual useful material it contains. Articles collected from magazines, snippets of information, and books often duplicate information and are padded with anecdotes and descriptive text. Often I only want to keep the nuts-and-bolts information. Bit by bit I am reducing my A4 files with A6 and A7 files with pared down information, extracting the core information from those articles and books, and writing it on A6 or A7 pieces of paper or maybe file a small, dense article as is ( a job for long winter evenings). Re-writing the information is not such a waste of time, it is like revision and helps to retain a little more of the information, and reminds one of its existence and place. The photograph is of the still virtually empty garden file, though I have decided that the garden file will need an A6 rack. Some racks contain a mixture of material, though some are dedicated entirely to one subject, e.g. gardening or cookery recipes. I love to see the pile of paper for recycling grow, as my filing cabinet becomes smaller, and retrieve what I am looking for.
I confess, the expanding file was an indulgence after seeing a Moleskine, and gulping at the price. Ever resourceful, and in the swing of creating my new office aids, I experimented and cursed my way to success at last, got out the old parchment document paper flying around for years, some card, scissors and glue, and a bone folder (a spent ballpoint cartridge will also score paper), and now proudly present the Moleskine-type A6 expanding file sweetie. Aaah. But as with so many things that are too precious to use......Did I mention the tale about my grandparent's settee with three layers of protective covers sandwiching a sheet of polythene? The precious settee (and the 'best' cover nearest the settee) probably rotted underneath, never to show its glory to the world. There is a moral in that tale somewhere.
The small sorter I made is more of a paper organiser for writing projects. It is a cross between a paper sorter and the ScanPlan flip system (internet archive link, as ScanPlan has shut down). The flip system is particularly suited to occasions when quick access to information is important, such as when giving a talk or for a first aid manual, or any other reference material, and as a study aid and organising chunks of information, but makes organising any writing job easier.
The link above shows the concept (with some good organisation and writing tips). However, instead of spending a lot of money on a concept flip file, why not get a flip photo album from the dollar shop? Whilst working on something, I like to be able to shuffle around papers and not have to pull them out of thin film pockets, so I made this open sorter.
It's made from card and old manilla folders. The pages are hinged with fabric binding tape, and the tag pockets are clear acetate binder material folded over the edge and stitched on. With a huge pile of articles and papers yet to file or sort, I will make a bigger one to streamline the job. Definitely worth the effort, and not that difficult to make.
A binding system which uses the plastic from milk cartons. It allows pages to be turned 360 degrees in a similar way to spiral or wire bound note pads, but where pages can be added or removed and where the holes can be punched with an ordinary desk punch.
As I work from home, I have most reference and project material close at hand. The hipster is mostly a jotter for ideas when out and about, and for reminders of e.g. tools to take, or things to retrieve from the shed, and to-do slips. I also carry a separate pad of blank to-do slips, so I can write the action straight onto a slip and place it into the tickler (or act on it) later, without having to re-write it.
I don't see any need to print many templates. A note or a list to me is obvious, and each item has to be entered manually anyway. Only for pages where entries are repeated frequently or regularly, is a printer of use (e.g. plant reference cards, with tick boxes for things like soil requirements, planting times and more). Setting the printer preference for fast draft saves ink and time in printing and still produces perfectly adequate copies. The jotter also contains some clear plastic sheets with stickies (they stick best to shiny plastic), so that small sketches can be transferred to project material when I return home.
Actually, just a pad of blank to-do slips for dressy occasions, which can double up as a mini jotter. Accompanied by a sawn-off Pilot Birdie mechanical pencil in a case made from a scorched elder twig.
No more hunt for paper at the telephone/computer, or when I have an idea, nor piles of paper torn from envelopes in a hurry, and notes to transfer to.... somewhere. The jotter holds A7 papers for filing into the racks, blank to-do slips, and a pencil slips into a tailor-made slot. There is also an A8 jotter for temporary jottings like calculations and other disposable notes.
Pencils and Pens
Anyone carrying a notebook will know the search for the pen/pencil Holy Grail. I have found mine. I am in pencil heaven. And it only cost £3.40 at cultpens.com. Its a Pilot Birdie mechanical pencil. I did make some alterations to reduce its length to a size that was still usable but very unobtrusive. The Birdie is also available as a fountain pen and ballpoint pen, though it is unlikely that one can shorten them as easily, if at all, like the mechanical pencil.
There were a few experiments along the way. The Birdie is only for out and about, back home I use a thicker pencil.
The Slip Method is a way of organising tasks with the use of small slips of paper and symbols. The method can also be used for various problem solving applications. This sub section is a serialisation of the book as I am writing about it, so it is a work in progress, and one I tackle intermittently.
A pocket sized calendar where the space gained by the compact layout allows for larger type. Download a copy in your choice of configuration, Mo-So or So-Sa, one or four to the page for A4 or letter sized paper. There is also a 3x5 inch version for printing on an index card. I try to update the calendar every year.
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