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I'm not well organized and I'm feeling not as efficient as I could be. I've tried to use some personal organizing methods to improve myself in this area, like - using a todolist (using a pen & paper, software, or post-it - maintaining a logbook - using an agenda with notification and alert

But I'm always failing: I'm still missing deadline, forgetting important details, and I perpetually drop the organizing tool I'm using.

I've also tried to use some software to help myself to structure and remember all important material and new stuff I have learned using mindmapping. But I'm always fighting with the tool, trying to learn how to add a cool style to the map node or export it to HTML, or whatever instead of really using it.

I'm wondering what kind of technique I can use that is simple to use, not distracting and that I will be able to stick to for more than a few days.

Thanks a lot for your suggestions.

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up vote 8 down vote accepted

But I'm always fighting with the tool, trying to learn how to add a cool style to the map node or export it to HTML, or whatever instead of really using it.

I recognize this - I'm the same way myself :-)

I suggest you try the Pomodoro Technique. It doesn't get much simpler than that. A piece of paper and an egg timer. I feel it really helps focusing on the tasks to be done.

The Pomodoro Technique works well with GTD and other methods. While GTD is more focused on organizing the stuff you need to do, the Pomodoro Technique is more about staying focused when doing the work (though GTD covers this as well).

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The truth is I have already considered the Pomodoro, but I'm afraid to use it: I will be confronting my own procrastination bad habit! – Guillaume Feb 22 '12 at 9:04
Hah.. Isn't that what you want though? :-) – Magnus Feb 22 '12 at 11:52
Yes, indeed :) I've installed some timer without fancy stuff and prepared a todo list. I'll try to stick to this method more than a few days ! – Guillaume Feb 22 '12 at 12:43
I am experimenting with this since it requires less investment upfront compared to GTD, which seems overwhelming just trying to list down everything for the first time. (compared to just finding something important to work on for 25 min) – prusswan Feb 24 '12 at 6:12

I personally use the Getting Things Done (GTD) approach, and find it works quite well for me. Other people find the Do It Tomorrow approach works better for them. (search for either phrase for a lot of links to read more).

Any system will require retraining your habits to be fully effective. One of the best suggestions I've come across is to use the simplest possible technology as you learn the system, then move to using technology to support your habits. Don't expect a software tool to magically get you organized. In my case, that was using paper lists and folders until GTD was working for me, then moving those lists to software. (Several different implementations over the years in different tools.)

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Your answer was really helpful, but I might jump into GTD later. I'll first try to keep it very simple and use a single todo list coupled with Pomodoro technique. If I manage to keep myself using this, then I'll try to get into GTD. – Guillaume Feb 22 '12 at 12:50
I'm a little surprised this wasn't the chosen answer. Nothing wrong with Pomodoro, but the question was about disorganization and I think in that context GTD is really the way to go. While there's alot of flexibility in it, it also kinda guides you step-by-step like a how-to book. When you get down to the level of doing, yes, reach for Pomodoro, but to start tackling the larger overall issue, get the book. – eflat Feb 22 '12 at 16:52
You deserved a valid answer too... I have look at GTD and I think that this is not suited for me now. I need a really simple tool for the first step. GTD is looking quite simple, but I'm pretty sure I will drop it soon if I don't have any simpler routine 'hardwired' first. – Guillaume Feb 23 '12 at 8:33

I'd concentrate on habits: change one habit at a time, one month at a time. Get an application to track your habits in the Jerry Seinfeld way ("Don't break the chain."). You might want to consider the book The Power of Less which discusses changing habits one at a time. There was another book I'd recommend but I can't find it now.

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  1. Make a list of things to do. Start with simple things in life.
  2. Make sure to break down the tasks into single do-able tasks. Do-able means which can either me marked done or not done.
  3. Assign each of these tasks a week. It can be the present week or the week next month. But make surely the week assigned takes into account your current location, availability etc.
  4. Now start doing one task at a time . Make sure that no tasks slips into the next week. If it has slipped due to your laziness, penalize yourself. Follow this routine to heart and surely you will get things done :).
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Step 1: Clear your desk. I mean nuke it. No pictures, no papers, no monitor (unless you put it on an arm to keep it off the desk and get it out of the way when you are not using it), no cables, no phone. When you sit to do thinking work, there should be zero clutter in front of you. To start, move clutter off to the left and right out of your working field of vision.

Step 2: Get a reference filing system. Fujitsu Scansnap and pro account. I converted 94,000 pages of paper into 17,500 scanned pages in a week. Once you don't see it, and you can full-text-search it, you will forget you ever had clutter.

Step 3: If you have a task that can be done in 2 minutes or less, just do it. If you can "waste" an entire day doing 2 minute tasks (that would 8 hrs x 30-2 minute tasks per hour =240 tasks). Waste it. I should be so lucky as to kill 240 loose ends in my skull in one day.

All the above a GTD by the way. Just, without the book. These are what my students and clients can do no matter how busy they are (emergency department docs, entrepreneurs, etc.).

Hope this helps!

bill meade

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Might want to have a look at

Really simple to get going, aims to sort out procrastination and organising your tasks.

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Thanks Rob, that is quite an interesting method. It is Close to what I have already tried using a simple paper todo list. One of my problem is that I feel difficult to keep using the system after a while. – Guillaume Feb 24 '12 at 9:14

Another GTD habit useful and easy to catch is keeping one's calendar 'sacred', only for commitments that must absolutely be dealt the mentioned day (and not: things that you wish you could do that day, things that you were sure you was going to do but the something got in the way, etc...)

The advantage of that system is that, by looking at the calendar first thing in the morning, you have your basics for the day, the things that must absolutely done if you had to reduce your workflow to the minimum if for example one day you become sick or whatever. Hope it helps.

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I think taking bits and pieces from each technique mentioned above, while it is time consuming at first due to trial and error, will cause you to arrive at your preferred and most effective method. I failed miserably with pen and paper methods and even with the first few time tracking softwares I tried. But I finally found my perfect solution with TSheets Time Tracker. I think the main reason this ended up working for me was because TSheets was willing to customize my account to exactly fit my specifications (my trail and error ended up paying off here!) and link it to my existing payroll and invoicing softwares to streamline the entire process for me. Good luck finding your perfect fit :)

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All the right tips have been posted. What I still can contribute is: Ignore your "inner temptation" or "weaker yourself". If there is a task and you don't want to do it for a specific reason, just do it first.

Write down your tasks and schedule them. If you get to know new details, don't say to yourself "I'll think of them later" but write them down immediately.

When you are making notes, make them digitally, not "offline". There is a great tool called Etherpad. In this tool you can take notes or write protocols, and if needed, others can work on them in the same time.

That's all! Organization is all about discipline, self-motivation and always knowing what tasks are on the schedule. Always have the overview and always plan your things ahead.

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