Monday, April 6, 2009

To-do list management

So, I've spent way too much of the last week or so trying to find a better way to make my to-do lists work for me (and a few other data management goals I have on the back burner). I have numerous projects / ideas etc that are on the boil to one degree or another. And the method I had been using was no longer doing the deed.

While the technique had been extremely useful for making sure I created tasks / to do items on the fly or as the need cropped up it was no longer adequate. I was simply overwhelmed by too many tasks not properly connected in ways that allowed my mind to pull them together to the next stages and, hopefully, completion.

The to-do list had become a reminder list -- when it could be so much more.

After all, so many of the pieces where there, in digital form. Ready to be chopped and churned, sorted and catalogued.

But, what was the best way to do it? And how could I automate as much of the process as possible. After all, if, as it should be, the main goal is to get things done, the less time I spend getting stuff done -- so I could get stuff done -- the better. Obviously.

And, as always, of course, was there a best practice method for doing this with the tools I already had or via new tools online that had minimal cost?

So, off I ventured into the online wilderness. And, as a result, I spent way too much of a Saturday testing out a trial version of Filepro V.10.

I feel it is time wasted because the conclusion of the testing was that I didn't need it. Or at least, that introducing it into my work life was going to take more time than it saved.

Acquiring that knowledge, in and of itself, is, a good thing, but it led me to a new rave about Microsoft's OneNote. I have done this before here, I know. But, seriously, it is the most useful gem of software I have used in years -- ever since email came along, to be honest. It isn't perfect yet, and I can't wait until it's next release, 'cause I strongly suspect MS is going to use it as a core part of Windows 7 and 'multi-input' touchable screens on desktops. (See here for more on that.) More specifically, though, in relation to databases, OneNote beats them hands down because it eliminates so much of the work, so much of the handholding.

The benefits from databases come once there is a significant amount of data entered, the information can then be organised and related and diced and sliced and reported on in a number of key ways. Filepro definitely makes it easier to feed in data with an almost drag and drop method for inputting Excel files into one of a number pre-formatted databases. But, you still have to fiddle around with the details. It could certainly be useful for small retailers, but for me, for managing information on a more complicated level, no, it didn't fit the bill. Or at least, it didn't provide anywhere near enough bells and whistles that saved me time and effort that I can't find elsewhere. Which is sad really. I was kind of hoping to find something that would be a whole new level of information management! [And yes, this sounds like there must have been dozens, hundreds of better things I could have been doing on a Saturday, and there were, but getting this to-do list under control had become a vital necessity.]

Online searching really hasn't shown me anything -- yet -- that will work as an alternative. So, I went back to MS (yes, I know, Microsoft is bad, bad, bad). But, it isn't really. Especially, if you allow MS to have its way and integrate everything. The most trouble I have had with computers is when I have tried to fight the system, literally, and have too many disparate programs trying to do their own thing. The advantage of allowing MS to have its way is that so many of your programs will work together. I don't have the time or the inclination to waste on dealing with yet more computer downtime (and on that note, I am finding IE8 a distinct, stable pleasure).

Anyway, so I have found my solution for the moment. And it was tables in Word, with hyperlinks to the right parts of OneNote as appropriate. Rows are allocated to each relevant goal / project. Simple yes, but the gem comes from the ease of linking to so many disparate document, image and sound types embedded into the OneNote system.

Here's hoping that is all I will need to do to keep the to-do list under control.

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