Productivity Pr0n

I was at a cookout last night and heard someone say that in Venice Beach, where he grew up, there’s a strong ethic of “work hard, play hard.” You do your job, you come home, you enjoy your life. But then he came here, and was astonished by the frenetic pace of working life here. Working on the weekends is a badge of honor. His response is, “Get a therapist!”

My response is to try and keep my life a little more organized. I manage my working life by interruption and so trying to keep my deteriorating attention span in check while being productive is a challenge. So I’ve gotten onto an organization kick lately- what tools do I need (and will actually use) to make sure things get done?

At my previous job, I could use my own PowerBook as my work computer, so things were fairly easy. I went everywhere with my laptop and my calendar was always on hand. I had work and personal calendars in my iCal, I subscribed to Tom’s iCal feed for his travel schedule, and stuff was great.

But now I work for a company where the IT department has standardized everyone on a particular computer system and keeps the whole thing pretty locked down for security reasons. I can’t plug anything into the network that wasn’t issued by them. I also can’t sync anything to my desktop that isn’t company-issue.

Now, this seems oppressive to some of you, and being a gadget-dependent geek, it annoys me too. However, since I have always worked for tiny companies with either no IT department, or an understaffed, incompetent IT department in the past, I choose to accept these restrictions gracefully in exchange for the simple joy of having my computer’s function be someone else’s responsibility. When something breaks, I get to pick up the phone and make it someone else’s problem. This seems a small price to pay for giving up the ability to sync a PDA.

But the question I have still had to wrestle with over the 5 months I’ve worked at this company is this: What tool(s) can I use that will allow me to keep the level of organization I became accustomed to when my work machine and personal machine were the same?

I tried the paper calendar, but that failed miserably. It’s huge, I hate carrying it around, and I hate all the double entry into two computer systems PLUS the writing in the planner. That’s crap.

So I started reading personal productivity blogs, like LifeHacker and 43 Folders. Being a geek, I tend to prefer the electronic solution to everything, but am willing to examine when paper is simply more convenient.

Here’s what I’m coming up with:

1. Get the PDA anyway. I can’t sync it to the work machine, but it gives me someplace to record stuff that will sync to the Powerbook, hence eliminating at least part of the multiple-entry I have to do. Besides, a lot of the stuff on my work computer is other people’s in/out of office notices due to the, uh, less-than-optimal Exchange Server setup we have. I don’t need all that crap on my personal calendar anyway. My company has some sort of discount deal with and I ended up with an open-box PalmOne Zire 72 for cheap and it’s on its way now.

2. Backpack It! I was skeptical of the quality of this product at first… but then I tried it. Guys, this is teh c00l sh!t. It’s like a more structured version of a wiki- I had found that I was paralyzed by having too much choice in how to use a wiki. Backpack gives just enough structure that I’m able to corral my thoughts while still being able to enter them conveniently. I don’t think my office computer has IE 6, so I won’t be able to use the interface from work, but they have this cool email-to-page thing with specialized markup so I’ll be able to add stuff to my Backpack pages there anyway. This will also help me with my perennial What to Blog About problem- I come up with ideas at work, but then don’t record them anywhere convenient when I decide to use them later. I come home, ready to blog, and can’t remember what it was I wanted to blog about. Bah. Thank you Backpack, you’ll make me a more productive blogger.

3. Three sizes of notepads. Geek that I am, sometimes I still need paper. In fact, I need it a lot. So on my desk, I have the rectangular Post-It pad for random info that comes my way but hasn’t been processed yet, I have the junior-legal pad for short term To-do lists and such, and then I have the big yellow top-spiral pad for when I need to plan a conversation with a client, or plan for something.

4. More geekery. I’m exploring things like Quicksilver and Automator to see if I can make my time with the PowerBook more efficient.

How do you organize your life?

4 Comments so far

  1. Joseph LeBlanc (unregistered) on June 5th, 2005 @ 3:30 pm

    I’ve been using Tiddly Wiki. An entire Wiki within one HTML file. Want to move it? Copy the file where you want it or e-mail it as an attachment. Cross platform, very easy to use.

  2. dak (unregistered) on June 6th, 2005 @ 8:57 am


    I can empathize with you a bit on both accounts.

    I moved from DC to LA (Westwood to be exact) for a pretty good job with better pay. However, I was appalled by the work ethic in Los Angeles, given my time here on the east coast. Stuff that would take weeks here stretched on for months out there. And to get anything appreciable done felt like climing Everest. I do believe, however, we do work a bit too hard here in the east, so maybe someplace like Chicago is a happy medium?!

    As for your part two, that which is your IT quandry, I live in the same world, but on the other side of the coin. I am on the IT Security staff of a large company in the DC metro area, and there are soem reasons for locking down access. Not everybody is “responsible” as you may be, and restricting access to allowing items on a company’s network is a result of the software monoculture that ends up with Microsoft desktops. However, as an example as to why corporations have become heavy handed, I’ll place an example of an IM virus that spread here last week, which only spread because somebody clocked on a link in an IM and , not once, not twice, but had to click THREE times for the virus to install itself. The biggest problem is dumbass users, and the good ones have to pay the price.

    I too am a Powerbook junkie (I own 8 Macs to be precise), and wished I could plug in my productivity machine here at work. But alas, it seems those days may be long gone. How about starting up a Mac only company? I’m game!

  3. Tiff (unregistered) on June 6th, 2005 @ 9:02 am

    I understand perfectly why IT departments lock down access. Having done a lot of IT work myself, I think more companies should do it. And while I work in an office full of people who specialize in IT, most of my colleagues do not and believe me, there are some IT-clueless people out there…

    I’d start a Mac-only company, except I kind of like the one I’m in. However, if you’re going to do it, you’d better make sure all the execs you hire are on board with it, or you’ll constantly get them whining about how they want to use their PCs and they don’t like Macs and couldn’t we save lots of money by switching to PCs?

  4. dak (unregistered) on June 7th, 2005 @ 4:37 pm

    Hah, makes it a lot easier after the announcement at the Apple Developer Conference… Apple’s moving to INTEL? Hell’s frozen over, but it hasn’t found DC (damn heat and humidity…) So is DC heaven then?

    I think it’s down to an argument of which OS is better now, rather than the “sexy machine” (said like Austin Powers) piece.

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