A Little Organization Goes a Long Way

In recent years I have noticed that I have started getting more done both at home and at work. It occurs to me that it might be useful, both to me and to other people, to describe the practices that I have adopted that have contributed to my increased productivity. Other people might find some of my ideas useful to increase their productivity and I will understand the process better for having written about it.

There are four practices that I am going to talk about. Each one will help some on its own but when practiced together there is a synergetic effect. That is to say your productivity increases more from doing all of them than just the sum of the increases achieved by doing each of them individually.

Have Goals

The first thing that you need to do is to make a short list of goals. Goals should be fairly high level but specific enough that you can define milestones and measure your progress toward them. For instance, I have a standing goal that I want to write fiction and non-fiction. I set milestones like I want to finish rewriting the novel that I wrote for NaNoWriMo back in 2014. That is specific enough that I can determine when I have completed the milestone and measure progress toward the milestone.

I am still working on estimating how long a given activity will take. It gets easier the more you do something. I can come a lot closer to estimating how much time to allocate for a task at work simply because I’ve often done similar tasks and have a body of experience to draw upon. When it comes to my personal writing projects, I’m still working my way through the first projects of this type. That poses two challenges, figuring out how much of the time that I am spending on the project is attributable to the learning curve and how much is typical of a project of this scope.

Take Notes

Another practice that I have recently started is to keep notes about the ideas that I have. I have used several different approaches and each have had their benefits and their drawbacks. I have used org-mode which is an outliner in emacs. It has a lot of useful features and, since it is built on top of emacs, is inherently extensible. It is also complicated enough that if I don’t use it frequently, I tend to forget the command keys such that it takes me a while to get back up to speed when I decide to use it again.

At work, I use a single page web application called Tiddlywiki. It is about the simplest and prettiest note taking platform that I’ve used. The price is right too. It is free as in beer. It is written in Javascript and is extensible both at the Javascript level and using the custom macro language that is embedded in it.

Lately I’ve been using the Apple Notes app and their Reminders App to keep my notes because they sync easily across my MacBook Pro, my iPhone, and my iPad. With the latest major software update Notes has become almost as full featured as Evernote or OneNote.

I make documents to collect information for different purposes, for example, I have a document that has a list of all the software that I’ve installed on my MacBook Pro. I’ve got another that is a list of ideas for blog posts. Another is where I keep a list of technical subjects that I’ve run across while browsing the web and I want to remember to read up on later.

When you take the time to write something down, even if you never read it again, you have committed it more firmly to memory. I find that I review my notes fairly frequently.

Make Plans

I don’t mean you have to necessarily break down all of your projects into detailed task hierarchies with dependency graphs and Gantt charts although that is sometimes useful for projects of epic scope. What I am talking about is identifying key, high level tasks of a project and pencil in target dates for them. You might start by only assigning a target completion date for the task that you are currently working on.

It helps you figure out what actually needs to be done to think about plans in this way. It also helps motivate you to quit saying you’re going to do something and actually decide when you are going to do it. If you don’t take the first step, you’ll never finish.

Evaluate Plans and Goals Periodically

As I wrote in a previous blog post, Helmuth von Moltke once said, “No Battleplan survives contact with the enemy.” Plans fall typically start to fall apart as soon as you begin to execute them. Also, your situation changes, you grow, and your aspirations may change too. Consequently, it is essential to schedule a time to reevaluate your plans and your goals. This will give you a chance to adjust your priorities so that you can make sure you are doing the most important things first.

Don’t forget to take notes about your goals and plans like I have been doing lately. I just took a moment to capture my goals in a note and my writing plan in another. I had made both the goals and the writing plan but if I don’t take the time to write them down and set a reminder to reevaluate them, I may lose track of them or forget to reevaluate.


It is important to think about what you are doing. It is also important to record these thoughts so that you can revisit them and update them later. Setting goals and making plans don’t have to take more effort than the actual project but the larger the scope of the project the more planning becomes essential.

And remember, setup the review for your goals and plans when you write them down so you don’t forget to do it.

I hope these ideas help you organize your goals and projects. They have really helped me achieve some of my goals like writing another NaNoWriMo novel and writing a blog post every day.

Sweet dreams, don’t forget to tell the ones you love that you love them, and most important of all, be kind.