image My tool box

My personal tool box

Over the years I’ve always had a tool box in the closet like the big one pictured above.  It’s pretty basic – a screwdriver with a variety of heads, a hammer, some picture wire, some duct tape.  Any heavy jobs require assistance from a family member or professional.

But my personal organizational tool box contains some good ones which vary as I acquire more and more digital technology.  The contents here really makes a difference.

First of all – paper journals – even though paper sounds out of date.  Recently I recycled about 25 from past lives pondered and agonized about.  If I were a novelist they might have been fodder for a set of future neurotics , but dipping into them revealed somebody who was self-absorbed and rather silly. No doubt the journal I am filling now will seem the same way later.  But I do find it essential to record what’s on my mind.  A journal gets the ideas and problems out there from inside.  It can be reviewed, laughed at or cried over later when I have better perspectives.  I keep these hand written journals for a while – but not forever.  Sometimes I have a look and copy the best notes from reading or personal insight into another one and those journals are longer keepers.

In addition to the big journal – usually black – and Moleskine or a comparable cheaper brand with a bookmark and an elastic –  I have a couple of other books.  One is for ideas for blogs and things get written down if and when they come to me – (it contained the suggestion of this article among other things).  The third one is a notebook for taking notes at meetings or seminars.  I prefer to do this by hand – and try to capture the main ideas with verbatim phrases or even mind maps.  I’ll later transfer the contents to a report if they are something like minutes and meant to be shared.  Generally people who take notes during meetings capture nearly everything but don’t take the additional step of reflecting on what matters in the content.

Second – Synchronized stuff.  We move between laptops, tablets and smart phones and we need to have it all in hand and as portable as possible.  If I need reference material for a meeting, I’ll want to have it available when and where I need it.  A recent meeting had an advance portfolio of over 500 pages.  I had the option of reading it onsite on a tablet by either using wi-fi or a previously uploaded copy. In another situation I needed the combination to open a safe.  It was in a Gmail folder in message saved to a folder three months earlier.

Third – Mind Mapping.  I’ve been a mind mapper since a son responded in the early nineties by giving me Tony Buzan’s The Mind Map Book for Christmas.  He had heard me complain about a client‘s proposal.  As an arts consultant at the time I was helping plan a major civic arts facility housing performing, visual and media arts.  There was a lot of blue sky thinking and it was our role to introduce a few clouds.  Suddenly there was talk of taking one of the three components out of the plan without understanding the financial effect on operating revenue.  “If only there were a way to show how one change affects everything else – but on one page,”  I wailed.

Mind mapping does that.  I later went down to Palm Beach and became a Buzan certified trainer, but you can actually learn mind mapping in 10 minutes here. Hand maps can be visually beautiful and works of art.  Digital maps have the advantage of reordering and restructuring with ease.  Either technique organizes and structures your thinking.  That’s how this article started and got organized in a very few minutes using Mind mapping software called VisiMap.

Fourth – Graphic Tools.  For any long term plan or project, you have to use something to see the big picture as well as the details.  Most of us think both logically and intuitively and have a preference for one or the other.  We’re exposed to a growing number of messages and an infinite number of words.  When someone says, “Do I have to draw you a picture?” out of frustration, they may be indeed on the right track.  There are many examples of digital canvasses and some of these like Canvanizer are now available for collaborative use.  They are a simple way of uniting those with different ways to think because they combine the textual and the visual and relationships among the components are easier to see.

I also invented a hand written to-do format combining Robert Fritz‘s calendar idea and post-it notes.  In one of his books Fritz  he suggests ranges  for things that have to be done in columns – within one day, two days, three days, five days and two weeks.  It helps see life in a bigger frame and you can even do some stuff earlier if you have time.  Very small post-its are great to write the tasks – and I keep those that tend to repeat – like “pay credit card’ or “prepare meeting agenda” – I just throw the one-time ones away and it feels even better than stroking them off a list.

Fifth – Password Savers.  My current password count is 86. The list might be missing a few or have some that should be deleted.  I still have a small paper book where I wrote these down and had to look them up frequently – until I discovered that there is software that stores all of them securely and can access any of them. Basically all I have to remember now is one – which will allow me to keep all the others on file and synchronize them to my other devices.  It’s really fun to see them automatically open anything from bank accounts to online courseware – and that pause even gives a few seconds to relax and reflect.

Sixth – for now – because there will always be more to explore – Subscription Collectors.  We sign up for things all the time – and then forget about them.  Suddenly our mail boxes are jammed with incoming distractions.  Suddenly an hour has past and we forget what we came to the in-box for in the first place.  We don’t want to give subscriptions up entirely – but we have met the enemy – and it is us.  I used to put incoming ones in a Gmail folder called @Parking-lot with the intention of looking at them on Friday afternoon.  I would usually forget to look – and then after a month there were more than 100 things to read and I tended to delete the whole lot of them –  time saved perhaps, but also opportunities lost to learn anything.  Then I discovered an app called unroll.me which first checks out what I have subscribed to – all 87 of them –  and allows me to clean out my list.  Then it asks me when I would like to look at incoming mail – morning, afternoon or evening.  After that, it lets me choose a list or a graphic format for all the entries and sends me the whole lot once a day at my preferred time.  This allows a better balance between attending to what has to be done – and still exploring new things at an appropriate time.

These serve me well and I’ll keep using them for now.  What’s in your tool-box?