How I Stay Organized Part Two (Hint: Like a Ninja)

Okay, okay -- I'll let you judge the ninja-level of my organization skills, but I needed something to spruce up the title! The two most popular posts of ALL TIME on my blog are the original How I Stay Organized (9K page views) and 8 Ways to Organize Your Life with Google Docs (15K page views), in addition to my Templates on everything from personal finance to professional development to processing a break-up (sign-up for my monthly Inside Scoop newsletter and you'll get access to all 15+ templates, including many other tips and tools).

Start with How I Stay Organized (Part One) if you haven't already read it; today's post will cover more nuanced tools and processes that I use.

A quick aside: I just started monkeying around with Google+ (connect with me here) and am really enjoying it. But does anyone else think that saying, "I want to circle you?" or "circle me" connotes an impending shark and/or stalker attack? 

Gmail Tools

  • Priority Inbox: This is saving my life! Groups emails by priority: important and unread, starred, and the rest. You can teach gmail over time what emails should be marked as important. Each day, I set a goal to answer at least five "starred" emails. For emails that I'm long overdue on a reply, I use the exclamation star.
  • Auto-advance My email productivity doubled (if not tripled) after I started using this feature. I used to hem and haw over what email to answer next -- now auto-advance sends me right to the next one -- when I get in the zone, I just answer via auto-advance without going back to my inbox for 30 minutes at a time. It's amazing how much you can get done!
  • Canned responses Any email that you've written more than once deserves a canned response. I save a bunch of these and use them as a starting point, then modify to personalize for the recipient. I don't use them all the time, but they come in very handy for repetitive emails.
  • Superstars, Send & Archive, Shortcuts = A MUST.  Not much else to add here! Superstars are awesome: I use the yellow star to indicate an important or high priority email, and an exclamation mark to indicate something high priority or overdue that I want to reply to that same day (or the next one).
  • Boomerang (browser extension):  Boomerang is amazing!!! It enables delayed send, but more importantly (and true to the name) it allows you to "hide" an email and boomerang it back to yourself in a set amount of time. This is a great way to clear your inbox and have emails sent back when it's time to follow-up, or at a later date. Procrastinators, beware! It gets very easy to boomerang everything... :)
  • Rappaportive (browser extension):  Another incredible tool! When you open an email, it shows you all of someone's social media profiles and latest updates in the right-hand sidebar. You can see if you're following someone, see their picture (if they have one), add them to social networks, and stay up-to-date on their latest news. LOVE this feature.

Task management 

  • Still in it for the long-haul: Post-its and my moleskine! Every day I write a post-it with my top 5 priorities, ranked in order. This can include project-oriented tasks, people to reach out to, or anything else that I want to finish before the day is done.
  • I use this for tracking ALL non-timebound activity, particularly longer-term items, ideas, open questions, and anything else that is not fixed to a date (those things go on my daily "to do" post-its, a weekly list, or into Google Calendar). My Todoist categories include:
    • CURRENT WEEK (you can also use for super simple weekly planning)
    • Accountant (questions for her)
    • Condo (any tasks related to repair, rental, etc)
    • Blog posts (where I track ideas, in addition to my "drafts" folder)
    • Networking (people to follow-up with)
    • Life After College (general website-related tasks)
    • LAC Strategic Tasks (broader business-related tasks)
    • Personal Development (courses I'm considering signing-up for or purchasing, ebooks I own that I have yet to read)
    • Coaching / Speaking / Yoga (follow-up items related to those parts of my business)
    • Travel (I keep one running item for each city and who to reach-out to when I get there)
    • NYC (things to do related to my move)
    • Shopping / Wish list (things I want to buy, but know that I shouldn't purchase on impulse!) See related: 4-Step Budget Template and (for tracking all financial accounts and expenses).
    • Errands / To-buy (self-explanatory)
    • Tools & Resources (things I haven't used yet, but want to check-out)
  • Project Plan template: Created by yours truly! I use this format to track all major projects that I'm working on -- I've tried more complicated tools and they don't work for me. The benefit of this is you can also share with others for collaborative projects. Want to see a project plan on crack? Check-out my 15-tab Master Book Marketing Spreadsheet.


  • for speedier appointment-booking (so you don't have to go back and forth via email), though I'm considering switching to Google's appointment feature (that I used when I still worked there). I've also adjusted my schedule so that I only have meetings two days a week -- this keeps me focused and batches my tasks so that I don't have meetings scattered throughout the week.
  • Google Calendar: For any super important meetings, I add reminders via email. I also have Facebook email me weekly with a list of upcoming birthdays -- then plug my close friends' birthdays into my "Birthdays" calendar with an annual repeating event and email reminder.

Data Storage/Back-up

  • Arq (thanks Willie!): Completes an automatic daily back-up that syncs to my Amazon S3 storage
  • Amazon S3 (h/t WFJ): Holds BOATLOADS of data for a very low monthly fee; I have about 50GB that costs ~8/mo
  • Amazon cloud storage/player: Currently experimenting with this to play music from THE CLOUD (woohoo) via my phone and Xoom tablet; though thinking that Apple's Cloud is probably a lot sexier (for what it's worth, I have a Nexus S, not an iPhone. I even tried to switch to an iPhone and went crawling back because I realized I was passionately in love with my Nexus S!).

Social Media

  • NutshellMail (h/t Elisa): NutshellMail is awesome -- it sends a daily digest (or at a frequency you suggest) of social media activity -- new followers, friend requests, the latest tweets/facebook updates, and any other accounts you choose to follow (like LinkedIn).
  • Tweetdeck: In addition to creating groups for different friends and updating both Facebook and Twitter, I use Tweetdeck to schedule tweets when I publish a blog post at odd hours. Many people also use Hootsuite.

Other Tips and Tricks

  • Google Docs: I use Google Docs and Spreadsheets for EVERYTHING. My most frequently used docs are: the Keepers File, Taxes (spreadsheet where I track notes related to taxes and expenses), Business Tracker (income, expenses, clients, key metrics -- yes, one day I will make this a template :-), Quotes, and many other random "scratch" documents where I draft content or plan ideas before implementing them. I also use Google Docs for all coaching-related documents with clients.
  • Browser: I use Chrome because it's super-fast and doesn't crash. My second choice is Safari; Firefox just got too slow for me with the number of tabs and windows I keep open at any given time. I make sure to have the restore feature enabled so that if my browser crashes, I can re-open my tabs (which I often use like a to-do list).
  • Consistent windows/tabs: There are certain websites that I keep in the exact same window/tab order so that I always know where to find them. Window 1 (my "home" window) always has the following tabs in this order: Gmail, Calendar, Todoist, Pandora, Facebook, Twitter, Google+. Window 2 starts with Google Docs in position 1, then I only have other docs and spreadsheets open in the other tabs. Window 3 is my working folder for blog-related activity: admin interface, my blog's homepage, Google Reader, and other related tabs.
  • I use shortcuts to quickly switch between tabs and windows (Command + Tab# takes you to whichever tab's number you indicate; Command+~ toggles between browser windows).
  • Downloads: I have this selected in my browser preferences to "ask every time" -- that way my desktop and/or downloads folder doesn't get completely cluttered (as has happened to me in the past).
  • Droplr (thanks again to Willie on this one!): Allows you to quickly take screenshots, and drag, drop and share easily.
  • Google Maps: I've saved my address and frequent locations into My Places -- I also have a canned response that gives someone directions to my house.
  • Google Voice: Transcribes my voicemails so that I receive them as emails. I can't say it's accurate, but it allows me to quickly see who called and generally what their message was about. For some funny google voice transcriptions, check this out.
  • Transcription Services (h/t Gayle): Speaking of transcriptions, Google should hire TransPacificMedical! I've been using them to transcribe my dad's lectures on the History of Post-Modernism, and they are incredibly fast and accurate, with amazing customer service. They charge $1 per minute, and you can request a free trial (for 30 minutes or 300 lines).
  • TripIt -- I love this website and its accompanying app. TripIt keeps all your travel plans in one spot; it has a gmail plug-in that grabs reservations automatically, then shows you weather and local maps for that area. TripIt is smart enough to group hotel and flight reservations together for the same location, and makes it easy to see where friends and family in your network are traveling.
WHEW!!! Tell me in the comments: What did I miss? What are some of your favorite productivity tips and tricks?