Saturday, December 13, 2008

Getting Your Time Organised

1. Customising your Diary (Calendar)
Okay, first things first. Customising your diary (calendar in USAmerica-speak) is NOT the first step in getting your time organised. The first step is to identify your goals and priorities. But how cool and fun is that? Not a lot for most of us. So here is my end-of-the-year procedure for the fun stuff.

Once you get serious about managing your time and start putting it into practice, you may discover that none of the standard format suits your exact needs. Not a problem. I am a big advocate of using electronic diary/calendars, but since my heart was broken with the demise (well, sale) of WordPerfect Office I haven't found anything that suits me as well. Paper forms and diaries, however, are tangible and reassuring.

So, let's start with calendars.

In my world, downunder, a calendar is the table with all the dates laid out in it and a diary is the journal organised by dates (day to a page, week to a view, and so on).

The calendar you put on the wall, the fridge (icebox), or the mirror in the bathroom can be a quick reference such as "what is today's date" or "what day of the week is the 19th?". It could be used to jot down important events such as "Ali's Birthday", "Pay gas bill", or "Dance for rain".

Calendars are big business, all the major franchises get into the act, there's cat calendars and dog calendars and Star Trek calendars and Dilbert calendars and so on. They offer lots of opportunities to spend money. They make easy presents (gifts). But you can create your own.

On the web there are numerous sites that enable you to create, free, your own personalised calendars. Some like Printfree have weird and wonderful formats including U.S. flags and formats to use specific colours to squeeze the less-used ink from your printer cartridges.

Yearly Calendar is quick and to the point, enabling you to select an image from your computer or the net and create a one-page American Letter-sized photo calendar. We have an example in the free stuff at Festivale online magazine ( using one of the images from the Pictorial Guide to Melbourne and Victoria. Beau the Birman cat is also the current calendar cat at my own website (
Look around the web and I'm sure you'll find many more.

Free 2009 calendars on my sites.

I'm not a wall calendar person myself, if I have a project on the go, I'll have GANTT charts and a big whiteboard calendar going with tasks, but to me, calendars are pretty things that have limited use in the long term, but are too nice to throw away.

I have a gorgeous, love-it-a-lot, leather Debdden ring-binder style diary and each year I go to a site like or and generate an A5 calendar for the year. I make a nice title page for my diary. Last year I used images from Ghost in the Shell, then I put the two pieces back-to-back and laminate them, reinforce the holes ('cause I work it hard during the year), and presto, a nice new face to the year. I use printable calendar for this, selecting A4 scaled to 50% and I have an A5 page that fits in my diary nicely.

Hint -- don't forget to trim your pages so that they are smaller than the final laminated page size, otherwise the layers separate.

Month-to-a-page calendars are more my speed than wall calendars. Web sites can do many of the popular formats, but I have my old beloved copy of Ulead's PhotoExplorer, which I have used almost daily since they sent it to me for review years ago. It enables me to select an image from my PC and create a calendar page for whatever month/year I select.

I mix and match the pages a bit, using images of Melbourne and Victoria from Festivale, or pictures of my cats, or scanned birthday cards, inspirational sayings, etc. I used to create all the pages for a year at a time, but nowadays I just print two or three months ahead unless I have a firm idea of what I'll be doing.

Being a form-maker and list-maker from way back, I have a monthly form with all my regular tasks (daily, weekly, fortnightly). I print that on the back of each calendar page, remembering that the list for February goes on the back of January because i have all my monthly pages together in the front of the diary.

Next I print up my diary pages. When I was an I.T. manager I used to arrive, go to the first empty desk, log on, and send my daily to do list to the printer near my desk. (I love networks when they work.) My daily list had my appointments, and special reminders, then my actual list of tasks in order of priority. I'd put that on a clipboard and update it during the day. Last thing at night I'd update my computer with new tasks, completed tasks, changes in priority, and so on from the notes on the page, all ready to be taken into account for the next printing.

There's a saying in the industry, "People have paperwork, but they LOVE paper." It is comforting to have everything there on paper, and in some ways it seems easier. However good computer time management systems are searchable, which is fabulous for finding information quickly. I've been through the Palm computer phase (thanks to the Palm computing people who sent me one for review). I loved it as a concept, but people and things did get lost in the system because I couldn't customise the software to my needs. The poor thing has fallen on the floor once to often now, but I don't have the heart to throw it out so it sits in the little technology graveyard in my office.

One thing that I do is SCAN. I scan the paper pages from my diary, and my to do lists, and my receipts and my paper bills (mercifully few since I use electronic bill presentment for all my utilities), I store the scanned images by date, and I keep a backup of them offsite and onsite. Getting bills and other materials in PDF format is great, but even better is to have a program like Adobe Acrobat (which I also reviewed) and print to that. The usefulness of a PDF creator that enables you to create a electronic 'printed' document is amazing. Its a wonder when I'm researching on the web as I can print page upon page and search through the results.

Hint -- with wide screens websites that are loosely coded need to be printed on, say (virtual) A3 so that the lines don't run off the page. The A3 page can be automatically resized if you ever need to print it, and it is quite convenient for viewing on a computer screen. If you are wondering about these long-lines issues, people can only comfortably read 10-12 words per line. Anything longer dramatically increases stress and reduces comprhension rates.
So, back to the diary pages. Depending on my current projects, I have different formats. If I'm working on a big contract I'll go to a commercial printer and get them to use my templates and run off 6-12 months supply. My busy-busy-busy format used to be four pages to the day, including to do lists. I have day to a page, facing pages to a day, facing pages to a week, and so on, depending on where I'm working and how much time I get to spend at a keyboard. I'm still happiest with a computer-generated, automatically updated to-do list, but more about that later.
The standard diary formats abound at the various websites, if you are making a new start, just print a month or so and see how they mesh with how you operate.

There's nothing quite like the new year's diary. That first flush of good intentions as you pen in your contact details, emergency contact details, phone number in case the diary is lost is wonderful. It's a heady mixture of self-congratulation and hopefulness.

My recommendation is that you use a bound diary if several people refer to it, or if there is legislative or statutory regulations related to your record-keeping. Otherwise, there are lots of nice binders out there in a variety of sizes and format; plenty to find something that expresses your organised self.
Of course, if there's an electronic version that suits you -- more power to you.
Next: The real thing -- starting on the path to a more control in your life.

Useful links:

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

What is this thing for, love?

Bibliophiliac, taxophiliac, networking queen, obsessively compulsive data gatherer. Oh, yes, I've been called them all. And I am innocent (of the charge of being innocent). None of the linear thought rubbish for me, give me ALL the data (or better yet, access to ALL the people who KNOW the data and what it means).

Give me encyclopedias and dictionaries (and atlases and glossaries), and keep it all coming.

Yep, I'm one of THOSE people, one of the people who likes to bring order out of chaos, who likes lots and lots of input so that I can see the patterns.

I also made a bit of a career out of this. Working out what the problem is, what the solution should be like (they call it business analysis), and documenting it. I've written training manuals for technicians and call centre operators and shop assistants to name a few, documented the technical, user and marketing aspects of computer systems, and written about technology in newspapers, magazines and on the web.

It's all good fun. I used to write a column called The Garden Voyeur, travelling around Melbourne, Australia for The Garden Guide, taking (and selling) photos, writing up my experiences. Ok, I'm agoraphobic, so mixed in with the fun were the freaky, scary, "where am I" moments.

I also used to review and comment on films (call them movies or pictures if you like). My notebooks are still filled with material that never got to the keyboard.

Nowadays my world is smaller. Both I and my 1200-person address book are retired and living in Melbourne, Australia. But I still have that old hunger for information and things-containing-information, and something-to-store-them-in.

And so, Alizandria. Picture my virtual and real library. Books (fiction and non-fiction). Audio and video materials (CDs, DVDs, cassettes, phonograph records, video tapes and rips). Photos, paintings, maps, slides, digital images ...

Get the idea?

So for the last couple of years I've been writing my own multimedia cataloguing system and slowly moving my old catalogues to the new format and cataloguing anything else that might hide from me when I want it.

Which brings me to the big issues -- time management, data management, records management. What to store, how, something to put it in, and something to find it with.