5 Organizational Tools I Can’t Work Without

I’m on the road this week, and it’s times like these when I really appreciate the tools I use to stay organized. Even while working remotely, I’ve managed to stay on track and not get behind on work because these tools rarely let anything slip through the cracks.

Here are my personal favorites; the tools I’d definitely hate to have to work without:

  1. Gmail. Although there are plenty of times I wish I could avoid email altogether, it’s still a fairly decent tool for keeping me organized, especially by using Gmail (s goog). The “Superstars” feature (available in Labs) helps me to highlight and flag emails that require some sort of action or attention on my part. Labels allow me to organize types of communications and information for quick sorting and recognition. The advanced searching functionality helps me find things quickly and easily, and canned responses (also available in Labs) save me from having to reinvent the wheel when sending routine messages. So long as I make sure Gmail is working for me, instead of the other way around, it really keeps me organized and productive.
  2. Google Calendar. I keep all my time-sensitive appointments and recurring to-dos organized in Google Calendar. On a busy day, it’s very easy to forget about phone calls or other items on my schedule, but customizable alerts keep me in check. If I anticipate an overly busy week, I’ll set myself multiple reminders to make sure nothing slips by me. I also love the ability to create multiple, color-coded calendars. I’ve created three primary calendars to organize specific types of activities and tasks: A “personal” calendar (color: pink), a “work to-dos” calendar (color: blue), and a “booked calls” calendar (color: orange). This provides me a quick overview of the week, and if, for instance, I see an orange appointment block, I know I have a call scheduled with someone.
  3. TimeDriver. I used to attempt to manually coordinate my schedule with that of clients, interview guests, and other business contacts, but it became a nightmare, and several times I came close to double-booking myself. Although I’d love to have an assistant handle a lot of these types of tasks for me, tools like TimeDriver are a good substitute. I simply set my availability for the coming weeks, and when it comes time to coordinate appointments with others, I send them a link to my calendar, and they pick¬†slots that work with their schedules. I know Google Calendar could provide this functionality in some ways, but I prefer TimeDriver for this purpose.
  4. Zoho (Writer and Spreadsheet). Lately, I’ve been in the mood to simplify my organization. One thing I’ve been doing is creating a simple weekly to-do list, organized by day, within Zoho Writer. As I work through the list, I strike through tasks, making it really simple to see what’s left to do. I also like being able to see my accomplishments at a glance; I can look back over the entire week and see the tasks I’ve completed, which really helps me maintain focus. I used to create my to-do list on paper or within Backpack, but the paper list tended to get lost under notes and other items on and around my desk, and the Backpack list seemed to be ever-growing (more like a catch-all, master to-do list). The new system is simple and also keeps me from having to rewrite the list as things get moved around.
  5. Pen and Paper. I know there are tons of note-taking tools available online and within different gadgets, but my personal favorite is a simple,¬†5″ x 8″ notepad and a good pen. I have to be able to catch notes and ideas on the fly, and paper is a good way to physically organize things into the right order or priority. I used to use (and occasionally still use) index cards, along with every size and shape notebook on the market. I eventually settled on the 5″ x 8″ since it seems to be the perfect size to capture and divide thoughts without wasting a lot of paper or running out of room. Although I’ve gotten away from paper-based systems in almost every other area of my work, I think pen and paper will always have its place in my organizational toolbox, even if it is old-fashioned.

With the right mix of applications, it’s much easier to stay on track and prevent things from being overlooked or forgotten, and with all the great tools available online, it’s possible to stay productive no matter where you are.

What tools keep you on track and organized?

Photo by Flickr user brdwatchr1, licensed under CC 2.0