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Keeping life organized, one sheet at a time

Permalink 09/20/09 13:56, by Ryan, Categories: School, Geekery, Howto , Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

As you might expect, I have a lot of stuff to keep track of in my life.  From my househusbandly duties to my schoolwork, there’s a lot to do.  Over the years, I’ve developed a good collection of systems to keep track of it all.

The most important of these is my integrated to-do list and calendar system, which allows me to keep track of what I have to do by a particular date (the “to-do list” part) as well as my appointments and classes (the “calendar” part).  For the calendar element, I coordinate my schedule with my wife’s using Google Calendar. I access this via the web interface, as well as through a homebrew mobile-friendly CGI script that shows me a read-only view of a particular date via my cellphone. This is very handy for scheduling followup/return appointments while at the doctor’s or dentist’s office.

For the to-do list element, I use Hiveminder, a service I’ve mentioned in the past. This is a fully-featured to-do list manager with a very flexible API and many built-in input/output options. There are myriad ways for me to enter new tasks: e-mail, web, Twitter and Jabber are my most common. I can quickly add a new homework assignment or a reminder to myself from my cellphone by relaying the request through Twitter, or I can even snap a photo of something interesting and e-mail it to Hiveminder for later review.

Where these two meet the road is on a sheet of paper that I print daily using a custom application I call printcal. This produces a listing of all my calendar and to-do list items, organized by day, up to the maximum length of the paper. On a given day, I might get something like this:

Code:

Monday, September 21 (Day 264, week 38)
Partly cloudy, High 74, Low 61, (POP: 40%)
All day: Dawn needs car/dropped off at ________
All day: DINNER: Grilled chicken breast, carrots, potatoes, salad, 8oz sirloin
11:00am-12:20pm  ELT-201-100 (09-185)
1:00pm- 2:50pm  ELT-202-105 (09-185)
4:00pm- 4:50pm  MTH-210-010 (09-174)
normal priority:
* ELT202 Sign up to work freshman lab (sheet outside 9-185) (U23D)
* Make a lunch for tomorrow morning (U7OO)
low priority:
* Updates: arrogant-bastard (U9YY)
* Updates: framboise (U9YZ)

Lines 1 and 2 tell me about the day: what day it is, and what the weather will probably be. Lines 3 through 7 comprise my personal calendar plus the family joint calendar, which generally includes the night’s dinner and anything that both of us need to know about. We can both view each other’s calendars as well, but this allows her to push things to my attention.

Lines 8 through 13 show what is due on my to-do list that day. In parentheses after each item is a unique code: when I am done with something, I can SMS “d hmtasks done a2c4” to Twitter and Hiveminder will mark it as done. This is, of course, done in conjunction with crossing the item out. I can also edit things (due e6g8 by next tuesday) remotely. This is sometimes a pain from my phone’s keypad, but it means I don’t have to remember to update my to-do list when I get home each night!

I originally started carrying my to-do list as a tri-folded sheet of paper, with one fold for each day. Each morning, I would copy the things I hadn’t crossed off from the previous day’s section to the new section. Carrying a sheet of paper around all the time took a bit of getting used to, but I rather liked the non-electronic nature of it. Plus, it trained me to carry a pencil around without accidentally running it through the wash.

Eventually, I started printing my calendar on the “back” of it, which added a decent amount of utility. Once that happened, I was a few short steps from better handling of my to-do list, since I had no way to put something on the “back burner", nor was I protected from accidental loss of the paper. I then found Hiveminder, and the rest is history.

[random math doodles]

Having the paper with me means there’s always some scratch paper in my pocket. This is great for doodling, writing quick notes to myself, or collaborating with someone in real-time in meatspace. Oftentimes, a trip to the pub for a couple drinks with my wife will fill up the back of the paper in short order. And you know what? If someone spills beer on my Personal Analog Assistant, I’m only out a couple cents!

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