Thursday, June 7, 2007

A tip for keeping track of your life

I've recently been studying the material in the book Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity and it's a very enlightening book shining a light on habits which create mental clutter, and showing ways to rid yourself of that clutter. The idea is the more "stuff" you carry in your head, the more appointments or to-do list items you carry in your head, the more your mental and emotional energy is tied up with the act of carrying those factoids in your head.

It's a mental juggle trying to remember all that stuff... and if you think about it, the reminders don't always come out at the most convenient time. Say you need to buy a pound of hamburger for dinner, but you think about it during a meeting in the afternoon, but it's completely gone from your mind until you get home. Emotional costs arise because of fears of what might happen due to forgetting these factoids.

The more of these little factoids you try to carry in your mind, the heavier is the burden. Looking at it from another angle, the less you carry in your mind the greater will be your peace.

One idea I'm using pretty successfully is to use a computerized calendar to track appointments. However it is not perfect, yet. In the past I've used a paper calendar and that is pretty successful, but for two issues. One is I found it easy to forget to look at the paper calendar, leaving it as a continued mental weight to remember to look there. Second is the paper calendar isn't always on my person, and again you have to rely on memory during those times you aren't carrying the paper calendar.

With the goal being to reduce the mental burden to zero, any solution which involves remembering factoids is something to resolve.

My current method is to use the iCal application on my Mac, and to use the iSync application to exchange appointments between iCal and my cell phone. The advantage is that I'm always carrying my cell phone (well, almost always). Because iSync does a good job of synchronizing appointments, they can be entered either into the cell phone or the iCal application and kept synchronized.

What happens is my cell phone kicks off an alarm shortly before every appointment. I find it very comforting to have this widget remembering my calendar for me.

I said it isn't perfect, so here are the issues I know of.

First, entering appointments through my phone is clumsy. It means entering text through a numeric keypad. While "the kids" seem very comfortable doing SMS messaging through their cell phones, I find it tedious.

Second, I don't remember to enter all appointments and end up keeping some of them in my head. Oops. That may be partly to do with the clumsiness of using the phone to enter appointments.

Third, synchronizing my phone with the iCal calendar does not help my colleagues know what my schedule is. My iCal calendar is in my home computer and there isn't a way to synchronize appointments from my home computer to the calendaring service my employer uses. This means my colleagues have no idea what my schedule is. While that could be a problem, many of my colleagues also do not synchronize their appointments to the corporate calendar service.