Frightfully Unorganized? Treat Yourself to These Resources!

(House of Productivity, Part 3)

Halloween – the day we confront the shadowy side of life, face what scares us most, and maybe take advantage of the freedom to try on new versions of ourselves. Ghosts, the Grim Reaper, and witches are one thing, but if the crazed mess of your schedule leaves you quaking in your boots and you want to show the world a new face of peaceful productivity, this article will show you how.

First, the problem. Does your calendar help you feel on top of your world or smothered by it? Do you occasionally double book yourself, or miss commitments because you forgot to check your calendar? Maybe you have different calendars, each with only some of the puzzle pieces. Do you let all-work or all-play attitudes dictate your weekend or time off without striking a healthy balance? I’ve been guilty of all of the above, and these patterns became so detrimental to my wellbeing and productivity that I knew I needed to make a change. That’s how the House of Productivity (HOP) series came about.

Your HOP

As previous installments have described, your House of Productivity is a metaphor but also a real creation that, once built, will give you the protection and support, the comfort and beauty, and the rest you need, just like a real house does for you. It will allow you to be balanced in productive work, nourishing rest, and rejuvenating play. Sound good? For more on the HOP metaphor, check out parts one and two.

Today we’ll get down to the nitty gritty – the resources you need for a foundation and structure to guide your daily life.

Electronic Or Paper?

Your calendar — the outer walls and foundation of your HOP – are as important as an actual house’s structure when it comes to getting stuff done. But choices arise as to which type of calendar you want: old-fashioned paper or new-fangled electronic. In either case, a calendar takes time to set up, and is worthless if you don’t enter your tasks and appointments and follow its dictates. But done right, your calendar will be your trusted guide and support in filtering what’s important out of our crazy, too-much-information world. But back to the choice. (Feel free to read what is most applicable to you.)

The eCalendar Choice

eCalendars: To keep it simple, I’m including as “eCalendars” programs for your laptop or desktop, and the often-complementary apps (applications) for your smartphone or tablet. Millions have made the switch to electronic calendars and apps, and it’s easy to see why.

The Treats: eCalendars offer tons of capacity (no more buying a new planner each year), rich organizing features like alarms and recurring appointments, drag-and-drop editing, and time-saving technology, packing all of it (in the case of apps) into a compact, light, portable product whose data you can synch and store in another device for safeguarding. The best ones are like a virtual assistant.

The Tricks are that these programs and apps may have a learning curve, can crash during use or fail outright, and can feel tedious or strange for those who prefer handwriting (or who have big thumbs). Though the apps themselves are either free or relatively inexpensive, the cost of monthly data plans may be an issue (though iPod Touch users don’t pay for data plans and still get all the app capability, a major plus IMO).

Bottom Line: If you want a portable electronic calendar and are ready for a bit of trial and error, apps are the cutting edge of time and task management (see below for more info and links). For basic eCalendars, all computers and smartphones (and even “dumbphones”) come with a calendar program that offers many features; Google also offers a good free calendar (Google Calendar); one of its major pluses is that you can sync it with many other eCalendar programs. If you want to get started right away you can try that, or one of the built-ins (iCal for Mac OS, Windows Calendar for Windows, Outlook for either, and check your smartphone for its basic calendar).

Deets and Links: I’m no app expert — I’m just making the switch to apps myself, but if you want some places to start your research out of the hundreds of organizing apps, here are a few links to look at, organized by iPhone or Android capability (If BlackBerry versions are available, it’s noted below though none have been researched for this article).


* Toodledo:
Basic version free, Pro and Pro Plus cost about $15 and $30. Syncs with Google Calendar, has many more organizing features than just the simple to-do list. Also offers versions for all three major operating systems (iPhone, BlackBerry, Android).

* Pocket Informant:  (choose iPhone platform from menu, also has BB and Android versions)
At about $13, this is one of the more expensive apps. It’s said to act and look most like a planner, and includes options for integrating Getting Things Done and FranklinCovey platforms. The iPhone version seems to sync with Google Calendar but the Android version appears not to.

* CalenGoo:
Cost: $6.99, syncs with Google Calendar and can be used online or offline, a plus when you don’t have wifi.

* Smart Cal:
Free version available; Premium version $4.99. (Disclaimer: this is the app I chose after much research, so I’m a bit more educated on it and biased). Combines event and task management in ways that other calendar apps don’t. For example, it will schedule your to-do items in the free spaces in your schedule, like a virtual secretary. It syncs with Google Calendar and Toodledo, and can work with the Getting Things Done method of time/task management as an optional tool (more on GTD in the next installment of the HOP series). The current version (3.1) occasionally crashes but it’s been worth it to me, as I am paying attention to the reminder alarms and doing weekly shopping on schedule!


* For a good overview of five options: Three of them are below:

* Pocket Informant:
(Choose Android platform from menu; iPhone and BlackBerry versions available.) See iPhone section above for info on PI.

* CalenGoo:
Costs 5.99 and integrates seamlessly with Google Calendar. Gets high marks from reviewers (though this is true for all of these).

* Touch Calendar:
Free version available; full version costs $2.45. This Google Calendar-synching app features many touch commands like tapping to enter data and pinch-zooming to see more detail, similar to Google Earth. It’s also noted for its clean look.

The Paper Route

Paper. Many people just like the familiarity and feel of a paper calendar or don’t want to fuss with technology. Just like with eCalendars, there are pros and cons to consider.

The Treats: A daily or weekly “book” calendar offers a more tactile experience to your fingers, something solid in your hands and, depending on the size, greater physical space, often with beautiful artwork or inspiring quotes to go along. It lets you be creative, even artsy, with what you write in blank spaces, and may help technophobes get started somehow.

The Tricks? Paper calendars are bulkier, heavier, and require more labor and time in entering recurring events than electronic calendars. They also lack the alarms, color schemes, storage capacity, and multiple categorizing options that desktop or smartphone calendar apps have. And, if they’re lost, the data is gone, kaput (whereas you can sync your smartphone calendar with your computer and retain the data if something happens to the device).

Bottom Line: If you just want to get started with a paper planner, go to your local office supply store to see what’s on hand. Besides aspects like weight, aesthetic appeal and cost, pay attention to time increments given (15 minutes to an hour), space allotted for the workweek vs weekend, and how much space exists for simple notes or personalized expansion.

Deets and Links: For a specific paper calendar resource, check out FranklinCovey planners*
They feature a values-based system for setting goals and balancing time between various life categories, and offer several sizes and formats plus high-quality paper and binders. Go here: to download a free printable sample month, with additional worksheets on developing goals, clarifying roles, and writing a mission statement. This is a great resource for paper lovers. FYI: FranklinCovey was co-founded by Stephen R. Covey, author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.

So we’ve covered how to choose the all-important structural foundation of your HOP. Explore and play with this info and choose one you’d like to work with. Next time we’ll examine tools to help guide your work process and make you more efficient, just like how the layout of rooms in your home directs the flow of energy and action. After that it’s time for installing “windows,” “doors,” and “furnishings” in your House of Productivity. Happy Organizing!

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