How I Organised My Workload And Emptied My Inbox

things-picTime management is not my strong point. Organisation is not my strong point. Keeping my inbox under control is definitely not my strong point… I guess you could say that I’m a bit chaotic when it comes to managing my workload.

But that’s not where I want to be. I want to be organised. I want to manage my time effectively. That’s why I jumped at the opportunity to partake in a time management seminar last week put on by the guys from BlackBerry for freelance journalists and technology bloggers like myself. It was run by a gentleman named Dermott Crowley from Adapt Training Solutions, and all I can say is that I walked away a changed man. A changed, organised man.

The seminar lasted for a couple of hours - but in those two hours I learnt enough to completely restructure my work systems so that now I can manage my time much more effectively and improve my productivity tenfold. Here’s how I did it:

But I Use a Mac…

The biggest problem I faced was the fact that Dermott’s presentation, as eye-opening as it was, focussed on two keys parts: Using Outlook and a Blackberry. I use an iMac and an iPhone. And even though there are many convenient aspects to working from Outlook, I’m not prepared to switch to either a PC-based work solution or Entourage. So my solution isn’t as perfect as the one put forward to me last week, which used Outlook to manage all of your digital life – Email, Calendar and Tasks.

The first thing I had to do though was empty my inbox. Your inbox is one of several ways of getting new work (along with phone calls, your in tray, ideas you have etc) and it’s important to deal with all new work by cataloguing it as either Fixed work (like an appointment) or flexible work (pretty much everything I do). Once you’ve assigned an email to your calendar or To Do list, you should file it. To do this, I created two new folders on my Exchange Account (not on My Mac) called Filed emails and Press Releases. I find that because I get a lot of press releases, keeping them seperate is easiest – I can delete them easily 3 months down the track. I also dislike deleting emails in case I need to reference them at a later date, so I move everything into the Filed Email folder once it’s dealt with.

It took two days to sort through the 5,000 emails littering my inbox, but now I feel like a changed man.

iCal and Mail

iCal and Mail already play together nicely. One of the best things about Leopard is the ability to select a date in text and create an event in your calendar straight away. Before I sorted through my inbox, I’d always look at an invite or a meeting request and put off adding it to iCal (I’m very lazy), but now that I have to move the email out of my inbox, I never miss a thing. And because my iPhone syncs with iCal as well, I don’t have any concerns about not having an appointment scheduled anymore.

Where the whole Mail / iCal relatoinship falls down though is in Task management. Outlook lets you sort your Tasks by day or by preference or by pretty much any way you want. iCal just offers you a big scary list of ToDo items, that may or may not disappear once completed. And considering how most of my work falls into the “Flexible” work basket, I really needed a solid Task management app to look after me - and it needed to work with both Mail and iCal as well. I found Things.

Things isn’t complete. It hasn’t launched yet. It’s scheduled to launch at MacWorld in January 2009. When it does, it will set you back $US50. At the moment though, it’s free as a trial. And it’s really good.


What I like about Things is that you can drag pretty much anything down onto the icon in your Dock and it will add it as a new task. Websites, emails, RSS posts from my reader, songs… For someone who’s job is to write about the latest tech, it makes life easy. Everything initially starts in your inbox. You can setup projects, which are bigger jobs involving more than one step, plus areas of responsibilty, like work and home. Like a lot of Mac software, it’s just drag and drop.It also grabs ToDo items straight from Mail, although it grabs them twice for some reason.

Once you’ve added your tasks and sorted them out, you can view what you have due Today. If you get through that, you can head onto Next. Or Someday.

My typical day’s work now consists of the following:

  1. Refeed US content
  2. Read through emails, sorting relevant potential posts into ToDo items in Things, as well as emails I need to follow up on
  3. Write a post or two and cross it off the ToDo list.
  4. As more work comes in, add it to Things
  5. Check other sources for stories (news websites, RSS reader) and add to Things
  6. Work through ToDo list and do the work
  7. Etc and so forth

The iPhone

Oh yeah, Things has an iPhone app. $12.99. Lets you take your tasks with you. It’s good, but it will only sync with your desktop client if you’re running both at the same time on the same wireless network. opefully when Apple get around to launching their push notification service, we’ll see more functionality (like wireless syncing).

I know that’s all fairly top-level, but if I went into too much detail, poor old Dermott would be out of a job. And considering how much of an impact he made on my work life, I’d hate for that to happen.

I have no idea how much he costs, but if you feel like you get overwhelmed by the amount of email coming in and struggle to manage your time effectively, I’d thoroughly recommend visting his website to try and get some training. It’s well worth it.

Nick Broughall @Bruff