Systems Update


I’ve posted before about my various organizational systems. Over the past six months, I feel like I’ve leveled up. In my last post, I mentioned several different projects, from running a consultancy to doing research, and having a toddler means frequent interruptions and working in fits and starts. I’ve had to develop robust systems in order to keep things organized and moving on all fronts — and to prevent myself from forgetting basics. Here’s what I’ve been using to stay on top of things:

General running of life

  • Asana — This app has seriously changed my life. I used to have a complicated Evernote system, but making Evernote work for To Do lists was basically a hack. Asana is designed for task management, and I love it.
    • My lists are broken into “Work,” “Personal,” and “Household” and divided up by projects, so things that are apartment-related or novel-related or consultancy-related have their own folders. I can look at what I have to do by either due date or category, which keeps me from jumping between unrelated things when I should be focusing on one area at a time.
    • Andrew is on Asana, too, so we can pass tasks to each other or both add items to the grocery list or whatever. It’s helpful when collaborating on a project or just running a household.
    • There are apps, so I can access Asana on my phone, tablet, and laptop. I am NEVER without my lists. This is, incidentally, why I use software instead of paper. I couldn’t survive if I lost a paper list.
    • Also, I can set up any kind of recurrence. Things like groceries, bill payments, etc. pop up as needed. I also have reminders set for tasks that are months away, like making adjustments to our health insurance during the next annual enrollment period. No way am I forgetting that! I set the task last year.
    • I can set tasks to “Today,” “Upcoming,” and “Later” and decide what I want to see. I hate having to view every item on my list — it’s overwhelming — and ranking and hiding them helps me focus without forgetting anything or getting overwhelmed.
    • Yeah, okay, Asana is meant for work teams and is totally overkill for an individual user, but it lets me get EVERYTHING (and I do mean everything) out of my head and organized. That’s the most important thing of all.
  • Apple Calendar — Asana does not have a great calendaring system, so I used Apple Calendar to view my Asana items plus my scheduled events that are on Google Calendar. This visual view prevents me from stacking too many To Dos on an already hectic day. I also always stack more at the beginning of a week because I know I won’t finish everything and save time on Wed-Fri to make up what I’ve missed.
  • Moleskine — I still use paper and pen for planning and reflection.
    • Every day, I list something good/that I’m grateful for that happened that day.
    • Every Sunday, I reflect on how the previous week went and set goals for the next.
    • I do the same each month, quarter, and year.
    • This lets me take a step back and see what’s working and what isn’t and adjust. Through this, I’m getting better at breaking down large goals and working toward them incrementally.
    • I transfer annual and quarterly goals to my Asana Favorites to keep me focused, and the rest are already part of my daily/weekly to do list management.
    • I really love having this record of goals, accomplishments, and gratitudes. I get the most done when I feel like I’m already making progress. Sure, we all have bad weeks, but looking back and saying, “Oh, that was the week we were all jet lagged and sick and had to spend hours on the phone because the credit card company did something stupid,” it’s easier to accept lack of progress, especially when looking at what’s accomplished on a “normal” or “good” week.

Every night I set my priorities for the next day based on what I managed to do that day and what’s most pressing. I like being able to make adjustments on the fly and having space to jot notes. This blog post? It’s a task, of course, and I listed my various tools in the associated Notes field as they occurred to me, making this post easier and faster to write.


This requires some specialized tools.

  • Zotero is where I store reference information, notes, and pdfs. I can select and export a bibliography in any format (yay!), and I like having my annotations/notes WITH the documents themselves, all organized, tagged, and sortable.
  • GoodReader on iPad  is my main tool for marking up pdfs as I’m reading them because I can export annotations as text. This is SO important. I don’t want to highlight and then have to type up quotes — we have technology, so this process should be simple. And it is! I highlight as I read, hit export to email my annotations, and then copy and paste them right into the Zotero file where the pdf is also stored. I really love this.
  • iBooks on iPad offers the same for ebooks. I can mark up epubs and export those annotations as text, too, and then I attach those notes to the Zotero reference.
  • Calibre is an ebook management system. Honestly, it’s ugly and unintuitive, but I spend a few hours with it several years ago, set it up to fit my needs (mostly Kindle management), and now use it for document management and format conversion. I can convert my mobi files to epubs and drop them in iBooks for note-taking. It’s powerful and customizable but requires significant up front investment.
  • Evernote is designed for research, and I’m finally using it for its actual purpose. This is where I dump ideas, potential sources, ongoing questions, etc. There’s a web clipper and phone and tablet apps, so I can grab web pages or references or log ideas at any time. I tag everything, so I can also filter by “reading” or “brainstorming” or whatever other category I’d like to filter, which helps me focus.
  • Scrivener  is, of course, where I pull all of the pieces together. If Scrivener worked across devices, I would probably only use it instead of Evernote because I could organize research in a similar manner, but for now, it’s for compiling and composing, and it is hands down my favorite tool for outlining and writing.


Finally, the business apps.

  • Google Apps is still, I think, the best for collaboration. I share documents, spreadsheets, etc. with clients, and we can both access and modify them.
  • Freshbooks is pretty fantastic for both accounting and invoicing. It’s really wonderful for managing freelance or consulting work — especially come tax time! Receipts and documents are all in there and categorized. I also love that it integrates with Stripe so I can run credit card payments without dealing with PayPal.

Seems like a lot of software, but the right tools can save significant time, and these definitely help me stay sane. What tools do you use to manage your life and work?

© 2016 Anindita Basu Sempere. 
All Rights Reserved