How I stay productive

Since College v2 has a “What’s your system?” series going on, I thought I’d write about mine. (I’ll write about school specifically once that starts up for me again.)

Digital tools

My organizer of choice is currently a Tungsten E. On it, I have DateBk6 ($27.95), MyCheckbook (free), and HandyShopper (free). I also use the integrated memos app.


Appointment categories:

  • +Important (red text)
  • +Hard (events that will get done that day)
  • +Info (gray text; event that doesn’t require my interaction)
  • M-Info (gray text; event relevant to my mom, and I want to track it)
  • Task@Call (phone icon; when I need to call someone at a specific day and time, telephone icon in front of the text)
  • +Birthday/Anniv (bold green text with a cake icon)

ToDo categories:

  • @Waiting For
  • @Computer
  • @Home
  • @Errands
  • @Call
  • @Office
  • @Agendas (I’ll put someone’s name in here, then write some notes in the note section for when I meet with them)
  • @School

I have a couple custom views that help narrow down which ToDo categories are shown. No need to see tasks needed to be done at home when I’m at work or out, right?

Any ToDos that aren’t dated don’t show up on the calendar. I’ll occassionally look in tasks to see if I can get any of the lesser-important tasks done.

Tip: Use the icons for categories sparingly, otherwise the week or month view will be cluttered.

If you don’t want to fork over the cash, you can use the built-in calendar. However, you won’t have the luxury of hiding items that aren’t in the context of what you’re doing. Visually, I feel it’s worth it.

Other Palm software

I use MyCheckbook as my checkbook register. I reconcile weekly, so I keep up with my checking account really well. Plus, you can backup to memo(s). Simple and neat!

HandyShopper currently isn’t used too much, but it’s cool nevertheless. I have two checklists: one for clean installing Windows XP at work, and another for my weekly review. I’m pretty sure I should brainstorm for other list ideas. Do you have any ideas?

I enter calendar items and tasks in Palm Desktop, both at home and at work. That way, I have two backups. In addition, I use BackupBuddyVFS personal (keeping the SD card at home).

Sidenote: I got a lot of insight from PDAaddict at, who religiously uses Palm Desktop and her Palm PDA. She gets a ton of credit. I suggest that you read through her journal entries and create a system that fits you.

Built-in Palm software

I use Memos for reference. Andy gave me a a portable and foldable IR wireless keyboard, so if I’m away from a computer, I can type stuff in there quickly. I have the following categories for sorting:

  • !Inbox (the exclamation point is to keep it at the top of the list)
  • Clients (for the rare consulting jobs)
  • File (reference)
  • Ideas
  • Maybe Get (books, CDs, software, gadgets)
  • Projects
  • SBC Dialup (for the rare occassion if I travel, I’ll have dialup phone numbers handy)

Within the File category, I prefix the title of the memo with a 1-2 word description contained in brackets []. (Example: [Car], [College], [Spiritual], [Work]) That makes it visually easier to sift through and find the memo I want. The Palm search function is really quick, too.

For Projects, I’ll list the tasks I need to accomplish and the goal for that project. If I can tackle one of the tasks that day, I’ll copy it as a new ToDo, then “cross it out” when I complete it. (I’ll put an “x” in front of the line.)


At home, my inbox is a single wire desk tray. When I’m out, I put loose papers, receipts, and index cards in a poly ultra wallet. Then when I get home, I dump from the poly wallet into the desk tray.

I’m really good with keeping up with voicemail. I’ll write the message down on an index card with the timestamp, and process that accordingly.

I have a tickler file setup, but I haven’t been using it with consistency. When I get back to a trusted system, where I get my inbox to zero and keep it that way, I’ll probably get better at it as a byproduct. Since my summer hasn’t been intense, I’ve been fine not using it. I’m sure when school starts, I’ll feel much more inclined to using it.

If you don’t have a handheld, look into the Hipster PDA. Although Palm OS 5 includes Notepad, I currently use index cards because it’s easier to write on. I definitely don’t like writing with the stylus too much. Plus, it’s easier to carry index cards in my pocket. So, I’ll write something down, toss the card in my inbox, then process it at a later time.

Filing system

I have a single letter-size hanging file drawer. I use manila folders to keep the papers in, as opposed to the hanging folders themselves, for easy transport. The majority are sorted by full name, except for purchases. I’ll file miscellaneous purchases in a generic A-to-Z filing system. However, for the major ones that I buy semi-regularly, I’ll create a dedicated folder for those. I’ll occassionally go through and purge to keep the drawer fairly light.

Without paper

When I’m without index cards, I use my cell phone. I either:

  • email myself with a brief text message, or;
  • call my K7 phone number with a more detailed voicemail.

The fewer the amount of inboxes, the easier. In this instance, I’m getting stuff sent to email. I’m happy to say my email inbox is at zero, and it’s been there for a long time.

Calendaring Downsides

My calendar isn’t public or shareable, like Google Calendar, Backpack, or 30 Boxes. My system is currently like this because I’m not by a computer all the time, and the internet connection at work is slow.

Room for change?

I wrote this to show yet another way of keeping organized. I probably missed a few points, but this post was sitting in queue for a long time, and I just wanted to get it out.

However, I’m always open to new ideas if it’s for the better. The only reason why I haven’t tinkered is because David advises us not to. (Right?) We can get stuck tweaking the system, but it comes to the point where it’s counter-productive. At the moment, this has been working for me. However, if you have any idea that could possibly be it, chat it up in the comments! Thanks for reading!

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Bryan Villarin

Bryan works at Automattic. Cat whisperer. Sometimes, a photographer and card magician.

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