I’m currently in the process of finishing two books, starting another, publishing two new sexuality models, three new live social justice comedy shows, running half a dozen volunteer-based initiatives, building I’m-not-even-sure-how-many websites, and the list goes on. It’s a lot. And as I type that, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. But I’ve found a way to make sense of it all, to not lose any of my little ducklings, and to retain a semblance of peace of mind.
It’s just a matter of coming up with a way of not losing track of ideas before they develop into things.
I want to first say that I’m not very good at this — I’m just good enough. And if you’re a notebook/physical thing person, you’re not going to like this, because I’m all digital, baby (in the cloud! disruptive! innoventive!). I keep track of ideas, actions, and creation using [mostly] Evernote, Wunderlist, and Google Drive. I also have a pile of external hard drives. Below is how I specifically use each.
All of these things are [or can be] free, other than the hard drives. They are great for collaborating. And they work on my phone, tablet, computer, and web browser.
To remember ideas, I use Evernote
Evernote is amazing, but it can easily get unmanageable. The trick is to effectively use tags and journals.
I have different journals for different ideations within Evernote (e.g., a comedy one, an IPM one, one for my forthcoming EP, one for each of my books, etc.) but use the same universal tag system for everything. That way, everything has its own place, but with the tags I can draw connections between otherwise unrelated projects.
For example, I originally wrote my gender TEDx talk to be a song, so I tagged it “lyrics” and while it changed from there, it still comes up when I’m looking at “lyrics” to see all the songs I’ve written, which I like (cuz it could be easily changed back).
To remember actions, I use Wunderlist
Wunderlist is almost as powerful as Evernote in its ability to organize, but it far surpasses Evernote’s ability to push me to get tasks done. You can have separate lists for different projects, assign tasks to people, or just have an inbox of incoming assignments (I use this feature a lot with my manager & project coordinator, Chum and Bethany, where we assign tasks to one another on share lists).
I have about 60 – 70 Wunderlists going at any given time. I have one for each of my live personal projects (things like IPM site, Jack and/or Jill, etc., which is about 30ish), one for each of my collaborations that are still ongoing (like the Safe Zone Project), for every freelance gig I have open, and then I have some general life ones (e.g., “Rainy Day in Austin,” “Things I Need to Buy”).
Some of the tasks have due dates, which makes it easy to know what I have to get done today, if anything (by browsing the due “Today” tab). But if that’s not absolutely necessary, they don’t. And I just open a list and work through it when I’m inspired to work on that project.
I also recently started doing “pre” and “post” lists for speaking/shows/trips, and I’ve really liked that idea. “Pre” is things to pack, print, buy, etc. “Post” is all follow-ups I accumulate while I’m there. And I have those forever until they’re complete, like the one from a trip I did back in January that is still not complete. Gotta get on that.
To get started on writing and creation, I use Google Drive
Google Drive is amazing because you can create, share, edit, and publish [limited, but not bad] all from one place. It’s as much a shared drive as it is a studio, and because of the universality of google accounts, it’s perfect for collaboration.
Right now, I have 22 top level folders in my Google Drive. As you’re starting to likely get the sense, I use these separations to help me stay organized. But for Google Drive, I don’t separate just by project, but also by collaborators. I give Chum and Bethany access to all of my personal projects, so there’s just a “CHUM & BETHANY & SAM” folder. I share access to that folder with them once, then they have everything inside, which includes everything from new articles I’m writing for a variety of sites, to bios, to show schedules, to contracts, to budgets.
Some of my other top level folders are more broad, but all with the same goal of making the sharing easy. The only reason I’m writing and making things on Google Drive instead of my laptop is because I can click a button and allow someone else access (to edit, provide feedback, take over, etc.). So it’s with that in mind that I choose how I will organize what goes where.
To finalize and publish, I use my laptop
Granted, I’m using my laptop for a lot of the things above as well, but here I mostly mean Adobe Creative Suite (for all the design and print stuff) and Sublime Text 2 (for programming web stuff). And I back up all of the finished products of everything on external hard drives.
To organize my computer, I created a new top level folder (on the same par as “Documents” and “Movies”) called “Projects.” In Projects, I have a subfolder for everything I’m currently actively working on. Everything finished or dormant stowed away on an external drive. The nice thing about the Projects folder is that now I can still use the Documents folder for what, I think, it was meant to be: a hodge-podge of personal things (like tax returns) and other files you’re not sure where to put (like resumes, animated .gifs of Ellen dancing, etc.).
As far as backing things up, I have separate external hard drives for three different divisions of my work: photo/video (all on one hard drive), design, and organizational. So I know that if I need the raw video clip of a testimonial from a keynote that I gave three years ago, I plug in my blue hard drive where it’ll be organized hierarchically by type and date, and I can find it in 2 minutes. Ditto with a poster I made four years ago and haven’t thought of since (just happened as I was redesigning Dear World). Or an organizational structure and position descriptions for something I did in 2012. All on separate hard drives, waiting to be resurrected.
Each of those hard drives is backed up as well, of course. And my computer (with all of my live projects) gets backed up every couple of days on a separate hard drive altogether.
This is how I do it, not how you should
The above system works really well [enough] for me. But I came to it through a ton of trial and error. And the best advice I can give to anyone is exactly that: try things, try different things, then try some other things.
You can start with the things above, but don’t stop until you’ve found a system of techniques, software, writing on your hand, pinning notes to your shirtt, whatever, that feels right. You’ll know when you find it. Or, rather, you’ll know when you haven’t, so keep experimenting until you hit your stride.