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Write From Home
Kim Wilson
P.O. Box 4145
Hamilton, NJ 08610

E-mail: kim @ writefromhome.com

Organize Your PC and Increase Productivity

by Mike Levy

It was in December, 2004, when I made the most ambitious New Year’s resolution I could think of: I decided to write and publish one essay or article every week for the duration of 2005. Originally, I thought the writing itself was going to be the difficult part. But when the assignments began to accumulate, and regular work beyond my expectations landed on my desk, I realized that I had a small organizational problem. I made it work with the help of my beloved iMac G4.

Working full time as a teacher, and with two small children at home, I was not going to be able to fulfill my obligations unless I became serious about organization. I had previously scoffed, however, at any suggestion that I get organized. After all, what was there to gain besides the ability to flaunt a clear desk? I had previously believed that neatness was a sign that I wasn’t working hard enough. Now I learned that organization was the key to saving time and freeing my mind from clutter.

My first organizational task was to take stock of my assignments. For this I had Microsoft Excel. This program can be a little intimidating to the novice. But with a little effort, Excel can help a writer keep track of all sorts of key information. In essence, the program allows the user to make a sortable table. I created the ultimate chart to track my activities, from topics to due date and required word counts. I used additional columns to track whether I was paid for the work. The spreadsheet, which is perfect for budgeting, can be programmed to keep a running total of incoming fees. This has proved to be a valuable business tool and a great motivator. By keeping this list in chronological order, I can see at a glance which pieces need my immediate attention, and which ones I need to start thinking about. There’s no wondering about whether I’ve been paid, and how much; it’s all laid out for me, and quite neatly at that.

After I completed a handful of assignments, I found that my documents were cluttering my desktop. After some experimentation, I’ve learned to treat my desktop files much like I treat my file cabinet, since a bulging and unruly folder of either type will waste a tremendous amount of time. So I have come to obey two important rules: 1) when there are two or more related items, give them a folder, and 2) name all files and folders so that they can be easily identified. If I’ve followed rule number two, then I’m free to attempt a file search. If it’s a piece I’ve worked on recently, I can click ‘file’ on Microsoft Word and see a list of recent docs I’ve handled. After all, a good computer user knows there is usually more than one way to perform a single function.

Many don’t realize it, but bookmarks on our Web browsers can be organized just like files on the desktop. There’s nothing like a 200-item list of miscellaneous bookmarks to make a writer want to turn off the computer and call it a day. If you take some time to recognize the common threads in your bookmarks, you’ll see what sort of categories to name, and then finding the sites you’ve bookmarked will become infinitely easier. I keep, for example, individual folders for each publication I write for, so when I need to reference an important Web site, it’s very easy to locate. Most Web browsers have a prominent “bookmark bar,” where you can place links to the sites you use the most. Don’t forget that you can create folders here as well, an option which exponentially increases the number of Web sites you can have at your immediate disposal. This system will require occasional maintenance, but this is no different from keeping an organized sock drawer or spice rack.

When it comes to e-mail, most people fit into one of two camps: those who save every message and those who trash them as they come. The “trashers” end up losing vital information that might some day be useful. The “savers” usually end up with a giant mess that isn’t useful, anyway. With a little experimentation, a shrewd computer user can rig it so that e-mail can be placed into unique folders. As I read my e-mails, I dispatch them into one of several folders. There’s the “to do” folder, and another one for e-mails which require a response. Then there’s a series of folders for such categories as pending queries, rejected offers, current projects, and so on. The mail program that comes native to my Mac is pretty flexible, and I can create specific rules that will govern incoming mail before I even see it. This works in the same way that junk mail is filtered and automatically removed from my in box. I can tell the program to forward messages from specific addresses (editors I regularly work with, contacts I refer regularly for columns, etc) to a “freelance” folder. So when I send myself a reminder via e-mail (which works much better for me than a dozen sticky notes), I write a key word in the subject heading, and my mail program recognizes it as a command to forward it to my “to do” folder.

Before 2005, I only wrote between six and ten pieces a year. Accelerating to over sixty could have caused serious mental strain if not for the organizational schemes I implemented along the way. What could have been a stressful time turned out to be one of the most satisfying and productive years of my life.

Mike Levy is a teacher, musician and freelance writer from Ithaca, NY. He writes mostly for local and regional publications, about food, beer, music and parenting. Mike can be reached at mlevy4@twcny.rr.com.










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