Mobile me

I have what you might call an unusual set of work and home computing needs, but I don’t think they’re entirely unique by any stretch of the imagination. I’ve been trying to get everything to work seamlessly together, because I draw so little distinction between work and not-work. It all needs to be a single, reliable, continuum.

Tonight, I finally managed to get what I think is my ideal setup (at least for now – these things move pretty fast). And I had a couple of requests to share how I did it – and so this here’s the arrangement.

First… here’s what I use:

An Apple Macbook.
This goes everywhere with me. It’s my work computer and my sitting in the living room computer, my cafe computer, my train computer, my conference computer and my streets of London, trying to find my way around computer.

It’s not the Macbook Pro – it’s the plain, old, ordinary Macbook. But it’s the black one, so it’s slightly cooler. Most of my work happens here.

A desktop Apple iMac
This is the mothership. It has all of my music on it, the photoshop stuff, all of the documents that I don’t need to carry around with me. It’s got a terabyte internal drive and it’s about 3/4 full if I manage the files carefully and delete extraneous stuff on a regular basis.

I also use this to do any serious stretches of writing, conference calls via Skype and the big screen comes in handy for watching movies, or for working with someone else in the room who needs to be able to see what I’m doing.

The iPhone
Okay – so I don’t have one of those yet. Soon, I hope. In the meantime, I’ve got a stupid old Windows Mobile that crashes twice a day and takes half an hour to start up again. I hate it – but I need it because it’s all I’ve got and I use it all the time.

The work
I’m a Knowledge Transfer Fellow. In short, that means that my job is to go out to organisations and say ‘how can I be helpful?’ Generally, it’s to do with music on the internet.

So mostly, it’s meetings and writing. I teach one day a week too. There are three other people who get to make appointments for me, and there are people I need to communicate with regularly in order to do my job.

The system
I have a bit of reputation for being a productivity enthusiast (some say ‘OCD’). I run at inbox zero. It might look like nerdism gone wild, but it will quite simply just make your life better.

For me, it’s really simple. Email represents one of three things:

1) something you have to do;
2) something you need to know (read it then archive it)
3) trash (delete it).

As far as I can tell – there’s no other kind of email.

The three types of ‘something you have to do’ are:
1) something that can be done immediately and quickly (do it, and archive the email)
2) something that can be done soon, but will take longer (put it on your to do list, and archive the email)
3) something that has to wait until later (put it on your calendar, and archive the email)

Email gets clear and stays clear all the time.

My to do list and my calendar are how I organise my life. And for that I use a program called Things. It uses the GTD system, which I’m not just a fan of – I’m a happy-clappy, born-again evangelistic convert.

It’s not a self-improvement, goal-setting, motivational regime or anything… it’s just a way of knowing what you’re supposed to be doing, without worrying about all the bits that are falling off along the way, as most people do. To me, anything left in your inbox is just psychological baggage (or, as David Allen puts it – it’s ‘stuff’). Get it out of there, and into a system that will get that stuff handled appropriately.

Of course, I don’t just keep my own inbox clear and stay organised – I teach other people how to do it, and coach them through some pretty alarming email catastrophes (28,000 emails in your inbox, was it, Stef?).

We all fall off the wagon from time to time, but the difference between the psychological baggage of email clutter – and a completely liberating and totally handled system is enough to bring most people back on deck. Especially when you realise you can do it quickly.

I reckon if I can help get Stef Lewandowski to zero inbox, I can do it for anyone.

The problem
With four or five people adding and subtracting things in my calendar online; my To Do list management system, contact directory and multiple email accounts needing to synchronise on several machines (including the phone); a need to have access to certain files wherever I go; and an awareness that my backup system was not as robust as it needed to be – I went in search of the perfect synchronisation system that met all my needs.

And, of course, there’s not just one thing that does all this. There are several.

[To be continued…]