Category Archives: Tools

Archival Lists: What For and How To

Some of the books I've read (and some that are still on the list!)

I mentioned in my first post that I like to keep lists of things I’ve completed, or archival lists. For example, I use Backpack to maintain a list of books I’ve read. I’ve always been an avid book reader, even as a young girl. As I got older, however, the time I spent reading books waxed and waned due to responsibilities like work and parenting, or to make time for other pursuits like piano playing and vaquero/buckaroo horsemanship. I was curious to see how much I actually read in a year. A book a month seems doable, but was I doing that?

A second reason for creating a book list was to help me remember all the great stuff I’ve read. What inspired me was a free bookmark I got from Powell’s Books in Portland that had a list of 100 award-winning books. It got me thinking, if someone asked me for 100 great book recommendations, could I tell them? I’ve read far more than a hundred great books, but it’d make for a difficult endeavor.

In 2009 I started a list of books I’ve read in Backpack. If you haven’t used it before, it’s got a fairly simple and straightforward interface. You can sign up for a free Backpack account that will give you up to five pages, each of which can contain multiple lists (or Notes, Writeboards, Dividers and Tags, but we’ll save those for another time).

  1. When you log-in, click “Create a page” like so:
  1. Here’s a sample page I just created called Books I’ve Read:
  1. Click “Create a List” and type in the name of the book you’re currently reading. As you’ll see in the screenshot, Backpack places an actual check box by each item, giving you that satisfying feeling of ‘crossing something off your list’ when complete:
  1. Once you’ve finished reading the book, click the check box:

Get a full tour of Backpack on 37signals’ site.

In reviewing my book list, I am most certainly not reading one per month as I’d hoped. More like one every two months. Not too shabby, as some are quite long, tempered by shorter ones. Some that were started but never finished sit atop the list, waiting to be checked off eventually.

Go ahead, ask me for a book recommendation! I still may not be able to rattle off 100, but it’s getting much easier with my book list.

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A Checklist of Child Care Providers

My son and I after his samba drum performance for Ainsworth Elementary (2007)

With the birth of our daughter coming up quick in February 2012, I’m doing my best to get my life as organized as possible. This includes creating a list of potential child care providers in the Portland, Oregon, area. I figured it’s best to do this while I’m still fairly clear-headed and not under the added pressure of preparing to go back to work, as well as sleep deprivation.

Referrals are usually the best place to start, so I sent an email to local family and friends asking for recommendations. I’ve received all kinds of advice, from “nannies are the best” to “nannies are too expensive and can be shady,” with the same being said for child care centers. Most of what I’ve read echoes the same sentiment: it boils down to personal preference. I found the article called “5 Steps to Choosing Care” to be particularly helpful. In summary, it says:

  • Start Early (check!)
  • Make a Call
  • Visit and Ask Questions
  • Make a Choice
  • Stay Involved

To manage all the data I’m collecting, I created a list using a Google Spreadsheet – another one of my favorite digital list-making tools. The top row has the following subjects, some of which I pulled from the article “5 Steps” article above:

  • Tier (To easily rank and track favorites)
  • Name
  • Adult to Child Ratio (1:4 for infant)
  • Group Size
  • Caregiver Qualifications
  • Turnover
  • Accreditation
  • Rates
  • Location (General location, e.g. SW Portland, John’s Landing, etc.)
  • Address (Specific address)
  • Tours (When tours take place, if listed)
  • Likes/Dislikes (To be filled out once we visit)
  • URL

The second sheet is a list of resources with name and URL. I tried to keep this one simple to avoid drowning in data. So far it includes:

There are eight providers on the list so far, with two rising to the top based on my initial assessment. The list will undoubtedly grow (and hopefully shrink), but now this gives Dylan and I a framework to make sound decisions. Aren’t lists grand?

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The Perennial List-Maker

Melissa and Fof

I constantly make lists to organize my life. It’s how I get things done. Without them I would be lost  – especially now while I’m expecting baby number two and am a little more forgetful than usual.  I have lists for everything, from frequently used lists like running errands and gift giving, to work-in-progress lists like college scholarships for my 16-year old son and places I want to travel, to “living” lists like my ultimate music playlist, to archival lists like books I’ve read and other miscellany. Some folks may be able to keep this info in their heads, but I’m not one of them. So I rely on lists.

My personal lists used to live only on paper, but are now organized digitally via Evernote. It’s the simplest way to create and manage a list that is accessible via my iPhone, which is almost always with me, or via a web browser at work, home or while traveling. I’ve used Evernote for less than a year and am quite a novice, but it works well for lists. In the past I’ve used Backpack by 37signals, which is great via web but doesn’t come with an iPhone app that works well. However, I do use Backpack for lists that I don’t need to frequently access, such as books I’ve read and places I want to travel (including specific sites of interest). That said, nothing beats crossing something off a list, so I still use pen and paper for more immediate action items. At work, I use the “To Do” function within Apple’s Mac OSX X Mail to manage my bourgeoning task list, and it’s proven extremely useful. I almost always carry my laptop to meetings, so can easily add or amend tasks on-demand.

The purpose for all these lists is to give me goals to aspire to, whether they’re immediately attainable or more long-term. Some are carefully curated, while others simply help me remember what I need to do that day or week. I’ve used lists for over a decade to get things done, and more often than not, that’s just what happens.

Tell me, what do you do to stay organized?

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