zen habits : breathe

20 Great Tools to Keep Your Life Organized


Photo by Teo

Every Monday is Productivity & Organization Day at Zen Habits.

It’s the ultimate quest of anyone trying to become more organized or productive: the ultimate organizing tool.

And while that perfect tool may be different for each person, depending on your needs, the following list should have something perfect for just about anyone.

Last week I shared some of the best organizing tips from you, the readers, and it was a hit. So this week, I’d like to share some of the best reader-submitted organizing tools. Note: This time, I rewrote the entries, so any references to the word “I” are referring to me, not to the reader who submitted them.

Let me please say that you should not try to adopt too many of these tools, and you certainly shouldn’t waste too much time trying them all out. Pick one or two that appeal to you, and go with them. If they don’t work, you can always choose another, but it’s important that you focus on the doing, not the tools.

  1. Google Calendar. Along with Gmail and Google Reader, Gcal is my favorite Google application — allows you to keep your life organized easily, intuitively, with no hassle or slow interface.
  2. Backpack. Great list-maker, perfect for to-do lists and other types of lists, simple and clean and nice interface. Can be accessed from anywhere: home, work, Mac, PC, mobile.
  3. Filofax-like organizer. Keeps all your info in a central spot: calendar, to do list, project list, watch-list, later-list, notebook and inbox, important addresses and phone numbers, important information to have on hand, tickler, diary.
  4. TiddlyWiki. A GTD-style wiki, with your contexts on the left side (e.g. @desk, @home, @writing, @inbox, project list) and each one of these opens a list of next actions for each location. In the list you can highlight items and link to other items, wiki style. The system is made of a single html file so it’s very portable, either on the Internet, through email, or on a flash drive.
  5. A stack of 3×5 index cards. It can be a ubiquitous capture device; keep context-based to-do lists; you project list, notes. Very modifiable, portable, fast, easy to use. (See Hipster PDA.)
  6. PocketMod. Ultra-portable planning and capturing, it’s a sheet of paper, which makes it cheap and easy. You can choose the mods you want, such as a calendar, notes, to-do lists, reference sheets, daily planner, and more.
  7. Behance Action Pad. This nice-looking organizational tool uses the Behance Action Method for creative types.
  8. do.Oh. It’s a nice to-do list web app, with a twist: it adds a zany poll. Perhaps the oddest combination of any organizer, this nevertheless makes the to-do list app fun to use, and that’s a huge selling point.
  9. The garbage can. Reduce before organizing. Toss anything that’s not absolutely needed, and you won’t have a need to organize. It’s liberating, too!
  10. Landing strip near your front door. It’s for unloading your stuff as you come in, so it stays organized, and so you don’t forget it as you leave the house. You can make your landing strip any way you like, but one reader’s setup consists of a set of hooks for backpacks, lunch kits, etc.; a box which holds keys, sunglasses, cell phones, etc.; and a basket for shoes as they come off by the front door. The reader also keeps alibrary books in a bag that hangs off one of the hooks. Simple and perfect.
  11. PalmPilot. Actually, any PDA works, but one reader swears by the Palm OS. Like the Filofax organizer above, the PDA has calendar, address book, to-do lists, documents/applications (Word & Excel, or others), clock (including alarm), calc, and more. It also syncs with work calendar. PDAs are also good for instant capture.
  12. Stickies on your desktop (computer or physical). The Stickies program is a popular one for the Mac, and one reader keeps a running to-do list using stickies for each task. The most important things go at the top, and stickies are deleted as tasks are done. Others use actual Post-It notes, on their physical desktop, in the same manner. Analog or digital, it works well.
  13. A notepad and a pen. Classic, and perfect. The Moleskine is a popular pocket notebook (I use it, because of its aesthetic appeal), but any cheap notebook works.
  14. OneNote 2007 (and one index card/day). For use with GTD.
  15. Vitalist.com. A popular online GTD oriented list application that is straightforward, easy, and free. I’ve actually tried this one and it works very well, and surprisingly the free version does everything you need.
  16. A habit list. In addition to your to-do list, your habit list keeps your action list from becoming overwhelmed by the every-day things.
  17. Remember the Milk. Does lists and tasks very well, including repetitive tasks. It has a plug-in for Google Calendar for one-stop organizing.
  18. Task Toy. Simple web-based to-do list manager, populr with GTD-types.
  19. iGTD. One of the most popular GTD apps for the Mac, and it’s free to boot.
  20. Journler. Another Mac tool, this diary/journal app helps you keep track of your life. Entries can be for anything that goes on in your day, thoughts, tasks, etc., and can be organized into folders and store files.


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