The Magic of Using an Outliner

Every year I find a couple of things that make a major breakthrough to how I work.  One of those this year was discovering a type of application called an “outliner”.

An outliner is a very simple program for handling lists.  Ever used Microsoft Word in outline mode?  Thats where you can indent a bunch of ideas, below each other.   For example

Point 1
    Point 2
        Point 3
    Point 4
        Point 5

etc.  The key thing in an outliner is that you can keep indenting this as deep as you want, and open and close them so you can gain different levels of visibility.  The other key point is that beside each item you can add “notes”.  So I might want to add a couple of pages of text to point 1, and its very easy to do it, similar to how you might add comments to a cell in excel.

Thats all an outliner does.  And using is has become my most critical application, even more important than my email.  Yes, I’d rather lose all my email data than my outliner data.

Here’s why:  Because it allows indenting, you can file your ideas any way you want.  I’ve got about 6 major categories, including topics like “Quarterly goals”, “personal goals”, “client goals”, “lists”, passwords” and “people followup”.  These are the topics I access most frequently.  Then inside these are a ton of lists all nicely filed away.  I can easily manage projects inside it, capture new ideas, and everything is organized.

What has been really interesting was to learn that in fact a lot of things I work on are actually just lists.  So as I started using this tool, all kinds of lists are now kept in my outliner.. Books to read.. TV shows to watch..  Restaurants to try locally.. Things to do on my next trip to New York/LA/Santo Domingo/Australia..  My packing checklist..  New words I have to look up in the dictionary.. Ideas I’ve had.. Articles to read..  All of it just goes into my outliner and is neatly filed away.. ALONG with my current goals, and an organized project plan of goals to achieve.  So each day I simply pick out a couple of tasks that need to be done and work on them for that day.

Now the breakthrough part of this is when you can sync it with a handheld device.  I have run into quite a few problems with this aspect, and finally found that Bonsai, for the Palm works great.  So all my data is always with me wherever I go.  For those that are experimenting with this, I used to use LifeBalance, but the notes are too short, only 2kb, so you lose a lot of data.  I also tried MyLifeOrganized, and while their desktop version is awesome, I had problems switching to windows mobile.  I actually switched back to Palm just to use Bonsai, and their software both on the desktop and handheld is great.  If you’re not syncing your data, then MyLifeOrganized is the best outliner I have found.

Now, the next thing to know is that the most effective way to use these is to learn about Project Management.. But we’ll talk about that another day.  🙂