Use text files, folders, and Dropbox to create a stable, cross-device, multi-platform system to store notes, tasks, and documents.
- [Instructor] As marketers we are hounded by details. That article you need to re-read, research to do, social media to review, a report from a coworker, this week's site performance data, notes from a previous client meeting or a future one. Not to mention your home life. Grocery lists, carpools, and all the schedules for everybody at home. This can lead to a problem. Our brain keeps jumping from one detail to the next and we try to compensate with all sorts of hacks.
Having stuff randomly stacked around your desk, scribbled on sticky notes, or scrawled on a personal whiteboard hurt your productivity in two ways. First it's a constant distraction. You're worried about forgetting something, or losing something important, or you just have a hard time with the mess. Second it's a time waster when you do need a piece of information. You spend time searching your email, your Dropbox, and anything else you can find. The fastest productivity boost is clearing your head. David Allen talks about this in his book Getting Things Done.
If you can get everything into a trusted system you get into a state where you can focus exclusively on the task at hand. That's when you're at your most efficient. I use three tools to empty my brain. Text files, folders, and Dropbox. Text files may seem intimidating at first. They and the tools you use to edit them don't have the familiar metaphor of a word processor but they're actually easier. There aren't any additional tools to use. You write, you save, and that's it.
Why do I like text files? Well, first of all, they're free. You don't have to pay anything to maintain them. Second, they don't crash. I have never lost a text file to a software crash. Third, you can read them on any device and platform regardless of software, operating system, or anything else. Fourth, you'll be able to read them in 20 years. Text file formats haven't changed in decades and they probably won't in the decades to come. Fifth, they are fast. Text files are very, very fast.
You don't have to wait for the software to start. If your device is on then those text files are right there at your fingertips and you can use any text editor. Notepad, TextEdit, whatever. I'll show you my favorite in a moment. This is what TextEdit looks like but I prefer to use Atom.io. It's free and you can download it from Atom.io. It's available on Mac, Windows, and Linux. On my Android device I use IA Writer. It's fast, it's lightweight, and it plays well with Dropbox which I'll talk about in a moment.
It also runs on iOS, and it runs on Windows and MacOS if you don't want to use Atom.io. Remember, this is basic note taking. Do you really need to be able to bold, change colors, and do tables? No, take notes in the simplest possible environment. If you need to do something fancier use the appropriate tool. Spreadsheets, word processors, or presentation software. Then you can put those documents into your trusted system for later access. Next I'll use folders.
Folders are the simplest way to aggregate and store lots of files. Proprietary software like Evernote can create hierarchies like folders too but that word proprietary means that you could have another point of failure. Sometimes Evernote databases or databases for other systems like Evernote can get corrupted. When they do you could lose that structure. You could lose all of those folders. I like folders because they're really simple. They're based on a metaphor that we've all used and we'll all grown up using on our computers.
I like folders because they're cross-platform. Folders run and you can transfer them from Linux, to Windows, to PCs, wherever. You can also put them up on cloud systems and I like folders 'cause they're format agnostic. No matter what file type you are using PowerPoint, Word, Keynote, whatever, or text, you can store those files in folders. You want your trusted system to be 100 percent available no matter where you are, what device you have, or even if you're using someone else's device.
That's the only way you can make sure you consistently use it. That's the only way you make sure that the system is truly trusted and you don't start using any of those hacks that cause the distraction and waste the time that we talked about before. I like to use Dropbox for 100 percent availability. I can retrieve and access the contents of my trusted system on any device that supports Dropbox as long as I have my Dropbox password. Here you see my to do list. It's stored in a folder that's shared on Dropbox.
That means I can access it from my phone. I can access it from my tablet. I can access it from any one of my computers or even from a friend's computer if I have my password with me. There's a really important security note here though. The information in Dropbox is only secure because it's behind a password. So never use it or another file sharing system to store secure information like passwords, or Social Security numbers, or credit card info in the clear. Instead, encrypt that information using some type of digital vault tool like 1Password or LastPass.
Then store the encrypted data up on your file sharing system. That way if someone were to get access to it they still wouldn't be able to view the data itself. Remember, you must be able to access and edit your trusted system wherever you are. If it doesn't work on, say, a mobile device then you'll end up taking notes and storing things elsewhere. Those shortcuts will cause you to waste time, and they'll cause distraction. You'll no longer have that trusted system. Text files and folders are flexible, versatile, and easy to use.
If you pair them with Dropbox they're also universally available. That's why I like this combination but whatever tool you use make sure it's truly portable, accessible, and editable across all those devices. Do that and you'll have an efficient trusted system.
- Using text files and Dropbox
- Setting up across devices
- Handling vague tasks
- Keeping your task list up to date
- Handling interruptions
- Using text-snippet tools to write email and reduce typos
- Learning hot keys and shortcuts