Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Organization for the Organizationally Impaired

Does this look like your home office?

Then please step to the back of the class.

No. Further back. Yes, and down the hall.

Stay in the break room until you are called.

This post is for the rest of us.

If a cluttered desk is the sign of a cluttered mind, what is the significance of a clean desk?-Dr. Laurence J Peters

My desk...

My name is Tina and I am a drawer hater. I like everything where it can be seen or touched.

That doesn't mean I'm not organized.

I'm a contracted writer for several business ventures as well as maintaining my own freelance and fiction career, so being organized (yes, even without a clean desk) is vital. I get quite a lot done because I am organized.

How you get organized is not important, just get started. I'll share a few of my methods and several that others have recommended. Pick a plan that works for you and your lifestyle.


Deb Ng, from http://www.freelancewritinggigs.com/, demonstrates an editorial calendar for writers who blog in more than one place. Taking her suggestion I have a similar one to plan my blog topics and also to keep track of the monthly submission themes and deadlines required by the confession magazines.

I utilize my AOL online calendar, which has a reminder service, to keep me current on all appointments, classes and important dates. But being a bit anal, I also document personal events on a separate wall calendar, just because I like to be able to glance up and see that
Harlequin editor, Melissa Endlich, will be visiting Writers At Play all day on May 1st, 2008 or the Inspirational Golden Heart Finalists will be in Seekerville April 29 and 30 2008.

Hartley B. Singer of the Hart Blogging Empire, recommends the AZZ Cardfile Software, a program that pretty much does everything but the dishes. " The AZZ Cardfile is Windows program that helps manage any personal information like addresses, phone numbers, references, notes, recipes. It can serve as personal organizer, contact manager, address book, rolodex, personal information manager (PIM) or small database software."

Submission Trackers:

The publishing industry moves much too slow to wait around for your submissions to come back to you before sending the next one out. At any given time you should know which publisher, editor or agent has seen which manuscript and where it currently is and how long it has been there.

The advantage of being organized is when your short story Love & Felony comes back after being rejected by Ace Magazine you can send it right back out to Bread and Butter Media after a few publisher specific tweaks. The same is true of your romance novel queries. You don't have time to dwell on rejections. The time spent whining you could have been submitting.

I use a simple Excel spreadsheet to document all submissions including contest entries. I started it in 1996 and obviously more columns and rows can be added as needed. For this example I pulled one magazine entry and one contest entry from the spreadsheet.

There are many professional software programs or tools available for submission tracking, the choice is yours:

Luminary Writer's Database

Sonar Submission Tracking Tool

Writers Market Online

Power Tracker

Getting the Most Out of Your Desktop:

The real desktop versus the virtual desktop. In my world the two overlap.

I use the real world desktop to store paper copies of completed manuscripts in a 3" three-ring binder. All research information and pictures along with a printed copy of the manuscript goes into the binder. I also keep a copy of everything that is in that binder in a file that is duplicated on the C drive, the F drive (flash) the E drive (external) and finally my desktop for easy access.

What do you when an idea hits? I keep index cards with me for just such a moment. The cards are great for bits of overheard conversation, quotes or brilliant ideas. I date the card and shove it in a recipe file box that sits on my real world desk top. I also keep a virtual idea folder on my computer's desktop with story starters for writing short stories for submission to magazines.

Finally I organize my bookmarked web pages in folders according to category: telecommuting jobs, fiction, personal, non fiction etc.

How can you organize your desktop? There are several software programs that will help you organize your desktop, your computer files, web browsing and your email.

Google Desktop which customizes your desktop for maximum productivity.


Optimal Desktop offers a great system to organize feeds and web site browsing.

The Importance of Backing Up:

There are too many options out there for a writer to ever bemoan a power failure and lost data. Back up. Then back up your back up. Think of computer-wide or individual file backups as insurance. How much is your data worth to you? What are the odds of it being lost, in a disaster or due to theft? What plan you choose for data back up is your decision based on this information.

  • USB Flash Drive-If you are saving on a manuscript basis and the amount of data is under 4-8 GB then a handy pocket flash drive may be the solution. It's portable and you can buy several. One for your briefcase and one to keep in a safety deposit box. Warning: Keep them away from magnets and washing machines.

  • Burn Your Manuscripts to Disc-A nice option for a small cache of manuscripts. Again you want to keep them in more than one location. If you have a re-writeable CD writer then you can get special CDs that can be written to multiple times. They will be labeled CD-RW instead of CD-R which are WORM (Write Once, Read Many).

  • External Hard Drive-When considering complete computer back up, it's not the size of your computer that counts but how much data you have. Complete computer data back up should be done daily, weekly and monthly if you have data that is very important. You need 3x the space of the data on your computer and double that to allow for growth. The norm is 15 to 20 GB. At 50 dollars for an external drive you can buy two and keep one at your house and one at a friend's. Check out the options on e.Cost (an example:Maxtor 250GB OneTouch™ II External Hard Drive 250GB Hard Drive at $59.00) Newer computers and external hard drives utilize USB 2.0 and are 40x faster than older models. Software suggestions to complete your backup includes Acronis and Symantec's Backup Exec.

  • Virtual storage-Another option is remote hard drives or virtual file storage. Check out the company you use for encryption safety and access ease. Remember once your stuff is out of your hands you are dependent on a third party for their own routine backups and security. Also remember that while downloads are relatively fast, uploading is slow even with cable. Suggestions for remote/virtual backup? Mozy or iDrive.
Those of you waiting in the break room can come back now.

Now--thanks to Gina Welborn for this great idea--I challenge you all to send a link to a picture of your office. The names of those who posted a link in Seekerville will go into a random drawing. One winner chosen this evening, 9 p.m. Mountain Time will win a neat, tidy and very organized $10.00 Amazon Gift Card, which will be sent to you via your email address. That means I need an email address too! You don't have to be techo and create a lovely hot link, just spit out the URL and you are in.


  1. Tina, you've overwhelmed me with technical information. I'm still working through the cluttered desk/clean mind quote. Hmmm.

    I've almost got my office in order...umm, ish. So if I can figure out where a digital camera is, then I'll get to taking a picture. Let it not be said I don't do my part to win a prize.

    WV today is aching box. And considering I now have two pukey kids home from school, I'm going back to my aching-reliever bed. For an hour or so. Because then I have to get up and take whichever ones aren't spewing to the dentist for their 6-mth checkup and cleaning.

  2. Overwhelmed you? I'm fighting some silly bacteria and discovered 28.43 typos after I posted this. I plead the 98th amendment, which is for mother's and covers everything from messy desks, pantyhose runs to typos.

  3. Good stuff there, Tina. Some of those are quick, easy and CHEAP! (Calendars, index cards ...)I'm excited about that. Can I burn CDs? I'll have to check into that, too.

    I've been e-mailing my stuff to my gmail account. Please don't tell me that's a bad idea. Our old computer crashed this fall then we got a new one I downloaded my files from gmail and it was a big help.

    Gina, sorry to hear about the kids. Those are some long days when they are all sick at once and we only have three. I have no idea what moms with big families go through.

  4. Here is a link to a photo of my workspace.
    As I explain on the page, this is how it looks when we are under way, not when I am actually writing. It is cozy. Coziness does not lend itself to tidiness. It's the best I can do on short notice. In fact, I never thought it would be a disadvantage not to have a photo of my untidy work habits.
    Now that I have confessed to slovenliness, I will give thanks for the suggestions in this blog. I will check out the online ideas. As you will see if you view the picture, I have little space for physical objects in my world.

  5. Grin. Tina, you are a hoot and THIS is another blog that I will be printing off ...

    I, too, like everything where it can be seen and had a reputation at work for lining up to-do projects on the floor of my cube. Some days you couldn't see the carpet!

    Great post -- thanks for helping to get me organized!

  6. My 25-year-old (and that is a rough estimate) third-hand desk starting falling apart a few weeks ago, so I've just gone through the process of refurnishing and reorganizing my converted-bedroom office. I like everything within easy reach. Reference books, note pads, pens & pencils, hard-copy dictionary, several pairs of reading glasses, stapler, tape, paper clips, coffee cup warmer, etc. Drawers are for stuff I don't use that often. So I need lots of open desk space.

    I also like bulletin boards, where I stick notes, inspirational quotes, pictures of my characters, special souvenirs, etc.

    I like my new setup even better than the old one! As soon as I dig out my digital camera, I'll post a picture.

    Great tips all around, Tina. I'm looking into an external hard drive for backups--at least a 500GB or maybe 1T just to be safe. I also back up daily to my Mac account.

  7. Oh, I am so not organized. I only back up my files to a disk, and I only do that once a month. I do have a calendar where I write down who and when I submit things to, and if I didn't have a calendar on my refrigerator where I write down all my and the kids' appointments and game times, I'd never make it to anything.

    My desk is very cluttered, and not in an organized way, but since I don't have a digital camera, you'll just have to imagine it. :-)

    It is my goal this week to clean my house like it has probably never been cleaned (since I'm depressed about my writing and I'm taking a break), which will at least make my house look more organized. Does that count?

  8. So basically I have guilted everyone into cleaning. OKAY!!!

    You should see my mess at the moment. I generally clean on Sunday and start with a clean slate. Not this Sunday. I keep hearing meows, so the cat may be buried in the paperwork.

  9. Wow, Tina! These are marvelous ideas for organization. Some are too high tech for me to take in so I'm printing off the list and will examine each suggestion.

    My organization up till now involves lots of notes jotted on calendars and Post-It notes everywhere. I guess it's time to join the twenty-first century. :-) Thanks for the tips!


  10. So how are most of you tracking submissions to contests and manscripts, etc??

  11. My great and I believe BRILLIANT organizational step has been.

    I created a Yahoo group with only myself as a member.

    No, I'm not a snob.

    I use the calendar and email myself reminders of EVERYTHING.

    Payroll due. Book due. Doctor Appointment. I get his steady stream of email reminders of committments I've made adn promptly forgotten.

    I was just reminded that I've got a phone conference with my publicist tonight at 5:30. I made that commitment yesterday and scheduled it in my yahoo calender and then forgot.

    I honestly think I have a learnign disability. But then, aren't the disabled constantly encouraged to find coping devices?
    I've done that.

    There's just a weird short term memory glitch in my head. Someone tells me something and it kinda bounces off instead of sticking.

    And I can tell when I ... like reading that email reminder this morning ... have transferred somethign to my long term memory from my short term memory.
    I read the note and am somewhat startled to remember, Oh yeah, I said I'd do that.

    When it's finally gotten through whatever short circuits are in my mental wiring, when I hear about it or see the email my reaction is calmer, of course, I'm planning on that.

    The worst is when I plan two things for the same day.
    I consider that a left brain / right brain glitch.
    And often it kind of fits. Isn't left brain reasoning and right braind more creative or artistic? Somethign like that.
    So a lot of times a chore or job or serious appointment is nicely settled in my left brain while in my right brain I'm planning a shopping trip or something fun.

    Very weird.

    Today they'd medicate me.

    Instead I write books with ability to detach and not know what in the world is going on around me.

  12. Also my desk is a nightmarish mess.

  13. And as for saving my work I am compulsive about it.

    Also a coping device against forgetting.

    No disks anymore but

    I save my WIP on my home computer, email it to myself as an attachment everyday, save it on my work computer, save it in two different email addresses, have MOZY backup, plus--in one email address I've got all my finished books saved in a folder. And if I ever update one, I go in, delete the old one, save the new one.

    I'm compelled by terror of losing a book. They're really long. Rewriting one would be a NUISANCE.

  14. I am very paranoid about losing stuff I wrote. But how do you track submissions, Mary?

  15. Tina, I should be more paranoid about saying my work, but I usually don't think about it until I'm about to go on a trip.

    Like Mary, I e-mail myself copies of my mss. If my house burnt down, then I'd still have e-copies.

    I guess no one is interested in winning the office clutter picture prize. I need to find a digital camera first.

    Great. My word verication looks like fudge hub. Someone knows I have chocolate on the brain.

    Oh, is it me or does Julie print out every Seeker post? Her office walls must be papered with blogs.

  16. I cannot send anyone a picture of my office because I do not want to be responsible for nightmares. In fact, just before I logged on today, I thought, "I wonder if should just skip writing today and reorganize."

    I wish you could all picture my office. It's in the basement and in the winter I have to wear my winter coat, a blanket, and those gloves with the fingertips cut off just to write. A space heater isn't an option. Old house=old wiring=blown fuses.

    But I do have two computer screens. I can have my research up on one and write on the other.

    Sorry. Off topic.

    There is organization to my chaos.I know which pile things go in. I use Microsoft Outlook for organizing my time, sending reminders, etc. Submissions are recorded on a spreadsheet.

    I hadn't thought of emailing my manuscript to myself. What a great idea! I backup regularly thanks to my husband who nags me constantly.

    Gina, I hope your kids get better fast. That can make for a really long day, and I remember how fond you were of nursing.

  17. Well, I don't really track submissions anymore. I just remember them.

    Back in the day I don't think I really kept track either. I'd mail them out, editor, agent, contest, assume a rejection would soon follow and forget about them.

    Then the rejection would come, I'd put it in the pile and go back to writing.

  18. Here are some words of wisdom for the disorganized:

    Irresponsibility isn't a weakness, it's an ART.

  19. Here's another one:

    America is the land of the free and the home of the brave.
    If we don't start being a little more brave we're going to find ourselves a lot less free.

  20. So what have we learned today.

    No one in this group is very organized. That is SUCH a relief.

    No one in this group should light matches in their home and if the internet goes down you are all screwed. Okay.

    Well, I feel better about my messy office already.

    And I just got a story idea about a woman who loses something in her office mess. Brilliant.

    Mary, are you the queen or the princess of RANDOM?????

  21. Okay, I'll jump in here. I use an Excel spreadsheet to track submissions. I have columns for title, sent to, date sent, date acknowledged, date full requested (HA HA, not many of those spaces filled!), response, and notes. The last column is for keeping a running total of how many mss. are currently out.

    I have a separate spreadsheet I use to track contest entries. Those columns include who the finals judges are, when prelim and final announcements are expected, and what my scores are.

    For day-to-day stuff like appointments, I used to use Outlook, but you can't get it for the Mac, which is probably my only disappointment about switching from PC to Mac. The Apple calendar, mail, and address book work pretty well for my purposes, though. I tried Entourage but wasn't thrilled with it.

  22. Hey, I'm organized.

    I just don't look like it.

  23. It is better to know some of the questions than all of the answers.
    ~James Thurber

    Now why would my word verification be nut doctors? That's kinda not appropriate for this blog. My sensibilities have been offended.

  24. Just so y'all don't think I don't have anything better to do, I'm going to go watch a movie with my son.

    Yes, watch a movie in the middle of the day.

    How weird.

    I should get some parental award for this.

  25. BTW, I got a really really nice thank you know from one of my entrants from a recent contest I will not name.

    It's posted on my blog if ye is interested.

  26. Hi Tina - thanks for the great tips in your post.

    One night last week, as I was drifting off to sleep, I had a mini panic attack because I realized I forgot to send thank you notes to the judges of a contest that ended at least 6 weeks ago. I immediately hopped out of bed and wrote a combination thank you and apology and realized that I've got to get better at keeping up with this stuff!

    Thanks, and happy cleaning/filing/purging to everyone.


  27. I am coming over to clean your office, Gina. RIGHT NOW!!

  28. Okay, I decided to try baby steps toward the 21st Century. I opened Outlook. Thought I might try to use it. But this window pops up, asking me if I wanted to bring in an account from Outlook Express. I hate when computers ask me a question and I don't know the answer. If this makes sense to anyone, should I say yes or no?

    My desk is pretty neat for me. I cleaned my entire office last week. Even threw out some ancient encyclopedias. Maybe I'll take a picture. But we can't upload pictures onto my desktop. So I put them on my husband's laptop and then he e-mails them to me.

    Everything technical wastes so much time soooooooo Tina, dear friend, would you visit me and set all this up?


  29. Janet, you would say NO to importing an Outlook Express account if you never used Express before. If you use Outlook Express for e-mail, say yes.

  30. Boy have I missed out! This is the first time I've been able to pop in in a couple of days! I've got catching up to do!

    What awesome information!! But what really grabbed my attention...your mess makes sense to YOU. My husband must hate drawers worse than anyone on the planet! Yet when I straighten, he tells me he knew where it was before I moved it! He has to see and be able to lay his hands on everything! Now I feel like I'm not going to go crazy! I'll just pray for a little extra understanding!

    Great post!


  31. Um, thanks Myra. I don't use Outlook, it doesn't like aol very much.

  32. Anne, welcome to clean your office day in Seekerville. Now did you final in a contest recently? Your name seems very familiar.

  33. Katherine, forgive me. I am functioning on one donut short of a dozen today. I LOVE YOUR HOME SWEET BOAT. So far you appear to be winning as everyone else lacks the techno ability or courage to show us their dirt or lack there of.

  34. once again enjoyed the posts. and the quotes.
    Alot of todays blog can be put to use for other areas. I know about backing up (also know about using a free accountancy software that decided to quit at a certain time leaving all my info for the year gone even backing up did the same)
    I have a better programme but i do back up onto CD's. (normally about to do that right now)
    I back up all my photos onto cd's and alot of other files I dont want to use.
    I had the misfortune of outlook deciding to dump all my mail a year ago so I now make sure I save any attachments i need.
    I also use either my gmail or yahoo account for things like flights and accomodation that way i know the info is still there.

    Ok for organization I have a small desk but its got alot of stuff on it. My room was clean when i went overseas last year! I clean for others no worries but i have a problem keeping my room clean.

  35. I was formerly the Queen of Random but just lately I was unanimously elected to be the Mayor of Stupidville.

    How random is THAT???

  36. And also, I do not have time to clean my office. I'm too busy trying to find my destiny from yesterday.

  37. I know. It's only Tuesday and already I am searching for my destiny and trying to find the cat under the messy desk. Can't wait to see what is up tomorrow.

  38. The dog ran behind the computer and there were wires everywhere. Some connected and some not. She wrapped the DSL cable round her leg and started hopping for the door.

    What I was going to say before unplugging the dog -- for my coping device, I always get calendars with big pages and big squares for each day and try, try, try to write everythign down. I also just thumbtack stuff to the walls. If we ever move, we can plug the holes with toothpaste.

    Unfortunately Tina is right -- don't light a match and hope the Internet doesn't go down!

  39. Thanks, Tina, for lots of great info. Loved the photo of your desk! And Deb Ng's info on her editorial calendar. Myra, your office is so, so nice. Maybe I need to upgrade. And Kim, I can relate with your hubby. I'm visual and want my papers close at hand as well. Mary, great idea to send your WIP to your email addy.

    Janet, after Tina stops by your house, would you send her on to mine? Thanks!

  40. And Katherine wins hands down@!!!

    But we are all going to send Lorna those little things you put in your gloves to warm your hands next winer.

  41. Tina!! Excellent stuff!! I've got to take notes. Or maybe print.

    Myra--a coffee cup warmer??!! I need one of those. Where did you get it?

    Tina just asked how we track our submissions. Okay, Tina, you might want to cover your eyes, because this may scare you. I used to keep all my contest entries logged on... a piece of folded notebook paper. :) Yep. And then when I finally got a website, I put it on there. That's my permanent way to keep it. (That, and I finally started a spreadsheet. But I had to get the info off my website!)

    I can't take a photo of my "office" because I would be humiliated. Suffice it to say, I'm a piler. (There's a great book called "Filers and Pilers")

    Mary, you're on a roll today! I just finished reading all your comments. LOL!!

    Great comments today, everyone. Sorry I stopped in so late. Now, back to final polishing of mss. And then hopefully I'll send it tomorrow!

  42. I quit using outlook a long long time ago because I can't access it from a remote location. I work through my internet provider's website, plus hotmail and yahoo and gmail and...well I may have too many email addresses. It's been hinted at.

    Which reminds me.

    I think I used to have a cat. I wonder if it's under this mess? Best not to check...ewwwwww

  43. This is honestly one of the best blogs I've ever read, Tina. So much great information!! Thank you.

  44. Ah, Debby, didn't you notice Tina ignored my plea? But if she shows up, I'll send her your way.


  45. I am so glad you were able to stop by and visit me at No Boundaries. Life on a boat has lots of boundaries, but God didn't draw any boundary lines in the water. Drop by any time.

  46. For Missy: Here's where you can get your very own mug warmer:

    Vermont Country Store

  47. Thanks from me too, Myra. I love the warmer.

    Great Christmas present too.