Working in software development I hear the phrase “technology stack” a lot. To me, it’s the (technical) things that make our applications work. It’s the concepts, frameworks, languages, databases, operating systems, and more that are chosen to work together to make a solution.

So what’s the “stack” of things that work together to make your life run?

I’ve blogged in the past about the organizational systems I use in my personal and professional life and honestly…I still stick very closely to those regiments. But they’re not as efficient as I know they could be.

What’s my own user story?

Naturally (unfortunately?) my mind tends to wander into the realm of software development to solve problems these days (thanks, work). And one of the things we use are user stories.

If you’re not familiar with user stories, they depict a small piece of value an end user might get from your application or product. At their most basic they follows the pattern of “As a ______, I want to ______, so that _______.” A simple one might be “As an online shopper at Amazon, I want the ability to pay with my credit card, so that I can immediately pay for and confirm my purchase.”

So if this were software development, what might my own user story be?

As a busy professional, entrepreneur, and person with a life…I want to have one central location for all of my notes  and appointments…so that I don’t have to maintain many systems and so that I can consult one place for the information I need.

(Okay, so that’s kind of a warped user story because they would probably never be that detailed or wordy. Moving on…)

What’s my acceptance criteria?

Further down, after a user story has been created, there is acceptance criteria. What is required for this feature to meet the user story? In the example of credit cards on Amazon, the acceptance criteria might be: it needs to validate the information entered, it needs to accept all major credit cards, and it needs to generate messaging and errors for the transaction.

Here’s what I would require in any system:

  • Ability to track to-do items without a date
  • Ability to track to-do items with a date, on a calendar. Preferably synced with my Google Calendar. Ability to re-arrange and re-assign items.
  • Ability to tag/label items
  • Ability to track and compute finances or other spreadsheet like data
  • Ability to track weekly activities (workouts, meals, etc.)



I Want a Paper Planner

stomps foot

I haven’t used a physical planner in at least 5 or 6 years but I’m constantly evaluating them because I want to use a paper planner. I want my planner to look just as pretty as Elle Fowler’s. I’m obsessed with washi tape, metallic anything, and colored pens. I want a paper planner to be my solution. The most common planners on the circuit are Erin Condren’s Life Planner (starting at $65), Emily Ley’s Simplified Planner (starting at $58),  and Whitney English’s Day Designer (starting at $59). I want one. But I just don’t feel like I can invest in a solution that I might not be able to commit changing my workflow for.

The reality is that I think life is too fluid and changing for a paper planner. Plus I have a lot more to track than just daily to-dos. (Although some things could be recorded daily).


Physical vs Digital

In the end, I’ve just come to accept that some things will have to remain digital. (Although the other day ago I joked that I wished all of the articles I saved to Pocket each day would be sent to me in a book I could read at night).

Here’s the system I’ve hodge-podged together for 2016:

  • A (mint!) Martha Stewart journal – $10 on Amazon (although I bought mine at Staples)
    • I use this mostly to record quick project notes. Although anything long-lasting gets tagged and goes into Wunderlist.
  • A simple weekly planner – $6 at Marshalls (although literally the exact same planners are at Target for more)
    • I’m not going to double record events and Google Calendar is still going to remain my main place of recording daily events. I’m going to draw a line to separate each daily box. Left half with have life notes and right half will have work notes. But notes only. Everything else (workouts, meals, etc.) will still go on my Google Calendar. (I have multiple calendars set up for bills, life, work, side projects, and more).
  • A 1″ Avery binder – $3 online or in any store that sells office supplies
    • I put all paper things that require attention (like renewing my license plat stickers), coupons, and business documents in here. I usually carry it around because I never know when I’ll need it or have a second to work on something in it, but it’s quite bulky so it hurts my back to carry it around in my laptop bag all of the time.
  • A 2tb external hard drive – $86 on Amazon (this is similar to mine)
    • This has just…….everything. Anything not on here is in Google Drive, Dropbox, or One Drive (although this only houses my OneNote notebooks).
  • Many online systems (of which you can read about here)
    • Here’s where I have to just accept digital. OneNote organizes my recipes. Feedly (and a private Twitter list) organize my news feeds, Pocket saves the articles I want to read later (hahaha). Excel organizes every expense. Chrome profiles organize folders of links for things I want to remember later (although I might transfer some of the folders into Wunderlist).

 Aughtonburgh Kassey Sikora-4546

Is this system sustainable?

I constantly question this. It’s been working with modifications for a long time. I’m hoping in 2016 I’m hoping to eliminate Chrome profiles (store links in Wunderlist) and integrate my Wunderlist with my Google Calendar more (via deadlines which show up on GCal). Also, as much as I love and adore Pocket, I want to get my list down from 1000+ items to less than 100. And I want to dedicate time only at the start of the day to find articles and at then end of the day to read them. (Going along with that I want to organize twitter lists/feedly/news websites so I only have to go to one place for all the news I want).

I want to get my excel of finances online somehow (google sheet?) and consolidate my cloud storage into just Google Drive. (I currently use DropBox for client files but I now pay for Google Apps for Work which comes with 30GB of storage so I’ll most likely move the files to there).

And that’s it!

I’m hoping with these small improvements (which I could make in a day if I really dedicated time to them) could up my efficiency by 30% or more (ugh I spend so much time planning).