Three tools for getting organized: Looking for 'The One'

On trying to get organized and stay that way.

Gibbs really wants to be organized, but somehow, it never quite happens

Getting organized isn't something you do once and then forget about. Oh no. Organization needs constant polishing and review and, in short, is a total pain in the butt. I've always wished I were one of those hyper-organized people who has a place for everything and everything always has its place, but alas, that apparently isn't in my genetic makeup.

But, while organizing my small slice of the real world is a huge pain for me (you should see my garage ... or rather, I'm glad you can't), organizing my computers and what I do with them is, in many ways, an even bigger challenge.

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My excuse, when I feel I have to make excuses ... which is NEVER (well, never unless something critical has gone missing in my, ahem, "controlled chaos" and my beloved needs whatever it is) ... is that I am "creative" and that getting seriously organized would be alien, far too time consuming, and require me to be someone completely different from who I am.

Even so, despite all my vacillations and excuses, I really do want to get my act together. So every now and then I have another shot at digital organization, which usually involves taking on YAA (Yet Another App).

Instapaper

Instapaper user interface

My "go to" for organizing my writing, research, design and development "stuff" (which accumulates with frightening rapidity) was, for some time, Instapaper, which I highly recommend for having a spark of near-genius in its design and execution. That said, I'd also add the caveat that, while it lives up to its billing -- "A simple tool to save web pages for reading later" -- it lacks features for organizing and searching saved content.

The service's creator, Marco Arment, who was the lead developer of Tumblr, notes in the service's FAQ that "Instapaper isn't optimized for keeping track of thousands of pages. This isn't the right tool to collect, categorize, tag, filter, and search the contents of every web page you've ever found -- for that sort of use, try Pinboard or Evernote."

I beg to differ regarding Pinboard, as this is really just a YASBS (Yet Another Social Bookmarking Service) which does nothing for actually organizing a huge pile of stuff. As for Evernote, we shall return to that it a second.

Instapaper is free (you can optionally donate to the author for the service's upkeep), and if your goal is to save "stuff" for later rather than archive the entire online universe as it sometimes seems I'm trying to do, then this service won't disappoint. Instapaper gets 5 Gearhead stars out of 5.

So back to Evernote. I've started and stopped using Evernote several times, and while I appreciate the service's level of detail and sophistication, somehow its user interface is not, for want of a better word, "comfortable" for me. It isn't quite slick or obvious enough and it seems hard to integrate it with my workflow (which is a rather pretentious way of saying "how I get things done").

Evernote

Evernote user interface

So, what's the best "stuff" organization tool? I have a number of others I've been trying to get around to but there is one big problem with evaluating these services and applications: You have to really commit to them to figure out just how well they work. This means that if I start using a tool that isn't completely understandable and obvious from the proverbial "square one," then I risk screwing up getting stuff done. So, after putting off trying YOAT (Yet Another Organizing Tool) for a while, I recently dove into Moxtra.

Moxtra is a good-looking iOS, Web and OS X app that combines collection (or "curation" as we now call it if we're going to be groovy and wear skinny-legged pants) with organization and collaboration.

Moxtra

Sharing a "binder" in Moxtra

Moxtra uses a desktop and binder metaphor. You add your stuff to binders which sit on your Moxtra desktop. A binder can include text, sketches (Moxtra provides a simple vector editing tool), videos and pictures from your camera roll or photo stream, videos directly from your iOS device's cameras, images of part or the whole of Web pages, and items from Dropbox, Google Drive, Box or Evernote.

You can also add pages to your default binder by email attachments to your Moxtra account, share binders with other people, and add voice and text annotations to anything in a binder, which can be added as a narration and saved and shared as a video presentation.

The OS X app is interesting but a little dangerous because you can configure the service to have access to your entire OS X machine when you've installed the OS X app, and should your iPad fall into the hands of a nerd-do-well (mwah!) you will surely get "pwned."

One of the really cool things about Moxtra is that it provides realtime "sharing" as a built-in feature. All you have to do is click on the "Meet" icon, select a binder, and invite people to join your "Meet." This provides not only a screencast of the binder's content as you step through it, but also supports audio conferencing so as you scroll through your binder and talk, others can follow along. In "Meet" mode you can even cause videos in binders to play on attendees' computers.

Moxtra looks extremely promising as a way to organize my stuff and, I hope, a tool I can stick with. That said, it remains to be seen whether it will be The One tool that finally gets me digitally organized. Moxtra, for its sheer scope, gets a Gearhead rating of 5 out of 5.

Gibbs is kinda organized in Ventura, Calif. Your confessions of chaos to gearhead@gibbs.com and follow him on Twitter and App.net (@quistuipater) and on Facebook (quistuipater).

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