Be a Blogger: Tools to Organize Ideas

wanttobeablogger2.jpgBack next week with the Sunday Conversation.  The following is a guest post from Mrs. Micah. Mrs. Micah writes about personal finances, freelancing, and getting out of debt at MrsMicah.com. She also offers blog consulting services at hire.mrsmicah.com.

Previously in the Be a Blogger series, Frugal Dad wrote about capturing the idea when inspiration hits. Whether you use a cell phone, PDA, or even a scrap of paper, it’s critical to get ideas before they slip away. You will forget them.

But that’s only the first part. I have scribbled dozens of phenomenal ideas on paper or written them down in notebooks only to lose the scrap or forget that I even wrote the idea down in the first place.
The second and equally critical thing to do next is collect your ideas.

Then, there’s the third part. You actually have to find the time to carry them out. If you’ve got them all together, you can always pop in and pick which one you’re going to write about today. I find it easier to get a little reminder at a time when I’m free to write. The reminder is usually a short message like “Write guest post for Frugal Dad on being organized!”

I’m going to explore two useful web tools which I use to store ideas and schedule when I’ll do them. If you’re not a blogger and you’ve made it this far, stick around. These tools are useful for anyone without a perfect memory.

How to Use Gmail’s Filters

If you don’t use Gmail, skip down to using Sandy for another way to store ideas online.

Most of us use Gmail on a basic level. Send e-mail, read e-mail, archive e-mail. Search e-mail when we need something. Until recently I was very very mildly organized and had 2 labels I used for storing links I’d e-mailed myself.

But there’s so much more that Gmail can do. For instance, you can use it as a way to store post ideas. Here’s the skinny.

Let’s assume you use the fictional e-mail address google@gmail.com. Thing is, you have more than that one e-mail address. E-mails sent to google+mrsmicah@gmail.com will show up in your inbox, as will e-mails sent to go.ogle@gmail.com. Let’s say that you decide to send every idea as an e-mail to google+ideas@gmail.com.

Now, suppose you set up a filter in Gmail. The image below shows what the second step of that process looks like. When I first clicked on the filters, I entered a +ideas email address in the “From” box.

filter062208.png

Now you see my options. I can have it archived right away (which is fine since I’d probably be accessing them as a group) or star it, forward it…even delete it (in case you want to give out google+spam@gmail.com to sketchy sites that require an e-mail address). However, I chose to have it a) marked as read so I don’t worry about it and b) I chose to apply the label “Idea.” Whenever I want now, I can access all my post ideas simply by going to the Idea label. And I can delete the ones I’ve used.

Why do I like the Gmail system? Because you can do it from your e-mail, which I have open most of the time. I’d suggest scheduling a time during the day to collect all your ideas and e-mail them to yourself. Maybe before going to bed? When you change into your PJs and empty your pockets? Or perhaps when you’ve gotten home from work, you transfer them from your PDA.

Using Sandy to Store Ideas or Schedule Them

sandy062208.gifNow, you can always use Google’s Calendar to schedule your stored ideas, but I prefer a friendly little assistant named Sandy.” Sandy is someone (ok, a program) I can e-mail to schedule anything I want, including blog posts. She’ll also store blog posts like Gmail, so stay tuned for that.

Here’s how to get Sandy to remind you of something:

After you’ve signed up with Sandy and gotten a special e-mail address (to contact her) and whatnot, you simply send her an e-mail in a format she, being a non-sentient program, can understand.

For example, here’s an e-mail I’d send to get her to remind me to write this post on Thursday 06/19/08 at 7:35pm.

Subject line: – [I don't use a subject line with her, I suppose one might send the message in the subject]

Remind me to write guest post for Frugal Dad on being organized on
06/19/08 at 19:35.

There are a number of commands she’ll understand. I could have said “7:35 pm.” I could have said “in 3 hours” or in “135 hours.” I could have put just 6/19 as the date.

With my settings, an e-mail would have popped into my inbox at 7:20 (giving me 15 minutes to get anything else out of the way) with the subject line “REMINDER: Write guest post for Frugal Dad on being organized (7:35pm).”

So I can set myself up to write about a post days, weeks ahead of time and then forget all about it until the time comes. I could go through my list of ideas from Gmail and schedule myself for one writing session a day, if I wanted. Or I could send myself a reminder to go in there and pick my favorite.

Now for all of you who need a place to store your info. You can always e-mail it to yourself and stick it in a folder manually. But you can also e-mail Sandy and have her add it to your to-do list.

I’d just change it to “Write guest post for Frugal Dad on being organized @todo.” You can find all your to-dos by logging in to the main Sandy site and going to your to-do list page.
They’re deletable, if you want to when you finish the post. And you can e-mail Sandy directly from the site to schedule events…so you don’t even have to visit your e-mail account.

Sandy is also apparently compatible with texting and twitter, I just haven’t used those yet.

Wrapping Up

I hope this hasn’t sounded overly complicated. It’s quite simple really. I switch to my Gmail tab and e-mail ideas to myself. At some point I send a bunch of scheduling e-mails to Sandy. Then when they show up in my inbox, I write the post. And while I still forget some good ideas because I never wrote them down in the first place, this helps me keep a lot more of the good ones.

My Money Blog has also written about Sandy and has some suggestions for using her with another program called Jott. But that’s a whole different post.

Comments

  1. These are great ideas! I only just began to figure out some of the things Gmail can do.

    One thing I don’t understand, though, is why not use the programs that come with your computer? If you have a PC with Explorer, why not use Outlook? You can enter reminders in the appointment-scheduling function, tell it how long in advance you want to be reminded, and the reminder will pop up at the designated time–without your having to check an e-mail program. On the Mac, Safari’s iCal does the same thing.

    Outlook, it’s true, is a pain to set up. Possibly learning a new program like Sandy would be less hassle. But iCal works right out of the box.

    LOL! Being a cheapskate I don’t have a fancy cell phone with text messaging (and wouldn’t have a cell at all if pay telephones hadn’t gone extinct). So in the car I keep one of those small, 5 x 8-inch yellow pads and a pen to jot down notes. Being female and so being allowed to tote a purse everyplace I go (whee!), I also carry a small, inexpensive spiral-bound notepad in the saddlebag. The beauty of electronic notes, though, is that the machine will remind you, cutting the possibility that you’ll blithely forget to look at what you wrote down.

  2. Great tips Frugal Dad – I’ve actually not heard of Sandy yet.

    I’m quite new to the world of blogging, having only been at it for a few weeks now, but I find Google Docs to be extremely helpful in keeping my blogging activities organized. I simply set up a folder to keep all of my blog documents separate from my personal ones and it has worked wonders so far.

    I use the word processor to keep track of ideas for future posts and series and the spreadsheet to keep a tally of traffic statistics and revenue. As an added benefit, all of my documents are stored on Google’s servers and are accessible from any computer with an internet connection.

  3. These are some great tips, but I love my phone for organizing myself more. :) I didn’t exactly get my smart phone for the calendar function, but it does work wonderfully! I can also schedule tasks and memos if I ever need to, and since it’s my somewhat small cell phone, it’s always with me wherever I go.

  4. @VH, what I like about these programs is a) I don’t have to have another program open on the computer…I always have a browser open. And b) I can use them from anywhere. So if I’m somewhere without my computer, I can still schedule ideas right away.

  5. Thanks so much for this tip!
    I hadn’t heard of Sandy, but I signed up this afternoon and so far I love it! Started by asking her (?) to add “conversion of Outlook and RTM” to my ToDo list :)
    Pity she can’t send sms to Europe yet, I’ll have to find a workaround.

  6. Mrs. Micah – Excellent post! I’m glad to hear that I’m not the only one that has ideas that slip away. There are some that I’m 100% sure that I’ll never forget and 10 minutes later I can’t even remember the general topic. Having a system like this to capture ideas when they occur is essential.

  7. I’m w/ you on Gmail for sure! I actually just draft up the posts there, using html links, etc and all. Then when it’s time to post, i copy and paste (and tweak a little), and then go back and delete the draft.

    I initially emailed myself the ideas, posts, etc, but i always change things around depending on my mood ;)

    Oh, and if i just wanna remember a topic real quick or something, i just write it in the headline and save that – so i can go back later and remember.

  8. I never thought to create a new email address for post ideas! That’s a great idea. I love the filtering system, so I’ll definitely be doing this one.

    I’ve used Sandy before, but I’m not in love with it (or her – whatever). Being true to GTD, I prefer having everything in one place, so I think I’ll stick with Gmail.

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