Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Information management for gardeners, part 1: managing tasks and projects

What happens when librarians become gardeners? No, we don't catalog our plants (well... at least *I* don't) or shush the birds (oh, wait... I have been known to yell, "Shut up!" at the crows when they start squawking outside my window at 5:30 AM on the one day a week I get to sleep in, those nasty, stinking... ) Er, wait... where was I? Oh, yeah... librarians as gardeners. When we librarians embrace a hobby, we do research--lots of research. As a result, we gather lots of information on our new passion--information that needs to be organized to be useful. Since it's a bit cold outside for gardening (understatement of the year), this is a good time to find some indoor activities till the temperature breaks 50 (probably sometime in March at the rate we're going). So, let's talk about how we gardeners can organize ourselves to support our hobby.

I can think of three areas in which we might have information to organize:

  • Planning
  • Managing tasks and projects
  • Organizing information for future reference

I'm not even going to attempt to talk about planning, because I'm awful at it. I occasionally map out my veggie beds with a pencil and graph paper, but mostly I just stick plants in where I think they'll grow well and look good, then spend the rest of the season complaining that they look funny and aren't doing well. My advice on planning is: Don't do what I do.

OK, one topic down, two to go...

Let's talk about managing the work of gardening. First, you need to know what you should be doing. I like to read lists of what I'm supposed to be doing in the garden, so I know exactly what I'm neglecting at any given time. It makes my guilt more specific. There are several good resources for finding out what should be done when:

  • The Oregon State University Extension Service posts monthly garden calendars for Oregon gardeners. Much of this information is probably also relevant for gardeners in Washington, parts of British Columbia, and extreme Northern California. If you live somewhere else, check your local Extension Service web site to see if they offer something similar.
  • The Homes & Gardens section of the Oregonian publishes seasonal garden planners, which are linked from the section web site. Look near the bottom, under Special Sections. Other newspapers may offer similar resources too.
  • Books such as this one:

    Searching Amazon for "gardening month by month" will pull up similar books for other regions.

Once you know what you're supposed to be doing, how do you remember to do all that, along with all the projects you dream up for your garden? I spend lots of time in the winter, thinking up cool things to do once the weather gets warm. By the time spring rolls around, I've forgotten half of those good ideas. Once again: Don't do what I do. Or, don't do what I *did*. I've started using a personal information management system to manage my gardening to-do list. Now I know precisely, at any given moment, exactly how far behind I am in my yard work. It keeps me humble.

Care to join me in the exciting world of web 2.0 tools for task management? You could start by reading that modern classic, Getting Things Done:

If you'd rather skip the self-improvement book, just dive right in. You can use whatever system you use for managing other tasks (e.g. day planner, Outlook, nagging spouse) or try out one of these tools:

  • Airset: Airset is designed to help families and small organizations manage their calendars, tasks, and communication. My family uses it, so I enter my garden to-do list there, keeping all my information in one system. I especially like the fact that it sends me my schedule and reminders via text message.
  • Remember the Milk: This site focuses on task management, rather than including calendaring or other features. One of my co-workers swears by it.
  • BackPack: BackPack lets you manage to-do lists, notes, calendar, and more.

That's enough for today. Next time I'll talk about how to organize all your gardening-related information so you can actually find the item you need when you need it. Till then, curl up with a mug of cocoa and some seed catalogs, and indulge your wildest (gardening-related) fantasies. (Keep your other fantasies to yourself!)

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