Help for December Holidays
Card writing. Gift buying. Gift shipping. Holiday dinners and other gatherings. Whether Christmas, Chanukah, Kwanzaa, New Year's, all of them or others, end-of-year holidays generally mean a stack of competing tasks that can tax a simple to-do list. This time of year, it's time to pull out the big gun in your organizational arsenal: project management.
Yes, project management -- but not some cumbersome, complex desktop app. This year I'm entering all my "milestones" and associated "to-do" lists into Basecamp, the lightweight Web project management tool that spawned the popular Ruby on Rails development framework.
Basecamp offers a free one-project account that lets you add milestones, associate to-do lists with each milestone and assign a to-do task to anyone in your account. (Adding people is also free.) There's a message section that lets you send out e-mail notes but also keep each message collected on the site.
You need a paid account in order to upload and share files within Basecamp, but a free whiteboard included in all accounts allows you to have links to external files (such as a spreadsheet or text document, which you could easily store and share using something like Google Docs).
I long found Basecamp frustrating because while the "milestones" had due dates, the to-do items didn't; which meant if I wanted e-mail reminders or a way to look at tasks by date, I needed to make them milestones and not simple tasks. And that somewhat defeated the purpose of organizing work within a project management tool. However, Basecamp just added dates to its to-do lists this week, and the developers say those will soon be appearing on the overall dashboard calendar as well.
Finally, there are the card and gift lists. I typically extract my annual card-mailing list from my overall database of family and friend addresses, and I keep my gift list in <shame>a looseleaf binder</shame>.
The card list has its flaws -- most notably that I just tag names to print out various mailing label groups (overseas, domestic) instead of keeping separate lists, and I invariably either forget a few people (not everyone in the database gets a card, since the database comes from my phone, and as much as I like the local pizza place, I'm not mailing them holiday greetings) or print up the wrong labels for the wrong people (for example, using the domestic address format for friends in Europe).
This year, though, I'm looking to organize it all in a database, so I can easily tag people for the right format and export the information properly.
My gift list is also moving to an online database. The plan is to tag people by holiday and location, so it'll be easy to see which gifts need to be purchased and shipped by what dates. That's still in the works, which will give me something to put on my Basecamp holiday to-do list for the Thanksgiving weekend.
I'm putting it all in a Zoho Creator database, the same app we use here at Computerworld for our database of product reviews. I could keep it all in an online spreadsheet, but the database offers additional flexibility for searching, sorting and filtering by multiple criteria.
I also like Zoho for its ease of development (drag-and-drop form creation, for instance); plus, you can export your data in multiple formats, and it runs on mobile devices. I expect mobile access to be useful not only for when I'm out at the stores trying to remember what to buy, but also throughout the coming year, since I jot down gift ideas whenever they come to me, not just in autumn.
A free Zoho Creator account will give you two users (you and someone else), three apps and up to 1,000 records, which should be plenty for most people's personal card and gift lists.
This story, "5 Free Web Apps to Help Organize Your Holidays" was originally published by Computerworld.