Getting yourself organised for SXSW 2010

So the broad strokes are now in place. This weekend I booked my flights to Austin and South by Southwest 2010 (and added a few days in San Francisco and The Valley – get in touch if you want to ‘do coffee’); the hotel room was reserved as I left Austin last year (forward planning, got to love it); and the Platinum pass was sorted in November.

Now it gets interesting though, because it’s time to plan out and organise my time at SXSW. More than any other conference, SXSW Interactive is incredibly busy, with multiple and concurrent official sessions going on during the day, along with fringe events, various blogger lounges and a packed exhibition floor. And it doesn’t stop at the Convention Centre, because the evening is packed with events, meet n greets, parties, barbecues, award ceremonies and the occasional secret celebration (hint, it’s likely to be called 64-bit).

Add in the same mass of events from SXSW Film and SXSW Music and you have a jigsaw of planning that’s like a ten thousand piece picture of a herd of zebras.

Some planning is needed to make sure that you get the most from your time at SXSW. And that starts with working out what goal is in attending the event. If it’s simply to socialise and meet new people, that’s fine, just be aware of it. An if it’s more in-depth, that works as well.

I’d suggest that rather than do all this on the latest gee-whizz bit of tech you go for a paper and pencil approach. I’m a big Filofax user and you could go pick yourself up a nice one from the UK during the current sale (try the Metropol at £14 in Filofax’s current 40% off Sale), but you’ll get just as much practical benefit from a new Moleskinie Notebook.

The main benefit of any paper system is that it’s always with you no matter what computer you are on, it’s easily referenced while at the Conference, and it takes but a moment to note down something while on the run in Austin.

No matter what medium you choose, here’s how I would recommend splitting the sections down.

Filofax at SXSW

Daily Diary

Each day is spread over two pages that face each other. On the left hand side I note down the time and location of every major party or event that I come across in the weeks leading up to SXSW. Come the night, I have a relatively full list of parties and events and can choose then where I’ll be heading that night. It’s also great to be able to answer the question “what’s on tonight"?” which invariably gets asked a lot.

The right hand side is more personal. The top of the page has my actual appointments through the day, sessions I want to attend and any must go to events are noted here. The bottom of the page is a mix of sessions I’d like to go to and notes that are specific to that day (e.g. contact number of the restaurant where I might be running an event).

Things of Interest

As well as noting down the events and seminars, it’s worth remembering just how large SXSW is, and that not everything is going to be in the official program or on an Upcoming page. Set some pages aside after the diary pages for “things of interest.” I split them into Interactive, Film and Music, and again over two facing pages. Fill these in with half an eye on your personal goals for SXSW and you’ll have a ready made checklist when you’re left wondering what to do next.

People to See

Or as the Customs Officer might describe it, the stalking page. Who do you want to meet at SXSW? Who have you passed by on Twitter saying that you should hook up in Austin? And do you think you can remember every single name without a little bit of help? That’s what I use this page for – I’m never likely to win any memory contests, so I’ve no shame in getting them down on paper.

To Do List

My Filofax is set up to use the regular diary pages as a dated To-Do list, and this continues during SXSW, although it tends to be the more personal things on this page, like blog post deadlines and work that needs to be done.

Notebook

If you’re using a moleskine or other notebook, then the rest of the pages are going to be your notebook for the conference. At the end of it all, you’ll have all your experiences from before, during and after SXSW in one handy book for the shelf. My yearly storage folders for Filofax pages

Other Pages

I have two more pages I use in my Filofax at SXSW. The first is a simple expenses page so I can see what I’m spending – the ability to check back on previous years is helpful when setting a budget, and I have a second custom page which is a fold out timetable blocking out my time on an hourly basis for a much faster overview of my plans.

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So now you have a tool to help you make the most of SXSW. I’d recommend that you keep this close to your work computer, and just write in anything you find online about SXSW that feels important to you. Once you land in Austin, you’ll find that your time goes by so very quickly and you’ll be glad you’ve done some planning of things to see and do, while still retaining more than enough slack for the spontaneity that makes this one of the premier conferences in the year.