The book and system Getting Things Done (GTD) has been around for so long that I used to assume that everyone knew of it and used it. Lately I’ve been reminded that is not true.
Well, if you haven’t heard of GTD and forgot about it, this primer on it may be just the things you need to (re)acquaint yourself with it.
I have issues with GTD, but if you are someone who feels like you can never get all the things you have to do organized and get yourself feeling productive, then get using GTD. You will get more productive, for sure.
If you’re like me, your work desk could use an upgrade. Maybe it’s too cluttered. Maybe your tech is looking a bit shabby. Either way, I recommend you go see these top 10 desk accessories to level up your work from home productivity over at Yanko Design. For example, the organizer above is a nice way to get things off your desk.
And this keyboard below looks like it would be an improvement on the one you currently have:
Hey, new stuff isn’t everything, but it could be just the thing to make you a bit more productive and happier when you sit down at your desk to work.
If you find yourself struggling with too many digital tools that don’t seem to help with being productive, consider this tool: Analog: The Simplest Productivity System – Ugmonk.
It’s a very smart, very simple, and dare I say very productive way to get work done. If you love simplicity or love paper or both, then you owe it to yourself to check it out.
I linked to one of the images, but you really want to see all it is capable of by going to their site.
Hey, I know there is no one tool that will make you productive. But some tools are better than others, and you could find that Analog is one of those tools.
With all the ways people can reach you, you may find that you spend much of your time responding to requests and less time doing work you consider productive. Being responsive is good but not at the cost of being unproductive. If that sounds like you, I recommend you read this: I’m Not Sorry for My Delay – The Atlantic.
Much of the time we respond quickly because we feel we must. Being able to comfortably separate the times we must respond quickly versus the times we can respond slower is a worthwhile thing to cultivate. Reading that article can help you get there.
It’s true: we can all get more done if we adopt Kanban boards, as this piece in TechRepublic argues. While todo lists are good, Kanban boards give you more. They show you your backlog (more or less your todo list). But they also show you todos in progress and what state they are in. That’s good. They’re more flexible than a project plan, which is great for when you aren’t sure of what it takes to get done. In effect, they lie somewhere between a todo list and a project plan.
Kanban boards are also good for prioritizing long lists of todos. The tasks that leave the backlog are the ones you have decided are the most important. That’s useful, especially if you are trying to communicate to someone else what is happening and what is on hold.
Kanban boards also give you a sense of progress. Sure there may be lots of things to do, but over time the Done column fills up. It can give you a real sense of accomplishment.
They have weaknesses though. If the tasks you include are too big, they may sit in one column for a long time. If the tasks are too small, they move quickly from backlog to done. That said, those weaknesses can turn into strengths. Items that are too big should be broken down into parts. Small items can be lumped together with larger items or left off all together.
There’s lots of ways to create a Kanban board. Simply sticky notes can work. You can use a window or whiteboard or even fridge to attached them too. You can also use software tools. You can set up a spreadsheet with the various columns. You can use a tool like Workflowy to manage them. Trello boards are another source. You can even build your own, like I did using IBM Cloud years ago.
While it may seem that they are tools for IT only, they actually can be used by anyone. For anything. Moving your home? Use a Kanban tool. Planning a trip? Kanban it. Staging a big event? Well, you know.
So get out your todo list or your project plan and turn it into a Kanban board. You will see results soon enough.
(Image from the TechRepublic article)
I know that sounds contradictory, but if you think about it and read this you will see it makes sense: Want to Be More Productive? Try Doing Less.
If you are like me and a lot of people, you take on many (too many) assignments and tasks. You feel like you are getting a lot done but it may not seem satisfying or even worthwhile. If so, take the approach outlined in the article and focus on a few things and cut out the clutter.
More and more I find the secret of being successful is saying no to most things. You need to Marie Kondo your todo list and work on the tasks that bring you joy. It’s not always possible, but more possible than you think.
(Photo by Fernando Hernandez on Unsplash )
Whenever I get stuck and feel unmotivated, I write up a list of five things to do. I recommend you do this too. The list can be trivial tasks that can be done in a minute. Nevermind, just write them down. Then do them. Then take a break and congratulate yourself! Only moments earlier you were not able to do anything and you just did 5 things!
Here’s some things you can put on your list if you can’t think of anything:
- Take deep breaths
- Drink some water
- Have a snack
- Empty the garbage
- Tidy your desk
- Email a quick thank you/note of appreciation to someone
- Water your plants and see how they are doing
- Eat a piece of fruit
- Read something inspiration
- Write something inspirational for you to read tomorrow
- Delete unwanted emails
- Unsubscribe to unwanted emails
- Check your spam folder for important emails
- Declutter your desktop a bit / a lot
- Change into better clothes
- Wash your face
- Brush your teeth
- Sweep or clean an area of your home
- Plan to do something you enjoy
You can easily pull five things out of that list.
Once you get the five done, do five more. Maybe you now have the momentum to tackle something bigger? Great, then do that!
I find this technique good when my energy levels are low, or if my todo list seems daunting. Give it a try: you might find yourself getting more things done.
(Photo by ANIRUDH on Unsplash)
There are two things I struggle with when it comes to the pomodoro technique and maybe you struggle with them too. First thing is the length of the pomodoro: 25 minutes is a loooong stretch for me somedays. Sometimes I may not even be able to do 5 minutes at a time. Second thing is that the timer is a distraction: I keep checking the time versus focusing what I am supposed to be doing.
If you also struggle with that, then read this: I Created The Best-Ever Pomodoro Timer, Just For You by Clive Thompson. Clive has the same problems I have and he writes about them there. Better still, he made a better pomodoro timer. Go check it out.
Your week will be more focused and productive because of it.
(Photo by Veri Ivanova on Unsplash)
It’s Monday. You are trying to plan your day, your week, and you are struggling. It may just be you, but chances are it is the act of writing out your todo list. To see what I mean, read this excellent piece by my online friend and great writer, Clive Thompson. Everyone struggles with todo lists and the tools used to work with them. I know I do. I have used many such tools over time and have never landed on the perfect one.
So here’s what I recommend:
- First, acknowledge todolist tools are blunt instruments at best. Don’t try too hard to do everything with one tool. Do the best you can.
- Second, acknowledge that it is easy to overwhelm todo list tools with data. When you do, you end up spending more time working with the tool then getting things done. Try to hold back.
- Third, understand the level of granularity to require. Start high level on your todo lists and then drill down only if you have to.
- Finally, separate planning and reporting from todo lists. Your plans should drive your todo lists. Focus on more on achieving your plans and your goals and less on your tasks. Then when you are done, report what is necessary.
Todo list tools are good to help you achieve your tasks. But focus less on your tasks and tools and more on what you are trying to achieve.
(Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash )
It’s Monday. You have a work week ahead of you. Here’s a good essay by Paul Graham on: How to Work Hard – Paul Graham
I often disagree with Graham on Twitter and you may too. However don’t be put off by that: his essays tend to be well thought out and worthy of a read and your consideration.
As for me, where I learned how to work hard effectively is during marathon training. Training for a marathon is a form of hard work. I would argue it is the best form of hard work. Here’s why.
For marathon training, you need:
- a clear goal. For many people, it is to finish the marathon. Or to finish it under a certain time. There are subgoals too: not get injured during the race, or to race easy, or to have a negative split. To work hard effectively, you need goals and subgoals
- a well thought out plan. People who train effectively for a marathon have a well thought out plan to achieve their goal. These plans can be anywhere from 12-20 weeks and describe what you are doing each day. The plan is often broken up into phase: a phase where you build up your mileage, a phase where you work to get faster, and a tapering phase. A good training plan gets you much closer to achieving your goal.
- A mix of hard and easy training. No one goes hard every day in marathon training. You will fail if you do. Overall the training is hard, but there are many days where it is easy. Days your body gets to recover. Some days you may not train at all. The most effective way to work hard over a long period of time is to mix in easy periods.
- A good amount of fun and variety. Yes, good marathon training has fun and variety mixed in. It’s not the same every day. It’s not all a grind. Good marathon runners will run fartleks for fun or run with friends to help keep their spirits up. They might mix in some cross training. They rarely run the same distance every day.
- Passion and vision. More than anything, you need these. You need to have a strong desire to get through the training. A desire that gets you out of bed for those long runs when you really don’t want to. You need to have a vision of where you will end up when you complete the training. Successful marathoners see themselves reaching that goal most days of their training. It’s the thing that gets them excited to run the same routes over and over again. It’s the thing that gets them pumped when they have to charge up hills. Preparing for a marathon can’t feel like a job if you are going to do it well.
Now ask yourself about hard work that you have to do? Do you have those things. That hard project you have in front of you: are you passionate about it? Do you have a vision of what completing it looks like? Do you have a clear goal and a well thought out plan? Do you have a practice of taking breaks, or is it full tilt all the time? Is it merely a grind, or do you have fun and variety in it? If you have all the features of marathon training in your plan, chances are you will be able to work hard, very hard, and be successful.
Do work hard poorly is to waste yourself, to waste your life. Don’t do that. Work hard effectively and make the most of your life. Good luck!
(Photo by Capstone Events on Unsplash )
It’s Monday. You are only working five hours today, right? I bring this up because I recently read this piece in Wired on how that is the right amount of hours to work each day, and how people who worked that way were more productive.
Of course there are a few caveats. For one thing, many jobs are not mainly focused on being productive. Anyone who has a job that requires many meetings can tell you that. But if you have a job that is largely focused on producing things, then try and limit yourself to five hours.
(Photo by ANIRUDH on Unsplash )
And by feed it I don’t mean drink more coffee. I mean eat foods that have been shown to help our brains work better. The author of this piece ate food considered best for our brains for a week and recorded what happened. Surprise: you don’t turn into a genius. But you will see some benefits. And that’s a good thing.
(Image from healthline.com)
This is actually a great looking set of tools to help you work from home: Eight apps to help you stay focused when working from home – The Globe and Mail
Normally when I see such a list — and there have been many — I see the same tools over and over again. Not with this list. Moreover, they are a diverse set of tools to help with various difficulties when you work from home.
Have a look. I’d be surprised if there isn’t one there you could use.
Are you one of those people who have hundreds if not thousands of emails in your inbox? Would you like to get down to Inbox Zero? Or Maybe Inbox 99? If so, try this approach:
1) First, for these next few steps, you will not open or read ANY emails. Just look at your inbox.
2) Second, sort your emails by sender. Go through and delete all emails you don’t need: email from people you don’t know or don’t care to respond to, emails from mailing lists (don’t worry, they will send you more), unsolicited email, spam, emails from your ex, etc. Delete delete delete. Read nothing.
3) Third, sort your emails by date. Delete all emails that are a year old or more. Can’t bear to do that for some reason? Then if you must, create a folder called “Attic” or “Basement” and put them there. (You will no more read them then you will look at the stuff you have stuffed in your real attic or basement either, but if it makes you feel better). Again, no reading: delete or file.
4) Ok, you have emails from the past year. Go through and sort them by subject. See all those emails with the same subject, or the “re: re:…”. Chances are you only need to keep one of those. Then delete the rest.
5) Now sort them again by date. Go to the oldest. For everyone you see, ask yourself: is this referring to something that’s over or resolved? If so, delete it or put it in the Attic folder.
6) Go through emails from newsletters. Open only to UNSUBSCRIBE. Otherwise delete.
7) Reminders for bills, etc. Write that down then file or delete.
8) Meetings that have past? Delete.
Now whatever emails you have, you can open. Try to skim them, but do this:
1) If it is an FYI, file or delete. Do NOT reply.
2) If someone did you a favor or a service, reply through non-email: a message, text or phone message even. Do not reply by email.
3) If it is a complex email, figure out what the ACTUAL request is. Write it down. Send them an email just with the request and your response; file or delete the other email.
Now the only emails you have left that are either from colleagues or family and friends. Deal with the most important ones first. Of those, make lists of what they are asking. Then consider whether to just deal with them the next time you see them. Whenever possible, do not reply via email.
By this point you should have alot less email. Look at you being all productive and efficient. Congrats! You did good.
For fans (or critics) of productivity books, here’s a review of “Smarter Faster Better: The Secrets of Being Productive in Life and Business” in The New Yorker.
It’s a good review of such a book. Better than the usual synopsis. Also good to think about on a Monday as you roll into work and figure out how you are going to tackle – or avoid – the week and what it entails.
Easy. Don’t make these mistakes: These Seven To-Do List Mistakes Could Be Derailing Your Productivity
What should you do?
1. Write your lists the day before
2. Don’t have too many items
3. Have items you can truly do that day
4. Prioritize items
5. Be specific
6. Create a fresh list each day
7. Link it to your calendar
If you need guidance, see the article.
It’s a skill writing a good todo list. Having better ones means you have a better or at least a more productive day.
As someone who is in the maximalist camp (as opposed to the minimalist camp) I love this idea: Why I Use 3 Monitors to Boost Productivity (And You Should, Too) | Inc.com. It’s hard to pull off at home, but I have such a set up at home and it really does work. I have a monitor off to the side for messaging systems and email, I have a second monitor attached to my laptop which I use for what I am focused on, and I have my laptop screen I use for supporting my focus work.
True, if you have a Mac, you can have multiple Desktops and easily swipe from one to the other. I do that in workspaces where I can’t have multiple physical monitors. When I can have them, I like the multiple physical monitor approach. Frankly, I would like to have even more!
The pomodoro approach to work seems smart. You set a timer for 25 to focus on a task. When the timer goes off, you take a 5 minute break. Then you repeat this process.
When I first heard of it, I thought: what a great idea! I tried it a number of times and failed. The reason I failed, and why you may be failing, is that I cannot focus for 25 minutes. It’s sad, but true.
The simple trick that works for me is to adjust the times from 25:5 to 15:5. I find I can focus for 15, and a 5 minute break is just enough.
I find that even though I take more breaks, I also have more focus time throughout the day, which means I still benefit. Plus, once I get on a roll, I skip some of the breaks.
If you want to get on and stay on the pomodoro bandwagon, adjust your focus time until you find your sweet spot. Your overall productivity will go up, I’m sure.
A smart approach to managing your time is allocating no more than 20 minutes to any task you need to do. So says this: Everything should take 20 minutes | The Outline.
The reasoning in a nutshell:
Think about a task you wish to or must complete, and imagine how long it should take you. If you are a right-thinking person like myself, the answer is “20 minutes.” A 10-minute task is hardly a task at all, more of a minor interruption, and anything that takes 30 minutes invites the thought that you could have watched a half-hour episode of television instead. Twenty minutes is, objectively, the ideal amount of time — the Goldilocks number when it comes to doing things.
Now you can quibble about it, but it’s a smart rule. If you are still unsure, read the piece.
You can use Spotify to listen to music while you work. But sometime music can be distracting. Sometime all you want is to drown out the sounds in your work environment. During those times, a good alternative to music is rain sounds. Spotify has a lot of different rain sounds to choose from. Well worth trying for those noisy work spaces that you need to be productive in.
Another good way to be productive is to use the Flow desktop app for the Mac. I’ve tried many a timer app and I like this one best. It is simple to get started with. It reminds you when to take a break and when to work, but let’s you chose if you want to get back into the flow. It can block out certain apps that might prevent you from being productive, like your browser. Also worth a look.
(Image from pexels.com)
This is a really good list of apps that will make you life and your work more productive: 17 Great Apps That’ll Make Your Life Easier.
I’ve used a number of them and have found them helpful. You may not use them all, but even adding 2 or 3 to your toolbox will make you better.
I’ve had this saved from some time ago but I want to post it for two reasons: The Modern Meeting: Call In, Turn Off, Tune Out – The New York Times.
One reason is just as a placeholder for how work is now in this time period. I will be happy to go back in five or ten years from now and see how much has changed.
The second reason is that no matter what happens in five or ten years from now, people who work in offices will always struggle with meetings. There is no solution to effective meetings: there is only managing your time and how best to be effective in the time you are working and meeting. If you work with people, you will have meetings. Nowadays you have too many meetings and you need to manage them and your time as best as you can.
Once meetings were hard to schedule. There were no digital calendars, no videoconferencing. You had to call or talk to someone and arrange to meet them, they would write it down on a piece of paper, and then physically show up and have the meeting. You likely worked with a limited number of people. And even then, even though they were hard to set up, meetings were a pain. Meetings will always be a pain. If they weren’t occasionally useful, no one would ever have them.
But meetings are occasionally useful. Sometimes they are essential. As long as people work together, there will be meetings. If you are working on many different things with many different people, you will have many meetings. Try to be as effective as you can in them. For those holding the meeting, don’t expect so much of people: get what you can and then end the meeting.
According to this piece:
Some to-do list tools are better than others. Check out 10 of the best to-do list tools to determine which may be right for you in 2018.
— Read on blog.hubspot.com/marketing/best-to-do-list-apps-tools
I’ve used a number of these and it makes me vouch for this list. That said, there are lots of apps you can get for to do lists that are free, so don’t think you have to pay money to get a good app to do this work.
Also consider other tools, like Evernote. Evernote is more than a todo list app, but it does that well.
Finally consider using Excel or Google sheets.
Whatever works best for you is the best app.
We all get in ruts where we use the same tools every day for our office work. When that happens, what we need is someone to come along with a new list of tools and what makes them great.
Here is such a list. I didn’t create it, but I have used 3 of the 11 tools here and I can say they are key to making me more productive every day. I plan to use the rest of them too, based on the description of them.
Sure, you can do fine with Microsoft Office tools. This list will help you do better: 11 Most Used Tools & Apps Essential to my Work – DESK Magazine
(Image via pexels.com)
Economists write a lot about the mystery of why productivity is not increasing, with pieces such as this. There’s even a section on it in Wikipedia.
My own theory is that limited wage increases is also limiting the benefits of productivity aids. How I think this works is so:
- Employers wont raise wages for employees.
- Employers deploy technology that should result in productivity gains.
- Employees take the technology deployed and use them to decrease their efforts.
- The employer sees some productivity gains and assumes that is the limit for the technology deployed.
Look at this chart:
In much of the world economy, all the job growth is in the services sector (green line), not the manufacturing sector (red line). Achieving productivity gains in the manufacturing sector is more straightforward: replace people with robots and you are done. It’s not as straightforward as that in the services sector. In some services sector jobs, it is not possible to decrease effort without it being visible. But in many services sector jobs, it is. If employees cannot improve their lives by making more money, they may decide to do so by working less and working right up to the point where they don’t lose their job.
If you look at employment as a game, then we currently have a Nash equilibrium where the employees know that they won’t get paid more working for the same company, because that is the best strategy for the company. Therefore the best strategy for the employee is to minimize their effort without getting fired and while showing little if any productivity gains.
That’s to me is key reason why I think we have the productivity paradox.
I would add that the reason this is a paradox is because no one wants to admit that this is happening. It seems like a failure on both the employers and the employees side. The employee wants to be seen as a good worker and the employer doesn’t want to admit it could be paying more. Instead technology is brought in to solve an organizational problem, which is something technology cannot do.
(Chart from Business Insider).
My new favorite productivity tool is this site: E.gg Timer – a simple countdown timer. Whenever I am procrastinating, I will use it to get myself to focus by starting it for 5, 10, or more minutes and telling myself: I will focus until the timer goes off. I have found this approach very effective, and this site helps me. It also helps because if I find myself going to my browser to mindlessly go on some time wasting site (hello, Twitter!) I will see this and I will remember to focus.
Fans of the pomodoro technique will see there is a special timer just for it.
As a bonus, you can use it to do a high intensity tabata workout.
Great tool. Highly recommended.
It does sound too good to be true, and no, I haven’t tried it, but if you want to change your work routine, consider the pomodoro technique.
If you are still interested, there is an article on it: The Simple Technique To Fit A 40-Hour Workweek Into 16.7 Hours. I find it hard to believe, but for some of you, it may just be the thing you need to improve your work life.
Vox raises that question here: All this digital technology isn’t making us more productive – Vox, and it implies that because people are slacking off on the Internet. I think that is incorrect, and here’s why.
The chart that Vox piece has shows big producitivity gains from 1998-2003 and smaller gains after that.
From 1998-2003 was the peak adoption of the Internet by companies. In the early 1990s, companies started to adopt email. In the later 1990s companies started adopting the Web. To me it is not surprising that companies would become more productive and they shifted away from snail mail and faxes to email. And then companies shifted further and started offering services over the Web, I imagine they became much more productive.
Slacking off on the Internet has been a problem since the Web came along. I know, because I used to monitor web server traffic. I don’t think that is the issue.
I think it is more likely that companies grabbed the big productivity gains from the Internet at the beginning, and then those gains slowed down after.
So what about smartphones? Have they made people more productive? I think they have, but I also think that the gains in being able to access information remotely may have been overtaken by the sheer amount of information to deal with. Being able to deal with email remotely makes you productive. Having to deal with way more email than you ever had to in the 1990s because now everyone has it makes you unproductive.
Furthermore, many of the features on smartphones are aimed at personal use, not professional use. I think smartphones make us more productive personally, but less so professionall.y
The folks at Buffer have put together a very big list of 100 tools, tips and tricks to work more efficiently online. I have gone over it and there are lots and lots of good tools and tips and other advice to help you be more productive and get the most out of being online. Stop wasting time on social media** and start being more productive by clicking on that link now.
** Reading this blog does not count as wasting time on social media. 🙂
Chances are, if you talk to five different people at work, you will find five tools or techniques they use to be productive that you hadn’t even heard of.
Rather than do your own polling, you can also check out this article: Most Popular Apps Employees Use At Work – Business Insider.
Remember, these are just for work, and yes, Facebook still shows up there. And this is just the cloud / distributed services. (Also, I am wondering Evernote didn’t show up there.)
I would be surprised if you read it and didn’t adopt at least one of the items on the list by the end of your work day. Good luck.
Yesterday was about ifttt. Today it is all about another great tool I highly depend on: Evernote. Evernote has become my go to tool for capturing information. (Bonus: it works great with ifttt). There are many great ways of using Evernote. If you are using it or planning to, here are at 10 for starters: 10 Tips On How to Use Evernote To Its Fullest « The Solopreneur Life®.
Please share any other tips you have. I find the one key tip I have for users of Evernote is this: the more you use it, the better it gets.
My new favourite app for beating procrastination is the 30/30 app from the good folks at binary hammer. I often find I get distracted from the list of things I have to do. With the 30/30 app, I can create a simple list of tasks, each with an amount of time to do them in. Once I start the list, the app shows me how much time I have to complete each item on the list. I can add if I want, or if I finish early, I can check it off (and the task moves down to the Completed section below the line). The result: I am better able to focus on the task list I have to do.
The app works on the iPad and the iPhone. The interface is superb. And it’s free! I highly recommend it.
For more on the app, you can go to the binary hammer web site (link above) or you can go here: 30/30 on the App Store on iTunes
I just started using Notability in the last few weeks on my iPad and I love it. It allows me to quickly and easily capture notes while I am interviewing clients or jotting down ideas during work. I can type in text or I can use a stylus and draw/scribble my notes and drawings. I can also take photos of things and then scribble on them. I can capture audio if I want too. There’s alot of ways to capture information.
Once I capture the info, I can either leave it on my iPad, email it to myself, or use any number of cloud services (e.g., Dropbox) to save the output. The output can be PDF, RTF or other formats.
It’s a great app, and I didn’t hesitate to pay the $2.99 for it. But now it is free, there is no reason for you not to download a copy and try it. I bet you will love it.
For more info, check out the iPad App Store or read more about it here: ‘Notability’ Named App of the Week, Available for Free – Mac Rumors