David Allen’s Getting Things Done was my first foray into productivity literature. I loved it and should have been a paid seminar leader for as many people as I told about it. GTD was the impetus behind me finally getting my email under control and collecting all my to-do’s into one trusted system. I had these habits prior to experimenting. The GTD habit I didn’t have was a weekly review.
I became overwhelmed by the process of reviewing all potential to-do’s each week as part of the GTD process and so I just didn’t do it. Unfortunately, that meant that I wasn’t reviewing my calendar or projects for the upcoming week. I was often finding myself surprised that I couldn’t get to a number of tasks I planned because I had forgotten about prior commitments.
Using a paper planner during my experiments convinced me weekly planning was important. Now I have the habit of planning my week each Sunday. I actually look forward to it! I review my calendar, projects, and life areas in ToDoist, and even Pinterest ideas that are sorted into corresponding secret boards. Rather than overwhelming me, a weekly planning session (or review) helps me feel in control. I can set weekly goals and make sure that the tasks I can reasonably accomplish in the upcoming week are visible. The rest are put aside. I no longer have calendar surprises! For more on my weekly planning process, read this post.
If you aren’t getting much accomplished in a given week, try a weekly planning session. Just 30 minutes of planning will be a wonderful investment in your productivity.
#2 Schedule your day
Before my year of productivity, I wasn’t really wild about scheduling my days. It felt too restrictive for this spontaneous, time-rebel woman. I did love my week of using SmartDay, an iOS app that automatically places to-do’s around scheduled activities. But my passion for the habit of scheduling my days didn’t reach its peak until after the series was over.
The first thing that convinced me of the value of scheduling was Francis Wade’s post that has been hugely popular on this blog. I thought I needed to revisit the idea and I did begin using SmartDay more frequently. But it wasn’t until I read this article about how the president’s day is scheduled that I realized that I needed that kind of productivity. While I don’t have an assistant who schedules for me, I am that assistant.
About the time that I read this article, I heard about an iOS scheduling app very similar to SmartDay called Timeful. I love it! Each morning I put together the day’s agenda based on my weekly plan. When each new activity is supposed to start, Timeful plays a pleasant tone on my phone. Unlike a paper schedule, Timeful makes it easy to move things around and change the amount of time I plan to devote to them. Timeful reigns me in when I start off thinking I can easily finish 101 tasks in a day; they just won’t fit in the calendar! If I want to leave times open in my schedule, Timeful makes suggestions and learns from my behavior when I am most likely to want to do tasks. The bonus is Timeful can be used to schedule goals as well. I don’t think I’ve ever completed the schedule as written, but here’s why this doesn’t discourage me: I accomplish more in half a day that’s been scheduled than I do in an entire day just working from a to-do list. I created a Timeful calendar in GCal and now also have a record of how I’ve spent my time.
If you need to get more done, try scheduling your day. Even old-fashioned paper will work!
Similarly, I learned that trying to get myself to do high-energy tasks in the evening was a waste of time–no matter how ideal it would be. Evenings are now saved for social media, schlepping kids to activities (when I can’t talk my husband into doing it), and family fun. That understanding enabled me to stop being so mad at myself for “not getting anything done” in the evenings.
But I was left with a dilemma. I am writing a homeschool curriculum–a major undertaking. I kept trying to find a time to work on it in my daily schedule. Morning was an obvious choice, but it wasn’t working for me at all. I can find morning time to exercise, do devotions, and chat with my husband, but not for writing. I tried getting up even earlier during the course of my year of productivity and found I was crashing mid-morning. I’ve already made it clear that I’m worthless most evenings, but I thought I would just have to force myself to write at night. You can imagine how that went. I realized that the ideal time for me to write was early afternoon. Yes, I just said that I didn’t like to teach aversive subjects in the afternoon, but that’s teaching after a full morning. I have always longed to write in the afternoon, but felt guilty about it. After reviewing other homeschooling mothers’ schedules (who have many children and blog, too), I realized I was not only spending more time doing hands-on teaching than they were, but than most public school teachers! I reevaluated my teaching schedule, made some changes to encourage more independent learning, and started writing in the afternoons. I have written every single day since making the change and feel energized while doing so!
If you are struggling to get things done, build a routine around your energy levels. Keep experimenting until you find the right combination of times and tasks.
#4 Work little and often
It’s a waste of time to try and figure out why you procrastinate on some tasks. Yes, I’m a psychologist and I’m saying that! I have no idea why I hate mailing things so much, but I do. I would rather take a paper and drive it across town. It’s weird. But during my year of living productively, I discovered a solution: just do a little and do it often.
I discovered that I could get things mailed if I counted any tiny step as done for the day. I would find an envelope and re-date the mailing task for the next day when I would put a stamp on it. Yep, it’s ridiculous, but it worked. Before I started practicing little and often, I would have items to be mailed sitting for weeks. Now when I come across a scheduled task that I’m putting off, I will count any little step as done for the day. Fortunately, I don’t have to do this often, but it makes a world of difference to do something. The next day when I’m faced with the same task, it feels less onerous because “I’ve already started it.” Even though Pomodoros were a separate weekly experiment during the year of productivity, they’re effective for the same reason. For a particularly aversive task, I will set the timer for five minutes and call it done.
Do you keep facing the same yucky task day after day? Do five minutes or one tiny step on it and count it done! Repeat tomorrow.
#5 Do it now
My week of doing it now appealed to readers and even my kids who loved this video. I can be doing a great job with my schedule, but if I don’t do the little tasks when they need to be done, I can easily find myself overwhelmed. I’m talking about things like adding things to shopping lists as you see you need them, putting clothes away as you take them off, and cleaning up messes as you make them. David Allen recommends doing tasks that took less then two minutes. I think that’s a fine rule, but even better is to do tasks now if now is the best time to do them. We will not have more time later!
Some quick tasks are better batched. Paying bills is a good example. I pay bills online on Mondays. Even though it would take me just a minute to pay a bill I receive on a Tuesday, I don’t. But if I spill a box of cereal, I’ll clean it up now. I won’t wait until kitchen clean up day. Does this seem obvious? I become an imbecile when it comes to these things.
If tasks are starting to pile up, do them now if now is the best time to do them.
#6 Ask for help
I have my kids do chores and my husband is a big help, but I rarely ask for help in other ways. During my weekly experiment, I learned how important delegating can be to get more done. But in the months since my experimenting, I have learned that asking for help can be an even more powerful way of accomplishing things.
Because I didn’t have the ask-for-help habit, I wasted a lot of time doing things myself or doing them the hard way. I recently found another example of how my behavior hurt my productivity. I had been wishing for an iOS app that would enable me to process my to-do’s. I had to wait to use the desktop to get them into ToDoist. I also wished that there were an iPhone app that would allow me to attach photos or files to email automatically. Mike Vardy mentioned Dispatch in the ToDoist Google+ group. Turns out, it does everything I need it to do. I could have been enjoying the faster email processing if I had only asked if there were apps that did what I needed. It’s a hard habit to break, but I’m trying to ask people for help more often.
I’ve also learned to ask for help from God. I have always been willing to ask God for help for medical and relationship and even emotional issues. But not to-do’s. When it came to tasks, deep down I felt that I had no business asking God for help. I just needed to work harder, stop procrastinating, and stop watching cat videos. If I asked for help, that’s what He would say anyway, isn’t it? It turns out that God is much less of a task master than I am. Even when I waste time, God wants to help me. He doesn’t want me to be a self-reliant Christian, but to get to know how good He really is. He has canceled appointments when I’m overbooked, left the stoplights on green, and even given me a close parking space when I asked. Asking God for help with all the little to-do’s is a habit I’m in the process of developing. God is in the process of using it to develop me.
If you don’t know what to do first, try going to God! Ask Him for help, even if you’ve been on a cat video marathon.
Which of these habits do you need to develop most? Or is there another habit that helps you get more done?
Our family has been watching America’s Got Talent for the first time this season and it’s been enjoyable. But I think the most valuable aspect of watching for me is what it’s taught me about personal productivity. Whether you’ve seen the show or not, you may appreciate what you can learn from it, too.
#1 It’s okay to let a lot of tasks audition for your attention
The AGT season begins with auditions in front of the judges and a live audience for acts that have made it through the city auditions. The judges approve a high percentage of these acts; they all seem great! What’s remarkable (and sometimes wearying) is how many acts are allowed to audition.
This first round is like our task inbox. The majority of the potential tasks, projects, and opportunities presented to us should go into our inbox so we can consider them again. While the number of possibilities can be tiring, I like to keep my inbox open to them. A point of clarification: urgent tasks wouldn’t be put in the inbox (AGT is an entertainment venue, not an urgent care clinic).
#2 Give tasks a second critical audition
There are a small number of acts (eight this year) that are allowed to audition at Radio City Music Hall without a second audition, but there are none that aren’t given a second consideration. These eight fortunate acts were discussed by the judges and were given a free pass where Judgment Week was concerned. All the rest auditioned for the judges, and only the judges, again. There is something about the second look that makes the judges wonder what they were thinking when they put them through in the first place. Removed from the emotion of the crowd, the judges are able to discern which acts are most likely to achieve their goal of discovering a million-dollar act. A sizable portion of the acts are dismissed at this point.
With fresh eyes, we will also recognize immediately when an “act” in our inbox needs to end its journey with us. Time to allow emotion to cool and a quiet space can likewise help us determine if an item is a clear winner because it will help us reach our goals. I prefer to pass judgment on my tasks in the quiet of my family room the next morning.
#3 Limit the number of tasks in each genre
AGT is seeking a variety of acts for its finalists. They wouldn’t want 20 singers and 4 dance acts, because it wouldn’t be as exciting as a few singers, a few dancers, a few comedians, and a few magicians.
Variety is the goal for most of us, too. We all have life areas that are our genres. Some of mine include homeschooling, blogging, writing, relationships, and church. Blogging is an area I tend to have too many “acts” in. I have to eliminate some of them so I have more great relationship acts in my life. I can easily see how many tasks of each genre I have by assigning them a category. I do this in ToDoist, but nearly any application or paper list will work. I’m happier and healthier when I have balance.
#4 Get input from another audition
At Radio City Music Hall, each act once again has the benefit of a live audience, but is now judged by America. More than half of the acts are eliminated by this vote.
It’s easy to add tasks to a list and neatly categorize them, but that won’t mean they’ll go any further. We need to review them again and get input to trim the list . It would be interesting for me to have my readers vote each week on which tasks I should do, but not very practical. However, I can get valuable input during my weekly review. My husband’s vote carries great weight with me, because he not only cares about my life balance, but about my goals. Looking over my upcoming commitments is also a vote for certain tasks over others. The calendar can dictate which tasks go on. Finally, I consider past results to help me differentiate the winners. For example, when considering a long list of potential blog post topics, I review Google analytics for my most popular posts to decide which ideas will go forward.
#5 Choose a small number of finalists after yet another audition
AGT will continue having auditions and votes and judge input until a small pool of finalists is chosen. With time, more opportunities to see the acts, and a limited number of finalist spots, choosing often seems easier.
My week seems to have plenty of time, but my days–not so much. I plan my day each morning and often decide that the task I added to DayMap for the day isn’t going through. Like the AGT judges, I would love to keep so many of these options, but there isn’t room for them all in my life. I limit tasks using a scheduling app that I will tell you about soon. The winners are the tasks I actually do, with most of them hopefully helping me reach my goals.
#6 Let tasks audition again in the future
A number of acts that make it through in AGT were cut in previous seasons. Either the time wasn’t right, the act wasn’t, or the judging was different.
Cutting tasks from our list doesn’t mean they’ll never be winners. That’s what a Someday/Maybe list is for. I keep the tasks that didn’t make it in Evernote. There are too many of them to review every week, but I can easily add a tickler date to them so they can audition for my attention again.
Consider which of these lessons has the most potential to increase your productivity and put it into practice this week. Let me know how it goes!
I needed more room for my goals. So I embarked on a search! And I believe I have found two great options–one paper and one digital.
Before I tell you about them, I want to explain that a daily, weekly, monthly to-do list has made a world of difference in my weekly reviews. David Allen and many other productivity experts recommend a time of reviewing the past week and planning for the upcoming one. It’s advice that just makes sense. The problem is I wasn’t doing it. It seemed so dreary and time-consuming to look over all my tasks. Goals, on the other hand, are what I get excited about. If I can review my tasks for the purpose of setting weekly goals, the review doesn’t feel like drudgery. Then if you give me a beautiful form on which to record said goals, I’m in business!
A Better Paper Daily Weekly Monthly To Do List
I found a beautiful free form available in teal from Jana Laurene. But I paid a few dollars to get the forms in a number of different colors. I printed mine in gray so it wouldn’t look obnoxious on my refrigerator. I wanted it there as a constant reminder for me and also so my family could see what I was up to. The forms are two to a page, but I felt I didn’t have enough room to write that way, so I expanded mine to a full 8.5×11 in Word.
When completing the form, I found it helpful to note my appointments on various days, too. It’s much easier to plan a doable task load that way.
Here’s how I use DayMap as my daily, weekly, monthly to-do list.
I listed all the main areas of my life across the top using the same titles and colors as I use in ToDoist.
I chose any tasks listed under each life area in ToDoist that I wanted to accomplish this month and added them to DayMap.
I upgraded to DayMap from DayMap Lite so that I could pull in Apple Calendar (which is synced to my Google calendar). That allowed me to see my commitments so I could plan my tasks accordingly.
I pulled monthly task goals from the upper life area to the day I wanted to achieve them.
There isn’t a weekly goal section per se, but seeing the entire week at a time gives me the same effect. It’s big and it’s beautiful. What’s more is there is a syncing iPhone app, so I can check tasks off as I go. And unlike paper, it’s easy to move tasks to a different day. I do this if I have a goal that requires daily work. I don’t check it off, but move it to do the next day as well.
Planned tasks are italicized in the area list above. Completed tasks are crossed out. It’s very possible to use DayMap as your only to-do list. But because I have so many email-associated tasks and one-offs, I will continue to use ToDoist as my catch-all list and DayMap for planning and goals.
My apologies to those without Macs, because I love this app! However, I have found that my readers prefer paper. So check out Jana’s to-do list and give it a whirl!
What do you think? Have you come across a daily, weekly, monthly to-do list that you like better than these?
While a traditional list can remind you of what to do, daily reflection can help you determine if you’re doing the right things. At the end of the day, you may have everything crossed off your list, but you are left with this nagging feeling that you let someone down. Maybe that someone was you.
Or regardless of how much you accomplished, you’re worried about tomorrow. A traditional to-do list can’t help you there.
I don’t want to go mindlessly through my days, checking off tasks. I want to stop and think about what I’m doing and why. I’ve found both a digital and an analog tool for reflection that I recommend.
Note: If you are a follower of this blog and wonder where I’ve been, read to the end for an update.
I was given this little prayer journal as a speaker thank-you gift. You can imagine I have a lot of these kinds of things hanging around. But I was blown away by the power of this simple journal.
I use mine at night and answer the following questions:
How did I experience God today?
What worries do I need to turn over to God?
Thank you God for…
There is a space for a written prayer to God and then a later reflection on that prayer. There are also Scriptures for reflection.
Why I’m Crazy About It
Every day I’m directed to think about how God spoke to me. As a Christian, that is how I determine if I am doing the right things. I’m surprised every time that I haven’t thought about it, until reflecting on the question.
Turning over my worries to God each evening preserves my sleep and saves me time I can devote to doing the right things.
It trains me to pray about everything.
The 5 Minute Journal
I needed another journaling app like I needed another hobby, but I read about it in a Chandler Bolt email and he was really enthusiastic. I had to see what he was so excited about. The iOS app reminded me to journal without me having to set up reminders. Like the Prayer Journal, 5 Minute Journal asks what you’re grateful for, but is proactive in the morning, asking what would make today great. I’m also asked for a daily affirmation (a little positive labeling is good to counteract all the negative).
In the evening, I’m asked for 3 amazing things that happened today and how I could have made today better. It has the capability of adding a photo, but since I already use Project Life to document my year, I don’t use that aspect of the app.
Why I’m Crazy About It
I love being reminded to reflect by my phone. When I get the reminder, I’m excited to answer the questions.
The questions put me in a good mood. All of them have a positive focus.
I like to see if I end up doing what I thought would make today great. You aren’t looking at what you wrote when you answer the question. You will eventually see some patterns.
A productivity pal recently asked me, “What happened to you?” Fair question! It’s been six months since I’ve blogged regularly about productivity. I’ll give you the answer in bullet form (you know, to save time).
I’ve been spending most of my writing time creating elementary curriculum. Productivity posts have taken a back seat.
I didn’t feel I had the right to blog about productivity until my A Year of Living Productively ebook was done. I’ve since determined that this makes no sense.
I got stuck writing the ebook because I thought I had to say something new. Since there is nothing new under the sun, I had a dilemma. My current plan for the book is to organize my blog posts for easy readability with an update on how the various productivity hacks are working for me now. The goal is to have the book ready on Amazon by the end of the year. It will be free!
If you don’t go to the gym…don’t make a healthy meal…don’t read to your child…don’t put money in savings…don’t encourage your spouse…don’t write a page of your book…don’t work on your business plan…don’t spend time with God…
Then it will be easier not to do it tomorrow…
It will be easier to hit the snooze button…go through the drive-through…surf the internet…spend too much…criticize…get lost in busy work…watch TV…stare at your phone…
And it will make sense to put it off until next week or next month…
When the weather is better…when you feel better…when you’ve had time to rest…when the extra money comes in…when it’s a special occasion…when you’re not traveling…when you don’t have so many commitments…when you’re not so stressed…
When you’ll try to get caught up…
By working out twice as long…eating half as much…spending a weekend focused on your kids…selling something to build your savings…going on a trip with your spouse…writing a book in a weekend…networking at a conference…attending a church retreat…
But months later, you won’t have anything to show for it…
You won’t remember what you did when you weren’t at the gym…what you ate in exchange for a healthy body…how you spent your evenings when you weren’t playing with your child…what you spent your money on…what was more important than your marriage…what you created when you weren’t writing your book…where you spent your time when you weren’t achieving your dream…who you were talking to when you weren’t getting to know God…
So do what’s most important today…
Get a short workout in…eat some fresh vegetables…read a funny book to your children…take the money you would have spent at the drive-through and save it…surprise your spouse with a loving gesture…set a timer and write for 15 minutes…take one small step toward your goal…pray and read a chapter of the Bible…
Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Ephesians 5:15-16
I will warn you that I am not the productivity queen Francis makes me out to be in his post and in the podcast interview he did with me. But he is a very engaging writer and podcaster! Among the things he wanted to know were what worked and what didn’t in this year-long process. I hope something I share will inspire you to find what works for you.