How I Stay Productive
It doesn't have to be complicated
There are tens of thousands of articles and videos showing the next productivity technique; this letter is not that. I want to talk about productivity. What it means to be productive, what I do to keep track of everything in my life, my system, and how to find your own way.
What does it mean to be productive?
Most people see productivity as it relates to work or business in some way. In actuality, every person will view being productive differently. One might think that finishing a huge chunk of your project is productive while another will think of having a relaxing day reading as being productive. The thing to take away here is the idea of accomplishing a goal or goals. Being productive boils down to accomplishing something you want or need to.
How do I keep track of everything?
Productivity to me is a balance. It is about accomplishing things in my personal and professional life collectively. If I have a day that I crush a project but didn’t exercise or take a long walk, I will not feel truly productive. Most people probably feel the same – if they realize it or not. So the way I keep track of both my personal and professional tasks is by using a centralized source for all my tasks. My main source for all my todos is Todoist. Secondly, I use Apple reminders for some fringe tasks.
What does my system look like?
My system is pretty simple but specific to me. So before I go into mine with the intent for you to copy and apply it to your life, keep in the back of your mind that no system is cookie-cutter perfect for everyone. It’s about using what is best for you. There are so many systems out there:
Getting Things Done - GTD
Eat the Frog
The Eisenhower Matrix
These are just a few but by far the most popular.
I have read about all of these and tried most, but I don’t truly do any of them as prescribed.
I will first touch on the fringe tasks that I add to Apple Reminders. These are small and not super time-sensitive, mainly the things that I dictate to my iPhone, Apple Watch, or HomePod. These are the tasks like “add milk to my shopping list” or “remind me to go to the store at 5 pm”. I generally don’t add anything project-related or recurring here.
For everything else I use Todoist. I have tried almost every to-do list or project management tool. The thing I like most about Todoist is its speed to enter a todo. Thanks to its natural language engine I can enter a to-do quickly, assign a project, a tag, a priority, a person, and even a description quickly. I then can add media and comments if needed. If that was all Todoist could do it would be enough, but it also has great filter capabilities, simple and powerful tagging logic, and dozens of integrations. So the tool is accessible everywhere and quick to use.
But how do I use it? I have a system that consists of collecting my thoughts, todos, and project tasks. Quick capture things go into the Inbox. Sometimes I will add labels or add them to a project, but usually, these are dropped in the Inbox and triaged daily. Weekly, generally on a Monday morning, I plan my week. I use Todoist filters to show me my upcoming week – 7 days is my preference. This is because I use Todoist to plan both personal, work, and side hustles. This allows me to have a proper understanding of my tasks, so I can balance all things that matter to me equally.
When planning my week I generally shoot for one “priority 1” item as a must-do. Similar to the Eat the Frog technique, but I do not attack it first. I usually do reading, writing, and watching first. I stimulate my mind before tasking it.
This brings me to an important point – I put all things on my to-do list. Long reading articles, videos I want to watch, etc. The only real exception is podcasts, but I might start adding a general to-do for this as I have been slacking on my podcast consumption.
I usually have a few “priority 2’s”. These are generally high-priority admin items. Email follow-ups, budgets, etc. Lastly, I have a few “priority 3’s” and “4’s”. I shoot for five real tasks a day to not spread myself too thin. This is generally not accounting for my recurring todos. Some of my recurring todos are bills, chores, or basic admin tasks.
The key to my productivity is to balance all parts of my life equally and using a tool that can accommodate that. I used to have Apple Reminders for personal, Todoist for work, and Notion for my side hustle, but it was just too segmented. There was no big picture. Pairing my combined to-do list with time blocking, I can do a lot of meaningful and creative work in a very short time. This in conjunction with being a remote worker, I find myself getting into truly focused states more often and more intentionally.
What can you do?
The tool honestly does not matter. The key is that you find something that works best for you. This can be a free tool – including but not limited to Todoist Free, but also something as simple as Google Calendar, which has todos and goals built right in. The only limitation I’d note here is that if you are balancing a work and a personal calendar it might be hard to see it all in one view since Google does not have a good native way to manage multiple accounts. You can even use the latest Apple Reminders coming with iOS 15 as it is far better than the current version.
What do you want to accomplish?
Do you want to include work and personal or segment them?
What tool works best for you?
What system works best for you?
Do you think of productivity differently? Do you have any favorite tools or systems that work for you? Did you create your own version like I did?
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