I’m drawn to productivity methods. It is something that I enjoy reading about and I like to try out new methods from time to time. I’ve been like this for a long time. On a visit to my parents home a few years ago I found notebooks from my childhood, packed full of lists, calendars, and even a journaling system that I made up in middle school. It followed an acronym, F.A.S.H. - (Finance, Academic, Social, Health) Why I was journaling about finance in middle school, I have no idea.
Being a productivity-minded person doesn’t always mean that I get it right. I’ve tried out methods that just don’t work for me, but I simply move onto the next. I also experience a lack of concentration sometimes, which can be incredibly frustrating. That’s the struggle, and that’s also what keeps me coming back to my interest in productivity. I’ve learned ways to work with those unproductive times and systems to help build a balanced and happy life. I’ve even incorporated this interest into my work life by joining project management and process planning teams at multiple jobs and started offering process consulting for teams.
Today I’m going to share with you my current landscape of productivity methods and how they all work together. My method is a combination of many well documented methods that have been adapted to fit my needs. I am a small business owner practicing design in a freelance capacity. I also teach university design courses and sometimes yoga classes as well. My productivity landscape is designed specifically for someone who is busy and also has control over their working hours, but it could certainly be adapted to fit any schedule. As a self-employed individual getting this stuff right is imperative to making my lifestyle work. As you read through my routines you may find some of it exhaustive, but trust me it doesn’t take much time out of my day and for me, it works well. There are a few areas of overlap but that repetition helps me to confirm and solidify decisions about priority and focus, and it really doesn’t take that much time. Ready, here we go...
Todoist is my always-with-me digital list of projects, tasks, and deadlines. I have used Todoist as my primary place to capture all tasks through work and personal life since about 2011. This is the one digital To Do tool that I have stuck with, primarily because of its simplicity. Todoist has the ability to do just about everything you would need a to do app to do: Projects, due dates, recurring dates, labels, filters, calendar and email integration, goals, and more. However, if you just want a simple list that looks nice without any bells and whistles, it does that too. This has been key for me. Throughout my years using the app I have used it in a lot of different ways. I’ve used it to capture tasks for all the F.A.S.H. basics of life. ;) For a long time I used Todoist as a place to capture lists of things that were not necessarily to do items, just ideas. It was nice to know that all of those items were captured somewhere but eventually I felt that they were muddling the actual things that needed to get done. Major categories that I wanted to save were transferred to a Google Doc.
Now my Todoist is very streamlined. I am more discerning about what gets added to the list, these are things that I am actually planning to get done. I find that keeping a smaller amount of tasks makes them more manageable. It helps me to focus on what is important.
Projects: Above (left) is a snapshot of some of my projects, not pictured are many projects related to specific areas of work. Pro tip: Adding emojis makes it even more visually appealing to glance at your list.
Labels: Adding labels gives you another way of organizing tasks. I only use a few labels, shown above (right). I’ve found that too many makes it difficult to decide what to use. Most of the time I don’t need to add a label at all, but there are a few that help me further understand what type of task it is. I reference the labels when I’m planning my work week.
Priority and Due Dates: I generally try to keep my project lists in order of priority. I treat each of these as a backlog for that particular subject. Dates get assigned to those tasks regularly but some may wait in the backlog for a while before they receive a due date. You can also assign priority to tasks, 1-4. I only use this feature when I have a lot of tasks scheduled to get done on a particular day. I’ll mark highest priority (level 4) for things that must get done, (level 3) for things that should get done, anything lower than that I don’t often mark as I know that those task would be okay if they had to rescheduled for another day.
Recurring Tasks: I only use recurring tasks when I am trying to add a new routine to my habits. For instance, cleaning the bathrooms at my home once a week. If this is something that I really need to be reminded of, I’ll add it until it becomes a habit that I don’t have to think about or schedule. However, if I happen to do this dishes every evening, I would not add that as a recurring task because I do not need to be reminded to do it. Instead I might just make sure that there is some time blocked out each day on my calendar for household tasks. Other recurring events in my life are all on my calendar; dates that autopayments are scheduled, recurring meetings, etc.
I sync Todoist with my Google Calendar. Tasks for the day are listed on a separate calendar so that I can turn them on or off. Since my weekly schedule can be flexible I make sure to create a plan at the beginning of each week to help myself stay on track. This includes a method called timeboxing, which basically means blocking out chunks of time for work. This is very important to my scheduling, even when there is not a meeting or a deadline. I need to know what hours I am working each week and what I’ll be working on. I typically don’t schedule my timeboxing for more than a week or two at a time in order to keep things flexible and agile.
When I’m blocking out time, occasionally I will implement a theme for a day, week, or month rather than scheduling time for individual tasks. For instance, I find managing finances (business or personal) to be a tedious task. I like to batch all those tasks together so that I don’t have to deal with it as often. Instead, I’ll have finance day, which makes it sound more exciting, and make sure to buy myself a cinnamon roll at the end of it! Other themes (or batch work) that I’ve implemented include: domestic day: projects around the house, promotions week: networking and other ways to promote my business, and communication month: where I reach out to old friends or family that I’d like to reconnect with.
Although I keep all tasks in Todoist, I also use a modified version of the Bullet Journal, or as I like to say, “BuJo”. Not all Todoist tasks go into my BuJo but just those that have been prioritized for the day. I only use a few of the official BuJo tenets in my own journal- the monthly log and the daily log, everything else from that system I leave behind. There are some beautiful analog things happening out there with the Bullet Journal method, just spend some time browsing pinterest to see. However, for me I need to keep this part of my day short and simple.
In the monthly log I write important dates to remember, monthly goals, and things that need to get done this month. The daily log includes tasks, events, gratitude notes, and more that pertain to that day. See the key below to see to see all of the types of things I include in my daily log. At the end of the day, I review to mark off or move forward all tasks.
Again, not the cutest BuJo pages out there, but it is enough to get me motivated, remind me of my focus for the day, and encourage me to do a moment of writing for personal growth. The journal entry part of my daily log doesn’t happen everyday but it is becoming more regular, writing between a paragraph and 3 pages. On days when it seems tough to focus or when my confidence is low I go back and read through my gratitude, inspiration, and gold star notes to help keep me motivated. The gold star is what it sounds like, a reminder of something good that I completed, for example “🌟I prepped healthy meals for the week!”
My BuJo writing always happens after my “Morning Watch”. This is a morning routine that I picked up as a kid at summer camp. All the kids at camp would wake up and immediately head outside. The idea was to have 20 minutes by yourself in a comfortable spot in nature and have some quiet alone time. At camp, you could take a book, write a letter, stare off into space, etc.
I’ve modified this tradition and have been incorporating it into my daily routine for about a year now, usually for 20-30 minutes first thing in the morning, outside. Morning watch nowadays often includes a meditation, reading, and sometimes just slowly waking up as I watch the sunrise. It has become an important way for me to clear my head in the morning and become present, before immediately trying to tackle a list or an agenda. My dog, Dexter, has also become a big fan of our morning watch time.
Inbox Zero + Tasklist Zero
Tasklist Zero - I move my tasks forward and prioritize them within Todoist before the start of the next workday. I like to think of this time as a daily standup (borrowed from the Agile / Scrum methods), even when I am just doing it by myself. I ask:
What did I do yesterday?
What do I need to do today?
What needs to be reprioritized?
What do I need help with?
Inbox Zero - I love the feeling of having a clean slate in my inbox. Google Inbox has helped with this a lot, being able to quickly archive messages, snooze messages to a later date, and pin those important ones that you need to keep track of. I also use Todoist email forwarding to send messages as task to my Todoist Inbox project.
I use a physical calendar to track healthy habits that I’m working on. The calendar is located near my workout gear and includes a childish, yet effective, method to track habits. I use stickers! You can read more about the Seinfeld method, but the gist is that you don’t want to break the chain. There is a visible streak of days that you did something and it is satisfying to not break the chain. Here’s a snapshot of my healthy habits calendar. The sticker colors correlate to each habit: yoga, meditation, walk, strength, etc. If I forget to update my stickers for a few days, I can usually reference my Bullet Journal to see a note or two about my habits on a particular day. Since these are habits I am trying to build and not tasks, I keep them out of Todoist.
When I’m working on a team that could benefit from daily communication habits, I like to create a physical board to manage all tasks, usually with post-it notes. There are many ways to implement a KanBan board and I’ve modified them several times for various teams and projects. Moving tasks through columns is a very effective way for teams to communicate about where they are in a project. I rarely use a KanBan board for managing my solo work, but I still wanted to include this in my productivity profile because this is a tool that I come back to often.
Lastly, I use Harvest app when I need to do timetracking and invoicing for a client. It is a straightforward and easy way to keep track of client hours.
That’s it! My productivity routines in a nutshell. Well, kind of a long nutshell! I hope you found my hodgepodge methods useful! Remember, it’s okay to use bits and pieces of another method in order to find a flow that works best for you.