Over the years I’ve blogged about personal productivity–it’s one of the dimensions I enjoy optimizing to get more done at work, and people think I’m good at. This post is what I wish I had at my disposal when I starting my journey down productivity.
A real challenge with reading advice from literature can be how to put things into practice in the real world. I always appreciate it when experts describe or show examples, especially of tools and techniques. This my attempt at doing just that.
In addition to following tried and true advice, like inbox zero, saying no, unsubscribing from worthless email lists, the two-minute rule, trash whatever you can, and the like, here are the tools and techniques I use today:
First, I must point out that these are for tracking my own items–not items that should be visible to a broader group. I put those in formal systems like Asana, Clubhouse, etc. That disclaimer aside, here is how I track my personal tasks:
- Urgent tasks I schedule on Google Calendar as a time-bound event. Stephen Covey would be proud.
- Future-urgent or top-of-list important items I put in my Google Calendar Tasks because I can place them on specific dates I suspect I will complete them on. Yes, when I’m busy there’s some drag-and-drop from day to day or week to week.
- I manage private text files for “_Me”, other people (e.g. “Jim”), or departments (e.g. “QA”) to track open action items, whether committed to or future, possible work. I use indentation or bullets to nest subtasks. I find the relative lack of structure much easier to manage than something like Asana or other task managers. Depending on my connectivity needs, these have been text files on my computer, Google Docs, or Evernote notes. I only ever use one tool during a season of life. I never try to use multiple text editing platforms for tasks.
- I BCC followupthen.com whenever sending an email I need a timely response to and yet don’t trust the recipients to reply by a specific date.
- I immediately star sent emails that require a reply but that are not time-sensitive. If someone responds later and the thread is effectively closed, I un-star it before archiving. I sift through these starred messages periodically to unstar items that are no longer relevant, were in-fact resolved. If it is still unresolved, I re-email people nudging them to respond.
- If I receive an email I don’t want to deal with at the moment, but may be interested in reading several weeks or months later, I will forward it to followupthen.com and archive it immediately.
- I set up GMail filters to label and skip the inbox for any system-generated messages from apps like GitHub, Clubhouse, or Slack. I then view them at particular points in the day in batch. I additionally have GMail automatically archive and mark as read emails that do not necessitate an action but may be a helpful reference in the future, like receipts from vendors.
- I schedule a 60-minutes recurring calendar event to get to inbox and Slack zero at a time that makes sense for my schedule (9-10 am). Others can’t schedule meetings during this time. This recurring event ensures I have space to get to inbox zero or as close as I can.
- I keep up with it as much as I can, and I ensure others are following Slack etiquette so that we’re not suffocating our own company. Sometimes it’s more appropriate to send an email or hop on a voice or video call.
- Because I keep up with Slack, I can disable most of its notification settings to focus on the work at hand.
- I ensure my channel list only shows ones with unread messages for easier catch-up and use my keyboard to jump between channels.
- I leave any channels I am not deriving value from or contributing value to. I trust someone will @ mention me if I need to rejoin. I left and rejoined some channels a few times in a single day this year. The mute feature is too aggressive; it doesn’t notify me if someone mentions me again in the channel.
- When I need to get deep work done, I ignore or quit the app. (I can ignore it since I turned off notifications.)
I hope this is helpful for others! Please comment if you need clarification on any of these tactics or have your own to share.