I posted a couple of weeks ago here about the fact that my system was broken. I had spent a solid year developing, tweaking, and perfecting a productivity system that just flat-out didn’t work for me. I found myself not using it nearly as much as I should have, and more and for things were slipping through the cracks. My system was fun to tweak, but not productive to use.
That was something of a problem.
So I asked for your help, and got a ton of great responses from you all, making a lot of excellent points. Here’s a couple of things I kept hearing, over and over, that I imagine many of us could use to hear:
"Remember always K.I.S.S (not the band, but Keep it Simple Stupid)."
"Leave the tools set up how they are and see if your issues stem from wanting to play with the tools too much vs. actually not having the right tools."
The point was, my system may well have been too perfect. It was so complex, and involved, and overly-functional, that it simply didn’t work anymore.
So I revamped. I’ve finally got a system that, for me, simply works. It’s mobile, simple, and works beautifully. And for whatever reason, I use it more now.
Things is one of a very small number of software applications I’ve ever paid for (it costs $50). Things is a Mac-only app, and is the biggest reason I’m glad I bought a Mac. It’s enormously pliable, and can be used for everything from simple to-do lists to full-fledged GTD implementations. My favorite part of things is the "Areas of Responsibility" piece – instead of projects (which my tasks rarely fit into), I can put them under my various areas of work – blogging, school, personal, and the like.
Things also has an iPhone app that syncs directly with the desktop version, keeping all my tasks in sync wherever I go. Things is simple to add to, simple to access, and works exactly like my brain does – that’s no small feat.
For PC users (or those who want something free), I still recommend Remember The Milk – it’s a great Web-based task manager.
I’ve moved back into using Gmail for all my emailing needs. I took a couple of hours, a week or so ago, to learn all of the keyboard shortcuts within Gmail (which you can find by typing a question mark while in Gmail), and I can now go through my entire email inbox, taking action on everything I need to, all without ever touching the mouse. Gmail now has offline capabilities, thanks to Google Gears, and is a speedy and smart interface for email.
Gmail also continues to integrate gadgets, like Google Calendar (which I’ve always used for my schedule management, but in a totally ordinary way) and Twitter, that mean that I can use more and more of my social networks right from within Gmail. Gmail is becoming, more and more, my nerve center of the Web, and just continues to get better.
Evernote has been, and continues to be, the hub of my productivity system (here’s how I use it). Thanks to its availability on Mac, Windows, Windows Mobile, the iPod Touch, and the Web (all five are platforms I use regularly), I can add information into my system from anywhere. I can snap a picture, write a note, or even record a quick voice memo to myself.
All my notes sync everywhere with Evernote, and once a day I go through my "Inbox" notebook and create new tasks in Things. It’s easy to add, organize, edit, and most importantly search through all of my notes – it’s where I store everything from blog posts, to cool restaurants to visit, to lists of things to read.
There’s a theme to my life that had to be reflected in my productivity system – mobility. I’m always working in different places, spending time with different people, and can’t be counted on to be at my computer when I need to do or access something. Things, Gmail, and Evernote make sure my tasks, emails and notes are always handy, but what about everything else?
That’s where Dropbox comes in. By downloading Dropbox onto every computer I have, all my files get synced both to the Web and to the respective computers. Word documents created on my Mac are available on my PC, and changes I make get synced back. Everything’s in sync, as well as available on the Web. I got 2GB for free, and love having all my important files accessible anywhere I am. For more, check out How to Sync Your Life Everywhere with Dropbox.
There are also four habits that I’ve been trying to cultivate that I’m convinced are making me more productive already:
Fewer Due Dates
I have the tendency to give everything a due date, and decide when I want to do something. That never works – things come up, or maybe I’m not feeling well, and suddenly overdue tasks start to pile up.
Now, I’m only putting due dates on the few things that absolutely, 100% must get done that day. Everything else goes into the list, and I plow through them once I’ve finished the dated stuff. Things with due dates get done first, and then I move on to the rest of the list.
The Two-Minute Rule
If something crosses my plate that will take me less than two minutes to do, no matter how boring or painful it is, I do it. And, frankly, it’s amazing how many things you can do in two minutes or less – writing emails, making phone calls, even cranking out some work-related tasks.
Putting those tasks into my list often takes longer than completing them, and allows the tasks to fester and become overwhelming. Instead, I’m learning to just do it and forget it.
Once a week, I sit down with Evernote, Google Calendar, Things, and my physical inbox (for mail and the like) and deal with each and every thing. I look at all my tasks in Things, and decide what needs to get done that week – as well as what can be deleted and forgotten. I look through Evernote for the same. Gmail gets cleared and purged, and my calendar gets reviewed – what do I need to prepare for this week? How much time do I have?
Doing this review once a week focuses my time, and helps me make sure nothing’s slipping through the cracks, because I’m reviewing everything that’s come into my system.
Each and every day, three things end up empty: my Evernote inbox, my Gmail inbox, and my Things "Today" folder, full of tasks to do today. I try to create lists that allow this to happen, but nev
er go to bed without zeroing them all. It means I can start fresh tomorrow, and deal with new things and new opportunities, instead of still stressing about today.
It’s all working for me so far, and my productivity is skyrocketing (as is my sanity).
What works for you? What apps or habits are critical to your productivity?