I’m writing this post to respond to a friend’s request on my success with productivity and time management. Though I’m in no position to talk about this ‘allegedly’ success, I thought I should share what works and what doesn’t for me.
The 2 most important factors in productivity are:
Let’s talk about each of these in details.
In essence, productivity is a systematic way of being disciplined. As long as you have the will power to force yourself to do what’s needed to be done, any productivity system will work wonder. So before searching out for ‘the one’ time management technique to ‘rule it all’, resolve yourself to commit to ‘getting things done’.
Everyone has their highs and lows. It’s easy when you’re feeling out of energy/time/power to slip back into the procrastination habits – complete things as they become urgent. That’s why you have to keep some sort of motivational techniques handy to get yourself back on track. I like to listen to audio tapes on time management and productivity. There are countless materials on this subject and they are not all the same. Each author has their own principles and tips. By listening to these books, I can not only motivate myself to get things done but also learn more ways to get things done faster and more effectively.
A couple of good resources to get started are below:
- Getting Things Done – David Allen: The most prominent productivity system out there
- Eat That Frog – Brian Tracy: 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time
From My Own Experience
I’ve tried a few methods based on the principles of Getting Things Done (GTD): notebooks, GTD index cards, Outlook and OneNote, online task lists and calendars. What I found is, a combination of these tools work together wonderfully. The 3 staples of my productivity system are:
- To-do List (online): Rememberthemilk
- Calendar (online): Google Calendar
- Index cards
It’s very simple. I carry index cards around most of the times and record everything that comes to mind. Then once I get to sit down on a computer, I transfer to-do items to Rememberthemilk and event items to Google Calendar. In a perfect world, I would be able to check my to-do list and calendar any time any where I want through my phone. But for the time being, I don’t have mobile internet access. However, I still get sms notifications for appointments through Google Calendar and that’s really all I need. I will explain the pros and cons of using these online tools below.
Rememberthemilk is one of the most sophisticated (and thus complicated to use) online to-do list for beginners. But once you get used to it, it allows rooms for flexibility and customization. It is the only online to-do manager I’ve come across that is free and offers complete control on task management. Rememberthemilk can be tweaked to be the ultimate tool for Gettings Things Done. I can search tasks by contexts, locations, projects, deadlines, priorities.
The only disadvantage is that I don’t have mobile internet to access Rememberthemilk on the go. However, due to the nature of my work and study, I don’t need to look at it too often. In addition, you can print out your task list on paper instantly with checkbox for each task (I love ticking off those boxes!)
For tips on using Rememberthemilk with GTD, visit Corrie Haffly – Using Remember the Milk for Getting Things Done
Google Calendar is the best online calendar I’ve come across. It lets you:
- share your calendars with other people
- create calendar events from Gmail
- email and sms notifications for appointments
- create “Quick Event” – if I type “Toastmaster Executive Meeting at Whitespot at 8:00 am”, Google Calendar automatically creates an event with Location=Whitespot and Time=8:00am. And I can set it up so that at 7:45am, Google Calendar sends me a notification through sms
- I don’t watch TV – a big time waster in my opinion. Everything you want on the TV can be found online minus the useless ads
- I rarely use IM, Facebook, Myspace, etc – another big time waster. Technology has allowed us to get in touch with so many people remotely, but it’s merely getting in touch. I believe in real human contacts. If I can’t meet the persons face to face, it’s probably because I don’t have time for it.
- Some highlights from “Eat That Frog” – Brian Tracy
- Do the most important tasks first
- Focus on 1 task at a time
- Eliminate all distractions while you’re doing that one task (aka: turn off TV, sign off MSN, exit uTorrent – no checking downloading speeds or progress, etc)
- Have your tasks written down or typed up
- Create an appropriate environment for work – clean up your desk, have everything handy before you start working
For the most part, being able to discipline yourself to do the important tasks and having motivational materials around to get yourself back on track are the most essential factors to effective productivity. Different systems of productivity are like treatments for symptoms, not causes. The real cause of procrastination and poor time management is lack of discipline and indulgence on low-value activities. As long as you have the will power to stop doing the unimportant, you will find yourself doing the important, the ‘what matters’.
Good luck John.