My productivity toolbox – part one

I consider the self-management skill one of the essential elements of productivity. For me, it is also a matter of freedom and stress coping mechanism. It is easy to succumb to the weight of many concurrent active projects, or requests from peers or stakeholders and eventually realise that you are not keeping your commitments. Having a process that you can default to, gives me the strength to operate in more fields and to focus on the important goals.

My journey

Over the last year, I evaluated different popular productivity tools, workflows, and integrations. I started with Wunderlist, Todoist, Nozbee, Trello and reached more exotic ones like Notion, Mindmaster, Omnifocus, Favro. I discovered that I was not the only one on this path and I would like to recommend the “Keep Productive” youtube channel by Francesco D’Alessio.

I was searching for a tool that could show me a simple list of daily tasks. I was looking for simplicity and support for Pomodoro technique. I use this method, as a measurement on how much per day I can focus and avoid distractions. In addition, bigger projects, like yearly goals, I wanted to visualize them on a board, to decide when it would be the perfect time to start a new project or when there are too many started.

I was switching from a kanban board to a simple list and after a period missing the other. Each application that I tried had something that I liked and something that I missed from a previous one. At one moment, I realized that the problem was not in the tools, but with me. I was searching for the “magic bullet”, the perfect tool that fits for strategic planning and also for the day to day tasks.

What is my process?

My process is based on David Allen’s GTD methodology, where I start by putting down everything that I have on my mind to a single place called inbox: tasks, events, deadlines, emails, etc.. My brain feels relaxed since I know that I have a simple location, where I can go anytime to check what comes next.

The strategic planning starts by visualizing myself in the future and seeing what I have achieved in this period. Since there are a lot of different “futures”, I decide on the one that I am most proud off and makes me feel happy. The achievements I start adding them to my trello board based on the month when each project must end. My trello board has a column called “inbox” and columns for each month of the year. I focus only on the next four months and use an extension called “Trellists: Trello Lists Master” to switch visibility to the columns that are after the current trimester.

After that, for each project, I add a task in todoist named “Plan project X” that has the goal of defining a roadmap, key milestones and deciding the next step. Since the roadmap is created based on the date that the project should end I choose a duration based on experience. I do not expect from myself to be 100% accurate with the dates and effort required. I take in consideration similar previous completed projects or I do additional research to reduce uncertainties or risks. When my initial estimation is far off, I note down the learning and refine my process. I check this board regularly each month and adjust it if required.

The execution

The second part of my process consists of my weekly and daily routine. I plan each week in advance, by looking at all active projects, all calendar events and the results of the previous week. I use todoist with the google calendar bidirectional sync to ensure I distribute tasks equally. At work, I receive meeting invites on outlook and I use “Microsoft Flow” to synchronize them with google calendar and indirectly with my todo list. I check my previous completed tasks to estimate the amount of time that similar tasks will need in the next week.

Since I am a morning person, I start the day with the tasks that require the most effort. I found that my concentration and focus is at the peak in the morning, so I take advantage of this to ensure I complete them first. Every task that requires more than 30 min I execute using the Pomodoro technique. I do not switch from task to task, since I discovered that losing context can delay in completing the initially planned tasks. When I finish a longer task, I update its name to include the number of “pomodoris” spent. This helps me during the planning phase to estimate similar jobs. To see a report of the complete week, I used the tool: pomodoneapp.

After some months sticking to this process I found that my productivity increased and I am not worried that I will be overwhelmed with tasks. Of course the next step is to decide what tasks you should do yourself and what you should delegate or say no. In a future blog post I will write about prioritization, about the “Eisenhower Matrix” and how I use it to solve the problem above.

Summaries or key takeaways:

  • Put everything down from your head and free you mind for more important things
  • Evaluate different tools to see what works for you or not, but don’t expect to find one that fits all your needs
  • Don’t create your process based on a tool, but choose the tool(s) that fit your process
  • Follow the process until it becomes a routine and continue to iterate and improve on it

Also published on Medium.