Somewhere along the way the true meaning of personal productivity got lost.
Instead of productivity being about doing more of the things – work and personal – that are important to us, it became about just doing more.
We’ve only a limited number of hours in a day, and if you want to perform at your best, you need to focus on getting your work life balance right and NOT just working longer hours or that ridiculous concept of being ‘always on’.
I’m always intrigued about how people stay organized, particularly in the marketing and PR world where we’re dealing with more sources, information and interruptions that ever before.
So here’s a brief overview of how I stay on top of my working day, keep focused on what’s important and get my inbox to zero practically every day.
I’ll start by giving you a rough outline of the process and then a bit more detail on the tools I use.
|Tip: If you’re interested in some good, solid advice on personal productivity, I really recommend Getting Things Done. It’s a great introduction to putting some shape on all the information and commitments you’re managing every day and ensuring you’re focused on what’s important.
For me there’s four main things I focus on in terms of productivity:
1. Capture everything
When I say capture everything, I really mean everything. Capture that thought you have getting out of the shower, capture notes from a meeting, emails, that interesting photo you took, the whiteboard chart from your last meeting. Whatever it is, capture it and put it in a central repository or system where it’ll be processed (see the next section).
For me everything I capture goes into OneNote where I know I’ll process it.
You might have multiple ‘inboxes’, from your email, to your physical desk inbox, an inbox at home for personal stuff, a notebook for ideas, a note app on your device. It doesn’t matter what your inboxes are, it matters that they are capturing everything and that you are then processing those inboxes.
2. Process your stuff
Once you have captured everything then you need to process it. This is where you have to make decisions about all the ‘stuff’ you’ve captured.
What does process mean?
Well take an email as an example. Is it actionable? Is there an immediate action for you, is it part of a project, is it something you need to delegate, or delete, is it something you need to file for later etc.
(Tip: Review this diagram from David Allen’s Getting Things Done as an illustration of this process).
The trick here is to only touch an item once – make a decision about it and move on. Through this process you can build out your projects and next actions, while making sure all the related information is together.
This is the secret to not having 12,000 emails in your inbox and not forgetting stuff. When you process all this information you should have complete project lists, task lists, reference lists etc. Then you need to…
3. Do it
I think that’s pretty self-explanatory :). Allen’s guidance is that if there’s something in your inbox you can do in under two minutes you should do it. Carving out time in your day to do things is essential, especially given you probably have a lot of meetings and calls.
4. Review it
Once you have all these lists of actions, projects and reminders you need to review them to make sure you’re moving projects forward. I typically do a quick daily review where I look at my schedule for today and tomorrow and look at what I need to get done. Then once a week I do a more detailed review, which includes reviewing my schedule from the past week, my schedule for the next week, my projects, tasks list, objectives, priorities etc. The review process is key so I actually have blocked time each Friday.
So that’s the process in a nutshell. I’ve kept it high level on purpose as my experience is that everyone’s work style is different. There’s a lot of additional detail in terms of how you organize and process all that information. If you’re interested in learning more I recommend buying a copy of Getting Things Done, it has some great tips and advice.
There’s a lot of different tools and apps I use each day but there’s two apps I use most of all.
First of all I use Microsoft Outlook for all my work and personal email, scheduling and tasks. It’s a great product that I’ve used since it was Schedule+.
||If there was just one tool I could have for managing my work life and my personal life, it’s Microsoft OneNote.
OneNote is one of the lesser known parts of Microsoft Office. In the most simple terms it’s an electronic notebook, but that doesn’t do it justice. (Tip: There’s a basic introductory video here).
You can take notes (keyboard or handwritten), but you do much more. You can insert files, archive emails, capture web pages, add photos, link different notes together, share your notebooks with others and edit them together in real time. Effectively you can embed anything in OneNote, and once it’s in there the information is searchable, you can add tags and you can organize the information using the notebook metaphor in a way that best suits how you work.
The result is in effect a complete encyclopedia of your work and personal life.
I have multiple gigabytes of content stored in OneNote going back over eight years from meeting notes, to projects, journals, task lists and reading materials.
Here’s an incomplete list of things I capture in OneNote:
- Capturing random thoughts or notes at my desk or on the go using the OneNote phone or desktop app
- Meeting notes (you can auto-generate a meeting note from Outlook, with all the attendees etc. already populated)
- Project planning including outlining
- Project plans (including hyperlinks to other OneNote pages, attaching relevant files, photos etc)
- Archiving relevant email (one click from Outlook)
- Saved web pages, articles, RSS feeds
- Cut and Pasted information from other apps or websites
- Printing documents for review (once OneNote is installed you can print a document into OneNote as you would use a printer)
- Sharing notebooks which I can collaborate on with colleagues
- Capturing screenshots
- Inserting pictures and photos
- Capturing photos of whiteboard diagrams and incorporating them in my notes
- Scans of paper documents and brochures
- Capture handwritten notes – both directly with a stylus or from a notebook via the camera on my phone
- Take audio and video recordings of meetings which OneNote indexes (with the agreement of participants)
- And much more!
It’s completely mobile. If I’m away from my desk and have an idea I just open OneNote on my phone, type a note or record my thought with voice and then by the time I’m back at my desk the note is synchronized across all my devices and the web. If I need to find something I can also search those notebooks on my phone.
That synchronization is thanks to OneDrive which keeps all my notes and notebooks available and synchronized on any my PCs, with Office Online in my browser, my tablet and my phone (I use Windows Phone, but OneNote is also available on iOS or Android).
OneNote has meant that I’m now nearly (98%) paperless. There are times I like paper and for that purpose I carry my trusty Field Notes notebook with me. It’s small, hardy and slips into my back pocket. If there’s something useful in the notebook I just take a photo and post it to OneNote.
Some additional resources on OneNote:
So beyond OneNote and Outlook what else do I use?
- Microsoft Lync (for work calls, instant messaging, video calls, conference calls)
- Skype (for personal instant messaging, and calls)
- Yammer Notifier – keeps my on top of what’s going on with Yammer (and I use it with the Yammer web app)
- Tweetdeck – my preferred Twitter desktop client from Twitter
- Microsoft Office 365 (including Outlook, Excel, Work, Powerpoint, OneNote, Access)
- NextGen Reader – since the sad demise of syndicated feeds with my beloved FeedDemon I’ve turned to NextGen reader which syncs with Feedly. The new sharing capabilities inside NextGen make it a great tool for not only keeping up with news and content but sharing and keeping them for later.
- Reading List – If you have Windows 8.1 the reading list app is a great way of keeping lists of sites you want to read in the future together
- Stacks for Instapaper – Along with Reading List I’m a long time user of Instapaper. The Stacks app for Windows 8.1 and Windows Phone is a great way of accessing deferred reading wherever you are.
- Flipboard – I’ll just send you to Stuart Bruce’s review of Flipboard
Tying it all together
I use OneDrive to keep all my personal files, folders and information (and for Windows 8.1 my settings, browser tabs etc) in sync across all my devices from PCs to tablets and phones.
For work information and files I use OneDrive for Business – the business version of OneDrive.
- My primary PC is a Lenovo Carbon X1 – great machine, nice touch screen, thin, fast
- Surface Pro – nice mix of a full Windows PC with tablet capabilities, great stylus support
- Dell Venue Pro 8" – great 8" Windows 8.1 device runs all your Windows apps, with fantastic battery life
- Nokia 920 – love my Windows phone, plan to upgrade to the Nokia 1020
- Two 20" Monitors – can’t live without them
- Polycomm Communicator brilliant device for conference calls where you’re out of the office
- My Doxie scanner turns paper docs, sketches etc. into digital content for OneNote
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