Posts Tagged “productivity”

Using Your Time

A few weeks ago I was listening to Curtis McHale’s podcast, The Smart Business Show. In this particular episode (forgive me I don’t have the acutal episode) Curtis was talking about prioritising his time in his business. He spoke a single sentence that stood out for me.

I don’t choose to use my time for that.

How we spend our time is a choice we make every day, and for most people, they make a terrible decision when it comes to spending time.

Instead of reading a book, we might choose to thumb through their phone for hours on end.

Instead of taking a nap, we might choose to watch another hour of television.

Instead of doing their job, we might choose to surf the internet aimlessly for a twenty minutes.

It got me thinking about what I choose to do with my time.

You can’t be continually plugged in and always working; it’s just not healthy. If you rest on your laurels for most of the day, then there’s little getting done. There’s a balance between the two, and it’s finding that balance that is important.

To get that balance you need to identify how you spend your typical day. I spend my days typically doing one of three things.

Working, relaxing and resting.

Work, rest and play? Almost. I think there’s a crossover to work and play that can sometime’s mean the same thing. Also, I relax more than I play, well I do now that I am not in my twenties. Relaxing encompasses more necessary activities that are needed to survive a very fast-paced world.

Working

My freelance work means that I am often at my desk building web applications for clients. The job is excellent and enjoyable. It can be stressful at times, but it’s what I love to do, and it pays the bills.

Working doesn’t stop there though. There are other points in the day when I’m working either physically or mentally.

It might be my morning exercises which I do to stay fit.

It might be walking Ethan around the golf course helping him practice.

It might be a 30-minute session on the turbo trainer.

It might be working on a side-product for 30 minutes.

While most people don’t view these as traditional forms of work, I think they are. You are still working on a physical and mental level. As long as it involves either or both of these, then it’s work for me.

Relaxing

Spending time with the family, golfing, reading, gaming, watching television and cooking are all things that I find relaxing. Anything that doesn’t involve exerting myself on a physical or mental is relaxing.

I’m a family first kind of guy. I like to think that I spend a healthy amount of time with my family. Supporting the boys through their activities and clubs and enjoying family trips and doing stuff together is essential.

When I’m relaxing, there’s no physical or mental exertion needed and the time I’m spending relaxing is enjoyable and guilt-free.

It’s important to note here that some activities should be limited.

I’ve been watching The Crown on Netflix. It has taken me a month to watch about six episodes. Sure I could have watched the whole series in a week, but by limiting my time, I can watch the entire series at a rate that doesn’t screw up my typical day and sacrifice any other commitments I have.

Resting

I try and keep as active as possible through the day, but it’s all for nothing if I don’t have the energy levels to get through the day. That means getting a half decent amount of sleep each night. That means getting to bed at a half decent hour. Sounds boring, but it’s surprisingly effective. And I have it on excellent authority that it does wonders for my grumpy moods in the morning!

I’m also starting to find as well that on the odd weekend I need more time for resting. Forty winks? Absolutely. I’m not the same guy I was twenty years ago, and resting becomes an essential part of the week.

It’s all about awareness

When it comes to using your time, we all have downfalls. I’m not perfect, but I am aware of the things that are weak uses of my time. And although I might start these wasteful activities, they don’t last any longer than a few minutes.

I tend to procrastinate when I am stressed which makes me end up not doing what I’m supposed to do. In times like this, I can find myself surfing away on the internet. After a couple of minutes though I recognise that this is the wrong behaviour and I start getting my head back into work again.

Perhaps the most important thing though is the following:

I choose not to use my time for idle staring at a screen.

In an age where screens are practically everywhere, it can be hard to find the distance from screens. Thankfully we’re programmed to be able to make our own decisions. I think it’s enough that you recognise that idling your time on a screen is a wrong use of your time.

As long as you realise the danger and act on it, then you’ll find that you’re spending less time just staring at a screen. It’s all about awareness.

Using your time wisely is an essential lesson to learn.

How do you want to remember the way you spent the day?

Idly thumbing through timelines or getting the work done and spending time with those around you?

I guarantee that the latter is the choice for a better quality of living.

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Benefiting from the Constraints of Pen and Paper to Tame Tasks

In the last 18 months, I’ve moved from using a task manager application to using pen and notebook and a technique called bullet journaling. The transition to this method hasn’t been without its challenges, but there’s one thing that it provides that I don’t get with any task manager application that I’ve used. And that is constraints.

Task management applications like to sell lots of benefits like being able to go with me wherever I go, work wherever I am and manage anything I throw at it. That last advantage is quite interesting because it’s here that I find that task management applications work quite well for me for a while, but I usually end up over-committing with a crazy list of tasks sometimes running into hundreds.

Thanks to improvements in technology, we have these little portable devices in our pockets that can potentially hold thousands (perhaps even millions) of tasks. These same devices also make it simple to add more tasks with the ability to type, speak or automate the process of creating new tasks. There are very few constraints in creating new tasks other than perhaps losing the wi-fi signal or running out of battery. These are not big constraints given that the world is more connected than ever and we have portable chargers to keep our devices topped up.

I keep all my tasks together at the back of my notebook. Written by hand and double-spaced. Sounds labourious right? Bear with me.

With each new task added, I often find myself questioning the value of the task and whether it is even worth writing down. I also look at the number of tasks I have decided if I need to focus on those first before adding anything else.

When it comes to moving tasks from one page to another, again I question the value of the task and whether it is worth moving.

My master list of tasks is usually about three pages long. Take into account that the notebook is smaller than A4 and my writing is double-spaced, that’s not a lot of tasks to do. The constraints of time to write a task and the effort in maintaining it when using paper mean that my complete list of tasks is manageable.

You can enforce these constraints on your favourite task management application, but I’ve often found that this is difficult to do given how easy to use these types of applications are.

Now, I’m not saying that bullet journaling is the silver bullet solution to all productivity hacks; it isn’t. However, the constraints of notebooks are why I find that bullet journaling works so well. It allows me to manage a smaller and more focused list of tasks and that in turns stops me from over-committing.

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No Resolutions, Just Good Habits

I’m not making any resolutions for the year ahead.

In my experience, it’s a self-defeating exercise that always ends up with me not seeing it through to the end of the year.

If you’re thinking along the same lines, then what’s the alternative to making improvements without failing?

Have you ever noticed how bad habits stick like watching television, sitting on the couch, and mindlessly thumbing through timelines on social media? These are not good habits to get into, but the thing about them is that they’re easy to do. They just don’t require any thought whatsoever.

What if we could just as quickly get into good habits rather than bad habits?

Well, this is what worked for me when I first started building good habits.

I started with just one habit.

I started getting into the habit of writing every day. To help remind myself to write, I set the alarm on my phone to give me the nudge to start writing. When my phone went off, I would then start writing. That’s all I did for a whole month. A habit built up every day. And it worked. It’s still working. I’m writing this, aren’t I?

The following month I added another alarm on my phone to do something else the next month and kept it going through the year. By the end of the year, I had built up some good habits that helped me through the day.

The problem many people face with new year resolutions is that they try to do too much at once. It’s like trying to lift weights at the gym. You just can’t bench press 100kg unless you’ve trained your body to get into the habit of being able to bench press 100kg. To achieve such a weight, you need to start with a smaller load and then gradually build up to the target weight.

Habits are the same.

You start small (ideally with one) and then build them up.

Tracking your habits is a great way to build them up. I’ve tried some habit tracking apps over the last year, but the one that works for me is Productive. It was the first habit tracking app that I tried, and nothing else I’ve tried has been as easy to use.

The good thing about tracking apps is that they give you a sense of success when you’ve reached a significant milestone like completing the habit for a week or even a month. Productive and other habit tracking apps have reminders built in as well, so it keeps all your habit building needs in the one place.

So, forget the new year resolutions and set yourself a short-term habit to achieve for the next few days. Once you’ve completed a few days with it, extend the practice for a few more days and keep at it. In no time you’ll find that you’ve been able to get into your intended habit daily and by the end of a period of a few weeks it will become more of something that you just do.

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The Deep Productivity Seminar

Yesterday I attended the Nicholas Bate’s Deep Productivity seminar in Oxford. It was a great chance to meet a fellow and much respected blogger and at the same use the course to gather up all the important bits about productivity.

The venue of the seminar was in the Magdalen College School. It was unlike any school I’ve ever visited and is also the oldest school that I’ve ever been in. If you like Harry Potter you will love this place.

I arrived a bit early being just around the corner for accommodation. I got speaking to Nicholas and a few other attendees to the seminar and then the hard work began at 9am.

The seminar was extremely valuable and it was a good opportunity to re-visit some strategies to help stay focused and productive. I also walked away with a number of books from Nicholas that have been added to the top of the reading list.

So what did I get from this seminar then?

Well, the whole point of this wasn’t to learn something new. I’m a big fan of Nicholas Bate’s blog and his material so I was already familiar with a number of strategies, but where I previously got this information over a long period of time, the seminar provided the opportunity to consolidate all of this information into a single form that I could digest more easily and refresh my brain.

It was also a great opportunity to meet Nicholas and other attendees.

All in it was a great investment of my time and I hope that it can yield some great results in the weeks, months and years to come.

Thank you Nicholas for putting on a superb event and it was great to finally meet you good sir!

For the attendees, I’ve managed to go my first 24 hours without bread as my first actionable item. Started yesterday during the seminar (thanks for the nudge NB) and made it to this morning by having cereal and a smoothie rather than toast. Yay!

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A lesson in building habits

It’s that time of year where people are starting to tail off on their new year resolutions. Let’s face it, for most of us new year resolutions are nothing more than pipe dream. I don’t do new year resolutions but what I do believe in are habits.

Habits are easier to build than new year resolutions and once they’re part of your routine, you’ll find that don’t need to spend as much time building that habit again if you break it. This also makes your goals (or resolutions) much more achievable.

Ethan’s golf has been progressing nicely over the past year. He’s comfortable with his new clubs, he’s familiar with his local course and he’s getting to know more and more people through different levels of coaching and playing. His handicap didn’t fall much last year, but he’s adamant that this year it will come down and he’s set himself the target of being at a handicap of 20 or less by the end of this year.

Rather than getting him to focus on the long term goal of reducing his handicap though I started him on something more manageable.

Building the habit of practicing every day for 20 minutes.

It doesn’t matter what part of his game he practices on, it could be his swing, chipping, putting or playing out on the course.

He started off well. He needed reminders to practice in the first week, but he managed to get there. After a couple of weeks, his calendar now looks like this:

16 days of daily practice and all without a break in the chain.

I don’t need to remind him to practice anymore. He just does it. He takes a look at his calendar and puts in the practice so that he can keep put the next ‘X’ in and keep the chain going.

The habit is now part of his daily routine but Ethan is still a long way away from that goal. Once the golf season starts in earnest he should see better scores on his scored cards and start to see that handicap fall.

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Moving To An Analog Task Management System

A few weeks ago I decided to take the plunge and stop using Todoist as my task manager. As you know I’m a big fan of Todoist and it wasn’t easy making that decision. My frustrations came from the fact that I needed something more intentional than another app on my phone, another task list in the ether of the Internet. I need something that requires a bit more work to manage than just bashing in a few words with my keyboard or frantically clicking my mouse.

CJ Chilvers’ post about ditching your to do list had been on my mind for a few days before making the decision to stop using Todoist.

I’ve slowly become a convert to the idea that we need to concentrate on our calendars a whole lot more to achieve what we want in work and life. If you want it done, it must be scheduled. If it’s not scheduled, it’s just another item on your wishlist that will never be completed.

Kill Your To Do List by CJ Chilvers

Investing time in the task manager isn’t the priority, it’s investing the time in the calendar that makes the difference.

So, do I need Todoist? Well, I’ve been without it for over a month now and I’m still working, still busy and still making an income. Clearly working from your calendar is a good thing.

However, that leaves me without some form of tracking and managing tasks. I wanted something that didn’t have me sitting on my phone first thing in the morning, something that required a bit more effort to use and finally something that I could just pick up and start using regardless of where I am.

I’ve been using pocket notebooks to capture stuff through the day like notes, messages, tasks, ideas, books to read and so on. Being able to stop, write, and then carry on working gives me a little break from the screen through the day but it also got me thinking about using more notebooks to manage my tasks.

I might have killed my to do list on Todoist, but I still needed some form of task management. And that’s what this week’s posts are about. So tune in tomorrow for the first post on the humble pocket notebook.

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Grass Roots Productivity - Do the Work

This is it. The last part of the Grass Roots Productivity process. Doing the work. Unfortunately there’s no quick fixes or hacks to this one. You either do the work or you don’t.

It doesn’t need to be as black and white as that though. There are things you can do to help you have a productive day. I always come back to Peter Bregman’s book, 18 minutes. He has a simple rule for getting something done.

If you really want to get something done, decide when and where you are going to do it.

18 minutes by Peter Bregman

When you decide where and when you’re going to do something you add structure to your day. This structure leads to a plan day for the day is more manageable. If you’re like me then the location will rarely change for most of your work. Time though is one thing that’s a big impact on our day. So decide when you want to do a task so that you can split your day into more manageable chunks.

I’ve tried in the past to pick off items from the top of the list at the start of the day. This is the wrong thing to do. It often leads to confusion and the wrong things getting done at the wrong time. I’ve learned now that scheduling actions into my calendar ahead of time is a better way to get things done.

Doing the work is all about self discipline and honesty.

Discipline yourself so that you do the work set before you. Schedule in your calendar the tasks that matter. For every one task that needs to be done, there’s four other that could be done. Never mind the other four and focus on the one.

And when it comes to reviewing your progress, be honest with yourself. If you could have done better then aim to improve your work and your progress on the next block of work.

This is the step where many people falter when it comes to using a process, but only you can make it work. So do yourself a favour and do the work.

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Grass Roots Productivity - Regular Reviewing

We’ve looked at capturing and scheduling already in my little productivity process. The next step (not in order though) is the review.

For hundreds of years travellers have used different navigation techniques. The stars, maps, compasses and now the trusty smartphone can even help us get to our destination.

How do you get to the goals that you are working towards though? Completing the items on your master list is one thing, but it’s all for nothing if there isn’t a goal to work towards. Most of us can remember to do the little things without the aid of an ongoing list to help us. If you’re keeping a track of your master list though, then you are most likely working towards a goal. How will you know though if you’re working towards that goal and making progress?

If the goal is the destination then the review step is our compass that steers us towards that goal. A regular review will help you ensure that you’re making progress towards an that goal.

My review process involves three stages.

1. Clearing the decks

In this stage I work through each of my various inboxes and convert any items into actionable tasks. It might be emails in my inbox, tasks on my CRM, or items I’ve captured in my notebook. I use this stage to bring everything together into my master list.

2. Review projects

I use the term project to review any amount of work that involves ongoing work. It might be generating content for my blogs, client work, or work for DailyMuse. This is where I review the progress of each project and ensure that I’m making progress towards it. 

3. Planning ahead

Now that I know the progress made in the previous week or month, I can look ahead and plan for a similar timeframe. This involves scheduling actions into my calendar and setting reminders for the important ones.

Only my freelance work gets reminders as this is more important than most of my other projects.


And that’s all there is to it. I find it best to block off an hour a week to do my weekly review and three hours a month to do my monthly review. Done on a regular basis, the review step will help ensure that I’m working towards my goals.

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Grass Roots Productivity - Smarter Scheduling

We’ve got a list of actions from a few days of capturing. Now what do we do? We schedule. And not by just putting whatever we want to do in any free space on our calendar. We schedule by putting the right tasks in at the right time.

Take a moment to look back at the last few days or even weeks of work you have done. When do you peak and when you do you plummet?

I work better in the morning. It’s during this time that I like to work on more creative tasks. Building new features, sketching screens and of course wrditing. For these types of tasks, this is when I am at my sharpest.

In the afternoon I prefer to work on more problem-solving tasks. Debugging, refactoring and general problem solving through code. I find this type of work less intensive than creative work so I prefer to do this in the afternoon.

How you work is down to you. But you need to be able to identify when you’re most productive. It’s important to ensure that you are scheduling the right tasks in at the right times. Dropping tasks in your calendar is going to lead to unproductive days.

Now that you know when it’s the right time to do the right tasks, you can start scheduling those tasks in. I’ve tried many ways of partitioning my day but the one for me that sticks the most is being able to work in 1 hour blocks. 50 minutes of work with a ten minute break. It’s almost same as the Pomodoro Technique, I just opt to work in longer chunks of time.

I also only schedule in tasks that take no more than an hour. When it comes to any kind of work I break down tasks into one hour chunks of work so that I’m focused on one thing at a time. Once a task is complete I can move onto the next task for the next hour.

Scheduling is an important part the productivity process. Done right, it will help you work through the right tasks at the right time and give you the sense of making progress. And that’s what being productive is all about.

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Grass Roots Productivty - Always Be Capturing

Everyone has their own preferred system for getting things done. Whether it’s GTD, maintaining chains, the pomodoro technique or some other method there’s something out there for everyone.

Having tried just about every technique possible and a few hybrids of I’ve come to rely on four basic actions that help me get things done. I’ve come to call this Grass Roots Productivity.

The first step in this system is ensuring you know what you want to get done. This starts with the process of capturing.

Most productivity systems have the idea of an inbox. A place to collect the stuff you want to do. Without this inbox you would be as well just plucking stuff to do out of thin air. Capturing is an essential habit to get into because without it, there’s second step to getting stuff done.

The capture process is something I go through numerous times a day. Links, actions, documents, text and other bits of data. Each of these types of data have their own respective inbox. On the digital side there is Pinboard, Instapaper, Todoist and a few other places. On the analog side I’ve got a notebook and a planner. While the digital inboxes have very focused types of data being captured, the notebook and planner act as loose fitting items that don’t quite fit anywhere else.

The way I do this is to have easy access to each of those inboxes. For the digital inboxes I have either email addresses or keyboard shortcuts setup to quickly save to the respective inbox.

For the analog inboxes, I simply leave my notebook and planner left open on my desk, ready to record whatever I need to. I use the notebook for capturing items on the go. The benefit of this is that it’s a simple action of recording the task and moving on. No distraction by other apps or notifications or any other distraction that digital devices are famous for.

Capturing is an essential but often overlooked step in any productivity system. Without capturing we don’t have any sensible place to start and we always need a place to start.

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How to Find a Great Task Manager

Finding a great task manager can be a daunting affair. Aside from the fact there are so many of them, there’s only so much time that you can dedicate to trying them out. You’ll never pick the right one first time, so how do you find a good matching task manager?

After three years of using Todoist I know that it works for me. A week ago I dabbled with Wunderlist out of curiosity, but I couldn’t adjust to the different interface that Wunderlist offered. It’s nothing to do with Wunderlist itself, it’s a great task manager but it just didn’t work for me. That’s the key thing to look for when assessing task managers. Find the right one that works for you. Here’s how to do it.

Ask yourself what’s the three critical features that you need from your task manager. It might be portability, it might be integration with other services, it might even be important to you to use a hand-written notes. Whatever is important to you then add it to a list.

This is important because if you’re blindly testing task managers without knowing what works best for you, then you’re going to find it hard to find one that works for you.

I chose Todoist because it has three features that I think are essential to how I work.

  1. Todoist has great email integration. The inbox and each project includes their own email address so that I can quickly capture tasks on the go and while I work.
  2. Todoist has a minimal user-interface. This is important to me because it lets me focus on reviewing tasks, picking the next one and moving on. Todoist’s user-interface is simple and offers little in the way of distractions.
  3. Todoist is easy to use. Click, drag, type. The hallmarks of any desktop or web based application, but Todoist makes it easy to move tasks, edit tasks and find tasks.

If Todoist was to close down overnight and I had to pick a new task manager then I would look for a new task manager that matched at least two of these requirements. Three would be a better match, but it’s not essential that the task manager you pick meets all three requirements.

By identifying the features that are essential to me, I’ve been able to find a task manager that doesn’t distract and gets the job done. Your requirements might be different though so that’s what you need to look for. Find your own essential requirements and you’ll find it easier to find a task manager that works for you.

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Nothing Scheduled, Nothing Gained

This blog has been gradually winding down in activity for the last few weeks. You’ve probably noticed. It’s been hard to watch as I used to be a frequent poster. Daily blog posts, links and other trivial things that might interest you the reader.

Truth of the matter is that client work has all but consumed my week. I’ve got two projects on at the moment and I’m splitting my time between them in fortnightly periods. The work is good and it looks like it will carry through to the new year which I’ve no complaints over.

The problem has been dividing my time so that I’m not always hunkered over my desk. My desk is where you’ll find me through the day, usually wrestling with some code, but sitting there outside of my client hours makes it difficult to ‘switch off’. Lately though, once the client work is finished you’ll usually find me playing with the kids until bedtime and then its television for an hour or two before the exhaustion kicks in.

A couple of years ago I had a good routine going. Writing in the morning, 3 periods of client work throughout the day, as well as time to work on new languages and frameworks and working on side-projects. I was getting things done. Not just that, but I was also getting out on the bike and keeping the weight off. Last time I was out on the bike was a few weeks ago with Ethan. I haven’t been out on the bike since.

Last night I took a look at the heat map on my Timepage app for December. Aside from the usual calendar functions, it shows your calendar as a heat map where you’re busy and not so busy. Almost nothing showed up. There’s a day where Ethan has golf coaching and a day for the Star Wars showing. Apart from that there was nothing. It seems I have lost sight of one of the fundamentals of any productivity system. Schedule it.

Client work has become such a big part of my day that I no longer plan for anything else getting done. Without the planning of the day most stuff falls through the cracks. It’s usually the little things like writing and side-projects. They’ve suffered the most.

Out of sight, out of mind. If you don’t see something often enough you tend to forget about it. Like my calendar. I didn’t plan for anything and therefore didn’t see the need to look at my calendar. Everyday was turning into the same work getting done so why bother scheduling anything?

I’ve just proven to myself that there’s nothing gained from an empty calendar. Time to change that.

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Measurable Goals

It’s that time of year where you should be thinking about goals and plans for next year. Here’s a little tip. Try measurable goals.

2015 is just around corner. Just over two weeks in fact. For many the setting of goals and plans for next year won’t begin until that period between Christmas and New Year. Right about that time where the over-indulgence of food will probably lead to a planned diet for the length of next year but will most likely only be until the second week of January. I learned a long time ago that setting such goals and plans on the eve of the New Year rarely last beyond January.

Such goals often fall apart simply due to them being set in such a short period of time with little thought to making actual plans to achieving those goals. They also rarely succeed due to the fact that there’s no clear end goal in mind. If your goals are financially related, why not think about the amount of savings you have just now. How much more would you like to have in savings by the end of next year? If your goals are health related, think in terms of improving the numbers you have now. What’s your time for a five minute mile now? How many seconds do you reckon you can take off by the end of next year?

At the end of last year I set myself a few goals. One of them was the total amount of income I wanted from my freelance work. I had a figure in mind that was more than the previous year. A good 25% more in fact. I managed to hit that goal this year with a steady stream of work coming in. Next year I’m increasing that figure again by a further 25%. With the projected work I have for next year, that figure can’t be gained by invoicing clients alone, it will require me to start thinking about income from products and services as well as perhaps re-negotiating my rates before the start of the new financial year in April.

A measurable goal is much more achievable when you define the figure you have now and the figure you want to achieve. It doesn’t need to be a goal for the whole of next year either, it could be a attainable in nine months, maybe even six. The point is that a measurable goal is an attainable goal.

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Project or Context?

Ensuring that your productivity system is correct is important if you want keep the actions flowing through it. Like deciding if a project is in fact a context.

Many of you have been reading my post on using projects in Todoist. Up to now I’ve always used projects in Todoist as lists. They’re just placeholders for actions. What I’m starting to see now though is that some of my projects might in fact be better used as contexts.

This week I listened to Mike Vardy’s Productivityist podcast and caught up with two episodes focusing on context and their application in productivity systems. It made me look more closely at my own projects in Todoist. I singled out two projects that I think are better suited to being contexts, reading and writing.

My reading project is just a list of chapters from the books I’m reading on a daily basis. Breaking books into chapters means that I can schedule different books in for different days. Reading isn’t a project, it’s a label to describe a particular action. My writing project is essentially a list of ideas for the blog, but writing isn’t a project. Writing describes the action. Clearly something is amiss here.

A context can be defined as the circumstances that surround a particular event. In the case of David Allen’s GTD framework, a context is a label that you put on your actions so that you know two things:

  1. What you need to get that action done
  2. When that action can be done

When I look at my projects I see them differently now. In the case of reading and writing, they’re not projects, they are in fact contexts. They are used to describe the circumstances in which I can finish their associated actions. I read a chapter of a book first thing in the morning as it’s when I’m most receptive. Writing tends to happen in the morning as well. I’m just more swithched on during this time. So not only do these contexts describe the action but also when I schedule them in the day as well.

I can’t recommend enough that you continually review your productivity workflow. Finding that point where everything falls into place isn’t going to happen overnight or even come boxed up and ready to go in a system like GTD. It takes time to see what works for you and what doesn’t. After taking out the reading and writing projects from Todoist, I’m starting to see a change in how I view projects in Todoist. I’m still digesting Erlend Hamberg’s 15 minute guide to GTD and there’s a few more changes that I’m going to try with projects in Todoist, but that folks is for another day.

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Simplifying Again

In the pursuit of workflow zen, I’ve been simplifying things a bit. It’s been a positive change so far.

Data is everywhere. We create and consume vast quantities of data everyday without giving a second thought to how much. Emails, tweets, posts, pictures, videos, messages and audio are just a few examples of the data that we interact with on a daily basis. And there’s no shortage of software to manage your data either. For each type or format of data you have, there could be hundreds of different options available to you to manage that data. Apps, web applications, scripts, services, products.

Not only are there tools that mostly persist and manipulate your data, there’s a new type of service available that pushes your data to other services based on triggers. Services like Zapier and IFTTT have the means to collect and distribute your data to other places depending on the triggers and services you specify. It can become mind boggling and complicated.

It was last year when I realised that I was pushing more data around different services than I needed. I started making some changes:

  • I stopped using a dedicated bookmarking service and instead opted to routinely drop a list of formatted markdown links into my blog.
  • I stopped using Evernote and instead starting using text files to manage lists and collections. Evernote is a great tool for keeping all your data together but I found it difficult to keep my data organised. The idea of notebooks and groups is good but I just couldn’t make it work. This isn’t a complaint against Evernote, it’s a great tool, it’s just not for me.
  • I started using plain text files for a lot of things. Check-lists, ideas, outlines and anything else that I needed to keep a note of.

After doing this I noticed a change. The number of places I need to check to find something was greatly reduced. I had a collection of files in my Dropbox that I used on a daily basis. Then there was my task manager, my reading list and a few boards on Trello. I didn’t have to search anywhere else beyond that. Then the number of tools I needed started to fall as well. I started uninstalling apps from my MacBook and cancelling some subscriptions.

It’s been a refreshing change. Gone are all the connected services and triggers I used and instead I have a low maintenance set of tools that I can use easily. I can find the data I need for easily and most importantly I do less moving about of data.

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10 Tips for Todoist

Todoist has been my choice of task management app for almost a year now. In that time I’ve learned a thing or two about it. Here are ten tips to help you get the most from it.

It worth noting that most of these tips can only be used with a premium subscription to Todoist. At just $29 (US) per year for a subscription to Todoist Premium, that’s less than the cost of a cup of coffee a month. Bargain if you ask me.

1. Archive Projects For Better Focus

While you might like to be organized by amassing a collection of tasks in a number of different projects, you probably won’t be able to work on all these projects at the same time. Not a problem. Simply create your project with its tasks and then archive it to work on it later. Archiving the project keeps it out of active tasks but also keeps it out of your focus.

The archive command can be found in the menu that appears when you hover over a project with your mouse and click the ellipsis on the right hand side of the highlighted section. At the bottom of the menu that appears you’ll find the archive command.

2. Create Linkable Tasks

Sometimes we would like to reference something online in a task. It might be support material for the task or a product relating to the task. How nice would it be to include that URL in your task? Well you can! Todoist uses the following syntax to include URLs in a task:

http://matthewlang.co.uk (Must hire this guy!)

This will create a nice clickable link in your task and will also hide that nasty long URL.

Bonus tip: As well has hyperlinks you can also include bold or italic text in your task!

3. Capture Tasks With Email

Todoist is available on lots of different devices and platforms. If you have a desktop, laptop, tablet or smartphone then there’s a Todoist client made for it. What if you’re using a public computer to check your email and you’d rather not sign in to Todoist on it?

Tasks can easily be added to your projects and inbox by emailing the task to Todoist. For each inbox and project, there is a seperate email address that allows you to email tasks in. Simply send an email to the correct address that can be found in the tools section of the inbox or project, and use the subject as the name of your task. Hit send an it will be added to your list of tasks on Todoist.

To find out the email address for your inbox and projects, click on the tasks actions icon at the top right hand side of the list. On this menu you’ll find the Email tasks to this project command where it will show you the email address you should send your tasks too.

4. Location Based Reminders

Reminders are great for when we do things at a set time or date, but what if you’re running late? Instead of setting a reminder for a time or date, why not set a reminder for the general area that a task or project relates to?

Got a meeting with a client downtown at your favourite coffee place?. Set a reminder when you arrive at this location to get the coffees in before your client arrives. A nice way to start the meeting on a positive note!

Location based reminders can be found when you edit a task and hit the reminders icon. Simply flip the reminder from a date and time to a location and you’ll be able to the reminder for a location.

5. Backups for Accidents

Deleted a project by accident that contained a list of tasks you entered the day before? Don’t worry. Todoist’s premium plan backups up your entire to do list every day. Just download the latest backup of your list from Todoist and re-import that project to save yourself the time of creating it all over again.

Backups can be found in the settings section of Todoist under the Backups tab. A list of recent backups is always kept here.

6. Group similar labels by colour

Labels in Todoist are a great way to group tasks, but Todoist only offer so many colours to choose from. What if you run out of colours? Easy, group similar labels by a single colour so that not only do they give you more choice of colours, each label has a contextual colour that is easy to recognise.

7. Recurring Tasks Save Time

At the end of every month I invoice a single client for the work I did for the month. I’ve been doing this for over a year. Recently though I got fed up re-creating the same task in Todoist. Using Todoist’s ability to create recurring tasks, you can have the same task repeat at times that you need. No more re-creating the same task over and over again!

8. Start Projects Quickly with Templates

Starting a new project can involve setting the same tasks up as previous projects. Why bother creating the same tasks though? Templates are plain text files that contain tasks that you can import into a project as a template.

Templates can be created from existing projects or by creating them yourself in a plain text file.

9. Learn the Keyboard Shortcuts

Using the keyboard is a great time saver when you know the right keys to press. It’s the reason why us developers are the most productive people on the planet. Right, that’s not 100% true, but pressing keys can still be quicker than figeting with a mouse.

10. Reviews Projects and Labels with the Visualiser

When you view your Karma score there’s a link to viewing all the completed tasks you have done. When you click this you can analyse how many tasks you have completed over a period of time for a project or label. This is great to use for reviewing your progress on a project.

There we have it. Ten tips for Todoist. Now go forth and be productive!

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How I Use Filters in Todoist

Last week we looked at labels in Todoist and how they provide context to your tasks. This week we’re going to look at how I use Todoist’s filter feature.

Before we talk about filters, let’s just recap how we can already group tasks in Todoist. The first is by assigning tasks to a project. This is ideal for tasks we know that belong in a specific place. The second is by using labels which are more of a form of tagging in Todoist. You can label tasks across different projects thereby bringing similar tasks together.

Filters in Todoist are similar to labels but they can bring together more tasks depending on your filter. A filter in Todoist is a search term that matches tasks and can then be saved for future use. The benefit here is that filters allow you to bring similar tasks together rather than focusing on tasks from a single project or label. Combining dates, labels and some boolean logic allows us to filter for specific tasks and labels to give us a list of tasks that are suitable to our location and environment.

Here’s a few ideas for filters that I am using at the moment:

Low Hanging Fruit

Filter: "(@Low & @5mins) !@Errands"

I use this all tasks labelled with these and complete when I’m stuck for something to do.

Errands & Emails

Filter: "@Errands | (@Email & @Low)"

I sometimes opt for public transport when I need to head into town to run some errands. It’s good, as it gives me a chance to walk to the bus stop and get some air, but also there’s 10 minutes on the bus where I can carry out some email tasks before getting into town to do some errands. This filter is great for those tasks when you’re out and about.

Upcoming Posts

Filter: "14days & @writing"

I’ve started scheduling blog posts into specific days so that I’m keeping my writing varied. Rather than using a calendar though I find it easier to put due dates against the tasks in my writing list and then tag them with @writing. Combining this with the 14 days term and I can get a list of blog posts I’ve got scheduled for the next two weeks. If there’s any gaps I can pull an idea in and schedule it with a date.

Filters are one feature that set Todoist apart from other to do list applications. Using filters you can build custom lists that are more than just a single project or label. You can build lists that can be done in certain locations or at specific parts of the day, thereby making yourself a little bit more productive. It’s worth noting that filters using a boolean operator is only included in Todoist’s premium subscription.

That’s it then for Todoist. This is the final post in this series. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading it as much as I have writing it. If you’ve any questions about Todoist then I suggest you check out their help and support sites which are full of help and advice.

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How I Use Labels In Todoist

I’ve already mentioned how I use projects in Todoist. Well this time it’s the turn of the humble label.

The label. This is Todoist’s context tag that can be applied to any task if you need to organise them by more than just their priority. Let’s get something clear before we start. Colour coded labels are a premium feature in Todoist. If you’re using the free plan on Todoist, you can still use the labels suggested below but not the label colours.

Having decided that tagging tasks with labels would give me more flexibility I started tagging everything in my list with labels. It quickly turned into a nightmare with inconsistent labels, labels with typos and even obscure labels that didn’t end up making sense to have. I needed a strategy, so I took the advice of Mike Vardy and started using labels in a more structured manner.

Looking at the range of colours available I started to setup label groups by colour. First off I created six labels for my six personal compass points giving each compass point its own colour. This is the basic categorisation of labels regardless of where they are in Todoist. Almost all tasks get labelled with a compass point.

Next I took the groups that Mike Vardy suggested. Using the colours for these labels I grouped them under time, event, person, location and energy. What I eventually ended up with was a wide range of labels for different contexts as well as having a couple of free colours left over that allowed me to have labels that could be used for general purposes.

Labels are also useful with Todoist’s email feature. As well as emailing tasks to your inbox, you can append labels in the subject or the body of the email and they will be added to your task when Todoist receives it.

So what’s the point of labelling everything then?

Well, aside from the fact that it provides some meta-information on the task, it also allows you to search for related tasks. Do you want some low hanging fruit to pick in the morning? Search for the @5mins and @low labels. Kids birthday coming up and you remember taking a note of their preference for a Minecraft book. Search for @birthdays and your kids owns tag using their initials.

You can search for individual tags, combination of tags, tags in a project, tags due on a specific day. There are lots of possibilites to using this and Todoist keeps a nice count of how many times each label has been used so that you can weed out the ones that are unused or break down a label if it’s being overused.

All this now means that I can quickly filter and sort my master list according to labels that provide context. This leads on to next week’s post about filters. Be sure to check back for this and see how you can utilise labels to group tasks together using filters.

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How I Use Projects in Todoist

Inspired by Mike Vardy’s series on using Todoist, I thought I would share how I use Todoist and the benefits I get from using it. In this post we’re going to look at the projects feature of Todoist.

Todoist’s projects are a fairly standard feature. It’s a place where you can bring together related tasks. However that’s where the similarity to projects ends. Where you might be expecting a start date and an end date for the project, there aren’t fields for this in Todoist. A project is just the name and the colour that you’ve chosen to assign to it.

Keeping this simple means that projects can be used in different ways. I try not to think of them as projects and instead think of them as lists. Lists can expire, be completed or be allowed to run on forever. The idea of a list triggers a more flexible collection of tasks than a project, which is why I always think of projects in Todoist as lists. I have a number of projects that behave more like lists then projects:

  • Reading - All books that I plan on reading in the future. Fiction, programming and career and some others as well.
  • Writing - A list of writing ideas for my website. It starts with scheduled ideas planned for the near future and graudally moves down to ideas that I might one day use. Home - I have a list for everything related to family life. Golf coaching, birthday parties, shool activies, days out. They all go here.
  • Sharpen The Saw - Recently I started capturing things I didn’t know about the tools I was using. Everyday I pick one of these off and find out more about it. It’s a quick way of learning more about the tools I’m using.

Todoist has a feature where you can indent projects under one another. I try to avoid doing this. In the past I did indent a number of projects but quickly I ended up with three level deep projects and it made getting a top down view of my list more difficult to read. I try to use the indentation of projects as a last resort and even then it’s only a temporary measure until I can find a better place for a group of tasks.

I use Nicholas Bate’s idea of a personal compass as a basic grouping for tasks. Six compass points that represent six aspects of my life. It’s a fairly easy way to ensure that you can group things sensibly and that you’re not allowing one part of your life to have an adverse affect on the others. Using this I give each compass point a colour. When a project is created it is assigned the colour of the compass it closely relates too. This makes tracking my progress on different compass points easy to do since I can only ever see six colours of my compass points in the productivity trend window of Todoist.

That’s it for how I use projects in Todoist. Nothing should surprise anyone here as most people must use similar ideas. Projects in Todoists are simple but flexible and can be used to group your tasks accordingly. Next week I’ll discuss labels in Todoists and their use.

Update - You might want to read my thoughts on deciding if a project is in fact a context.

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Productivity is About Processes

Dazzled by the lights of new task management app? Before switching, make sure you’re switching for the right reasons. Productivity isn’t about the apps.

Read any productivity book and you’ll find a common observation among them. Rarely is a specific tool mentioned that makes that specific productivity method work better.

I spent a good couple of years hopping from app to app in search of a task management app that met my requirements. It wasn’t a wasted journey, I did get to try out a number of different apps but I didn’t have a productivity method in mind that I would use with the app. I was simply trying some apps out. I was going about this the wrong way, you see it should be the other way around. Productivity is about processes not tools. The tools we use should compliment our preferred productivity method.

Look at any productivity method and it’s about the processes and workflows involved. Capturing, reviewing, planning and executing are the most common processes involved in most methods. I use all four of these processes in my own method which centers around a single list of actions. I then use projects and tags to group actions, filters to review and a calendar for scheduling those actions.

The processes I use means that I could use just about any task management app, but it’s in the details where you can find great task management apps. Here’s a list of requirements that I finally settled on.

  • I need to be able to capture anywhere.
  • I need to group related actions into projects.
  • I need to group actions by tags.
  • I need to see different views of my list.
  • I need my list available to me wherever I go.

Looking at these requirements I can think of a number of task management apps that could meet all these requirements. After reviewing a number of apps that I’ve tried in the past I found a couple that worked for me. I choose TaskPaper as it gave me the ability to keep my master list in one location in raw text. After a few months though my list became difficult to manage. I started looking for a replacement.

One task management application that I hadn’t tried up to this point was Todoist. I started moving my master list over to Todoist. That was eight months ago. Today I’m still using Todoist. It meets all my requirements and also provides a number of other features that I didn’t look for before in a task management app.

With a crowded marketplace of task management apps it can be easy to be dazzled by the new kid on the block, but productivity isn’t about those apps. It’s about the processes. If you’re on the market for a new task management app or you’re simply looking for a change, make sure you are looking for an app that fits your processes.

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Daily routines

The last two months have been something of a blur. Client work has taken up most of my day now and even into the night as well when I shouldn’t really be working. A pattern, or lack of pattern has emerged.

It started a couple of months when I decided to scale back on my daily writing. I thought that not writing as much would let me focus on getting other chores and such done. Truth is, it was the start of a slow decline in what I had carefully built up over the best part of a year. The daily routine.

My work day pretty much had the same format for the most of last year and it worked for me. I had the same routine in the morning for preparing for the day ahead and the same routine at night for reviewing the day. It worked for me.

Once I stopped writing on a daily basis though the routines started to be skipped, and then the calendar was running empty, the task list built up and before you know it, my daily routine consisted of nothing more than simply putting out fires. I’ve been in that place before and it wasn’t a good place to be.

I ended up reacting to problems rather than anticipating problems and setting time aside for them. I was context switching multiple times a day and losing focus. My inboxes and lists were stradily climbing with not view of the bottom of them.

No more. The routines are back in place, the daily writing will be started again and a plan of attack has been formalised. Let’s see where this goes.

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Balance

Balance isn’t something that comes up a lot when people are writing about productivity. Once you are aware of it though, it’s a fundamental lesson to learn if you want keep focused and make progress.

I’m like a kid in a candy shop when I have a new idea. I tend to drop just about everything I’m working on new idea for a night or two and then get back to what I was doing before. Not a good practice to follow. When you stop working on something else and spend some time with an idea, it can take over. The idea snowballs and then before you know it, you’ve grand plans for it and it overtakes everything else you are doing. Inevitably my workload becomes so much that I need to try and prioritise and sort my work into a schedule that can’t feasibly accommodate this new idea. What to do?

Well the answer is simple. From now on for every project I take on I need to drop something else. Realistically I can only manage one side project at a time on top of freelancing and family life. When I take on too much everything else suffers. It’s a balancing act.

The monthly themes I am doing just now are good for balancing work as it means that in one month I can focus on a single idea or product for that time. Since the start of the year I’ve used broad themes to cover everything but this month I’ll be focusing on a specific project. It’s the first of four projects that I’ll be working on this year. The goal is to clear the backlog of tasks for that project so that it can be left alone for another few months while I bring another few projects along.

This also means that I can schedule these ideas into the year so that I know what work lies ahead in my schedule. Not only is this good for scheduling purposes but the idea also gets a chance to incubate for a few weeks or months before I start on it. By then I might have discounted the idea will then pick something else to work on.

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The Daily Capture

Capturing. It’s an action that I repeat every day. Although I don’t have exact figures for it, I probably manage about fifty captures a day depending on the context of the capture. Bookmarks, snippets, thoughts, images, posts, code and more. They’re all captured into various places and then reviewed, read or actioned on at a later date. Here’s a few examples of the things I’m capturing during the day.

Thoughts and ideas

I’m now getting into the habit of journaling about four times a day. Through the day I’ll capture ideas, thoughts and challenges that I’ve faced. I might come across an idea for a small application or I’ll make a note about a bit of work that needs to be automated. It like a private social feed back to myself. At the end of the day is my review of the day. I do this every day.

Web pages

Web pages get captured in three places at the moment. The first place is Evernote. Anything that’s interesting on App.net is starred. I have a recipe on IFTTT that reads my favourited posts from my timeline there and posts them to my Evernote account.

The second place is the Safari Reading List. I moved for this from Instapaper a few weeks ago. This tends to be for posts that I’ve found interesting in Feedbin and would like to look at later on.

The third and last place is my private bookmarking application. A couple of months back, I decided to roll my own bookmarking application. It’s far from complete but it serves it’s purpose for the moment.

Actions

Actions are still a work in progress. Previously I would capture all actions in TaskPaper and then during my weekly review, assign them to a list. For reasons I mentioned in another post, I decided to switch to Todoist for all my list management needs. Anything that requires actioning is added here to the inbox list so that I can assign it to a project or folder during my weekly review.

Emails

This wouldn’t be a capture post unless I wrote about my inbox. I tend to keep my inbox fairly clutter free. I carefully vet email subscriptions on a monthly basis and I use a lot of rules that shuffle emails about to various folders. I don’t think of my email as multiple inboxes, I tend to view as just one. I have the keyboard navigation pretty much memorised so that I can switch from one folder to another and read and organise emails as I need too.

Most of the emails I do receive are either deleted or filed away on folders, but for a small percentage of them though I forward them onto Evernote. After losing a few important emails a couple of months ago, I’ve decided to invest in Evernote as a place for important information that I can’t afford to lose.

Still too many inboxes

One thing that has become clear from these captures that I do the most is that I still have too many inboxes to maintain. All in I’m sitting at five inboxes at the moment. That’s still too many for me.

In a perfect world I would have one inbox that is connected to all the other products and services that I use and lets me move and organise items according to their context, but that’s an idea for another day.

At the moment, I think the best I can do is identify a place where I capture the most items and make it integrate with other inboxes with some kind of automated workflow. I can do this easily enough with the tools I have on my MacBook Pro possibly using scripts, but the challenge will be making this work on my iPhone or iPad.

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Keeping a schedule

Last week I started work on an idea for application. Just a small prototype of the idea really. No tests, no fancy user-interface, just the bare bones of the idea. In typical agile fashion I wrote out some of the basic features that I needed for the prototype as user stories on index cards and then set to work. Then a call from a client came in and before I know it, it’s two days later and I’ve not started work on the prototype.

My problem is that I’m starting client work as it comes in and my own projects are getting done in really small pieces. I am not keeping a daily schedule.

Truth is I haven’t kept a schedule of my work for at least a couple of years now. Not since I worked at a consultancy where you could plan your day most days. There was days where you would have interruptions to your schedule, but as it was customer support calls, you had determine if the customer’s support issue was that important that it had to be resolved there and then. With interruptions like this mounting on daily basis, I abandoned my calendar of work and just did work ad-hoc.

Now though I am more in control of my own time and schedule. I am my own company and I need to schedule work to ensure that client work gets done most days, but I also allow for some time to work on ideas and products.

Scheduling your work in a calendar is a commitment to getting that work done. I have the benefit of having a laptop with an external monitor so I use my laptop as my secondary screen. On here I have my calendar and I leave it open while I am working as a reminder to stay focused on the task I have set myself.

I’m using Apple’s Calendar application and the iCloud service to synchronize my calendar to my phone. This makes it easy for me to schedule stuff in my calendar when I am away from my desk. I use the brilliant Fantastical app to manage my calendar from my phone. It has a great agenda view for upcoming appointments and it has a very easy appointment entry system that means you don’t need to fill in four different fields to make an appointment. It’s smart enough to know that “10am Meeting with client” should be scheduled for 10am.

Scheduling your day and your week is a great way to making a commitment to getting things done. It’s more structured than a to do list, but provides a way of breaking your day down into chunks so that you’re not working on the same thing for hours or days at a time.

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Reviewing the master list

It’s become clear to me that there’s far too much stuff on my master list. It’s things that I want to do, but I’ve started reaching too far forward into the future and starting noting stuff down that I want to do but I won’t be able to do for at least six months.

Speculating on what I should be doing in months is no good. I need to see a short term list of things that I can be working on now rather than later. My master list is also slightly unbalanced.

One thing I can do about the issue of the number of items in my master list is to adopt an idea from Kanban boards. In a previous role in an agile team, we kept a backlog of development cards that represented application changes that were next in line to be worked on.

In order to keep my master list lean but still keep a note of stuff for the future, I’m going to keep a separate backlog file that contains actions for projects that I want to do in the future but perhaps don’t have the time in the near future. Doing this and reviewing it once a month will also mean that I can just forget about my backlog until I have cleared everything from my master list.

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Are you automating?

Automation. The programmer’s best friend. Programmers automate as much as they can. Setting up a new computer, building servers and testing software are just some of the areas where we like to automate things. We hate typing in four commands where one will do. Automation saves so much time.

Not everyone is a programmer though. So how can you automate your interactions with your computer so that you’re not doing as many manual tasks?

###Check your application settings

Lots of applications and services now integrate with other applications and settings. Instapaper for example allows me to save the articles that I like to my Pinboard account. After I set this up in the Instapaper settings page, I can then like an article and it will be saved to Pinboard for me. This is just a small example of the automation you can achieve. Baked in settings to applications is great but what if you want more automation?

###Checkout IFTTT

IFTTT is a service that allows you to create recipes for the different services that you use. It will then run these recipes when they are triggered. Each recipe contains a trigger and an action. When the trigger is fired the respective action is carried out.

An example of this in action is the monthly redux blog post that I put out at the start of each month. It is a list of the previous month’s blog posts on my blog. Rather than writing this by hand though, I can let IFTTT do the work for me.

When my recipe detects a new item on my blog’s RSS feed, it then writes the title of the blog post and a link to it to a text file in my Dropbox account.

At the end of the month I cut the contents of this file and paste it into my blog’s content editor and use it as the content for my new monthly redux blog post.

In order for IFTTT to work effectively, it needs to have access to the services that you use. You may not be comfortable doing this, but I find that it’s a great way to automate tasks that I would normally do by hand in the past.

Being able to defer manual tasks to services that automate them for you saves you time. Not only that, it lets you get on with more important tasks. This week watch out for manual tasks that you could be automating. Even if you can save a few minutes off your day, it’s going to add up over the year. And that’s time not wasted.

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The Daily Checklist

In an effort to be more productive, healthy and fit I’ve decided to keep a daily checklist for work days so that I can start tracking progress on my day. Here’s the list I’ve decided to center on for weekdays:

  • Do one major important task - Ideally this will be completing some work for a complete or working on a feature for one of my own products.
  • Do one minor important task - This is really a secondary bit of work for a client or for myself. If my major task is for a client, then I will always try and complete a task on one of my own products for that day.
  • Eat a healthy portion of fruit and vegetables - I’m not fanatical about my weight, but I do like to eat sensibly. Making sure I have a good portion of fruit and vegetables at least once a day is a good starting point to eating better.
  • Workout or go for a walk - To coincide with changes to the diet, I’m also looking to get some exercise in during the day. Starting from next week, I’ll be walking my son to school every morning and I’m also going to fit in a couple of runs a week. Sitting at a desk all day as your job can be brutal on your body, so it’s a good idea to stretch your legs when you can.
  • Journal - Lastly, the journal entry. A time for reflection on the day and to log idea, progress, notes and other stuff. I do this a few times a day but I try to write a summary at the end of the day.

I haven’t bothered setting a list for the weekend, as it’s not really important to have a checklist on days like this. The weekend should be a work-free zone anyway and as long as I get some time to spend with the family and relax then I’m happy.

I’m doing this for the month of March to see if I can get some kind of order in my work day. One thing I’ve found about freelancing is that the day can quickly run away from you and before you know it, you haven’t completed any of the things you set out to do at the start of the day. Embedding these five habits should ensure that I keep my clients happy, I make progress on my own projects and I keep myself healthy.

I’m using Habit List to track my daily habits but there’s a lots of other habit tracking apps or methdos you can use instead.

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Firefighting

Firefighting. I’ve been doing this for most of the last three weeks. It’s the onslaught of unforeseen tasks and issues that take you away from the work you had planned to do. It’s the ad-hoc requests and “emergency” problems that try to rob you of a productive day.There’s nothing less motivating than firefighting most of your time at work and gradually seeing those deadlines slip again and again and again. Thing is, too much firefighting can be averted in most scenarios. Here’s a few tips which I found quite good. It’s mostly common sense, but I sometimes lack this human trait!

  • Identify the source of your firefighting - First of all make sure you know where all your firefighting issues are coming from. The most important step. More likely it’s a single person or organisation than a random number of people or organisations.
  • Filter all incoming fires - Make sure to route all firefighting issues to the right person. As a developer, I’m often mistaken as the “go to guy” for a particular project or software. In reality, these issues should first go to someone else first, before they come to me.
  • Schedule time for firefighting issues - Once the issues have come in, block off some time later on in the day or week for dealing with these issues. It should be a maximum of two hours per day. Spending too much time on firefighting issues is counter-productive and a real motivation killer. Believe me, I’ve been there.
  • Think about a long term solution - Firefighting should be a short term phase. You shouldn’t allow this to be come part of your daily work. When resolving issues of this natrue, ask yourself “could this happen again?”. If the issue probably will, then think about a long term solution that will stop the issue continually coming back to you.

Most firefighting work is work that we can put off for a later part of the day or week.​ Don’t let your day go to pot with putting out fires.

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