Every few months I like to revisit my personal goals, values and habits. Company quarterly planning events are always a good reminder to give yourself the same treatment: evaluate your progress/wins/losses, refocus and try new experiments.
After trying just about every method and tool available, I’m taking a more minimal approach this time.
Here’s what I’ve been doing recently:
1. Uninstall all task managers. Seriously, do this. My ratio of time spent organizing my tasks to working is depressing.
2. Create a Trello Board: I have 1 for personal, 1 for LiveIntent. These are my two main modes and keeping them separate allows me to dedicate full attention to one at a time. Create columns for Not Now, Now and Done. If you want to get fancy, you can create labels as quick visual cues, but try to avoid unnecessary organization details.
3. Create cards for outcomes. These could be for completing huge projects or some smaller chunk of them. You’ll find that based on the size, complexity or dependencies of a project either method fits better. Each card should have a next steps checklist with at least 1 item and no more than 2-3. You can also use the comments as a journal or a space to jot down important things to remember.
4. Every morning prioritize all the cards in your Not Now column. If you could only do 1 thing today, what would it be? Then what? There are days when this is a genuine limit, so get used to making this decision.
5. Set aside time for High Priority Work. You will always have to attend/hold meetings, check emails and have coffee meetings. This is time devoted to and only to your highest priority outcomes.
6. Ok, the fun part: During your allocated time, set up a Pomodoro timer. In short, Pomodoro consists of working entirely and distraction free on one item for 25 minutes and then taking a 5 minute break. (For more info on Pomodoro and how to apply it check out Chris Winfield: How to Work 40 Hours in 16.7). Pick up your highest ranked card and put it in the Now column. Work on the next step until it’s done and create a new next step if needed. Keep progressing on this card until you are done or blocked. Put this card back and pick up the next. Do as many cycles as time permits, taking a longer break after 3-4.
I’ve found this method to be useful in making sure I’m always doing the highest priority work. Focusing purely on what can I do right now prevents you from getting paralyzed by a big, audacious project. I end up knocking out little tasks that build on each other. Framing these in terms of outcomes, instead of tasks in and of themselves makes it tangible to make progress.
You might surprise yourself by how quickly you can knock out some tasks when you focus on them. Some tasks will take multiple pomodoros to complete, others may take a few minutes. Since you’re always focusing on the most important outcome at that moment, time to complete doesn't matter.
There is no silver bullet here that helps you be productive. You need to be disciplined with prioritization and how you spend your time. This method merely removes some of the planning and organization stuff that ends up being a waste of time.