Pomodoro Timer. I found this app a while ago and recently began using it more frequently. It’s a simple, menu bar app that runs in the background. The goal is to help you deliberately break your work day up in to focused chunks. There are, of course, tons of variations on the theme. This one’s the nicest mix of function and design.
Bullet Journal. A simple, analog system that helps you organize and track tasks, notes, ideas, and events. The demo video is really intriguing.
The techniques that follow work together as an integrated set for me, but they probably won’t for you. Maybe you’ll get one or two ideas — probably out of the ideas I stole from other people. If so, I have succeeded.
The Key Habits of Organization. Mirrors the mental system I use for processing things. Leo shares some guidelines and tools to use, too. Neat post.
When in Doubt, Make A List. Great advice from Scott. When I’m stuck or doubting the right way to approach something my fallback is always to write a list down in my notebook, think it over, and then add it to OmniFocus. It may feel like a step backward at first but it always gets me moving in the right direction.
It’s almost 7 years old now but through the show notes of a Back to Work episode I ran across this interview Merlin Mann did with David Allen in 2006. It’s a compilation of 8 short conversations they had about everything from procrastination to priorities. 1
Something David said about work in general really struck me as interesting:
Most people haven’t acknowledged that their process is as much their work as anything else.
He also makes an interesting point about procrastination. We generally take procrastination to mean plainly not doing something. As David put it, though:
Procrastination isn’t just about not doing. It’s about not doing and feeling bad about it.
The point is that if you’re putting something off because you have more important and meaning full tasks to do in the meantime then it’s not procrastination, it’s life. The gut feeling of “Oh man, I should really get to this…tomorrow” is the issue as it’s your brain acknowledging that you should start on a task but you’re just not. Frequently that’s because you haven’t concretely defined the next step.
One of the concepts of GTD is ubiquitous capture. Basically the idea that you commit every note, idea, and task to paper or digital tools. As David put it later in the interview, “The mind is for having ideas, not for holding them.” The problem is that truly capturing everything is hard. So most people assume a buffet-style middle ground will work. To paraphrase how David Allen discussed this: Either your head is where you keep things or its not. There is no in-between or middle ground. Do all of GTD or none of it. Otherwise the process and tools won’t do you any good.
There was a portion toward the end, too, where David riffs on the role of attention and your mind:
What has your attention?…If you don’t pay attention to what has your attention it will take more of your attention than it deserves.
Really great series of interviews that are well worth a listen.
Jason Fried, Be More Productive. Shorten the Workweek:
When there’s less time to work, you waste less time. When you have a compressed workweek, you tend to focus on what’s important. Constraining time encourages quality time.
I’ve found that to be true not just on the week level but also on the day-to-day level. Limiting the number of hours you’re around in a morning, afternoon, or entire day forces you to really focus.
Most people measure productivity in terms of work, what they’re paid to do.
I prefer a different measure.
Productivity is the measure of how effectively you get done the things you rationally, explicitly want to do (including work when necessary). Productivity is the output of the exercise of free will. This isn’t a new generalization, adherents of GTD and other productivity systems know that productivity is about your life, not just your work.
There are so many productivity tools and philosophies out there, but it ultimately comes down to our own inner compass and ability to stay on track with whatever we are doing. And the key to that is the ability to be aware.
Are you making something?. Seth Godin writes about how distraction can build when you use the same device for work and play. Using a separate device for play so allows you to realize how much break time you’re taking. That way you can get back to making something real.