Commitment is only one part of personal productivity. Another key to personal productivity is learning to focus on the “personal” part of it. Every one of us is very different in the ways we respond to structures. Some can stay within the confines of the Covey method, while others need more flexibility. When we are able to step back and see our personal needs objectively , that is when we are able to create the right system for ourselves. If you are similar to myself, you will end up tailoring your productivity techniques to your own needs and will end up pulling elements from many places. Ultimately this is the best route to go. You will be able to take into account when your peak hours of productivity are, which of your tasks take longer, and whether or not you are giving yourself too much or too little time per task. Most importantly, you are in control of your system and how it is structured for your personal productivity goals.
To give you an idea of what a structure can look like, I am going layout the system that I have put together for myself and break it down into conventional & digital. It also bears mentioning that this is generally for my day to day activities and such. While I do use this structure professionally, I also have several other techniques I use when working with people or projects which I will discuss in the next article.
- Conventional: I am very tactile, I love to touch, hold and of course, write on things. So I still use conventional paper tools but I use them in tandem with digital ones. This element was and is very important for me. I didn’t want to give up my wall calendar or my journal because they have always worked for me. I really can’t say I prefer one over the other but, I will admit to owning more printed books than digital ones and probably always will. I only have two conventional methods for my personal productivity system and they work for me. I am a staunch advocate of “if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it.”
- Wall Calendar: Despite having a phone with a calendar, I still use a regular wall calendar. Mine hangs on the wall behind my kitchen sink so I am able to review my day/week while doing dishes or prepping a meal. This method has worked for me for many years and I have never had a reason to stop using it. I have tried calendars on my computer, phone, pda, tablet and I am never as diligent with them as I am with my wall calendar. Once I recognized that, I stopped focusing on forcing myself to use a digital calendar. Personal Productivity for each of us is the same way, if you have a method that has worked for you and still works for you, there is no reason to abandon it, even in the age of technology.
- Notebook: I have an Android tablet (ok, its a B&N NookColor that I turned into a tablet but, that is beside the point.) and it is great for some things, for other things, not so much. I still carry with me a journal that I write most of my ideas, notes, recipes, etc in. I use it for two reasons:
- 1st: It is quicker than going into the tablet and swiping/typing in my notes. Plus I can sketch out an idea if I need too, I use a bit of mind mapping here and there.
- 2nd: It gives me a break from technology. I am a firm believer that you need to take a break from technology and give your brain space to relax and breath. We are constantly inundated with media and any time we can spend with just our thoughts is time well spent IMHO.
- Email: I wish I could be without email, I have tried several times and have accepted that I need to use it, both professionally and personally. Having said that, I use both Gmail and Thunderbird. For work I use Gmail since I can access it anytime, anywhere without issue, I also use it as my primary address book. For my personal email I use Thunderbird with the Lightning plugin to have an integrated calendar. The reason I use two options is because I want to keep them separated as much as possible. I don’t want my personal and professional contacts to bleed back and forth & I don’t want to be sorting out work and personal emails. Even though I can setup filters and multiple folders in Gmail, I’ve always really liked using Thunderbird. So while email is a very generic tool, many people have a tendency to not separate work and personal emails. This not only causes issues in your inbox but it also doesn’t allow you to be away from work. Mentally you are always “on” and unable to relax and very defeating for personal productivity.
- Documents: I need to access documents for work fairly often so, I use GoogleDocs for this. On my tablet I use Documents to Go to access/edit/create them. This has been working out great for me since I don’t have to wait until I am at my laptop. At home, I still use GoogleDocs for work and for my personal needs I use Office and keep copies locally. I rarely (never) have a need to access my personal documents when I am away from home. If I do, I already know what files I will need and I just move them over to the tablet. The other piece of GoogleDocs I like is the ability to share with others and restrict editing.
- Task lists: I had to move over to digital for these, I had too many pieces of paper in my pocket and I didn’t really like filling my journal with them. So I moved over to using my phone for these. I am still searching for the best application for me and task lists. Right now I just use Notes and keep several different lists, this has been working out great for me. I tried using sites where I would text entries to my task list and hashtag keywords so it entered into different lists. Then the site would sync the updated list across everything. After awhile I realized I only use my phone for task lists so I had little reason for syncing. I am still keeping my eyes open for an awesome task list application! Know of any?
- Calendars: I use Lightning addon for Thunderbird for my personal digital calendar(I haven’t given up yet, though it is pretty neglected). For work, I use Google Calendar, it is simple fast and easy to access. Plus I can sync it! So for professional use, it works out great. I am in the process of setting up Thunderbird and Google Calendar to be able to sync with each other, not for any real reason other than learning how to do it. Much like my email, I prefer to keep my personal and professional calendars separate.
- Address Book Management: For many of us our contacts are our lifeblood, myself included. There many services to use for contact management as well such as Plaxo & Soocial, just to name two. I prefer Scrubly for my contact management. I have a few bad habits when putting “new” people into my phone, such as I never really look to see if they are already in there! So I do end up with duplicates/triplicates of people. I use Scrubly to remove/merge duplicates probably once a month (twice if I have been networking) and then I just sync the cleaned up address book back down to my phone and over to Gmail. So far it has saved my bacon twice as Scrubly also keeps a secure backup of my contacts. So why Scrubly instead of Plaxo/Soocial/Etc. ? It does what I need is the simplest answer. The majority of my contacts have come from personal meetings and networking. So I tend to enter them into my phone right then and when then I just use Scrubly to clean them up as I mentioned earlier.
- Social Media: The big thing these days! Social Media for me is a love hate relationship. It has taken a lot of goading from my friends to get on social media, which I find pretty funny, they on the other hand call me ancient. The primary reason for my slowness is that I am still not 100% sold on social media just yet. I have consulted on personal productivity with several people and social media has been one of the biggest problems for them to overcome. It was very easy for them to just “drop in for a few minutes” only to turn around and have wasted 45 minutes. This doesn’t mean that social media has no place in our personal and professional lives, it does and as we move forward it will become even more prevalent. But we need to control how often and for what we use it for. I tend to use social media for professional reasons such as self promotion and building new relationships online, I still prefer face to face interactions. Since I work freelance I prefer to build relationships being able to talk with someone, look them in the eye and shake their hand, as I said “ancient.”
I have created a system of basic elements that each of us have access to. What sets it apart however is how I use them. I limit my time on email by giving myself 10 minutes four times a day to check and respond to email. I do this for both personal and professional emails, it helps to keep the pattern consistent and simplifies everything. We all use tasks lists, chore lists, even grocery lists count! I organize mine based on how long something will take me to accomplish. If I have 6 tasks, I sort them so I can finish the easiest simplest ones first, then I move onto the harder more complicated ones. Calendars? I still prefer my wall calendar and still struggle with the digital one. Not because I don’t understand how to use one but because deep inside I know I will continue to use my wall calendar for personal matters so why bother duplicating that information elsewhere.
My system is not perfect, not even for me but, it is getting closer! It is important to recognize that personal productivity evolves like everything else. As new jobs or needs arise, your system may need to adapt to them. Knowing this, knowing that you need to be flexible in order to make a system work effectively for you is a core concept in personal productivity.
So what does this mean for you or anyone else who needs to take control of their personal productivity? It means that often no one system is the answer to your problem. You may have to put several different pieces together in order to get a more streamlined process down.
Next time I will be going over what techniques I use professionally to handle my task and clean off that task list!