This is the third article in my “How I Work” series. I previously wrote about how I read and consume textual information and how I write. Today I’m going to talk about some general productivity tools and tips.
The most important productivity tip is that there isn’t a single set of productivity tips that will work for everyone. This is what’s working (mostly) for me now. It might be right for you. I hope it can help. But it might be wrong for you. Read, evaluate, learn.
Getting Shit Done and Inbox Few
Some years back, I read the Getting Things Done (GTD) book by David Allen which has become one of the most well-known productivity systems. It made some good points. It also had some aspects that just didn’t make sense for my life. I suggest that everyone read the book and see what might work. I don’t recommend that everyone blindly adopt a productivity ideaology. I first heard the term “Getting Shit Done” (GSD) from my friends Chris and Bruce and it’s about focusing and doing work rather than being bogged down with systems and process and lists and methods. I don’t worry so much about GTD and focus instead on GSD.
One big takeaway from GTD is that one has to be able to trust their system. If your task system is in a haphazard state so that you’re not always sure if things will be there (or be findable at the right time), it’s not going to relieve you of the mental burden of keeping all of your tasks in your head. You have to be able to trust the system.
Another technique from which I’ve learned but not necessarily adopted is that of Inbox Zero. The tenet of Inbox Zero is that inboxes (email and otherwise) should be processed and emptied frequently, and that any items which require further action should be moved into a task system. I’ve found out that I tend to end up at Inbox Few, with less than ten items hanging out in my inbox. I try to reply to messages that need replies and the ones that stick around in my inbox are often those which will need replies at a future date.
Keeping Track of Stuff: OmniFocus
I use OmniFocus as my task management system. As I start to write this, I realize that I should probably write an entirely separate article (or few) about how I use OmniFocus, but I do want to hit a few of the high points and important aspects of how I manage tasks. The Omni Group makes beautiful software that is quite functional and plays well in my computing ecosystem. I have OmniFocus on my laptop, iPad, and iPhone. Yes, it’s kind of expensive, but having a task system which I can trust is important. I know that I can easily put data into OmniFocus, attach appropriate projects and contexts, access it from anywhere, and the system will make me aware of what needs to be done at the right moment.
I have OmniFocus on my iPhone, iPad, and my laptop. Some version of OmniFocus is always with me. As soon as they release the OmniFocusInYourShower version, I’ll get that too because that’s where a lot of ideas start. Having it always around means that whenever something pops into my head that will require later action, I can put that item into OmniFocus. Sometimes I put in all of the details; sometimes I just put a skeleton bit of information into the system. Either way it’s been captured. One giant failure of past task management systems has been that I’ll have an idea when I’m not at my computer (or didn’t have my paper day planner handy) and the idea is lost before it makes it into my system.
Password Smarts: 1Password
With my various website, server, and other logins numbering into the triple digits, a system to manage them becomes necessary. I understand the importance of using strong passwords and not reusing the same password over and over. I use 1Password to keep track of various logins, passwords, software licenses, and other bits of information requiring security. They have versions for Mac, Windows, iPhone, and the iPad – much like OmniFocus, this is something that’s useful everywhere.
Stop Wasting Time
One might think this could go without saying, but one huge productivity tip is to take a hard look at where you’re spending your time and whether or not you’re getting anything from it. If you’re spending a ton of time on Facebook, is that detracting from something else you could or should be doing? How much TV do you watch? How much time do you spend playing games? Downtime is important, but keep it in check.
Make use of “waiting” moments. I’ll read RSS feeds while waiting in line at the store. I can scan incoming email during the couple of minutes while lunch warms up in the microwave. On a slightly longer duration, I’ll do something productive on an upcoming flight instead of take a nap.
Up Next: How I Work with Photos
I’ll be taking a break for a few days from this series of posts. Next week, you’ll find information on how I work with photos and other media.