Blog

Productivity tips

16 years and 11 months ago · listen

I consider myself as someone abnormally concerned with efficiency. I'm always trying to find a way to execute tasks with the minimum waste of resources (time, money, energy, space,...), which is good, in a ecologic and generic way, but can be mind blowing when out of control.

During a day job, I'm pretty like John Doe: normally, I'm carrying more than one project at the same time, some where I'm really working on, others where I'm just waiting for someone to deliver some thing; when I get deep into something I usually forget other tasks, which can be tough, if we are talking groceries; So, I need a way to organize myself, to be as much efficient as i can.

I knew GTD (Getting Things Done) some time ago, and even use it for sometime, just to reach to the conclusion that is had to much overhead for my personal use. But it has some very good lessons in how to organize ourselves to better productivity, So, after some reading and digging, I decided to compile what I think are the best practices you can do to help yourself in being more efficient.

Stop and think

The first thing you need to do is think in all the projects you have in hands. Consider a project everything that can be break in smaller pieces (or tasks). "Organize a meeting" is a project, since it means "identify participants", "write an agenda", "invite participants", "get a meeting room", etc. When writing a project, identify (and write) all tasks needed to fulfill the project.

The second thing you need to think, is contexts. This is a valuable lesson from GTD, and works like this: during the 24 hours of the day, you live in different environments, or contexts. You start by waking up at home, you spend some time working (in different projects), you have (hopefully) some spare time. But this division can go even further, it can adapts to whatever you want. Some examples of contexts in GTD (the @ symbol identifies a context in GTD):

  • @brainstorm: notes for when I'm brainstorming
  • @calls: I'm on the phone now
  • @chores: oh routines routines
  • @computer: I'm on the computer
  • @daily actions: I'm want to do this today
  • @decide: decisions decisions
  • @design & code: when I open photoshop
  • @desk: I'm on my desk, can do some paperwork
  • @email: I opened my mail.app
  • @google: it deserves one, believe me
  • @mac: I'm on my mac
  • @online: I'm connected
  • @monitoring: I'm waiting for someone to send me something
  • @print: I'm going to the printer now
  • @refactor: It's done, but it could be better...
  • @read: so many things to read, so less time
  • @schedule: have to schedule something with someone
  • @someday soon: like, learn esperanto, painting...
  • @web: look mam, I'm browsing!
  • @write: needed, when you write posts this big</ul>

    The anatomy of a task

    Tasks should be written in this format: verb the noun with the object for this purpose.

    The verb should be a "physical" verb, i.e., should represent an action that can be done in a short period of time: write, buy or call are good examples. Organize, plan or prepare are bad ones. The noun should be as especific as needed, depending on your special needs. A purpose should be always added, to help you remember what is your primary goal (or project). Here some examples:

    Don't write "year-end report", write "get spreadsheet from work server for year-end report". Don't write "get with Joe", but instead "call Joe on Monday to invite for Friday night party". Of course, every time you have more than one task for the same purpose, you should have a project, and all tasks belonging to this project should be linked to it. Loose tasks can easily exist, and for those who are concerned with data integrity, just imagine that they are linked to a "loose tasks" project.

    Tasks in context

    Now, some of this tasks can be performed only in some contexts. "Buy GTD book from Amazon to learn more on GTD" can only accomplished under the @online context, so it should be linked to this context. And you should be able to find all tasks belonging to a context in a glance. This way, you can maximize your efficiency, buy doing similar tasks at once, even if they are for different projects.

    Tools

    There are some tools to help us achieving this, and I would like to mention the following:

    • GTDTiddlyWiki, a self preservation wiki, that you can download and use in your own computer
    • Kinkless GTD and iCal for Mac users
    • The Hipster PDA, for those who like it in carbon</ul>

      Planning

      You earn a lot of time when you plan. Really. A good tip is to think (and write) what you expect from next week. This should be a very concise table, with 3 columns: project, moving parts, weekly outcome. Good examples are:

      • "Year-end report", "Get room for meeting", "Have it booked by Wednesday"
      • "Acme Air", "Send business proposal", "final read and send it by Tuesday"
      • "Blog", "Contact page", "have it done by Friday"</ul>

        By the way, this should be done at the last day of the week, never on Monday morning. Your mindset on weekends is completely different when you know that you already did this, then when you know you didn't. Trust my words.

        With this table, you should end up every week day by planning the next one. This planning should be done in a calendar, where you should allocate slices of time to different tasks (or contexts) . Try to be fair on the slices, dont's waste to much time googling when you have a lot of phone calls to do.

        Epilogue

        The inspiration for these post came after watching this movie, it's a demo of Kinkless GTD, a free Mac OS X application, and is an excelent place to see GTD in action.

        Hope is useful.