Creating a Productivity Plan of Action
Today's post is for my good friend Drew. We've been friends since 2006 when we were both working at Starbucks. We bonded over our love of everything Harry Potter and had numerous theoretical discussions about how the series would wrap.
Drew knows that I'm very particular about how I organize anything. And recently, her life has gotten quite busy. She has a full-time career, she's attending the UA for her MBA, and she has an active social life. When she heard that I was moving back to Tucson, she asked for my advice on setting up an organizational system. Mainly because she keeps forgetting plans, due dates, and important information.
I was quite flattered that she valued my opinion enough that she wanted my input. I also thought that if I was going to help her by explaining how I set up my system, then maybe I should share here too.
A little background on me and my processes in my luddite past:
I've actually used various systems over the years. Paper systems. As a teacher, I had a planner that included lesson plans and professional development workshops and meetings. The planner was built around the school calendar to include school and district activities and commitments as well.
And then I had my personal calendar, which also included the school calendar of important dates. I was duplicating so much information. I used pens in different colors to indicate whether an appointment was financial, medical, work-related, or social. I color-coded post-it notes for various projects. I was really great at writing one task per post-it note so that I could move them around if I needed to adjust my project. While this system worked well for me, I saw how technology was helping people carry around more information with less stuff.
And having access to all of my information without lugging around a filing cabinet was truly appealing to me.
When I bought my iMac back in 2012, I knew that I would eventually want an iPhone and an iPad. I was done with PCs and their viruses. With the help of my brother who gave me his old iPhone and an iPad gift from my dad, I was finally on my way to seamlessly streaming my life through the Cloud.
My first baby steps at organizing my digital data:
- I set up my Contacts, including birthdays that would push to my iCal.
- I started using iCal, including subscribing to a Federal Holidays calendar, for appointments.
- I set up my first wifi network. Until I had mobile devices, I had no need for wifi.
- I decided to purchase an AirPort Time Capsule for creating my wifi. Really, I wanted the wireless backup.
- I downloaded apps for services I used and became familiar with this new Cloud world.
I was just too busy to really think about an overall plan. How would I organize various documents? How much did I want to store in the Cloud versus on my iMac? How much money was I willing to spend on various storage solutions?
While my appointments were in iCal, many of my projects and tasks were still on post-it notes. I just didn't know how to integrate them into a system that would work for me. And I had zero time to experiment.
Then I discovered my new digital filing cabinet:
Oh, Evernote. How I love you! I started with the free version to just play around. See if I liked it. Mostly, I was using Evernote to help me organize my shopping, which was quite useful.
Then I started using Evernote for recipes, household inventories, and lists of movies to watch. I started planning vacations and moves with Evernote. I decided to upgrade to the Premium version and since then Evernote made streamlining my life achievable.
But Evernote is limited. Notes allow for one reminder date, not recurring reminders. And while it's a great database, it's just not as helpful with managing due dates for various projects. At least not for me. I've watched some Evernote Ambassadors explain how they jigger the system to make it work for them. And while their solutions may work for them, I was just not feeling them. Nope.
I needed to find one more program to help me manage my projects:
Project management may sound fancy pants, but everyone has various projects to accomplish.
Maybe you're renovating the kitchen. Or you're volunteering as a coach for a youth league. You're heading up a committee at work. You're tracking progress on a health goal. You're writing a book. Everyone has projects and the tech sector knows this.
Because the number of productivity apps and programs available is overwhelming. And I got sucked into that world.
1.My Person uses Things, which I tried. Everything about it felt clunky to me. Since I wasn't terribly engaged with their process, I kept forgetting to open the app. My tasks were piling up because I was ignoring the program. Not exactly useful for me.
2. I decided to find a program that would remind me of its existence. That was DropTask. DropTask is colorful and pretty and I could set it to email me a reminder every day of my task list. Yeah, I ignored the email. So again, not exactly helpful.
3. Being an overthinker, I decided that I needed to reflect upon my previous systems and why they worked for me. And that's when I realized that I needed to find a program to replicate my post-it note system. Something that would allow me to create multiple projects (color-coded, of course) and move the pieces of those projects around. The program would need to push my due dates to my iCal as well. And that's when I found Trello.
I've been using Trello for the past several weeks and I am loving it. And I'm using it. Every day. Major bonus!
Next week, I'll be posting more details about Trello's advantages and disadvantages, and how I use it.
I'm also going to be posting about the books that I'll reading to build my knowledge base. I'm a big believer that you can find just about any answer in the library. And for being a productive human being, I don't think one book offers THE solution. Instead, I believe that I have to create a system that works for me where I am in my life right now. Which means I have to synthesize various pieces of advice, identify different programs to use in different situations, and create a work flow that works for me.
I expect that I'll be reading and posting about all of these books in the coming months:
- Getting Things Done by David Allen - So many people worship this guy that I feel like this book is a must-read. I did try to watch his Tedx Talks, but he's not terribly engaging as a speaker. I couldn't get through the videos. I'm hoping the written word is more his medium.
- The Accidental Creative by Todd Henry - I don't remember how I found this title, but his book trailer appealed to me. The creation process can be painful, especially if I'm feeling bogged down by the number of projects I'm supposedly working on. With 240 pages, I feel like I could read this book pretty quickly. And I'm next in line for the digital copy at the Pima County Library!
- The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg - I bought this audiobook back when I had an Audible subscription. I'm curious about his research since I know that I have some bad habits. Generally, my procrastination is in check, but I would love to learn more about how to adopt good habits.
- Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck, PhD. - My new principal gave me a copy of this book since it's part of the professional development for our school. I'll be reading this research about the Growth Mindset versus the Fixed Mindset in the next few weeks...balancing my time with library books with fixed due dates. I was familiarizing myself with the concepts and found some folks who compared the Growth Mindset to Yoda and the Fixed Mindset to Luke. In The Empire Strikes Back, Luke insisted that the X-wing could not be moved out of the swamp on Dagobah, but Yoda proved him wrong. "Do. Or do not. There is no try." Star Wars connections, there are? Hooked, am I.
What's your Productivity Plan of Action? Please share advice you've found useful or programs that help you in the comments below. I'd love to hear book suggestions as well.