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I’ve always been a bit of a productivity nut. I had a palm pilot when I was 16 (which got stolen out of a hotel room in Prague, but that’s another story for another day), a Blackberry at 21, and the first iPhone within days of it coming out.
I even had those Franklin day planners in my early teens before smart devices were a thing.
If I look back, I think the reason for prioritizing being productive and effective was so that I had a sense of control. My brain values certainty and autonomy and those tools were the perfect way to get that need filled.
Fast forward to today and I still am fueled by a really great app, marking off a to-do list, and staying on top of all of the projects – both personal and professional – in my life.
Since things have changed since those Franklin planner and palm pilot days, I recently took stock of the tools I was using and made some sweeping changes – as in, a brand new email app, todo app, and some pretty advanced connections to ensure they all talk to each other.
I hope it helps as you go into 2020 with goals and projects that you want to accomplish in both your personal and creative life.
GETTING THINGS DONE IN 2020
First off, if you haven’t read David Allen’s Getting Things Done, you should start there. It was what spawned these sweeping changes I just mentioned.
But for those of you who’d rather just dive in, here are a few important principles to take away from the book:
- You need a system.
- You need to review that system often.
- The most important part of the system is that it is able to capture everything because as soon as you empty your mind of all the things you have to remember, you are free to be creative and do the work.
Here’s what my system looks like, with links to check out if you’re interested, and then I’ll talk about the review aspect after that.
The most important thing my previous system was missing was a singular, catch-all inbox. While I had basically done away with paper notes, sticky notes, whiteboard checklists, and anything else physical a few years ago, my “inbox” was scattered across a number of different platforms.
I had all of my work projects in Basecamp. My ideas and notes were scattered between the Apple Notes app, Evernote, Voice Memos, text messages I would send myself, bookmarks in Safari, and my Moleskine notebook that I use for my morning pages every morning.
If it sounds familiar you know how much time you waste just trying to remember where you put something. I had done some management within that system to transfer notes from my Moleskine to Evernote (personal projects) or Basecamp (work projects), but it still felt too scattered.
Now, however, I have a singular place for everything. A catch-all inbox for anything that I need to do or be reminded of. All of the external apps talk to it and it has made my day so much more productive and effective.
After going over a number of todo and reminder apps, I landed on Todoist.
I needed a tool that could receive inputs from multiple places so that I didn’t have my world scattered all over these different apps.
The way I use it is by separating out by project. That way, when I’m working on a work project, I can look at those context-specific todos and notes and focus on just that, rather than sorting through everything I need to do across my whole life.
Here’s what that looks like:
What’s great about that is that if you’ve found yourself with an open block of time to get things done, you can switch over to the “today” or “inbox” views in the app to see what’s up next across every project.
Now, getting things into Todoist. Obviously you can manually add tasks and next actions and notes using the plus button at the bottom of the app, or on your computer.
But, what about getting assignments from other people? What about other apps like Basecamp or email?
Spark – A New Email App
I was trying to make things work with Apple Mail, but it was time to switch to something a little more robust. I researched and researched and landed on Spark. It works across all my devices – though notably does not have a web-based option – but the switch was easy and I’ve been extremely happy with some of its features not found in the Apple Mail app.
You can read all about it on their website to see what you think, but the big thing was being able to forward an email into Todoist. Seriously.
It’s been amazing for when I need to take something from an email and turn it into a todo for a project.
Basecamp – Killer Project Management
I’ve used Basecamp for all of my work projects for a number of years now, starting on Basecamp 2. The most recent version of the app adds communication tools for teams, a schedule, and much more.
I always hated, though, how I’d have all of my work todos in Basecamp spread across different projects and my personal todos in another app. I didn’t like to have to switch.
So, enter Pleexy. Yes, this is getting into the weeds a little, but stick with me (or skip to the next section).
Pleexy allows me to connect my Basecamp projects to separate projects in Todoist so that when there is a todo assigned to me it automatically pops up in the appropriate project there. When I mark it off in Todoist, it gets marked off in Basecamp. Boom. Productivity.
Now, the best thing for YOU about Basecamp is that rather than spending $99 (plus tax) every month for an account, the awesome folks at Basecamp just released a FREE personal version of the app. Seriously. Free. All the functionality at the project level but limited to how you can add team members and the number of projects.
But seriously, if you are looking for a new way to manage your creative projects, you have to check out Basecamp.
Notion – The Missing Piece
Remember how I would have all of my notes and personal projects spread across Evernote, voice memos, texts to myself, and even google docs and spreadsheets, APPLE docs and spreadsheets, and who else knows where else?
Yeah. That sucked.
Enter Notion. All of those things in one, but on steroids, and a joy to use.
I’m still on the free version, but the power of this app is something I haven’t seen since I first started using Basecamp.
It’s immensely flexible and robust and can help you to keep track of your life in basically any way you see fit.
It’s what I now use for brain dumps that are longer than a todo list item. I have different pages for every personal project, I have ways to track progress, to clip webpages and drop them into different folders, it’s my brain in digital form.
Reviewing Everything Regularly
Lastly, all of these tools are great but if all you’re doing is dropping things into Todoist or Notion or anywhere else and never revisiting them, you’re not using the system.
It’s essential to get all of the things out of your head and into your inbox, but then you need to review them often in order to take action.
Every week, take 30-60 minutes and review your week. Go through your calendar, go through every project, personal and work-related. Start with the big chunks – are you filming one day? Do you have standing meetings that you have to attend at a certain time?
Put the big chunks into your calendar. Then block out creative time to work on your projects uninterrupted. If you work a day job, you may need to block out time in the mornings or evenings or on weekends to be able to do some deep, meaningful work on your projects.
Then schedule the next level of things, things that are due on a specific day. Add what you can to your calendar, and go through your list of projects and assign dates throughout the week to your different tasks. This is where you make progress on the little things for your projects, the things that take less than an hour to accomplish.
Phone calls, research, outlines, sketches, file management, etc. These all have to get done and you get so much more of it done if you schedule it rather than wait for it to be a pressing need.
Have your tools open – calendar, todo list, notion or other notes app – so that as you’re going through you can capture ideas and tasks as they pop up. They always do.
Once a day – it can be the night before or the morning of – review what’s on your calendar and your todo list for that day. Make any adjustments based on what your priority is for the day, and make sure you have everything top of mind to be able to get it all done.
These daily reviews also benefit from having your tools open so that you can rearrange things and add new ideas and tasks.
This whole system is just one approach to being productive and getting things done. Whatever your system ends up, it should work for you, be exciting to use, and be simple, not a hindrance.
As you use the system more and more it will evolve and grow to be an extension of your brain in a way that allows you to be so much more effective. It will free your mind of all the clutter of reminders and tasks so that you have the freedom and space to be creative and do the work that you love when you have time to sit down and do it.
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