Let me first preface this article by talking about something important. I like to change my productivity flow every few months to prevent myself from getting too complacent. I feel like life is like picking up sand and running with it. If I pick up a handful of sand and then start running full speed into deadlines and projects I am more likely to lose the sand quicker. I then need to stop, reorganize, pick up another full handful of sand and keep going.
This is for anybody who needs to shift focus on several projects on a daily basis. You also get bonus points if you work in an environment where you can easily be distracted or your attention is pulled in several directions over the course of a single day (colleagues talking, emails coming in, customer support, mini side missions you need complete from the bosses randomly).
I hit a rock a few days ago where I felt like I was down in the dumps because stuff was getting piled up so high it was hard for me to focus even on what needed to happen next. During work, I balance several projects: an ERP system, a business web system, a consumer web system, customer support questions relating to these systems, Masonite related questions, an aggressive internal business-related meeting schedule and a team of 7 people. I constantly feel pulled from several directions and it's hard to focus on 1 thing or the other. Especially when everything feels like it's piling up and you're just trying to juggle what's coming next.
This productivity workflow allows me to:
- Quickly pick up where I left off during distractions and when people pull my attention away.
- Always remember what I am working on at the time even when I get distracted
- Ability to see what I need to work on for a specific Action Filter (more on that later) and allows me to cleanly block time out to only focus on very narrow things
- It allows me to switch between a lot of projects where I would normally feel overwhelmed I now feel like I am steadily hacking away at tasks while managing time efficiently.
In other words, when deadlines start hitting and projects start piling up, you start to slowly lose the organization needed to stay productive. That's why every few months I stop and reorganize. Sometimes that means cleaning up my Todoist, maybe reading some more tips and tricks on how to stay organized and prevent what just happened from happening again and sometimes it means revamping how I do productivity completely and learn new ways.
Let's talk about what I've been doing this week where I feel like I am getting so much done lately. I am doing way more work, on time and feel less stressed.
Let's talk about why I chose some of the tools you see in this article.
I use Todoist because I have been using it for a long time and I think it is honestly the most perfect todo list app and I've used a lot of them. I am also almost a Todoist Grand Master so I have been using it for a while.
I also use Bonsai to manage work for my clients. I work a full-time job as well as balance consulting clients who use Masonite. Bonsai also has a Time Tracking tool called Bonsai Time Tracker which links directly to Bonsai to add all my time to my projects. You may most likely use another time tracking tool if you follow this article.
The first thing I use is Todoist. Todoist is a todo app that I've been using for about a year and a half at this point. I'm more than halfway to a grandmaster status.
I recently discovered a new way to manage Todoist. Instead of managing your work at a project level as most people do, you use something I call "Action Filters".
The Action Filters are red filters that you use to do the major things you work on. For example, I work on a few major categories at work like: a
Web project and an
ERP project. I'll keep it to those 2 for now.
I then make 2 filters for that and put it in my favorites section (which just puts it at the top so I can easily click it).
The filters are very simple. I am just checking for the existence of that original
ERP tag and I always want to see the next 7 days so I can plan accordingly and I don't get surprised by any tasks I didn't know were actually coming up at all.
Which will show my tasks in addition to the next 7 days out:
Another important step is I have an office tag as well. Since these 2 Action Filters happen in the office I don't need to tag them as
Office. I already know they are done at the office. The reason I tag things with
Officeis that they happen, or are going to happen, regardless of what Action Filter I am viewing so I want to see those tasks regardless of what I'm currently working on.
You can see in the above screenshot that I have a team leader meeting tomorrow. This meeting is actually about the ERP but I want to see that meeting even when I am currently working on the web.
Ok now that those 2 filters are in place. I simply use Time Blocking (more on that in the next section) which I can then slot time out and say "Ok I am going to start working on web stuff now so let's open that and see what I have to do today and what I have coming up soon I might have to prepare for." If I do a few hours on web stuff I'll open up my ERP Action Filter and do the same thing. I then have a bunch of tasks I can work on related to ERP.
Even when unexpected things come up it's ok you can feel free to tackle them. Maybe a web issue hits and you have to switch focus for an hour. That is 100% OK because once you're done you can come back and open back up the current Action Filter and keep working through the list. This strategy allows you to get pulled away but you can sit right back down where you were where you left off.
Something else I have been typically against is tracking my time. I never wanted someone actually knowing how long I was working on something. It just felt like a little bit of a micromanage to me and that was just another thing I had to worry about was someone questioning me on why I took X amount of time to complete X task.
But this time I was tracking time for myself. I personally wanted to know how long I was spending on working on various things.
I started uses Bonsai Time Tracker. Mainly because I use the Bonsai application in order to manage various clients I consult for. If you were doing this you can use whatever time tracker you want. It really helps though if it has a Mac app if you use Mac or some other kind of very easily accessible way of using it. You don't want to be spending too much time inside an app.
One of the tricks and reasons that time tracking helps me is it keeps me focused. I simply start up the timer, tell it what project I'm working on (ERP) and it starts a timer. Whenever I get distracted and look up and see the timer ticking I know I don't want to mess up my time estimates. If at the end of the week I see I spent 12 hours working on ERP but in reality, I know I spent some of that time on the web then I know it's not truly correct. So seeing the timer helps me from getting distracted only because I know I want to see only truly accurate time estimates.
Also if I forget to start the timer I can always modify the time before starting it. For example, if I didn't start the timer but I've been working for 15 minutes then I can just start a timer at 15 minutes.
A cool feature of Bonsai is that you can type what you're working on
This is great if I get pulled away and need to remember what I was working on. I can say "Oh right it says I was working on merging pull requests." I can't tell you the number of times people have asked me for something 2 weeks after they told me to do it and I remember I never completed it because I simply got pulled away and forgot what I was working on and just went to the next task.
One of the things I feel bad about is when I get distracted while working on a task. When I am halfway through a task and then I think "Let me look up the lyrics to some song because I forgot them." Now I look at the time and don't want it to get messed up but another thing I can do is simply stop the timer.
There is something about stopping the timer that makes me feel like I am in between tasks. I feel OK to be distracted because it feels more like taking a break than being distracted. I also feel comfortable knowing I can pull away and go right back to where I started because I can see inside the timer where I left off for reference. I know I won't have the issue of forgetting what I was working on and simply moving to the next task.
Another nice thing to know is how long I've been working on something. If I see I've only been working on an Action Filter for 1.5 hours I can say "eh let me work for another hour before moving to the next Action Filter." This allows me to manage my time more efficiently and I don't spend 90% of my time on 1 project and neglect another project which is something I used to do quite often.
It also allows me to say "Wow I've been working at this for 3.5 hours. Let me take a break and walk around some."