The Covid-19 pandemic was my first taste of working from home. The first week went by in a blur of confusion and while I didn't get much done, I still somehow ended up feeling exhausted and overworked.
It was clear that over the years, my productivity as an engineer had become so deeply entangled with my presence in a professional setting, that I would have to rethink my approach to work in order to get anything done.
Like any good engineer, I started out by breaking my problem into manageable chunks:
1. Tracking Time: I needed a way to keep track of the number of hours of actual productive work I did, minus the intermittent distractions that working from home brings.
2. Tracking Tasks: I needed to quickly write down and prioritize all the tasks that were discussed in the multitude of zoom calls. In addition to that, I also needed to keep track of small tasks that were weighing on my mind like following up on messages/emails I had sent out or points I needed to discuss with particular co-workers when they became available.
After some research and trying out a bunch of different apps, I settled on 2 that would solve both of the aforementioned problems:
My criteria was simple, I wanted a quick and dirty solution to my problems that was going to be inexpensive or, even better, FREE.
What I loved about toggl is how easy it is to get up and running and the fact that it has a useable free tier, unlike many freemium apps these days.
Toggl comes with mobile, desktop and web apps with real time data syncing between them. Oh and did I mention, its free !
I set up 3 very basic projects on toggl :
- work break (for when I took a coffee break or phone break or watching random youtube videos break; while working)
- personal productivity (non-work, but productive stuff, such as writing this article)
These enabled me to track just enough of my time to make me accountable and productive without it feeling like a chore.
Chances are, you've probably used/ heard of OneNote before. But did you know you can make kanban boards in OneNote ? ... well sort of.
That was a game changer for me.
Overnight OneNote went from being an app I occasionally used for note taking to a staple app that always remains open on my laptop.
With three columns set up for "Waiting", "Todo" and "Complete" items, I was able to build a very simplistic task tracking system that works for me.
I can jot down tasks during meetings in the "Waiting" section while they come in thick and fast. There is no limit on the length and type of content I can add to a task so I can mix text, images and doodles. Then, using OneNote's convenient ability to drag and drop bullet points, I can move the ones I want to work on into the "Todo" section.
Once done, I can simply drag a task, along with all associated data over to the "Complete" section. If I want to record the time at which a particular item is completed, a timestamp is just a right-click away.
The sheer simplicity of using OneNote for task tracking is just mind blowing for me. It makes me wonder why more people don't use it, specially since its free.
Using OneNote and Toggl track has allowed me to reach, or dare I say, surpass my prior levels of productivity. I'm feeling a lot less stressed out because I don't have to worry about remembering small tasks. I can navigate the distractions that come with working from home, satisfied in the knowledge that I wont forget anything. And at the end of the day, I'm no longer left wondering about where all the time went.
If you have any productivity tips/hacks/ideas that have worked for you, please can leave them in the comments below or tweet them to me at @thesohaibtariq. As a self professed serial procrastinator, I need all the productivity advice I can get 😀
If you found this article even remotely helpful, it would mean the world to me if you could share it with your friends. I'm trying to give this blogging thing a go, positive feedback will help me persevere through the initial lonely phase.