This is the third in a series of three posts centered around the topic of how we utilize our time and the differences between being effective versus being productive. There really is a difference.
Let me start off by asking you a few questions.
What does it look like when you’re working your to-do list?
Where do you keep your to-do list?
Do you have a long ass list that just keeps getting longer as each day passes?
When do you work on your list?
Does the idea of to-do lists stress you out?
Do you feel like a hamster in a wheel, going 200mph, but not feeling like you’re making any progress?
I think that’s enough. You get where I’m going.
In my last two blog posts, I encouraged you to think about how you were spending your time and then setting up rituals and habits to help steer you toward your goals. That’s a great place to start. However, that’s only part of my formula for effective productivity.
Today we’re going to talk about the nitty gritty. The stuff that really counts. I’m talking about the “Getting stuff done!” time. What does that look like for you? This is the time of day that is time blocked for your critical tasks. Do you have a system, process or ritual for that?
For years I have practiced the Getting Things Done methodology by David Allen. It’s honestly the only system that’s ever worked for me. If you’re not familiar with his philosophy, I would recommend that you start by reading the book.
My Getting Things Done system is merely a hub that I’ve created, using specialized software made specifically to facilitate GTD. It’s a system that helps me get all of my upcoming tasks, thoughts and ideas out of my head and into a system. The software I use is called Omnifocus and this is where all the magic happens. I’ve tried a ton of task management applications, but none are as robust as Omnifocus. Omnifocus is more expensive that other task management applications, but it works. And after you’ve gone through the learning curve of learning how to use Omnifocus, you’ll see that It works very well. I learned how to use Omnifocus from one of my favorite productivity blogs, Asian Efficiency. The guys over at Asian Efficiency are brilliant and are one of my best kept secrets. Now the secret’s out! If you’re a PC/Android user, Todoist, Wunderlist and Asana are some other task management systems that work well.
Here’s a high-level, graphic overview of the Getting Things Done system. It appears complicated at first glance, but it really isn’t.
Image Credit: www.artofthinkingsmart.com
Omnifocus is my hub and I believe that people who are effective with their time tend to have a centralized go-to place where all of their “stuff” intersects and lives. I’ve learned that if you don’t have a central source from which to work, things can get messy and unorganized. That just creates additional stress. Now don’t get me wrong, it would be silly for me to tell you that you should only work out of one application. Not so. I have a half dozen apps that I use every day, but they all integrate into my hub which is Omnifocus. Just knowing that I can link everything to Omnifocus and work out of that one application simplifies so much.
The premise of David Allen’s Getting Things Done philosophy is to get all your thoughts, reminders, ideas and anything else out of your head and into a system. It is a system that’s organized to help you be productive and effective with your time. Creativity flourishes when you’re not bogged down with a bazillion thoughts swirling around in your head. He uses the analogy of RAM in a computer and our brains and the similarities of how they work. RAM stands for random access memory, a type of computer memory that can be accessed randomly by the computer operating system. Our short term memory acts like random access memory in our brain. We only have a limited amount of short term memory and when we bog it down all day with reminders, ideas, to-do’s and other thoughts, it eventually overwhelms us and causes a lot of anxiety. Why? Because we spend a good portion of our energy trying to contain all of this information in a very limited, small amount of space in our brains. Our brains weren’t intended to work this way. The best way to describe how the Getting Things Done methodology works is by sharing this quote by David Allen:
“Your mind is for having ideas, not for holding them.” -David Allen
By creating a way to get your ideas and thoughts out of your head and into an organized system, you will ultimately unleash your true potential for getting a ton of stuff done. Getting Things Done is just a system. All you have to do is create the system and then work the system.
What I love about the Omnifocus application is that it runs on all devices. You may not choose Omnifocus as your hub, but keep in mind that whatever application you do use, make sure that it can be used on all your devices. As I move through my day, if I have an idea, a task, or a reminder that I need to capture, I can easily pull up Omnifocus on my my iPad, my iPhone or on my Mac. I can easily get the thought out of my head and into my system for processing later. I can’t tell you how peaceful and relaxing it is to know that I have all of my to-do’s, ideas, followup tasks and a list of current projects all in one place. When I time block chunks of time to work out of my “hub”, I always know where to go. It’s Omnifocus. Everything is in its place.
Image Credit: www.omnifocus.com
Omnifocus allows me to clip emails from my Mail app and easily turn it into a task. This feature alone allows me to run through my list of emails in my Inbox, tag the emails that require an action or followup into an actionable item in Omnifocus. Then I can move the rest of my emails into a separate folder that I’ve created titled ‘Processed Email’. Doing this gets me to ‘Inbox Zero’ by the end of every day. Then, when I’m going through my list of to-do’s and come across an email “task”, I can click the link that Omnifocus automatically created when I tagged the email. Omnifocus automatically finds the email and displays it in my Mail application for me. I don’t have to waste time searching for the email. I just have to complete the task of replying to the email. This is just one example of how I use both Mail and Omnifocus to help me funnel tasks in the form of emails into my “hub”.
Omnifocus is so powerful, that it has the capability of creating recurring to-do lists. This is especially helpful for those recurring tasks that need to be done, daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly and annually. I have lists setup for each of these in Omnifocus. When a task is completed and checked off in each of these lists, they are automatically recreated depending on their frequency. For example, I have a set of tasks that I perform at the beginning of every month. After I complete these monthly tasks, at the beginning of the next month, my set of monthly tasks are automatically created by Omnifocus to be completed again.
Here’s an example of items that fall into my recurring Monthly Actions Lists:
Review Monthly Sales Goals For All Locations
Pay Month Sales and Use Tax
Review payroll percentages for prior six month period and establish budget for eligible wage reviews
Create journal entry to adjust inventory balances at each location in Quickbooks
Send in workers’ compensation interim report to insurance company
Email sales totals to Escarpment Village landlord
Here’s an example of items that fall into my recurring Quarterly Actions Lists:
Send sales totals to Domain location’s landlord
Meet with tax accountant
Review financial statements for prior quarter
Review upcoming marketing plan and budget
Here’s an example of items that fall into my recurring Weekly Actions Lists:
Update cash flow plans
Review sales reports for each location
Review marketing plans and promotions
Review social media performance analytics
Lastly, to bring focus and attention to the items that have the highest priority, I do a weekly review of all my projects and tasks. After completing my daily recurring task list each day, I flag only five items from my list of projects at a time. When I complete those five tasks, I pull up my projects in Omnifocus and then choose another five tasks that have the highest priority in my mind. Why five? Five tasks is about the most I can do in any given day at a time. Creating a narrow focus on only five to-do items creates the clarity I need to actually get the items completed. In fact, I only allow myself to see those five flagged tasks. Doing so creates space and less distraction from all of my other to-do items. Limiting my tasks to only five at a time forces me to think about what’s most important and is going to get me closer to my goals faster.
Keep in mind, that you can also use Omnifocus for keeping track of all your personal tasks and ideas too. It just makes sense. I have all of my home projects set up in Omnifocus as well. Without turning this blog into a Getting Things Done and Omnifocus how-to session, what’s important to note is this. In order to deal with all the noise, distractions and information coming at us at alarming rates these days, you have to have a hub or a go-to place to store and then work on all of these things. Your ability to capture items on the fly and placing them into your system is key.
Regardless of what type of system you create or software you decide to use, just know there will be a little bit of work setting it up and mastering your processes for managing it. With a little practice, you’ll be pro at it in no time.
What about you? How do you process all of your to-do’s each day? Do you have a favorite software application that you use to help you manage your tasks? How do you stay focused each day on making sure you’re focusing on the tasks that are going to get you closer to your goals in the fastest way possible?