I’ve tried lots of different techniques and tools over the last couple of years and some of them help but some just don’t work for me. Sometimes you can just tell straight away but it’s not always that obvious. Every now and then evaluate your processes and identify areas that may be unnecessary or that aren’t beneficial enough to warrant the time involved.
The most important thing when trying to improve your productivity is ‘Learn What Works For You’.
I found a lot of useful tidbits in David Allen’s Getting Things Done book, or GTD for short.
I wrote a very brief GTD review back when I first read the book. Some parts stuck and some didn’t. Over time though I have tailored a few things to better suit my way of working…
Here are a couple of the things that have stuck with me and some of my own experiences of them.
Tiny Tickler File
The ‘Tickler’ file is a way of storing upcoming tasks and to remind you to action them when the time comes.
Basically you have 31 folders for each day of the month and another 12 for each month of the year. Anything within the next month can go directly into the appropriate day folder otherwise it goes into the appropriate month folder to be reviewed later.
Every day you then empty the items from the daily folder into your Inbox to process. This folder should always be at the front of the filing system so it’s easy to find. Once you have finished with it it gets put back in order behind the next monthly file. This means that the most important files, the next few days, are always easily accessible at the front.
If you are going away for a week then just take out the next 7 day folders, working from the front again, and check them for anything that is required while you are away to make sure you don’t miss anything.
Anyway I have been using this system at home for quite a while now and have found it very useful. Along with my online calendars I think I always know what I should be doing. That doesn’t always mean I find the time to successfully do it, but that’s a different matter…
The problem I have with this system is the number of folders required, 43! This is probably great for some extremely busy manager type but the vast majority of my folders remain empty a lot of the time. So I decided to try and shrink the number of files required.
Monthly folders are a must as you need somewhere to store stuff for the long haul but do you really need a folder for every day of the month? I tried a couple of different methods and eventually settled on a much simpler setup. I simply replaced the 31 daily folders with the 7 days of the week. If you are setting this up in an office environment then you probably only need 5 for Monday–Friday.
Each evening you check the following days folder to prepare yourself for the next days work. Then move the folder behind the current months folder and any daily foders already there, unless the same day next week will actually be in the following month, in which case it goes behind the next months folder.
Behind every Friday (or Sunday it’s up to you) you will find a monthly file. So you each week you can go through this monthly file and see if anything is required to be tackled in the upcoming week. If so you simply move the note into the appropriate days folder. Anything else remains in the monthly folder and the folder is placed behind the last daily folder, ready for another viewing at the end of next week. If the month is about to end then all tasks should have been distributed or moved to the next month and then the monthly folder gets moved right to the back.
This slightly cut down version of David Allen’s tickler system should work fine for people without too many jobs on their plate. In fact I think there is even an added advantage checking the monthly folder on a weekly basis as you get an idea of what’s on the horizon…
Writing Stuff Down
Something that has really worked for me is ‘writing stuff down’. I carry a notebook around with me pretty much all the time. Even though I am obsessed with technology I never found a piece of software that worked for me, even after some pretty extensive searching I might add. This may soon change though as I am trialling a new online tool at the moment which seems to be working out quite well so far…
Instead I decided that pen and paper would just be easier. It is so easy to carry around I know it will always be available at a moments notice. Online tools can lead to issues when you find yourself struggling to find an internet connection when out & about…
So I know that a notebook and pen is always going to be part of my toolkit going forward, even if it is only as a backup if I haven’t got access to the internet for a short period of time. This notebook needs to be with me all the time so it needs to be small enough to fit in a pocket if needed. This isn’t ideal for all situations though.
If you are sat at a desk then a bigger pad works better for noting stuff down. You can get a lot more on the page which can be very useful. I seem to have a fascination with paper and have tried all different shapes and sizes of notepads, legal pads and refill pads.
As I mentioned at the start it is important to notice what works for you. This may be a bit too detailed for you but this is how I came to find out which paper works best for me.
I found that reporters notepads, spiral bound at the top, are a nice size to easily carry around. Unfortunately the paper looks terrible where torn off to put in your Inbox for later reference. Strangely enough looks can be a major factor. In his GTD system, David Allen suggests using a label printer when labelling files rather than hand writing them as you are much more likely to use them if they look more professional.
You can get reporters notepads with perforated edges now but as they are too big to fit in a pocket I prefer a pad of paper when working at a desk. I have also been using bound notebooks a bit as well but unless there is a nice clean way to tear out a page I often find myself having to write something out again on a piece of paper that I can file for later reference.
Refill blocks of paper tend to be glued down the side and are pre-punched, which can some in handy if you file things in lever arch or file folders. I tend to use loose pages in hanging files so I think legal pads work better as they are glued across the top, which is a much shorted length so there tends to be less of a problem tearing off pages.
The thing that really surprised me was that size has consequences for me. Previously I have preferred A5 pads as they take up less space on the desk. I recently switched to using A4 pads at home but noticed that I haven’t been writing as much at my desk as I used to…
I eventually worked out that I resist writing quick notes on a clean sheet of A4 as it seems like a waste of paper. I only start writing when I think I have enough to warrant the use of a good portion of the clean sheet. I never had this issue with A5 pads as even the smallest note doesn’t get lost on this smaller format.
This has meant that a lot of things have simply slipped my mind because I never got around to writing them down. At least I have noticed the issue though and from now on I can stick to A5 pads…
Image: Pete O’Shea