When it comes to finding the best productivity app, methodology or tools for ‘getting stuff done’, I think I’ve pretty much tried everything over the years. Every time management methodology, every to-do app, every promise of ‘do this one thing at the start of every day and it will transform your life’….
I concluded some time ago that all of them work and at the same time none of them work…it all comes down to you and what you find helpful in getting yourself focused, goal-aligned and task-oriented. At the end of the day, no app or methodology is going to get stuff done for you. The motivation has to come from inside. Nonetheless, some tools and techniques can undoubtedly help.
I’m still very much a work in progress in this regard and probably always will be. However I have found myself sticking to the same approach now for a number of years which is the longest I’ve stuck with any of these methods, so I thought for interest I’d share what currently works for me.
There are three parts to it:
- Master task list
- Daily task lists
There’s a ton of stuff already available online about the science of goal-setting so I won’t regurgitate all that. I’ve been setting annual goals for the last ten years or so and there is no doubt whatsoever in my mind that it’s made a massive difference to what I’ve been able achieve year on year. The consultancy job I’m currently in originated from a sentence written on piece of paper. It’s been tweaked every year as I’ve gone along, but it came from having an idea and writing it down…
The most important thing about goal-setting is that it forces you to think; what do I actually want? Anyone who’s tried it will know how difficult that question can be to answer, but I’ve found the more specifically I’ve been able to write the answer to that question, the more progress I’ve made. It kind of makes sense; if you have no idea of where you’re trying to get to then the chances of you just arriving there by accident are pretty slim!
The most important two things I’ve found to make a difference in relation to goals are as follows:
- You have to write them down. It’s no good just thinking about it, you have to commit words to paper. And I mean paper, literally. Typing them into an app, for me, has been nowhere near as effective as physically writing them with a pen. Seeing it written in your own handwriting is somehow subconsciously stronger.
- You have to read them over and over again, ideally at least once a week. This is really important! I found that creating a habitual, scheduled activity that includes re-reading my goals once a week has made a massive difference in terms of staying focused on what I’m trying to do. It’s not been easy to create the discipline to do it, but it’s definitely made a difference for me.
I happen to use the Michael Hyatt Full-Focus Planner (see below), but there are a stack of different types of books and journals available to help with this process. I typically have four or five goals at any one point in time covering different aspects of my life.
Master Task List
Once you start thinking a bit more clearly about your goals, you’ll start thinking of specific things you need to go and get done in order to achieve them. In fact, getting some tasks captured is a really important part of goal-setting that helps to create momentum. If you’re anything like me, all these great ideas will fly out of your head as soon as you’ve thought of them, so I capture these things in a master task list.
I’ve already mentioned the Michael Hyatt Full focus planner; I also use that for managing my daily task-list (see below). For daily task management I find using a manual (i.e. paper) planner way more effective than using a digital ‘to-do’ app and I’ll explain why in a moment.
However, I’ve found that paper planners aren’t good for managing your master task lists; digital tools are much better for that. They cope with volume a lot better, you don’t spend loads of time re-writing everything and you can do cool things like send an incoming email that you need to act on straight to your digital to-do list so you don’t forget it. Simple but really important!!
For my master task list I currently use Trello. It’s pretty simple to use and is the best thing I’ve found for organising and working through tasks (and I’ve tried loads of other apps!).
If you’ve never used it, Trello is a Kanban app. It allows you to create lists of cards, and then move cards around between the lists. You can organise all your lists into boards based on different aspects of your work/life that you need to manage. I have separate list of tasks for work projects, home projects, finances, hobbies, social stuff. All the lists and the tasks within them are visible on one ‘board’ so I can scroll around and see everything. There’s something about the visual nature of Trello (it looks a little bit like a wall of post-it notes) that just works for me.
So everything I think of that needs doing, irrespective of what aspect of my life it’s to do with, goes into Trello. I access trello on my PC as well as my phone, so it’s really easy to add things as and when they occur to me. I also set reminders/notifications on cards for deadlines when things need to be done. All in all, very cool app which I wouldn’t be without right now.
Daily Task List
This is the killer part that’s taken me a while to get habitual with. It’s really simple, but I try and do it every day. Sometimes I miss it, but I really try not to.
The first thing I do after breakfast is look through my calendar for the next four weeks (that’s a time window that just happens to works for me and my current job). I go through all the appointments I have in the next four weeks and if I need to do any preparation for any of them, I put an appointment in my diary to do the preparation. I’ve learned this the hard way; from turning up to meetings unprepared. This method of checking 4 weeks ahead and scheduling preparation has saved my bacon on a number of occasions.
I then go through my master task list and write into my planner page for today, those tasks that I want to take on today, including my top 3 priorities for the day.
As I progress through the day, I tick off completed tasks in my planner.
I like to keep things as uncomplicated as I can and this really seems to work for me.
How do you manage getting things done? Is your approach different to mine?