Well fitted productivity system


Personal  productivity system is well… personal.  Each of us has a different work style. We prefer different tools and methods to stay on top of the work and life. Even if we follow structured and process driven methods like Getting Things Done each and everyone has a different way of implementing it. Regardless of what you use and how you use it the system has to fit you. It has to fit you in a way to allows you to keep things moving and on track.

As I’ve been thinking of what it makes a well fitting system I came up with little list  below. 

A well fitting productivity system:

  • matches to your character and habits
  • keeps out of your way / is not distracting
  • helps you move things with passion and purpose
  • it’s simple to use (for you)


Would you agree with this?

Do you have any points to add?

What does it mean for you to use a good personal productivity system?

Tickler file

tickler file

What should you do with letters, invoices, bills etc where some action is needed but it’s in the future?
Where should you keep those items so they don’t get lost?
Getting Things Done system suggests to use a tickler file.

What’s tickler file?

It’s set of 43 folders where you store items that you need to be reminded of in the future. The main categories would include invoices, bills, leaflets, coupons , air tickets, hotel confirmations, various forms etc.
There are 31 folders for each day of current month and 12 for every month. Then each day, respective folders are reviewed to check what is for today.
As with many GTD behaviours the key to success with tickler file is to review it regularly and keep it updated. A one tip that has been mentioned by David Allen and Jason Womack to make using tickler more fun was to put randomly some money into folders. You would get those surprises where 10-20 dollar bill would pop up so you could buy a nice coffee or something.

Tickler in the age of bits

For many people tickler file would be the most physical element of GTD implementation. There is a bunch of folders, there are some trays or box to hold those. However in today’s age less and less things come in paper format. We can opt for email delivery of bills, scan invoices, coupon codes from favourite shops, etc. All this makes setting up a full blown tickler not practical.

With advent of digital solutions for managing tasks and calendar setting up a tickler file in an electronic format is very simple. Just create calendar in Google Calendar or Outlook and call it "tickler" and your are done. Every time you will need to set a reminder for bill or a invoice  but don’t want to clog your main calendar view leave the memo in that special calendar.

The problem and a solution

The problem arises with the few things that still come in in paper form. Probably there isn’t a lot of them, perhaps a handful in a  year maybe a dozen or two. Setting up a 43 folder cabinet to simply manage occasional letters and leaflets would cause more hassle that benefit and would quickly be abandoned.

However to keep things organised you shouldn’t left stuff lying around even if this is just a couple of letters or forms. It’s quite likely that when you need that bill or that invoice you wont be able to find it. Still you need some sort of solution.

Why not making the most out of electronic and paper by supplementing first with the second .
Use an electronic calendar to record dates and setup reminders. Every time you get a reminder from your tickler calendar go to your folder (see below) pick up the item and complete the necessary action.  You should leverage your current approach so there is no need to change your behaviours.

With the papers put them in a folder that will serve as a storage solution for all items you need to keep track of. Anything you would need reminder of later is stored there. 

Depending on the number of items coming your way you can setup 1 or more folders to be able to find things easily enough. If you need more folders you could use: two for every six month, three folders for every four months and four folders for every 3 months.

With this limited number of folders the whole system is simple and there is very little overhead  – it’s just maximum of four folders.

If you find that four folders is not enough to handle the stream of papers consider one of the two things. Either set up a folder for each month to divide those documents or examine ways to reduce the number of things that reach you in paper form. Perhaps some things can be eliminated completely or simply be send as .pdf file.

Tickler file is a useful way to keep track of bills, coupons, vouchers and invoices. Although it’s very much tied to the physical world of paper it can be successfully adapted into the world where electronic calendars and devices dominate.

Special Thanks to  AMcDermott for inspiring the idea for this post.

New GTD toolkit. Android, cloud and paper.

In in the post from late last year I went through a description of my setup. At that time I was using Onenote and Filofax to manage main pillars of Getting Things Done. Since then things have changed quite drastically.    
The biggest game changer for me was purchase of an android smart-phone. As this is one of the few things that we carry everywhere with us. It was no brainer that I would use it as one of the key elements of my GTD setup.


I’ve looked at number of applications for task management that are available on the PC and Android platform and decided to settle on Rememeber the Milk (RTM).    
The setup I’m using is very simple. I decided to stick with basics and use just a handful of lists. At this moment I have following lists: Next Actons, Projects, Errands, Inbox, Somday, Blog.    
I’ve experimented with various scenarios of using combinations of tags, lists and location. Although having these features can be useful it was not necessary for me. Using those caused my system to become too complex.    
Also I deliberately don’t use contexts because I  try to limit no of things on my lists. The main idea is to put only those actions that I really want to complete in coming week or two.    
It would be great if RTM would allow to better link actions with the projects. It’s not a deal breaker for me as most of my projects are simple and I can easy think of any actions. However If a project is more complex I would create a note in Evernote and list all the actions milestones etc.

Project support, Reference, Storage.

In previous setup the main repository of reference material was Onenote now I’ve replaced it with Evernote.    
Why I’ve chosen Evernote over Onenote? Mainly because of the syncing with Android phone and ability to use it anywhere. For me it’s perfect capture tool. I can get any type of information there text, images, audio, even files. It’s always in sync  once. I’ve captured something on my phone it’s available on my computer in seconds. I don’t need transfer any data, make sure I connect computer etc. All the syncing happens over the air. 
Android client makes capture anytime and anywhere a breeze. It may not be as advanced as the iPhone version but it does the job of capturing very well. I hope that over time new functionality will arrive and match the capabilities existing on other clients. In addition to that I really like the overall integration with Android system. Basically any item that can be shared can also be send to Evernote. This way I can capture tweets, links to pages, emails directly form the smartphone and send them straight to Evernote. Not fiddling with copy paste etc.    
The main purpose of Evernote is to be a single point of reference for all my information needs. At the moment I’m using just 4 notebooks.

Inbox – As I mentioned above I use Evernote on my smartphone but I also on my desktop and in Firefox so any time anything pops into  my head it gets captured and send to this notebook. Then every 2-3 days I review the content of this notebook and make a decision about each of the items. I stick with three choices: save it for later, do it, delete it.

GTD –  This folder has dual purpose. First it serves as place to go to for all my current work. It will contain things like project plans, outlines, drafts etc. Second main purpose is to support my GTD implementation. I will store there my someday/maybe, checklists, agendas etc.

Blogging – This notebook is dedicated to blogging. All the post ideas, ideas for changes on the blog, tips, design changes, cool templates, articles related to blogging and writing all end up here.

Reference – this is catch all notebook. Everything that I want to keep record of end in there, online receipts, productivity tips, business ideas, various thoughts, observations, lessons learned, logs etc.

For the moment this Evernote setup seems to be working very well for me  but no information is useful if you don’t use it or can’t find it.  Every piece of information in Evernote can be tagged however I’ve decided to use only a very limited number of tags just to separate some key categories. I would use @someday or PostIdea tag just to make sure that those types of notes can be easily retrieved. As for the rest I rely o search. This way I don’t clog the tag view and there is no problem with  selecting the most appropriate tag.   
I’ve listened workflow episode with Merlin Mann and decided to stick with his advise that only things that are likely to be used in the future deserve tag, if you use consistent names than any search query will find exact what you want. So asking simple question "do I need this information handy?" helps me to decide whether  to use tags or not.


Despite proliferation off electronic tools paper has still place in my setup. I think aiming to be completely paperless cannot be achieved unless your are willing to sacrifice some of the productivity and creativity that paper can provide.   
Paper works well for me it’s fast, easy to use, readily available. I like to outline on paper, doodle, draw sketches etc. Although I don’t see it as permanent organisation or storage tool it’s great for conveying ideas fast. To put it simply Paper helps with thinking. Any attempts to go completely paperless were not practical. Trying to cut paper out was like cutting the branch you’re sitting on.

This is my current setup. It works really well as the combination of smartphone, desktop and cloud applications provides me with everything I need everywhere I need it.

What’s your setup? Do you rely on online application or prefer software that sits on your computer?