Productivity anchor

 photo by ProlificIT

What is an anchor?

An anchor is a device, normally made of metal, that is used to connect a vessel to the bed of a body of water to prevent the vessel from drifting due to wind or current. The word derives from Latin ancora, which itself comes from the Greek ἄγκυρα (ankura ).

source Wikipedia

While ships and yachts are equipped with anchors by standard there are many other types of anchors. You might seen them on construction sites or even at home used by builders to mount plaster boards or shelves. They are different from ship’s anchor but the serve the same purpose, keep two elements together.
Every person’s productivity system would have such anchors.

Evernote and GTD

I have two anchors which help me stay organised and clear on what I want to do.
First one is GTD methodology which lets me keep up with my workflow. That in turn lets me clarify a ideas, project and actions and move them forward.
The second element is Evernote which is my primary capture and organisation tool. Although I don’t use it for task management the critical factor comes from the fact that I have a lot information there. Any time I need to refer to something like project, idea, reference file Evernote will be my first point of call.

I use these two tools daily to support myself in what ever I do. They help me to stay clear and organised. They ground me in a sense that if I start to chase side projects and activities I can always re-orientate myself and go back to wherever I left things off.



Do you have your own productivity anchor?

What form would your anchor take?

What tools, processes or routines would be your most trusted?

How to start

Start your engine

Getting stuff done is not always easy. Very often we get burned out and can’t take it any more. Perhaps we want to abandon everything as we’re being pulled from so many directions. After a while things settle down and we can start making progress again.

Since the world hadn’t stopped when your were taking easy there is a considerable amount of stuff you need to deal with. Also you may want to kick off some side projects you always wanted. All of a sudden catching up few things turns into a mountain of stuff.

This can easily put you off from starting getting back into the flow. Fortunately kicking things off is easy and  it takes only three steps. 

Gather commitments

Take a piece of paper and list all the things that come to your head. Don’t judge those things you will review them later. For now just write them down and see what’s coming up.
Avoid using electronic tools if possible. Computers will distract you and you will lose focus necessary to empty your head. If you really have to use your computer use something very basic like plain text file and Notepad.

Clarify actions and outcomes

Now review your list and decide whether you want to do anything about them. Then clarify which items are projects and which are just simple actions.

Clarify the outcomes of your projects, define what do you want to do. Make them as specific as possible.
For example Fix a car is too vague to give you an idea what it’s about. But if you put it like that: "replace front suspension". Now it becomes clearer and more specific. It’s much easier to list any actions that my form part of such project. At the same time the success or the completion status is also clearly defined. In the first example you never know when you’re done perhaps there are many small things that my need fixing. Second example is very precise so the boundaries are set.

List the priorities

Once you’ve clarified actions and outcomes for projects it’s time to put them in some order and decide what needs your attention first.
No all things are equal and some will have greater urgency and importance.
There are no set criteria for defining priority simply use your own judgement and see what resonates with you.
Once you’re done setting the priorities begin to work on your first item.

Getting clear and current is a straight forwards process. For many the problem lies in the fact that we need to spend some time upfront setting up the environment, clarifying what to do and when to do it.
This may be difficult considering that you may not see it as necessary or even think of it as waste of time. I often thought that I should be working harder, knocking those actions rather than spending time reviewing and clarifying. Unfortunately opposite is true the more time we spend upfront on planning and clarifying the easier it is to make progress on what we want.

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Evernote for projects

This week I wanted to look at using Evernote for projects. This will be short description of how i use Evernote for my projects. While setting up a project you can go wild and try to use every possible technique to breakdown tasks, time lines, resources etc. Although such approach can be useful and very insightful (see one example) I tend to try keep things as simple as possible and limit the amount of overhead.

When I’m starting a new project I use 5 stages of the GTD planning model as a planning guide. I’ve created a template in PhraseExpress (text expansion tool) so when I’m ready to start I hit right key combination and high  level outline of each step appears in the note. Then I start working on a project one stage at a time.

Once I have my stages clarified and different elements sorted I assign relevant tags. At the moment I’m using Evernote as a project support tool. This means I will list relevant actions and steps I need to take to move the project but I will not track individual actions in Evernote. Since I use Remember the Milk for managing actions all project related actions are moved there. But if you are interested in using Evernote only please read excellent Evernote e-book by Daniel Gold.

There are two primary tags which I assign to a project note. First is a !!Project tag second is a @Current or @Closed tags. This way I can track my open or closed project lists with a saved search  instead of to navigating through myriad of notes.

If a project is particularly large, especially if it includes a lot of notes and other supporting documentation, I would create a notebook for that purpose. This way it’s easy to keep all related information in a single location. Once the project is done  I assign a specific project tag to all notes in that folder, move them to Reference notebook and delete the project notebook. I’m trying to limit the amount of notebooks I maintain and if I ever need to refer to some documentation I can always find it using relevant tag and search box.

Additional two features of Evernote that may come handy for anyone managing project are tables and checkboxes. These two can be quite useful for keeping track of progress of the different stages of a project.

Evernote is not a project management solution so trying to fit a large scale commercial project with hundreds of dependencies may not be the best choice. However for many home and small business user it can be exactly what you need.