CORE of productivity

Last week I looked at three pillars of productivity and what they are. This week I wanted to focus on the CORE of productivity.
GTD is a all encompassing methodology that focuses on wide range of aspects of self- management lists, projects, goals, levels of focus, responsibilities, workflow.
It can be daunting and overwhelming to implement all those elements in an orderly fashion. Also some people will not be interested in everything.

I’ve been looking for a part of the whole GTD methodology which provides a lot if insight into how to deal with incoming information and what to do with it.
The 5 stages of GTD workflow is this element. It shows you how things enter your space and walks you through the steps to successful completion.

This is where the CORE comes in. CORE is a workflow or otherwise a set of steps you can follow.The ideas behind CORE and any workflow for that matter is to provide a step by step path for dealing with work and life events.

As you will see CORE is very much influenced by the Getting Things Done approach by David Allen which I think is one of best approaches for work and life management.

The elements of the CORE system:

Collect – at this stage you gather the information via intentional capture or get it delivered into your inbox(es).

Organise – every once in a while prefferably daily, look at your collection points and then decide where to put the items you have. The basic choice is to delete them or put on one of your lists.

Review – make sure that your lists are current and define what requires your attention at a given moment. This stage focuses on lookning at your calendar, project and action lists.

Execute – Once selected, complete the items on your list one at a time. I like word execute better than simple “do” as it conveys more power and authority.

I have omitted the processing stage as I think it’s not distinct enough. In order to organise your things you need to decide what gets added to your list so by default you need to process them.

This workflow can be used independently of the rest of GTD system and applied as a daily or weekly habit for dealing with on coming items. Although the steps are simple implementing them into daily routines can take some time.
This type of workflow can also work very well for managing project and goals. I hope to cover this in future posts.

3 pillars of productivity

There is a lot productivity advice ranging from simple bite sized tips and tricks to book outlining fully fledged methodologies. I’ve been wondering what it takes to create a good productivity and organisation system regardless if it’s a formal approach like GTD or Autofocus  or simply a set of different practices picked up along the way.

What are the basics?

What are the component of individual and team productivity? One might say that Getting Things Done methodology solves it all but to me this is a workflow that requires two more elements to be complete. Others might say that good task mamanger will do but what good is it if you only dump your to do items.

I think any productivity system, approach you decide to follow requires three elements: Thinking, Tools, Workflow.

Thinking

It’s easy to jump into action and complete as many tasks as possible. Unfortunately this doesn’t mean we get where we want.

We need time to analyze and plan our goals, projects and actions. Then we can start moving into the direction we want.

Thinking and planning is difficult as it takes time and effort. It doesn’t seem like doing and therefore is often dismissed. Yet without even a simple plan we are walking blind and most likely “lean the ladder against a wrong wall”

Design your day, week, month, year in such way that you have time to think, plan, draft.

Tools

You need tools to help you organise your thinking, your actions and projects.

I’m big believer in GTD approach where you divide stuff into different buckets like calendar items, project list, action list, someday maybe etc so I’m using tools that help me support this.

To keep clean (mentally) you need to capture ideas, thoughts. It’s better to have a tool/place where you can gather them and review every once in a while.

Keeping track of commitments was easy fifty years ago but now the complexity or our lives has changed dramatically. There is more information crossing our way that it was in our grandparents time.

Finding the right tools to keep organised is not always easy. Some prefer Swiss army knife approach and look for all in one organisation tool. Others like to have special programs for special tasks. Whatever your choice may be, make sure that your tool helps you get things done.

Workflow

What’s the workflow? Essentially it’s a set of steps which are necessary to make sure you are organised and clear. It helps you move from thinking to the doing phase in an orderly fashion.

GTD provides excellent example of workflow based system, first there is capture, then processing, organisation, review and finally the do.

You may prefer other models, yet you most likely you have something, even if it’s very informal.

Why workflow is necessary? Mainly because it helps organise work and life. It removes randomness and helps to create paths that can be followed. A workflow also relieves brain from constant thinking about what’s next. Instead you can focus on other things.

Lastly workflow allows you to leverage tools and thinking into a single element into a single piece that helps you get things done.

Productivity anchor

Anchors
 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.

 

Question

Do you have your own productivity anchor?

What form would your anchor take?

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

Evernote for writing and blogging

 

Have desk, will write

Evernote is tremendously useful and versatile platform. Over the last number of months it became my go to place for filing almost anything.
After reading Evenote ebook by Dan it got me thinking about different areas of responsibility. One of those is keeping up this blog. It involves making sure I have a post ready for each week. One post a week sounds easy right and perhaps it’s for many but for me it’s not always. Having a structure in place which lets me focus on different aspects of writing is great aid. As result of some tinkering and reading few different articles I came up with this little writing/blogging workflow.

1.Make a template for a blog post

List key elements/sections which you normally would include in every post:
     * text
     * links
     * photos
     * sharing platforms
     * mentions of people/blogs that influenced the post

Writing in the spur of the moment is great for capturing that moment of inspiration but more often than not writing is laborious process. Creating consistent and attractive looking posts makes better impression on readers and site visitors. This templates allows me focus on writing and when I’m done with it move to other elements of blogging that otherwise could be forgotten. As result my writing efforts can reach more people (hopefully).

2. Use tags to manage different stages for writing process

     * draft current/on hold
     * idea
     * published
     * to be published

When it comes to writing and blogging there are different stages of the process. In short you start with an idea/rough outline, then you work on developing it, then you publish it or leave it in a queue for later. Tags are perfect way to manage this aspect of flow. Rather than look at all your ideas and half written posts you can select a specific tag.
Splitting different stages of the process allows for greater focus and navigation between elements. Rarely or never you have to look at at published post and ideas at the same time. However at different times you will look at very specific stage. If you look for something new to write simply select "idea" tag, when you want to continue working on something that was open for a while you will select "current" tag.
Easy to manage and configure. I find it quite effective. Rather thank keep a bunch of text files (a good option too) I prefer to have it all in Evernote.

3.Bigger writing projects

Novels or serious post with lots of research and support documentation use a separate notebook or even a stack of notebook.

     * gather what’s needed in one or more notebooks
     * once project is done you can move all the data into single place or assign one tag to find it later.
     * keep a small amount of notes (master note) or combination of notes and tags to manage to final result (copy)

Sometimes using tags to separate the content is not best solution, a physical separation may bring better results. When working on something complex which requires a large number of supporting documentation separate notebooks will allow to divide the research from writing and drafts and notes

Additional stuff

Couple additional tips and features that make Evernote great writing tool:

Full screen mode is great for focusing on task at hand. It so easy to get distracted by other things happening on you monitor, twitter feed. Full screen might be overwhelming especially when it’s just white space but once you start filling that space the sense of progress is encouraging

Inspiration and gathering ideas are very important elements of writing process. Evernote offers simple yet useful ability to record and store voice memos and pictures of thing s that caught your attention.

Often times you will want to share your drafts or finished articles with other people to get their feedback and opinion. To do that you can avail of note links which allow your to send a link to a note via email. You can also use shared notebooks if they are Evernote users too.

One feature that I would like to see in Evernote is a black screen editor for distraction free writing. Sounds odd as it should not matter what you use but somewhat it does. Personally I find that writing on black screen with nothing else on it does really help to keep focused and push that writing forward. Perhaps there will be someone looking at API and thinking of designing a simple and nice editor. For now I’m sticking with WriteMonkey  and coping to and from Evernote. Slightly awkward but WriteMonkey seems like a better tool for writing.

photo by Bright Meadow

Weekly Links post for 15th of January

A collection of posts and articles about productivity, time management, tools and technology.

  1. Get Things Done Like a Zen Master
  2. My current workflow system
  3. Mind Mapping for Productive Research and Writing
  4. 7 Discipline-builders for Remote Workers
  5. Processing time – discussion from GTD forums

If you have any interesting articles please share them in the comments section.