Constraints and systems are an important part of productivity. The assumption that you have infinite time and resources makes it easy to get sloppy and get less done. Unfortunately, some digital tools encourage you to believe that you have unlimited attention and resources to work on your goals.
What if the secret to achieving more of your goals came down to forcing yourself to do fewer, high value tasks?
Experiences With Digital Tools: The Infinite To Do List
Digital tools such as Microsoft Office, Google Calendar, Nozbe and Evernote have all been part of my toolkit. Yet, I find myself using these tools less often for daily task management in recent months. They still play a role. I keep my annual goals in Evernote which I review daily. My Google Calendar is an indispensable tool for setting reminders and managing appointments.
Yet calendars and digital task management tools have one major limitation.
The infinite to-do list.
Let’s break this done.
You can just keep adding tasks to the list until you completely overwhelm yourself. Before you know it, you have 28 tasks planned for the day and then feel frustrated when you complete 11 low value tasks only to live the mission critical task undone.
It doesn’t have to be that way.
One solution is to move to a paper journal for daily tasks. That acts as a constraint and a system to guide your thinking. It’s a powerful idea that I first encountered in Tim Ferriss’s book “The 4 Hour Workweek.” As I recall, he encouraged using 3×5 index cards. I quite like this approach and use it. Yet, it has one significant limitation: index cards are disposable and it is difficult to review them over time.
Further Reading: For more on the merits of systems, reading Taylor Pearson’s excellent essays such as 5 Mental Models To Create Dramatically More Leverage.
Experimenting With The Productivity Planner
Headquartered in Toronto, Intelligent Change is best known for the 5 Minute Journal. As I wrote on Success.com, I believe in the value of keeping a journal as a way to better understand yourself and your goals (How to Get Started on Journaling).
Keeping a journal has many different benefits in business and beyond. I used a food/health journal back in 2012 which was a key part in reducing my weight by over 50 pounds in a six month period. Seeing my activity tracked and knowing that I had to “report to myself” on the journal was helpful.
I was impressed by the 5 Minute Journal so I decided to experiment with the Productivity Planner. On October 31st, I bought a copy of the journal and got to work. I’ve had a good experience with it over the past few days. Much like the 5 Minute Journal, the Productivity Planner takes only a few minutes to use each day. I tend to write up my plan for day while I have my morning coffee – it is a manageable way to plan the day.
Reasons Why The Productivity Planner Is Great
I found The Productivity Planner a pleasure to use and an excellent way to organize myself to achieve high value tasks.
I appreciate the simple elegant design of the journal in terms of the outside cover and internal layout. As Apple has shown, it’s pleasant to use a well designed product.
2. The Productivity Guide.
Unlike some journals that simply present you with blank pages, the Productivity Planner includes a short book at the beginning to guide you through the process. If you are unfamiliar with productivity research and best practices, it will be especially helpful.
3. Focus on Pomodoro Technique.
Did you know that deliberately taking short breaks helps your productivity? That’s the whole premise behind the Pomodoro Technique. You work for 25 minutes on a single task, then take a 5 minute break. The details are somewhat flexible: John Lee Dumas has a daily ritual that includes an adapted Pomodoro Technique – a 53 minute work session followed by a slightly longer break. On each day’s entry, you estimate how many work sessions
Resource: Curious to learn more about how to use Pomodoro Technique, check out my article “25 Minutes To Increase Productivity.”
4. Daily Focus.
The Productivity Planner encourages you to focus on 3-5 tasks each day. That means you have to take a few minutes to think about which tasks truly matter for achieving your goals. Here’s a hint “Catch on email” has yet to make my daily list (though it might when I get home from a long vacation in December).
This aspect of the journal makes a big difference in daily productivity. Before I commit a task to the journal, I ask myself whether it will matter at the end of the day. It’s a helpful way to prompt reflection as I plan my day.
5. Daily Inspirational Quotes.
I don’t know about you, but I really like to start the day or end the day with an interesting quote. Here’s a quote I picked up this week from the journal: “Your mind is for having ideas, not holding them” from David Allen (author of Getting Things Done, a classic productivity book)
6. Planning The Week.
I like the single page “plan the week’s most important tasks.” The idea is to answer the question “If I could only get these 5 tasks done this week, would I be satisfied with my progress? In project work, planning a week is usually easy to manage.
7. Looking back – The Weekly Review.
The Weekly Review is one the best ways to stay organized and focused on your priorities. The challenge with a traditional weekly review is that it may feel overwhelming. The Productivity Planner weekly review is a single page. Further, there are good points to guide the process: Weekly Wins, What Tasks Were Not Completed Last Week?, What Have You Learned This Week, Next Week.
Discussion Question For The Comments:
What has been your experience using productivity planning tools like The Productivity Planner?