My ultimate guide to personal productivity

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To be successful we need to get things done. For me that basically comes down to three things: knowing what to do, knowing when to do it and actually doing it. Everybody can learn to be productive. So can you! But only when you really want it and enjoy it. That is why you need to build your own productivity system. One that works for you. In this blog I show you mine.

We all want to be successful in our lives. For some people success seems to fall straight into their laps. But for most people success requires a lot of hard work, persistence, sacrifices and sometimes failure. But it also means productivity and getting things done. We need to finish what we start. A lot of books and articles have been written about this subject. But it basically all comes down to three things: knowing what to do, knowing when to do it and actually doing it. I could even add one more thing: wanting to do it!

we have become more and more disconnected from the fruits of our labour

In our modern society filled with technology and knowledge workers, these three (or four) things have never been this hard! With all the complex business models and many layers of technology we have become more and more disconnected from the fruits of our labour. The distance from the people doing the work to the actual ‘product’ or ‘service’ is often huge.

We don’t know what to do

We are overwhelmed: there are just so many things we can do! Where to begin? Which things should we be doing to reach our goal? Do we even know what our goals are?

We don’t know when to do it

What is the best moment to do it? And in what order? We have trouble prioritizing.

We procrastinate

And then, when we finally start doing something, we often procrastinate and have trouble actually doing it. We never reach our goal. This causes us to feel unproductive, insecure and basically unhappy.

You now have a shorter attention span than a goldfish

Why do we procrastinate and have trouble finishing things? First of all we often feel overwhelmed by all the things we should be doing. Second, there are just too many distractions. Maybe you are sitting in an open-plan office and are constantly being disturbed. Or maybe you just can’t find the discipline to stop browsing online or to ignore all the incoming messages and notifications. I read somewhere that our attention span has supposedly dropped from 12 seconds in 2002 to only eight seconds in 2013. Which is a second shorter than that of a goldfish!

My personal journey to productivity

We all experience these problems. So do I. Let me take you on my personal – ongoing – journey to productivity. This is what I did and learned so far.

Establish goals

First I started to establish my goals. We all need a plan, right? What do I want to achieve? Both short term (a day, week or month) and long term (a year in my case). I wrote them down in a (digital) journal and often return to them for inspiration or to change them.

Get organized

Second I needed to get organized. For me personally that meant: becoming paperless. Yes, I said goodbye to all the heaps of paper in my life. That is why I scanned all the important things and put them in the cloud. Just don’t put everything in one place! Divide and conquer. In my case I use a combination of different cloud services like: Dropbox, iCloud, OneDrive and Evernote. Besides that I also saved important stuff on an encrypted hard drive. Whenever I receive a new piece of paper, I scan it and either throw it away or put it in a binder.

When everything was scanned I needed to file it somewhere so I was able to find it when I need it. To be able to find it I work with a combination of filenames, folders and tags.

I also cleared my e-mail inbox (I use Airmail) and put all the mails I needed to save (not that many) in folders. When my mailbox was empty I could start prioritizing the incoming new e-mails. A few times a day I check my mailbox and whenever there are new e-mails I either: answer them quickly and throw them away, put them in a to-do-list, file them or throw them away immediately.

My desk is now empty and I can work anywhere and still have everything at my disposal.

Last nut not least: I managed my notifications. Only the important stuff: messages from certain people, appointments etc. give a notification and can ‘disturb’ me in real-time. All the other messages I check and manage a few times a day.

Build a personal planning and to-do system for productivity

Third I started to build my own planning and to-do system. Because I just love it when a plan comes together…

Weekly to-do-list

This is my master overview list. It is a weekly to do list with ongoing work for that specific week. Just a simple list that is written in a notepad on my computer. Each Monday morning I look at last week’s list to view my productivity of that week. Then I sit down to write the new list for the coming week. Whenever something changes during the week I change it in the list. It shows what needs to be done this week, the things I am working on and the current status. I tag these notes with years and weeks so I can always look back and see exactly what I was working on in a certain week in the past. Very handy to find those names you forgot!

Daily to-do-list

This is my action based list with things that need to be done at a specific date and time. Whenever I need to do something or be somewhere I get a notification. It is now impossible for me to forget an appointment! For this I use OmniFocus but you can use any task manager.

The daily journal is my ‘feel good’ list

Daily journal

This is also a simple list in a notepad on my computer. On this list I write down the things I have done every day. Each day I sit down and look at the things I did the day before. Then I make a new list for the day. During the day I fill the list with all the things I have been doing. This is my ‘feel good’ list because it shows me how productive I have been that day. I guess it can also be a ‘feel bad’ list from time to time…

With this simple system of weekly and daily planning and journaling I always have an overview of things I need to do and things I have done. The benefits of working with a system like this is that you regularly need to sit down to do some planning and prioritizing. You can also easily look back and enjoy your progress. And learn from your actions in the past! Good luck finding your own productivity system. I hope mine has inspired you.

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