What method? How to find a productivity system that works for you (Part 3)

ActionMethod stationery featured here

So there are a few productivity methods out there. Some are really simple, other’s are more well-thought through. There are likely good things to glean from all of them. I’ll summarize a few here:

Getting Things Done (GTD)

This is a pretty well thought- through process (it’s kind of scary). I read half the book and started trying it. It’s got a lot of really good ideas. According to WikiSummaries, the book is divided into three parts. “Part 1 provides an outline for getting control of your life through the five stages of mastering workflow: collection, processing, organizing, reviewing and doing. Part 2, which is well over half the book, repeats a lot of what is said in Part 1, but provides much more detail on the application of Allen’s methodology. Part 3 explains why Allen’s methods work and the benefits to be gained from using his approach.”

The part I find most helpful from this book is his underlying philosophy: “Allen’s philosophy is that to be one’s most productive self, one must be able to think clearly. In order to think clearly, one must have completely downloaded from one’s short-term memory or RAM (like computer RAM) all the “open loops” — unfulfilled commitments one has made to oneself. This frees the mind to do naturally what it does best — think about things rather than of things” (WikiSummaries).

Collecting: putting everything that comes to your mind to do in an Inbox. That could be a FieldNotes book that is always in your back pocket like the way my brother does it. It could be an Evernote note called “Inbox” or note on your smartphone. It’s the place you write down everything that you will ever need to do, might need to do, want to do even if it’s sometime in the future.

Processing: the regular time you take to review the things in your inbox and do them/process them. When processing your inbox, if the next item on the list will take less than 2 minutes you do it immediately before moving it. I was actually angry when I started doing this because it was causing some serious cognitive dissonance. My heart wanted to procrastinate but my brain wouldn’t let me!

If you want to know more you can read the WikiSummary, check out this article on 43Folders.com, read anything LifeHacker.com has to say about it.

Action Method

The Action Method is made by creatives for creatives so if your mind is less systems oriented, this might work for you. Or, if you just like pretty things, you’ll probably like this one too. It operates on the same principle of GTD as having to-do items connected to different projects. You can read more about it/see the apps or paper goods here.

Getting Sh*t Done (GSD)

This one is a stripped down version of GTD. Bill Westerman was sick of his Palm Pilot stilus and too overwhelmed by GTD method and the pretentiousness of Moleskine (and the hipsterness of the hipster PDA) that he accidentally developed his own system using a grid journal and pen. He starts by dumping all of the things he needs to do that day onto the list. Then he refers to the previous day’s list and adds what hasn’t been finished the day before. He then processes the list by adding markings to indicate priority. You can see a more detailed (including pictures) explanation here.


Two columns of to-do items, the left column is regular tasks, the right column is urgent. See more here including pictures and find all his posts about it here.

Dave Lee’s Productivity System (for creative/innovators who get bogged down by GTD)

Taken from his post explaining why GTD sucks for creative work:

“Most task/to-do software is based around the concept of projects and tasks. It’s really too bad. The tendency is to fill up your task software with dozens of projects and tasks under each project. But the more you look at your projects and tasks every day for the next few weeks, it gets discouraging. It feels like a never-ending river of stress.

The most important thing for the creative innovator is not a ton of tasks to do but rather the ability to see what’s important to focus on and to focus on that deeply. The creative innovator needs to go deep on a feature or issue, and the deeper they go the more creativity they unleash.. thus creating lots of value to the end user.”

  1. He breaks down his week into daily focuses that are the same each and every week. He’s chosen the five most important areas in his business and focus on them, one per day.
  2. He chooses his three most desired outcomes for that week. This gives him a goal and vision for his week.
  3. He chooses his three most desired outcomes for the day at the beginning of the day. All three outcomes should be related to your focus of the day.

He has a bunch more steps on that page if you want to know more, and a few more other posts that explains in more detail how it works.


If you’re a real beginner I’d suggest GSD or SuperFocus. If you want something more robust, then start looking into these other ones. Remember: it takes practice and time to develop the habit of putting your system in place. It can take a few years of trying and evaluating to get it right, that’s OK! Three years right now can serve you a lot more in twenty-five years than if you never try anything.

So out of this list, which methods have you tried? Which ones are you interested in trying? Or do you now have enough ideas to figure something out for yourself? Leave a comment here and let me know!

Analog or Digital: How to find a productivity system that works for you (Part 2)

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Google Calendar + Weekly To-Do tracking sheet

Of all the day planners that I’ve tried to use, the resounding gong in my head while using them was “this doesn’t make sense with my brain!” I don’t think in bi-column pictures of my week, nor do I think in little squares of a month. Every single day planner that I’ve found even to this day (I haven’t seen them all) doesn’t make sense with my brain. What I described yesterday, however, does (pictured below).

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See the separate quadrants for different project/areas

Do what makes the most sense for you

If it doesn’t really make sense to you then you probably aren’t going to use it. If you brain works well with digital things, do that. If you need to write stuff down like my friend Amanda said in the comments, do that. If you love Moleskines, but look at their agendas and think “this isn’t going to work” don’t bother spending the money. Similarly, if you’re using something and thinking “I’ll try a new agenda next year, I just bought this one” you should just chuck it right now and find something that will actually work. The $20 it might cost for a new one will be worth it when you actually start properly managing your ever-increasing pile of tasks for the next 11.5 months. So go peruse Chapters/Indigo or check out this list I’ve made at Etsy of a bunch of “not your normal” agenda/day planners.

You probably wont find one thing that will have everything you need

I used to hate this. I wanted my Magic App that did everything. Even the GTD system is a productivity system, but not a calendar. It will help you get things done but not know when your appointments are. If you rarely have appointments, then that’s fine. If you decide to go all paper, you’ll likely only find something that does scheduling or you’ll have to look into ActionMethod paper goods and use a separate calendar to track your few appointments. Or you can find DIY stuff online to help you make your own GTD system if that’s what you want (like the hipster PDA, the offline time management software book, the DIY Planner and SuperFocus).

What will I use for scheduling? What will I use to help me Get Things Done?

These are your next questions. Connected with that is the analog/digital question. By now I imagine you probably have a good idea of what you want. In case you’re not sure, here are some pros and cons.

Pros of digital:

  • If you have different devices, your stuff can be synced with all of them and your info is always there
  • You have one less thing to remember to bring
  • Great if you travel a lot or don’t work primarily from an office or a static location.
  • The threat of losing your Most Trusted Work Partner doesn’t exist (it’s in The Blessed Cloud!)

Cons of digital:

  • You may not feel very comfortable using your smart phone or device.
  • If it will take you a lot longer to enter anything because you feel you’re slow on your device
  • You love the feeling of writing things down/ stroking the thing off your list doesn’t feel the same as checking a box digitally

Let’s get digital

I’ve already shared some examples of paper goods you can use. You can also make your own like I did. Here are some digital tools that you can consider:

Google Apps

If you’re a Gmail user, you likely already know about this. I use Google Apps every day in my personal life and at work since my work uses Google apps for our corporate email. We share documents, calendars, use Google Hangouts, make forms, budget finances etc ALL. THE. TIME. using Google. I used the Google Wedding Planning templates to plan my wedding when my then fiancé lived in Quebec City. Here are more ways you can use Google.

iCal/Outlook Calendar

You can sync a google calendar to your iCal or Outlook, or just use your iCal/Outlook on your devices. Simple enough, though I personally have finally accepted the fact I hate iCal and don’t use it at all (I use Agenda App on my iPhone/iPad with my Google Cal synced and use the browser to access GCal when I want to)


I asked my brother who blogs about productivity and other tech stuff at Hack/Make to comment on OmniFocus, which I know is popular with tech geeks. He says it’s a power-user tool, which is why I don’t use it. It kind of scares me. He explains further, “It takes a decent amount of understanding both GTD and the app, but once you’re Intermediate to Advanced, you can do A LOT with the app.” If you’re just beginning, start with something less complex or you might get frustrated with the app before you get the system to work for you.


Evernote is good for a lot of things. By simply making a new Notebook in Evernote you can store your to-do lists and other productivity stuff, ready to be accessed anywhere. Evernote has a Productivity Embassador that gives some instructions and tips on using Evernote this way. You can also checkout the Evernote message board for more ideas/info.

iOS/OSX Reminder App (Use the alerts!)

If you’re looking for a simple To-Do app, this is about as simple as it gets. It’s already on your Mac if you have the most recent operating system and already on your iOS5 device. You can have multiple lists and that’s about as complex as it gets. I use this because I desperately cannot remember things on time, so if I need a reminder, this is my go-to.


My friend Ian who is a Financial Planner left a comment yesterday saying “I’ve found Asana works really well as a project organizer. I GTD with asana way better than I did with Evernote. Of course Evernote is still my go to for all my reference material. The greatest part about asana is you can share workspaces with other people, ie. family workspace with spouse, ministry workspace with ministry partners. It takes a bit of searching to get it working well for GTD but overall the mobility and ease of use won me over. Check it out at http://www.asana.com

Have you tried any of these methods? How much success did you find? Were there things that weren’t quite right with them? What do you need to change with your current system? Leave a comment here with your thoughts.

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