Tools of the Trade

Why productivity is easier than you think.

I admit it, I’ve read Getting Things Done and I am fascinated by the methods people use to keep themselves productive and organized, especially the ones who are very good at it like David Allen. Although I do wonder what David Allen Gets Done apart from writing books about it that sell like proverbial pancakes. I suppose there are worse things to get done. I also regularly check in on sites like Zen Habits and Lifehacker, and I’m now reading Nick Cernic’s charming Todoodlist that affirms my suspicion that the best way to track tasks is by simply writing them down.

I sit in front of a computer all day and for an embarrassing portion of the evening, and I have experimented with a dozen or so “productivity solutions” – from task lists in my mail app, to on-screen sticky notes, to online apps like Backpack and Joe’s Goals. My current favorite productivity app is Things, with its elegant, attractive UI and iPhone synching. I adore the app, but what happens when the chaos begins to encroach? I write things down.

All I have to do is keep a notebook somewhere on my desk where I can capture tasks and ideas and cross things off when I have done them. It’s sitting there right next to my iPhone. It is always faster to write something down than it is to open a program and type, even when Things is sitting right there in my dock, and it keeps my stuff visible no matter how many windows I have open on my Mac.

Todoolist offers a clever mind-mapping style for making lists, which might be fun to try, to better distinguish next tasks from the rest of the list. It also allows for easy visualization of the chain of events leading up to the completion of the project. I like it, but I still have some qualms about writing everything down – the main qualm being that I have an annoying tendency to misplace or forget pieces of paper and notebooks in this bag or that bag or at work or at home. Thus my precious list may not always be at hand. This could probably be solved by a simple technique like stapling it to my forehead.

Another issue I have yet to resolve is how to reconcile work lists versus home lists. Because of the large number of personal projects I try to keep going it seems to make sense to have my home system sitting within easy reach of my couch. It also bugs me on some level to have big lists of personal goals mixed in with work notes. I have combined my lists using Things’ “Areas” to differentiate home projects from work projects, but on paper making those distinctions is not so easy. Perhaps it’s time for me to look at why I need to compartmentalize, when all of my projects are important… More on that later. For now, back to Todoodling.

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