For quite some time, I’ve had a problem with my own productivity. Some days I would spend half of it surfing the web and not really do much. Other days I’d be busy, but I’d be busy with the wrong things, with the result that important stuff stayed behind, often leaving me with a semi-crisis on my hands. Here’s how I fixed it…
To me, the productivity-problem has two components:
- Working on the right things, i.e. not keeping myself busy with stuff that don’t matter.
- Getting these things done, and at the right time.
About two years ago, a friend pointed me to a great tool called Toodledo. As I immediately discovered, Toodledo rocks! It helps you define goals that you want to achieve, and then create tasks that you have to complete to achieve the goals. Tasks can be categorized into “Contexts”. You can assign several levels of “Importance” to tasks, assign start dates, due dates, and you can even set up repetitive tasks and sub-tasks.
Toodledo allows you to sort tasks in many different ways, e.g. Due Date, Importance, etc. It also has a very handy sort-view called Hotlist, which uses an algorithm to determine what the most important task is that you should be working on.
So, Toodledo solves problem #1… figuring out what you should be working on now.
I started using Toodledo and it worked great… I always knew what the most important thing was that I should be working on. But there was a problem… I wasn’t always working on the things that I knew I should be working on, or when I did, I would take forever to get them done.
Enter Google Calendar!
I decided to start using Google Calendar to schedule my activities for each day. I would create several time slots and assign some time to each of the most important tasks that Toodledo says I need to work on. (I read somewhere that it is important to work on big tasks for a little bit each day until it is completed. That way the big tasks are not as daunting.)
This worked like a charm! Each day, not only did I know what to work on, but I also knew when to work on it. Each activity had a specific start and ending time, and I would hold myself to these times.
This added a sense of urgency to tasks. If I was working on a task and I saw that, for example, I only had 20 minutes left to work on it, it would inspire me to pick up the pace. All this led to me getting more done than ever before.
So, Google Calendar solves problem #2… actually working on the tasks and getting them done.
An added bonus to all this was that when I scheduled a little time off, I no longer felt guilty about taking a little time off. I knew that it was scheduled time off, and that I would get back to scheduled tasks later.
(As a side note, both of the tools I am using are online tools, meaning I can get to them from either my laptop or desktop and have no problems keeping everything sync’d. Both of these tools also work very well on my Android phone.)
Ready to try it? Here’s what to do…
- Sign up with Toodledo. They have a free version, but their Pro version only costs a few dollars per year and offers more. I use their Pro version.
- Sign up with Google Calendar. This is free. If you already have a Gmail email address, you basically already have Google Calendar.
- Set up your Toodledo account by creating some goals, contexts, and tasks that support your goals. These are the tasks that you need to work on each day.
- Look at your Toodledo Hotlist to find the tasks that you need to work on first. I sometimes also use the Due-date view as a double-check.
- Schedule yourself to perform these tasks by putting time-slots on your Google Calendar. I use Toodledo’s contexts (categories) of tasks (e.g. Admin, Websites, Personal, etc.) and schedule time each day for each of the categories, working on the most important task in the category. This way I am constantly able to get to the variety of things I need to work on. (Let’s face it, we all have multiple different things we need to get to.) At the end of each day, schedule a time-slot for “Planning”, where you spend 30 minutes planning and scheduling yourself for tomorrow. Also, schedule 2-3 “leisure” slots during the day where you take a break, surf the web, or do email (in addition to lunch, that is).
- Stick to the system. Hold yourself to the times you have assigned. Sometimes, especially in the beginning, you may misjudge the time needed to complete a task. In such cases, modify your schedule where necessary. I only modify my schedule when I need to complete a task that day, or when an additional 15-30 minutes will let me complete the task today instead of tomorrow.
That’s my system! It works very well for me. If you decide to follow it, I hope it works just as well for you!