The Personal Productivity Framework
This is the personal productivity framework (system) I’ve been using for the last few years. You can use your preferred apps or physical books, journals or notebooks as you prefer, but the framework remains the same. I’ve definitely seen an improvement in the amount of valuable work I’m producing as a consequence of using this framework.
I’m going to follow on from the last video where I talked about business systems and talk today about personal productivity systems.
So why is a productivity system important ?
Probably everybody wants to get more done but I think what’s more important than that, is everybody wants to get more of the right things done and so when we talk about the 80/20 rule; that 20 percent that we’d really like to do more of to achieve some of our personal, business and family goals and those things that really will take us a step forward in terms of where we want to be. I’m going to just give you an overview of a simple productivity framework.
The reason I call it a framework is because it essentially gives you that frame with which to hang all of the individual tools and processes that fit you and that’s a really important point is not everybody’s system is the same and I
don’t expect you to take away my system and apply it to yourself but it does give you an idea of someone else’s system, something that works for me, something that I’ve changed over the last few years and something that now really works for me in terms of needing to spend less time thinking about the system and i can just get on with doing the doing.
Email is probably the bane of most people’s lives and the very fact that you send email means that you will get more email back again It probably is one of the first things that people pick up when they start their work day, in terms of looking through what has arrived overnight.
There are only a few things to do with email:
– if the action is going to take less than two minutes just do it
– if the email contains something that needs to be actioned then turn it into a task and archive the email or take the contents of the email and put them into a task
– archive it; so if it’s for your information if it’s part of a project it is something you may need to rely on later just click that archive button (that actually most people don’t know what does) and it will put it into your saved emails
– just simply delete it
The trick is here is not to use your email as a means of tracking your tasks or tracking your projects it’s simply a means of communication and should just be used for that.
By this I mean individual tasks, I don’t mean projects. I don’t mean some of the bigger work that perhaps is collaborative within your team. I’m thinking here about individual tasks that you know when they’re completed. There’s probably a number of tasks that you want to keep in here. One is the recurring task “go to the gym every Tuesday night” so put it in as a daily task, but there are also individual tasks from projects There are tasks from your personal life. There are tasks from friends there are things you need to do. There is no end to the number of tasks you will have in your list and this is also another really important point is that there will always be more tasks than you have time to do them. Always !
One of the items that always comes up is; should i mix my personal tasks and my work tasks together in the same system ?
It depends on your individual system and how you work. Whether you work for yourself, whether you work for a company,
how many clients you have and so on. For me I keep my client work separate so I use Asana for that system because it’s primarily built up of projects and so I keep that very separate than my personal work.
My personal tasks my recurring tasks, things that contribute towards my goals for the week, month or year I use my personal task management system. I use Todoist. Again i’m not going to get hung up about the system but I keep them separate. Sometimes there’s always going to be a little bit of an overlap, but generally i would suggest that you keep them separate.
This is the area that we should be focusing on throughout our day it tells us where we need to be, what we need to be doing, whether we have meetings, whether there is something important that needs to be attended to at a specific time so I always keep an eye on my calendar. I don’t necessarily keep it open but i do check it throughout the day and I only have notifications from my calendar. I turn notifications off for every everything else, but my calendar is the only one that I need to be notified so i don’t want to miss a meeting, I don’t want to miss a call. One of the important things about
the calendar and we as humans, is we’re not very good at estimating how long a task will take.
The calendar is there for us to use as a tool to take all of the meetings we need to go to all the places that we need to be
on that particular day. Putting in the ‘big rocks’, the most important things first and then adding in the other
slightly less less of a priority tasks into some of the gaps within them.
I’ve always tried to keep away from time blocking. Not that there’s anything wrong with the system itself but i didn’t really want a piece of software telling me what i should and should not be doing at a specific time of day. I’ve slightly changed my opinion to fit around my own working style. There are morning people there are evening people. There are people who have energy levels that fluctuate and we should not ignore that.
So for me i’ve split my time into mornings when i get some of my personal tasks done. I tend to work on my business during that period. Then there is a lunchtime activity. Normally i’ll try and go swimming, and then there’s the afternoon activities where i generally will spend concentrating on client face-to-face meetings client-specific tasks and work that involves a bit of deep thought and i just need a bit of peace and quiet. Within that period to do those tasks it’s all about getting things done.
In the evenings i think as most people we don’t want to work forever i tend to spend more of my time doing casual stuff personal stuff enjoying myself watching movies reading and all of that lovely stuff with friends. I’m very aware that because of the time zone that i work in, I may have to do client work in some of those periods as well. So again it’s all about fitting it in and i i’m not sure i could call it blocking because i don’t specifically block, but i do allocate certain pieces of time and it varies throughout the week in terms of this particular chunk of time is for doing this particular type of work.
I don’t say that my system is perfect but when i look at my task manager, using that with my calendar those tasks that i need to get done that day will now feature in my calendar so i know that everything will get done during that day.
So again i can’t stress enough how important the calendar is in terms of capturing everything that you need to do within that day. Having this simplified view of the day means that i can just concentrate on getting things done. I don’t have to worry about the system. I don’t have to worry about what i’m doing over what time of day. I don’t need to keep checking.
I just know that following this system of allocating pieces of work to a specific time of day just means that i can just follow the process and things get done.
What i would call notes are: pieces of paper that we pick up throughout the day, there are notes and information that we will gather. We will capture potentially receipts and chunks of information and browse the web for interesting items we want to read later. There is a whole mass of information that we generally collect and use that we may want to store and keep potentially read later. I’m going to refer to all of these as notes but they could be receipts they could be material for projects, they could be plans, they could be a whole host of items that we may want to collect that information and store it and or use it later. I use Evernote but i’ve also seen people use of Onenote, Notion, Apple Notes and so on. The systems are endless, and again it doesn’t really matter which piece of software you use but, have somewhere to store your notes.
People will send us stuff. We will create files. If i’m going to meeting I might take a presentation, there’s a file with that.
The downloads folder, attachments to email, there are always things for files.
This is probably one that took me the longest to resolve, but there needs to be a place for everything.
The file structure needs to be totally clear.
I split my file storage into just two areas; the first one is my personal life and the second one is my business. Even though I may have multiple roles and multiple clients within that business. Those areas will have individual folders of their own. They will all sit in the business section.
I always used to have the problem of: “Chris can you just send me a copy of that file?” I would go hunting about, it might be in my downloads folder. I might put in the client folder. I may have put it in the business folder. I may have put it in the templates folder. I simply couldn’t find anything. I did spend some considerable time reordering my files and folders structure. Keeping it as simple as possible to be able to categorise and find specific files.
It works for me now. It took a little bit of adjustment, but I now have a structure whereby I only have two folders within the root folder. One for personal and one for business, and it’s reasonably obvious when you go into those subfolders where files are.
The trick is is to collect those files that may end up in your downloads folder at the end of the day or the end of the week and put them where they belong. A place for everything and everything in its place.
I should also mention backups because if you’re storing all of these files locally and heaven forbid should anything happen to your computer. You need to think about what’s going to happen to those files. I used to store my files in apple iCloud but that’s not really a backup system it’s a storage system, so I do also keep a backup copy of all of my files just in case.
I tend to use cloud storage for keeping the files that i’m currently working on because I generally work on more than one computer and I do want to share things. Ensure you have a good structure but you also have a backup.
That’s an overview of the framework. It’s a framework that should be specific to you.
I’ve mentioned lots of software related tools but sometimes people do prefer physical writing, physical books, journals notebooks. There is no wrong in this system, as long as you can fit it within that framework. The most important thing here is you’ll notice that there is no overlap within this framework. My task manager is just for tasks. My calendar is just for events. Email is not a task manager! Do not store tasks in your email. You need to keep your email empty. Action it. Turn it into a task. Email is not a task manager. Throughout this framework keep everything separate.
There are tools that attempt to do more than one of these things. So Microsoft Outlook for example, also has a task manager as well as tracking email. That might be fine if you’re using the task manager and the email within Outlook, but don’t create another task manager. Keep them single-use tools so there’s no overlap. Because if you overlap everything you’re generally going to find: either, you have to enter things twice. Or you go looking for something and you can’t find it. Or worse than that, you forget where those items are stored and you forget the event or the task.
So that’s it. That is the productivity framework. I’ve been honing this framework for a number of years. I still try out new tools. I still try out new ways of working to try and improve on this, but this framework works for me, and I’ve also given this framework to other people and they also find it useful. I hope you do too.