Search Results for: gtd

The Productive Life Show interviews me about productivity, Evernote, and GTD

I was interviewed recently for The Productive Life Show, a podcast hosted by Andy Traub and Daniel Gold. We talked about productivity, Evernote, and GTD (Getting Things Done).

You can listen to the podcast, download the audio, and read a transcript here.

During the show, I mentioned that I also use Workflowy, primarily for outlining. I said I hoped it would someday allow links to be clickable so that it would integrate better with Evernote (and other apps). I was just notified that this is possible, although I’m not sure when it became so.

What this means is that you can use Worflowy as the front end of your productivity system, managing lists of tasks and projects, and link therefrom to notes in Evernote where you have stored more detailed information such as webclips, articles, and documents (i.e., Word, Excel, images, etc.)

Of course you can also link to websites or other cloud based apps. This opens up all kinds of possibilities.

I’ll do a in depth post about Workflowy at a later date.

I had a lot of fun on the podcast and want to thank Andy and Dan for inviting me. I’d love to get your feedback about the podcast or any questions you might have about the subjects discussed.

The ebook: Evernote for Lawyers: A Guide to Getting Organized & Increasing Productivity

Let’s play tag

I add tags to all my notes and tasks and projects. They help me identify things and find things and organize everything into a workable system.

I have action-related tags, contextual tags (for people and places, etc.), tags for each Area of Focus, e.g., Work, Personal, and reference tags. Each project has it’s own tag.

I use @ and # and other symbols or numbers to group tags together, allowing me to nest tags under top-level categories (in Evernote).

I often experiment with different tags, to see which ones I like best, which ones I use most, and which ones fall into the “it sounded good at the time” category.

Sometimes, and by sometimes I mean all the time, I find myself having too many tags. I create a new tag for something only to discover that I already had it, or something very similar. For this reason, I periodically go on a “tag cleanse” to tidy things up.

Anyway, if you’re into tags like I am, or if you do something similar with labels or notebooks or folders, I thought I’d share a few of the tags I use, or have used, because you might find something you like.

For the sake of simplicity, I won’t include reference tags and I’ll use only #hashtag symbol:

  • #incubate (something to think about and come back to)
  • #decide (similar to #incubate)
  • #checklist (#weekly-review, for example)
  • #daily, #weekly, #monthly, #yearly, and #recurring 
  • #emergency (if I get locked out of the car, I can quickly find the number for road service)
  • #needs-reply
  • #remember (things I want to remember–quotes, mantras, habits)
  • #r/r (read/review)
  • #defer-to-do (something I plan to do later and don’t want to look at until then) 
  • #defer-to-review (something I don’t want to consider until later)
  • #wip (work in progress, so I can find things I haven’t finished)
  • #bm (bookmark; external or internal, ie., within the app.–links, sites, phone numbers, etc.)
  • #due, #pay, #buy, #amazon
  • #mit (most important task)
  • #on-hold, #pending, #planned (for projects)

I also use (or have used) some of the usual gtd-type tags:

  • #today or #t 
  • #next or #n
  • #soon
  • #later
  • #now
  • #waiting
  • #s/m (someday/maybe)
  • #errand
  • #call
  • #name (people I know or work with)
  • #computer, #home
  • #tickler and #calendar 
  • #do
  • #doing
  • #done
  • #mon, #tues, #wed, etc. 
  • #jan, #feb, #mar, etc. 
  • #5-min, #15-min, etc.
  • #high, #medium, #low (energy level needed for the task)
  • #1, #2, #3, #A, #B, #C (priority)

So, there you go. I’ve shown you mine, how about showing me yours? Because you can never have too many tags. 

My Evernote for Lawyers ebook

Oh no, not another list!

Just when you thought it was safe to get back to work, I have another list idea for you. Actually, more than one.

Hold on. You might like this.

And no, it doesn’t matter which productivity system or app or planner you use. You can do this with tags or notebooks or paper.

This is about the subject of projects.

If you’re like me, you have a lot of them, and if you’re like me, your list often becomes unmanageable.

Which project should I work on right now? What do I have on tap after that?

Note, when I say “projects,” I’m not talking about a GTD-type project, i.e., anything with more than one step. I usually lump those in with tasks. I’m talking about things with bigger heft and longer time-lines.

Anyway, in order to gain some clarity and peace of mind, I recently took my project list and divided it into two lists:

(1) “Current Projects”. This is for projects I’m working on now (or should be). Having this list in front of me helps me focus and keeps me from neglecting things I need to work on.

Each project has a list of tasks and sub-tasks, notes, resources, ideas, and so on.

I try to limit this to 3 projects at a time.

(2) Next Projects. This is for the projects I intend to work on once I’ve completed the current projects. This helps me to prepare for those projects, providing a place to record ideas, notes, and so on.

Out of sight, but in a safe place.

Feeling more relaxed already.

But then I realized that I have other projects I need to put on a list, lest they get buried and forgotten. So. . .

(3) Ongoing & Recurring Projects. This is for things like writing my newsletter, updating my website, promoting something, content creation, and other responsibilities.

Nice. Every project has a home.

Alas, as I sat back to admire my work, something else occurred to me. What about projects I plan to do in the future?

Behold:

(4) Future projects. For projects I plan to do, but not “now” and not “next”.

Crazy, huh? Wait, don’t leave. I haven’t told you about my someday/maybe list.

Got referrals?

I don’t know, stop asking me

I’m playing around with a “time management” app I used many years ago. It was updated recently and so far I like what I see.

This, after many years of trying more apps than I can count and always coming back to Evernote.

Who knows, I may finally make a “permanent” switch.

But that’s not what I want to talk about today. I want to talk about something I’ve been thinking as I transfer tasks from Evernote to the other app.

As I re-create the projects and underlying tasks in the old/new app, I have to make decisions about them.

Lots of decisions–about which projects should be front and center, which tasks should be “next actions,” which tasks should get a due date and what that date should be.

You have to decide what you want to accomplish.
You have to decide what to do next.
You have to decide when you will do it.

You know the routine.

Because you do, you know how easy it is to get overwhelmed with all those decisions.

It’s why we tend to drift away from what we’re doing and look for a better system.

Indecision causes stress and drains energy. In GTD parlance, unmade decisions (or rashly made ones, I suppose), are called “open loops”.

Open loops nag you and call you names. So you keep giving them attention when you should be doing other things.

If this sounds painfully familiar, I have a suggestion: Decide not to decide.

Decide that you don’t have to make a decision right now and schedule a future “review” date, where you will review the task or project and decide what to do about it.

Until then, you won’t think about it.

Assign a “start date” instead of a “due date”. When the start date arrives, do your review.

When you decide not to make a decision you are actually making a decision. When you become comfortable postponing decisions, you close open loops, gain clarity, and reduce your stress level.

Don’t let your tasks push you around. Tell them to go away–for now.

Have you seen my free referral course? Check it out

Taking a look at ‘time blocking’

Not long ago, I mentioned my horror at the idea of using your calendar to schedule your entire day (in 15-minute increments). Apparently, some folks do that. More power to them. It’s not for me.

On the other hand (when you’re a lawyer, it’s good to have more than one hand), I’ve recently been reading about how some people use their calendar to manage their day and what they do makes sense to me. Instead of breaking up the day into bite-sized segments of time, they schedule blocks of time that are dedicated to important projects or groups of tasks. Because it’s on their calendar, an appointment with themselves, they do them.

When I first heard about this, I balked because, being invested in GTD, I see the calendar as a place to record appointments and other must-do time-oriented tasks.

Once I saw how other people use time blocking, however, I realized that it’s not inconsistent with GTD, as long as you are committed to keeping those appointments with yourself.

Anyway, here’s what I’m doing right now.

I scheduled a one-hour block for writing. I do that first thing.

I scheduled a second block for my walk. I was already walking every day so this was just a matter of putting it on the calendar.

And I scheduled a third block for writing my blog post/email and doing other tasks associated with the business such as answering email.

By 11 am, I’m accomplished my MIT’s (Most Important Tasks) for the day. I’ve got the rest of the day to do other tasks, do more writing, read, work on small projects, take a nap, run errands, or whatever.

So far, so good. I like getting my MIT’s done early. If that’s all I do on a given day, it’s a good day.

Do you use time blocking? GTD? How do you use your calendar to manage your day?

Why use one list when you can use eight?

I’ve been reading about Kanban boards and experimenting with how I manage my tasks and projects. Kanban boards, whether physical (e.g., a whiteboard or sticky notes) or digital, usually begin with three lists (or columns): To do, Doing, and Done. You can add to these basic lists depending on your workflow.

Right now, I’m using eight lists:

  1. Ready
  2. Today
  3. In progress
  4. Done
  5. Backlog
  6. Deferred
  7. Someday/maybe
  8. Waiting

Here’s what goes on these lists and how I use them:

1. Ready (aka “To do” or “Next” or “Options”)

This is a list of things that I plan to do as soon as I finish what I’m currently working on. It’s a list of options to choose from, depending on how much time I have and my current context and priorities. I limit this list to 20 items and check it daily. As I do the things on this list, I go to my “Backlog” list (below) and add items to the Ready list.

2. Today

First thing in the morning, or the night before, I go to my “Ready” list and choose 3 tasks for the day. When I get these done, I can add more tasks from the Ready list or call it a day.

3. In progress (aka, “Doing”)

When I begin a task, I move it to the “Work in Progress” or “Doing” list. I also limit this list to just 3 tasks (at a time). This list keeps me focused; I work on what I planned to work on and do my best to finish it before moving on to other things.

4. Done

As soon as I complete a task, I move it to this list. I used to delete done tasks; now I collect and review them, at least temporarily, as a way to see my progress and learn when and how I work best. This can also show me when I’m working too much on one project or type of task and not enough on others.

5. Backlog

These are tasks and projects I plan to do but I’m not ready to start and probably won’t be for a week or two. When I am ready, I’ll move tasks from this list to the Ready list. I check this list weekly.

6. Deferred

These are tasks I will probably do but not anytime soon. I check this monthly. When I’m ready, I’ll move these to Backlog or Ready. Otherwise, I may delete them or move them to Someday/Maybe.

7. Someday/maybe

I don’t know if I will do these or not. They are more ideas than anything I’m committed to doing.

8. Waiting

Tasks or projects where I’m waiting on someone to do something or for something to happen before I can start or continue.

These lists give me enough to do at any one time but not more than I can handle, which is key. By limiting my “work in progress,” I can focus on finishing what I’ve started rather than starting something new.

I also use gtd tags such as, “Area of Focus,” “Context,” etc., which allow me to filter the lists, group tasks (e.g., all calls, errands, etc.) or find more tasks to add to my Backlog or Ready lists.

It’s early yet, but I’m liking this. I get my work done and don’t feel overwhelmed.

What do you think? Do you use Kanban or work with multiple lists? Do you limit your work in progress so you can focus on getting things done?

Here’s how I use Evernote to get organized and get things done

Too much on your plate? Get a smaller plate

Nirvana. That’s what we all want, isn’t it? Maybe that’s why I was attracted to an app by that name several years ago when it was in beta.

Nirvana is built for GTD, with Next Actions, Waiting, Someday, and other “Getting Things Done” features. I liked it, but the developer was taking too long to get it out of beta and I eventually moved onto to other things.

The other day I heard that Nirvana had been updated and I decided to take another look. I played around with it, entering tasks and projects, adding tags, and taking the app for a test drive.

I’m using the free Basic version which limits you to 3 “Areas of Focus” (e.g., Work, Personal, etc.) and 5 Projects. I have more than one business, however, and could use more than 3 Areas of Focus. I also have many projects, both active and inactive, and could use a lot more than 5.

But here’s the thing.

As I struggled to shoehorn my busy life into the Basic version, I realized that while I may have 50 projects I could be working on, I can only work on a one or two at a time. I found myself thinking about what was important to me right now, and used these for my 5 projects. Any other projects (or standalone tasks) I can tag “Someday,” or schedule for a future date, which is what I did with a project I’m planning to work on next month.

If I had the unlimited Pro account, ( per year) and put every project on the project list, both active and inactive, I can see how things might get out of hand. Using the Basic version of Nirvana, or any app that limits you to a handful of “front and center” options, forces you to prioritize.

I can’t have too much on my plate because my “plate” only holds so much.

Of course an artificial limit of 5 projects is just that–artificial. I can still put “everything” in this or other apps and find them when I want to re-fill my list of 5.

I think I’ll play around with the limited version of Nirvana a bit longer. There’s something liberating about looking at a spartan interface with just a few things in front of me, seeing how close I am to being “Done”.

Check out Nirvana and see what you think

Getting things done by getting rid of your to do list

No matter which method of task management we use, the challenge we all face is having a task lists that has become unmanageable.

Right now, I have over 600 “next” items on my list. (I keep everything in Evernote using tags.) That’s too many.

The “Getting Things Done” (GTD) system requires us to go through our lists once a week, to update our priorities for the following week. But my list is too big and it’s been a long time since I have done a weekly review.

Please don’t tell anyone.

The weekly review is what makes the whole system work. When you stop, you no longer have a task management system, you have a library.

How do I fix this?

I’m thinking about doing something drastic.

I’m thinking about starting over. Clean out the list and start a new one.

Yep, get rid of all of my “next” items and start from scratch.

What’s the worst that can happen? I’ll forgot something I haven’t thought about in months? It couldn’t be that important, could it?

Don’t we pretty much know what’s important? Aren’t we already working on what we need to do right now? Don’t we also know what we’ll probably do after that?

And we’re got our calendars for anything with a deadline.

A clean slate sounds like it would be delightful, doesn’t it? After you add back a handful of “next” tasks you remember or that come up this week, your weekly review will be quick and easy. You won’t avoid it. You’ll start getting things done.

But letting go is hard to do for a lawyer. Too many “what ifs”.

So here’s an safer alternative:

Move all of your tasks to a temporary folder or apply a temporary tag. Then, go through everything one time and decide if it should still be on your next list. If so, add it back. You will probably delete a good portion of your list this way.

Of course the danger with this safer method is indecision. We have too many things we are sure we need to do, and we can’t eliminate them.

Being a lawyer can be a royal pain in the arse.

Okay, if you can’t decide, move those tasks to “someday”. Keep your next list lean and mean.

Yes, we’re also supposed to go through our someday list during our weekly review. But if you don’t, if you go through it every six months, or every once in awhile, I won’t tell anyone. Pinkie swear.

See how I use Evernote to manage tasks and projects. Click here.

Evernote vs OneNote for Lawyers

Several years ago, I used OneNote for note taking and organizing information. I loved the digital notebook concept. I loved having nested notebooks and pages and sub-pages where I could organize everything.

Ironically, one thing I wasn’t crazy about was something OneNote is known for: the ability to place notes and graphics anywhere on the page. I was used to a more linear approach to organizing things. I tried to get used to this free-form method of displaying content, but never did.

Another thing I didn’t like is that each page was itself a big graphic (I think) and each element on it was a graphic. I may have the tech wrong but it always felt a bit weird. Maybe I’m just a plain text kinda guy.

As my notes grew, I found that keeping them organized wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be. I had so many notebooks and pages and sub-pages, things got confusing. Tags and search weren’t terribly reliable in the version I was using and I started looking at what others were doing to organize their notes.

I read lots of blogs about OneNote and kept hearing it compared to Evernote. I had Evernote on my hard drive, but used it only on occasion. I saw that many OneNote users had switched to EverNote because of some of the same frustrations I had experienced, so I started using Evernote more and liked it. I made the switch and haven’t looked back.

Evernote is my virtual filing cabinet, my GTD platform, and my universal note taking system. I use it all day, every day, on all my devices and in every part of my work flow. If you’re a lawyer, you can see how I use it in my Evernote for Lawyers ebook.

Microsoft just made OneNote free for PC and Mac users so I thought I would give it another look. I read an excellent article comparing OneNote vs Evernote. It concluded that Evernote takes the gold, but it also showed how far OneNote has come since I last used it.

I just downloaded OneNote and will take it for a test drive. At first blush, I can see how I might use it for certain projects, but I can’t see making my primary note taking system.

How about you? How do you weigh in on the Evernote vs OneNote for lawyers debate?

Evernote for Lawyers: A Guide to Getting Organized and Increasing Productivity is available here

Getting things done the way that works best for you

I just read an article about the four different personality types or thinkers and how we each go about getting things done. We make our lists differently and approach them differently.

Structural thinkers create a traditional to-do list every day and check things off as they do them. They take an organized, linear approach to managing their tasks.

Analytical thinkers consider the value of what they might do, and how much time it will take to do it.

Social thinkers seek input from others and consider how different tasks relate to everything else they might do

Conceptual thinkers don’t keep a traditional to-do list; they use an intuitive approach to getting things done

I don’t know how accurate these four types are or which group I fall into. Trying to figure it out made my head hurt. The author acknowledges that we might be a combination of types, and I’m sure that’s true for me.

My approach varies. It depends on the project, how I’m feeling that day, deadlines, and what I feel drawn to do. Some days, I work through a list and cross things off. Other days, I don’t look at anything, I just go with the flow.

I have a very large list of tasks and projects and someday/maybes, in Evernote, and each has one or more GTD tags that identify and prioritize the task or project. But to be honest, once I’ve assigned those tags to my tasks, I don’t refer to them every day.

I do what’s on my calendar. I do anything I’ve tagged as an “MIT” (most important task). The rest? I usually know what’s “next”.

I get things out of my head and off of scraps of paper and into my “trusted system”. It’s all there for me, in Evernote, so nothing will be lost or forgotten. I can search and find things, by tag, or I can browse. And yet, strangely, I usually don’t. I just know what I’m going to do.

But then my work life is a lot less complicated today than in years past. If I were still practicing, I would undoubtedly have a more structured approach to my day.

I think the big takeaway is that we are all different and we have to do what works best for us. We can use a complicated system, or no system. We can analyze and prioritize, or we can trust our gut. We can manage our lives with GTD, Franklin Covey, Kanban, or Eisenhower, or we can grab a pen and jot down a few things we want to do today.

Use what works best for you, even if it’s just your calendar and a post-it note.

My modified GTD system is detailed in my Evernote for Lawyers ebook