Productivity, in its basics, is a set of habits and tools working together to help you optimize your time and effort for maximum efficiency. That is it. You can read hundreds of posts on how to stay more productive but eventually you’ll always get back to those two categories – the habits and the tools ecosystem that supports them.
When I’ve made my 2014 resolutions I’ve pre-defined the goals and the habits I want to acquire. I translated my core wishes of ‘who I want to be in 2014’ into a well defined measurable goals. For example: ‘Be a better cook’ became cook a new dish every week, ‘getting into fit’ became a daily set of exercise I do everyday at 07:45 am etc. Those are the habits I wanted to acquire.
For me, the next step after defining a set of habits I want to acquire is setting up the right tools to help me achieve and track my goals.
In this post I wanted to share with you the tools I use to do it. There might be a better set of tools than the ones I use, but they work very well for me and I wanted to help you save time in setting up your system so you wouldn’t have to waste time and thought over the works I’ve already done.
A state of constant focus
I’m a focus-fanatic. In all aspects. I like to keep my apps in order and fit simply because I hate the ‘noise’ apps I don’t use added to my phone.
Productivity and focus need to happen in all aspects of your work. Apps you don’t use are the same as clutter on your desk. Of course you can perform very good with clutter, but it sure doesn’t help you. Here’s how I organize my phone:
I have 3 screens on my iPhone:
1. The default apple homescreen – I keep it just because I think it’s beautifully designed
2. Work screen – this is the second screen in my iPhone. Here I keep all apps I use for work. This is the screen I’ll elaborate on in this post
3. Screen for testing apps / apps I rarely use – On the third screen I keep two types of apps. One I rarely use but don’t want to delete because I use them about once in every two-three weeks for sure. Second kind is new apps I’m testing out. They could be any kind of app. New apps get one week of grace on my phone. If I don’t use them for over a week I delete them.
On the iPhone dock I keep the apps I use most frequently.
On each screen the apps are organized by two simple rules: How often do I use them and does it add up to a good design. I hate seeing an iPhone, such a beautifully crafted device, with messed up ugly non-matching icon apps on the home screen. But I don’t think it’s either normal or healthy, so feel free to skip on that tip, though I would say that beautiful things make you want to engage and use them more. So making your home screen beautiful might encourage you to use those sets of tools on a daily basis.
The right set of apps
As I mentioned, my second screen is my ‘work screen’. Here I store all the apps that I use daily to run my business and personal goals and habits.
The screen is divided into 3 sections:
Notice that I didn’t say communicate with friends and colleagues. I (almost) never agree to talk to clients via Whatsapp and Facebook messenger. These two apps are categorized as a private space. For you to be happy as an employee / entrepreneur / freelancer you need to set work boundaries. Keep your private space private.
The second reason is because you can’t document conversations well enough on either of these apps. Email is very searchable, Facebook Messenger and Whatsapp are not. This means that if you need to retrieve a conversation regarding goals, action items or whatever, you’ve set with your clients or peers it would be very hard for your track down. Chat apps are for friends, email is for work.
Just to run through the obvious ones – Twitter and Facebook are my go-to social networks I love to connect and be active on. Instagram is my go-to camera app while Vine is a new favorite of mine which I’m trying to break into habit. Couple is where I usually talk to my spouse and Linkedin is useful, though I’m not very active there.
Productivity at Work
Third row is strictly business and holds my entire workday flow. Lets break it down:
Evernote – My actual work takes place in two apps: Safari and Evernote. I’m a huge fan of Evernote. I use it for personal and business use and a huge advocate for it.
Here’s how I use Evernote in a nutshell:
1. Projects – every project gets a notebook of its own where I keep visual references, meeting minutes, notes, relevant files and basically document every aspect of the project. Every project also gets a special tag so I can easily find all documents related to it while searching in Evernote.
For every project I have a note with all the admin info and an index for the most important files. If you’re not using note-to-note link in Evernote you’re really missing out.
2. Blogging – I do a lot of blogging, which means I need to be very organized in terms of research, drafts, posts in progress, etc. I have a stack for Blogging with 4 notebooks:
- Drafts and ideas – In this notebook I write down every idea for a post that comes to mind. I use the note’s title to write down the main idea (‘Working Title’) and in the body I describe what the post will be about etc.Every post will go from draft to finish in this notebook. I will develop the idea, decide on structure and keep all links to relevant notes from my research notebook (will get to that in a minute) here. The post will go through the whole evolution from idea to ready to be uploaded post here.While working on the post I will add the tags “Post in progress’ to know I’ve started working on it, if it’s a guest post I’ll add a ‘guest post’ tag (I will mention to which blog I’m writing it for in the note’s body) and will add tags according to subject such as ‘growth hacking’, ‘content marketing’, etc. Because I don’t always write the post near the time of its publication I need to easily track where would it fits in my content strategy and schedule it later for publication.
- Research – Writing a quality blog post usually requires quite a lot of research. In this notebook I keep all the research I did by clipping webpages using the Evernote clipper. Each note is tagged by its category like ‘Facebook’, ‘Stats’, etc.I will add a link to relevant notes on my in-progress blog posts note from the ‘Drafts and Ideas’ notebook. Remember we talked about it?
- TAH Published Posts – After I finalize my blog post I move the note from my ‘Drafts and Ideas’ notebook to my ‘The After Hours Published post’. TAH used to be the name for my blog, now I just use it to mark the notebook. In this notebook I add all the posts I published on my blog.In those notes I will change the ‘Post in progress’ tag into ‘Published’. I will also add a link to the blog post itself, write down my keywords, category and tags I used when posting it to WordPress. I always keep a copy because you never know.
- Guest posts – This notebook is kind of the same as the previous one, only here I also keep the name of the contact for that blog, date, amount of likes / shares / comments it got, etc.
3. Personal – Kind of self-explanatory. Here I keep everything regarding my private life, personal projects, etc. I want go into details on that one.
4. Ideas for Projects – This stack holds has 3 notebooks:
- Ideas – a notebook in which I capture and keep all my newly in progress ideas for projects and ventures, very much like the ‘Ideas and drafts’ notebook for blogging.
- Research – Here I’ll keep all my notes with research and web clips I took using the Evernote clipper. On my ‘Ideas’ every note will be linked back to one of the notes in the ‘Ideas’ notebook, so I won’t take as much time organizing this note. Just link to them in the right places.
- In progress – This notebook will store all the ideas that are more evolved than the ones in the ‘Ideas’ notebook but still not evolved enough to be counted as a project. I don’t have an actual rule to when to pass it on the ‘Project’ stack but it usually happens when I start collaborating with others or have a more structured timeline and deadline for it.
Asana is where I actually manage my projects. I love asana because it’s easy to collaborate on it, it has a great web interface and is very flexible.
Every blog post, project, client’s work or personal project that has more than one step goes straight into asana. With their new calendar feature it’s amazingly easy to visualize goals and deadlines for each part of your project.
I have three workspaces – Personal, Clients and Projects.
When I tackle a new project I will first break it down to the smallest action items and then assign it to my teammates and schedule the tasks I know deadlines and progress milestones for.
I’m a big fan of David Allen’s Getting Things Done (GTD) so if takes me less than two minutes I’ll just do it. If it takes more than one step I’ll process it to tasks and build the project around it.
I love Clear; it has a beautiful simple interface and it works great as a to-do list app. It’s not strong or good enough to run projects on it, but it’s great for small scale stuff.
The two things I do on Clear:
1. Today to-do list – Asana is amazing to plan projects but it’s too robust and their mobile app isn’t that good to keep you focused on daily tasks. At the beginning of each day I go through my projects on Asana and extract tasks for the day. I will add them to my Clear app under ‘To Do Today’ and that will my task list for the day. Because there’s also a Mac app for Clear, I can see the task on all my devices and won’t have to keep my phone next to me while I work.
2. Inbox – Every new task gets thrown into Clear before it gets processed for Asana. Usually when you set up new tasks or projects you need to insert them intuitively and fast. Asana isn’t suitable for that, Clear is perfect for it. I use it to capture all ideas, new tasks and projects that will later on need to be scheduled or integrated with an existing project.
Reporting what you did today is important. It helps you reflect and be aware on what it is you actually accomplished today. You can write down all the tasks you finished, reflect on how you could improve your work tomorrow or even important lessons you learnt that day.
Reporting to yourself keeps you honest on your achievements, efforts and gives you great insight on how to improve your work.Day one is the perfect app for that.
Quantify and enrich yourself
Fourth and fifth rows – Here’s where I keep apps that I use for personal and professional growth and tracking.
I use Lift to set new habits for myself and track my progress. I don’t use it much for its community possibilities but more for the tracking down my perseverance.
I use Foursquare to track the places I’ve been too. It’s also always cool to look back and track the startups, cool cafes, bars and restaurants you liked as well as getting new recommendations. By tracking places other people check in I can discover great places to conduct meetings in and even business opportunities (New hub, accelerators etc.).
Fitbit is where I track health and fitness goals. I mostly use it to monitor my active minutes / Km per day and steps. I’m currently trying to find the correlations between my daily exercise and sleeping patterns.
Feedly, Pocket and Paper are my three most interesting on-the-go news and articles resources. If I’m stuck in line, waiting for a meeting or simply need to zone off for a while I’d usually use these apps on my iPhone. On a daily basis I’m more likely to use them on my Mac than my phone though.
This is almost the default settings – so I’ll just emphasize that I use Mailbox as an email app. I love how easily you can delete and archive messages. It’s perfect for reading email on the go. The important ones stay, the easy to tackle ones I handle while reading them and the useless or not relevant ones get deleted right away.
Spotify is my go-to music app because it basically has most of the music I’d like to listen to daily. And you can’t really work without good music in the background, right?
If you’re just setting up your smartphone for productivity, I think this set up could help you a lot. If you have a different set up please share it with me in the comments. I love seeing those productivity setups!