The Procrastinator’s Productivity Guide Part 1

Don’t you wish you were more productive with your hours? Everyone has only 24 hours in their day. Here’s how to make the most of your waking hours, to Get Things Done. From the excellent article on productivity by Computer World’s Mike Elgan :

In my system, there are only two kinds of tasks: Recurring tasks and one-off tasks. For example, I like to tidy up my desk every other day, so that’s a recurring task. I have daily, weekly, monthly and yearly recurring tasks. I put all of them into a free service called VueMinder.

Each day, VueMinder emails me a to-do list for the day (when tasks are set to email reminders and to float to current date when not completed).

When you think of a task or idea, just email a reminder to yourself. These reminders, combined with tasks other people send you, are the one-off tasks. Every new item enters the system as an email.

I use Gmail tasks, and it works great. Especially since it syncs with VueMinder.

Enter into your calendar application items that are date- and time-specific (I use Google’s Calendar service), and set them up so that you receive emails about them, thereby automating entry into your workflow at the appropriate time.

Go through your email each day as usual, and do any action that can be done in under two minutes. Convert the rest into items for your task list. (I use the Google Tasks feature of Gmail, which is under the Gmail More menu). And of course, respond as appropriate to nontask communications.

43 folders from Getting Things Done? Ha! My system has two folders: The email in-box and the task list.


Here’s the most important part: With each email item, figure out how to prevent such email from coming in the future. Of course, some email is desirable. But for the rest, block repeats. Unsubscribe (I use a service called Mark as spam. Set up a filter to auto-archive. Move conversations into Google+. Ask senders to take you off their lists or stop sending mail. Do whatever it takes to block all but the most necessary emails.

For many types of mail, you can set up filters or rules that archive mail so you never see it, but keep it in case you need to search for it later. I have hundreds of such filters.

The idea is that your in-box becomes like Teflon — nothing sticks to it. You move items out of it, and try to prevent new items from coming in.

Over time, you can reduce the flood of email you get each day to a trickle, and empty your in-box every day.

Once this system is set up, here’s how it works: You’ve got VueMinder and Calendar (btw VueMinder also syncs with your Google Calendar, nice huh?), co-workers and yourself all feeding new items into your email in-box. And you’ve got one-off tasks over in your tasks list.

Make sure one of your recurring daily VueMinder items is a reminder to do some fixed number of items each day in the Tasks list. My magic number is three. The number should be greater than the average number of incoming items on the task list, so you’re always reducing the number of items on that list.

Each day, start going through email, processing messages and tasks as described above. When you get to the VueMinder email of recurring tasks, complete that list religiously. One of those items is to complete items from your Tasks list. You can pick any of these — the easiest ones, the most urgent — whichever pop out at you. Just make sure you skim the whole list every day and make sure nothing falls through the cracks.

When you’re done with this list, continue processing your email until your in-box is empty.

The beauty of this system is brain-dead simplicity. You just check your email and do what it tells you to do. You get stuff out of your in-box, and you try to prevent it from returning in the future. You complete your daily VueMinder list, and the set number of Tasks every day. You get to pick any tasks, so there’s flexibility built in.



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