At the beginning of March I set out to improve my organization and productivity through planning. Before March I lost tasks and appointments in a futile effort to remember everything, occasionally write things down and keep a less than up to date to-do list. In March I set out to bring order to the chaos that was my planning and productivity. These are the things I learned during the last month.
I don’t need a complex system
The biggest thing I learned this month is that I don’t need a complex planning and organization system in order to be productive. I set out with a fairly simple system (at least compared to things like GTD and other such systems) which evolved into something even more simple as the month went on.
At this point in my life I don’t need a complicated system with tags, folders, lists, categories, color-coding or a 30+ minute daily planning session. What I need is a way to remember and be reminded of tasks and appointments. I need a system that stays out of my way and makes life easier, not one that adds stress and extra time to my daily routine.
plan when I have time
I set out to plan at a specific time every day and weekly. I wanted to sit down each evening or morning and plan out my day, write out tasks and do other planning related activities. This didn’t happen for a number of reasons.
First, our schedule is never set in stone. Sometimes we eat dinner at 6 and sometimes we eat at 8 or later. Some mornings I leave at 7:30 or 8 and other mornings I don’t leave until 10. This made it hard to pin down an exact time to sit down.
Second, I am just not that busy. My schedule and to-do list don’t require a daily planning session. Sarah and I are working on a weekly planning session where we budget, plan out meals, look at our calendars and to-do lists and generally plan out our week, but we have yet to implement it.
Third, I forget things easily, so it was best to plan in the moment. When I found out about a homework assignment or a task at work, I immediately put it in the appropriate list and gave it a due date. This may not be the case for everyone, so you may need to experiment to find what works best for you.
My system now is as follows:
- Receive task/calendar item/etc.
- Add item to to-do list (Swipes) or calendar (Google Calendar) as soon as possible.
- Each evening review my to-do list. Add due dates, snooze tasks until I can work on them or cross off finished items.
- Each morning review the list again and focus on 2-4 items per day (unless I have more items that have to get done, e.g., homework assignments due tomorrow)
- Review calendar at least daily to make sure I don’t miss appointments.
Going forward, I will continue to tweak and improve this system, only adding new tools or workflows if it simplifies and/or makes things easier.
My focus is on getting things done, not doing things to track which things I need to do. My system is loose and simple and that’s what works for me right now. It lets me focus on actually doing things instead of spending hours tracking and organizing a huge productivity system. After all, productivity is about doing great work, not tracking everything that you want to or need to do.
If you have any specific questions about my simple planning system or any suggestions, please reach out to me on Twitter, email (nathan “at” quiethabits.net) or by leaving a comment below.
Also published on Medium.