2013 Personal Productivity Method

Sometime before the start of the year, I decided to reevaluate my productivity methods. I was still running on a modified version of GTD when I started my job, and while GTD was great for grad school, at work I use a different method. There’s a task list built into Outlook, and I make other to-do lists by hand. It’s very rare that I’m working on more than one big project at once, and the projects I have had so far are pretty linear in nature. A lot of productivity methods would just be over-thinking it. After all, if I’m already being productive (and I’m happy with how productive I’m being) then I don’t need to change the method, right?

At home is a different situation. I started my new job in May, but a lot of things haven’t gotten done at home the way I’ve wanted them to. I’ve passed off a lot of the home maintenance to Andrew (he’s still a grad student with a flexible schedule), and I haven’t touched my personal projects in months. Andrew started looking for a job earlier this month, so I needed to get my butt in gear and try to be more proactive at home.

Part of my problem is that I often try to juggle too many tasks at once. I guess because they were all side projects, I’d just pick them up and drop them when I couldn’t manage them anymore. And I had a never-ending list of them. To tackle this, I brought the list down a little bit by getting rid of a bunch of things that I’ll never get to. Will I ever take the time to learn how to properly work with watercolors? Probably not. I’d rather focus on my sketching, or Chinese brush painting. So, I can get rid of the supplies I’ve been hoarding for that eventual “someday”.

The second thing I did was start a Kanban, with some modifications. Kanban starts from the very simple idea of having a visualization of where you are in your process, and limiting the number of things that you are working on at any given time. The simplest Kanban has a “To Do”, “Doing”, and “Done” columns. It can be more elaborate depending on your process. Here’s a sample from mine.


I have a separate board for my blog posts, and I keep my huge backlog of project ideas in Evernote. My “Ready” column represents things that I could start after getting a little bit of prep done (acquiring supplies, etc.). My “Set” column is for projects that could be started as soon as I finish one of the ones I’m working on. No more prep is necessary. “In Progress” and “Done” should both be obvious. I limit myself to 5 tasks: 2 large multi-step projects, and 3 smaller things that just require a reminder on my part. For example, “Organizing my music collection” would be a big project. I have to sort the music, make sure all the tags are good, find artwork, rip any new CDs I’ve acquired, check for new albums from my favorite artists…you get the idea. However, “Reset iPod for gifting” isn’t a huge project. (I gave a friend my old iPod, as it still worked and she had been complaining about her mp3 player.) When it comes time to work on a project, I set a timer, Pomodoro style, and get to work.

I don’t use the Kanban for everything. I need to remember to take some books back to the library? I put that in my calendar task list on my phone. I have a widget so I see the list almost every time I turn on my phone. Appointments and other time-sensitive things are the same way. They go in the calendar.

The last bit is trying to form daily habits. With Andrew around, I wouldn’t meal plan, or pick up the laundry, or make a real dinner, or…well, a lot really. Once something is a habit, of course it sticks, but it takes a long time to make something a habit, and I’m really bad about change. So I got an app called TASK:LIFE on my Android mp3 player, and it gives me a little reminder and scores me on how well I’m keeping to my habits. It’s quite versatile, as it can handle things like “Exercise 4 times per week” that aren’t quite daily, but would be regular tasks. Maybe I should put “Have a spa day once a week” in there. Hm.

In any case, I still keep some elements of GTD around. I try to empty my inbox every day, and use a trigger list to come up with any to-dos I might have forgotten. I also try to do quick things (e.g. pay rent) right away, and if it’s not quick, I add it to where it belongs in the process above.

What’s your productivity method? Do you do a mix like I do, or are you a one-method only person?