A Blended System for Productivity

I first became interested in time management and productivity since reading The 7 habits of highly effective people by Steven Covey and Getting things done (GTD) by David Allen back in college. Since then I have adopted a few simple techniques for managing work, such as doing the most important things first and keeping a daily or weekly to-do list. That was working alright, but recently I decided to design a better system which can be (almost) effortlessly incorporated in my daily routine. After studying most of the best-selling books on the topic, I came up with the following blended system (see the end of the posts for a list of references). I implemented it in Evernote, which is accessible from the web, mobile phone, and desktop app. My system consists of five notebooks explained below:

  1. Foundation – the big picture
    • Note 1 – Who am I? Used to capture the essence of me, for example my principles and values. It serves as the first filtering layer, reminding me to ask if there’s a convincing reason for including something in my to-do list.
    • Note 2 – Hot spots: Used to keep track of active projects pertaining crucial aspects of life — physical, intellectual, spiritual, financial, social, recreational, etc. Aims to give a high-level overview of my resources allocation, each project is summarised in only one sentence describing its goal.
  2. Backlog / ideas – repertoire of short and long term projects and ideas
    • Note 3 – In-bucket list: Used for brain dumping any ideas (with almost no filtering), to keep them out of the brain and avoid interfering with its operation when not necessary. This practice is heavily emphasised in GTD. I schedule a time to process and empty this list weekly, using the triage recommended in GTD.
    • Note 4, 5, 6, 7- Personal development, professional development, assets creation, Misc: Used for storing the project ideas that have been processed from the in-bucket list. I find it easier to split these into a few prioritised categories (that may change over time) as a big project idea typically warrants further elaborations and expansions. Processing the bucket list weekly ensures more thorough consideration of which projects or tasks to act on. I often cross out many tasks as I review the bucket-list as, by the time I get to them, their true importance has dropped significantly.
  3. Outcomes
    • Note 8 – Monthly challenges
    • Note 9 – Monday visions
    • Note 10 – Friday reflections
    • Daily (optional) – Years ago I used to write down my to-do list, one note per day, but now I just use a pen and a notebook that I can carry around to meetings to take note more easily.
  4. Projects – the actual execution
  5. References

The principles

The resources

  • The 7 habits of highly effective people, Stephen Covey
  • Getting things done, David Allen
  • Eat that frog, Brian Tracy
  • The 4-hour work week, Tim Ferris
  • Getting results the agile way

More but mostly subset of contents from these books

The power of habits

So last year I decided to build a habit of learning Korean for 15 – 20 minutes per day. In reality I could only do on weekday on the train back home.  I think this habit has worked marvellously and proved the power of habit. Through the practice of daily learning with small chunks, I can now write basic Korean sentences much faster, like the below letter that I wrote to my Korean teacher.
선생님, 새 해 복 많이 받으세요!
혹시 이 메시지 받을수 있는지 없는지 궁금해요 ㅎ
선생님 facebook 자주 안 사용하니까
선생님과 가족 모두 잘 지내죠?
나는 한국어 매일 이십분정도 공부해라서 아마도 선생님 한테 더 자주 통화 할수있어요
우리는 시드니에 생활 좋아요.
날씨가 좋고 음식도 베트남 동네들을 가까워서 좋아요
작년에 우리는 집을 샀어요. 나의 사무실 부터 좀 멀지만 괜찮아요. 그리고 이번 4월의 우리는 다음 아이가 기대하고 있어요.
시간이되면 호주 여행 한번 하세요.
I’m sure there are mistakes somewhere but blame Google Translate 😀 This technology is so good now that it can tolerate mis-spellings when doing the translation. I suspect the letter may even look better had I just written it in English and send the translated version, but my teacher will be happier to see the product of my composure.
P.S. I use Duolingo for the lack of a better alternative as it’s now too basic for non-beginners and take some willpower to go through the lessons.