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