I’m not a fan of routine but I realised, after several months of going with the flow, that I was missing some structure in my life. We’ve had a busy schedule and been travelling a lot. My weeks have been haphazard with very little opportunity to get into a rhythm. I was beginning to feel frustrated as I couldn’t gain momentum and was just scraping the surface of what I wanted to do.
My preferred way of working is alone, somewhere quiet, and where I won’t be disturbed. I’m an introvert and can struggle to refocus once I’ve been interrupted. (This article about interruptions and distractions made me realise I’m not alone in this challenge). I do my best work when I can concentrate for hours at a time. It’s as if I retreat somewhere within – it takes a while to get there but, once in that zone, I don’t want to leave until I’m done.
Strangely, despite the noise, I can work successfully in a coffee shop. I concluded recently that the cafe vibe works because, although there’s the constant buzz, it’s unlikely anyone is going to disturb me.
Initially, I thought I had a decent plan but it wasn’t detailed enough. I needed more.
An email exchange with Helen Redfern made me rethink some of my processes. You can also watch Helen’s top tips here which summarise many of the ideas I’ve been using.
write it down
My Lemome notebook has become my bible. It goes everywhere with me. It’s a bit of a hotch potch of different ideas and topics but it’s my working notebook and I’m not being precious about what goes in there. (Another tip from Helen).
I start my month with a simple grid in my Lemome detailing the days and weeks, as well as my goals and activities. In July, I resurrected my A4 Arc notebooks and some old planner pages including month at a glance. I set up two notebooks – one for me and one for Chris. We each have a monthly page that details all our activities including blogs, IGTV, newsletters and also includes Chris’ demos, any appointments we may have or other activities. I can see where I need to get ahead and where I can stay on track. These monthly pages have become my daily to do list.
In my weekly review I’ve added in a couple of extra elements – a weekly and daily to do planner. These are much more specific and task focused.
I have a separate list of my blog ideas. I add all my new possibilities as they occur to me. This is my starting point when I need inspiration to write.
I’ve reinstated our weekly meeting. We’ve just had one today (as I write this, it’s 21st July), where I run through what I’ve already documented (in my weekly review) and Chris adds to the list. We talk about upcoming appointments, any commissions to be fulfilled, supplies that need to be ordered or follow ups I need to do. We even plan the weekly menu. It may sound a bit sad but life functions a lot better when I have a plan. We are both notoriously bad at shopping. When we wing it, we always come back from the supermarket with half of what we really needed!
The plan is probably not 100% there yet but almost. Having a plan just means I don’t have to think every day about what I need to do. It calms my mind and gives me headspace. Eventually all these items will be added to the Calendar (see below) so that Chris’ phone will give him daily audio reminders.
I use Helen’s post-it note planning tool. This gives me a more in depth view of the my writing projects. Helen suggests breaking things down into small steps so this is the approach I’m using.
It’s a great way to capture part completed actions – as I’ve just found with a Medium post I’m writing, I can’t always finish what I’ve started the same day. I’d rather go back later and get it right so it’s added to my post-it planner.
This list links to the items on the monthly planner and means I don’t have to waste time each day working out what’s next. One of my big challenges is being productive when I have very little time to play with. It’s not my natural way of working at all but bite sized tasks makes it easier to move things forward.
I have always been something of a productivity geek and you name the app, I’ve tried it. While I love many of them, I found that they weren’t all helping me get things done. I could spend ages just maintaining them rather than actioning anything.
My current set up is more low tech. It’s not perfect and occasionally there’s functionality I wish I had but I’m going for the keep it simple approach so, lately, I’ve pared everything down and only use Google.
I love my Gmail. I have a number of different email addresses and they all filter into the one inbox. (Settings/Accounts/Check email from other accounts). I’ve applied filters as well to see which email address is being used (I do this sometimes when I’m decluttering my many domain names!). I use the multiple inbox option for reply, to do, finance, reference, waiting on. These are filtered by using the star function. So, if I need to reply to an email but not straightaway, I apply has:orange-guillemet. Once I’ve replied I might change the star to has:purple-question to denote that I’m waiting on a reply. I don’t need to move the message, just change the star and it will move itself to the waiting on multiple inbox.
I use Google Tasks for checklists only. All my birthday reminders are in a list. We have a demo checklist, travel checklist, food while we’re away checklist. I also have a cleaning list and an annual reminders list. I use an app called gTasks Pro as it has more functionality than the Google app but uses the same data. It enables me to set up recurring reminders more effectively.
Google Keep is more of a post-it note reminder system. I started with some list reminders but I prefer one task, one reminder. I use labels and colours extensively. I have labels for Seed to Source, the Blind Woodturner, another joint project, our podcast, my daily routine etc. Filtering by labels is important as it can be overwhelming looking at the notes view. However, this is where Google Calendar comes into its own!
In Google Calendar I use the multiple calendar option so, again, I have one for Seed to Source, the Blind Woodturner, Home, Personal etc.
But the real joy for me is that my Google Tasks and Google Keep items are all visible in my Calendar so, even though I create tasks in different places, I have a single view of my day. I very rarely have undated Tasks or Keep items so that I can be confident that they will pop up in my Calendar.
This is a view of my calendar showing only my Seed to Source activities (blue), the Blind Woodturner (purple) and At Home with the Fishers (green). I toggled off all the other calendars, Tasks and Keep – it looks a bit like a patchwork quilt otherwise! This is my basic week. It varies a little as some activities only happen once a month or fortnight but this forms the foundation. When I complete an item, I change the colour to grey so, by the end of the week, all these activities should be the same colour. Occasionally something else might get in the way of completing a task on the scheduled day, so changing the colour shows me what’s left to do by the end of the week. It’s not cast in stone but by blocking out regular times, I’m finding it’s having a positive impact on my productivity.
I used to be an Evernote fan but, a few months ago, I fancied a change and came across Bear again. I had dabbled with Bear briefly before. The upshot was, I cancelled my Evernote account, migrated all my notes to Bear and took out a subscription.
I like the colour schemes with Bear and the pared down view. Ideal for writing, I start my blog posts in Bear and then export them to my WordPress website with the inbuilt export function.
I use Bear just like I did Evernote as a repository for information, articles, webpages. There are a few things that Evernote did better but, overall, I prefer Bear. Plus it has such a great name and app icon!
a workable plan
I function much better with a plan. I suppose there’s an element of wanting to be in control and not letting the spinning plates drop.
Here’s what I’ve learned:
- Routines create a framework: as I mentioned earlier I don’t like to be constrained by routine. But having a daily routine to drive my actions definitely works. I get up at 06:00 every day and write until I’m hungry, then have some breakfast and get a shower. Since I implemented this, I’ve wasted less time and have been more productive. Waking up at a regular time seems to suit my body better too.
- Writing down a plan is key: it’s no good having it in your head, it has to be on paper. I’ve tried to create a workable plan, one that helps me achieve my goals but is not overwhelming or impossible. Seeing everything written down helps me ensure I don’t overload my days. The best part though is my daily to do list falls out of this plan and I don’t have to think every day about what I need to do. The brain work has already been done.
- Just do the next task: I trust my plan so I don’t get sidetracked or second guess my next action. I know that, eventually, I’ll cover my bases and get it all done.
- Keep it simple: good old pen and paper is all you need. If you do nothing else, draft your plan on paper first because there’s a lot to be said for seeing it all in black and white. Work with a system, like a bullet journal or printable monthly/weekly/daily plans – whatever works for you – and review it weekly.
I’m sure the plan will evolve over time and may require some tweaks but, for now, it’s working well and definitely helping me get more done.