Essential tools for setting up a simple and effective productivity sys

As you’re employed to domesticate a productive workflow for your self and set off to get some actual work executed, you’re prone to run into some sticking factors in your journey. Don’t fear, it’s all regular.

Upon getting multiple mission to concentrate on, you’ll want one thing that can assist you maintain observe of them. As soon as your work takes you past your desk—to a assembly, or a new office, or touring someplace on a airplane—you’ll want techniques to maintain you productive wherever you’re. And as you proceed in your work journey for weeks and months and years, and you face basic obstacles of disorganization, complacency, and overwhelm. In these moments, you can most likely use some tools to assist maintain you grounded, and on observe.

Fortunately, there are tried-and-true tools and techniques on the market which were confirmed to work for all forms of work and all forms of individuals. These aren’t the productivity-guru-snake-oil-app-type of tools you’ve been getting advertisements for on Fb. These are the fundamentals. The necessities. Your starter equipment.

Listed here are a few of essentially the most important and useful constructing blocks that may assist your workflow take off.


1. The common-or-garden to-do listing

It’s deceptively simple, however the to-do listing is perhaps the only most vital component to a productive particular person’s life. You possibly can be forgiven for discovering it virtually too simplistic. However its worth really will increase the extra difficult one’s life will get.

The extra duties and actions that we tackle in our lives, between work, college, play, and facet hustles, the extra possibilities we create for issues to slide by way of the cracks. You’re most likely conversant in the sensation of strolling by way of your day in a little bit of a fog, feeling unsettled, as a result of you already know that there’s one thing it’s essential do that you simply simply can’t bear in mind.

Or, you’ve been in a state of affairs at work or college the place somebody or one thing dumps a mountain of duties on you in a matter of seconds or minutes. You’re most likely conversant in the intuition to virtually instantly begin to cycle by way of them in your head as you stroll away, to be sure you don’t overlook one. These reminiscences at all times really feel like uninteresting panic and dread. And it’s not obligatory.

The purpose of a to-do listing, and the rationale it’s so vital to your productive life, is simple. It’s about getting that mountain of duties and concepts out of your head, the place they’re swimming round loosely and clouding your focus, and into a singular place within the bodily world.

As soon as they’re there, the listing could be 200 objects lengthy. It is perhaps a little unwieldy, however not less than it’s full. At the least it’s centralized. It may be a listing of duties, a grocery listing, or a guidelines to seek the advice of every time earlier than ending a mission. And now you may undergo your life – to dinner, to work, on a stroll – and not have to fret about forgetting one thing, or feeling that tip of the tongue feeling in your mind.

It’s all good. It’s all sorted. It’s all in your listing, and it’s a full doc. When you consider one thing new, simply add it to the listing. When you’ve created your listing, you may undergo and edit it, condense it, mix objects, omit others – no matter you want. However the onerous half can be executed.


It’s vital, although, that that is the one and solely listing. If it’s in some other place than the one place you’ve designated, you gained’t have that very same safety of thoughts. If there are too many locations it might be, together with nowhere in any respect, it’d as whereas be gone.

This technique can take the type of a piece of a paper if you’d like. When you’re a kind of individuals that truly carries round a bodily notepad or moleskin, that is your time to shine. However the overwhelming majority of us are wanting for a smartphone app. I’ve two suggestions. First is Todoist, a full-featured and sturdy app with a lot of enjoyable methods like pure language processing (so you may kind “espresso with Dave at 2pm Tuesday” and it is going to perceive and add it your calendar with out asking) and multi-layered folder and group techniques. It’s a favourite of many productivity warriors.

My private favourite, although, is an app known as MinimaList. As its identify suggests, the expertise is fairly…properly, minimal. It’s a clean display screen, you pull down anyplace so as to add an merchandise, and press enter to submit it. Swipe throughout them to cross them off. That’s it. You’ll be able to swipe round and do little gestures to seek out a couple additional hidden options and settings, however should you simply wished a simple app that was as plain as writing on a sheet of paper, that is the one for you. I really like its simplicity. I simply write no matter’s in my head and go. Determine it out later.

2. Any and all writing

Writing apps are a little totally different than to-do lists, in fact. They nonetheless typically operate as a approach to rapidly consumption ideas, however they’re extra formless by design. You’ll be able to write in any format you see match. They will additionally develop to suit longer type paperwork, which, relying in your line of labor, is perhaps essentially the most single most vital component to your productivity suite. I do know it’s for mine.

So selecting your course of right here is absolutely vital. Props to you should you’re a pen and paper kind right here, however you’re nonetheless possible going to wish a approach to digitize what you write. Are you cool with re-typing all of it after the very fact? Many make that a a part of their course of by doing their first spherical of edits as they re-type.

On the digital facet, there’s a large swath to select from. Actually untold thousands and thousands are completely content material with Microsoft Phrase. And if that’s you, that’s greater than positive. However others want particular characteristic units and codecs for mediums like screenwriting. Others need one thing much more minimalistic. Think about what your wants are, and should you’ve ever felt annoyed by limitations of an app you’ve beforehand used.

I’ve two techniques. One is for fast consumption concepts, like “a TV present the place all of the firefighters are canines” or no matter. File that away below “Genius Concepts, 2021,” and if you pull it out, take it into your longform author of option to plot it out, construction it, and write it.

For that longer-form work, the place you’re going to spend hours in a specific pc window with the blinking cursor, your precedence must be one thing that doesn’t interrupt your circulate. And for your fast consumption answer, you want one thing that, when an thought pops into your head, doesn’t make you wait observing a loading display screen or another delay in these treasured seconds the place you would possibly lose your thought. People are prodigious at forgetting issues.

I’ve downloaded notes apps that had been most likely superb and deleted them instantly once I noticed they’d an advert on the backside of the display screen. Or worse, discovered a approach to introduce some sort of cost plan to unlock extra options or “limitless” notes. A notes app must be simple, and unaffected by the surface world. I want a blinking cursor, a perfunctory file-and-folder system, and nothing else to get in the best way.

I’m a massive proponent of Apple Notes, and it’s simple syncing throughout all units. However, in keeping with my RescueTime, my most-used writing app is the inventory notepad TextEdit, which is overly simplistic virtually to a fault. However, when I’ve an thought, all I’ve to do is go “command-spacebar-T-enter” and it’s there. It occurs in much less of a second these days. I wouldn’t commerce that sort of pace for virtually something. So go together with what you are feeling like.

My suggestion for long-form writing is an app known as Highland 2. I believe it’s a attractive and vastly underrated writing expertise. It was initially conceptualized as a screenwriting app, and that’s what it actually excels at, but it surely has modes for all types of writing. I do all my article and essay writing there too. I’m writing this text in it proper now, in actual fact. (Sorry, it’s an Apple unique.)


3. Dreaded e-mail

As I’m certain you’re conscious, e-mail has inserted itself into our company and productive lives so firmly during the last decade that regardless of what number of Slacks and Zooms and WhatsApps come alongside, I don’t foresee it going away for a very, very very long time. So, whereas we’re right here, you would possibly as properly embrace the method of optimizing and idealizing your e-mail expertise.

That begins with aggressively unsubscribing from purchasing digests and different spam-like messages, and even newsletters that is perhaps good however that you simply don’t learn. Your inbox must be for stuff you both must see or are excited to see. Not issues that may sit round amassing mud.

Spend a few accessible hours working by way of not less than the highest layer of your emails. You hear individuals speak about “Inbox Zero” on a regular basis, and for good purpose. There are few issues that really feel so good as having your inbox utterly cleared out, particularly should you’ve been strolling round with that “3000 unread emails” tag on your property display screen for months and years. It’s like ending a to-do listing you began in center college.

(When you’ve been buried in e-mail so long as you bear in mind and need to “cheat code” your approach to a contemporary begin, you may on the very least “select-all and mark as learn” for all the e-mail in your inbox in order that the massive crimson quantity will go away. Here’s how to do it in Gmail.)

The great factor about e-mail is that, should you use Gmail, and you most likely do, you don’t want an app. The browser expertise is simple and sturdy sufficient to deal with something you can want it to. Google-integrated search and indexing makes the expertise a dream—particularly should you’ve amassed years of archived and sorted messages.

However should you’re itching for an app you may put in your dock and tab between, I like to recommend Spark. It’s bought a lovely structure, and is deeply customizable, particularly with keyboard shortcuts.

So spend a while attending to Inbox Zero, or no matter your model of it appears like. Then, decide to a workflow along with your e-mail. You don’t should delete every little thing when you’re executed with it – I do know firsthand the paralysis that digital packrat-ism can create with issues like e-mail. The archive button is your pal. Cope with issues as they arrive in. Reply to emails instantly, or in the event that they want a little additional time, mark them as unread so that they keep highlighted. Now that crimson badge can be a low quantity like “6” and you’ll even have an thought of what to do with it.

There’s a blankness to the sensation of true inbox zero that actually is a jolt of power. Gmail provides you a good little image when there’s nothing left in your inbox. And the app icon in your iPhone appears attractive with out that garish crimson badge.

4. A hen’s-eye calendar

I used to drift by way of life with out a calendar. In faculty, I’d have little sticky notes or scraps of paper dotted round my life that mentioned, “assembly with professor Tuesday at 12:00.” I believe I will need to have had a print-out of my schedule from the primary syllabus day of every semester that might simply sit on my desk, gathering folds and wrinkles, as I consulted it 5 instances a day. Who is aware of how I pulled any of that off. (The actual reply: I didn’t. Quite a bit slipped by way of the cracks.)

Even once I began my profession as a freelancer and had totally different jobs each week, every with its personal particulars and schedules and stacks of paperwork, I attempted to keep up the identical charade. I made it a few months earlier than I spotted it was almost unattainable—skilled life simply begs for some sort of construction. So I went in the exact opposite path.

Each time I get a job or a dedication, in my work life or private life, it goes on the calendar. I’ve them color-coded for “Work,” “Private,” “Well being,” “Household,” and “Journey.” “Work” is crimson as a result of it stresses me out. “Journey” is gray as a result of even at its most fulfilling, it’s nonetheless aggressively “impartial”-feeling time. “Well being” is inexperienced as a result of…salads are wholesome?

I comply with a philosophy I’ve heard others within the productivity group espouse: “If it’s not on my calendar, it didn’t occur.”

I can now see my life from a great top-down perspective. A sea of crimson in the course of the month? I’m working. I’ve no room for seeing a film with a pal. Did I play basketball this month? Not seeing a lot of blue or inexperienced on the weekends – I ought to most likely make room for that this week so I get some train and contemporary air. And in a macro sense, I simply get a actually good thought of how my days are filling up, and what I’m devoting time to. Am I working sufficient? Am I working an excessive amount of?

And when you get going doing this, you begin to get hooked on including issues to your calendar. It feels endlessly productive such as you’re placing a stamp of officialness on an exercise—confirming it occurred or making certain that it’s going to occur. I’ve began to note different individuals adopting related dedication to their calendars and their days. A number of the extra productive individuals in my life will plan a 15-minute assembly with me and then buzz my cellphone with a calendar invite two minutes later. My cellphone will buzz once more two minutes earlier than the occasion, simply in case I forgot. After which when it’s over, and my day is over, it is going to nonetheless be there, burned onto the day on the calendar.

Google Calendar is my app of alternative. It’s bought pretty native layouts and design, but it surely additionally syncs effortlessly to your Apple or Home windows-based inventory calendars, so you may entry them anyplace by way of any app. Google and Apple allow you to flip totally different classes on and off, so I can have a look at simply my work life or simply my private life on their very own, for instance.

Attempt including issues to your calendar slowly, beginning with work and tremendous necessary-to-remember issues, and see the way you prefer it. There is perhaps a refined feeling of calm that comes with understanding that your day is specified by entrance of you, and behind you, in good readability. And also you’ll most likely miss fewer Tuesday conferences.

5. Monitoring your time

When you’re a freelancer that payments by the hour, you’ve most likely yearned for some sort of system that may take the guesswork and head-scratching reminiscence spelunking that comes with having to recollect in and out instances and billable hours, on the finish of a lengthy workday no much less. Fortunately for you, there are extra trendy options than duck taping your kitchen timer and Sharpie-ing the phrase “work” on it.

The app Toggl means that you can merely press “Begin” and “Cease” on a labeled timer to trace the precise period of time you spent on a process or mission. For freelancers, this may can help you break up up your day and actually perceive your hour-by-hour time breakdown.

There’s a particular swap that goes off in your head if you press “Begin.”  In my expertise, I’m extra inclined to work and to work effectively. It’s virtually as if it makes you 10% or so much less inclined to tab over to a time-wasting web site – since you’re “on the clock.” It feels such as you’re on digicam though you’re not. And should you really feel significantly dedicated to procrastinating, would possibly as properly make it official by urgent “Cease” in your timer. No extra time fraud on both facet of the equation.

And we will’t let the time monitoring class go with out mentioning the time-tracking product we make right here at RescueTime. RescueTime runs within the background of your pc or cellphone and tracks your exercise – time spent on every app, and in every class of labor. It can additionally periodically ship you studies of your time spent: time spent on YouTube, or taking part in chess, or working broadly within the “Communication” class of e-mail, Slack, and different messaging apps. It’s like getting a highlight flashed in your exercise – the great, the unhealthy, the ugly, and the productive.

For accountability, and for a hen’s-eye view of the way you actually spend your time, use a mixture of those apps and others like them. However RescueTime, due to the excellent view it offers of your exercise, feels indispensable.

6. Blocking out the enjoyable

These are the least thrilling a part of the method, however should you’re like me (or, actually, should you’re human) they’re changing into more and more obligatory throughout robust, dopamine-dependent stretches.

When you’re unfamiliar, there are apps on the market that you would be able to set to dam you from accessing sure areas of the web, or functions in your pc, or each, or every little thing, relying on the way you set them.

Possibly you simply want to dam Reddit and YouTube. However possibly Wikipedia is your sneaky faux-productive procrastination device. Or possibly you may’t even belief your self to not flip the New York Occasions and Nationwide Geographic or, I don’t know, Microsoft Powerpoint into a distraction. The procrastinating mind is a highly effective and sneaky pressure.

There are a couple of choices right here that I’ve personally used and respect.

Freedom appears to be the trade customary and app of alternative for many, particularly within the productivity group. Its design is elegant and clear, and there’s an air about it that simply makes you are feeling productive if you flip it on. It’s coated in a crisp, brilliant inexperienced, you’re accompanied by the picture of a butterfly spreading its wings. Beautiful stuff.

And I actually like that it’s known as Freedom. It’s not known as “The Lockdown Blocker 3000.” As a result of that’s not what you’re doing right here. Simply since you’re preserving your self from utilizing TikTok for an hour doesn’t actually imply you’re depriving your self of something. Moderately, you’re giving your self the liberty – from your self, out of your dopamine dependences, from that silly algorithm – to do what you actually need to. It’s highly effective stuff, actually.

These can even lengthen to your cellular units if that’s the place your ache factors are.

For one thing a little less complicated and utilitarian, there’s additionally Chilly Turkey, which payments itself as “the hardest web site blocker on the Web.”

The steadiness right here is one thing that’s onerous sufficient to show off but in addition isn’t unattainable. I discover when there are sufficiently 4 or 5 annoying steps required to disable one thing, each will sort of chip away on the energy of my laziness till my resolve and will energy and catch again up and cease. Mess around with the extent of torture you need to unleash on your self, however bear in mind to deploy self-discipline. That is vital work we’re doing right here.

7. Construct up your habits

daily habits lead

Considered one of my favourite current developments within the productivity area has been a renewed concentrate on the facility of behavior. Books like Atomic Habits by James Clear and The Energy of Behavior by Charles Duhigg have made the case that, with out common and constant motion, true change and achievement are a lot more durable to make materialize.

For a few of us, in our darkest days of un-productivity, or throughout quarantine, even the best issues can fall off. And there’s no disgrace in needing a little assist in getting your showering or enamel brushing habits again on observe.

However for these seeking to take the subsequent step and add a writing behavior, or meditation, or common train, and even flossing to your routine, it may be a nice assist to have a useful digital hand behind you, pushing you alongside the trail.

Once more, like in all of those cases, you need to use paper and pen for this. Jerry Seinfeld famously used a large year-long calendar that crammed his total wall and crossed off a massive crimson “X” each day he devoted time to writing. “You’ll like seeing that chain, particularly if you get a few weeks below your belt,” he says. “Your solely job is to not break the chain.” After 100 days, you’d be amazed on the issues you’ll do to not break the streak.

I’m at present at 972 days in a row flossing. I can’t wait until I get to 1000 days. At this level, I’ll rearrange entire facets of my night routine if I must, to ensure it occurs. If I ever have a bizarre evening the place I come dwelling at 4am or one thing, flossing is perhaps the one factor I do earlier than hitting the pillow with my footwear nonetheless on. I cannot break that chain, it doesn’t matter what.

And it’d sound foolish, however the first bursts of momentum I wanted to recover from that hill had been with the ability to cross off “day 10,” and “day 30,” and “50,” and “100,” on a system that I had ascribed which means to and took significantly.

We now have two choices right here for behavior monitoring functions. First is a well-loved customary providing, aptly known as Momentum. Swipe alongside along with your habits and watch progress bars satisfyingly fill up with inexperienced. Get push notification reminders should you’re falling behind. And even export your information to Excel so you may get actual nerdy with it.

And for a barely extra enjoyable and “game-like” expertise, there’s Habitica. This app creates a little pixelated avatar for you and provides you factors if you accomplish a process or behavior. You need to use these factors to stage up your character or give it armor, or a pet, or go on an journey. Principally, it’s a entire new kind of incentive system that these of us who grew up on Ocarina of Time can be comfy with.

Take what you want

Each particular person, each workflow, and each state of affairs is totally different. You may not want all seven of these items in your life to really feel productive and organized in your work. However odds are good you’ll profit from not less than one or two of them being added classes listed right here—otherwise you may not want all of them on a common foundation. Combine and match, and experiment, and design the proper system that works for you. You’ll be able to relaxation assured understanding that working and experimenting with these gained’t waste your time. In reality, they’re prone to make your time a entire lot extra productive, and fulfilling.

This article initially appeared on RescueTime’s blog and is reprinted with permission.