Posted in Coaching, Techniques

Regaining your momentum with @kickstart

Regaining your flow when you’ve been interrupted or have lost focus can be an almost herculean effort if you haven’t planned in advance. There’s a hack I recommend regardless of the system to get your momentum back with some quick wins in being productive.

It’s all about preparation

Personally I use Todoist to track my tasks but this hack works for almost any system. The hack is a simple one. When reviewing my tasks if I find one that can be accomplished in under five minutes but doesn’t need to be done right away, I tag it with @kickstart. I usually have anywhere from 5-10 @kickstart tasks in my lists waiting for me. Where the hack comes in is when I realize I need to get back on track.

Using the hack

Part of regaining momentum comes from a few small successes to act as a positive motivator. By filtering my list for @kickstart I can find a few tasks I can knock off the list right away, have a sense of accomplishment, and get back in the being productive flow so I can move on to bigger and better things.

Being productive is about more than just checking off task boxes.  It’s about putting yourself in the right state to continue to be productive again and again in a constant and predictable manner.

Pro tip for analog people

If you’re not a digital person but rather an analog one, you can duplicate the same type of effect. Create a list in your notebook of @kickstart tasks and then just refer to the list when you need to restart your flow.

Another article you may find helpful is Regaining your momentum.


Posted in Tools

Todoist tip – controlling natural language dates

Todoist has a great method of scheduling reminders through a natural language interface when you create a task. Sometimes though you’d rather not have Todoist grab the date you just entered because it’s part of the task rather than the reminder. If you want Todoist to ignore a piece of text as a date or a schedule prompt, just press Esc right after the text to make Todoist to ignore the real language recognition. You can continue to add text and have a reminder added later on the line so you get the best of both worlds.

Todoist – one of my favorite tools for being productive.

Posted in Uncategorized

Finding the best digital task manager

After changing task managers yet again I wanted to know if others go through the same churn as I do when it comes to finding a tool that works for them. Out of curiousity I reached out to the Productivity Springboard group on Google Plus and posed the question: “Do you use a task manager and if so which one?” My hypothesis was the majority of people in the group would respond in the positive (it is a group based on productivity after all) and one or two task managers would take the landslide response in usage by the group. Well…one out of two isn’t bad.

As expected almost every person who responded indicated they use some form of digital task management tool. Is this required? Not at all. There’s a strong argument to be made on both sides of the digital / analog task management discussion. What caught me more off guard is the number of variants in what people are using to track and manage their tasks. This also focused for me a couple of the key issues people run into when trying to find the “right” tool for them and some significant thoughts around how others can choose the right task manager for them.

Here’s a list of some of the tools the group reported as using:

  • Todoist
  • Remember The Milk
  • Checkvist
  • Trello
  • Wunderlist
  • Workflowy

Now this came from a very small sample size so by no means is scientific. One of the things I found interesting is the number of people (myself included) who have transitioned from application to application in search of one best targeted to how they work. When thinking about selecting a digital task management tool there are a few strategies you can apply to help the process:

How do you capture tasks?

Understanding what YOU need to know to be able to successfully execute a task is a bit of introspection many people don’t do. We expect the application to ask the right question in the right way to work for us and get frustrated when it doesn’t quite work. I recently changed tools and started with “what do I need to know about a task to be able to execute?” I came up with:

  • What is the task?
  • When is this due?
  • When do I have to start this task to finish on time?
  • Who else is impacted?
  • Are there other tasks related to this one?

These seem to be pretty common pieces of information for any task but on closer review I found some more complex relationships and requirements:

  • I want to be able to capture tasks in as few steps as possible
  • I want to be reminded when tasks need to be completed
  • I want the experience to be equally as usable on the desktop, browser, and mobile (Android for me)
  • I want some reinforcement (positive and negative) about my completion of tasks to motivate me

It turns out the last one (reinforcement) is a bigger factor for me than I initially anticipated. So now I have a basic overview of what I need to know on each task, it’s time to scale up the thinking. How do the tasks relate to each other, other people, and between work and personal life?

When capturing my tasks in many cases they’re follow up items for other people and being able to not only see what I need to check on with a person as well as track those items is a significant aspect for me. This doesn’t apply to every task but it does apply to many of them. Finding a balance point between the two that doesn’t impact the first of the wants became a deciding factor between tools for me.

Based on what we’ve learned so far let’s realign the needs and wants:

  • Need to capture a task in as few steps as possible
  • Capture needs to include what to do, when to start, when to finish, and if there are other people or tasks involved
  • Needs to work on mobile and desktop equally well
  • Want to be informed when I am being productive and when I am not

With this summary in hand I could then start to assess task management applications based on their ability to meet these requirements. What I find most interesting about this is (and I’m just as guilty of this in the past) is most people work backwards through this process. We typically will take and application and look at the features and say, “That’s cool, I may be able to use that” or “Hmmm, that’s not going to work for me.” Working through the features we often miss applying how we work and try to adjust our natural tendencies to match how the tool works.

As with any solution strategy when it comes to productivity it is critical to understand your needs before you begin the process of evaluating tools. If you have taken the time to capture and refine your requirements a great deal of time and effort can be saved by determining if your identified needs are being met before you even begin working with the deeper functions of the tool.

What if you find more than one tool meeting your needs and wants? This happens more often than you would think. There are so many options for task management in the productivity space the odds are good you will find multiple ways to meet your needs. (For reference, the more general your definition of your needs and wants the more likely this is to happen.) If you’re in a situation where multiple tools are in play, I recommend looking at some additional criteria:

  • Usability and user experience
  • Scalability
  • Collaboration with others if needed
  • Interoperability with other services (files, images, etc.)

As you can see the deeper the comparison gets the harder it can become to determine what is the best fit. There is no magic solution nor clear winner to this contest but if you take time to figure out what you want, you have a much better chance of finding what you need.

Posted in Uncategorized

How I manage to read 50 articles a day productively

I’m quite proud of the amount of content I read each day. On average I go through anywhere from 50 to 75 articles on various topics gathered from a number of websites and feeds from around the Internet. With this many pieces to go through, I had to assemble a solution allowing me to:

  1. Identify articles I want to read
  2. Remind myself to read them when the opportunity arose
  3. Identify if the article is worth sharing with others
  4. Share those articles with the right locations in social media
To accomplish this I’ve settled on three main tools:
  1. Feedly Pro
  2. IFTTT
  3. Todoist
  4. Buffer
The steps I needed to configure in my tools to make the solution workable were:
  1. Configure feeds I want to review each day in Feedly (this only needs to be done once for each feed)
  2. Configure a recipe in IFTTT to create new tasks in Todoist whenever I mark an article as Saved for Later in Feedly Pro
  3. Add a Label to Todoist called “@Share”
Each day I then work the solution:
  1. I open Feedly Pro and review the headlines of the articles captured from the previous day.
  2. On each article of interest, I mark the article as “Saved for Later”
  3. Once I have finished reviewing all the titles I mark the feed as Done in Feedly Pro which clears the remaining articles and resets my counts to zero
  4. When I set an article to “Saved for Later”, IFTTT automatically creates a new task in Todoist under a project I have called “Articles to Read” with a due date of Tomorrow. This way I have a full day to review the articles before my karma starts to get penalized in Todoist (I’ll explain this later).
  5. As the day progresses and I have a few moments, I open Todoist and go to the “Articles to Read” project and click on the link to the article that IFTTT automatically attached to the task that was created when I saved the article.
  6. I read the article and decide if it’s worth sharing.
  7. If the article is worth sharing I update the Todoist task with the label @Share and postpone it’s due date until the next day
  8. If the article isn’t worth sharing I mark the task as complete and move on to the next one
By using this process I’m able to move through my articles quickly and efficiently from any device.
At other points during the day I want to share those articles worth sharing, so I open Todoist, and filter for the @Share label.  I use an extension for Chrome for sharing web posts to Buffer which has already been configured to post to my most common social media destinations. I click on the extension, add a description, and send it on it’s now scheduled way.

Now about that karma thing. Todoist gives you a point system based method of measuring how successful you are at getting your tasks done. One of the aspects of “karma” in Todoist is if you have tasks overdue for more than four days, you lose karma. I’ve found it to be an excellent incentive (it would appear I’m more personally competitive than I thought) to keep tasks moving and finished.

There is a significant power to defining automated solutions to match how you work and what you want to accomplish.  Time spent understanding your productivity requirements can make all the difference in the world and keep you on top of your game.

Posted in Tools

Using Todoist to get a busy week under control

Too many tasks to manage

This week has been a hectic one with my dear wife out of town on vacation and the overlapping activites of sports and work between the two teens at home taking their toll on my organizational systems. Coupled with my day job I found this week to be a bit more than I expected on the weekly stress scale. To the rescue…Todoist.I needed a way to capture all the individual tasks needed to be done this week. Part of the issue was the tasks were coming fast and furious and capturing them included not on the task to be done but when it needed to be executed. Using my normal tools for this (OneNote, Workflowy, Google Keep) worked with various levels of success, but none of them did the complete job. It was at this point I went back through the archives and decided to give Todoist another try.

Speaking plain English to Todoist

One of the key features of Todoist is its “natural language” method of capturing and organizing tasks. Here’s an example:

Take out the trash today 8pm #chores @ian

In Todoist, that translates to a task that is automatically set with a reminder for 8pm today, added to the Chores project, and labeled with my son’s name (so I can look at the label in the app and immediately know what chores he needs to do today). By using this natual language formatting for the tasks, reminders, projects, and labels I have been able to bulk capture tasks as they come up with no secondary processing necessary.

Using the widget is a simple matter to be able to capture the tasks in a format where they are are already organized and ready to be acted upon. The application is much more powerful than just this feature but for now this is making a huge difference for me this week. We’ll see if it holds up over time but I have high hopes that my system may have evolved to be able to leverage Todoist more fully.