I'm often asked about what productivity tools I recommend, and I thought it would be a good time to share an update about what’s helping me stay productive these days, including tools and routines and the things that motivate me. You can find many of the tools I still recommend on my downloadable Digital Toolbox.
Since you asked . . . here's what helps me stay productive
As I’ve said in previous episodes, finding the tools and routines that work best for you and your needs is an important key to productivity. For context, here are the basic categories of things I need to be able to do:
At my day job as a real estate attorney:
- I spend a lot of time drafting and revising documents in Microsoft Word and creating or reviewing PDFs in Adobe Acrobat.
- I have a lot of email communication, incoming and outgoing, to keep up with.
- I manage a schedule of calls, meetings, and deadlines.
- I manage multiple projects for multiple clients.
- In addition, I work on non-billable matters, including business development, continuing legal education, administrative obligations, and professional mentoring.
- I have to keep track of a lot of files (both paper and digital), as well as my time.
In my personal life:
- I keep track of my schedule and family commitment using calendars
- I stay in touch with friends and family, including remembering birthdays and anniversaries.
- I stay up-to-date on social media.
- I like to take care of my health and personal growth.
My tasks for The Productive Woman include:
- Collecting and developing ideas for episodes.
- Researching and outline episodes.
- Keeping track of scheduling interviews and episodes.
- Recording, editing, uploading, and publishing episodes.
- Working with Emily for show notes and John for editing of episodes.
- Storing and accessing files for the show, such as the audio, outlines, photos, and images.
- Creating and developing services and products for listeners.
- Interacting with listeners via email and social media.
- Learning new skills.
My writing also requires me to stay productive and organized when I collect and develop ideas for fiction and nonfiction projects I want to write.
I am an unabashed Apple Fan and tech geek, and I normally use computers or smart devices in my daily life to work, as well as help me stay productive.
My primary computer at my office is an iMac with a 27” 5k display. This gives me a big display for multiple windows to be open side by side. For example, when I’m writing my outline for The Productive Woman, I’ll have a browser window open on the side to reference material and articles I’m using for research.
At the office, my firm provides a Lenovo laptop that’s kept in a dock, and I use a wireless solar-powered keyboard and a rechargeable wireless touchpad. I have three external screens (two 27″ monitors and one 24″ monitor). The screen on my left has my email inbox open and my task manager's (Nozbe) Priority task view. The screen on my right has my calendar with a work-week view, as well as a small browser window with [email protected] open to provide music to help me focus and concentrate. In the center is where I work with windows open side-by-side to refer to as I work. When I really want to focus on a certain project, I minimize all the windows except the one in which I’m working.
I use an iPhone 6 and an iPad Mini. These synchronize with my personal and work calendars, email, and contacts, as well as Evernote and Dropbox, so I can always have access to what I need and add ideas from where I am.
Software & Apps
Due: This iPhone app helps me establish habits I want in my life. I create a reminder and I choose what days I want to complete it. With other task managers, you can set a reminder, but easily turn it off, no matter if it’s complete. But Due will keep reminding me to complete a task at pre-chosen intervals until I finally get it done and mark it complete.
I'm using it to establish habits like taking my vitamins, doing crunches, and writing in my journal.
OmniFocus and Nozbe: These are still the task managers I love and use. I use OmniFocus on my Mac and iOS devices, but since my computer at work is Windows-based, to manage my law practice I use Nozbe, which is available on all platforms and still syncs with my iOS devices and my Mac at home. (ToDoist is another good option for a digital task manager that's available on all platforms.)
I like how both of these work, and the way they let me set up projects and tasks in the way my mind thinks, including being able to color-code projects in Nozbe. Both sync with my mobile devices so I can check off tasks, set reminders, and add notes and links wherever I am.
[email protected]: This web-based service provides music and sound playlists that are scientifically designed to help you stay focused. I mostly use this at the office to help me concentrate and stay focused when drafting or reviewing legal documents. I keep it just loud enough to cover the ambient noise of coworkers without disturbing anybody else. The site explains the very interesting science behind the playlists. [email protected] includes playlists designed for different brains, including those with ADHD/ADD.
Five Minute Journal: This app is a very quick way to focus my thinking for the day and stay positive. Every morning, the app asks me to list three things I’m grateful for, three things I can do to make the day great, and one affirmation. Every evening, it asks me for three amazing things that happened that day and one thing I could have done to make the day better, and I have the option to save a photo or image for the day. There is also an actual paper version of the Five Minute Journal.
Unroll Me: This useful app helps me manage email newsletters and spam. I use it with my Yahoo! Email account to let me sort my emails and get non-critical stuff out of my inbox. You can unsubscribe to certain email lists with just one click, but you can also choose “Unroll Me” to get a daily digest version of your emails.
Slack: Slack is a messaging and chat service that can be used to communicate with teams and coworkers. It helps avoid unnecessary emails, and can also be integrated with other apps and software to allow you to attach documents and files of various kinds and keep all your communications in one easily searchable location.
Scrivener: This is an indispensable writing tool that lets me organize my ideas for writing fiction and nonfiction and break them into chunks that I can work on in whatever order I need to.
Not every tool I rely on is electronic. I keep a slim, softcover notebook and fine point mechanical pencil in my purse for brainstorming or to take down information quickly. I keep another next to my bed and one in the living room.
The notebook I use is a Moleskine Cahier Journal, which comes in a set of three with covers in pretty colors. It's a very simple, small notebook; I like the paper quality and that it doesn’t take up much room in my purse.
Routines & Habits
Having certain routines and habits in place is crucial for my productivity. These are some of the routines and habits I've been finding particularly useful lately:
- Turn off electronics and go to bed an hour before turning off the light. I use this time to read paper books and allow my mind to wind down. I don’t do this every night and sometimes I make mistakes that can result in me being very tired the next day.
- Have key information sync across all devices. This includes work and personal information, such as my task manager, calendar, contacts, and documents and information via Dropbox and Evernote.
- Create a morning routine. After my shower, I spend a few minutes reading my Bible and journaling while I eat breakfast. This is no more than 15 or 20 minutes, but it helps me get centered and ready for the day.
- Spend time looking at the week ahead. I take a little time on Sunday afternoon reviewing my calendar and task manager for the coming week, and making tentative decisions about what I’ll wear to work each day, based on my schedule for those days. I’ll see if there are specific activities I need to prepare for. This makes a difference in how prepared I feel for the week on Monday.
- Schedule annual medical checkups at the same time of year to make it easy to remember. I schedule my medical checkups each year during my birthday month as an easy reminder.
- Set up an easy system for tracking tax information. Spreadsheets aren't intuitive for me, so I asked my engineer husband to set up a simple Excel spreadsheet based on categories needed for our tax reporting, such as business expenses and income, and I can enter these as soon as they come in instead of gathering all the receipts when it’s time to do our taxes and creating a chart. This system of inputting everything as it comes in is much simpler. I still save all receipts in Evernote, either by forwarding the email receipt or scanning paper receipts, and tag them with the tax year (e.g., “2016 taxes”) so I can find and assemble them quickly if needed.
An important factor in staying productive is finding the motivation to stay positive.
- I’m currently working with a business coach, Natalie Eckdahl, who’s helping me with ideas, encouragement, and accountability as I move forward with plans for The Productive Woman and prepare for a major life transition.
- I’ve talked before about The Life Coach School Podcast, hosted by Brooke Castillo. This is a great podcast for improving my mindset and keeping my mind on track. Some key points that help me include:
- My circumstances are not the cause of how I feel; my thoughts are, and I can change how I feel by changing my thoughts.
- Nothing outside of me will provide what I want/need. I can choose to be content right now.
- Planning for the future is good, but don’t believe that the future will be any better than today—don’t think that if X happens I’ll be happier. I have in me, right now, all the capacity for joy that I’ll ever have, and it’s up to me to create the emotions I want by choosing what I think about.
- Knowing you’re out there listening. The emails and Facebook messages from listeners help me keep doing The Productive Woman. Letting me be a part of your life and having you as a part of mine, as well as your stories, inspire me.
What do you think?
What are the tools, routines, and motivators that help you stay productive? I’d love to hear your thoughts and comments on this episode. Please feel free to ask your questions or share your thoughts with me by emailing me, commenting on our Facebook page or leaving a comment below.
Reminders and Notices
- I’m available to speak at your events. Send me an email or call me at 972.638.0308.
- Visit the new “Resources” tab at the website. Links to resources we produce, like the project planning template, the digital toolbox, Emily Prokop’s weekly docket, the decluttering questions tool from episode 83, and a printable of the 13 Questions to Improve Productivity from episode 87. I’ll also be adding info about books and other resources I recommend.
I would love to have your help!
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