I’ve been a fan of productivity books. I have read way too many books about this subject. I would search high and low for workflows that I could use to create my own productivity system. But after the first few books, I started seeing common threads that ran through each book. Each book or blog post will have a different take about how to tackle a certain problem. Sometimes I would find two workflows that would headbutt each other. After overeating at the productivity buffet time it was time to sort out all cruft and form my own productivity wiki. I had way too many tips and life hacks and wanted to create my own workflow.
Should I continue perfecting something or do I just get to good enough, release something, and then re-iterate?
Here are some people who decided to gather up their collection of tips and tricks into their own productivity system.
David Allen documented his own workflow with his book “Getting Things Done”. He took what worked for him and added his own thoughts about the process. Then he published a book that become a best-seller.
J.D. Meier’s “Getting Results The Agile Way” is an impressive book that documented different workflows that he sharpened from his years of working at Microsoft.
Michael Linenberger’s “Master Your Workday Now!” originally came from a workflow that revolved around Microsoft Outlook. Eventually, Michael wrote this book that de-emphasized Microsoft Outlook and focused on the workflows that he discovered while creating his task management system nicknamed “Master Your Now!” (MYN).
Other sources can be from some of your favorite productivity web sites or Discourse forums such as the Productivity Guild! We share what we learned and contribute back to the community.
Store your productivity tips in one place
Choose one app to hold all of your productivity tips. Popular options include:
- A text file: I like to use the RTF (Rich Text Format) file because I can mix text and graphics together. Other text editors include BBEdit, Ulysses, iA Writer, or your favorite MarkDown app.
- A notebook app such as Evernote or DevonThink has the ability to organize your tips by folders or tags.
- An outline app: OmniOutliner is a personal favorite that allows me to break down information into different sections.
- A mindmap app: MindNode and iThoughts are great choices if you like to organize your thoughts in a visual map.
As long as you have all of your tips and tricks stored in one location, it will be easier to maintain. I prefer an app such was DevonThink or Evernote because I can use tags to cross-reference or group different tips. I might have some tags such as time scheduling, energy, health, and sleep.
Now that I have one app to save my workflows, I can create three different notebooks:
- Official Productivity Manual
- Beta Test
Each notebook has a different purpose. I’ll explore each one now.
1. The Official Productivity Notebook
I put all of my workflows that I have officially tested into this notebook. This is my official handbook. David Allen has his book “Getting Things Done” and J.D. Meier has “Getting Results The Agile Way”. Create your own official productivity notebook and keep the workflows that you know have worked for you.
I try to write the instructions so that someone else can read it and understand my thought process behind my group of workflows.
Break up each productivity tip into different sections
You can create your own group structure. I generally organize my productivity tips by breaking them up into the five stages of GTD:
I can list all of my capture tools in the Capture section. Text editors, physical inboxes, e-mail accounts, social media accounts, podcast apps, and other inboxes should be listed here.
I include a short reason why I am capturing certain items. Some items such as podcasts and videos grow stale over time. Perhaps my interest in a podcast subject has dwindled. I can review a list of all my inbox sources and decide whether to eliminate it or keep it. I do a sort and purge of my inbox sources every six to twelve months. Sometimes I wouldn’t remember why I subscribed to a magazine or in-app subscription in the first place. I might also discover that a blog, podcast, or subscription no longer aligns with my personal goals and vision. It helps to start culling as many inbox sources as possible.
The Clarify section usually follows the GTD decision flowchart. But you can customize it to fit your own workflow.
The Organize section is a list of locations where everything goes. I have OmniFocus as my task manager, Fantastical as my calendar, and DevonThink as my reference files. You can create list of your favorite apps as well as any physical organization systems that are needed. I try to group my tools into the garage closet, the cleaning supplies in the broom closet, and laundry supplies in the laundry room. Keep your list of organizing tools to as many as you need and no more.
The Reflect section is your weekly, monthly, or annual review process. I use a mix of the OmniFocus review perspective mixed in with a few other places. Everybody will have their own review workflow. This is a sample of my Weekly review workflow. It works for me but you will find your own review workflow.
Wilson’s Weekly Review Checklist.pdf (47.9 KB)
Wilson’s Monthly Review Checklist.pdf (66.0 KB)
The Engage section can list a bunch of productivity tips regarding scheduling, energy levels, and whatever life hacks we can find. This is where I find the bulk of the new workflows I capture go into. I look for life hacks and workflows that will help me get engaged with my work.
I group my tips according to how I envision my workflow. The goal is to document your Engage workflow. Common tags I use include calendar, zen, review, health, energy, sleep, and communication. These tags will cover topics that aren’t in the GTD overview but are important enough for me to include in my productivity workflow.
One area that I like to focus on is my projects and folder structure. We can group our projects into different Roles (Parent, Spouse, Minister, CEO, Administrator, Supervisor, Friend) or Areas of Responsibilities (House, Office, School, Softball team). I put a note about the Area of Responsibility or Role. It helps to define our roles and the goals we are trying to accomplish. Sometimes, a poorly defined role can sneak in and take up our lives. That’s a perfect time to redefine your roles or see if it is just a time suck that needs to be eliminated.
Projects should also have a clearly defined goal. Some projects can be eliminated when they no longer serve a purpose in your life or are no longer aligned with higher level goals and vision statements.
Gather up your official workflow into one main document. This document becomes your official productivity manual.
2. The Beta Test Notebook
When I discover a new workflow or tip that I want to try, I will capture it into the Beta Test Workflow notebook. This notebook holds a list of all the new workflows I want to try. I don’t want to put it into the Official Productivity Manual yet. Some metadata that I put inside each note are:
- A link to the original document. Oftentimes, it is the original URL or the name of the book and the page numbers from a physical book. Or it will be the actual notes I took while listening to a podcast or watching a video.
- The date I copied the text to my digital notebook.
- The next review date of this beta test workflow.
Every few weeks, I will choose two to five different workflows to implement into my daily routine. It is easier to try a small handful of new habits instead of experimenting with ten new habits. It will take time and patience to see if a new workflow/habit will become a vital part of my daily routine. A new idea might look brilliant upon first read of the blog post but it takes time to see if I can actually use it in my workflow. I can experiment and adapt it to better fit my situation. After a few weeks, I can decide to keep it and write it up in my Official Productivity Notebook or remove it from active use and record the results into my Archive Notebook.
3. The Archive Notebook
Sometimes I will try a workflow and find that it doesn’t work for me today. I move the beta test workflow out of the Beta Test Notebook and into the Archives Notebook. I enter the date that I archived the note and a reason why I am no longer using it. Perhaps it didn’t fit my needs today. Or it was just too time consuming and I grew discouraged at the return for my efforts. I might be able to use it later but I won’t need it today. Or I might want to put it aside for another day to test again. I can records my results in the Archive Notebook to remind myself that this workflow was tested and why it is not in my Official Productivity Notebook.
Reviewing and documenting your workflow
I might find that I have two conflicting ideas that may not work well together. Oftentimes I will add a comment with today’s date to remind myself why I decided to ignore this tip. It becomes a dropped workflow. I might find use for it later when my life situation changes and I will need to revisit the dropped workflow. But I need to remember why I dropped it in the first place. I move the workflow from the Beta Test document to
The main reason why I wanted to create my own “GTD” book was to explain my workflow and the thought process behind it to my wife. If I was incapacitated and couldn’t function, I have my productivity system explained well enough and she can read it to understand my decision tree.
What would Wilson do if he was in this situation?
If I have my thought process written down, it becomes easier to analyze and poke for weaknesses. David Allen’s book, Getting Things Done, has been analyzed and critiqued. Critics will find strengths and weaknesses in the system that Allen has described. Then we can improve upon the GTD foundation and fill in gaps and strengthen weak points.
The inspiration from this idea of creating my own Productivity Notebook came from an idea about entrepreneurship. I want to build a business that can function without me. I need to document all of my workflows and decisions trees. My subordinates will have this scripted manual to run this business while I am on vacation. If they can find another process that can streamline a workflow I’m all for it! Document it! Beta test it! Then decide whether to incorporate into the Offical Productivity Manual!
I want to make this Official Productivity Manual easy enough that someone else can read it and pick it up. If it doesn’t make sense to someone else, I know it’s too complicated. I’ll try to refine it until I can get easy to KISS level (Keep It Simple Stupid).
The Official Productivity Notebook, Beta Test Notebook, and Archive Notebook is something worth considering. Create your own workflow manual and make it simple enough that it can be explained easily to your colleagues, spouse, and supervisors. I use this manual to check my workflow. I review my productivity system on an annual basis. My summer vacation gives me time to spend a couple of days in solitary retreat and give me perspective about what workflows I might need to tweak. There is no reason to keep doing something when it doesn’t feel right.
I tweak bits and pieces of my productivity workflow. I have gotten to the point where I am not making entire wholesale changes and switch task management apps. It is more about refining what I have and eliminating different workflows that no longer work. This has been an ongoing experiment for me. You will see a lot of my experiments posted in the Productivity Guild. I invite you to take a peek at some of my workflows and see my evolution. I like sharing my workflows and gaining feedback. If I can improve my workflow, I have a valuable tool to help me get through today’s backlog of work.
Your workflows will always be changing. Document it to give yourself a measuring stick of what you need to change. Post your mini experiments in the Productivity Guild and improve your workflow!
Here are some workflow examples on the Productivity Guild:
@joebuhlig (Analog, OmniFocus)
@pavel_novikau_ (Things 3)
@greg (Todoist) - from the sister site Bookworm
@justindirose (Todoist, digital + analog)
I was thinking of putting this post in the Pro section but I thought I’d share it in the Regular section to give you an idea of what we’re trying to create in the Pro section. You’ll find posts like this where we try to go into a Deep Dive into things that interest us. Consider joining and become an active member. I try to put up at least one or two posts a week. Some of you folks can chime in every now and then with a weekly or monthly post about some of your workflows!