Flexibility, Continuity, and of Course, Productivity!


• Boston, MA

I’ve started to develop a pretty decent set of productivity tools that I want to use everyday. Here’s me pulling them out of my head to get them sorted out. These tools should be fairly generic, meaning that they can be implemented in several different ways, online or offline.

I’ve designed these techniques to enable flexibility and continuity, and of course, productivity.

Daily Routines

I find that maintaining a morning and evening routine is essential to staying productive, especially if there aren’t other regularly scheduled events like work or classes to keep you in line. Simply put, routines allow you to start and end the day on time.

In the morning, after I brush my teeth and whatnot, I review my calendar for the next two days, schedule tomorrow’s routines (i.e. when I’ll wake up and go to bed), and contextualize any today-specific todos.

At night, my routine is simpler, because I find that completing many tasks before going to bed either takes too long or is just plain ineffective. (Essentially, I just brush my teeth before going to sleep.) However, it is important to go to bed on time, and you especially want to avoid making going to bed later than planned a habit. (If you didn’t realize, I’m talking about myself right now. I ought to scold myself.) Make good habits and you’ll be happy.

Speaking of habits, with my routines I also have a list of habits that I review at the end of the day. Just as I make sure I do everything on my routines, I make sure I’m keeping my habits. Most of which I’m not, but I’m making progress.

Context Notebook

The most important productivity tool I use is my context notebook. I keep a small physical binder, but you could use potentially anything else that’s portable. It contains all the tasks I am currently working on, sorted into contexts but not particularly ordered within those contexts. Whenever I have something new to do I sort it into the right context (e.g. laptop, desk, etc.).

When it comes time to actually getting things done, I open my notebook up, select the first item on the list, and get going. I time myself for 25 minutes (Pomodoro style), going onto my next task if I finish it, or rescheduling it at the bottom of my queue if I run out of time. After 25 minutes, I take a brief 5-minute break and restart.

Follow-Up List

The follow-up list is for keeping track of people I’m waiting to hear back from. It’s easy to forget what you need from other people, and waiting on them may prevent you from accomplishing the things you want to. I occasionally check my follow-up list to see if I need to remind anyone of something.

Scheduled and Regularly Scheduled Tasks

Some tasks don’t need to (or can’t, or shouldn’t) be started right away. In these cases, I schedule them for a specific day and are later picked up during my morning routine on the appropriate day.

Project Materials

These are merely the materials referenced by contextualized tasks, enabling continuity between those tasks and the things I want to work on. I try to be specific when referring to materials such as documents or notes in my tasks so I can find what I need.