Friday, August 31, 2018

Alignment - Productivity's Big Three

Let me state a twenty-first century reality: most people are very busy! Particularly in the western world, we live (and die) by our schedules. Most of us probably had the thought, "I cannot get any busier than I am right now" within the last ten years (if not the last ten minutes). But somehow we found a way to get busier. That is true for me which is why I have been blogging about my recent journey through this process. Some of what I have been sharing is not new, but much of what I have shared over these past couple of months has evolved from what I did in the past. The biggest change is the idea of alignment - which is the title of this series of posts.

Over the past several weeks, I have written about aligning tasks by day depending upon the role which needs focus. I have written about how I try to use time between tasks to maintain momentum within that role. And last week, I wrote about how prioritizing individual tasks allows us to accomplish tasks we might rather avoid because they are hard or are more time-consuming. But, amidst all of my writings, one truth remains - I am busier now than I have ever been. Yet, I believe my health is as good as it has been in decades. In particular, my blood pressure and resting heart rate have dropped dramatically over the past six months. Again, it is not because I have less to do. On the contrary, I am much busier. (For instance, today I woke up at 1:45 am to teach pastors in Kenya via the internet for 5 hours before taking a 45 minute nap and beginning my day.) So, what is the difference? I am better organized now than I have been in the past. Let me share the three basics.

The three most important considerations are how to track our appointments and schedule (calendar), what we must do (tasks), and where to store data (information). Effectively managing these three aspects will lead to better productivity. While some people need less organization than others, not having some system in place for these items will eventually lead to chaos. I will share my process, but the key is to have a process that works for you. For me, I use Google for the calendar, ToDoist for tasks, and Evernote for storing information (as the following picture shows).

First, let me briefly mention my tasks. I have spent the last few weeks in this blog focusing on how I organize my tasks, but the key for me is to have them organized electronically. As I mentioned last week, keeping tasks on paper is fine, but when you have several repeating tasks having them in a digital system makes sense. Furthermore, by having them in an electronic format, I can access them from any device. (If you recall, I use ToDoist, but several quality options exist.) For instance, when walking to a meeting this morning, I was reviewing my tasks for the day. With paper, that is not always possible. But tasks are just one aspect of organizing our lives. We also have an abundance of data in our lives and, as mentioned, earlier, we must know our schedules. Let me talk about the information portion first.

The amount of information we are exposed to each year is growing exponentially. Psalm 46.10 says to be still and know that I am God. But as challenging as it is to be still physically, it is even more difficult to still our mind. So, it is important to have a place to store information. Of course, properly storing documents on a computer is important for those who do a lot of work in that way, but an old fashioned file cabinet can work just as well. But what about those notes you need to remember? Like our list of tasks, having our notes with us can be helpful because we do not always know when we will need them. Smartphones have a Notes option built in now, but the default app is often quite simplistic because not only are we exposed to a lot of information, we are exposed to different types of information. So, like an old fashioned file cabinet, we need to have mechanisms in place to separate certain pieces of data from others. For me, my choice to store information is Evernote. I first used Evernote in 2010, and then moved away from it trying other options such as Google Keep and OneNote. I had certain reasons for using each of those tools, but over time I found myself using different tools for different roles. On the one hand, this almost makes sense, but what if you do not have access to a particular tool when you need it? On my most recent trip to Kenya (January 2018), I decided to use Evernote to record my thoughts about the trip. When I returned to the US, I decided to give the software a more robust try and now use it exclusively for gathering my notes and other types of information. I will elaborate on note taking and Evernote over the next two weeks.

The last need of the big three is a calendar. A "working" calendar has been a staple for generations. From wall calendars to desktop calendars to digital calendars - being able to know when and where one should be has long been an important part of life. In fact, the calendar is likely the most important of the three because you need to know where you will be before you can know what you need to do (tasks). And you need to be somewhere before you have information to gather (even if that somewhere is at home). So, the calendar is a critical piece towards being productive. My choice of calendar is Google Calendar and I intend to speak to my use of the calendar in three weeks.

As I close, let me encourage you to consider how you keep track of your life. You do it somehow - even if only in your mind. But in today's world with all we must remember, our minds will soon fail us and we will miss an appointment or forget a critical piece of information or to do a certain task. Many different types of systems exist (as do software choices, if you prefer that option), but the key is choosing one and making it work for you. What I know for a fact is that my system and software choices are not for everyone, but they work for me - at least for now. I do know of one hole in my system that I would gladly fix if a digital option were readily available. For now, it is not available, and the system that I have developed works well - for me. So, as I expand on my thoughts over the next few weeks on Evernote and Google Calendar, consider what you need from a note-taking tool and calendar. (Remember, I covered tasks and ToDoist previously). Perhaps my system will give you ideas about how you can develop a system to help you become more productive - that is, more effective - at doing what you need to do, when you need to do it.

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