Staying Organized & Productive

As an entrepreneur, managing my time can be a bit challenging at times. With three businesses on the go, there can be a lot of information to process, but I've picked up a few tricks along the way to help deal with staying organized and productive.

Email

It's no secret that I hate email...with a passion. I feel like it is the greatest time suck of the 21st century. It's likely because of this, that I've found all the ways possible to not have to deal with email (either sending or reading).

Here are all of things that I do in the war against email.

  1. Use Gmail. There's nothing that even comes close to Gmail in the email world. It has amazing spam detection and powerful filtering options. Filters are the killer feature for me. I use a ton that automate and organize my inbox, likely saving me hours a week.
  2. Use Gmail in the browser. The best email experience I've had is with the in-browser version of Gmail. It's fast, there is no app running on my computer to distract me, and it has tons of amazing add-ons that only work in the browser (Boomerang Calendar, Wisestamp, Rapportive).
  3. Disable all email notifications. Email can be the biggest distraction out there. My life changed the second I started running Gmail in the browser and no longer had my computer making noise everytime an email came in. Now I just manually check my email a few times a day.
  4. Inbox Zero. My goal is to have zero emails in my inbox. Gmail makes this easy with it's archive feature. When I get an email that doesn't need to be replied to, I archive it as soon as I've read it and it's out of my inbox. If an email requires a reply, it stays in my inbox until I reply to it. When I reply, I use Gmail's Send & Archive feature to send the reply and archive the message from my inbox in a single click.
  5. Sanebox. I could do an entire post on Sanebox alone and how much time it has saved me in the last two years but for this post I'll keep it short. Sanebox helps keep my inbox free of unimportant emails. It filters out newsletters and less important emails into their own folders so you never see them in your inbox. It also allows you to "snooze" emails in your inbox. So maybe I get an email that doesn't have to be dealy with until next week. With Sanebox I can just tell it to pop that email back in my inbox next Monday.
  6. Canned responses. If you find yourself writing the same thing over and over again in emails, you are doing it wrong. While Gmail has built in canned responses, I use an app called TextExpander because it works outside of Gmail too (even on my phone). I use it for common replies, fixing common typos that I make, and even simple things like my address, email, and telephone numbers. It tracks a bunch of statistics, and in the last few months it has saved me over 9 hours of typing.
  7. Kill all social media notification emails. I use some filters (mentioned above) to automatically archive (bypassing my inbox) anything from Facebook or Twitter. If I want to know what is going on there, I just go to Facebook or Twitter. No reason to have to deal with these things twice.
  8. Don't reply. A lot of people may disagree with this, but I don't reply to every single email that warrants a reply. Yes, I'm a bad person. I evaluate emails that require a reply and if the act of not responding won't be damaging to anyone, then I won't respond. This doesn't happen often, but the time savings do add up.
  9. Keep it short. Try keeping replies to around two or three sentences. If you are worried about looking like a dick, add this to your signature.

Tasks

I'm permanently on a quest to find the best task management solution. The ultimate Todo List, so to speak. Here's my current approach:

Long Term Tasks

These are anything that doesn't need to be done in the next 2 days. Storing these tasks separate from your daily todo list is really important. You want to get these out of your brain as quickly as possible so you can free your mind up from thinking about them, and focus on more immediate tasks.

For these tasks I use the amazing (and free) app Asana. I have a variety of different projects setup, but the main ones that I use are called: This Week and Someday.

So basically a list of tasks that have to get done within the next week and then a list of tasks that have to get done eventually.

Short Term Tasks

These are anything that has to be done either today or tomorrow (with the exception of email).

I wouldn't add something to my todo list that said "Reply to John's email....". That's a bit redundant given my email system (if it's in my inbox, it has to be replied to), but sometimes I'll put off replying to non-urgent emails for a few days so one of my daily todo items will be "Inbox Zero".

While I've used Asana for nearly 2 years for long terms tasks, I feel like I'm yet to find the perfect short term task management workflow / system. I'm constantly switching things up in this department, and maybe that is the best solution...something always changing that feels fresh.

Some methods I've used:

  1. Pen and paper. I always come back to this low-tech option. There is just something satifying about writing a task down and crossing it out. Plus, no app out there offers the same kind of flexibilty and speed.
  2. Asana. Having a "Today" project. This is great because you can drag and drop tasks to and from your long term projects.
  3. Post it notes. Used in a Kanban approach.
  4. Moleskine. Similar to just pen and paper, but with dated pages.
  5. Todo.tab. A minimalist Google Chrome extension that I wrote.
  6. Clear. A really well designed todo list app for Mac and iOS. It's incredibly minimalist and plays very satisfying sounds when you complete items.

One of my favorite techniques to use when I have some tight deadlines is outlined in the article Do Less = Do More. The Art of Being Creative + Productive. I would do this everyday, but with an 18 month old at home, it's hard to have a regular structure to your day.

Meetings

Having a rock solid system for keeping track of meetings is essential. You don't want to be missing or double booking meetings.

Since I'm huge on Gmail, I also use Google Calendar since it integrates so well there and with my iPhone.

I use the Boomerang Calendar add-on for Gmail, and it's saved me hours in the last year alone. It's killer feature: It highlights dates in emails either green (you are available), orange (possibly conflicting) or red (your are busy). So as soon as an email comes in I can tell without having to go check my calendar, whether or not I'm available (great for wedding inquiries).

When it comes to my phone, I use the third party Calendars 5 app. It has the best weekly view of any iOS app I've tried. Checking what my week looks like is essential, and I just love how the app displays it.

Ideas

Just like tasks, I've found that it's incredibly important to get ideas out of your head and written down as soon as possible. You'll be less likely to forget them and it's one less thing to distract your brain from the tasks at hand.

For the last few years Evernote has been my favorite app for storing ideas. I have an Ideas notebook just full ideas of all sizes. From one liners to huge documents with drawings, Evernote handles it all and makes ideas easy to find with first class search options.

Getting Up Early

This is my biggest ally in the productivity department. The world is so quite at 5AM. There are no distractions. It's perfect.

I feel like I get 80% of my work done between the hours of 5AM and 8AM because of this and the fact that my brain works optimally in the mornings.

If you are a nighthawk, this strategy likely applies if you change the hours to something like 12AM - 3AM.

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