If you’re anything like me, you’re always looking for ways to do things faster. I’m on a never ending journey of becoming more effective and efficient in my daily workflow. One of the components of most people’s workflow is a task list. I’ve been using RememberTheMilk.com (RTM) as my task manager for a few years (excluding a brief experiment with Google Tasks) and I can’t imagine trying to be productive without it.
There are a TON of ways to add tasks to your lists, but one of my personal favorites is using a combination of their add tasks via email feature (you’re given a unique email address that allows you to add tasks) and a newer feature called Smart Add. It’s a trick I picked up from the book Bit Literacy. If I get an email that requires an action on my part, I’ll forward the email to RTM and just change the subject line to something that helps me remember what I’m supposed to do. The body of the text is attached to the task as a note, which is nice to have to get a context for the task.
The downside to this method for me has been I can’t easily remember some of the feature codes for Smart Add, which I like to use. They have a lengthy discussion on how Smart Add works, but I don’t need all that. I just need the codes. I fixed my little problem today by typing up a nice little cheat sheet that I tacked to my cork board. Now I’ll be able to have a little more control over my tasks via email and you can too. Just print out the doc or this blog post, cut the cheat sheet up to your preferred size, and you’ll be all set.
RTM Smart Add Cheat Sheet
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If you use RTM and you have a tip I’d love to hear it! Share in the comments.
Yesterday marked the start of another blogging endeavor for me. Rocky Hernandez and I officially (re)launched ProductiveMinistry.com. What does that mean for this blog? Not a whole lot, other than I’ll probably be shifting away from posting ministry-related blog posts on this blog.
If you’re in ministry, either professionally or as a volunteer, I highly recommend clicking on over to the blog. We’ll be adding a lot more content in every week. You can also connect with PM by subscribing to the RSS feed, following on Twitter, or becoming a fan on facebook.
Take a look then comment either here or there or on Twitter. Any feedback is truly appreciated.
Communication used to be much easier. Before the days of email you would either send a letter, place a telephone call, or simply talk with someone face-to-face. Those days are long gone. We are bombarded with communication from many more angles. Email, text messages, facebook wall posts, and more make it difficult to stay on top of being current on communicating with people.
But the problem may not simply be the massive amount of emails we receive. In fact, it’s probably more to do with how we have chosen to process email. I know a lot of people who leave EVERYTHING in their email inbox. They have literally thousands of messages, many unread, that are sitting in an inbox. No wonder they feel overwhelmed. But it doesn’t have to be this way.
Right now I have six messages sitting in my work email inbox. There are also 17 that I have starred that I either need to review or act on. The oldest of these is only one week old. I’m actually way behind on my email by the standards that I’ve set for me. I don’t like to leave the office with ANY messages left unprocessed. At most, maybe 2-3 that I’m waiting on someone or something to act on.
I haven’t always been like this. There was a time when the normal response time for me was 4-7 days and it wasn’t uncommon for me to take 2-3 weeks to reply to messages. I finally woke up out of this email stupor and decided I needed to make some changes.
There was one thing that was really the catalyst for this change: Merlin Mann’s Inbox Zero. The basic premise is that you can get your inbox to zero and then keep it that way. It’s true and it’s a great feeling.
In addition to this I recently came across a post over at lifehack.org that lists 7 Email Myths That Plague the Workplace. I’ve fallen trap to some of these myths before and imagine you have too. There are two that stand out to me in particular:
- You need to reply to every email. This is not true. There are many email that you really don’t even need to read. If you know you don’t ever want or need the message just delete it. What I do is use Gmail’s archive feature that lets me know that I’ll have the email if I ever need it again, but most importantly it gets the message quickly out of my inbox so that it won’t distract me from messages that will require my action.
- Email is a beast that can’t be tamed. Again, a myth that’s easy to fall pray to. There are many people who receive hundreds of emails a day that require some sort of action. I know because I’m friends with some of them. They may at times get behind, but I know that at some point they plow through the messages and tame the beast. No matter how many messages you get on a daily basis you can tame the email beast. It might take you changing your email provider to use a system that will block spam, but you can do it, you just have to make the choice.
If you have any strategies for taming the email beast share them in the comments.
Earlier this year it seemed like I was reading about David Allen’s book Getting Things Done all over the place on the internet. Most of the time it was on Twitter where people would shorten it to GTD. So I decided to take the plunge and buy the book. That was about two months ago.
The ironic thing was that I couldn’t get myself motivated to read it. I read the first few pages on the first day I had it, then the first chapter or so over the next week, but after that it just sat on my nightstand for about a month. You could say I was procrastinating about reading a book about productivity. If that’s not irony I don’t know the definition of the word.
I finally was able to get through the book, which I just finished today, but it took checking out the audiobook on CD from the public library. I must say that now that I’ve got through the book this way I think it’s the way to go. Starting with the audiobook got me through it rather quickly.
I think I was getting stuck reading the book because David Allen does a really good job of illustrating his points with simple charts that break down his ideas in a very easy, compelling design. That made me really want to do what he was writing about right away, but there is quite a bit of depth to his system, so it’s best to get through the whole book before you really dive in. Now that I’ve gotten to the end of the book I think it will be easier to skim through the printed edition so that I can remember some key points.
Here are the initial takeaways that I had:
- Write EVERYTHING down. This could be in a notebook you carry with you, moleskin, index cards, or in electronic form. Whenever you have a thought about something you need to do you need to write down that thought and put it into a trusted system/process. He describes this phase of GTD as collection. The main point is that if you’re going to experience stress-free productivity you have to get everything out of your head that you don’t need to be doing at that given moment in time. If it’s in your brain it will distract you.
- Decide is any piece of information/communication you receive is actionable. There are some things that come into our everyday lives that do not require us to do anything. This could be spam emails, junk snail mail, or a host of other bits of info. This is what he calls the process phase. Once you have it out of your head you have to decide what to do with it. You don’t have to do it right away, but you must make a decision about whether or not you will have to do something about it at any given point in the future. He had a really practical point in this step. He suggests that if an action will take less than two minutes to complete you should do it right then. This has proven very helpful to me. Some things that I’ve had on my task list have been very simple tasks that really didn’t need to be sitting there. I just had to get it done.
- Decide what the NEXT ACTION is for any project. The next action is always a very specific, tangible task that is required to push the desired outcome toward completion. For example, if your project (or desired outcome) is pick a new curriculum for a class or group that you’re teaching, you would not write “pick new curriculum” down in your task list. This is not really possible as the next action most of the time. You would likely have to first do things like “brainstorm topics to cover with group,” or “check with boss about curriculum budget,” or “look up Rob Bell’s most recent Nooma videos.” After that you would then be able to actually “pick new curriculum.” Most of these next action steps seem intuitive, but I think that I’ve gotten stuck working on projects because I wrote down the desire outcome first without writing down the real, physical, tangible steps to get there.
There’s a whole lot more that I could write about, but I first need to review the printed book and then figure out which areas I need to understand more. Plus I haven’t really enacted most of his ideas. I’m guessing that will take me at least a few months, but I plan on blogging about the process as I go along.
For what it’s worth I think the book is worth checking out if you’re a working adult. There are a lot of very practical bits of advice.
– Getting started with “Getting Things Done”
– What is GTD?
– Wikipedia article: Getting Things Done
One of the most important things to do when you’re trying to be productive is to have an effective and efficient system in place to capture all the ideas you have and actions you need accomplish. David Allen talks about this in his book Getting Things Done, which I’m in the early chapters of reading. For a long time I used my Palm device to do this, but it was limited. If I was driving it was difficult and unsafe to use it and I’ve never been a fan of the note-taking capabilities of the Palm OS or its task management.
In the past year I’ve started using Jott.com. It’s a service that allows you to call their number and it will record what you say, transcribe it for you, and then post it in one of a number of different places. For me, this has been an incredible help. I use it multiple times per week to add things to my task list, capture ideas that come to me, or to set a reminder about something that I need to do later.
The reminders are one of the best features of the service. You call in, say “reminder” and it asks when you want the reminder and a note to attach to it. When that time comes around the service will send you a text message with the brief note.
I’ve found the service to be fairly accurate at transcribing what I say, but not 100%. It doesn’t really bother me that it’s not perfect mainly because it’s a FREE SERVICE!!! You definitely get more than you pay for with Jott. I’d suggest trying it out and if you have any thoughts about it let me know in the comments.
See also: How to Get Things Done with Jott.