My Productivity Workflow

Time is the most valuable thing I have and I do everything I can not to waste it. Over the last few years (and the last 12 months in particular) I’ve noticed how easy it is to whittle away days of my time by making bad decisions that feel temporarily good.Yes, responding to e-mails within 10 seconds of them popping up on the bottom of my screen feels like I’m being super efficient and productive. Yes, I love kicking 15 things off my task list in 30 minutes. It makes me feel good and it makes me feel busy. And somehow being busy or feeling like you have too much on your plate has become something to brag about in today’s world.

But since I started reflecting on my day, every day, I’ve started to realise that most of the things I would stop everything to respond to were not helping to make our company better, make me healthier, teach me something, help me spend more time with my family, help me relax …..

Over the last 8 years I’ve gradually devised a process to ensure that I’m investing my time well rather than just responding to the urgent. A recent conversation with one of the team prompted me to share some of key things that I’ve learned about investing my time and how I’ve hacked productivity to get the most out of life.

This system continues to evolve but this is where I’m at for now and it’s something that’s working for me. Hopefully it will help you too.

Long Term Planning

It all starts with a long term vision. Every year I take two to three days out to do some high-level planning. I review every area of my life including:

  • Family
  • Business
  • Leisure
  • Health
  • Learning

I find it easiest to focus on this kind of strategic thinking both out of the house and out of the office. I have plenty of favourite places to go where I know I can buy a coffee and while away a few hours thinking, sketching out ideas and enjoying a great view. I choose places where, when I’m feeling short of inspiration, I can just head out for a walk to reinvigorate my creativity or pick up a favourite book for 20 minutes.

I spend my first half day:

  • Reviewing my progress against my previous 3-month plan making a note of any goals exceeded or missed.
  • Reviewing my progress against my previous year plan and jotting down my thoughts.
  • Reviewing my 5-year plan for each area and make sure that this is where I still want to be heading and amend as necessary
  • The rest of my first day is spent setting up to 5 goals for each area of my life for the next 365 days. Note that I set up to 5 goals. I never set more but can set less if that’s what’s appropriate.

The goals that I set are measurable and achievable (but achievable doesn’t necessarily mean easy).

It’s probably worth noting that you need to have some great software tools that you are totally comfortable with. At this point I create a “Folder” in Omnifocus and “Tag” in Evernote for each area of my life that I’m focusing on. (For more info on the productivity tools I’m using at the moment check out this post.

Then I’ll work on my quarterly plan for each area.

Quarterly planning – every 90 days

Every three months I take time out of the office to:

  • Review the last 90 days.
  • Set up to 5 rocks (tasks that will help me get towards the goals for each area of my life).I create these as projects within the relevant folder in Omnifocus (setting the due date as 90 days from now) and create a blank note in Evernote with the same project title with the tag “Rocks”. I then add a link to the Evernote note in the “notes” section of the Omnifocus project. I use this note in Evernote as an index for any research, links to articles, ideas or notes related to this rock.
  • Break these down into smart tasks
  • Once I’ve decided what my rocks are, I break these down into smaller, SMART tasks and add them into the relevant project in Omnifocus. For now they share the same due date as the project that they are part of.
  • List repetitive tasks. Automate what you can automate. Delegate what you can delegate.

I have a separate project in Omnifocus for repetitive tasks – tasks that I have to do every day, week, month, quarter or year. For me this includes things like ensuring our team gets paid on time, following up with our sales pipeline and preparing for our weekly level 10 meeting.

I review my list of repetitive tasks quarterly and consider (a) whether they are all still valid and (b) whether I can make them go away forever by automating or delegating them. If they fall in the latter category I’ll try and make that happen there and then if it’s fairly quick and easy to achieve.

Weekly Review (Sunday Night)

It’s at this stage that all the preparation starts to pay off. Every week I take an hour out (often on the sofa on a Sunday evening or at a favourite cafe by the sea) to plan my week ahead. When I arrive at the office on Monday morning I’ve got a plan and I’m ready to hit the ground running. The alternative terrifies me now – one of the hardest things as an entrepreneur is knowing how much there is to do but being presented with a completely blank computer screen when you turn on your computer.

So here’s what my weekly review looks like:

  • First I look at the things in my calendar for the next week that I can’t move (think meetings, dentist appointment etc). Remember, a meeting doesn’t have to last an hour.
  • Then I schedule time for rocks, usually allowing time for each area of my life that I’ve set rocks for by entering it into my calendar. I then go back to my task list in Omnifocus, review the project for each rock and set the due date for any tasks that I’m going to complete this week to the correct day.
  • Next I look at the amount of direct delivery work I’m going to need to – whether that’s writing client proposals, preparing cash flow forecasts, dealing with client queries, planning for upcoming meetings – it doesn’t matter. First I ask myself “does this really need doing” and if the answer is yes then I block out the time in my calendar to complete the work and set the due date for it in Omnifocus to the day that I’ve scheduled the time on. If the answer to “does this really need doing” is
    “no” then I don’t do it and delete it from my list. It’s amazing how many things on your to-do list don’t really need doing when you look at them through the lens of the potential opportunity cost.
  • Next I allocate time for miscellaneous reactive things and interruptions like e-mail and Slack. I’ve designed my workflow to minimise the number of interruptions and reactive things that happen but this is the real world and you will be interrupted during your day and things will come up. Depending on your job role you will need to provide more or less of this time in your schedule. I usually allow 30 minutes at lunchtime to respond to any urgent emails and 1.5 hours at the end of the day to deal with things that need a more detailed response. For a customer service account manager, you might decide that you actually need 10 minutes every hour. Whatever’s right for you is fine. Just make sure you schedule it.
  • I schedule when I’m going to be taking time away from work (even if it’s just a 15-minute walk through town). By scheduling in these breaks and planning what to do with them I’ve found that I’m more focused because I know that I’ve planned in a little bit of time to refill my energy tanks during the day.
  • Finally I review my Evernote inbox ensuring that I’ve filed everything in the right place. I use Evernote to jot down ideas, store scanned copies of my receipts when I’m travelling, save interesting articles that I’ve read and want to refer to later ….. pretty much everything that isn’t a task or a document goes into my Evernote inbox during the week. I’m planning a separate post on how I’ve set up Evernote to work with my productivity system at a later date. When nothing’s planned then you are planning to default to time-wasting activities – “sure I can fit in an hour for lunch with you without an agenda”, “sure let’s go to that trade show without any particular strategy”. By planning all of these things into my calendar I can clearly see where I’m investing my time (and what I’m missing out on if I invest it badly).

Daily Review (Every Evening)

My daily review usually takes between 10 and 60 minutes depending on the size of my inbox. I prefer to do my daily review at home, on the sofa, on my iPad. This separates me somewhat from the perceived urgencies of the day and I find working on my iPad is generally distraction free (after all you can’t have more than 2 windows on view at any one time). Here’s how I work my daily review:

  • Chase anyone I have an outstanding note to chase including “boomerangs”. If you haven’t tried it yet then Boomerang is a great tool for Gmail that helps you achieve inbox zero without cluttering up your task list.
  • Review my e-mail. I’m a strong believer in “Inbox-zero”. If it will take me less than 5 minutes I reply straight away. If not then I file it (in Evernote using the e-mail to Evernote feature) or create a task to reply in Omnifocus.
  • Review my Omnifocus Inbox. This is where I add any tasks that come up during that day that need doing. First I delete any that no longer need to be done then I combine any that are similar or duplicated. Any that will take less than 5 minutes to complete are done there and then. Any that remain (which is usually very few) are either set for my next “miscellaneous” time slot.
  • Review any tasks that I haven’t completed today that I planned to complete. If they are important and urgent then I do them straight away or plan to get up early in the morning to get them cleared. If they are not important and urgent then I reschedule them for another time by using the “defer” feature in Omnifocus.

What do you do?

Do you have any tips for making the most of your time? I’d love to hear how you plan your time.

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