Improving Productivity

Everyday I overwhelmed with hundreds of email coming to my inbox, twenty unrecorded tasks to be done, a dozen of personal activities that needs to be done (like bills!), and a lot of articles in my digital reader. I don’t feel like I have time to do all of it. Every task seems to be urgent, hence I can’t have a peace on my mind.

It is not that I am not trying to find solution. I have been a very regular reader of all productivity porn. Again, there are thousands of articles, hundreds of books that provide you promise to improve productivity. But I never found one that I can sustain for even one week.

Since I couldn’t take it anymore, I am bringing this into action. Reorganise my life, to become what I feel as productive. Looking at my bookshelves, I have three books related with productivity, that I can takeaway and apply as one small project within next week. I will focus on daily productivity which brings peace on my mind.┬áLet’s look at the plan.

Define – Putting All Actions Together

As we live in information era, the most difficult task of knowledge worker is defining what should be done. First you need to pick the right things. I believe only 20% of my emails will need execution. Choosing among them is the first step, next is to define executable steps on it. Next is to translate it into executable action. What do I need to do? When it should be finished? Those questions will need to be answered.

An interesting approach that I see for organising this is David Allen’s Mastering Workflow in Getting Things Done: Collect, Process, Organise, Review, Do.

In Collect, we need to capture everything into the list. No matter how important it is, and no matter how big or small the scope is. It is releasing it from your mind to another place that you can trust. I need an inbox of tasks – physically & digitally, to store whatever coming.

In Process, I will define the tasks as four category. Do, Defer, Delegate, and Discard. Things under Do will go to schedule after following next process. Defer will be reviewed in the next review, Delegate will be send to the respective person, and Discard will be either deleted or archived.

In Organise, I am taking Pozen’s approach. First to put time dimension on each tasks whether it is career aims, objectives, or targets. Targets is the things that actionable. If it is aims or objective, put it into category for the targets – to define priority. Then I will quickly estimate how long does it take to put into schedule. I need to see mismatches. If one Low activity is taking most of my time, then I should adjust it to be later in my schedule.

In Do, I will assign attributes for each tasks in terms of context, time, energy, and priorities. Priorities is something that you can get base on objectives and aims. This will be transported to schedule, which I will cover in next part.

In Review, I will have a defined time for reviewing all my workflow & tasks. I am planning to do small review on daily basis and extensive review on weekly basis.

One thing that is good to be highlighted is elimination. Although I am not a full fan of his quick solve approach, I like the idea that we need to eliminate things. Sometimes we are in the illusion of working hard, which actually doing the non important things. I also need to ensure I have a low information diet. I will remove all newsfeed that has no benefit on me, less browsing or watching television, to give time for myself to finish things.

Schedule – Putting Actions into Calendar

What that all people have in common, in terms of fairness, is time. Everybody is given the exact same allocation of time in one day. It is a matter of expose its potential or waste it. I like the idea in Extreme Productivity to focus on final products, by putting desired result for each schedule on your calendar as result driven. The sample of how it should be applied is like below. For this, I will define it in my Outlook calendar.

One thing that I know would be difficult to be scheduled is small stuffs : queries from colleagues and urgent requests from your boss can really annoying sometimes. Especially if it comes with one line. I am planning to allocate 1.5 hours for this everyday.

The next thing to be highlighted as important is review. At the end of the day, I will spend one hour to review all actions, reviewing schedule for next day, sending follow-up emails and reminders. This is the small review that I have talked about.

Last but not least. I need to ensure that I have proper rest & practice in daily basis. I have to schedule for 8 hours of sleep and 30 minutes of running everyday.

System – Single Source & Processes for All Actions

This is the thing that sometimes will become my barrier of sustaining my intention to work better. One day I put flag in my Outlook, the next day I forgot to follow up on that. It is like I am not be able to find the right machine to operate.

Speaking of this, there is one very interesting TED talk on racing with machines by Erik Brynjolfsson. It hit my mind because it reminds me again that I sometimes too obsessed with technology, but never got into working together with it to achieve the best things.

Racing with the machine beats racing against the machine. Technology is not destiny. We shape our destiny.

Especially on my objective here, I need to race with the machine, especially since I have a very complex steps defined above. I need to have a robust:

  • Checklist for all my tasks and priorities
  • Proper calendar that is accessible everywhere for achieving my objectives

That I can get from digital systems. But on top of that system is not only about technology. System is all that surround us, including

  • Set of defined steps┬áthat I need to execute to ensure all tasks and priorities are defined, including reminders and review
  • Environment to ensure there are less distractions
  • Support from family & co-workers

What Will Happen Next?

Whatever I have learned above, will be applied on next week – 29 July 2013 – 3 August 2013. After that I will write at the end of the post as review. What I have learned? What went wrong? What went good?

One thing that I believe lacks of all articles or books of productivity is the actual experience after executing all methodologies. Feedback is important. To give a prove that it is working or not.

Results (Updated at 4 August 2013)

Last week has become a good productive one for me. I responded fast, able to finish more things at work, and outside work. I feel happier, cause there are some accomplishment. It is a small one, but good to take a baby steps.

What Went Right:

  • Task Definition – I found a very good tool called Trello last week. For me the tool is very suitable. There are groups, boards, card list and for each boards I can define my own flow. I have 3 groups of works: Personal, Family, and Work. Each group has multiple boards. For example, in work I defined one group for each function I am performing business partnering (people-based). For the flow, I defined two type of flows. If it requires a long time to finish & involves me only, I put it as “To Do | In Progress | Done”, while if it is requires short time I put it as “To Do | Pending | Done”. It is a simplified version of what has been taught by David Allen, but it is more effective. Below is the example of my board for Family.


  • Scheduled Activities – Previously I overwhelmed with work and feels like I don’t have time for other activities. I always feel tired every time I go home. Actually it is not that bad. Since I have a system that I trust above, I am able to spent my first two hours in early morning for my personal projects, and spend my time in the night with my family and houseworks.
  • Quick Action – Since I have system that I trust. I can focus on my work. I discarded my email management last week. Now I don’t sort my emails anymore. I just flag anything that needs to be done / pending and work based on that – by referencing with my task list in Trello

What Can be Improved

  • Small Things – I don’t know it is because last week is busier than before, or because I responding faster, there are more queries coming to me. In one way it is good because it shows people are trusting you. But on the other side, the amount of work increased dramatically. In an environment that speed is very valuable, in many cases I end up responding on these small things. Which if all combined will ate up all my time for more important activities. Saying no or assigned specific time will help. Last week I have a plan on this, but not able to really done it.

In overall. More things were done. It is a good sign. Will keep improving this and start another project next week.


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