The Productivity Practice of Staying Organized

Why Organize?

Work no longer has clearly defined boundaries. Organizing the constant inflow of information is a challenge many of us face today. If you don’t know how exactly you will store and use the information coming to you, you may become the victim of information (reactive behavior) or you may not be able to use it altogether, which could mean missing out on that big business deal or an important idea you thought while taking bath. 

In simple terms, organizing is about storing information such that you can find it at the right time at the right place in the right context. If you can’t find the stuff you are looking for in less than 60 seconds, you are not organized.  

Let’s get started and master the art of staying organized.

Organizing like a Pro

In the first practice, you collected every single piece of information in your physical or psychological world. Now you are going to process and organize it. Any kind of information fall into two broad categories:

  1. Actionable Stuff – You can do something this information such as writing an email, researching on your holiday destination, making a phone call or starting a project.
  2. Reference Stuff – Things in which no action is required but it is useful for future use. This could be statistics, reference content, design, links to websites and lot more.

Once you know the category of information, you can organize it further.

Let us deal with the Reference material first.

You can store all your reference material in a common location or a folder in your computer. I use Evernote to store all my reference material under a notebook called ‘References’. Evernote has this awesome capability to store just about any type of information in the form of a note.

You can probably do something similar using Dropbox or Google drive but there is no reason not to use Evernote. Use appropriate Notes (if you are using Evernote), folder structure or tags as needed. But keep it simple.

The next information category is ‘The Actionable items’. This can be further organized into two types:

  1. Projects: Anything that requires more than 2 action steps to complete is a Project.  A project therefore is a collection of actionable items necessary to achieve a specific outcome. It could be as big as restructuring your organization or as small as seeing your dentist.
  2. The “Next Action”: These are physical, visible actions you can take. Examples – Making a phone call, searching on internet, creating a document, brainstorming, writing notes, meeting someone.

Make two separate lists – one for all your “Projects” and another for all your “Next Actions”. Here is how you will organize your projects and next actions:

  1. Break down each project into a set of actionable steps – it represents a list of “Next Actions” entered in logical or linear fashion. You can track each project and corresponding to-do items within this list.
  2. There are some actionable items which needs to be done on a specific date or specific time(e.g. seeing a doctor on Friday) – add those To-Do items to your calendar and set a reminder.
  3. Many items in your list will fall into ‘Someday/Maybe’ category. These are your dream projects – a cool new idea you want to try out or a hobby you want to pursue, but you don’t have time right now. Get them inside your ‘Someday/Maybe’ list. Eventually some of it will mature and some of it will go away.
  4. Now you will be left with two major pieces of information. ‘To-do’ items which belong to a project and random ‘To-do’ items such as household chores, making phone calls or taking your kid for the music class. You can Prioritize these items appropriately and take actions.
  5. Another important consideration is “To-Do” items you can delegate to others. You can actually put all To-Do items which are important to get done by you have delegated to others in a separate “Follow up” list. You can refer to this list regularly to follow-up with others on tasks assigned to them.

To sum it up

Organizing your information into Reference and Actions is the key to being productive. A clear distinction between Project and a To-do item is really important to understand. If you treat your Project as a To-do item, it will look like an unclear task and it may never get done. Remember the golden rule – Project is not actionable, To-do item is actionable.

Practice Assignment

Back to the fun part – Your Assignment. (I know you hate em’) but I love the assignment as much as I love you. So here you go:

Step 1: Download Evernote and spend some time getting used to it

Step 2: Capture Everything in Evernote:

From the first practice, you have formed the habit of capturing every piece of information somewhere physically – on paper or in computer (If you have not done it, do that first). Create a notebook in Evernote called ‘Incoming’ and collect all your incoming stuff in there. Evernote can capture E-mails, photos, web urls, videos, voice memos, to-do lists and so on… Freakin’ awesome!

Step 3: Create 2 other notebooks in Evernote as below:

  1. References
  2. Projects

Step 4: From your Incoming notebook, copy all Non-actionable notes into References Notebook you just created in Evernote.

Step 5: Inside the Projects Notebook (created in step 3) create two notes as below:

  1. All Projects
  2. Someday/may be

Step 6: Transfer the all Actionable Information from your ‘Incoming’ folder as below:

  1. Copy all your projects and corresponding tasks in the ‘All Projects’ note
  2. Copy all your Someday/may be tasks or projects in the ‘Someday/may’ be note

Step 7: (Is’t there)Relax and have fun!

Keep practicing organizing this way on a daily basis until it becomes your second nature. Mastering productivity is a skill and you need to install this habit to master it. 

8 Must Ask Questions to Evaluate your Productivity

Determine your current productivity level by asking yourself 8 simple questions

asking yourself key productivity questions

Improving your productivity can have far reaching impact on your quality of life. Any kind of improvement can begin with knowing where we stand. This article will help you identify where you stand so that you can determine the next step with confidence.

I want you ask yourself some important questions to find out where do you stand in your productivity barometer. Here are 8 simple yet life changing questions I want you to answer. I promise that answering these questions will give you lots insights + there is a free take away waiting for you at the end of the article.

Here are the questions:

  1. Are your daily activities aligned to your larger goals?
  2. Do you feel you are on the right track to reach your goals?
  3. Do you maintain a delicate work-life balance?
  4. Are you living a life that you want?
  5. Do you feel that you are spending your time on the ‘right things’?
  6. Do you juggle between conflicting priorities?
  7. Do you have too many things on your mind?
  8. Is your life chaotic?

For questions 1 to 5 – If your answer is ‘No’, for at least ONE questions, then you need help with developing clarity and focus.

For questions 6 to 8 – If you are answer is ‘Yes’ for at least ONE questions, then you need help with developing your ability to organize and prioritize

Here is the bonus take away:

For a limited period, I am offering a free personal productivity assessmentFill out this form and answer a few simple questions. I will send you an interesting assessment of your productivity and some useful guidelines tailored for you. Totally personalized and free.

Here is the link to get you started….

Productivity Practice #2 – Identify your key Goals

Mind mapping to get clarity on your key Goals

Mind mapping allows you develop clarity around your key Goals

Every single day, we do a lot things, even then, many items gets pushed further in favor of others. What makes some actions important while other actions lesser important? The answer is – Goals.  A majority of successful people have a razor sharp focus on their key Goals. The trick is to select the right Goals worthy of your maximum attention. I recommend mind mapping to identify your key Goals. Here is how you can do that:

  1. Create a mind-map of your life like the illustration shown.  Different aspects of your life branching out
  2. Rank each Goal with a Satisfaction Score – Put a Satisfaction score with each Goal like this: ‘1’ – Fully satisfied, ‘2’ – moderately satisfied, ‘3’ – not satisfied.
  3. Now look at the items you have ranked ‘2’ and ‘3’ – you need to do something about those items
  4. Take these items and exactly determine what would it take to make that area become ‘1’

Here is an example to make it a little more clear – Suppose your area of Finance has a score of ‘3’, meaning you are not satisfied with that area. The first step is to identify what exactly in Finance that’s not working? Is it income, savings or something else? Exactly determined the objective and the end result which will make that area turn into ‘fully satisfied’. Likewise, write your all your Goals on a piece of paper. Here are are the guidelines to write your Goals:

  1. Write your Goal in present tense. The subconscious mind understands the language of ‘present’.
  2. Your Goal should begin with ‘I’
  3. The Goal should have a specific date
  4. Your Goal should be Affirmative. So, instead of writing – ‘I leave my job’, you can write – ‘I will be professionally independent’

Here are some examples of Goals using the above Guidelines:

  1. I am professionally independent by December 31st 2013
  2. I own a new house by March 31st 2013
  3. I start a new business by November 30th 2013

Goals written in this way makes your subconscious mind believe in them. The sheer belief of your subconscious mind will generate extraordinary actions. Write as many Goals as you can realistically achieve and stick those Goals around your workstation so that you keep getting reminded about them. Keep the number of Goals limited to what you can accomplish in the next one year. Create a Goal Chart or Calendar and stick it in front of your workstation. Also, it is a good habit to review, assess and update your Goals as things change.

You have just identified your Big Rocks. Now, it is going to be a lot more easier to take day today decisions on your actions items. We’ll take a deeper dive into the Action domain in the next practice.

The Ultimate Guide to stress-free Productivity and Remarkable Living

In the past few months, I kept looking for the answer of one simple question – “How do I live a life of purpose and values while remaining productive and stress-free?.  While looking for the answers, I garnered lots of wisdom, practices and insight partly by learning, partly experimenting and implementing some key principles.

While my productivity and quality of life has risen manyfold it was not an easy journey. To save all your time and effort in finding the right answers, I decided to put up a rather long compilation covering the 6 key practices I have learned after hundreds of hours of study and reflection. 

This article may take a few minutes to read, so get yourself focussed on doing one thing at a time, which is – reading this article.

Tip: While you are reading this article, take out pen & paper and challenge yourself in putting at least one practice to use. 

1. Find your Self Compass

The Self Compass is the fancy word I use for Self Awareness. Self-awareness is often mis-understood under the titles of spirituality, religious practices or meditation. It’s really not the case. Here is the definition of Self-awareness on Wikipedia:

Self-awareness is the capacity for introspection and the ability to recognize oneself as an individual separate from the environment and other individuals.

Why do you exist?

Find your inclination and connect it with something useful for people

One of the biggest challenges of our times is the lack of understanding of our own abilities and inclination. Many of us struggle, not because we do not have a talent but because there is a gross lack of “awareness” of it. We struggle because we go in directions given by our past constraints and perceptions, which often lead us to the wrong places.

So the first step in living a highly productive and remarkable life is identifying your passion and inclination. 

The easiest way to develop Self-awareness is to ask yourself questions that instigate self inquiryHere are some possible questions you can ask yourself: 

What are the core values of my life?What kind of things inspires me?If I had 10 million dollars in my bank account and only 10 years to live, what would I do? What kind of dreams did I see in my childhood? 

Here are 4 simple rules to develop Self-awareness:

  1. Do it Alone – Don’t ask Other’s about Your “Self”
  2. Don’t Judge – Do not judge yourself. Self awareness is just being “aware” of yourself and not to come to certain conclusion
  3. Write until you feel free – Capture resulting thoughts on a piece of paper. Write everything and read it. You can do this several times until you experience freedom.
  4. Don’t be in hurry – Don’t do it as if this is just another task. This is the most valuable time you can ever spend. Do it when you are not in a hurry and you have at least an hour to spare.

Once you become Self Aware, your ability to take actions will dramatically increase because you have a good sense of direction – you are guided by your Self Compass. I found this step to be the hardest one because it requires rigor and courage. If you get past this phase, rest of the journey an be much more pleasant.

2. Develop Clarity and Focus

As the soil, however rich it may be, cannot be productive without cultivation, so the mind without culture can never produce good fruit – Seneca

clear and focussed mind is the source of powerful actions. In his remarkable book, Kamal Sharma explains how one can maintain the Focus of a warrior and Peace of a monk by practicing silence and stillness. Here is a simple yet powerful analogy described in his book to develop clarity and focus:

Clear mind is the source of powerful actions

Practice calmness and stillness to develop clear mind

Imagine your mind like a glass full of water mixed with mud. You cannot see through the glass because the water is dark and muddy. If the glass of water is steered all the time, the mud in the water will never settle down and you will never be able to see through the water. However, if you kept that glass still for sometime, the mud will settle down and in just a couple of hours, entire mud will be settled at the bottom and the water will be clear. You can see through the glass again.

Just like the mud in the glass of water analogy, our mind is full of ‘thoughts’. Conflicting situations, changing priorities, peer pressure, family matters, relationship issues and a lot more. Our mind is racing at 160 miles an hour, pumping thoughts like a formula one car on a freeway. This is the dynamic state of mind, we call it – mud mixed with water. You do have the ability to slow it down and separate the mud from water.

Here is a simple way to develop clarity and focus in your mind:

Sit down and relax, close your eyes and stay calm for 30 minutes. You will notice that all your thoughts will begin settling down gradually. At the end of this exercise, your mind will be clear like water in the glass with mud settled down. You can clearly see though all available options because your mind has the space needed to think clearly. According to a research, decisions taken by a calm and peaceful mind are usually the right ones than the decisions taken in a hurry or in a state of chaos.

If you practice stillness and silence even for 10  minutes daily, it will have a remarkable impact on your Clarity and Focus.

3. Organize and Prioritize

The biggest job of a knowledge worker is to identify his job

Prioritize your goals, projects and tasks with rigour

We often get stressed due to  multiple priorities, projects and deadlines. There is just a lot going on and we can’t handle it all. As a result, we experience a gross lack of perspective and control in our lives. The simplest way to eliminate this clutter is by organizing and prioritizing. It might take one hour or four hours (depending on the clutter in your life) but in the end, you will be much more relaxed and focussed.

Write down everything you need to get done on a piece of paper. Capture everything that comes to your mind, small tasks, big tasks, long term goals, short terms goals, immediate actions – everything. Classify everything you have written down into 3 categories – Goals, Projects and Tasks. Here is a short guide to help you distinguish between Goal, Task and Project:

Let us imagine that you are planning to go on a Vacation. In this case, here is how your Goals, Projects and Tasks might look like:

  1. Goal: Going on a Vacation
  2. Project: Book Tickets
  3. Tasks: 1)Research destination, 2)Look into calendar for dates, 3)Call up Agent to book tickets

Goals are generally your broad definition of a major objective or accomplishments. Projects are the resultant activities emerging out of your Goals. While Tasks are the actual “action” items you can do physically at any point of time. Making a call, writing a document, searching on Google are all tasks. While projects are items which entail multiple steps or tasks.

Look at your list and classify each item by the category it belongs to. Write ‘G’ near the item which is Goal, write ‘P’ near the item which is Project and ‘T’ near the item which is a Task. Next, identify the most important priorities out of these. What goals or projects will free you up the most? What are the most burning items which when taken care of will relieve you or make you feel great?

Once you identify your top priorities, a lot of less important things will just go away. Now you have razor sharp focus on doing the most important things first and then handle the rest.

4. Visualize Outcomes

Visualize outcome to produce results

Visualizing outcome maximizes the probably of intended outcome

Identifying and articulating clearly defined outcomes makes a whole lot of difference in accomplishing your projects and goals. Our brain has the natural ability to visualize outcome. This has been nicely articulated in David Allen’s GTD system. Here is an excerpt:

Suppose you are out for  a dinner.  What initially caused you to think about doing it? – was that to satisfy hunger, socialize with friends, celebrate a special occasion or sign a business deal. As soon as any of these turn into a real inclination, you have a clear intention. Your intention was your purpose. The next immediate thing you will think about is the ambience, quality of food and service, affordability, convenience and comfort. These were your principles that guided your purpose of going for dinner. And as soon as you have your purpose and principles in place, you probably also imagined some positive picture of what you might experience or how the evening would turn out – may be the people involved, the atmosphere and/or the outcome. That was your outcome visioning.

You need to follow these three steps to visualize your outcome:

  1. Identify the purpose
  2. Define the principles
  3. Visualize the outcome

Outcome visioning is a way to vividly visualize and experience the end result which is consistent with the success of a project or goal. For all your goals and projects, you must visualize your outcomes clearly and vividly. Clearly visualizing your outcome will give you the energy and motivation to accomplish it. It will bring greater certainty to the result.

Take your outcome and put it in physical existence around you. You can create a chart in front of your desk which captures your outcome in the form of a slogan or visual. The more your brain is exposed to “visualizing” the outcome, the more power it will generate to accomplish it.

5. Consume Low Information Diet

Reading, after a certain age, diverts the mind too much from its creative pursuits. Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking. – Albert Einstein

low information diet

Reduce the amount of information you consume each day

In a world flooding with free information, we have started consuming it more than we can digest. What was the last newspaper article that you found to be useful in your area of influence?

Every information that you consume has to be processed, stored and indexed by the brain. Your brain is working tirelessly (almost uselessly) to process the huge inflow of information from TV, Internet, Social media and other sources. Too much information creates information sickness and alienate you from real life.

In his book 4 Hours work week, Tim Ferris has nicely articulated the principle of “low information diet” to produce optimum output. Start practicing low information diet.  Stop surfing endlessly for the hot deal or the latest new gadget. Keep yourself focussed to the minimum information you need. You can discipline yourself by promising to spend at max 30 minutes surfing the web and 30 minutes reading blogs. Follow the ritual of one book at a time and keep your reading limited to most important topics related to your area.

6. Reflect and Refine

Living a life of purpose and stress-free productivity is akin to learning an art. You keep reflecting and refining yourself as you climb up each stair. With constantly moving parts we need to constantly learn and maneuver along the course.

Reflect and refine your moves as you learn

The difference between a good maneuvering and bad maneuvering lies in ReflectionReflecting on your experiences brings Wisdom. Nothing is more valuable than the Wisdom you develop for yourself. Here is how you can do it:

On a typical day or at least once a week, look at what worked in your life, what did not work and what you can learn. Look for things which gives you energy and try to do them more. Reflecting upon your experiences will make you wiser and allow you to make smarter choices.

You have the insight, the practices and the skills to use them. You have a gift. I want you to Poke the box and start a practice. Right now!

What did you choose to do? What’s the purpose of your life?

7 common Productivity myths busted

  1. Productivity is not about working hard
  2. Productivity is not about getting everything done
  3. Productivity is not about delegating to others
  4. Productivity is not about time management
  5. Productivity is not about optimizing people and processes
  6. Productivity is not just about producing results
  7. Productivity is not about personal effectiveness

Productivity is about – Making the greatest use of your available time and resources to accomplish what really matters!

Productivity Practice #1 – Take it all out of your mind

One of the key reason of low productivity are the distractions triggered inside our mind. These internal distractions are quite natural because there is too much going on in our lives all the time. Here is a simple example of the internal distraction I am talking about.

Imagine, you are working on an important project report that needs to finished today. Suddenly you thought about the promise made to your wife for planning that long pending vacation.  You did not think of it consciously, but your mind popped it up – out of nowhere. What now? You might start Googling or call your travel agent. Or you might just try to forget it so that you can focus back to your current task. Either ways, your mind got distracted impacting your productivity right away. This brings us to the first principle of Productivity.

The Principle: A clear mind is source of powerful actions

The Practice: Clearing your mind like an empty container

Take at least 2-3 hours off from your day, preferably on a weekend so that you are least distracted. Tell everyone that you are not available during this period. Take a compact spiral notebook or some blank sheets of paper and start writing down all “stuff” that needs to happen in your life. This is not your traditional “to-do” list.  The “stuff” can be a variety of things that needs to done either by you or by others. It should have happened in past or it needs to happen in the next few minutes or in distant future.

Here are a few pointers where your “stuff” can come from:

  1. Official tasks such as documenting, organizing papers, storing references
  2. New hobby idea or a business idea you need to work upon
  3. Calling list – Includes calling to family members, office, interview, appointment or socializing
  4. Planning for that trip, vacation or holidays
  5. Sorting out issues with someone or taking a decision on something
  6. Stuff related to finance, banking, investment or mortgage
  7. Commitments made to yourself
  8. Commitments made to others
  9. Unfinished tasks or projects
  10. Shopping or selling something
  11. Home or office improvement work
  12. Following up with someone on something

Out of these items, chances are that you might find some tasks that are really urgent. Do them on the very same day or the very next hour once you are done writing your stuff. In the next 24 hours, make it a conscious habit to write all your stuff on a piece of paper.  The moment you think about something that needs to be done, write it down. Don’t do it without writing it down first. Initially, you might find it a bit unnatural but as soon as you start doing it, you will find yourself much more free and focussed.

Keep practicing until you make it an integral part of your daily life, like brushing your teeth. If you stop doing it for a couple of days, don’t beat yourself, start fresh and keep going. Use one single place to collect all your stuff so that you can come back and reference it later.

We are building a solid foundation for amazing productivity and creativity…keep it up!

Once you have collected everything in your physical and psychological world that is pulling your attention, it’s time to process and organize it. Head over to the Productivity Practice of Staying Organized.

Stress-free productivity

We are living in a world overflowing with information and communication. Never before in human history have we faced such infinite number of choices. While the choices are infinite, our time and attention are finite. Amidst hundreds of things to do, we tend to loose perspective and often feel lack of control in our lives. Result, we constantly remain in the state of anxiety and stress.

More than ever before, stress free productivity is the need of the hour. Our standard education system or the cutting edge software, calendars and to-do apps are not sufficient to help us live a life of stress free productivity. In my quest to look for a highly productive and stress free life, I found three patterns essential to practice stress free productivity – Clarity, Focus and Consistency.

Through this website, I will share the insight in Living a life of originality, creativity and stress free productivity by implementing three fundamental principles – Clarity, Focus & Consistency.

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