8 Powerful Habits to Skyrocket Your Productivity

In past two years, I’ve read dozens of books and blogs on improve personal productivity. I tried everything from Fancy to-do apps, GTD and Pomodoro technique to inbox zero, Zen habits and automation. Out of these, a few habits really made a winning difference in increasing my productivity manifold. In this article, I am going to share with you how I started these habits, why they have stayed with me and how can you get started to skyrocket your productivity. [Read more…]

How to Implement GTD Using Evernote: The Simpler Way

Most of the GTD implementations using Evernote get complicated given the flexibility of Evernote. But having a complex system of Notebooks and Tags becomes a big task to maintain in the long run.

Here is a simpler way to implement GTD using Evernote. You can use this system without getting overwhelmed: 

Evernote Overview

evernote

Evernote

Evernote is easily world’s best note taking app. Once you start using it, you will realize it’s much more than note-taking. It’s a versatile tool to collect and organize every type of information, right from screenshots, images, to entire web pages and To-Do lists. Evernote’s search is breathtakingly intelligent and help you find stuff in seconds. Another notable feature of Evernote is its instant syncing capabilities across all devices such as iPad, Android Phone, iPhone and Computer.

Getting Started with Evernote

Evernote is free and you can download it from here.

Once you download and install Evernote, you can register for a free account using their default desktop screen as shown below:

register for evernote

Evernote register

It is also recommended to download the Evernote App on your Android/iPhone/Tablets so that you can start using it everywhere.

Implementing GTD using Evernote

When you login to Evernote for the first time, it has already created “First Notebook” by default. You can re-name it as you like but that isn’t necessary.

Now, let’s create some Notes in your “First Notebook” by clicking on the “New Note” link in the File menu shown below:

new note

create new note

Create following Notes (in bold) by writing the name of the note in the Note Title section (it usually says “Untitled Note” before you write down anything):

1. Professional Projects – This Note stores list of all your Professional Projects. Maintaining a separate list of Professional Projects helps you get focused on your professional or business goals.

2. Personal Projects – This Note stores list of all your Personal Projects. Usually you do these projects if time permits or based on the need of the situation.

3. Delegated Projects – This is an optional Note. Sometimes, you don’t work on projects yourself but delegate them to others. If you are managing a team and responsible to oversee multiple delegated projects without directly working on them, you may need this list. But if you are a solo-worker like me, you probably don’t need this list.

4. @Computer – This note will store a list of all your “Next Actions” you will do while working on your Computer. If you have multiple computers and you do different types of work on each computer, it’s better to create a separate context for each computer such as – @Mac or @OfficeComputer

5. @Home – This note will store a list of all your physical actions you can do while at Home.

6. @Office – This note will store all your physical actions you need to take care when at Office.

7. @Call – This note will store all your “Next Actions” related to calling people using your phone (it is optional). I tend to forget calling people often and I use this list frequently. But many people I have seen don’t need it much. Take your own judgement.

8. @People – This note will store Agenda items you want to talk about with people when you meet them (personally, on phone or chat)

9. @Errands – This note stores all items you need to take care when you go out for Errands e.g. grocery shopping, bank visit, laundry etc.

10. @WaitingFor – This note stores all actionable items you have delegated to others.

11. Someday/Maybe – This note stores all your Incubating projects that you do not see in the next one month horizon. As soon as some of these projects mature, they will be a part of your personal or professional projects.

Once you create these Notes, drag each one of them inside the shortcut section of your side bar. At a later stage, these shortcuts will be highly accessible when you have plenty of Notes.

That’s about it. After creating all notes and adding them to shortcuts, Your Evernote should screen should look like the one below:

evernote final

final set-up of evernote

Using Evernote Everyday

You might have noticed, we did not create “Collection” Note in Evernote. I strongly recommend to use physical pen and paper as a collection bucket instead of Evernote. The other collection buckets are – E-mail Inbox, Phone and Physical In-basket. The reason why I do not recommend using Evernote as another collection bucket is because you could easily get overwhelmed with large number of notes and processing them will be time consuming. Anything into Evernote goes after “processing” your stuff, not before.

The idea of “Real Time” processing

Most of the times, we can actually determine what a “Stuff” is – whether actionable or non-actionable. If you are instantly clear about a “Stuff” and Evernote is in front of you, directly process it, don’t collect it. However, sometimes it may happen that some things are not clear. Write those things down in your spiral notebook and process the results in Evernote later. This will save a tonne of time instead of collecting everything in Evernote.

On a Daily Basis

Now that your Evernote GTD set-up is done, here is what you need to do on a daily basis:

  1. Review your Calendar and “@___” list and take actions. Ideal time to review your To-Do lists is once before you check e-mail in the morning and once before finishing your day.
  2. Copy/paste actions from Project List and add any new actions you identify on-the-go.
  3. Define MITs for the day – This step is very critical. Everyday morning or previous night before you go to bed, determine 3 to 5 most important tasks you will complete on a given day. Defining MITs will keep you happy and satisfied with what you are doing or not doing.
  4. Process all your collected stuff at the end of each day and organize it into Projects, Next Actions or Reference material. Do not pile up your collection buckets, otherwise, get prepared to spend more time in processing your stuff during the weekly review.

At the end of Every Week

Perform a weekly review preferably on Friday or Saturday and clean-up your Physical Notes and EverNotes. Review all your Projects. Define new projects, close existing projects and cross out action steps which are done during the week. Clean-up your action lists and ensure that they are clean, clear, current and complete.

Storing Reminders

Evernote does a decent job of storing reminders. But I still prefer to use iCal (configured with Google Calendar) for all my appointments and reminders. Some people I have coached still like to use Evernote for keeping reminders, it’s good either ways. The rational behind my choice of iCal is that, Calendar provides a decent view of time/day slots and it’s easy to send calendar invites to others, as most people use it.

Up next, I will be explaining some advanced usage of Evernote in context to your daily productivity. If you have any questions, concerns or ideas, feel free write a comment below.

I would love to know your insights and collectively develop a better productivity system. Do write me a line or two below!

Top 20 Most Useful Websites to Boost Personal Productivity

Want to be a productivity rockstar? Here is a list of top 20 websites to boost your personal productivity. These apps can help you organize, improve your focus, make you relaxed and unclutter your life. Go ahead and check them out, every single one of them is useful and unique.

1. Calm

http://www.calm.com/
Want to experience the power of meditation while working? Calm.com is the answer. Unlike many similar websites, Calm.com is a fully guided meditation you can do anytime – online. After completing the 2 minutes meditation, I found a remarkable shift in my way of being. This website deserves a place in your bookmarks.

2. Unroll

https://unroll.me/
Unrollme is a true bliss and life changing. It detects all your e-mail subscriptions by scanning your inbox and lets you decide on which e-mails you want to unsubscribe. When I did, it was a pleasant shock to discover that I was subscribed to over 100 e-mail subscriptions. Thankfully, I unsubscribed from most of them, and now, I get a daily digest of all my subscriptions, in just one e-mail. What a relief!

3. Away Find

http://www.awayfind.com/
Finally, no need to go and check your e-mail inbox for “that” important e-mail. Using this app you can receive timely alerts of important e-mails in a variety of ways such as SMS, voice mail alert, iPhone/Android alerts or even desktop notifications. When you add a specific contact to your alert list, it notifies you  as soon as you get e-mail from that entity.

4. Nature sounds for me

http://naturesoundsfor.me/
This beautiful app has some amazing sounds of birds, animals and nature to instantly enlighten your spirit. Choose from a wide range of sounds, customize them as per your needs and start playing. I especially love the sounds of chirping birds, it’s a wonderful productivity booster.

5. Mind bloom

https://tree.mindbloom.com
Looking at this app will bring smile on your face instantly. It has an amazing feel and you may want to keep it open to listen to the sound of birds. The app gives you an interactive and engaging experience to think about what matters to you in life and actions you can take to accomplish your goals. It’s worth spending some dedicated time over the weekend!

6. Pocket

http://getpocket.com/
Pocket offer much more breadth and sophistication in how you save content over the web. By far, it’s the best tool to capture information, links, images and content from the web, store it and search it when needed. With a handy browser plugin and over 300 supported apps, it’s a must have item in your productivity toolbox.

7. Cold Turkey

http://getcoldturkey.com/
As the name suggests, this app will make you look like a cold Turkey when your urges to surf online kicks-in. It’s an app to help you control accessing unproductive websites during certain periods of time that you define. All you have to do is to download the app, add websites to block list and set the time when you should not access them. Cold turkey will do it’s job to keep you self-disciplined. For mac users, there is Self control app your can download on your desktop.

8. Simple Note + Notational Velocity (Or Roseph Notes for Windows)

https://app.simplenote.com/
Simple Note is a cool to-do app, perhaps the best thing after paper. If you are totally obsessed with simplicity and elegance, you will love these two apps. The reason I have combined them together is because Notational Velcity is the desktop app (for mac) and it syncs up with Simple Note in real-time. Notational Velocity has almost cult like following in mac community. For windows users, Roseph notes is the desktop tool which is (trying to) match up with Notational Velocity, but not close enough.

9. Rescue Time

https://www.rescuetime.com/
Rescue time is actually an all-in-one package that automatically tracks time you spend on your computer and tells you how productive you are based on the statistics captured. It also lets you punch-in any activities you specifically want to track and allows you to blocks sites to keep you away from online distractions. A great overall package for time sensitive work.

10. Rainy Mood

http://www.rainymood.com/
Want to experience rain without water? Visit rain mood, you will love it! As soon as you open this website, you will get into an entirely different zone of creativity. I use it often while writing articles or doing creative work. The spirit of rain kicks in and as they say “Rain makes everything better”, it actually improves productivity instantly.

11. Do Nothing for Two Minutes

http://www.donothingfor2minutes.com/
Want to relax after a hard meeting or a stressful call? Bookmark this app because I know you will get addicted to this one. You can almost reach a zen like state in just two minutes.

12. Focus App

https://www.focusatwill.com/music/#player
This is the app where music meets neuroscience. Based on scientific research, the website not just allows you to be productive with the help of music, it also helps you get a good sleep! Totally awesome and it can become an important part of your productive lifestyle.

13. Sanebox

http://www.sanebox.com/
Sanebox is another good approach to improve e-mail productivity. It automatically prioritizes  important e-mails. For less important e-mails it creates a summary which can come handy to quickly run over anything interesting you might not want to miss.

14. Focus Booster

http://www.focusboosterapp.com/
Focus Booster is  based on the famous pomodoro technique. It allows you to focus on one single task for 25 minutes and then take a break of 5 minutes. Pomodoro technique has been very popular among productivity circles because of its simple yet effective approach towards productivity. If you really want to use and get advantage of pomodoro technique, focus booster is the answer.

15. Live Happy

http://www.signalpatterns.com/iphone/livehappy_std.html
Happier people are more productivity. Who knows better than Dr. Sonja Lyubomirsky, professor of psychology and author of the book The How of Happiness. Live happy is a happiness boosting program for iPhone. I haven’t tried it but looking at the app reviews, it easily deserves a place on your smartphone.

16. Instapaper

http://www.instapaper.com/
Internet is filled with interesting, amusing and unique information we come across everyday (mostly when we are not looking for it). Driven by our curiosity and quite unknowingly, we spend a lot of our “work time” in reading. If you are facing this problem, Instapaper is what you need. You can click on read later on any article you come across over the internet and Instapaper will promptly save it for you to read later. It also offers good reading recommendations based on your topic of interest.

17. Writeroom

http://www.hogbaysoftware.com/products/writeroom
Unlike practically everything else in our digital lives, WriteRoom’s minimalist interface gives you a truly flattering proposition – It’s You, not the software, that matters. For windows user, we have Zen Writer which has a free trial for a limited period. Windows user can also check Write Monkey which has got rave reviews from it’s users. Write Monkey also has some amazing plugins and it’s totally free.

18. Evernote

http://www.evernote.com
Evernote is a all-time-classic app in productivity circles. You will love it for the sheer simplicity and sophistication of this app. With a powerful search that can search text inside an image, Evernote captures everything right from pdf, images and docs to web pages and visiting cards. A must have feature of this app is the Evernote Webclipper. It’s a nifty browser plugin that captures information over the internet in many different ways. Backed by a large global community and a variety of powerful third party extensions, it’s a must have tool for the knowledge worker.

19. Wunderlist

https://www.wunderlist.com
Wunderlist is one of the fasted growing To-Do apps globally. Thanks to it’s clean interface and collaborative features, it has a winning edge over most of the To-Do apps out there. Check it out!

20. Things

http://culturedcode.com/things 

Things app is one of those well-thought softwares that balances between minimalism and features. They get GTD just right without being too complex or feature rich. One of the best aspects of Things App is the zero learning curve involved. It doesn’t overburden you with buttons, fields and too may options. I have written a detailed review of this app in a separate article.

Finally…

It’s not the app itself but how you use it and benefit from it is what really matters!

This post is going to be my last article in 2013. Wishing you a happy new year and hope that you will make the most out of your life in the new year with these productivity websites.

[UPDATE: January 2015] SpringPad which as in this list has been removed because it has been shut down. Instead, I am putting up Things App. There we some app recommendations in the comments but since this article is focused on personal productivity, I couldn’t incorporate them here.

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