It’s Sunday morning, I’ve just taken a shower after my morning run. Coffee is steaming, breakfast is waiting, and my cat is lying on the kitchen counter overlooking the table. She looks on as I sit down, take a sip, and get to work. I open my bullet journal, my task list, and my calendar. It’s time to plan the week ahead…
I already spent two posts to cover the basics of my productivity process. Give them a read here:
But listing all the methods and tools gives you an incomplete picture. So in this last post, I will show you how all those elements work together in one cohesive productivity system.
Actually, we’re talking about four separate productivity routines. They have their own goals and timelines. Here’s how they add up and work together to keep me efficient and sane.
Time: 4 hours | Tools: Trello, Evernote, Bullet Journal
I’ve written a completely separate post on annual planning, so I won’t go into too much detail here. All you need for this task is a free morning on one of the last days of December, a cat and a new Trello board. The cat is optional, but it makes everything better.
I start off by looking at my previous year, seeing what worked and what didn’t. The former gives me nice things to bring into the new year, as well. The latter is often a question of me lacking focus in this specific area. It means I should dedicate more attention to the topic:
- If there’s something I didn’t get to, did it unintentionally fall through the cracks or did I purposefully decide not to focus on it?
- What’s the impact of not completing that task? This can be anything from a specific monetary loss all the way to me just feeling bad about it.
- If there are some adverse effects to it, how can I make sure I dedicate enough time to it?
- Could the activity be substituted with something different that I feel more passionate about?
I try to distill this retrospection to specific actionable learnings – things I should continue, start or stop doing. I write those down in a separate note in Evernote where I keep all these lessons learned. It makes it easy to get back and review them from time to time.
Based on this reflection process and any new developments in my life, I update my vision and priorities. For example, this year I wanted to focus more on learning and professional development, so I created a separate priority category for it – it included courses to attend, books to read, and research to put in practice. These are the specific key results I was aiming for – tasks that need to be completed within a specific timeframe.
The end result looks something like this – a one-screen overview of your year’s priorities, as well as a task list for your monthly results.
I’m a huge fan of writing by hand, so I duplicate this list in my Bullet Journal. It may seem redundant to use both a digital and an analog system. However, I’ve seen that this is a way to reflect on the goals and really internalize them. If you’re an analog type of person, too, give it a go.
The Annual Productivity Process:
- Reflect on your previous year’s accomplishments:
- What are you most proud of?
- What worked and what didn’t?
- Which projects gave you energy and which ones drained it?
- List all your learnings in an actionable format:
- Which habits do you want to continue doing?
- What should you stop doing?
- What should you start doing?
- Think about your values and life priorities. Have they changed? List them in writing.
- Set your key priorities and objectives for the year.
- List activities and key results that will bring you closer to your objectives.
- Check out how they work together and how you can space them out throughout the year.
Time: 1 hour | Tools: Trello, Todoist, Calendar
The last weekend of the month calls for a retrospection and some planning. First, I go through the previous month and review what has happened. I consult my Trello board and compare what I was planning to do with what I’ve actually achieved. Then I see if there are areas that need improvement and start my planning accordingly.
I go through all the places where tasks might be hiding. Trello reminds me of new major projects that I’ve committed to starting. I add them to my Todoist as subprojects or specific tasks. If they have a lot of moving parts, it can be really daunting to start, so I kick-start any new projects by adding the first steps as separate tasks. This gets it going and I can spend time to properly plan everything later. The project is no longer a nebulous behemoth, there’s an actionable first step along the way.
I review the key projects I need to work on during the month, add some specific tasks, and consult my calendar for special events and meetings. This is a good moment to add any recurring events to the calendar for weekly tasks that will need my attention. For example, when I started doing weight training with my instructor, I put in two weekly recurring training slots in the calendar. I may move those around on a week-by-week basis, but never will I forget I need to dedicate two hours to training.
I add the key appointments and the main projects of the month to my Bullet Journal, too. Same reason as mentioned above – it helps me internalize and focus on the tasks.
The Monthly Productivity Process:
- Review the results of the previous month.
- Add any new projects that will get started:
- Think quickly about the end goal and your definition of success. You can add them as a project comment to Todoist.
- Add the first specific tasks you need to do to get the project going.
- Review current projects and update their tasks.
- Check what appointments and events are coming up in your calendar.
- Change, remove or add any recurring time slots for key activities.
- Quickly scan the learnings from your yearly retrospection and remind yourself what you promised back then.
Time: 30 minutes | Tools: Todoist, Calendar, Toggl, Strides, Bullet Journal
Sunday morning is time for my weekly planning. You can do it any other time that makes sense, as long as it’s before the start of the week. It’s a great way to set your week off to a flying start and have clarity on what’s coming.
I quickly go through my remaining weekly tasks and transfer all unfinished ones. I then add any upcoming tasks, too. I’ll try to roughly set the priority for each day, add the Most Important Tasks and set aside time in my calendar to work on them. I also review my meetings and events I want to attend.
If this is a specifically busy period, I will rely on time reports from Toggl to see if I can make the next week more efficient than the previous one. For example, I might adjust the time set in my calendar for advertising review and optimization if I consistently run overtime on this task. If I’m in the process of building a new habit, I will see how I did in Strides and try to improve if my performance wasn’t stellar. When I was starting to meditate, I wasn’t consistent. I quickly saw that in the app and decided to move meditation in the mornings before breakfast.
Finally, I treat myself to a small reward – a piece of chocolate, a cookie or permission to watch an episode of my favorite show. Just because it’s good to create positive feelings around planning, as it takes up time, but doesn’t have immediately visible effects.
The Weekly Productivity Process:
- Transfer any unfinished tasks from the previous week.
- Reflect on how you spent your week – check out time allocation for tasks, any unintended time-sinks, and habits.
- Add upcoming tasks to the plan.
- Check your meetings and upcoming events.
- Adjust the scheduled time for recurring tasks like training or writing.
- Celebrate the end of the week with a treat.
Time: 5 minutes | Tools: Todoist, Calendar, Bullet Journal
Each morning, I go through my daily tasks. Ideally, I would even set my daily schedule the evening before – but in reality, this rarely happens. I seem to have a bajillion excuses not to do it in the evening, so I finally came to terms with this fact and adjusted.
While drinking my morning coffee, I check the tasks for the day and do any adjustments needed. I’ve learned that it makes more sense to have a realistic view of things and say right off the bat if a day’s list of tasks looks too ambitious. I feel overwhelmed if I keep too many things on my plate – so I will prune the list and postpone anything needed. If I do manage to finish everything, it’s easy to get a bonus task from tomorrow’s list.
I see what appointments I have and change any blocked time slots in my calendar. In Todoist, I often have a bunch of smaller tasks like follow-ups, emails, call reminders, so I will set a block of time for them, as well. Batching tasks is the best!
I then swiftly proceed to be the best version of myself possible.
The Daily Productivity Process:
- Check any tasks postponed from the previous day and move them around.
- Review the day’s task list. If it looks too ambitious, move stuff to the next days.
- Take a look at the day’s appointments.
- Block time slots for any important tasks or for batching smaller ones.
Do you need a productivity system?
Plans are useless but planning is indispensable.
– Dwight D. Eisenhower
Having a productivity process saves me from the sense of utter overwhelm and sheer terror that comes with a full-time job, two major side projects, and a never-ending list of hobbies. It’s not only a way to improve my efficiency, but also a way to achieve calm and balance.
It is a process that I’ve tweaked and improved over the last four years, but it’s never perfect. So I’d love to hear what are your productivity routines – may we all learn from each other!
If you want to read more about the topic, here are: