Create an easy to manage productivity system and don’t overlap your apps

Create an easy to manage productivity system and don’t overlap your apps [PMP #92]

I often get approached by readers or clients who are having trouble maintaining their productivity system. I get asked about how and when to use email, notes, task lists, document folders and the calendar and whether it’s okay to use your email as a to-do list or notes for sorting documents.

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The problem here is that your blur the boundaries between when to use notes vs. tasks or email vs. the calendar etc. This can result in a situation where you don’t know which app to turn to when trying to retrieve important information. For example, if you’re reviewing a meeting, it gets confusing when some of your notes are kept in Evernote or Apple Notes and other notes are in your task list.

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This is the guiding philosophy behind my own productivity system. I talk about this more in my productivity blueprint, which you can download here:

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With this idea in mind, you should define a clear and singular purpose for each of your productivity apps:

  • Email – Used for communication. This is most people’s primary source of input e.g. tasks, appointments etc. But that doesn't mean these things live in email. Instead, your email should be dealt with using the appropriate app. For example, a meeting invite is added to the calendar. An actionable email is converted into a task on your task list.
  • Task Manager – Used to capture all the actionable things you need to do. Instead of trying to remember everything or leaving emails in your inbox to deal with later, use your task manager to capture everything you need to do. This makes it easier to prioritise and plan your time accordingly.
  • Calendar – Used to plan your time. Most people use it to store appointments, which is a good start. But the most productive people use their calendar to plan their days using themes or by time-blocking their tasks. Most people have too many items on their task list of a single day which results in most tasks going overdue. Time blocking forces you to assign an amount of time helping you to be more realistic with your time.
  • Notes – Used to capture reference material and information about your work. e.g. meeting notes, whiteboard diagrams etc. You can also use Notes for doing the work. For example, right now I’m preparing for a productivity presentation and I’m using Notes to plan my ideas and agenda. Don’t use notes as a task list or for storing documents.
  • Document Storage – Either locally on your computer or using a cloud-based platform like Dropbox or Google Drive your document storage provider is used to organise all your files, spreadsheets and documents.

As you can see, with each of the above tools, there is no overlap between them.

To explain this further, imagine you receive an email about an upcoming meeting that contains an attached document:

  1. You can create an appointment on your calendar so you know when it’s taking place.
  2. You can add the meeting agenda to your notes which you can later reference and add to during the meeting itself.
  3. The attached file can be downloaded and added to your document storage provider. If possible, you could add a shareable link to this document to your notes if you’d like to get quick access to it later.
  4. Finally, the email itself gets archived now that it’s been dealt with appropriately.

The actual tools you use don’t matter as much. Whether you use Evernote/Apple Notes for note taking or Asana/Todoist for task management is less important than this idea of defining how and when to use each app.

The principles here should be used as a starting point to apply to your own work. For example, Pipedrive (affiliate link) is another important part of my productivity system that needs to be factored in. You should do the same with your own tools and workflow.

If you want to learn more about how to build and optimise this system, check out my Personal Productivity Toolkit where I go into immense detail about how to set up and maintain this system.

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