Tag Archives: Cool Tools

Productivity | Calendaring To-Dos

It’s no secret that I love task management (and task management tools!)  I use Todoist to manage my tasks during the week, and a weekend-only bullet journal to manage my weekend life and projects. But when my days at work got so fragmented with meetings that I was experiencing task-paralysis in the short gaps of time I had at my desk, I did something drastic:

I began scheduling my day down to the smallest increments, scheduling my to-dos into 15-minute-divisible ‘appointments.’

And it was AWESOME!

No more productivity paralysis + a serious sense of accomplishment + a high-level view of my day, responsibilities, deadlines, and expectations = productivity empowerment! 

Here’s how I did it: 

  1. I set my calendar to display in 15-minute increments (I use Outlook at work, but any calendar style would work for this.)
  2. I continued to record my tasks into my Todoist and assign them a due date, priority, etc., as applicable, as they came to my plate.
  3. At the end of each day, I looked to the next:
    1. I reviewed tomorrow’s calendar and made sure it was up to date.
    2. I reviewed my task list for tomorrow.  I mentally categorized my tasks into tiny, small, medium, and large work efforts.
    3. I Identified the open slots in my schedule and ‘penciled’ my tasks (remember: 15-minute increments!) into those gaps.
      1. Tiny tasks take less than 5 minutes. They are the only kind of task that can be scheduled two (or three, in a pinch) to a 15-minute slot.
      2. Small tasks should take about 15 minutes
      3. Medium = greater than 15 minutes
      4. Large = greater than 45 minutes

Pro-Tips (i.e. Things I learned the hard way)

  1. Schedule two or three 15-30 minute blocks of email time into your day. (More or less, depending on your specific circumstance. If I was writing full-time, I would schedule two blocks. But because my office job entails a lot of emails, I schedule three–one 30-minute block in the morning, and two 15-minute blocks in the afternoon.)
  2. Leave enough time for bathroom breaks. Small tasks that will only take 5 minutes are a great opportunity for this: the rest of the 15-minute block can be used for a potty/facebook/whatever break.)
  3. Leave enough time for task transition. Butting two hour-long tasks up against each other sounds like a good idea, but you need at least 10 minutes to transition your brain (if not your work space!) when the first task ends to allow you to tackle the next.

This was surprisingly easy to implement into my work, and the payoff was WAY more than the small amount of expended effort.  The best part is that if I run into a day that doesn’t require this kind of detail, I just don’t do it that day.  There’s no commitment–it’s just another tool for your productivity toolbox, ready and waiting when the going gets tough.

Is this something you do? Any tips to share?  Or, if you decide to give it a try, let me know how it goes!


Cool Tools: Planning for the future with Trello

It’s time for another Cool Tools post where I talk about systems and tools that help me be more productive! 

I’ve blogged about Todist for task management; and last time I talked about IFTTT and Zapier for automation.

Now that it’s January, and many of you may be looking to the year ahead, making plans, and brainstorming ways to make your lives better, I thought I’d share another task management tool. This one I use for long term planning.

Enter: Trello.

Trello is a collaboration tool that organizes your projects into boards. In one glance,Trello tells you what’s being worked on, who’s working on what, and where something is in a process. (“What is Trello”, help.trello.com/article/708-what-is-trello)



A look at my Trello board

Like I said, I use Trello for longer term planning (though you could just as well use it for day-to-day task management.)  I also use it for tasks I need to stay aware of but am not yet ready to assign a start date or due date to. I do this by using Trello in coordination with Todoist.  Here’s how:

  1. Any task, project, or idea that comes to me that does not have a due date or deadline is added to one of my Trello boards.
    • The Work Efforts board is for ideas and projects that will require a great level of work, likely including of sub-tasks.  Creating the newsletter is a good example of a Work Effort board item.
    • The Tasks board is for, you guessed it, tasks! Tasks are items that require a low to moderate level of time, and/or are low in complexity.
    • Book-specific boards (“Shift Series,” “Cloaked”) are for writing tasks that belong to each book or series board. Writing tasks, like writing the next part of Linking, are more complex than Tasks, but very different than Work Efforts. They deserve their own boards.
    • The Scheduled board is for tasks and work efforts that I have scheduled work for, assigned a due date to, or have begun working on. More on how I use that below.
  2. Every Monday, I review my Trello to determine what previously untouched items I should begin working on, if any. Or what items I should schedule with a concrete beginning date or deadline.
    • Yes, there is a recurring task in my Todoist that reminds me to check my Trello. The struggle is real, people. 😉
  3. Identified items get duplicated into Todoist (copy-paste) and assigned a due date, project, etc.  (Sub-tasks previously detailed within the card on Trello are created into individual tasks in Todoist, as applicable.)
    • The cards remain in Trello, assigned the same due date as is assigned in Todoist, and moved to the Scheduled board.

I’ve found that this system and process allows me to record all those cool “someday” ideas into a trusted system (Trello) without cluttering my task manager (Todoist).  If you like this idea, but don’t want to add another tool to your life, you could accomplish the same thing by adding “someday” ideas to your task manager without assigning them a due date.

So, how do you keep track of long-range tasks and projects? How do you activate them when it’s time to begin working on them?  Leave a comment and let me know!


Cool Tools: Get Automated

It’s time for another Cool Tools post, where I talk about systems and tools that make my life more productive!

Last time, I talked about my favorite task management solution, Todoist.  This time, I’m going to dive into a couple of tools that can help automate parts of your life, on and off the web.  These tools even hook into Todoist to supercharge your productivity, so it’s the perfect follow-up.

If you’re not familiar with online automation, your not alone.  When I first found these tools, I figured I was last to the party. They are so powerful and so easy, I was certain everyone must have already known about them.  But, as I started talking to friends–even my more tech-minded buddies–I realized that no: I wasn’t the last the party. A surprising number of people didn’t know the first thing about online automation, which means a fair few of you probably don’t know much about it either.  So, here you go:

“Automation services do one simple thing: they create cause and effect links between the various web services you use. Want to save every photo you’re tagged in on Facebook to your Dropbox account for safe keeping? Automation makes that happen behind the scenes, without you lifting a finger. If This Then That (IFTTT) has long been one of our favorites for this, but that doesn’t mean it’s the only game in town. Zapier is a similar service that’s been around for a while and largely aimed at business users and enterprise services.”

–Lifehacker.com | Automation Showdown: IFTTT vs. Zapier. vs. Microsoft Flow 

The ways to use these services are virtually endless–definitely too many to go into in any depth here, so I’ll talk about how I use IFTTT and Zapier to make my life easier. Hopefully, that will inspire you to poke around and see how one or both of these might be able to help you too!   Continue reading