Your Productivity Starter Pack
3 Simple Strategies to Stay Organized & Get Shit Done
A Passion For Productivity
I’m into efficient systems. I’ve led company training sessions on emails, calendar management, time saving tricks, follow ups, agendas, project planning, and more. My closet has been color coordinated since age 9. One of my favorite gifts is my “Get Shit Done” mug.
I love trying out new tips or strategies and iterating my approach. After a decade in tech startups and many decades as a type A nerd, here are the top 3 strategies I use to stay productive and organized.
3 Simple Strategies To Stay Organized
1. Inbox as a To-do List
Shout out to the original efficiency guru TJ Gephart who taught me this one – Inbox as a To-do List for the win!
How It Works
If it’s in your inbox, you need to take action on it.
Once you’ve taken action, archive the email.
If you haven’t done the thing, keep it in your inbox.
Ta-da! Your inbox has become your to-do list.
Why I Love It
One source of truth. I don’t check my to-do app, planner, calendar, email, notebook, spreadsheet, and project tool to find out what’s going on. I go to one place for all my action items. And I go to that place all the time anyway!
Clear inbox. Full brain. Can’t lose (track of it). Once you archive an email, you can find it if you need it. But it’s not taking up physical or mental space in your inbox. Brain power is preserved for things that need it.
Only 11 emails. 1 is going to be archived. 10 items left that need to be reviewed, followed up on, or serve as reminders.
Want to track a non-email item? Send yourself an email.
Send follow up emails with next steps. It’s helpful to meeting attendees and now you’ve got the action items in your inbox.
Use calendar reminder emails for meeting follow up. I get email alerts for any meetings on my calendar. That email stays in my inbox until I’ve sent a thank you, made the intro, or sent the article from that meeting.
Snooze. If I don’t know how to respond to something or am not yet ready to make a decision, I kick the can a few hours or days with Snooze. Sometimes I’ll have an email-as-a-reminder about a longer term project. If I can’t get to it this week or month, Snooze that thing for 30 days. It’s not taking up headspace but you know you won’t forget!
If you don’t know what Snooze or Archive is, switch to Gmail!
2. Calendar Blocks
How It Works
I block time on my calendar for projects or any non-meeting work that takes >15 min.
Why I Love It
Visual understanding and accountability for my to-do list!
Realistically plan what can get done and when
Helps you make time for important “deep work” things like writing or presentations
Example calendar that’s mix of “real” meetings and time blocks for priority projects.
Plan for 2x more time than you think on any given project or task. Humans are beautifully optimistic. We always think it’s going to be easy and we’ll go fast. This is true .0001% of the time. Give yourself more buffer than you think.
Use your calendar to set expectations and manage workload. Because you see your availability on your calendar, you can easily clarify timelines and priorities:
“I am committed to other projects this week but should be able to get to this next week.”
“I was planning on completing ABC today. Should I swap that to prioritize XYZ instead?”
3. Sticky Notes
Going old school, non-tech for the last one. Stay with me!
How It Works
I keep high priority items on a sticky note next to my laptop.
When I get sucked into the vortex of Slack/email/internet memes, the paper note outside the digital black hole helps me refocus on that day’s must-do items.
“Must-dos” can range from 5 - 7 small items or 1 big one.
How It Works (Personal Variation)
For my personal life, I have a 3-item to-do list.
ONLY 3 ITEMS ALLOWED!
Complete an item? Yay! I get to add a new item.
An urgent item came up? That’s cool. I’ll take something else off for now.
If I see 12 things, I get overwhelmed and do nothing. With 3 items, I pick one and get started.
Gee. I wonder what’s important today?
Splurge and get the Post-It brand sticky notes. Knock off brands don’t stick well. (I have some off brand ones you’re welcome to try if you don’t believe me...)
If you’re worried about not remembering your “other” to-dos, feel free to keep a master list. I like the fluid, organic process of identifying my personal to-dos as they come up, but it can relieve stress to have a place to jot items down.
BONUS: Tech Recs
Other Tools I Use
Google Drive: Docs, Spreadsheets, Slides, Forms
Google Keep: Lightweight note-keeping - similar to Evernote. I use it for collaborative lists with my family (shopping, packing, house projects) or saving random thoughts.
Tools My Productive Friends Use
I don’t personally use these but trusted sources speak highly of them.
Todoist - task tracking
Google Tasks - within Gmail interface, seamless syncing across GSuite
Superhuman - clean, fast email interface
Things - task tracking app
Getting Things Done - a classic how-to-stay-organized book
How Do You Stay Organized?
Organization and productivity is never one size fits all. The right system varies based on your personality, job, company culture, tech stack, daily workflow, and more.
What tools or systems work for you?