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9 Wonderful Ways to Get Started in the World of Personal Productivity

9 Wonderful Ways to Get Started in the World of Personal Productivity

    One day, an innocent worker goes online and decides to see if there are any tips out in the big wide world on getting more done, more quickly, more often. But soon, the poor sod becomes entangled in a complicated trail of information; a few quadzillion blogs on the subject, millions of books, and a whole lot of fancy terms like “ubiquitous capture” and strange rituals such as weekly reviews and inbox processing.

    It’s easy to get lost in the world of personal productivity. It’s hard to get started, and we get that. It’s a jungle of information and not all of it makes sense, and a whole lot of it is in direct conflict: do you go the Inbox Zero approach (that is, clearing out your inbox completely in regular processing sessions), or use Gmail with labels and let things sit in your inbox, with older messages found with the assistance of search?

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    All of this conflicting information makes it tempting to find one person’s philosophy and latch onto it religiously. I mean, check out the Getting Things Done fanclub. But just because all of that information is conflicting doesn’t mean it’s all useless; there’s a lot of excellent advice and the tough part is in forming a basic understanding of personal productivity and developing your own basic system, a framework with which to process that avalanche of words.

    Here you’ll find a few of the blogs and books you should read to get a grip on it all, if you’re serious about getting this part of your life under control. For the most part I recommend starting with the books to get a good overall idea rather than the piece-by-piece approach of blogs, with one exception I’ll mention in a moment.

    Blogs

    There are many great blogs on the subject out there; I read many more than those listed below, but it would be unwise to overload you with new sites when we’re trying to help you find out what’s what. Here are some of the best blogs to get started with.

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    Lifehack — I’d probably be out of a job if I didn’t recommend Lifehack to you in this list, eh? But I don’t do it for the sake of the Overlords. Lifehack provides a whole bunch of great information and helps hundreds of thousands of people get their productivity under control.

    Now for that exception I was talking about: a few months ago, our own Dustin Wax started the Back to Basics series. This is honestly one of the best concise overviews of the whole personal productivity thing I know of and I’ve stopped recommending books as one’s first foray into this area. They’re in second place. Now, I recommend this excellent series, which you can get into here.

    Lifehacker — Often confused with Lifehack thanks to the difference of only a syllable in name, Lifehacker is actually quite a different site. It’s filled with a stream of tips, tricks and software recommendations that can help you make life a little bit easier. Very cool site if you want information in bite-sized chunks (at least most of the time).

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    Zen Habits — Leo Babauta, a former Lifehack contributor, runs Zen Habits, a site that discusses all sorts of things in all areas of personal development. His productivity advice is sound and his writing is engaging. If you like thoughtful, useful advice, this is a great site to read.

    Put Things Off — When I first came across Put Things Off, I admit that it was the funky images in Nick’s Inbox Heaven piece that pulled me in. No surprises that the guy is a graphic designer by day and a productivity guru by night. But the advice is not only good reading and practical, the author is funny as all hell. There’s no more comedic way to get productivity advice out there.

    43 Folders — 43 Folders was one of the pioneers in the productivity blogging sphere, and to this day many people getting started flock to Merlin Mann’s Inbox Zero and Making Time to Make pieces as starting points and foundational items in their systems. The writing is engaging and very often, it’s immediately practicable.

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    Books

    Just as with blogs, there are plenty of excellent books on the subject of personal productivity. However, a limited list of some of the best to get started with will be much more useful than a list of every great book that ever existed. If you have other books in your “Must Read” list, let us know in the comments.

    Getting Things Done — Many would consider Getting Things Done the book on personal productivity principles. It offers a great system and is so influential that many people who’ve never even read the back cover of the book are implementing concepts and techniques discussed in it.

    The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People — Where Getting Things Done’s focus is more on systems and methods, Stephen Covey’s book focuses more on principles and habits that make you more effective and productive. Seven Habits and Getting Things Done are well-known as “the” productivity books, and it’s probably because their focuses compliment each other well while being great books in their own right.

    4 Hour Work Week — this book by Tim Ferriss is one of the most recent popular books on productivity topics and talks about a whole range of things from outsourcing to firewalling incoming information. It’s definitely a must-read that is very relevant to the times we live in.

    Zen to Done — I’ve heard this ebook described as Getting Things Done without the complication; as you’d imagine from a book with the word “Zen” in the name, it’s about getting things done with simplicity. It’s a short and readable ebook with a great price and is definitely worth the penny. It’s not short on info just because it’s an ebook, but it doesn’t inflate and pad out information to meet some editor’s word count. If you’re looking for a book you can get in and out of quickly, grab this one.

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    Last Updated on April 8, 2019

    22 Tips for Effective Deadlines

    22 Tips for Effective Deadlines

    Unless you’re infinitely rich or prepared to rack up major debt, you need to budget your income. Setting limits on how much you are willing to spend helps control expenses. But what about your time? Do you budget your time or spend it carelessly?

    Deadlines are the chronological equivalent of a budget. By setting aside a portion of time to complete a task, goal or project in advance you avoid over-spending. Deadlines can be helpful but they can also be a source of frustration if set improperly. Here are some tips for making deadlines work:

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    1. Use Parkinson’s Law – Parkinson’s Law states that tasks expand to fill the time given to them. By setting a strict deadline in advance you can cut off this expansion and focus on what is most important.
    2. Timebox – Set small deadlines of 60-90 minutes to work on a specific task. After the time is up you finish. This cuts procrastinating and forces you to use your time wisely.
    3. 80/20 – The Pareto Principle suggests that 80% of the value is contained in 20% of the input. Apply this rule to projects to focus on that critical 20% first and fill out the other 80% if you still have time.
    4. Project VS Deadline – The more flexible your project, the stricter your deadline. If a task has relatively little flexibility in completion a softer deadline will keep you sane. If the task can grow easily, keep a tight deadline to prevent waste.
    5. Break it Down – Any deadline over one day should be broken down into smaller units. Long deadlines fail to motivate if they aren’t applied to manageable units.
    6. Hofstadter’s Law – Basically this law states that it always takes longer than you think. A rule I’ve heard in software development is to double the time you think you need. Then add six months. Be patient and give yourself ample time for complex projects.
    7. Backwards Planning – Set the deadline first and then decide how you will achieve it. This approach is great when choices are abundant and projects could go on indefinitely.
    8. Prototype – If you are attempting something new, test out smaller versions of a project to help you decide on a final deadline. Write a 10 page e-book before your 300 page novel or try to increase your income by 10% before aiming to double it.
    9. Find the Weak Link – Figure out what could ruin your plans and accomplish it first. Knowing the unknown can help you format your deadlines.
    10. No Robot Deadlines – Robots can work without sleep, relaxation or distractions. You aren’t a robot. Don’t schedule your deadline with the expectation you can work sixteen hour days to complete it. Deathmarches aren’t healthy.
    11. Get Feedback – Get a realistic picture from people working with you. Giving impossible deadlines to contractors or employees will only build resentment.
    12. Continuous Planning – If you use a backwards planning model, you need to constantly be updating plans to fit your deadline. This means making cuts, additions or refinements so the project will fit into the expected timeframe.
    13. Mark Excess Baggage – Identify areas of a task or project that will be ignored if time grows short. What e-mails will you have to delete if it takes too long to empty your inbox? What features will your product lack if you need a rapid finish?
    14. Review – For deadlines over a month long take a weekly review to track your progress. This will help you identify methods you can use to speed up work and help you plan more efficiently for the future.
    15. Find Shortcuts – Almost any task or project has shortcuts you can use to save time. Is there a premade library you can use instead of building your own functions? An autoresponder to answer similar e-mails? An expert you can call to help solve a problem?
    16. Churn then Polish – Set a strict deadline for basic completion and then set a more comfortable deadline to enhance and polish afterwards. Often churning out the basics of a task quickly will require no more polishing afterwards than doing it slowly.
    17. Reminders – Post reminders of your deadlines everywhere. Creating a sense of urgency with your deadlines is necessary to keep them from getting pushed aside by distractions.
    18. Forward Planning – Not mutually exclusive with backwards planning, this involves planning the details of a project out before setting a deadline. Great for achieving clarity about what you are trying to accomplish before making arbitrary time limits.
    19. Set a Timer – Get one that beeps. Somehow the countdown of a timer appears more realistic for a ninety minute timebox than just glancing at your clock.
    20. Write them Down – Any deadline over a few hours needs to be written down. Otherwise it is an inclination not a goal. Having written deadlines makes them more tangible than internal decisions alone.
    21. Cheap/Fast/Good – Ben Casnocha in My Start Up Life mentions that you can have only have two of the three. Pick two of the cheap/fast/good dimensions before starting a project to help you prioritize.
    22. Be Patient – Using a deadline may seem to be the complete opposite of patience. But being patient with inflexible tasks is necessary to focus on their completion. The paradox is that the more patient you are, the more you can focus. The more you can focus the quicker the results will come!

    Featured photo credit: Estée Janssens via unsplash.com

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