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I would like to tell you about my personal productivity system and get your opinion, since I think it could be enhanced, but right now I do not know how would I do it.

Ok, so I have all information about different projects in paper but mostly on the computer (Macbook pro using OS X Lion). The main information sources I use on my laptop are;

  1. freemind mind maps: I use one mindmap per project. I work constantly with them tracking next actions to do, information organized, etc

  2. emails: using Mail.app in OS X Lion, I use a different mailbox for each project, where I track necessary actions to perform for each project. Messages to process are flagged as unread, and important emails to answer with a red flag.

  3. folders and files: each project uses a folder under the main "work" folder, where I place all the necessary files for each project

  4. calendar: I use iCal. There are some weekly events. For each day, I put in advance, without any order an previously, all actions I think need to be performed that day. When the day arrives. I move and arrange tasks, more or less one hour per task. The non-urgent or non-priority tasks are displaced to the next day.

  5. task managers: every time an idea or something that needs to be done comes to my mind and does not belong to a specific project, I write it into the inbox of Wunderlist. Later, I try to organize them into different contexts, at_home, at_ipad, free_time, and so on

  6. paper system: I use different folders for different information related to the different projects, which is only available in paper form, or for which I have written down some scribbles or similar. In the mind maps of the projects, concrete nodes are associated to thus physical paper information units.

So my main daily work review (the first things I do at the beginning of the day, and which take around 45 min for me) is:

  • a) I think about what I did wrong yesterday and write those things down. Repeated things get one point more, and so on. So things with a high score mean that I should really be serius about them and find a solution soon.
  • b) Mail check; first I go to the "sent email" folder and assign a blue flag to the emails I consider are important to get an answer. Then I empty my inbox folder; emails that take less than two minutes to answer are instantly processed. The rest, which need more time, are put into their specific project mailbox and conserving the unread flag. Finally, I have three review mailboxes; daily review, weekly review and monthly review. During the day, I move there emails which are not relevant to be answered at the moment. Depending on the importance, urgency and other factors, are put into one or another mailbox.
  • c) iCal planning: I check things that need to be done that day (phone calls, meetings, etc) and the ones that need to be done at a specific time, are thus moved. The others are moved following the criteria; the more important, the sooner to do. The easier the later.
  • d) I check and organize tasks in Wunderkit
  • e) I clean and organize my paper system

Ok, I think this is enough. After this I start to work in 50 minutes block. During this time I switch off email alerts and twitter and close the door, so I can clearly focus about what I am doing. My system works bot badly at the moment but I think it can improved; after this daily check I feel like I have burned a lot of energy and I start the rest of the day sometimes a bit tired. But from the other side, if all the things have been successfully managed, I feel very well and can commit with a lot of energy for the rest of the day.

What is then your opinion about my system and how do you think I could improve it?

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Say a little more about item "a)". How do you approach it and what kind of things do you note? What benefit do you get out of it? I'd hope it's a positive, constructive process. –  eflat Feb 8 '12 at 23:06
    
I will try to explain this with an example. Let's say that at the end of Monday I write down; Facebook (1), Soccer results (1). On Tuesday do the same and get; News (1), Facebook (2). At the end of the week I get; Facebook (5), News (1), Soccer (1), etc. So it means that I have to pay special attention and to consider Facebook as an enemy of my productivity since I spend way much time using it. –  flow Feb 8 '12 at 23:15
    
What kind of things should I do about this? It depends, but at least, write these things down in my list of "dangerous elements" –  flow Feb 8 '12 at 23:16
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I'm not sure how manage to get most of your stuff into one hour increments. That seems a little strange. Often to hit my stride and optimal working pace (im a software engineer) it will be like 4 hours of straight coding on one project. Maybe this applies to you and will help. :) –  m4tt1mus Feb 17 '12 at 19:06
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3 Answers

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+50

Well, this looks a lot more organized than many people manage, so you are in a very good spot to start with.

At the same time, looking at it from the point of view of GTD, you seem to have WAY TOO MANY next action lists. In FreeMind, in Email, in TaskTracking tools, in Calendar, etc.

I think - if you need all those locations - I would switch to thinking of them as Project Support places. That is they contain the relevant material for review, but all the actions are moved into one place.

So, if you label your email like your mind-map like your folder like your project in Todo System, you have the coherence. Then, all your actions are in one place and you just need to add them as they come (from emails, etc) or to do them.

Avoid touching emails twice before you work on them (when they come, when you go flag them), just extract actions when you see them, put them on TODO list and move emails to the project folder. When you will get to that item to actually do it, you can then refer to the email for greater details (or hopefully avoid even that).

Also, putting todo items on calendar is not very useful, unless they absolutely have to be done that day or if the calendar is a trigger when you get reminded of the action and then it gets done or goes onto your TODO list (tickler).

I think this will reduce the time you need every day to manage items to much-smaller more-contextual periods. You can some of the saved time and energy to do weekly review to bring everything completely back up-to-date.

I would also ask yourself of the consequences of missing a deadline on something. Is the sky going to come down or you will just be running late a bit (think matrix of Fast/Slow consequences * Big/Small consequences). If there is a bit of a headroom for mistakes, you can afford to significantly speed up your routines by allowing small items to fall between the crack and catching up with them on weekly reviews. So, an item may be due and on todo, but not noticed among many other todos. Weekly review will catch that and allow you to assign it a real date or push a priority up.

The actual execution seems to be a derivative of Pomodoro style, which looks fine to me (I am not there yet myself to comment).

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thanks for the comments. I agree with you about a unique place for the next actions, I am still trying to get it through. I also agree completely about the calendar and I am going to change that. the problem is; if I have 4 hours left and I have to work on 5 projects, how can I control how much time I allocate to them? with the calendar this is easy, just blocks of 45min or so, but with a list, it is not clear to me –  flow Feb 15 '12 at 14:54
    
about the deadline thing you mention and the fast/slow matrix, could you please provide more information= I am really interested in that! –  flow Feb 15 '12 at 14:54
    
The matrix comes from a book called Political Savvy (politicalsavvy.com - ignore the awful website colours, the book is amazing). With the time allocation, do you actually get the time you blocked or you get interrupted? If you get interrupted and have to shift stuff around anyway, it may not be worth it beyond the normal Pomodoros. –  Alexandre Rafalovitch Feb 16 '12 at 4:06
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I think whatever system works for you will work for you - It might help us to know what type of work you do as well so we can adjust our answers to fit...

freemind mind maps: I use one mindmap per project. I work constantly with them tracking next actions to do, information organized, etc

This is really interesting for me because I use mindmaps in a very different way - I'd be really interested in some sort of example in how you track next actions this way...

emails: using Mail.app in OS X Lion, I use a different mailbox for each project, where I track necessary actions to perform for each project. Messages to process are flagged as unread, and important emails to answer with a red flag.

This raises a warning from me - the problem with 'flagging' messages is that it takes your brain a couple of seconds of thought to reassess how you need to respond to the email - a lot of people (myself included) might suggest filing the email and adding the next action of, for example 'tell steve you can't work tuesday' - and that's if it just needs a reply, if it needs work I'd add a next action to do the work and (maybe, do a quick reply to say that you've made a note and when you expect to get back to them).

calendar: I use iCal. There are some weekly events. For each day, I put in advance, without any order an previously, all actions I think need to be performed that day. When the day arrives. I move and arrange tasks, more or less one hour per task. The non-urgent or non-priority tasks are displaced to the next day.

The GTD approach would to have all of the tasks that can be done on 'any day' as next actions - and that your calendar should only be for tasks that have to happen on a particular day (I use mine for tasks that can't happen before a particular day (such as 'ask how operation went')

task managers: every time an idea or something that needs to be done comes to my mind and does not belong to a specific project, I write it into the inbox of Wunderlist. Later, I try to organize them into different contexts, at_home, at_ipad, free_time, and so on

Sounds great!

EDIT - about time I did the second half of this... So my main daily work review (the first things I do at the beginning of the day, and which take around 45 min for me) is:

So as other posters have noted, 45 minutes is quite a long time for a daily review (spending, what I roughly imagine is about 10% of your day on just this overhead), and at a particularly vital time.

a) I think about what I did wrong yesterday and write those things down. Repeated things get one point more, and so on. So things with a

high score mean that I should really be serius about them and find a solution soon. Interesting approach - well done if you have the discipline to keep doing this, that on it's own is worthwhile. Careful about 'soon'... that's a bit of a get-out clause... I might be inclined to set some rules here - things like "if something is above '3' I'll give $10 to a charity I don't like", or if it's facebook is above 5 I'll close my account"

b) Mail check; first I go to the "sent email" folder and assign a blue flag to the emails I consider are important to get an answer.

Worthwhile - although that works best if all emails are equally urgent - otherwise you just keep scanning a list of things - I used to do this, but I found that reviewing project lists was much more effective (I still review sent emails once a week, but I find project lists and things like setting calendar events to badger people much more effective)

Then I empty my inbox folder; emails that take less than two minutes to answer are instantly processed. The rest, which need more time, are put into their specific project mailbox and conserving the unread flag. Finally, I have three review mailboxes; daily review, weekly review and monthly review. During the day, I move there emails which are not relevant to be answered at the moment. Depending on the importance, urgency and other factors, are put into one or another mailbox.

I might suggest that inbox processing is one of those things that's better at the end of the day when you are already low on energy - plus it means that those people who are on different timezone or who are working late already have their answer while you are sleeping :)

c) iCal planning: I check things that need to be done that day (phone calls, meetings, etc) and the ones that need to be done at a

specific time, are thus moved. The others are moved following the criteria; the more important, the sooner to do. The easier the later.

This sounds like you must move certain tasks (less important, less fun to do) many times before you get time/space to deal with them. That moving must have a certain energy cost - I would recommend just having one complete list, sorted by priority, and then you can save your ical for tasks that can only be done on one particular day.

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Ok, so I work in research, computational chemistry, to be more exact. If I can somehow get your email address, I will send you one of my emails for "Freemind", but basically, central node is the name of the project, then some main nodes "Info", which details objectives, where to look for more information in my working system, etc, then "Tasks" where the different subnodes correspond to clearly defined tasks that need to be done, and the last main node is "process" with subnodes with different info/task which need ne processed or what do be done with them, whether info or tasks, or delete,etc –  flow Feb 8 '12 at 23:18
    
as for your question about "paper pieces", they are linked to mindmaps –  flow Feb 8 '12 at 23:19
    
I agree completely about your idea of calendar only for time defined actions –  flow Feb 8 '12 at 23:20
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Well your implementation is more or less similar to mine. There is a very big difference. I do not devote the initial 45 minutes to work review. This 45 minutes in itself is a big work and get fatigue if I go through this process.

I review the work done during the day and next day work in the evening. I mentally prepare the work I need to do first thing in the next morning. This way I achieved a lot in the morning hours.

I do a serious review only once in a week. My daily review takes about 5-6 minutes only. I uses RTM. All email which needs times are emailed to my RTM account.

Daily tracking is pen based. I uses one of the template of David Seah for http://davidseah.com for tracking time usage. I print the template and make a monthly diary.

Keeping everything on line has its own advantage and disadvantage. I prefer a mixture of both.

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Could you tell me which things you do in your 5-6 minutes review? thanks –  flow Feb 7 '12 at 7:29
    
I go through my RTM List. It is very easy to organize. I try to complete the task set for the day. Basically I believe in just one list. More than one, I get confused.. Hence I do not do any planning even on outlook. RTM is the first and last tool. –  Natwar Lath Feb 7 '12 at 8:10
    
do you think you could substitute RTM by Wunderlist? –  flow Feb 7 '12 at 17:56
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will not prefer to try.. This is again a never ending process. There are more such apps than may be you have tasks in your lists. What ever works for you is great. –  Natwar Lath Feb 8 '12 at 1:50
    
Whuch david shea templatedo you use? –  flow Feb 19 '12 at 23:19
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