(• Reading Time: 7 minutes •)
Let's cut to the chase. Shall we?
I don’t know who you are, but let me tell you this: if you’re struggling and feeling overwhelmed it’s because the process you have in place is failing you.
If you truly understand this, you'll know how to return back to a place of control anytime things blow up.
Before I show you the ‘how?’
I need to share a little bit of context so what you read from here on makes more sense. Overall, I cover 4 processes built over 5 years.
Before I got here, I seriously struggled with productivity. I knew life hacks here and there; and tried every tool under the sun including the popular ones:
- Evernote: Your notes. Organized. Effortless.
- Google Keep: Quickly capture what’s on your mind.
- One Note: The digital note-taking app for your devices.
- Any.Do: To do list app with Calendar, Planner & Reminders.
- Todoist: The to do list to organize work & life.
Oh and I tried Trello at least 3x because everyone swore it was the greatest app ever.
But I couldn’t stand it.
Every few months, I’d jump between apps.
Once in a while, I'd ditch digital and go all paper. But then forget my notebook at home or hate to carry it around because it couldn’t fit in my pocket.
Nothing worked - I still felt overwhelmed with tasks to complete.
But overtime, I learned that the best tool used with the wrong process feels like a failed tool.
So I shifted my approach to focus on processes. And it worked.
It doesn't matter what app you prefer to use, these four simple processes I share can be used in your favorite todo app. Mine happens to be Google Keep. But as you read through, I want you to replace “Google Keep” with “Todoist”, “One Note”, or whatever app you love the most.
Focus on the big picture of how things fit because this is the most important aspect of using any tool.
Let’s get to it!
1) Productivity begins with finding your single source of truth.
I use Google Keep as my single source of truth that feeds into other productivity tools. This means it’s my first stop.
First stop for capturing floating thoughts, grocery, ideating, journaling, workout plans, finances.
All of these have their own labels so capturing things usually takes a few taps on my phone or three clicks on a chrome tab that’s always open with Google Keep.
From there I move to Calendar for fixed appointments.
Then Trello for team tracking collaborations.
Next, I switch between Notes for personal writing or Google docs for collaborations. What’s interesting here is that most of my write ups start in Keep on my phone. Including this write-up.
When it starts getting longer I switch to my laptop and copy out the content from Google Keep web into Notes or Google Doc.
Any time it feels like I need special formatting or the itch to write in my favorite font, it’s a sign that I need to switch to a writing tool. Switching to another tool isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
But not many believe that.
If this is the only thing you put to action right away, you'll see a dramatic change. But if you miss this, you'll struggle with staying afloat when you start feeling overwhelmed.
2) Stop chasing, there's no everything app.
A lot of people try to hack Google Keep or their todo app to become a writing app, a collaboration tool, a calendar app, an EVERYTHING tool.
The fact is that no one tool will address everything.
I made this mistake for so long.
But you’re better off picking up a single source of truth and then building others around it.
- It’s fine to use Keep and Trello.
- It’s fine to have Notion and Notes.
- It’s fine to use a todo reminder and calendar.
One doesn’t have to replace the other. They can complement each other.
3) It's not paper OR digital; it's paper AND digital.
Once in a while I get the itch to write on paper. That feeling is especially strong when I’m planning big goals. I love to map out everything in front of me. And writing with my favorite pen keeps the ideas flowing.
In paper situations, I scribble all on paper then when I get done, I take a screenshot and add it under the relevant label in Keep. Example, if you saw my “big ideas” label you’d see a lot of screenshots in there.
I also do this when white-boarding with colleagues on a coding project or brainstorming sessions. Get done. Take picture. Add to label.
Then I trash the paper.
A screenshot I pulled from my Google Keep showing what I wrote while brainstorming on techniques from Behavioral Psychology for entrepreneurs to reduce their procrastination tendencies. Tough but exciting!
Multiple years of writing on paper has taught me that the paper I write on only feels good in the moment. A few weeks later and it looks like I’ve got paper trash all over the place.
So I screenshot and trash ASAP.
This process satisfies both my digital access to my planner (beats small notebooks any day). But it also lets me scratch my paper itch whenever it comes up.
I'm not loyal to only digital or only paper.
I'm more interested in what helps me reduce my overwhelming workload. And using both work well.
Some recommend Rocketbook (a smart notebook). If you prefer writing on paper to digital planning, then check it out. It is a reusable notebook that lets you write, upload to the cloud, and then wipe the page clean! I’ve never used it but wanted to highlight this in case you find it useful.
4) Your time management tools only work if you have a review routine.
Every morning on weekdays I go through my Keep on my laptop to see things that should be top of mind that day.
This is key to proactively prevent me from getting to a place where I feel overwhelmed with tasks because too many things slipped through.
During the day, I add things to Keep either from my phone or laptop. The cycle continues until Friday.
Every Friday, I go through my Keep to clean up any tasks that fell through or that should move into other tools. Then repeat.
Pause for a moment
Think about what you’ve read so far.
You’ll notice that they sound simplistic.
Each of these four parts are only minor tweaks by themselves. Yet combining all of them together transformed how I got on top of things.
You can achieve this type of change too if you follow the principles here.
Remember, the process I shared can work with any tool. It covers 4 parts:
- You need a single source of truth: You should choose a tool as your single source of truth then other tools can feed from it. E.g. use Keep as single source of truth, calendar for appointments, Trello for team collaboration, etc.
- Forget about looking for an everything app: don’t worry about finding the ONE perfect app that does everything. There’s no such tool. E.g. A tool may have all the features you want but offline sync could be slow.
- You can still use paper: write on paper, take a picture, store it in your digital note. Then trash the paper.
- Finally, routines: slowly create a routine to review things in your single source of truth.
Thanks for reading
I enjoy writing for working professionals and small startups to re-focus on what matters. Not just finish busy work.