How I run a blog, started a business and work a full time job all at once
I’m going to be talking about productivity today.
I’m going to cover:
- My work flow and how I manage tasks
- My daily routine
- Apps and tools I use
- The way I attack tasks
Over the past few years, I’ve worked my ass off at a lot of different things, and the key to it all has been my Evernote workflow. It’s how I manage my whole life.
Every week, I get shit done. I have to. Here’s some of what I have on:
- CMO for a startup called Speedlancer
- Founder of Creatomic (blog, agency, product dev lab)
- Publishing up to 5,000 words a week
- Writing a book
- Consultant for a financial services firm
- Trying to beat Tomb Raider
- Keeping in touch with my Mum, my 6 brothers and my social life.
That adds up to a massive number of commitments. And to stay on top of all this, I’ve developed a way to work, over the past few years, that keeps me focused and accomplished without wasting time or blowing anything.
Before I get into it though, I want to be clear. What I do might not work for you. There is no golden key to productivity, and this is pretty specifically designed to match my workflow and my personality.
If you want to yell at me because you don’t like productivity posts…
That being said…I hope you find it useful :)
The backbone of my productivity is Evernote. It’s an app I’ve been using for about seven or eight years now. It’s my personal favourite note taking app, and I’ve used ’em all — OneNote, Simple Note, Google Keep, Apple Notes etc. Evernote keeps me coming back because, pure and simple, it just fucking works.
Collect, nurture, and share ideas across desktop and mobile platforms with Evernote. Your thoughts are always with you…evernote.com
It does what it needs to, when it needs to, without drama. Sure it might not be the best option for everyone, and there’s a lot of things I’d change, but I wouldn’t make a move without it.
Here’s what I need for a productivity system.
It has to be easy to manage.
For me, the biggest obstacle to using any kind of workflow, process or system, is that if it’s complicated or difficult to use, I’ll drop out fast and I’ll lose track of it. That’s not good.
It has to be flexible enough to work with all my commitments.
As the range of work that I do is pretty fucking broad, and the variety of stuff that has to get done is growing all the time, it can’t be the perfect system for any one area of my life. I’ve got to be able to manage family info alongside business plans and unit economic worksheets.
It has to be constantly evolving and changing with my tasks.
I need to have freedom to do fucking everything with it, all the time. It can’t be set in stone, it can’t be perfect, it has to work and work consistently.
This is based on an approach to Evernote called The Secret Weapon:
From the time we are small, we are given tasks to perform, starting with "make your bed," "clean your room," "take out…www.thesecretweapon.org
It was developed by the team at Braintoniq and it works an absolute charm.
The Set Up
I have a Notebook called Inbox. Everything that comes into my little world, whether it’s a note, a reminder, a task that needs to be done, an interesting article, it all gets thrown into Inbox.
I have an integration set up with my Gmail that automatically forwards any emails that I Star into my Evernote Inbox.
At the start of every single day, I go into my Inbox and sort through my tasks. I add a “.” tag to each note that assigns it to one of my open projects (example — “.Creatomic”) and an “@” tag that says who it applies to (example — “@Emily”).
Depending on whether the item has due date, I may or may not add a an automated Reminder to it.
Once that’s done, I’ll move into a notebook called Action Pending and assign a Priority tag:
Things that will be worked on today, or should be at the top of my mind today. Tasks that should get done etc. These apply across all projects and areas of my life.
Things that are important and should be done soon but don’t necessarily need to be done straight away.
Example: Publish a blog post
Things that aren’t crucial, would be nice to get done, but don’t really have a pressing priority just yet.
Example: Clean out my CRM
The lowest priority of active tasks.
Example: Buy a going away present for a friend next month
Mostly just ideas and tasks that could eventually happen.
Example: Startup ideas I don’t have time for right now
Any task in any project of any priority that can’t be accomplished due to incomplete information or waiting on someone else. Tasks are added to this tag throughout my day.
How my day works in action…
- When my day begins, I sort through my email inbox, often on my phone in the shower (thank God for my Note 7). It takes about 10 minutes, and I’ll Star any important emails so they wind up in my Evernote Inbox. Then I’ll go through the Evernote Inbox and sort everything as above.
- I sit down for a quiet 5 minutes to think through my commitments — no phone, no laptop, nothing but me and my weirdo brain and a cup of tea or coffee or my latest obsession..Dirty Chai. I use this time to sort out my worries, projects, panic points etc.
- After that, I’ll go through 2-Next and decide if anything should be moved into 1-Now and 3-Soon to decide if anything should be moved into 2-Next.
- I’ll start work for the day in my 1-Now priority tag, moving through my to do list in order of hardest to easiest. I prefer to get the worst shit done ASAP and leave the easy stuff for the end of the day.
- If a task is not able to be completed because I’m waiting on something, I’ll shift it to the 6-Waiting tag.
- Every time a task is completed, I remove all tags and pass it into a notebook called Completed.
- Throughout the day, if I find an article or something interesting that I want to read, I assign a tag called Read/Review.
- At the end of my day, I’ll review the 6-Waiting tag and make sure that I have the info I need to keep working on the task.
- I’ll then go through 2-Next and 3-Soon and work out what needs to be reprioritised.
- To round everything out, I do a brain dump. This happens either in Evernote or on a physical notepad, and I get anything I’m worried about or nervous about out of my head and onto a page or screen so I can stop thinking about them and enjoy myself.
That last point is actually super important. It’s fucked up not to spend time with the people you love. We try and sit down for meals together as often as possible, or cook dinner together while listening to our favorite records and drinking wine. It’s…nice :)
It also helps me remember that no amount of productivity means shit if you aren’t enjoying your life.
How I attack individual tasks
I work through my tasks first using the “4 D’s”
According to the OECD Better Life Index, the United States ranks ninth from the bottom among advanced nations in the…blog.hubspot.com
If I task must be done by me, it gets done. I’ll go into that note, break down the individual items into a check list and attack them one by one. I use a Burst approach, where I set a 15 minute timer, get stuck into a task, and then evaluate when that 15 minutes is up.
Here’s my rule. Does a task need my voice (either in person or in text) for it to be completed? If it doesn’t, it can probably be delegated, either to a freelancer, a contact, or an employee. That’s not a hard and fast rule — there’s a lot of stuff that just generally require my personal attention — but it’s a cool default position.
If it needs me to do it, and I don’t have time, or it needs to be delegated and I don’t have the resource, I’ll delay it. First by one week, to be re-evaluated when I get there.
If it’s not important enough for me to Do or Delegate, then guess what. It’s not important. I’ll delete these tasks pretty ruthlessly, and shoot off an email to any stakeholders saying this exactly.
I don’t feel bad about sending this email, because it’s an honest way of telling people that what they want done can’t be done — rather than going on to disappoint them.
Hey, unfortunately ( Task ) can’t be a priority at this stage.
I’d be happy to circle back on it, but not for the next fortnight.
I’ll leave that with you.
Thanks for your understanding!
How I deal with “people” tasks
“People” tasks means podcast interviews, meetings, consulting sessions, anything that must be done in person. These can sometimes derail me, because they can’t be done on the fly and they have to happen in real time.
I have a rule that I book these in only 3 time periods.
- Early morning, between 7:45 and 8:30 AM
- Midday, between 1:00 and 2:00 PM
- Wrap up, between 6:00 and 7:00
If people aren’t able to work around those three slots, I’m usually not able to chat with them. The few times I’ve gone outside of them have normally left me feeling pretty wiped out, or they’ve done the unthinkable — and crossed over into my family/personal time.
Important! This is how I imagine myself when I use this workflow:
Final notes ‘n stuff
- I do pay for an Evernote premium subscription. For me, the added benefits of context, smarter search etc. are just worth it.
- You could do this whole set up in most free apps with no real drama. You could do it in a goddamn word doc if you wanted.
Some other tools I use ~a lot:
Google Drive is a free way to keep your files backed up and easy to reach from any phone, tablet, or computer. Start…accounts.google.com
All office work goes in here. All files. Everything but the kitchen syncs (get it?)
Insightly is the easy, powerful and affordable online Customer Relationship & Project Management Software used by over…www.insightly.com
Awesome CRM that I use to track all Creatomic clients, contacts, etc.
Feedly connects you to the information and knowledge you care about. We help you get more out of you work, education…feedly.com
Where I read most of the content I actively give a shit about.
So that’s how I stay on top of shit.
Like I said, it’s not going to work for everyone. Some people reading this are going to hate me for being organised (not sure why, but every time I mention productivity I get at least one threat of violence in my inbox) but I hope the rest of you got something out of it.
I think the key lesson is that you’ll always need to find a way to make your productivity and your work happen around your personality, around something that makes sense for you.
Let me know your thoughts, I’d love to hear them! :)
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Jon Westenberg is a weirdo who still watches Duck Dodgers at age 27.