Self-Management Tools To Boost Your Personal Growth, Quickly

Recently I interviewed several tech leads — CTOs & VPs of Engineering — including Julien Moutte, Terry Wong, Dominik Raute, Ashkan Roshanayi, Roderick Ruhl, Sander Nagtegaal, Garry Reck, Claudio Caballero, Stefan Schneider, Marcel Dumont, Matthew Bachelor and Josef Nevoral to figure out what their best practices are and which tools they use.

Also, I’ve read a gazillion of articles & books about personal productivity, experimented with lots of tools and adopted the following best practices and self-management tools.

I challenge you to adopt some of those and create your own system #self-management system to boost your personal growth.

Document Management System

It’s essential to have a good system in place, so I experimented with the following document systems to help me stay organized:

  • Evernote: 👎❌ it’s obsolete, the Mac version is like from the 1990s. Sharing and tables suck.
  • OneNote: 👎 👎❌ I experimented with it for 2–3 weeks, transferred several documents from Evernote, it looks fancy, but sharing & commenting just doesn’t work. Ah, Microsoft, Microsoft! :-/
  • Google Docs: 👎❌ I use it at work, but don’t like for self-management. The file structure and doc linking is far from great.
  • Dropbox Paper: 👎❌ I use it for some less important documents (while in Beta), it doesn’t have an offline mode, otherwise OK.
  • Quip: 👍👍👍✅ The best tool out there. No kidding. I’m migrating all my docs from Evernote, OneNote, and Paper. Quip is killing it. The document management, collaboration, and in-app chat are flawless. See an example folder:
Document management in Quip

Personal Growth Roadmap

In software development, each release has its version. Even though we improve gradually and are not “released,” I like to think about the milestones in my life this way. It helps me visualize myself in the version 2.0, 3.0 and 4.0 👴

Read from Tomas Laboutka how to plan & achieve long-term goals with You v2.0.

And this is my public commitment to achieve all these goals! :-)

My personal Growth Roadmap and versions to be “released” soon.

Fitness Goals

All my fitness goals & recent actuals are in one table, split into three categories:

  1. Strength (bodyweight only, no iron pulling!)
  2. Cardio (#running)
  3. Flexibility & Mobility (#yoga)

For the strength exercises, I follow Convict Conditioning scale from Coach Paul Wade. He was in prison for many years; that’s why the book’s name.

My fitness goals for the next biennium (Strength, cardio & flexibility)

Further reading

Calendar & Reminders

Similarly, as with the document systems (Evernote, OneNote, Google Docs, Paper, Quip), I also experimented with several different calendars.

Eventually, I purchased Fantastical2. It’s by far the best calendar I’ve ever used. 💡 Pro-tip: do not buy it from Mac’s App Store — you cannot have the 30-day trial. Instead, download it from their website and give it a try first.

Some of the killer features include well done daily agenda, reminders, and flawless (!) synchronization. It would deserve its blog post (ping me if you’d like to know more).

I started using the reminders (yellow on the screenshot below) and cannot imagine my world without them anymore 👴

Further reading

A screenshot of Fantastical2. Expensive, but IMHO totally worth.

Productivity Goals with RescueTime

RescueTime allows me to keep track of my daily/weekly productivity, set goals and get notifications after some thresholds are met.

RescueTime has a great dashboard showing details, not just about the productivity, but also the distracting tools.

I keep track of the following limits via RescueTime:

My daily productivity goals tracked and evaluated by RescueTime.

Habit Forming & Tracking

Everything is easier with habits. I found waking up at 5 am to exercise very challenging until it had become a habit. Same with the meditation, daily routine, etc.

Again, I experimented with several habit tracking apps and stick to the Way Of Life (WOL). I consider it the best one — need to pay, but it’s worth it.

Habit tracking with “Way of Life” iOS app (WOL)

My daily habits include:

  • Get up at 5:05 am or earlier (changed from 5:30 am)
  • Do not hit snooze (negative behavior to avoid)
  • Workout (strength or running or flexibility yoga)
  • Stretch for 10 minutes or more
  • Meditation session with Headspace
  • Listen to one or more podcasts
  • Morning planning (identify MITs)
  • Read a book for 30 minutes or more
  • Read articles for 20 minutes or more
  • Give feedback
  • Deliberate practice > Speedreading
  • Evening reflection & daily journal
  • Finish all MITs
  • Walk 7,000 steps or more

Further reading

Morning MIT planning

Every morning before I start working on tasks, I identify 3 MITs (Most Important Tasks) for the day. I put them on a paper and keep on my desk. The goal for the day is clear: to get done all 3 MITs.

I build a habit and keep track of it in the WOL.

Further reading

Meditation

Christina Congleton claims in her article Mindfulness Can Change Your Brain that mindfulness should no longer be considered a “nice-to-have” for executives, but rather a “must-have!”

In the morning, just after my exercise & stretching, I meditate for 10 minutes with Headspace. After 50+ sessions, I can only recommend it.

I build a habit to meditate in the morning and keep track of it in the WOL.

Headspace iOS app. Left: a list of sessions. Right: a list of series to choose from.

Further sources:

RSS via Feedly

I tried several RSS feeds and considered Feedly the best one out there. The premium features cost $7 / month. Highlights:

  • Pocket integration
  • Sortly — a great Chrome plugin to sort articles by popularity
RSS feeds organized in different categories in Feedly

Articles In My Pocket

When I find an article I want to read later, I put it in Pocket and attach one of the labels. It helps me focus on one area and read multiple articles about similar topics.

I build a habit to read a few articles every day and keep track of it in the WOL.

Email Newsletter Subscriptions

I subscribe by email only to the publications that A) offer personalized content which cannot be delivered via RSS or B) require a subscription to read several articles (e.g. HBR.org). The rest goes through RSS feed.

Speed Reading

One of my goals is to read 100 books per year (= 2 per week). To get there, I need to increase my reading speed from 230 words per minute (wpm) to 800 wpm.

A book has on average 50,000 words. With 800 wpm I could finish one book withing one-two hours with the same comprehension as today. That’s tempting! I’ll keep you posted about the progress.

I build a habit to practice speed reading and keep track of it in the WOL.

Tools / apps

  • Acceleread (iOS) — a great app to practice speed reading. Within a month I increased from 230 wpm to 312 wpm.
  • Outread (iOS) — an app which connects to Pocket, pulls articles and serves them to you with highlighted words to practice speed reading.
  • Schultz Tables (iOS) — a simple, yet powerful app which expands one’s field of view and as a result the rate of reading should increase.
  • Spritz / Rapid Reader / Readsy— I’m only experimenting with these, cannot recommend them yet.

Further reading

From the left: Acceleread, Outread and Schultz Tables.

Queue Of The Books To Read — Goodreads

I’m an avid book reader since my childhood. My ideal Sunday afternoon could be described by these keywords: a book, Kindle, coffee, armchair, garden, kids sleeping 👴

I use Goodreads to keep track of all the books in my backlog — see the to-read list on Goodreads and follow me to get more tips.

My goal is to read one book per week. I order the list by rating, pick the one with the highest rating, read it and repeat.

I build a habit of reading every morning and keep track of it in the WOL.

My reading queue. Order by rating descending.

Podcasts

I listen to podcasts during my 60–90 min exercise. With increased listening speed (1.5x), I listen to 2–3 or more podcasts per day, seven days a week.

The native iOS app is good, no need for anything fancier.

I build a habit of listening to podcasts every morning and keep track of it in the WOL.

Podcast backlog

I like to organize the podcast “backlog”, too. I pick one, listen to all past episodes (i.e. Developer Tea had 200+ episodes), then I move to another podcast.

In a Quip’s document, I have a running list of podcasts I completed and a backlog of podcasts to listen.

My favorite podcasts

  • Killer Innovations: Ex-CTO of Hewlett-Packard maintains his podcast for 12 years.
  • Developer Tea: Jonathan Cutrell started his podcast with episodes shorter than 20 minutes.
  • The 20 min VC: The host, Harry Stabbings, started his podcast at the age of 19 (!) and got to know all the prominent VCs. He chose an interesting approach: the interviewee needs to recommend and introduce another VC.

Some of my other favorite podcasts include Performance enhancing podcast, Exponential Wisdom, and others. It would deserve its blog post — if you’d like, please let me know in comments.

Music

Focused attention is our most precious resource. Focus@Will is an online service which offers background audio designed to improve mental focus. I use it almost daily when I need to focus on something important at work.

Noisli is a similar service with a little different purpose. It allows me to mix different sounds and create a perfect environment, i.e. I created my own “Loud & noisy coffee” stream which I listen to while I’m reading. It helps me read without distractions.

Further reading

Weekly Planning & Retrospective

My usual weekly routine is pretty straightforward:

  1. Planning on Monday morning
  2. Retrospective on Friday evening
Weekly planning (Monday) and retrospective (Friday)

Daily retrospective

My daily routine is quite straightforward, too:

  1. Planning in the morning (MITs — see above)
  2. Retrospective in the evening

Further reading

Daily routine (morning & evening)

Below is a template I have saved in Quip and duplicate daily during my evening retrospective.

A template (in Quip) for the regular evening retrospective.

Give Feedback To People Around

I wrote an article about the importance of giving feedback recently, so I challenge myself to give at least one feedback every business day.

I build a habit and keep track of it in the Way Of Life.

💡 Bonus Tip

Install Grammarly, it will help you with English. I’m improving mine even while writing this blog post!

Grammarly is fixing my grammar mistakes. (Thanks!)

❓ What’s next?

It’s essential for our future to learn and grow personally. Look at every day as an opportunity to learn more and get better.

  1. Pick 1–3 new habits to adopt and start today (tomorrow latest)
  2. Download the apps mentioned above (Quip, WOL, Pocket, Feedly, Noisli, Grammarly, Focus at Will, Headspace)
  3. Create a list of podcasts you want to listen to (at least 2–3 to start with)
  4. Create a list of books you want to read (at least 5–10 to start with)
  5. Start evaluating your days during the evening retrospective

📈 Keep growing and have fun!


Disclaimer:

I’m not involved in any of the products & services mentioned in this article. There are no affiliate links. I genuinely recommend the tools I use daily, without any benefit.


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