Daily Routines in a Distracted World

Doodle published The Productivity Book in November 2015. It’s a collection of interviews that they conducted with 30 productivity consultants from around the world.

All interviewees were asked questions about their work days and best practices they follow to increase productivity. There were some common habits that most of the interviewees followed, such as waking up early and getting the most important task done first thing in the morning. Most of them also swore by some kind of morning exercise regimen and getting enough sleep.

Some of the questions revolved around the apps that they used to help stay productive through the day. So I thought that this was an interesting data set to ask the question: Do the majority of productivity experts use to-do lists, or do they prefer scheduling all their tasks in their calendar?

Figure 1: Number of interviewees using to-do lists and calendars

As it turned out, the majority used both (see Figure 1) . They worked through a list of tasks and goals and they also specified which task they were going to be attacking at any given time of the day. Fewer used only a schedule to get their tasks done and even fewer used only a to-do list.

So the to-do list vs. calendar debate may be a false dichotomy. We need both to be efficient. Of course, this book only looked at people who worked as time management consultants. I expect this pattern to be different for other professions. I know that programmers can’t always assign specific blocks of time to specific tasks. Each task may throw up challenges in the course of work that have to be solved before moving on to the next task. So using both to-do lists and calendars only works if your tasks are independent of one another.

Figure 2: Most popular apps used by the interviewees

The single most popular productivity app in this survey was Evernote (see Figure 2). But even this was used by less than half the interviewees. Several folks used other similar apps such as Audio Note Taker, Desk.pm, Drafts, Dragon, Noteshelf and OneNote.

Figure 3: Diversity of apps in each category

To-do lists and calendar apps had the greatest variety (see Figure 3). The thirty interviewees used ten different to-do list apps and nine different calendar apps.

A pattern emerges from studying the schedules of these productivity experts. Most of them swear by these three rules to get their work done:

1. Have a task list

2. Move your tasks into your calendar

3. Prepare for every day on the previous evening, so you know exactly what your first task is going to be

I follow this sometimes. When a deadline has to be met, I schedule the associated tasks into my calendar. This way I know that I have enough time to complete a job to my satisfaction, while also ensuring that I don’t spend too long on it.

What are some of your go-to productivity tips?