How to Be Productive and Organized

I’ve always been interested in how to get stuff done. If you’re organized and working towards the things you think are important, you’re probably a happier person for it—and I prefer being happy over the alternatives. In addition, most of our jobs involves working with other people and no one likes to be the person who is constantly dropping the ball—and, trust me, no one likes that person either.

I’ve read pretty much every productivity self-help book under sun, bought the corresponding expensive software, and tried to implement their “system.”

In my experience, they’re all worth it, but they’re also completely unnecessary. You can probably stay organized and on top of things with the notepad application on your phone and a sheet of copy paper in your back pocket.

  1. Do one thing at a time. Multitasking sucks; don’t do it.
  2. Write down everything. In productivity circles, this is called “ubiquitous capture”. Basically, your brain is for thinking, not for storing information. The second something pops into your head, write it down, record a voice memo, sketch a heiroglyph—whatever works for you.
  3. Have an inbox. Make sure you have a place for things that you need to deal with to go and hang out and until you get around to organizing them. Have as many inboxes as your need, but as few as you can get away with.
  4. Keep a list of big amorphous projects. Keep a list of all the projects going on in your life. Look at it every so often to make sure one of your projects isn’t getting moldy in the back of your refrigerator. Some examples: “write the Great American Novel”, “buy a house”, and “finish loose ends on the Henderson account.” These are not things you can just sit down and do, but they are also things you don’t want to fall off your radar. It’s probably fair to split this into long-term and short-term projects for the sake of your self-esteem.
  5. Keep a list of little doable tasks. This list is inspired by the point above. It’s the canonical to-do list we all know and love. It doesn’t matter how you organize this list. You can be as fancy as you’d like. Just make sure you’re not spending more time managing the things on your list than you are—you know—doing them.
  6. Keep an even shorter list of tasks you intend to do today. List out your three most important tasks for the day. Do them. Three is more than enough; don’t try to be a hero.
  7. Do the most odious, dreadful task first. Identify the thing you want to do the least and just get it out of the way. For me, this usually involves the telephone.
  8. Eliminate. Cut down of the amount of stuff you have to manage.
  9. Automate. Cut down of the amount of stuff you have to manage.
  10. Everything should have a place. But, try not to have too many places. I don’t think there is anything wrong with having an “everything box” that you search occasionally when you need something. Evernote is fine, but I just use the file system in Mac OS X.