Become a Productivity Powerhouse!: Create new productivity habits that work for you

productivity notebook ipad

Trends in productivity come and go just as trends do in fashion or in blogging. Not only do our personal productivity habits change, but so does the general viewpoint on techniques at large. Take multitasking, for example: one minute multitasking is lauded as the way to survive in the modern, technological world, and the next it’s being condemned as ineffective as well as bad for us. Do I multitask? Yes. Did I once sing its praises? You betcha. Do I sometimes lament how multitasking kills my efficiency? Yes, that too.

The key is, in productivity, just as most areas of life, everything in moderation. Sending an email while brushing your teeth every now and then isn’t going to turn you into some soul-sucking, non-productivity robot who screws up the most basic of tasks because of your trying to do two things at once. What matters is how you make your productivity habits work for you.

After five years of post secondary schooling, I was confident that I had my productivity routines mapped for maximum results. Always a morning person, I would wake by seven and have a cup of coffee, while reading through my blog feed; go to class and work on papers in between breaks (while I scarfed down a chocolate chip bagel); I’d draft some blog posts when I had a spare minute; rush off to print things before my evening class in the computer lab; nights were reserved for paper power-writing; and I’d get up the next morning to do it all again. It worked for me then, but alas, things have changed.

I’m no longer a college student, and at the most basic level, my routine has changed. I don’t have endless downtime in between classes. I don’t have a flexible schedule and weekdays off to run errands. While I cherish the predictability of knowing that I will work every day at the same time, it also means that I have to fight the rest of the world in line at the supermarket on Saturdays. I’ve fought to keep my old productivity habits, misguidedly thinking, “They worked for me before!”, but the truth of the matter is that they just don’t anymore. My schedule has changed, what I need from my productivity routine has changed, and I need to change my habits to reflect these new goals.

While I would’ve liked to put off my Giant Productivity Overhaul until summer, where I could sit down and build it from the ground up “properly”, I simply didn’t have the time. I needed a change pronto and doing it in the moment, while not the most elegant, was a necessity. A lot of these have grown out of my new role as a teacher, and help to keep me sane while at work, with the added bonus of trickling into my personal habits as well.

Set a Schedule

I teach three sections of 10th grade English before my 45-minute long prep period, and afterward I teach two sections of AP Literature and Composition. As much as I want to walk in the door in the morning and work on what I need to for AP, it doesn’t make sense when that’s not what’s first on my plate. And so I save my AP work for my prep period and schedule 10th grade-related tasks for my morning prep time. It’s hard to compartmentalize my thoughts, but I try to press pause on all things AP unless they’re an absolute necessity.

Likewise, when it comes to blogging, I try to schedule my time so I know what I should be working on and when. If thirteen tasks are laid out in front of me from to blog posts to partnerships, newsletters to NovelTea, I get overwhelmed and start to shut down. Instead, I schedule. Thursdays are NovelTea days, since I need to queue the discussions questions for Friday anyway. The weekend is for catching up on reading and filming/editing YouTube videos, and so on.

Your homework: Set a “schedule” for your tasks too by planning what tasks you plan to tackle on which days. Are Sundays your cleaning day? If you work from home, dedicate your mornings to creating new blog content, and your afternoons to site maintenance (including maintaining relationships and commenting on other blogs, etc.).

Revisit Your To-Do List

I used to have fifteen different to-do lists that all basically said the same thing. These days I still have multiple lists, but they’re much more organized: one is for work, and one is for personal/home-related tasks.

But the organization doesn’t end there.

My lists are then split into two: bigger, long-term projects, and small, short-term tasks. With the help of Strange & Charmed’s weekly layout for my Filofax, I have a space to name my top three tasks each day, which helps to keep me focused on the most important things that I need to accomplish.

On the other hand, with my limited down-time at work, I also have a need for little things that need to be done at a particular time. I have to make copies for the afternoon class’s lesson. I have to email a parent. I have to input the grades for the last assignment. I have to go pick up more staples from the supply room. They’re not the most important things I have to do, but they still need done even though they aren’t “big picture”.

Your homework: Revamp your own to-do lists, making a short- and long-term list, or split your current list into work and home, or home and blog.

Combine Tasks

Multitasking might be the proverbial productivity devil, but I still find it beneficial when used correctly. Trying to respond to an email while in a lecture, for instance, doesn’t let you devote your brain to both tasks very well, since they’re both pretty involved processes. Keep your combined tasks simple. Rather than do two things that require you to listen intently and respond, do things that are easier to pair and less involved.

My weekly ritual is to do the ironing while catching up on my DVRed television shows (or, in last week’s case, the Oscars). I call my dad on my way home from work. I’ll bake cookies while marathoning Frasier on Netflix. Kill two birds with one stone when you can. Just make sure you can do both and aren’t trying to multitask the impossible.

Your homework: List two tasks that you can combine that won’t break your concentration.

Set a Space

Having my own desk once again reinforced what I already knew: I need a space that is not home in which to work. Even when I’m in my home office, the temptation of video games in the next room or string cheese downstairs in the fridge leaves me feeling distracted. With a set workspace, however, I simply get stuff done.

That said, rather than bring work home I stay after an extra hour or so to get done what I need to, and save the little tasks that I know I can manage for home.

This works great in combination with the “combine tasks” idea above; if I know I’m meeting a friend for a sushi date after work, there’s no point in driving home the opposite direction just to turn around an hour later. By staying at work, I’m rolling with the work-groove I already established that day, and don’t have to interrupt my already productive self.

Your homework: Where is your ideal workspace? Do you have to go elsewhere, like a coffee shop, to get work done? Or does your home office suffice? How can you organize your home work space to make it more distraction free?

Seize the Little Moments

When all else fails, my personal mantra is to “seize the little moments”. Years spent commuting to school left me with many a spare moment on campus in which I would find a power outlet, plug in my computer, and get to work. Nowadays, smartphones make working on virtually anything while on the go easy as pie, but the notion relies on you taking advantage of those in-between moments!

Five or ten minutes may not seem like much, but I’ve learned as a teacher that sometimes that’s all you have! Certainly, I could sit and twiddle my thumbs until my next class walks in the door, but it’s amazing what you can actually get done in a short amount of time (and it doesn’t require running around like a maniac, believe it or not!)

Sometimes I find myself with ten minutes left after lunch, and use the time to fire off a quick email to the office, or print off a student paper in my inbox. Commercial breaks are perfect for running around the room with a Swiffer duster, or packing my lunch for the next day.I’ll even bring my laptop down to the copier to get some work done while waiting for my 65 packets on MLA citation to print out.

Little moments are everywhere, and if you can get one thing crossed off of your to-do list, it’s time well spent.

Your homework: Think of one thing you can do in the next commercial break, or the next time your in the waiting room at the dentist.

Other Helpful Tips

  • Prioritize: Prioritizing is still important. Organized to-do lists mean nothing to me if I’m picking up aforementioned staples when I should be inputting grades because THEY’RE DUE IN TWO HOURS!
  • Do It Now: Why put off something that will take you a few minutes to do? I’ve been operating under The Two-minute Rule myself: if it’s something I can do in under two minutes, I do it. Right then and there, no questions asked. Empty the dishwasher. Unpack my lunch bag. Hang up my clothes from the day. Even send that quick, “Thanks but no thanks” email. In the grand scheme of things, most tasks don’t take that long and procrastinating just wastes more time that you don’t have.
  • Create a landing zone: Or in my case, a clipboard. I put all of the handouts, answer keys, passes, etc. that I’ll need for the day on one clipboard. The clipboard is portable for the days that my classes end up in the library, and also keeps all shapes and sizes of paper in one place. This way I’m not wasting time digging around for those three papers I need to pass back to absent students, or search for my sticky note of things that we need to do today. Maybe you use a tray on your desk, or create a landing zone or pile of ‘Things To Get Done’, but make it easily accessible and go through it often to keep it up to date.
  • Make it a party. A fellow teacher-friend and I make plans to head to the local coffee shop once a weekend and spend an hour or two working on upcoming lessons in each other’s company. Not only do we get to bounce ideas off of one another, but we get the added bonus of looking like doofuses if we waste away work time by playing dumb games in a public space. And there are croissants. Always croissants. It’s nice to have a buddy to run questions past, and it’s also nice to have a designated work space and concrete timeframe set. We don’t want to be holed up in Starbucks all day, so we’ll set a goal to have ‘x’ done by the time we leave, and hold one another accountable. Don’t forget to reward yourself for a session well-spent with a cookie or chai latte to go!

I’ve created new habits, I’ve revised some old ones, I’ve discovered some small tips, and I’ve found a new groove that allows me to maximize my efficiency and get stuff done when I need to. Finding a system that works for you can be a tough process of trial-and-error, but I hope this guide will give you some ideas of habits you can adopt to make yourself that much more productive (and feel like you’ve gained an extra hour in your day! Isn’t that what we all want?)

How have you maximized your productivity? Share your tips with us in the comments!

How to Organize Virtually Anything with Evernote

Evernote app
Finding an app to organize your entire life sounds like an inconceivable task. Yet, dare I say, I think I’ve found the perfect one? Enter Evernote; I’ve been an avid user of the app for at least the past year, and often find myself wondering how I managed to live without it. As far as resources go, I’d be willing to put Evernote up there with the Oxford English Dictionary on the “inanimate objects that I would marry” list.

But would you believe I hated Evernote for a solid 6 months at first?

The Golden Rule

Before I became an Evernote addict, I had trouble using the app in my everyday routine, and frankly, it was just hard to get into period. And then my mother shared some sage advice that has not only converted me, but completely transformed the way I use Evernote. That advice?

The more stuff you put in there, the better it works.

Sounds counterintuitive, right? Aren’t I trying to simplify and minimize? More stuff, more notes, more clippings just screamed clutter! to me. But oh-ho, was she right.

The more I saved and clipped things to Evernote, the better it worked for me. And that’s just it – Evernote works for you, so you don’t have to.

Evernote app
 

For Blogging

I’ve created notebooks for my main post series, including “For the Love of a Linguaphile” (which includes notes with words for future posts) and just a general notebook where I brainstorm ideas for potential posts or days when I’m having writer’s block.

“Link Love” is a different story; with Evernote’s web clipper I’m able to quickly bookmark links I find throughout the week and save them all in one notebook. On Saturday, I’ll sit down and open up all the links to write my post, without having to hunt for my bookmarks or save the whole page as an article!

Sponsor information is easily stored so I have the information of all of my sponsors for the month, including web addresses, emails, and answers to sponsorship highlight post questions. Rather than going back and forth between documents and Blogger, I find it easier to make Evernote my sponsor “workbook”

I also keep a notebook full of resources for editing graphics, writing about page blurbs, and the like.

Evernote app
 

For Life

Did you know you can add checkboxes to tick off as you complete a task on your to do list? Now if I need to make a trip to Target, I can jot my shopping list down before I leave and check off the things I add to my cart.

Meal planning is made easy with a file that I’ve saved as a shortcut to my home screen. I map out the lunches I need to pack for the week, and dinners I have planned. Plus, I’m able to link to the recipes for gathering my grocery list or for when it comes time to start cooking.

My mother and I share a notebook where we save all of our township’s information, such as utility companies and contact information, important phone numbers, recycling collection dates, and even library hours. We always have access to our community resources, whether we’re at home or on the go!

For Your Career

My career use of Evernote is two-fold. First, I have a notebook titled “Professional” which holds all sorts of career resources such as resume tips, interview etiquette, and company information. Whether I save cover letters that I’ve written myself, or use the web clipper tool to save helpful articles to refer back to, my “Professional” folder has become a goldmine of information tailored to my job hunt needs (not to mention, bookmarking a bunch of handy, but not immediately needed articles can get messy).

I’ve also begun two separate notebooks for my portfolios: one for teaching, one for writing. I’ve saved everything from emergency substitute lesson plans to questions I might pose in a paper workshop, and am currently in the process of compiling my own teaching portfolio to highlight lesson plans that I’ve created during student teaching.

My “Writing” portfolio allows me quick access to standout articles that I’ve written when I need to send in writing samples, or just want to see my personal growth over the years.

Evernote
 

For Collaborations

Some of my Literature friends and I have started brainstorming ideas for a side project, and Evernote is the best place for us to plan, compile our thoughts, and share ideas. We all have access to view and edit the files, and can keep working at our own pace while seeing what the others are creating at the same time.

Some Final Tips

Organize your notebooks and notes in a way that makes sense for you. Not everyone has the same purpose or goals with their Evernote use, and that’s perfectly fine. As much as I like seeing how others organize their lives, not every setup suits my needs. It’s more important to be able to find the information you need in a pinch than have layers upon layers of notebooks meticulously buried inside of one another for the sake of “organization”.

Create a habit. Evernote has a ton of great features like a web clipper and keyboard shortcuts to make incorporating it into your routine easy as pie.

Condense. I know I said the more the merrier when it comes to Evernote, but combine notes when you can to save yourself an organizational nightmare. For instance, I don’t have nearly enough notes about my car to warrant an entire, dedicated notebook, so I’ve just made a general “car” note in my personal notebook to keep information about my latest inspection, oil information, etc.

Maintain your files! Just because my mother told me to PUT ALL OF THE THINGS! in Evernote doesn’t mean my notebooks don’t need an occasional spring cleaning.

Evernote’s blog has some great ideas for using the app, from new product information to how real people are using Evernote to get stuff done!

What’s your favorite way to use Evernote?

5 Apps and Extensions to Stay Organized and Productive


I first considered titling this post “Why I Need A To-Do List To Remind Me To Take A Shower”, but not only is it a bit of a mouthful, I can only begin to imagine the bizarre Google search results that would spur. If we’re being totally honest, though, some days I’ve got so much on my plate that I would forget to take a shower if a reminder weren’t glaring back at me from my illuminated phone screen.

I’m not shy about declaring my love of lists; listing itself is something that is so ingrained in my daily routine that I’m constantly creating to-do lists or checklists to keep myself on track. Sure I may have ornately doodled bulleted reminders to myself in the margins of every scrap of paper I get my hands on, but hey, if it works for you…

Today I’m sharing how I plan my day using lists, and the apps I utilize to make sure that I stay on task and productive. The one thing I’ve discovered in my journey to make the most of my time is that there’s no single, magically great system that works for everyone. It’s different for everyone! It’s the same reason I get so discouraged with paper planners – the setup and organization don’t necessarily fit my needs. These are just some ideas based on how I stay organized; it may not work for you, but hopefully you get some ideas that you can modify to better fit your needs!

Any.do

  • Daily to-do lists
  • Short-term tasks
  • Everyday activities

Part of why I liked the now-paid TeuxDeux so much was that I could have access to an easily editable daily to-do list. Any.do stepped up to the plate and took over that role in a pretty seamless transition (though it did take me a few days of forgetting to turn off the sound when I completed task; a very cute high-pitched voice yells congratulatory things at you, which tends to freak people out when you’re in public. And make me jump). I don’t use the Upcoming/Someday feature much, as I prefer to give tasks some sort of time frame (I find the next app, Wunderlist, better for those sorts of things), but Any.do is my go-to for making a daily to-do list. Shower? Check. Write paper? Check. Stop for cupcakes? Super check.

Wunderlist

  • Project organization
  • Breaking down large projects into smaller tasks
  • Long-term task overview

Wunderlist tends to be more project friendly, or so I’ve found. If I can split a goal or project into multiple parts or need to visualize all of my tasks over a given period of time, the hefty checkboxes and extreme categorization of Wunderlist does the trick. Take a new school term, for instance. Under a heading called “class” (or one separate category for each class, if I’m feeling real wild) I’ll make a list of all of the projects and assignments I have for that term – from papers to lesson plans, exams, even weekly homework assignments. I plug in the due dates if I have them, mainly just to have all of the information there for easy access, but it’s mainly to keep a list of what’s due so I don’t forget anything.

Multiple step projects also benefit from Wunderlist; “decorate the office” doesn’t really have a concrete deadline to make it to my Google Calendar, but definitely isn’t of high enough importance to make it to my to-do list for the next two days. Into Wunderlist you go, decorating dreams!

Google Calendar

  • Long-term planning
  • Visualizing due dates
  • Syncing schedules
  • Remembering where you need to be, and at what time

Sometimes, seeing dates and events on a calendar happens to be the most useful. Just typing in “April 22nd” on a project checklist doesn’t help me squat. Cue Google Calendar. I can visually see upcoming due dates, which really puts my whole month into perspective for me. Coupled with color coding (a calendar for class-related events, including lecture times and meetings; one for my personal calendar, etc.) and Google Calendar is my best friend for planning anything and everything. I don’t put vague tasks on there, like “workout” and issue a concrete time (7-8:00 am – that sounds much too inflexible, and besides, that’s what my Any.do is for!), but long-term events and deadlines are there so I have a constant reminder at the beginning of the week or month.

Evernote

  • Specialized lists (shopping, blog post planning, etc.)
  • Bookmarking information
  • Digital note-keeping

I would be remiss to not mention Evernote when I talk about how I organize the things I reference and use every day. Back when I had first heard about it, I didn’t understand what all of the hubbub was about. Okay, so you can save notes – big deal. My mother actually started preaching the joys of Evernote to me on a fairly regular basis at about this time, so I gave Evernote another chance.

Evernote works wonders for any kind of information you want to hold on to (think Pinterest for non-pictures). I’ve used it to create a digital notebook for the important phone numbers and utility information in our new township; I’ve got a running list of blog post ideas for dry spells; our weekly meal plan is in there; and I’ve even got my shopping list, with pictures and links to all of the closet essentials I’ve been meaning to buy (categorized by type, of course). Evernote: 1 Kristin: owes Evernote an apology.

I recently read that the more stuff you put into Evernote, the more useful it is (as counterintuitive as this sounds at first, I gave it a go and think the sheer amount of stuff I keep in it helps me make the most of it; seriously, try it).

Pocket

  • Bookmarking articles
  • Filtering through Feedly

I don’t always have the time to read every single article that comes through Feedly, especially if they’re long, so Pocket is great for keeping a running tab of things I need to get to for my own reading pleasure.

Pocket can easily become a time trap (you know, the kind where you start off with nice, focused intentions only to emerge 6 hours later with no clear recollection of what you’ve been doing all that time) if you don’t keep it in check. For me, that means bookmarking articles that I want to read for later, but don’t necessarily have to act on (ie. reply to, comment on, etc.), but it’s different for everyone. This is how I go through a lot of informational articles, again, that I just want to read. If the article or link is a potential candidate for a Link Love post, or a post I want to leave a comment on, that happens elsewhere, or else my Pocket gets out of control.

Bonus: Filofax
My Filofax hasn’t been neglected, never you fear. I must admit, I’m not the best at keeping it up to date, nor is it always the sticker-filled, doodled-in, Pinterest-worthy piece of art that some Filofax diehards revel in. But hey, it’s color-coded. And having a physical planner looks much classier at an event than whipping out your phone. Even when said planner is hot pink. With 3D cupcake stickers on it. True story.

How do you stay organized an on-task throughout the day?