Do you ever sit and your desk and not know what to do, or even worse, you now what you “should” be doing but can’t bare to face it. If you’re using a so called To Do List, then your problems may well be stemming from that. Take this blog for example… I haven’t posted on here for over a year. For a blog that I’m hoping to establish an audience for, that’s pretty rubbish. Since deleting my todo list (which incidentally, has had a task of “Write post for alexleigh.org” on it for over a year as well), I’m writing this very post…. Crazy!
I used to have a Todo list until very recently, and I thought it was something that was really useful to have, but now I realise that rather than aiding my productivity, it was actually hindering it, in a big, big way. There wasn’t a problem with the software I was using, as for a todo list, it was actually very good (it was called Todoist if you’re interested). The problem was the actual concept of a todo list. It was as if my brain was rejecting the whole concept, and either I tried to ignore it or didn’t really realise it. I mean, how can a todo list get in the way of getting things done?! Surely it helps to have a list of all your tasks, no matter how many you have?….
If you’re anything like me, you’ve got so many things that you could do, that you could easily fill several sheets of paper with them, even with the smallest writing. I used to write any task or idea that came into my head on my todo list, and although it was nicely ordered into projects and categories, it was still a huge list. What’s worse is that some of the tasks had about 20 sub tasks within them or more, that simply weren’t listed.
That about sums it up. The todo list was at some level making me feel completely overwhelmed, and I couldn’t concentrate properly on important tasks to hand. Some of the tasks on the list were as vague as “Improve SEO for site xyz”… How am I supposed to sit down, accomplish that and tick it off!?… Exactly, I’m not and the fact that some of the “single” tasks were each a mini project in themselves was overwhelming my little brain.
Here’s what I did: I deleted my todo list.
That’s right, I know it seems drastic and the last thing you should ever do, but trust me, the feeling of liberation that comes with it and the associated space in your head it frees up for creativity is incredible. Suddenly, I wasn’t feeling overwhelmed. Suddenly, I knew what I needed to do and more importantly what I felt like doing at the time. All that information was in my head and I could just get on with it. However, before you delete your list, like me, you should probably make a note of the important things which were on it for reference purposes….
This is where Evernote comes in. Spend some time moving your todo list into Evernote. Do it however feels best for you. You could put all the tasks into one big note and remove the dross as you go, or you could create separate notebooks for each category, etc.
Don’t think of Evernote as a todo list. It’s an offload area for your brain and is there for reference purposes, should you need it in the future. These notes should be used when you need them, not as a starting point for the day ahead.
If you download the Evernote clipper extension for Chrome/Firefox, not only can you clip entire web pages straight into evernote, but you will also see search results from your evernote “brain” whenever you search google for something. So you don’t even need to think about searching evernote for some snippet of information you may have archived months (or years) ago!
Think of Evernote as your external brain, and use it as much as possible. From thinking of an idea, to saving an article to read in the future. Throw it all in there and rely on Evernote’s search function to retrieve it, should you ever need it.
So What Do I Do Now?
Liberating my mind allowed me the instantly be able to focus on real tasks at hand, rather than an outdated set of “wish list” items from my to do list. There were items on that list which although may have been a great idea when I thought of them, were now pretty useless. But yet, they were sitting as “Priority 1″ items and were creating a block in my mind to concentrate on the things which really mattered. I couldn’t concentrate on the things I needed to do, because my “ToDo” list was telling me I “needed” to do something else. This created a stalemate situation.
It’s probably useful however to have a very highly focussed task list of things which need to be taken care of immediately. This is where your inbox (even if you have many of them like me) and followup.cc comes into play.
Clear Your Inbox
I know this sounds hard, but trust me, Followup.cc makes it a whole lot easier. It allows you to send away emails or set reminders in emails you send which then come back into your inbox when you’re ready to do them. Although many, many people say that you should leave your inbox alone to maximise productivity, this approach is slightly different, and for me, a lot better.
Instead of leaving your emails to sit in your inbox and become another mind block, you need to clear your inbox. Anything that doesn’t need your attention, archive it. Anything that needs to be dealt with, deal with it, now. Anything that can be deferred, forward it to followup.cc with the date/time you want to deal with it and then archive the message. The email will then come back into your inbox at the date you specify and until that point, you don’t need to think about it again… hence, removing the block in your mind.
Followup.cc is also great for making sure you followup on emails. When you send an email to someone simply BCC in firstname.lastname@example.org and you’ll be reminded in 2 days to follow up on that email by followup.cc. Because you placed it in the BCC box, the recipient won’t know anything about it… unless you choose to add email@example.com into your CC box; in which case you’ll both be reminded!
If you have multiple email accounts you need to deal with then use a email client such as Postbox. Postbox allows you to group your emails under different “headers” and makes managing your emails much easier. Once you’ve grouped all your accounts together, just use the same principle with followup.cc to clear them. You can add as many email addresses to followup.cc as you like, so it’s ideal for this.
For any recurring tasks that you have use Hassle Me or Resnooze. Hassle Me allows you to setup unpredictable reminders, which adds a sense of randomness to your tasks (useful if you’re like me and don’t like the thought of knowing that you need to do a task at a specific time on a specific date) and Resnooze allows you to set specific times and dates for when it’s essential to do so.
This allows you to use your inbox as the central hub for your work and makes sure you have a highly focussed task list.
Keep it Clear
Make sure that you keep your inbox clear and stay away from any sort of to do list. Use Evernote to make notes whereever possible, and use them as a reference when required – this frees up your brain for more important, creative processes.
If you want to keep a log of what you’re achieving then I Done This is a superb service that emails you every day at a specified time and simply asks you what you’ve done. All you need to do is reply and it’ll log it in a calendar. It will also send you random reminders of what you may have done on a day in the past, which can be quite curious and may even spark to you go off on a different creative tangent. This link allows you to sign up for a free account, which they don’t publicise any more!
So that’s it. My inspiration for this came from Ari’s Less Doing course, which is an amazing eye opener, and if you’re interested in outsourcing your work and finding some more detail on systems like this, then you should definitely give it a go. You can currently pick it up on AppSumo for $25, which also gives you 2 months of followup.cc professional for free…. absolute winner.
And if you’re interested, this post took me about an hour to write. Given that I’ve been delaying writing a new post for this site for over a year, that’s some pretty solid proof that this works!
If you’ve got any questions, improvement suggestions or ideas, I’d love to hear them. So don’t hesitate to comment below.