I used to be a big time paper planner snob. I mean, I don’t think I’ve ever been so particular about my preferences related to any other type of product.
Before a new year I’d spend hours researching, obsessing over must-have features and scanning Kickstarter with the hope of discovering an all-powerful agenda to rock my world.
It was a whole freaking ordeal. A freaking ordeal that was my top priority as a college student, at home and bored over winter break.
Now, though? Ain’t nobody got time for that.
And honestly, most of us don’t even have the brainpower to spend on that sort of stuff. We’ve got emails and notifications and all kinds of stuff coming at us 24/7. So your “personal productivity system” (aka how you keep track of stuff to get done and schedule time to get it done) should help you see through the brain fog. Not add to it or become a distraction from it.
That’s why, a few years ago, I swapped my paper planner for a simpler system.
In this post, I’ll share exactly how I keep track of
- My to-do list
- Projects and goals
- Habits I’m trying to stick with
- Random ideas (I get a ton of those)
- Miscellaneous thoughts that seem super important when they pop into my head, etc.
And how I do this using two free apps on my phone.
If you’re flipping out right now because you CANNOT PLAN WITHOUT PUTTING PEN TO PAPER!!!…relax….I get you. I’m the only person I know who always has a notebook and pencil handy.
I still put pen to paper every single day whenever I take notes, brainstorm, strategize and map out plans.
A nice fresh sheet of paper or a cool printable planning page are great places to process your thoughts. But if you really want to be productive and get serious business, you’ve got to separate the thinking and planning from the action taking. There’s psychology behind why this matters but I’m not a psychologist so let’s just get to the system:
1. Know what you want. And own it. (No smartphone needed.)
The point of being productive and getting stuff done is so that you consistently move toward the bigger goals, the milestones and the vision you have in life.
If you haven’t given this “big life stuff” much thought, that’s totally cool.
Start today with this video by one of my faves, Marie Forleo — a total pro at teaching people how to live a life they love:
2. Personalize your productivity system.
Everyone requires a little something different to be their most productive. Even if we use the exact same tools to organize our priorities, daily tasks and schedules, the way we use them should vary based on how we prefer to think about, remember and focus on the things we want and need to get done.
Pick and choose what you want to incorporate in your productivity system. Start with this list of elements and feel free to add anything else that you think will keep you accountable and and moving forward.
Your personal productivity system could include:
- A list of projects, tasks and due dates
- Running lists of of tasks, ideas or notes with no specific due date
- Routines and checklists to (great for forming habits that require discipline at first)
- Yearly, monthly and weekly calendars where you keep track of important dates
- A monthly, weekly and/or daily schedule with projects and deadlines
- A weekly/daily time-blocked agenda
- Space to set and map out goals
- Space to for monthly, weekly themes to keep you grounded
- Space for daily intentions to help you stay focused on what matters
- Space to create notes and reminders about how to complete specific tasks
- And anything else you feel is essential for you to be your most productive…
For reference, mine includes:
- Running lists
- A schedule with projects, deadlines and scheduled tasks
- A checklist for my morning routine
- Daily task lists (prioritized on a weekly basis) and agenda
- Space to add notes, reminders and research for completing specific tasks
3. Set up lists that support how you work.
I use an app called Trello for this. Here’s a quick video (by some guy who has the most tutorial-y sounding voice ever) overviewing Trello:
Here are the basics of how I personally use Trello on a day-to-day basis:
- I stay accountable for doing habits/routines that require discipline. My morning routine and my daily routine have checklists attached and I aim to complete them each day. This holds me accountable for doing the things I know help me continue moving forward.
- I write down notes about items on my checklist. When you click a card, you can add a description and comments. In this situation, I use it mainly to keep track of the workouts I’m doing, the resources/processes I’m using for certain tasks and to reflect on what’s working and what’s not working so I can adjust as needed.
- I set aside the ideas, articles and other stuff that comes up during the week. This helps because I, personally, feel a sense of urgency to take action on things that just “come up” in life. But I usually don’t need to (and often, shouldn’t) act upon my ideas, cool and actionable articles, etc. until at least next week, if ever. This list is mainly to clear my mind and give me the immediate gratification of “doing something” when something seems important to me in the moment.
- Each week I unload the “Thoughts This Week” list. Cards that are unrelated to my current priorities, but that could be useful in the future, go on the Master List. I’ll occasionally add a date to a card if I want to come back to it in a couple months or so. Cards that relate to what’s coming up the following go on my daily lists and are prioritized to be scheduled.
4. Create a schedule
I use Google Calendar for this. Here’s a quick video (by the team at Google) about what I believe is the best way to use your schedule:
Here are the basics of how I personally use Google Calendar on a day-to-day basis:
- I use it to schedule my priorities, meetings and appointments. Obviously.
- I schedule reminders when something needs to be done on a specific day. This serves as my daily to-do list and helps me to avoid overwhelm.
- I have fun looking at the images Google adds to my calendar events. This has nothing to do with how I use the app, but I figured I’d share anyway because I think it’s pretty awesome. This photo is a screenshot from the video, not my personal calendar, but on my own calendar Google adds a fun yoga graphic whenever I title an event “yoga, yoga class, etc.”. It even adds images of locations when I include a location in an event title.
- Finally, I use it to time block my day. This is where I set everything up so I know what’s actually getting done each day and how I’ll be accomplishing everything. This, again, is a screenshot from the video, but on my own calendar I have things color coded. Light purple for my normal life stuff, dark purple for working on projects for my own brand, pink for working with clients, blue for social or “just plain fun” stuff, etc.
Want to replace the most popular (and most expensive!) paper planner systems with a free, personalized productivity system you can consistently use year after year? Grab my eBook, Paperless & Productive, the minute it hits cyber-shelves.