Whatever you want to call it – task management, time management, productivity – sorting out the million niggly jobs that need doing both in work and in our personal lives can sometimes be overwhelming. This has been a huge issue for me recently as I am currently preparing to move to Sydney in a month while also helping recruit for a number of new positions on the OMD SEO team, sorting out my handover, making time for friends and family, getting excited about the Olympics and generally tearing my hair out.
At work, we’ve struggled to find a successful project management system to handle all the different aspects of SEO and I’ve found this is even more true when adding a personal life into the mix too. So, although not strictly ‘search’ related, time and project management remains a huge part of all of our lives. I wanted to share some of the tools and techniques I’ve found useful and have been using recently to ensure I’m being as productive as possible (/not completely losing the plot) – some classic and some I’d never used before but together they’re a winning team:
The Classic Productivity
David Allen’s GTD (or bad takes thereon)
I don’t tend to use any one productivity method as I think it’s all about individualisation and GTD is not something I’ve dabbled with too much, but what I have taken from the GTD method is the idea of the weekly review of your workflow. Assessing what you have/haven’t done out of your self-set goals really does help to understand and plan your week ahead. It’s easy to set up, just do it!
The Pomodoro technique
It’s tried and tested but I can’t emphasise enough how helpful it’s been over the last couple of months. The premise: 25 minutes of focused work followed by a short break (5 mins or so) followed by a further 25 minutes of focused work. Every 4 lots of 25 minutes, take a longer break. Simple. My brain is racing at a thousand miles per hour and I can’t focus on one thing at a time – one second I’m looking at analytics, the next I’m worrying about shipping. When you’re in a stressful situation, with too many distracting and diverse points to consider, this technique is brilliant. To be honest, I was still jumping around all over the place each 25 minutes because my stressed brain demanded it. I may not have been the most productive but at least I tackled a small section of each and can physically feel the loads lifting.
Everyone has their preferred note-taking tools and Evernote has long been a popular one. The issue for me has never been what app to use as they all have their pros and cons. I don’t think anyone can scientifically say Remember The Milk is definitely better than TeuxDeux for x reasons – it’s a personal choice. For many years, I’ve struggled to really use these apps in a way that I found both productive and non-stressful. Today I think I’ve finally found my comfort zone using Evernote to save web pages and useful notes on a slightly more personal train while Pocket (formerly ReadItLater) I use to ensure I keep up to date with the ever changing search world and ToDoist combines the two into one big to-do list divided into categories and sub-categories. I think the secret is to understand it’s not about the app, it’s about finding the individual combination that works for you. Honourable mention to Dropbox and/or Google Drive for storing any key documents alongside the Holy Trinity (think passport photocopies, certificates etc. for my visa application).
Divide and Conquer: Do it with deadlines
With so much to do across all aspects of my life, I have a seriously bad tendency to unnecessarily take on too much. My issue is that if I’m already involved, I need to make sure it reaches completion. Delegation can be difficult but I’ve found the best way to do it is to set clear timelines during which I will not interfere. This isn’t always easy as mistakes caught earlier will always of course be easier to fix but being able to switch off from a task completely for a period of time allows that part of your brain to focus on something else completely. Do whatever you can to allow yourself to switch off, you need to force yourself to step away.
The Updated Productivity
Seinfeld’s Productivity Secret aka Don’t Break the Chain
A favourite at LifeHacker, I’ve definitely found this method fits in well with everything I’ve written above. The idea is to ensure that you dedicate a specified amount of time per day to a given task, thus allowing you to tick it off. If you don’t tick it off that day, you ‘break the chain’. Again, this means that although you won’t necessarily fully complete one whole task in any given day, you are taking bite size chunks out of your list on an ongoing basis. This is particularly great to help you include non-finite things such as exercise, household chores etc.
A random inclusion in a productivity list but I’ve found ensuring I find the time to switch off and get out of from being in front of my computer has made a huge difference to my life. I do yoga every week thanks to a work scheme (shout to to my teacher Neeta – can’t say enough good things about this lady) and I try to run at least every other day. It gives me time to switch off, focus on myself, de-stress and seriously re-asses just what it is I’m stressing about. It is amazing how different everything seems after even just an hour focusing your mind on something totally different.
Top 5 Tips in Brief(s):
I use Outlook reminders at work and ToDoist reminders for personal tasks. Work reminders don’t pop up on my phone and personal reminders don’t pop up on my work laptop. It helps keep the worlds a little separate and bring the stress levels down at least a tiny bit.
2. Use travel time to switch off
For a long time, I’ve seen commuting time to meetings as a time to quickly get on with a little extra work, uninterruputed on the train. Recently I’ve realised this time is much better used to actually switch off for a little while and refresh my brain. Read a (non-work) book, have a cat nap, stare out of the train window at the world going past. It’s underrated.
3. For those that own a Kindle…
Pocket is great but I’ve also found that using the Send to Kindle chrome app has been absolutely awesome for catching up on some reading . I tend to use this sparingly, just for the few blog posts I’m really interested in that I know I want to read within the next 24 hours. That way it stays under control.
4. Make Friday afternoon ‘clean up tasks’ time
Everyone knows it is pretty tough to be motivated on a Friday afternoon so use that time to do all the little things that would otherwise seem quite low priority but will cause use stress just for ‘niggling’ – tidy your desk, do timesheets, file your inbox. And don’t just allow yourself 20 minutes because otherwise you feel guilty. Be open about what you’re doing. Do it for an hour, more if it helps, it will save you time and stress during the rest of the week and it does count as work.
5. Feed back, feed up, feed sideways
I’ve not yet mastered this but I’m also learning that I am my own worst enemy because I pretend to not be stressed and I act like I have everything under control. In fact, a lot of the time I feel like I’m helping other people deal with their stress but I’m not taking care of my own. Nobody is super-human and it’s tough to admit that. Sometimes workloads are just too much, there’s nothing wrong about having a bit of breakdown, throwing your toys out of the pram for a few minutes then pulling yourself together, picking those toys back up and getting back on with it with renewed vigour.
And on that note – I’m signing off now, I’ve got a few thousand tasks still waiting for me on the other side…