4 Ways to Spend Less Time On Your Personal Finances

Money is a necessary evil, which means it also becomes necessary to spend time managing it. That activity is arguably even more evil, don’t you think?

People don’t like to talk about money, and when it comes to creating (and sticking to) a budget, balancing your checkbook, or tracking spending, well, no one wants to do it.

You don’t need to live in a cardboard box, subsisting on ramen noodles three times a day. Nor do you need to spend every waking minute on money matters.

In fact, there are many budgeting tools you can master in one hour or less.

Make Sure Your Finances Are Centralized

Although the advent of the Internet has made bill-paying easier, each site, be it a utility or a credit card, has its own way of doing things.

If you do your banking, utility payments, and credit card payments all online, then you probably have a cheat sheet handy with all of your user names, passwords, and other bits of info you need in order to navigate any and all of the different platforms.

Try to bring everything together in one site, and consolidate things. Many banks, for instance, offer an online bill paying service right on their website, so it becomes one-stop bill paying.

Go Mobile

Get an app for your smart phone and tablet, and take your personal finances out on the road.

Although it may initially sound counter-intuitive (“Wait, working on finances away from home sounds like even more work!”), if your budget is there at your fingertips, you can have a better idea of what your available balances are, and update them right on the spot, as opposed to trying to do them later, when you’re trying to piece together what you bought, and when.

By investing a little up-front time using a mobile app, you save time later at home because the job is already done.

Let Technology Be Your Assistant

The best personal finance tools let you set up alerts to remind you about things like a bill’s due date, or informing you that there’s a good deal on credit card rates out there.

Why spend time keeping track of countless due dates when your software can ping you with a text message or e-mail? Never pay another bill late, or alternately, never forget that an auto-payment is being taken out of your checking account. That latter one can be a real killer, incidentally.

There’s nothing worse than thinking you have a certain amount of available funds, only to forget that you have three automatic payments slated to be deducted overnight. And when that happens, say “hello” to Mister Overdraft Fees.

Simplify!

Sometimes, the whole task of figuring out your budget and spending habits gets overly complicated, with a corresponding rise in the frustration level.

Well, if a picture is worth a thousand words, then a few nice graphs are worth their weight in gold in helping you grasp your financial picture without wading through so much gobbledygook.

With graphs, you can chart your spending trends and make corrections as needed, ultimately saving you bucks as you save time by having the information presented in a simple, straight-forward manner.

Follow these four tips, and get yourself off to a good start.

 

About the author: John Terra has been a freelance writer since 1985. He feels that Mister Overdraft Fee is a big jackass.

Photo Credit: AMagill

5 Tips On How To Be Productive By Working Smarter

A lot of people think that to get ahead in this world and be productive you have to work hard; and, to some degree, they are right but it is not the only way.

There is a better way to the whole work hard mentality and that is to work smarter.

What is the work smart mentality? Why is it better than working hard? Working smart is about finding creative ways to solve your problems or concerns.

It is about finding a better way to do things that will make you more productive. It is better to working hard because in essence you do not have to exert too much effort to get things done.

How can you be productive by working smart? Here are some useful tips that you can do to be productive in your workplace by working smart:

1. Learn To Innovate

It is important for any worker to be not afraid to innovate especially in one’s workplace.

It is tough to introduce new ideas to your colleagues or even to your boss but if it is really good or it can help solve a problem in your workplace, why not give it a try.

Being innovative is about being observant and finding solutions to the problems in your everyday lives.

2. Write Realistic Goals

Part of being productive is setting up goals. When you write down your goals, it is important to be realistic.

What I mean by realistic, is that it should be measurable and it should have a time frame. It should also be achievable.

Some people like to shoot for the stars but it is important to think about what you can do that is within your reach in that way you can have a higher chance of achieving it.

3. Have A Good Plan For Your Work   

Some workers do not plan for the work, they just let things be. It is important to learn how to write a good game plan on how your can make your work easier and better.

You need to think ahead so that you are better prepared for things that may caught you off guard.

A good plan can help you fight stress in your workplace because you are not surprised by unexpected happenings at your work.

4. Learn To Fail Forward

We all make mistakes and sometimes we fail at things. Some people would take things too seriously when they fail or make a mistake that they fail to realize that the one of the best ways to be productive and be successful is to learn from your mistakes.

The key is to learn from your mistakes. As a writer, I have made a lot of mistakes in my career but it made me better. It made me realize that I should learn to fail forward.

5. Ask The Right Questions 

A lot of people fail to ask good questions from their colleagues or even from their boss and that is why they work hard at something instead of working smart at their task by simply asking the right questions. By asking the right questions, it can help you avoid mistakes and can save you lot of time in your work.

Those are some amazing tips on how to be productive by working smart. We need to work smart instead of exhausting ourselves. Working smart can help you save more time to enjoy life better.

 

About the Author:

Elizabeth Terry is one of the experienced essay writers in her company; she likes to provide helpful advice to people out there. When she is not writing articles, she participates in different charitable causes.

Getting Started With GTD

I often get questions about how to get started with GTD. If you never heard of GTD before, Google the phrase “Getting Things Done by David Allen”. Go ahead, read about GTD and I’ll be here when you’re ready.

While you performed that search, you probably saw links to articles on how to get started with GTD. Ok, I’m really late into the game. I can find a lot of detailed materials on how to GTD on the internet.

But here are quick tips on how to get started with GTD.

1. Read the book. I know, there’s nothing quick about purchasing, waiting for the delivery, and finally reading the book. But that’s the only way you can really grasp about the GTD concept. There’s no shortcut to that. David Allen is making millions of dollars on it. Here’s my amazon affiliate link to the book: Getting Things Done by David Allen. You’ll make me 50 cents richer. Thank you.

2. Incrementally apply the concept. It will probably take you a couple of days to read and fully understand the GTD concept. It took me a week to finish the book. Hey, I have a real job. Three years later, I’m still trying to learn how to fully incorporate GTD in my life. It’s not easy but you’ll get there with consistency.

3. The power of purge. Purging is a skill you have to learn. And I’m not kidding. Before you can fully adapt to the GTD lifestyle, you must learn the art of purging. Purge daily.

4. GTD is not a tool. Search online and you’ll come up with tens of so-called “GTD tools”. There is no such thing as GTD tools. You use tools to manage your Inbox, or stuff that lands in your slate. Of course, you know what I mean by “Inbox” if you read the GTD book. It’s not your email inbox. GTD is not To-Do list either.

5. Automate if you can’t go paperless. Paper trail can complicate your GTD life. If you have paper in your workflow now, find a way to automate the processes involved. If you automate most of your tasks, it will be easier for you to adopt the GTD lifestyle

6. Mind like water. Study what it means.

7. Be consistent. Once you’re on the GTD zone, you’ll never go back. So practice consistency. Learn about dedication.

8. Learn the 80/20 Principle. Eliminate the things that you don’t need. 80% of your success comes from 20% of your effort. 80% of what sucks in your life now come from 20% of something you’re doing. Find those out. What’s the 20% that’s giving you 80% of your happiness. That’s maybe an activity, a relationship, a task, or whatever. Multiply the positive stuff.

9. Eliminate unneeded baggage. Purging is one thing; eliminating is another. Learn the difference. Cut activities that are not yielding values. Look for that 20%.

10. Dominate the world. Your world could mean your calendar or deadlines, or particular tasks, or a nagging boss. Be in control. Stay on top.

 

Photo Courtesy of flickr user wibbly pig

How To Stop The Mental Chatter And Actually DO Something

Guest Post

“The least productive people are usually the ones who are most in favour of holding meetings”

– Thomas Sowell

We all wish we could do more, don’t we?

We often struggle with deciding what to do, as there’s so much of it to go. And then, when we do know what we have lined up for the day, we then struggle with our mental chatter, otherwise known as ‘procrastination’.

In other words, we have to fight two battles – we have to take arms against the external forces of the world, then we have to take arms against our internal forces.

While David Allen provided some very incredible and useful tips in Getting Things Done for organising our ‘stuff’ and deciding what to spend our days on, there was little in the way of organising and ‘defeating’ the mental chatter that goes on in our heads.

How to actually do something – that’s the problem.

Thought Monkeys

“I know what I have to do, I just don’t know how to bring myself to do it.” – does that seem like something you’d say?

Knowing what needs to be done is one thing, but actually doing all of that is a very rare beast in today’s world. I don’t know anyone who consistently manages to ‘get things done’ – in fact, I don’t know anyone who has managed to even go through one day where they’ve got everything they wanted, done.

Although external distractions are always likely to get in the way, such as the phone ringing when you’re trying to make dinner, or the boss stopping by when you’re trying to sort through your e-mails, a large part of not getting things done is down to the ‘thought monkeys’ in your head.

Thought monkeys are those wild, chattering, elusive thoughts that run around in your head and refuse to give you a moment’s peace. They appear in the fore-front of your mind for a split second, then they’re gone again, only to be replaced by another chattering thought monkey who hounds you for a second or two, before they disappear, only to be replaced…

You can see the pattern here. Our thoughts are unruly and annoying at the best of times, downright chaotic at the worst. How can we control them? How can we gain at least a little bit of calm and respite from the chatter, if only for a moment’s peace?

Unfortunately, this has been the subject of many hundreds of years of research, meditation and insights conducted by governing bodies, religions, and scientists. And they still haven’t found the answer. Actually, as much as I want to be lauded for my brilliant genius, you probably won’t find the answer here either.

But what I can do is provide my own solution as to how I get more done in my day, how I retain at least some sense of calm in my mind and body, and how I deal with unexpected events with patience.

Thinking And Doing

There are two things that we could be possibly doing with our time, at any given moment. We could either be:

–          Thinking about something, or

–          Doing something

It’s actually impossible to do both at the same time – try it for yourself and see. If you’re reading this blog post, which I hope you are, then you’re not thinking about anything. But as soon as you stop reading, even for a millisecond, a thought pops into your mind, and you make that switch from doing, to thinking.

Needless to say, when we’re thinking, we aren’t doing, and when we’re doing, we aren’t thinking.

Now, I appreciate that you can technically also be thinking whilst you’re doing, but that’s only when you’re ‘unconsciously doing’, or working on auto-pilot. Like mowing the lawn or driving to the store, you know exactly what you’re doing because you’ve done it before so much, so you then let yourself ‘zone out’, and start thinking again.

What I’m interested in is ‘conscious doing’ – that kind of doing where you’re focused on the task at hand and not distracted by wandering thoughts. Like writing this article, for example, I’m focused on writing (doing), but as soon as I stop writing…

That’s right, I started thinking about what I’m doing later. It’s a switch we constantly make.

You can’t be focused on both at once. You can actively do or actively think, but not at the same time.

So how do I translate this into productivity? It’s simple – I stop the thinking and force myself into more of the doing.

Ignoring The Monkeys

Our thoughts will always be with us, no matter how disciplined we get. They will always wander around to some degree, no matter how much ‘thought control training’ we’ve had.

In fact, it’s impossible to ‘turn them off and on’ whenever we please. But what we can do is ignore them, if only briefly. We can ignore our thinking by making the conscious switch to doing, if only for a little while.

You see, when I write, sometimes I have to force myself to write, and it’s here when the thought monkeys are strongest. They constantly harass me to surf the web, or to eat a biscuit, or to do anything that’s easy and doesn’t require ‘active doing’. Because after all, if I’m not actively doing, I’m actively thinking, and that means spending time and attention on the monkeys.

So, to continue my writing, I’ll force myself to switch back into the ‘doing’ state. There, I can ‘do’ the writing without internal distractions. Of course, after a short while the monkeys return again. But like a trooper, I’ll ignore them again and return to my writing.

I’m getting better at this approach – it means I spend more time getting things done, and less time thinking about getting things done. And it means I can squeeze more into my day, without worrying about whether I have enough time, because I don’t spend time on worrying. It’s made some incredible changes in my life.

And I want you to be next.

Your Turn

All you have to do is stop thinking so much. Stop spending time with your monkeys, entertaining them and giving yourself over to them. Stop being there for them, and start actually doing some of the things that your thought monkeys keep chattering on about. Start doing the next actions that will work you towards your goals and your dreams.

Just start doing more, and start thinking less.

Stuart is a personal development blogger who wants to help you out. He thinks you’re awesome. You can often find him at Unlock The Door, where he writes constantly to make it a better day for everyone. You should also check out his tweets at @theunlockeddoor.

Photo Courtesy Of Viktor Hertz

FacileThings Gives Time Back To You

Guest Post

This guest post is provided by Francisco Sáez of FacileThings.

A couple of years ago I was immersed in a very busy and unpleasant lifestyle, working too hard as a Project Director for a Spanish software development company. I hardly had time to enjoy weekends because of the strong feeling of not catching up on my commitments.

In a business trip to the USA I bought and read the David Allen’s book “Getting Things Done” of which I had vaguely heard. Yeah, my salvation. I started to implement the approach explained in the book, using notebooks, excel files and the like, and my life got better until a certain point.

[Grab a copy now of Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity by David Allen]

But to establish new habits you need very engaging tools. I needed a more robust system to manage my stuff, so I looked for a software solution that did the trick. There are plenty of them, right? Well, I tried several apps, the most outstanding at the moment and, although they were good to manage to-do lists, they didn’t fully support the GTD methodology.

It was important to me to follow the five stages David Allen pointed in his book (collect, process, organize, review and do) in a simple way, so I decided to develop my own application. A year later, I thought that my particular approach could be interesting for other GTDers and created FacileThings.

FacileThings is a self-management system which complies entirely with the methodology that David Allen introduced and which became a worldwide reference on personal productivity. It is made up by a web application, a mobile web app and a website that provides contents to educate and advise people who want to improve their personal and professional life.

[Grab a copy now of Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity by David Allen]

The major goals are to keep self-management as simple as possible and to create easy-to-use tools. For that reason, the applications are built based on the latest studies on usability and user experience.

Another important thing these days is to have available your data from everywhere at any time. That is why FacileThings is a cloud-based, multi-platform software. You can access the applications using the most widespread browsers and mobile devices.

Bye Bye Stress - Hello Productivity With FacileThings

We are currently on Beta Private, so you need an invitation code to sign up. If you want to give it a try, please send a tweet to @FacileThings mentioning ProductivityBits. We will send immediately an invite to the first 50 people and we will give priority to the rest for the next rounds.

Now we are adding some special features over the core GTD system in order to build a platform specially useful for freelancers, entrepreneurs and small business owners. Seeing metrics help people to improve and stay motivated. Collaboration tools are important to keep track of delegated tasks on real time. Time and money tracking are a plus for professionals.

 

The Plancake Inbox: Get Organized And Stay Relaxed

Guest-Post

This guest post was provided by Daniele Occhipinti on behalf of Danyuki Software Limited. Danyuki Software is the company running Plancake, a useful free online tool to get things done. For more information:  www.plancake.com.

All product and company names herein may be trademarks of their respective owners.


I have always believed the key to productivity is organization. And what’s organization? I would say organization is to have everything under control and be confident enough about what needs to be done. That brings also relaxation, which is good.

Organization is to have everything under control and be confident enough about what needs to be done.

All of that is very well explained in the ‘Getting things Done’ book by David Allen. I started building Plancake a couple of years ago after reading that book.

Plancake: A GTD Implementation

I wanted a very simple online tool that would have let me implement the GTD methodology. Yeah, there were already very good tools at that time but, I am a Web developer, so I wanted to have mine. And I think it was a good idea because, even if it is very similar to great products such as Toodledo or Remember the Milk, it has got some peculiarities that can’t be found among the alternatives.

Plancake has got everything that you would expect from a GTD-oriented task manager: lists, tags, notes, calendar, next actions, repetitive tasks and an Inbox. In this post I would like to focus on the Inbox.

Plancake Inbox: Free Your Mind

The Inbox is a special list that should be used as a  temporary storage for tasks waiting to be organized in your other lists or done straightaway if they take less than 2 minutes to complete, as explained in the ‘Getting things done’ book. Why 2 minutes? Because that is the time it would take to organize, categorize and retrieve the item for later completion.

The Inbox is a special list that should be used as a  temporary storage for tasks waiting to be organized in your other lists or done straightaway if they take less than 2 minutes to complete.

I really like the Plancake Inbox because you populate it to free your mind. It is not like your email Inbox, when half of times the message has nothing to do with you. You can add tasks to your Inbox in 4 different ways:

1. Sending an email to your Plancake email address (the subject of the email will be automatically converted to a task)

2. Syncing from the Android application (to add tasks when you are on the move)

3. Adding an event to your Google Calendar account (coming soon). And,

4. Directly on the online version of Plancake.

Plancake is a free GTD Implementation Tool

I always keep a browser tab open on the Plancake Inbox. In that way, if I receive a call I can quickly jot down actions that need to be done regarding that call. And if straight after it, I need to attend a meeting, there is no danger I am going to forget the content of the call. That brings great piece of mind.

Plancake Inbox: Avoid The Interruptions

The Inbox is also a great way to avoid interruptions. I am going to give you an example. There was a problem in our servers that needed to be sorted ASAP. While sorting out the issue, I noticed a bug in the application code running on the server. Obviously I couldn’t put the emergency on hold to fix that bug (important but not urgent). But I had my Inbox at hand. I just wrote that down in around 5 seconds and went back to the urgent matter.

Without my Inbox, I would have either forgotten about that (bad!) or had that unconfortable feeling of knowing you are missing something but you don’t know what for days to come.

Review Your Inbox!

Obviously for all of that to work, you need to review the content of your Inbox at least once a day, ideally more often, as you would do with your email box. It is amazing how the right tool can improve the quality of your work. And if you do something of good quality, it is less likely you have to spend time amending it later on.

Dealing Effectively With Information Overload At Work

Post written by Marlon Ribunal. Follow me on twitter.

Productivity is really just doing the right things while doing things right.

Andy Kessler in “Eat People”

As knowledge workers, we have to deal with a lot of information as part of our job. We’re processing hundreds, if not thousands, of information every day. With responsibilities, personal obligations, and other commitments we’re involved with, we can easily become overwhelmed.

[ Want an alternative to the GTD Method of David Allen? Take a look at “The Instant Productivity Toolkit” by Merson ]

Think about this. There are only 24 hours in a day. A third of that is allocated for rest (sleeping time and other relaxing rituals). The other third is for work. The last portion of those 24 hours is for recreation and family or friends. Add an extra hour to your rest and you’re oversleeping or slacking. Add an extra hour to recreation and you’re too lax and lazy. Working on extended hours might just be OK once in a while but doing that over and over up to a point that it becomes a habit can only mean two things: You’re either workaholic or mismanaging your work.

The challenge is clear: Finish work within the time allotted for work. The only problem is you don’t have enough time. Process overflowing information within very limited amount of time – that’s Information Overload delight.

[ Want an alternative to the GTD Method of David Allen? Take a look at “The Instant Productivity Toolkit” by Merson ]

Your first lifeline is delegation. But delegating tasks to others has become a luxury that we can hardly afford given the new environment we’re dealing with in this Information Age. Everybody has his or her own problems to solve in the first place. Because of the availability of tools and technologies, we’re now expected to yield more than what we’re willing to output. When we’re given a job, we’re expected to deliver results with all the parameters that were required to accomplish the job.

These are some of the things that will help you ease or mitigate the weight of Information Overload that is bogging you down:

Take Productivity On The Road

Taking Productivity On The RoadKeep a pocket notebook in your car for jotting down important notes. With an overloaded brain, it’s easy to forget things. Write ideas down as you remember them. Jot down notes on stop lights. Review your ToDo list while stuck in the traffic. Remember to stay focus on the road, though.

A safer way to do this is with a reliable voice recorder. Most smart phones have built-in voice recorder. A good use of a voice recorder would be for dictating email content, ToDo’s, or maybe questions that you may want to ask during a meeting with the higher ups. It’s also good to keep some pieces of index cards and Post-It notes in your car for note taking purposes. Make your car a mini-extension of your office or cubicle.

Use Technology To Automate

Study the patterns of your recurring tasks. Are there any parts that can be automated with existing software? If there is no available out-of-the-box solution for specific tasks, does building a new tool satisfy ROI? The tasks that you may want to automate are the ones that are rudimentary or the boring stuff.

[ Want an alternative to the GTD Method of David Allen? Take a look at “The Instant Productivity Toolkit” by Merson ]

Modern Programming Languages make things possible. Many tasks that have something to do with computers can be automated. Programmers and developers take advantage of the Application Programming Interface offered by some productivity applications and services to address certain needs.

Eliminate Redundancy

Analyze the methods involved in your job. Scale down the processes to simplify task completion. You’ll be surprised to find steps that are unnecessary. Reduction of steps needed to put tasks into completion will increase efficiency and, thereby, productivity.

The book, “Eat People” by Andy Kessler has a good explanation of what efficiency and productivity are and how they are related. According to Eat People, “efficiency is about inputs while productivity is about outputs.” Kessler further explained:

To really understand all this, we need to add another word. Effectiveness is how outputs compare with what was planned or desired – doing the right things, while efficiency is the ratio of the amount of actual outputs to actual inputs – doing things right.

Productivity is really just doing the right things while doing things right.

Procrastinate

This seems to contradict what I stand for in this blog; but wait, let me explain myself here. What I mean to say is procrastinate when it’s inevitable. There are some legitimate reasons that allow procrastination. Wikipedia defines procrastination this way: “Procrastination refers to the act of replacing high-priority actions with tasks of low-priority, and thus putting off important tasks to a later time.”

[ Want an alternative to the GTD Method of David Allen? Take a look at “The Instant Productivity Toolkit” by Merson ]

That’s what I mean by procrastination. When nagging deadlines confront you head on, learn to negotiate. Some tasks are just impossible to turn in on their deadline. Negotiate deadlines if possible to give yourself more time to finish your tasks or project.

How To Effectively Manage Your Priorities – Part II

Post written by Marlon Ribunal.
Follow me on twitter.

[Author’s Note: This is the last part of a two-part series on “How To Effectively Manage Your Priorities” and a quick Review of Field Notes Notebook]

In the first part of this series, we’ve discussed about an effective method of setting your task priorities. Separating your tasks according to the level of concern associated with them can greatly help you focus your attention to the right priorities at any given time. And, by having a clear overview of your tasks in their appropriate category, you can easily determine which tasks need what resources. Knowing the right tools to use and the amount of resources needed beforehand can mitigate your job by a large percentage.

[ From Amazon: “Extreme Productivity: Boost Your Results, Reduce Your Hours” ]

But How To Apply This Method?

Before we proceed further, let me stop referring to this method as “this method”. Let’s give this priority system a name: Concern Based Prioritizing Method.

The traditional ToDo List or Next Action List may not be the suitable tool to use with our Concern Based Prioritizing Method. I’ve mentioned about the problems with the traditional ToDo List in a previous post. In the traditional ToDo List, categorizing your tasks will force you to move your tasks around from time to time as your priorities may shift from one category to another depending upon the demand of your work at that particular day.

Using the “context tag” of a digital version of task management, such as Nirvana, may not be effective either. There must a better way of applying our Concern Based Prioritizing Method in a digital way; but I’ve come up with a offline system that is both simple and intuitive. Yes, it’s paper-based system adapted from the popular Hipster PDA.

Hipster PDA Using Field Notes Notebook

Prioritizing Method With Field NotesHipster PDA is a popular GTD tool hack. I just love how 43Folders.com describe this simple tool: “It scales brilliantly, degrades gracefully, supports optional categories and “beaming,” and is configurable to an unlimited number of options.” Let me explain why I prefer an analog tool over a digital one this time. We’ve encountered a system downtime recently at the office because of a county-wide power outage. My tasks lists were of no use because most of them are online (my work task list are on the in-house system, my personal task lists are hosted online). With no current to power the computers, there was not much that I can do except to make the necessary phone calls. I’ve learned a very important lesson there: Papers will not go away in the near future. The old-school paper-based todo list will always have its room for any productivity system despite the advancement of the digital technology.

[ From Amazon: “Extreme Productivity: Boost Your Results, Reduce Your Hours” ]

What We Need:

  • 3 Field Notes Brand Notebook – which you can purchase from http://fieldnotesbrand.com/
  • 1 Field Notes Brand “General-Purpose Band of Rubber” or any ordinary rubber band to tie the 3 notebooks together when not in use.
  • 3 Message Binder Clips (with the appropriate labels – Urgent, Important, and Can Wait)

How To Assemble:

Perhaps no step-by-step instruction is needed here. I bought the 3 binder clips with the exact messages I need for this GTD tool hack from Walmart. Just in case you’re wondering, this is how the tool looks like after assembling the materials:

Field Notes Brand Notebook GTD System

Why I Use Field Notes Brand Notebook

Field Notes is one of the brands of notebook that I use. I am a big fan of Field Notes. Its 5½ x 3½ inches, 48-page size makes it convenient to carry around in either my back pocket or backpack. I prefer the Graph Field Notes because I can easily draw check-boxes on them, which are just perfect for ToDo or Next Action Lists. The 3 staples that hold the paper look sturdy enough to withstand daily use and the constant shoving in the back pocket. I am using a Sharpie pen to write on the pages and the ink doesn’t bleed through on the back page. This is important because I am using the front and back page.

For the notebook fanatics, here are some specifications:

  • Soft Cover – French Dur-O-Tone 80#C “Packing Brown Wrap,” with a thick, brute force, 1-Color application of “Dachshund Note” black Toyo ink.
  • Pages / Innards – Boise Offset Smooth 50#T “White”, with a fine, soy-based, 1-Color application of “Double Knee Duck Canvas” light brown Toyo ink.
  • Graph Grid – 3/16″ x 2/16″ (4.5mm by 4.5mm)

This pocket-sized notebook is really elegant that is why I prefer using it for my Concern Based Prioritizing Method over the ordinary 3×5 index cards. My ToDo Lists may be ordinary scribbles of the next actions necessary to get things done but they deserve to be written on something elegant. I always carry this “system” with me knowing that I can never rely on digital devices. Field Notes’ slogan is just right for me: “I’m not writing it down to remember it later, I am writing it down to remember now.”

[ From Amazon: “Extreme Productivity: Boost Your Results, Reduce Your Hours” ]

If you really want to dig deeper into why I keep a pocket notebook and what it is all about, there is a real tradition behind it (great post from the “Art of Manliness”).

Of course there are other practical application for Field Notes Brand  Notebook, according to the notebook’s back page:

  • Inspired Ramblings
  • Crop Predictions
  • Half-Ass Calculations
  • Big Ideas / Insights
  • Hate Mail
  • Poignant Quotes
  • etc.

How To Effectively Manage Your Priorities – Part I

Post written by Marlon Ribunal.
Follow me on twitter.

[Author’s Note: This is the Part I of a two-part series on “How To Effectively Manage Your Priorities”]

If you are familiar with productive systems like GTD, Pomodoro, Zen to Done, and many others, chances are you know that one of the hardest aspects of such systems is how to effectively set priorities so you can maximize your effort and resources. But how do you really prioritize? Aside from systematically listing items in your todo list and setting schedules or milestones, what else do you think is a better way to set your priorities?

If you are like most people, the technique that you adopted is probably setting priorities by date or the First-In-First-Out method. This is the least effective way of setting priorities because it is difficult to assess the value of the tasks on a glimpse as they come into your incoming tray or inbox. You might end up having the wrong priorities with the First-In-First-Out method.

Another popular method is prioritizing according to time-sensitivity of the tasks. Generally, this makes sense because those tasks that need to be done first call for the highest priority. In other words, you need to prioritize the tasks that need to be accomplished according to schedule. The problem with this method is it’s quite easy to let other aspects of our work fall through the cracks because our tendency is to primarily focus on the pressure of time or the deadline.

Some other methods we’ve seen used in productivity systems are sorting the tasks by alphabet, random selection (which is not really a prioritizing method), setting priorities per the value of the project or client, and many other ineffective methods.

The truth is, there is no perfect method of prioritizing tasks. And if you’re answer to the question “How do you really prioritize?” is “It depends”, you are right. Even the definition we ascribe to what Priority really is is relative to the type of our job and way of accomplishing our goals . It depends because we have different ways of weighing the values we put on our tasks.

Although there is no perfect method of setting priorities, we can do one thing that can surely bring that method to the next level – this is categorizing the tasks according to the level of concern we put on them.

Urgent Tasks

These tasks are the ones that will put us on the line if we don’t do them immediately. These are the tasks than can cause us our job if not done on a certain date or the ones that can put our company in jeopardy or cause it to suffer loss of profits. If you know that the consequences at stake are similar to the situations we just described, then the tasks should be listed under your “Urgent Tasks” category. All kinds of workers have their own “urgent” stuff that they need to accomplish according to certain needs.

These tasks are easy to identify because we know from the fact that they are needed almost immediately. Our attention are demanded upon them with high importance. Their need for completion is usually communicated to us clearly with particular parameters. You certainly know if a task is urgent when the consequence of not doing it on time can have adverse effect on your job security.

Important Tasks

These tasks may not be as urgent as what we’ve described above but are equally valuable in terms of the goals we’re trying to achieve. Usually the tasks under this category are the ones with set schedule or deadline. An example of this might be a file that you received from your boss on a Monday morning which requires your response by Friday afternoon. Although you are not expected to accomplish what you have to do on that file immediately, you need to consider what does it take to finish the job so you can meet that Friday deadline. There might be an extensive research requirements on it or you probably need to collaborate with a team from a distant location.

Like the urgent tasks, the important tasks are also easy to identify because you have a good idea of the consequences or implications of their accomplishment or the failure thereof. The demand for attention for the important tasks  may not be as instantaneous as the urgent tasks but their value are equally put on the same level. Most of our daily tasks are under this category.

Can Wait Tasks

These tasks are the ones that are not needed to be done immediately and don’t have a deadline set for their completion. Usually these are the tasks that will not have immediate value until a certain period of time – like a review or assessment of software or system upgrade. The impact of these tasks is not  a present concern to anybody in the company. Any pending tasks – waiting for resources or other person to act upon it – are the usual items in this category.

There are lots of tasks we can put under the Can Wait category. Most of them are supporting tasks that don’t have direct impact to our projects or area of responsibilities. Or, these are the tasks that we know we won’t be bugged for by our boss or supervisor within a week or two from their start date.

These are the three general categories that we can use to identify the level of concern we need to put on a particular task. Obviously, the ones that we put on top of our priority are the Urgent Tasks. We can only move to the Important Tasks after we’ve settled all the urgent ones. In the final part of this series, let’s see how we can implement this method – categorizing according to the level of concern – in our productivity system.

Putting The Importance Of Productivity Back On Top

Post written by Marlon Ribunal.
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[Author’s Note: This is the Fifth and Final Part of the Series The 3 Fundamental Principles Of Productivity“]

Introduction

Part I – Rituals

Part II – Systems

Part III – Tools

Summary


Series Summary

We’ve come to the conclusion of our series dealing about The 3 Fundamental Principles of Productivity. We see that between productivity and slacking off is a thin line – much like genius and insanity. Let’s make clear, though, that the system and the tool have nothing to do with your productivity. Your choice of productivity system and preferred tool are nothing but simple extensions of your process. Your rituals have a great impact on the success or failure of that process.

Productivity is not only about staying on top of everything that you are responsible for; it’s also about managing the open loops that are left hanging at work, home, family, and relationships – the whole nine yards. Productivity means having total control over your life in general.

What we’ve seen in this series is quite different from the popular notion that we can achieve productivity by controlling – or we like to use the word managing – our tasks and the time we spend on accomplishing them. You cannot control your tasks – there is 99% chance that they keep on coming as long as you have some kind of work to do. Time is beyond anyone’s control – there’s no chance that we can control it. And time does not have an intrinsic value. As Tim Ferriss says in his book, The 4-Hour Workweek, “Attention determines the value of time.”

Attention determines the value of time.

- Tim Ferriss in “The 4-Hour Workweek”

Before we close this series, let’s take a quick look at few of the things that we need to pay close attention to that may pave the way for productivity:

Control the Process

Your tasks and time are beyond your control. The focus of productivity is producing quality output in the least amount of time that you can reasonably apply to process the input. And we’re not just talking about achieving quantity. Productivity goes way beyond the input-output ratio.

Elimination – The 80/20 Rule

Keeping your process lean eliminates the complexity of your productivity system. You should find ways to eliminate the unnecessary elements or procedures that are not adding value to achieving the desired outcome. A regular review of your process can only make you better at assessing your needs. Practice the 80/20 Rule.

Purging and Archiving

Tuck away your physical distractions. Archive the things or materials that you do not currently use but may have value in the future such as references, legal documents, etc. Instead of purging weekly or monthly,  make that as part of your end-of-day ritual to keep your work area uncluttered. If you are like me, daily purging will improve your efficiency as far as your process is concerned.

Practice the 90/10 Rule

According to Stephen R. Covey, the author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, “10% of life is made up of what happens to you. 90% of life is decided by how you react.” Quit on whining and complaining. When adversity strikes, you have two options – win or lose. The 10% that happens outside of ourselves can hardly cause us our troubles and stress. Our reaction to such is where we usually lose the battle – it’s either you let it control you or take it as opportunity to grow.

I hope you liked this series on The 3 Fundamental Principles of Productivity. Now it’s time for you to share your thoughts regarding the following:

  • What are your rituals that affect your productivity at work and at home?
  • Discuss the system that you are practicing. What are the main features?
  • How do your tools improve your efficiency?
  • Do you have any other concerns that you want to share?

If you have further questions that you don’t want to post as comments, please don’t hesitate to email me at marlon@productivitybits .com.