#GetProductive: Where do I start?

Categories Learning, Productivity

Here’s the thing: I LOVE talking about productivity. I love reading about productivity. I love listening to podcasts about productivity. I love being around productive people who like to sit around and discuss productivity.

So I thought it might be fun to introduce a series called #GetProductive for those who are on the same journey. We all want to deliver on our promises. We all want to get things done. And we all really stink at it sometimes (at least I do). And to be honest, I believe that our ability to organize our lives — both professionally and personally — has an incredible impact on our ability to lead and lead well. That’s why I wanted to share with you MY SIMPLE THREE-BUCKET STRATEGY FOR HOW TO GET STARTED ON YOUR ROAD TO BETTER PRODUCTIVITY.

Many of you may have heard of David Allen and his classic productivity masterpiece Getting Things Done. If so, you are very familiar with the idea of an Inbox, or In-basket as I’ve heard him call it. If not, the idea of the inbox is to have a central place where EVERYTHING you need to do or process is stored. This is, of course, a simple but profound strategy as it helps us move these items from our already cluttered brain to a central repository where they are less likely to be forgotten. And as a first step, I encourage you to adopt this strategy…with a twist.

My frustration with a single repository for everything is that not everything belongs in the same place. Allen would probably say that this would be taken care of as your process everything from your Inbox, but I have found it works much better for me when I START with three inboxes instead of one. This is similar to the idea of having separate clothes hampers for organizing clothes as they enter the laundry room. Think of these inboxes as the hampers, or buckets, where you are placing everything that is taking up space in your brain.

Your primary objective is to get it out and into one of these buckets as quickly as possible. This is where tools come in, but even though I’m going to share a few tools with you that I use to help me track these different buckets, the approach and practice is way more important than the tool, so don’t get hung up on the technology of it. If you’re a paper person, be an organized paper person, but just be sure you have a system that allows it to work for you and not make things more difficult.

So here are the THREE buckets I think you should identify and create to start you down the road to better productivity today.

#1: The Idea (or Someday) Bucket

We all have things that we want to do: home improvement projects we want to complete; businesses we want to start; products we want to research. However, there are a lot of those things that come along or pop into our brains that we aren’t ready to act on just yet. That doesn’t mean we want to forget it, though, which is where the Idea Bucket comes in.

Whenever an idea or a bolt of inspiration hits you in the middle of the night, this is the Idea Bucket is where the idea should live until it’s ready to move into the Task/Project Bucket to begin or complete. If you are collecting ideas for a future dream home, drop them in the Idea Bucket. If you have a new online course you want to develop, you got it, put it in the Idea Bucket.

“What does that look like?” you ask. For some people, it looks like a hanging file in a file cabinet. For others, it’s Pinterest, a notebook in Evernote*, or even a bulleted list in a word document. For me, the tool I currently use for idea capture is a tool called Trello (although it’s often a tug-of-war between Trello and Evernote). I’ll do a complete blog post on that tool at some point in the future, but suffice it to say that it’s like a digital board with unlimited post-it notes you can move and sort at your leisure.

Whatever tool you choose, just make sure you are comfortable with it and that it becomes your dedicated place for storing ideas, future goals, and things you just want to think about a little longer before you pull the trigger.

#2: The Information Bucket

The next bucket is the Information Bucket. The purpose of this bucket is to be your library of everything you want to remember. Things like: articles, user manuals, movie lists, meeting notes, wish lists, inventory, model numbers, etc.

This can seem overwhelming, but simply put, it’s a repository for anything you may need to refer back to in the future. One of the best ways to get started with an Information Bucket is to pick one or two things you want to start with and get used to the process. Wish lists are a good option. Create a document, file, or note for every person in your family and begin keeping a running list of the things they like, sizes they wear, and ideas for gifts you’d like to give them in the future.

The best tool I’ve found for this process is Evernote*. If you are comfortable with keeping information in the cloud, you’ll be hard pressed to find a better application. It’s available on virtually any device you could want to carry. It syncs seamlessly. And the search feature is amazing. We’ll talk more about Evernote in the future, but whether you choose it as your digital library or not, decide now on where you would like to store your Information Bucket and start using it today!

#3: The Task/Project Bucket

Finally, this is probably the bucket that will get the most use from day to day. It’s the Task/Project Bucket. This is the place where many people start when they decide they want to be more productive: a task management system (better known as the to-do list).

Every day we encounter new things that need to be done or old tasks which haven’t been completed yet. The way we process and deal with each of our tasks determines exactly how productive we are and how overwhelmed we feel. Hopefully, you already have some sort of system for dealing with these to-dos on a daily basis, but if you don’t this is the time to nail down your approach.

The Task/Project Bucket is probably the most important bucket because it keeps important tasks from falling through the cracks while also freeing our mind up to focus on our task at hand. When we have all the things we need to do for a particular day competing for space in our brain, it is likely something will be forgotten.

There are plenty of tools available to help with this bucket, but don’t fall into the trap of thinking a miracle app will suddenly help you get more things done. The real key is to commit to a recording everything needing to be done AND assigning days/times to get each task accomplished.

My tool of choice for managing my to-do list is called Todoist (you can read an entire article I wrote about Todoist if you’d like). It’s simple, clean, and powerful. Like Evernote, it’s available on every device imaginable and syncs across them all to keep my lists always updated and current. Of course, you may be a paper list person, and that is TOTALLY fine. Whether you prefer the paper or digital approach, however, here are a few other tools you may want to check out. Just remember to choose one and start using it.

Three Buckets ImageSo there you have it — a three bucket approach to getting started with productivity and a more organized life. By moving Ideas, Information, and Tasks from our brains and into the appropriate bucket, we free ourselves up to be more productive. Let me know what you think. I’d love to hear about your tools and workflow. What have you found that works for you?


*The Evernote links in this post are referral links which allow you to try Evernote Premium free for one month.

Brandon is the founder of A Life to Lead. He is also the husband of Beth, father to Ethan and Kate, and the coordinator of the D6 Conference.

2 thoughts on “#GetProductive: Where do I start?

  1. Good word Brandon. Todoist is a great online app for tracking lists. Another paper based tool I used is the mind map system lined out in the now free ebook “Todoodlist”. Nick Cernis is the author and recently put the book online for free. I purchased it seven years ago and it was worth the price.

    1. Thanks, Scott. I think that’s the key. You have to find a system that works for you and stick with it. I’ve been tempted to return to a paper based system on occasion, but I’m sticking with digital for now.

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