Productivity

I’ve read countless productivity and time management books, blogs, articles, podcasts, etc. To be honest, a lot of it is complete garbage and I don’t want you to waste any more time consuming useless content about personal productivity. 

As promised, here is a working list of the best, most comprehensive resources ever for stellar and genuinely useful productivity, optimization, and life hacking advice. I’ll be updating it throughout the year as I find more great stuff.

The goal of this list is to make it as simple and intuitive as possible to create a productivity plan that works for you. The resources in this guide tend to emphasize meaningful minimalism (no, I’m not asking you to throw away everything you own), simplicity, clarity, and focus. It shouldn’t feel like a job to create and implement a personal productivity process that works for you - after all, that would sort of totally defeat the purpose. 

If you have any content suggestions that you want me to personally review and formally add to my productivity resource guide, share them with me.

The Absolute Best Resources on Productivity and Time Management

Books

1. The Power of Less.

This book is the foundation of my entire personal productivity system. If you could only read any one book, this is the one I’d recommend. Leo Babauta is all about simple productivity that actually makes sense and feels manageable - fun, even. This book goes beyond productivity tips. Babauta encourages you to reflect and fully understand what matters most to you, and why. It’s truly an amazing productivity system because it’s simple. You won’t get caught up in trying to implement an overly-complicated set of processes. If I have any one criticism of the book, it’s that some parts of it are too simplified. He encourages you to only focus on one major goal at a time, which doesn’t fly for Type A “I-can-take-on-the-world” personalities. Heed his advice about not setting too many goals or trying to change too many habits at once, though. He’s spot on about that, regardless of how ambitious you are.

2. Zen to Done.

This is the other Leo Babauta book I’d recommend. He wrote this one before he wrote The Power of Less. In his own words:

Zen To Done takes some of the best aspects of a few popular productivity systems (GTD, Stephen Covey and others) and combines them with the mandate of simplicity. It makes things as simple as possible, and no more.

And he’s not kidding. If you’ve ever tried to read David Allen’s Getting Things Done, that thing is dense with information. It makes productivity feel like a highly stressful and laborious process. Save your time, and read this e-book instead. Ten simple, straightforward habits to change. One at a time. A very good read. 

3. Eat That Frog!

This book is a classic. Brian Tracy has spent his career studying the development of human potential and personal effectiveness. In spite of how brilliant the dude is, he’s managed to whittle this book down to 21 of his top tips for getting more accomplished in less time. All in 117 short pages. #Miracle. If you treat this book like the workbook it was meant to be (there are reflection questions and exercises practically on every page), you’ll get a ton out of it.

4. The 4-Hour Workweek

I think a lot of people initially approach this book with skepticism because, really, who works only 4 hours a week? I certainly don’t. I’m still pretty convinced that Tim Ferriss works harder, smarter, and also longer than most people out there. Nonetheless, once I finally picked it up, it quickly became one of my favorite books. Ferriss truly is the king of life hacking. His area of expertise isn’t so much productivity or weight loss or cooking. Rather,  he knows everything there is to know about learning - quickly. He is big on measuring and analyzing everything, so his advice has been thoroughly tested. The whole book is worth reading, but about half of it is related to lifestyle design and probably not totally applicable, unless you’re about completely re-hauling your lifestyle. If you want to save time and stick to the chapters on productivity, they are:

Chapter 5: The End of Time Management

Chapter 6: The Low-Information Diet

Chapter 7: Interrupting Interruption & The Art of Refusal

Annual Review Guides

Since it’s the start of the new year and everyone is in goal-setting mode, I thought I’d share two of my absolute favorite “annual review” guides. Spend a few days creating your own annual review — and use these guides as reference. You’ll feel so much more prepared for 2013. Promise. 

1. How to Conduct Your Own Annual Review by Chris Guillebeau

…and if you want some more, here is Guillebeau’s annual review archive.

2. Why Wait? A Bullshit-Free Guide to Jump-Starting Your Goals for the New Year by Nicole  Antoinette Ross

The Best Productivity Tools & Apps Ever

1. Evernote 

I’m in love with this notetaking and archiving software. Yes, you can take notes on it. But I didn’t really start optimizing Evernote until I began using the Web Clipper. Essentially, this tool allows you to “clip” and save various different web pages. Before I started using this, one of the biggest time wasters for me was browsing the web. I mean, there are soooo many good articles, blogs, websites, etc.! How can I not read them?! I used to either (a) read the articles on the spot, which interrupted my state of flow or (b) wait until my browser looked like this: 

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Talk about cluttered and inefficient. Now, I have an “Articles to Read” folder. Whenever I stumble upon something I want to read while in the middle of something else, I just clip it, save it to this folder, and batch process my reading all at once. By the way, batch processing is one of the most effective ways you can save time and energy with your tasks; here’s a detailed example of how this technique can help you become super productive. 

You can also store pretty much anything you want to keep track of in one place: quotes, contacts, favorite sites, wish lists, recipes, inspiring people, restaurants to check out, movies to watch, places to visit…you get the point. It’s a great way to keep track of everything that inspires, informs, and supports you. You can even read your scanned in handwritten notes. And there’s a special Evernote Smart Notebook by Moleskine. Oh, I am SO serious. 

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Evernote is like the Photoshop of productivity tools: a million different ways to optimize it that few people know about. If you want to make the most out of this tool, I’d highly recommend this “how to” Evernote Essentials book. 100 pages of organization happiness. 

Bonus: Evernote 5 is one of the most beautiful iPhone apps I’ve ever seen in my life. 

2. Wunderlist

Damn, Wunderlist is beautiful. I think it is hands down the best “to-do list” tool out there. It’s simple and intuitive without being ugly or useless. Wunderlist 2 just came out, so it’s even more beautiful than before. Clearly, these guys know a thing or two about UX design

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Now, to-do lists are controversial. People say that they are pointless and no one ever actually becomes more productive by using to-do lists. That’s a load of crap and you should ignore anyone who tries to convince you that being intentional by writing down what you most want to accomplish is useless. They are lying. 

There are three big reasons to-do lists don’t work: (1) We dump everything we think we need or want to do onto them without much consideration of the value those tasks will add; (2) we don’t take time to process what’s actually on our to-do lists—so a lot of those pesky tasks just sit there for months and never get done; and (3) we add far too much to our daily lists of things to accomplish. In Leo Babauta’s book, The Power of Less, he recommends choosing just three “Most Important Tasks (MITs)” each day—the three things that take an hour or less to do and would make you feel like you had a great, productive day if you could accomplish them—and working on those without distraction as soon as possible in the day until all three things are done. 

While I’m certainly not perfect, I’ve found that setting three daily MITs and completing them right away in the morning really works for me. The rest of your day feels like a breeze and you don’t have to deal with that crappy “I-just-wasted-5-hours-of-my-day-reading-articles-and-answering-emails-and-checking-facebook” feeling. 

If you can tackle the other two problems by becoming more selective about what you put on your to-do list in the first place, and then setting up time for a weekly review to process everything on your master list, then to-do lists are absolutely the way to go. And there’s no better tool than Wunderlist for keeping track of them. 

3. Stickies

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I use stickies on my desktop to keep track of random thoughts I have while in the middle of one of my MITs. If I remember a website I’ve been wanting to check out, instead of actually going to the site, I’ll just jot down a note about it in stickies. If I realize I need to email someone back, I make a note about that, too, instead of going into my inbox (home of the biggest time suck in the world, in my opinion). Then, when I’m done with my MITs, I process those notes accordingly—either by adding them to my to-do list, putting them in one of my Evernote folders, or getting it done right away if it will take me less than a few minutes. 

4. Ecosystem Journals

I still love taking handwritten notes. There’s something about the process of putting pen to paper that is just the best thing ever. 

I don’t know why everyone loves Moleskine notebooks so much, though. I mean, I guess they’re nice, but they only come in black and red unless you buy one of those useless 30-page notebooks in baby pink or something. I’d much rather use Ecosystem journals. They are pretty much exactly the same as Moleskins, but come in a bunch of different sizes, styles (hardcover, flexi,ruled, grid, blank), and most importantly, COLORS. A watermelon- or kiwi-colored notebook? Yes, please. 

And the final thing that makes this the best journal ever…THIS:

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5. Basecamp

Stellar project management software from the guys at 37signals. I love that this team has an intense focus on simplifying, simplifying, simplifying. They say no to a ton of customer requests for features, not because they want to be horrible at customer service, but because they want to stay focused on creating the best, most simple product for people to use. Perfect example: they actively discontinue profitable services if they don’t feel they’re giving them enough attention. Respect. 

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I don’t really use Basecamp for personal stuff, but it’s fantastic for work and any other projects that more than one person is working on. It gets rid of the time-consuming back-and-forth of email—and the added sanity pretty much pays for the cost of the service in and of itself. 

5 Stellar Apps to Manage Your Crazy-Ass Inbox

I’m just going to preface this post by saying I honestly can’t stand email. While I think it’s a great way to connect and convey important information, it gets used inefficiently and borderline inappropriately far too often.

There isn’t a single part of our tech lives that gives us more anxiety and stress than email, other than maybe privacy concerns. Seriously, do we really need a back-and-forth chain of a dozen emails just to decide on a date for coffee? Just call me, please. Or a gazillion emails between a team to make a business decision? Basecamp that shit. It drives me nutty when email moves from important information sharing to blatant inefficiency. 

Anyway, I digress. We all have to live with it, so I’m basically building a fort of cool add-ons to make the whole process less laborious. Why? So I can spend time doing more of what I love, like creating actual stuff and building relationships offline.  

Here are the 5 apps I use to manage my crazy-ass inbox. 

1. Sparrow

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I’m addicted to Sparrow, which gives you a beautifully simple, streamlined version of your inbox. It’s super lightweight and fast, there is a “quick reply” feature that streamlines the whole process of responding to emails, and I’m so much more likely to get to inbox zero while using this app. Not gonna lie, I also really like that I can color code my mail folders. It makes for a much more aesthetically pleasing email experience. It’s completely integrated with Gmail—and while you can hack the Gmail experience to hyper-optimize it, there’s something awesome and non-distracting to me about Sparrow that just makes me feel better about spending time in my inbox.

The one thing I love most about Sparrow is that I can seamlessly unify all of my inboxes, which is absolutely ideal for the sake of efficiency. It’s a lot harder to do that in Gmail unless you have two windows open or forward all of your mail to one account. 

However, I am vacillating back and forth between Sparrow and Gmail now. To be honest, I’m having a hard time deciding if I should start transitioning back to the Gmail interface completely. For one thing, Sparrow just got acquired by Gmail…so I have a feeling the product will cease to improve in the long-term future. For another, some of the apps on the market now integrate beautifully with Gmail - namely, the next two below on this list, which are incredible.

2. Rapportive

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These are like contact profiles built right into your inbox - pretty rad. When you’re emailing with someone you just met, Rapportive will often show you that person’s picture, title, location, tweet stream, and social media profile links so you can connect with him or her seamlessly on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, Skype, Tumblr, etc. You can also add your own personal notes so you’ll always remember how you met people on the fringes of your personal and business networks. 

3. INBOX PAUSE

Holy game changer!

You know why it’s so easy to get sucked into your inbox for five hours? Because once you get rid of an email, two more pop up. So, it’s hard not to pay attention to all of the new emails coming in. Enter: INBOX PAUSE, my new hero and possibly the best Gmail-integrated app, like, ever. 

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Essentially, when you integrate INBOX PAUSE, a button appears in your inbox that allows you to pause incoming mail from showing up in your inbox for as long as you’d like. It even sends an email to people while your inbox is paused letting people know it is—so if something is urgent, they should reach you another way. Kinda like a super short, daily version of an official “Out of Office” message. You can focus on getting the emails answered that are already in your inbox without being distracted by the new ones coming in. Talk about efficiency and reducing anxiety! I’m a happier girl because of this app.  

4. Captio

So, you’re standing at a party and someone reminds you to check out a new song or movie. Or, you’re on line at the grocery store and you suddenly remember that you need to follow up on a work project. You don’t want to forget about it, so you email a note to yourself. You have to: (1) open up your mail app, (2) type in your email address, (3) type in a subject line so it doesn’t give you that annoying “but you don’t have a subjeccccct” message, and then (4) send the email. 

Four steps, really? Why is it such a pain in the ass?! 

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Not anymore. Captio saves your email address, and all you have to do is open up the app, type your note, and hit “send.” Ta-da! Your note will appear in your inbox automatically so that you won’t forget and can process it later. Saves you two annoying, pointless steps and about half the time. Yes, please!

5. MailChimp

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When I’m meeting new people and talking about my work, they’ll sometimes ask to be added to one of our mailing lists. That’s the kind of simple thing that’s very easy to lose track of if you just “make a note” to add that person later. A missed opportunity for conversion. We use MailChimp, and the iPhone app allows me to add people to any of our different mailing lists on the spot. It gets done right away, and you avoid having to add one more thing to your to-do list. 

I’d highly recommend using MailChimp if you send out emails and newsletters to groups of people often - whether for business or personal. Plus, the monkey icon is adorable and reminds me of Curious George. A small reminder to always approach life like a curious, happy little kid. :-)

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