Building your own productivity tool

Productivity and tracking your tasks is a crucial part of your professional life. Whatever you do, it all comes down to what you complete on a daily basis. Nothing else will help you reach your short-term and long term goals.

Unless you have an assistant that plans your appointments and reminds you in time, you need to list all the things you wish to do and work from the list. Here’s a hack I created by learning from various sources and my own experience.

Last year, I was fully into mobile productivity apps.

Installing all sorts of productivity apps, adding To-Do lists into them and trying to complete those tasks.

(You want the list? Google Tasks, TickTick, Notion, Trello, Todoist, Slack, Habit-Bull and whatnot)

While I enjoyed testing different apps and features, it didn’t improve my productivity.

Then I remembered how one of the managers from a previous company I worked with handled his tasks. He used a pen and a notebook. That’s the first step.

First: A pen and a notebook

Writing down on a paper is more effective than typing it on a digital device. Because you have practiced writing on papers for years as a student, writing on paper is like writing on your brain. When you write something on paper, it sticks in your mind.

Back to the manager I wrote about.

He always kept a diary by his side and noted down all the tasks that he had to complete for the day. He would strike-out the tasks he completed. And he would shift the pending tasks to the next date.

He listed all the tasks on the right page, and the left page – he kept it to note down ideas.

If you start doing this, you’ll know how effective and enjoyable this experience is.

But there are a few problems with using the pen-and-paper method.

  • Firstly, you may not be able to carry a pen and a paper all the time. I used to keep a pocket notebook and pen, but still sometimes it gets clumsy. (But you carry your phone all the time.)
  • Secondly, as your list grows over months, searching for an old task becomes tedious.

So, I use a second tool.

Second: Google Sheet

In one of my previous jobs, I was managing a localization team of ten members. Everyday, localization requests would come from different stakeholders on email. As it was a startup, we didn’t have a task management system ready.
I had to always remind the team members to check their mails, complete the task and reply to the mail.

This was difficult for both our team and stakeholders to track the tasks. (One task, 10 email confirmations!)

Then I created a Google Sheet to list down all the tasks from the email. This helped team members to directly work from the sheet. All the tasks were listed in one column under date, and the subsequent columns were assigned for languages.

And we used color-code to update the status against each task. Anyone who completed a task would change the color of the cell against the task to green. The task-in-progress would be in yellow. If you checked the row for a particular task, you would know how many members have not-started, started or completed the task.

And the sheet was shared with the stakeholders. They would just visit the sheet to know the status for each language, and didn’t require to check emails.

We used the Tabs feature on the Google Sheets to create monthly trackers.

Now, we can use the same strategy as our second step.

  • While writing tasks on a notebook is the primary step, there are many benefits when you transfer them to a cloud tool.
  • You can keep your Task Sheet open all the time on your laptop, and start working from the sheet everyday.
  • When you visit the Tasks Sheet first thing in the morning, you’ll have a picture of where you are in terms of your projects and goals.
  • Copying the unfinished tasks to the next date is easy on Google Sheets.
    You’ll have all the tasks listed for a month to review, make changes and track your progress.

Brian Tracy talks about writing down 10 tasks in his book Eat That Frog. He also talks about marking the tasks based on importance and taking on the most difficult task first. I’ll write about it in another article.

For now, let’s go back to creating our productivity tool.

When I started ThinQproduct as a digital education platform, I started using the same method for getting things done.

Below is the picture of how I use Google Sheets for task management.

If you look at the E column, it’s a list of tasks that I need to complete everyday. I copy this part and paste it in the B column everyday. The C column shows you the status of the task.

I also use hyperlinks to directly open the articles I’m writing.

Third: A Timer

Timer helps you focus on a single task for a fixed amount of time without being interrupted. You start the timer and start the work. The timer is clicking and you’ll have to complete the task before it starts beeping.

This only makes you focus on a single task for half an hour or whatever the time you set it for, it also speeds up your work.

So, the third and final tool for your productivity challenge is – A Timer.

A Clock app on your iPhone or Android phone comes with a timer option. There are other timer apps also available. I used them for some time.

But notifications on the mobile – emails, SMSes, WhatsApp – were distracting. I could use airplane mode.

But then I decided to get a timer device – just to see how it helps my productivity.

The one in the picture – it’s handy and useful.
A device or an app – it’s a necessary tool. While the first two tools help you create your tasks, the third one helps you in completing them.

Final words

Of Course, this is not a complete productivity setup. This requires a lot of manual input on a daily basis. But, I feel that spending 15-20 minutes on manual input and analysing your tasks is an important part of your day’s work. It makes you more focused.

Secondly, this is not a tool for a large team. This is a personal tool which can be expanded to 10-20 people.

But I suggest you use this as a personal productivity tool.

Let me know your thoughts in the comments section below.

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