Category: Life & Living | 5 min read
I always seem to have a lot on the go. From my music and writing to my freelance work, all the stuff at my job, projects like this here little website and more.
Combine this with a healthy dose of ADHD (the real kind, not self diagnosed) and you have a recipe for forgotten appointments, missed deadlines and low quality work.
Which was the norm for me for a very long time. I mean, I totally didn't drop the ball all the time at those previous jobs! (that sentence is for my former bosses...)
These days though I have finally gotten to a point where I think I can keep my tasks aligned - my goals accomplished and nothing important missed.
A quick bit of history:
When I was young I was obsessed with productivity. I followed a ton of blogs around the act and I had this amazing obsession with getting as much finished as possible.
Then I had an epiphany - it was a complete waste of time.
I wasn't "enjoying" the act of getting more productive, I was just doing more busy work.
I switched and changed my focus to enjoyment. Instead of finishing as much as possible I focused on only doing the things I enjoyed.
This helped a huge amount but with ADHD and no real drive to organize things fell apart pretty quickly.
In 2014 Google released a beta product called Google Inbox. It was a totally different way of organizing your email.
Before I jump into how it worked, first I'll explain what my inbox was like before it, when using normal Gmail.
It was a mess.
I had over 10,000 unread emails. It was kind of scary. The issue is I had no idea what else you were supposed to do. Going through and deleting these would take forever (or archive them as Google called it, but no one used it back then.) I read the new ones that came in and seemed relevant and just ignored the others.
Google Inbox on the other hand gave you the tools to get to Inbox Zero.
Inbox Zero is a different way of organizing email. What you do is check it once, then do anything you can to empty the inbox. This means you either reply to the email, get a task done or forward the email. Once done, you clicked "complete" and the email disappeared.
It wasn't deleted, just hidden from view. You could always find it again later.
Google Inbox also offered the ability to "snooze" an email to a later date. Again, hiding the email until a day and time you specified when you knew you could work on it.
I spent about 4 hours one day going through ALL my emails and making my inbox clear. It was a lot of work but it got me to my goal: my inbox was empty.
I stuck to this system and still do to this day - it is an amazing game changer. I never miss an email sent to me and far more gets done.
Update: I no longer use Gmail/Google Inbox, I have switched to ProtonMail. See this article for reasons why. Otherwise the system is still working well for me.
The next step in my productivity journey was discovering Bullet Journals - a system that uses a normal, cheap, easy to find journal to keep track of your life.
You can watch a video on it here:
I think the main thing I got from this was adding rigor to my organisation. One of the main takeaways was to regularly plan my day ahead of time and also encouraged me to randomly write out thoughts and notes. while I had been historically taking notes on a laptop or phone I discovered it's far easier to write notes in a notebook. I can also draw correlations and connections in ways I can't easily do on my phone or a laptop.
Once I got my Rocket Book I got addicted to the system and have yet to look back. A Rocket Journal has the look and feel of an oldschool journal but you can erase it easily and with their app you can easily snap photos of your notes and have them backed up to Evernote or whatever note app you use.
I've recently switched to a system called StrikeThru - a variation that actually includes some of the below. You can find out more about it here.
Things got interesting when I discovered GTD or Getting Things Done. With BUJO and Inbox Zero I was actually doing a lot of GTD by default (eg. snoozing an email until I could get to it, known as context in the GTD world). What it added was an "inbox" that went beyond email.
Instead of just using a mix of my journal, Google Inbox and Google Calendar it invited me to use something like Evernote as a place to send all my ideas, thoughts, etc.
Eg. If I had a random idea while walking the dog I could stop, click the app, write a note in 5 words and it would be in what's called the inbox.
The next day when I open up the inbox (I do this daily) I categorize the note. Is it part of a project, is it something that requires an action? I tag it, I put it in the right notebook and I go on with my day. I can usually clear my inbox super quickly.
I also have a search that is "action items" which are the notes that require action. For example: I had this idea to write a blog post about productivity. I tagged it as kolemcrae.com and added "action" as a tag. I then put it in the projects notebook. When I opened the "action items" search it was there, waiting for me to work on it.
This system is more complex than that but helps me never forget any random idea I might have. It also means I can really live in the moment.
With ADHD I had this obsession with DONE. If I had something to do in a day I would have to do the task right away or I would forget and I would never get it done. Same goes with ideas. If I had an idea it would annoy me because I knew I would forget the idea. Now I can quickly type it out in a sentence or two and know it'll be sitting in my inbox to categorize later.
Using the above lets say I have a client meeting.
I write down my notes from that meeting into my Rocket Book.
I then take a photo of it with the app and it's automatically sent to my inbox.
Later in the day when I go to clear my inbox the note will be in there. I make new notes for each action item and organize them into projects and add "action" as a tag for any actions that will take more than 2 minutes.
If it's less than 2 minutes I just do the work.
I then have it set to "complete" when the work is done but it is easily accessible later if need be. Everything gets done, nothing gets lost and since Evernote can read text from images I can even find the notes based on the text within them.
I do the same with emails and everything else.
My system is weird and is certainly not going to work for everyone but I thought I would share what works for me. I know there are others with ADHD that are sick of missing things, forgetting things and not getting their big projects done - this system means all my projects get finished!