3 Tools To Help You Get Things Done

Here’s a workflow using Plan, Trello, and Evernote that will make your life easier.

There are a few tools that I have been using to identify, plan, and manage my tasks for a few weeks now that have made my life less frustrating. I spend less time trying to determine what to work and more time being productive and effective. I have found that I end the day with more energy than before — most likely due to the lower stress and higher level of fulfillment that is brought about by actually accomplishing something!

The key to all of this? Shift your focus from doing things to getting things done.

Oddly enough, there is a great book by David Allen titled “Getting Things Done” along with a lot of other related material available from several sources. If you already know all about Getting Things Done (GTD) — feel free to skip the “Basics” section and check out the workflow and tools that follow to make it happen.

The Basics

If you haven’t already, you should get an understanding of the GTD paradigm. If you need a quick primer, take a few minutes and watch this talk that David Allen gave to the good folks over at Google:

Another commonly used graphic is this flowchart from David Allen. There is an updated version that can be found online, but I like the original better.

Sounds easy enough, right! I thought so too, until I tried to create a system for following the principles of GTD and failed miserably. I found myself working with multiple “Todo” lists that never got any shorter.

Modified principles of GTD

To apply this process in my day-to-day workflow, I made the following observations and modifications:

  1. Incoming work is never from a single point or single system. Some incoming work is pushed (notifications, e-mails, etc). Other work is pulled (checking with co-workers, etc). I don’t need a task to check my e-mail as it’s in front of me all day, but I do need to schedule a task to check sprint burn-downs to see if anyone is stuck. Then see #4.
  2. Many items are not actionable without some refinement. This refinement is often unplanned work, which still needs to be scheduled and completed. Then See #4.
  3. Two minutes is not enough time to do most immediate tasks. Well maybe if they were all Yes/No questions. One rule of thumb: If it takes you longer to record and schedule the task than to complete it, you might as well get it done now. Another method I use: Estimate the amount of time available before the next task/meeting/interruption. If I have 15 minutes clear, I may go ahead and complete a task instead of scheduling it.
  4. Work generates more work. That alone is a great reason to get it done and off the list. All of the outputs of the process shown above need a feedback loop back to the “In” box.

The Modified Workflow

For my daily life, work enters the process in several forms — ideas, e-mails, meeting invitations, references, and occasionally an actionable task. I try to adjudicate these into the proper channel as soon as possible and get back to being productive at whatever I happen to be doing at the moment.

The primary motivation is to reduce stress by ensuring that nothing gets dropped while increasing productivity (and happiness!) by removing clutter.

The Tools

The workflow uses several tools that you may already be familiar with. Here’s a quick intro to each, with a description of how it fits into the workflow:

I put all reference material that I may want to find later into Evernote. I have confidence that it will be there when I need it, which allows me to stop thinking about it.

  • I use the Evernote plugin for Chrome, which allows me to clip anything I come across on the web to an Evernote notebook.
  • I use an IFTTT rule to push any e-mail from Gmail that I “star” to an Evernote notebook.
  • I use an IFTTT rule to push any Tweets that I like to Evernote.

I use Trello to collect, organize, and refine ideas. When things are in Trello, they almost organize themselves. This is the place where I throw everything that is not actionable in its current state. The key to this process is to move things through

Trello, not just into it. It’s so useful that I have a tendency to put everything in it.

The more cards that are on a board, the more I have to keep in context while working with the board. Anything that is no longer useful or pertinent gets immediately archived. Cards that have been refined enough to work get moved out of Trello and into the Plan app.

To get a better idea what Plan does, check out this link. The key capability that Plan provides is that it takes the tasks that I need to work and merges them with the meetings that I need to attend.

I take all of the tasks that I need to work and drag them onto my calendar to schedule time to work them. The same task can be put on the calendar multiple times if it has to be interrupted.

The “Today” view has become my home page for Chrome, so that it is just as present as my inbox. There are also weekly and monthly views, though I do not use these as much. Plan has recently included an “Insights” view that shows stats such as Meetings/month, Avg hours/task, Avg days to complete tasks that I find very interesting.

The Challenge

Thought requires effort. Stop wasting it in a vein attempt at keeping all of the balls in the air. Create a system (or use mine) to manage the multitude of tasks. Work the tasks and finish them before they create more work.

Never finish a busy day exhausted — with nothing to show for it.

Shift your focus from doing things to getting things done.


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