Getting Things Done

Written on 21 November 2021

Productivity tips might be a cliché. But I think there's value in being able to get things done quickly. Over the years, I have experimented with various ideas and found some to work better than others. While these ideas might not work for everyone, I hope they give you some inspiration to work with to find your most productive self.

Before I get to the ideas, I have three caveats:

  • Doing the right things: Choosing the right thing to work on is usually more important than doing something quickly. But if you are not sure what the right thing is (e.g. what's the "right" article to write), being able to do things and iterate quickly is valuable.
  • Relationships: We can be efficient with things but not people. Relationships take time to build, and I wouldn't recommend trying to be efficient about it.
  • Perfection: As perfect as I might sound below, I'm definitely not. I'm probably successful about 80% of the time.

1. 1-3-5

1 big task.

3 medium tasks.

5 small tasks.

That is what I aim to complete every day.

I used to feel busy the entire day and yet did not accomplish any major work. This simple formula ensures I have at least one major task on my to-do list every day.

Big tasks are things that would take me about two to four hours, such as publishing an article. Medium tasks are things I could complete within an hour, such as meetings, 1:1s, and reviewing work. Small tasks include things like replying to specific emails or Slack messages, sending a specific email, and sharing things with my team.

I try to plan the tasks for the following day at the end of each day so that I feel prepared for the next day and don't feel anxious in the evening about overlooking any work.

And, of course, I use my Open Atlas notebook for this. :)

2. Time blocking

To complete my big task for the day, I would block out two to three hours of the day to work on it.

I find it hard to work on big tasks if I only have pockets of time throughout the day, in between meetings. I prefer having a big block of time to just focus on the task and not feel rushed. I picked this habit up when I was writing two long-form articles each week at Buffer.

During this time, I try to avoid being disturbed.

  • Put my phone outside of my room, on Do Not Disturb mode
  • Snooze my Slack notifications
  • Close irrelevant tabs

3. Time of the day

I plan my day according to my energy level.

I'm a morning person. I'm most productive in the mornings and always feel lethargic in the afternoons. (But you might be different!)

So I would often schedule my time block in the morning (which has a nice benefit of feeling accomplished before lunch) and meetings in the afternoon. I also take 25-min power naps after lunch if I feel sleepy.

4. A tool to store future tasks

A good way I've found to avoid distractions is to have a place to store things that come up suddenly and need to be done but not right away.

Then I can quickly get back to my focus work without trying to remember the tasks at the back of my mind or fearing that I might forget the tasks later.

I use my notebook and Todoist for such tasks:

  • Notebook: Things to be done today
  • Todoist: Things to be done tomorrow or later

I like Todoist because it is fairly affordable and I can quickly add tasks with a deadline to a project with just the keyboard.

5. Looking after myself

I also do the stereotypical stuff to keep my daily energy level as high as possible.

  • 8 hours of sleep
  • Exercise daily
  • Meditate ~10 minutes daily
  • Eat well (more vegetables, less junk food)
  • Avoid scrolling through social media aimlessly

Whenever I feel I'm off my usual rhythm, getting these things right usually gets me back on track.

What productivity ideas have worked well for you?