My productivity routines

A lot of people seem to be interested in productivity systems and routines. I’ve been through a shedload of them in my working and music careers. What I do now is a gentler version of the system I worked out for myself when I was working from home as a freelance elearning designer. I’m not claiming it’s the best, and it may seem OTT to some, but I follow it in a flexible and non-dogmatic way, and it helps me feel in control of day-to-day stuff as well as the longer term.


It involved more than this in its heyday but I’ve boiled it down to a few simple elements using

  • Evernote
  • Gmail
  • Google Tasks
  • Google Calendar
  • Excel

What I do is a cut-down version of David Allen’s Getting Things Done system, which you can read about in any of his many books.

Daily planning

My basic working document each day is in Evernote. (Here’s a basic intro to Evernote.) I make a note for the day called e.g. 21 01 2020.

Folder (called ‘Notebook’ in Evernote for this month)

I name the note then hit Evernote’s Template feature, which adds to the top of my note the 1-3-5 task structure with placeholder text which I replace with:

  • The one task that needs to get done today
  • Three things it would be great to get done today
  • Five tasks that would be useful but less important

The 1-3-5 template with placeholder text

As I go through the day I make notes as I go of anything that might be worth remembering – e.g. if I have to search for car insurance quotes, I’d note the comparison sites and the two best quotes with links to get back to them if I need to. If I’m making calls or someone calls me, I note the time and anything I want to remember. I check off the 1-3-5 tasks as I do them. I rarely get all nine done, but I don’t expect to.

I also find it helps my concentration to put down in the daily note what I’m about to do and the start time. It’s not that I tally up how long I’ve spent on the task, but just naming it and putting a time seems to make me less likely to get distracted.

I started working on a blog post at 9:37. Just entering what it is I’m supposed to be doing seems to keep me more on-task.

The to-dos store

If something comes up that I have to remember as a to-do, I type it quickly into Google Tasks on my PC or the phone. I used to use Todoist which has a lot more categorisation and scheduling of tasks when I was working but Google Tasks is simple, free and does everything I need now. Similarly if an incoming email means I have to remember to do something, I can Add To Tasks in Gmail which saves the email alongside creating a new Task. Google Tasks is basically my ‘store’ of tasks – when I’m filling in the 1-3-5 in the morning I look there to see what tasks I need to add to today’s list.

Add to Tasks in Gmail

If this sounds very elaborate, bear in mind I no longer do this religiously every single day. Only if I have the luxury of a day with few away-from-home demands and things I know I should do, or maybe have been putting off. Some days I don’t even create an Evernote page or I create one with no task list. The system, however, is something to fall back on that I know I can rely on. Being Evernote, any notes I make are instantly searchable which is better than having piles of hand-scrawled daily notebooks as I used to.

End of the week

Each Friday I have two extra rituals.

For the first, which I call ‘stats’, I check things like website hits, what pages are the most popular, video views on Facebook and YouTube, the size of my mailing list and what percentage of any emails I’ve sent to my list have been opened. This isn’t a particularly exciting job, as all these stats have tended to be pretty static over the year, just a slight, slow rise in email subscribers and YouTube subscribers. I have an Excel spreadsheet where I put these. To be honest, it’s very undramatic in that my website hits have been pretty level for the last two years, my mailing list and YouTube subscribers increase painfully slowly, and my Facebook video views spike when I have an ad running and flatline when I don’t.

Website stats

The second is called ‘Review/regroup’ and is one of the cornerstones of the Getting Things Done system and one which I still value after many years. I write down brief answers to these questions, directly taken from one of David Allen’s Getting Things Done articles.

  1. Visualise the big picture (2-5m)
  2. Celebrate last week (5-10)
    Last week’s objectives: (I paste them here from last Friday’s note)
    Around 10 things you’re proud of, pleased with, happy about, how have you made the world any better?
  3. Lessons from last week (2-5m)
    learnings, quotes, inspirations, people I met, people I’d like to meet
  4. What didn’t happen? Why? (2-5m)
  5. Clarify and commit to 6-7 (max) outcomes for next week
  6. Schedule tasks (MIT) to get these outcomes, spread over the week (5-15m)
  7. Fill in small tasks into schedule
    Who can I help this week? (2-3 ppl) Who can help me with these outcomes (1-3ppl)?

End of the month

So at the end of each month I have a collection of Evernote pages for that month in a notebook named for that month: not every day but every day that I created a note for. I don’t want them all cluttering my Evernote menu so I highlight them all and create a Table of Contents note – a note that just has links to them all which I’ll call, for example, 12 2019 TOC. I then tag that “!2019” and move them all to a notebook called Daily Journals and delete the empty ‘month’ notebook. Daily Journals has every daily page I’ve created for the last few years. That way if I want to search for something in 2019 I use the tag “!2019”, if I want November or to check something that I think happened on a particular date in November I look for “11 2019 TOC” and find the note for that date. I don’t use this that often, but it has come in handy when I want to know, for example, when I had a particular conversation with a tech support helpline, or when somebody phoned me.

Table of Contents post in Evernote

It really is simple, honest!

This might seem over-engineered to you. You might work best with a handwritten to do list, or postits or just your memory. But I’ve been using this system so long, it’s second nature, takes very little effort on my part and means that I have this extensive ‘memory’ of records going back years if I need to find something. I don’t often have to search for anything but when I do, I really need to, and it’s because i take the trouble to note things here that when I need it, it’s there.

This is just my ‘daily notes’ use of Evernote. I keep lots of stuff there – articles I snip from the web, my notes from courses, advice from friends, instruction manuals, scanned letters and receipts (using the brilliant Scansnap S300 for instant double sided scanning direct to Evernote). It’s all accessible on my phone or tablet whereever I am. The most frequently accessed note is the local bus timetable!

I don’t want to set myself up as an expert in productivity systems because I’m no longer really that interested, but if you want to try any of what I do and have questions I’m happy to answer them here or by email or Facebook Messenger.

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