Personal Productivity Hacks
Hi, and welcome to the Personal Productivity Hacks webinar my name is Brian Cervino and I am a Product Marketing Manager here at Trello. I am also joined by Caity Cogdell our Support Specialist. Before we get started I just want to let everyone know that I will be emailing a recording of this webinar, a link to the slide deck, and useful blog posts and links over the next few days and weeks after this webinar. Feel free to ask any questions in the GoToWebinar question box and Caity and I will try to address as many as possible. If your question does not get answered, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org so that we can make sure to answer it for you. Also, if you have any personal advice or tips that help you work better and be more productive, please share them in the GoToWebinar questions box so that we can share them with everyone after the presentation.
Today I will be talking about productivity, which means making sure you’re getting done what you need to do, but also what you want to do. We’re going to look at some tools that you can use, if you aren’t already, in your day to day work and life, help you build a better workflow, help you collaborate better with teams, and communicate more effectively so that hopefully not only will you be getting more done than you did before, but you’ll be getting things done with greater success. The goal here is to introduce a few high level concepts in a short period of time here to give you some takeaways that you can dive deeper into and look into adding into your workflow.
This webinar is meant for anyone that not only wants to learn some philosophies of how to be more productive, but also learn about the tools, technological trends and apps making it easier to be more productive in your day to day life. Having a strong productivity system is not only important in my work life, for instance whether I am working with content management or releasing a new marketing campaign, but also in my personal life when I am working on music projects with clients, planning a vacation, or trying to live healthier.
Let’s start by taking a look at what is productivity, which is of course the million dollar question, and one that I am yet to make a million dollars answering. It’s something we’ve heard from so many people defined in so many ways, and this is how I like to think of productivity for my own life.
What is Productivity?
Ultimately, productivity is not just about getting things done, it’s about making sure you are getting the right things done, in the right timeframe in a successful and effective way. This starts by setting realistic goals, breaking those goals down into actionable tasks, and at the end of it all, asking myself “did I accomplish something meaningful with a measurable impact from what I set out to do.” For me, personally, productivity means that I only have a finite amount of time, finite resources, but there is a lot I want to do with my life, whether that involves career ambitions or personal life ambitions. I am working with a lot of people all the time, and I want to make sure that I see through everything that I set out to do, both on a personal level and with my teams.
Having a good productivity system in order and an effective workflow that you enjoy is great not only for work, whether that’s project management, launching a new business, or starting a side project. It’s also really great for your personal life, like planning a wedding, or a holiday party. Being productive means you will be able to manage all of the time in your life better and get more done.
It’s important that you ask yourself what do you want to accomplish? How would you like to get more things done in your life? And what goals do you want to start setting to fulfill and achieve the projects you set out to do.
Let’s take a look at ways we can set goals, prioritize the tasks to achieve those goals, and become better at managing our time so that we can be more productive.
The first thing is to establish the goal we want to achieve, then prioritize the tasks involved in achieving that goal, breaking it down step by step into tasks to accomplish the goal, all within a set timeline. Take a moment to ask yourself what is the goal that you want to achieve? Ideally this is something that you are truly passionate about. Something you want to wake up and tackle every morning, something that you know any care about, but also something that is realistic.
With that goal in mind, think about what getting to the finish line looks like. From there work backwards considering all the steps and tasks it takes to get to that goal. Making an effective plan is not only about what i want to do on a day to day basis, but what i want to be in the long run, so write down every step along the way and also write down the big picture, the “why” of the goal or mission statement.
Reference this mission statement every day so that it becomes a part of your subconscious thought. This will help give you the confidence needed to achieve the goal, and perform tasks in the day to day more effectively around your goal. When you set a goal and you start working on the tasks to achieve that goal, it’s also possible to lose perspective and no longer understand the “why” of what you are trying to achieve. Make sure you take the time to step back and reflect and understand that even mundane tasks that might seem tedious or not exciting are a part of a larger project that is going to bring fulfillment to your life.
It’s also important to constantly improve. Not only does this mean improving the steps it takes to achieve your goal, it also means sometimes your productivity system, or even just yourself. Improving the process along the way will help you not only achieve your goal, but perhaps achieve it in a shorter timeframe and do an even better job than you set out to do.
With a goal established it’s time to break down the steps to achieve the goal and prioritize those tasks.
How Do We Prioritize?
So what does it mean to prioritize? Prioritization means having a purpose driven path where you are aware of what you need to do, are capable of doing, and then being able to delegate anything else that requires help or that gets in the way.
One reason why a lot of productivity systems fail is because we often have too much on our plate, and we have to do lists that are way too long. Being able to say yes to the right things that will help us achieve our goals, and making sure to say no to all of the rest of the clutter that prevents us from achieving our goals is important when prioritizing tasks. Remember, by having a clear understanding of the “why” when working on a goal means that we can easily discard any tasks that do not live up to that mission statement.
It’s important to recognize that achieving your goals often requires collaboration with others. The sooner you recognize your strengths and weaknesses, it will be easier to delegate the tasks of what you might not achieve as well to others to help fulfill your grander vision.
Another big reason why our systems can fail here is fear. Fear is often the reason that we are unable to prioritize and get tasks accomplished. Fear can keep us in a loop of self doubt, which hinders productivity, so once we face our fears it’s much easier to move forward and accomplish more.
So let’s look at a few techniques that will help you prioritize what you have to do and make sure that you are doing the tasks that are going to have the most impact.
One technique is to apply the 80/20 when planning out tasks to do. The 80/20 rule states that 20% of your tasks are probably going to have 80% of the impact and so by addressing these tasks first and prioritizing them you can let other tasks that may not be as impactful fall by the wayside or assign them to someone else.
You may have heard of the 80/20 rule when it comes to sales in the business world in that 80% of your profits will come from 20% of your customers and so you want to spend your time nurturing the 20% of your customers that are going to bring the most profits for your company. You should think of your tasks and prioritization of tasks in that way because often a lot of tasks are going to have diminishing returns, so it’s best to focus your time wisely on that tasks that are going to have the biggest impact on what you are trying to do.
One way I like to think about the 80/20 rule in my life is considering that I only have so much time and energy so if I have 2 tasks, let’s say one is to make a video that’s maybe going to reach 100 people versus a well constructed newsletter that is going to reach a million people, what is going to have the most impact? For me it might be crafting that newsletter and spending a little more time and effort on that, because it will be reaching a much larger audience and it’s most likely going to be a more valuable use of my time.
The Rule Of 5
One of my favorite prioritization is the rule of 5 which was developed by one of our founders, Joel Spolsky. The concept behind that is that you never have more than 5 things to do in your to do list. There should be 2 tasks you are working on right now, 2 tasks you plan on working on next, and one task that people might be expecting you to work on, but you're not actually planning on working on. While that might sound counterintuitive, the idea behind that is to be honest with ourselves for what we might not be doing, but also to be honest with our teammates. This also allows it to be easier to delegate tasks to other people that might be able to pick up the task that you might not be able to get to.
Prioritizing and working on only 2 things at once is really important because it makes good use of our limited mental resources and it prevents us from getting too much anxiety from having too much to do. Also, if we have too many items on our to do list then we are constantly jumping back and forth between tasks then we can suffer from context switching, which essentially makes us less effective and less productive workers because we are working without focus.
The Eisenhower Matrix
The last task prioritization system that I am going to cover of the many is the Eisenhower Matrix, which was developed by the 34th US President Dwight D. Eisenhower. What it allows you to do is create a system to prioritize the most important tasks so that they don’t get lost to the sudden, unexpected tasks that often arise out of nowhere.
The idea is that all of your tasks can be sorted into four quadrants, with axes of Important and Urgent on either side. These four quadrants are given number values of 1 through 4 based on their priority.
Tasks that are both “Important” and “Urgent” receive a priority level of 1, and should be your focus. On the other end of the spectrum, tasks that are deemed both “Not Important” and “Not Urgent” should be put to the wayside. In the middle are tasks that can either be scheduled for next up, or even delegated to someone else.
Assigning a task to each quadrant helps remove decision making from the process, which helps you stay productive by removing emotional overload from the equation, letting you truly focus on what’s important.
With a manageable to do list and less anxiety because we aren’t overwhelmed with too much to do. Now let’s look at ways we can improve our time management to get our prioritized tasks done.
More and more studies show that multitasking is terrible for our productivity. While it might feel like we are getting more work done in our heads, we are actually working less effectively, and therefore wasting time and productivity. Here are just a few of the many ways one can better structure their time to be more productive.
A great way to not only manage time, but also make sure that we are working with focus is to employ the Pomodoro Technique. What this means is that you are blocking out 25 minutes of uninterrupted focus. While that does seem easy, it’s actually way harder than you think. Be reasonable with yourself and try just starting with one block a day of uninterrupted focus. This means heads down, pick a task that can be accomplished in 25 minutes and solely work on that task, letting nothing else creep in from the outside. If you are able to do that slowly expand to more and more pomodoro sessions of 25 minute blocks.
Francesco Cirillo, the creator of the Pomodoro Technique, breaks it down into 5 simple steps:
- Choose a task to be accomplished
- Set a timer to 25 minutes
- Work on the task until the Pomodoro rings, then put a check on your sheet of paper
- Take a 5 minute break (this marks the completion of one "Pomodoro")
- Every 4 Pomodoros take a longer break
There are a lot of great tools and timers that can help you implement the Pomodoro technique in the form of browser extensions and apps.
The next technique is called time boxing. We all know too well that it’s way too easy to fall into a 60 or 80 hour work week, because there is so much to get done, but time boxing sets limits. It says “I’m only going to work 35 or 40 hours a week and I am going to get my tasks done in that time.” By working within that time frame you are going to be more effective and efficient because you are driven to do so. Also, you are not going to overextend yourself by working an 80 hour week where you are just going to get tired and do work that is of a lesser quality.
Batching is a really simple technique that allows you to combine a lot of similar small tasks to be accomplished in one sitting. Olivia Darby employs the batching technique on tasks like scheduling social media posts for an entire week, all at once. By sitting down and getting this out of the way in one sitting, it turns 7 tasks (scheduling social media every single day) into a single task, giving her more day to day focus on other tasks.
Think of other tasks that can be batched, like catching up on all of your email at once, filling out any tedious forms or paperworks, filing expenses and receipts. Do those types of tasks at once so that you mind is not doing piecemeal work.
Another important technique is to follow your body’s ultradian rhythm. The ultradian rhythm is made up of 90 to 120 minute cycles where you are going to be at peak productivity followed by 20 minute lulls. What you want to do is focus on your most difficult tasks during your most productive cycles and then the less difficult less mentally intensive tasks during those 20 minute lulls.
So how do we find our ultradian rhythm? What you want to do is log and score on a scale of 1-10 your focus, energy, and motivation for every waking hour, every day, for 3 weeks. After 3 weeks you can review your logs and you will start to notice trends in your scores which will enable you to zone in on your most productive hours and your most productive days. These are probably the days and hours that you should be focussing on your hardest tasks.
It’s also good to keep a journal of when you are feeling most or least energetic and productive and making notes of any circumstances that might have impacted that day. For instance, maybe you had a cold or maybe you felt lethargic after lunch, or perked up after an afternoon coffee break. All of these things can help you dial in once again your most productive hours, the circumstances that can impact performance, and therefore when and how you should be working.
In the end, take all of these findings to figure out the schedule where you are most productive. You might realize that this is not a 9-5 schedule. Maybe you will find out that you are a creative night owl. The important thing is that you are working when you are going to work best, so that you are not wasting your time and your peak productive moment. This will also allow you to better tackle the other things in life that might not require peak mental performance, such as going to the gym, responding to emails, or paying bills.
When trying to manage your time effectively it’s always really important to know that you shouldn’t be too hard on yourself. You have to be forgiving. Not all hours are the same. You might have an amazing productive hour one moment, but then the next one may be a dud. But by being hard on yourself and feeling guilty about that dud hour only means that you will carry over that lack of productivity and bad mood into your next potentially productive hour. Understand that you have productive moments and less productive moments and harness the productive moments to get as much done as possible.
One important tip from productivity pro Jess Martin is to create margins. This means don’t create such a rigid schedule that you can’t let productive moments flow into the next. By having too rigid of a schedule you’re going to instantly create burnout because you’re not going to allow for breaks or for creative thought continue until it’s natural end.
I’m sure you’ve heard it time and again, but creating a work-life balance is key. Working 80 plus hours a week is going to burn you out. You need to step away from the work and let your brain recharge. Doing a creative activity, going for a walk, exercising. These are ways that you can come back to your work and your tasks replenished and recharged and be able to approach them from a new angle.
While this all sounds like a lot, ultimately you need to come up with a system that works best for you. Try different things to see what works and what doesn’t. For me, I love a mix of the Pomodoro heads down 25 minute blocks to get tasks done, and I also really love time boxing, making sure that I limit my work to a certain area of my life so that I have time to recharge my brain and come back to my tasks with a fresh perspective, a fresh energy, and a fresh mindset.
Let’s take a look at some of the tools that can help you prioritize your tasks and get things done.
Build A Toolkit
There are a lot of tools out there that will help you enhance your productivity, get more done, and help you collaborate with your team. Let me go over some of mine and my team’s favorite tools and why they are so effective.
Of course, one of those tools is Trello. Both in my work life with my team at Trello, and with the rest of my life’s teams like my family, friends, and bandmates, I use Trello for everything. I’m also guessing that many of you here attending this webinar use Trello as well, which is great! Aside from using Trello to track projects, manage webinars, create content, and collaborate, we’ve developed a couple productivity enhancing Trello hacks to boost team productivity.
One way is to create a checklist for everything that I plan on getting done during that week. Everyone on my marketing team creates a checklist as well, and we create them all on the same card on our marketing team’s board. What’s great about this is that it creates a level of transparency within the team. Everyone can see what I’m working on and what I’ve completed, which minimizes the need for someone to interrupt me with a status update on a specific task, and therefore boosts our productivity. I can also easily link to any specific Trello cards or boards in checklist items incase anyone on my team wants to dig deeper into what I’m working on, or get some assets or information.
Another great aspect of using checklists in this fashion is that it gives us a shared sense of accomplishment each day and at the end of each week. Plus, science shows that checking off checklist items actually releases dopamine in the brain. Dopamine not only gives us that sense of satisfaction and euphoria, but actually motivates us to accomplish more.
The other great productivity hack has to do with team meetings. As many of you know, meetings can be a major productivity buzzkill where they often have no formal agenda and just drone on.
Like a checklist that structures what you are going to do from day to day or week to week, a meeting agenda should be well defined with a structured list of what is to be discussed during that meeting. Every meeting should also include who is going to lead the discussion on each topic. Defining the topics to be covered means there is a definitive end to the meeting. When all of the topics have been discussed the meeting is over, and no one’s time is wasted because of a lack of an agenda.
While this could simply be a list on a sheet of paper or on a whiteboard, or a shared document, we find it most effective to use a Trello board. In Trello we create a list of everything we want to discuss during the next meetings. Anyone on the team can add a card for what they would like to discuss, and add themselves to the card so that the meeting lead knows who to call on to speak next. The more informative a card is, the more context the rest of the team will have before, during, and after the meeting. As topics are covered they can be removed from the list and once there are no more cards on the list then the meeting is done. It’s a simple and effective way to save a whole lot of everyone’s time and sanity.
Trello also has a ton of cool features and shortcuts that can help you get things done quicker, provide focus, and keep you productive.
I am going to hop out of my Slides and into Trello right now to demo some of my favorites, but please note that there are many more awesome tips that I just don’t have time to cover. Maybe that will be another webinar!
Keyboard shortcuts - Q to view just your cards, spacebar to add yourself, E for quick edit mode, D to add due dates, Command-Enter to add a card and open it. Import list with copy and paste Power-Ups - Get perspective and information without switching apps, calendar view to see how your week/month is laid out. Google Drive, Slack, Email to board - Turn emails into actionable tasks, or just make sure you aren’t always stuck digging through an infinite inbox when trying to find important information Create template cards, checklists, and boards - Card Repeater for scheduled tasks.
Of course when it comes to get to-do lists done that means you need to focus. Focussing is key to productivity. One awesome tool is One Tab. What One Tab does is it takes all of the open tabs you have open in your browser and combines them into just one list on one tab. This is really important because by having the distraction of all of those tabs open means that you are constantly going to be looking at those tabs thinking about all of the other things you need to get done, and not focussing on the task at hand. By shrinking all of those open browser tabs into one list, it keeps you focussed on the task that you need to do without the constant reminder of all the other tasks that come next.
Flipboard, Moment, Offtime
Some studies have suggested that the average person checks their phone up to 150 times a day. Which is not on a major distraction, but definitely a productivity killer. Here’s a fun fact: If you’re focused on something else and you look up to see notifications on your phone, you have context switched. It may take you as long as half an hour to get back into “focus mode.”
Three cool tools that can help you keep you focussed on your work and not on your phone are Flipboard, Moment, and Offtime. These are great ways to silence distractions on your phone and in your browser and make sure that you are not missing out any key information in your life.
Offtime Offtime lets you set time blocks where you can temporarily turn off notifications. You can even set categories like “family” and “work” so that you still remain connected to certain areas of your life. There’s even analytics about your phone usage, to give you a better perspective.
Flipd Similar to Offtime, except Flipd actually initiates a custom lock screen, complete with a timer. You can also set emergency contacts so that important people in your life can always get through. Another interesting aspect of Flipd is they offer an opportunity to connect with the rest of their community, and even complete challenges with others. It puts the “fun” in “focus”... or something like that.
Moment (iOS only) Moment provides you with daily data about your phone usage. You can set a limit that you don’t like to go over, and if you do, Moment will actually blank out your screen and remind you to set your phone down and chill out in the real world. The interface has a soothing traffic light color UI pattern to let you know if you’re in the red with usage.
Another great tool, especially for those working with clients, is Harvest. Harvest allows you to track time and keep track of how much time you are spending on each task. What’s really cool as that you can use this as a productivity hack, because if you have tasks that you are repeating regularly and you are keeping track of time, you can see if you are spending more time or less time than you should, and maybe be able to reconsider how you can be more effective in getting that task done based on the amount of time it’s taking. There is even a Harvest Power-Up for Trello so you can start timers directly from Trello cards.
Automation - IFTTT/Zapier
We often have many frequent processes that take while might take only small amounts of time, actually add up to massive time wasters and productivity killers. These tasks might be adding data from forms to spreadsheets, or scheduling tweets on social media. The awesome thing is that a lot of these tasks can be automated with tools like If This Than That and Zapier. For instance, if you use an app like Typeform or Wufoo for forms, you can have that data automatically added to a Google Sheet, or have a card created on a Trello CRM board. Both these tools integrate with all of your favorite apps, and can really add a lot of time to your day, and provide you with more energy to focus on the tasks that really require some brain power.
The last tool and topic I want to cover is around team communication, and how better communication with the right tools and guidelines can have a big impact on productivity.
When it comes to in the moment team communication and brainstorming sessions, we like to use Slack, because it allows us to communicate with a globally distributed team. No matter where anyone is, we can have a fluid conversation and create actionable items and go over tasks and projects that we are working on, and then move those tasks over to Trello. By using Trello and Slack we don’t have to send a single email for any project, and everyone has all of the information and the individuals they need to collaborate with easily accessible.
Slack and Trello can create the ultimate productivity powerhouse because they work seamlessly together with both the Trello app for Slack, and the Slack Power-Up in Trello. With the Trello app for Slack, team members can interact with Trello, add and edit cards, and more without having to leave a conversation in Slack and go into Trello. It’s a great way to save time, and clicks between apps, keeping you and everyone else more productive. The Trello app for Slack is free in the Slack app directory, and all you have to do is connect your Slack team with your Trello team to get started.
The Slack Power-Up in Trello can be enabled as your board’s free Power-Up, and this helps keep your team productive, but from the Trello side. For instance, if I am working in Trello and want team feedback on blog post that I am writing, I can send the card directly from Trello to a Slack channel associated with my team. This means I don’t have to change what I am doing to request feedback, and with the Trello app for Slack, my team doesn’t even have to leave Slack if they are currently in there, to leave feedback on my Trello card. They can add comments directly from Slack. Talk about saying goodbye to context switching.
Of course, while all these tools can make us way more productive, it’s also quite possible for them to have the opposite effect if proper team communication guidelines are not established. It’s important to setup a workflow so that these tools work together so that you’re maximizing how you get things done with yourself and with your team. Essentially one needs to consider what tools are most effective for communicating certain things. If it’s in the moment you might want to be in an app like Slack, however if it is more long term project planning, then Trello can be a better way to breakdown those tasks because they will take a longer period of time to accomplish, and log comments and input that can be more easily referenced a day, week, or month later.
It’s also really important to set expectations for how you want to be communicated with and how to communicate with others within these apps so that you maintain a productive workday, you are able to get things done on a personal level, but also being available for team needs.
This could be letting people know in Slack that you are going into Do Not Disturb mode so that you can get more done and go heads down on a task. It also means letting people know that you are using apps to silence phone notifications, in case someone is trying to reach you on that level. In our marketing team at Trello we have Maker Days on Tuesday and Thursday where teammates can have heads down work days without meetings and without the expectation to be in Slack. They just need to let everyone else know when they are taking them so that our communication expectations are properly managed.
We also encourage communication to occur in Slack over team channels, and to minimize the use of direct messages. This way anyone on the team can go to the right channel for a project and understand the decisions being made and the work getting done. If people are communicating too much in direct messages productivity will be hurt because information might not be available for someone to move forward on a project, or it means someone will have to bother another team member to get the information they need, because it was not available for them to find it on their own.
The same applies to Trello boards, having team visible boards means that colleagues can get the information and perspective on a project they need without having to ask for access to a private board. It also opens the door for more constructive input from more people, which can lead to better results and a stronger product.
By having a set of tools to communicate and collaborate effectively as a team, and being able to focus and be productive as an individual means that you are not going to be working in silos and potentially doubling your efforts, which will make for a more productive and successful company.
I know we’ve probably just touched the tip of the iceberg on all the ways we can boost our personal productivity, so there may be more to come in future webinars. I hope that everyone got a few takeaways, as well as some new tools and techniques to try out. As mentioned earlier, I will be sending out a recording of the webinar, plus a link to the Slide deck, as well as links to blog posts that cover a lot of these topics in greater depth.