I spend a lot of time highlighting systems and digital tools to increase your productivity and streamline your workflow. But despite all the advances in technology, I’m still an advocate for putting pen to paper and utilizing non-digital systems. Manual note-taking is stickier; I often find that I remember appointments and ideas much more accurately when I write them down vs. inputting them into my devices. Obviously, technology has its advantages (you can lose notebooks, you can’t sync a planner with other people’s schedules, etc.), so you shouldn’t cut out digital systems completely, but I believe a balance of both is the best way to increase productivity and maximize creativity.
Though I still keep the majority of my schedule using Google Calendar, I’ve gotten into the habit of also using a day planner. This day planner should do more than remind you of meetings and appointments; the best day planners are goal oriented. As many of you know, my planner of choice is the Panda Planner*. It combines daily schedules and tasks with tracking long term projects and daily habits, plus a gratitude practice. This planner allows me to do more than keep track of my to-do list and schedule; it also helped me form a daily gratitude practice, monitor exercise, and take the time to review each day. There are many planners out there, but this is the one that has worked the best for me. I encourage you to try out a few and discover which works best for you.
You know the saying, “Out of sight, out of mind?” The same is true for goal setting and major projects. If you don’t have constant reminders of your long term objectives, you’ll get caught up in the day-to-day and quickly forget about them. By utilizing a white board, preferably one that hangs in your line of sight, you’ll remain focused and motivated.
My white board contains 3 sections:
A month-at-a-glance calendar. This allows me to glance quickly at dates to see holidays, days of the week, etc. without diving into my primary calendar.
2018 financial goal remaining. At the beginning of the year, I set a financial goal for a particular section of my business. (In 2016, I set a speaking income goal. In 2017, it was a goal for e-courses and affiliate revenue.) Then, once a month, I look at my books and revise my number to show how much I have remaining. When I’m not there yet, I write it in red. When I exceed my goal (which sometimes happens, sometimes doesn’t), I write it in green.
Big projects for the month. We utilize Asana to keep track of ongoing tasks and client projects, but on my personal to-do list, there are other large-scale projects that can easily get pushed aside. These are things that are nice-to-haves, but not necessarily urgent or time sensitive, like organizing my files or updating my financial forecasts. So whenever I have a free moment, rather than dive into the little tasks for the next day or getting distracted by social media, I take a look at my white board and make a dent in one of those bigger projects. And if there are still projects listed at the end of the month, I make them a priority and get them done.
You can structure your white board in any way that makes sense for you. I know many people who utilize the Chalkboard Method of goal setting or use their whiteboards for brainstorming new ideas. But whatever it is, hang it in your line of sight so that you can remain focused and productive.
I’m a longtime insomniac and have struggled with a busy mind since I was a child. I couldn’t turn my brain off long enough to ease into sleep. I use many techniques to cope, but one of the habits I got into was journaling. I won’t claim to be a daily journaler (though I have those aspirations!), but on days when my mind is still running at a million miles a minute, I unload those thoughts into my journal. After coming home from teaching my Book Promotions class at DePaul University, my mind is often still spinning with student questions, thoughts about the lecture, and ideas for the next week, so I spend some time after class jotting those notes down and getting them out of my head. During lunch, I’ll often take time to journal about how the morning went and how I hope the afternoon will go. Occasionally, I’ll do stream-of-consciousness exercises to work through problems, thoughts, or ideas that just won’t let go.
I come from a creative writing background, so the idea of putting pen to paper isn’t a new one, but for many of you, it might be. My advice is to not worry about how your thoughts are organized, if you’re utilizing proper grammar, or if what you’re writing even makes sense. You’re not writing the next great American novel; you’re writing to gather your thoughts or boost your creativity. It’s better to write more imperfect words than fewer pristine ones.
Your journal can be anything from a legal pad to a spiral notebook to a cute hand-crafted journal you bought at an art fair. I have an affinity for classic Moleskine notebooks*. What you use is far less important than how you use it.
In addition to these three tools, I also opt for manual note taking in meetings and utilize post-its for quick reminders.
What are your favorite analog tools for increasing your creativity and productivity? Share in the comments!
*Denotes affiliate links. I receive a small commission when you purchase products through these links and I only link to products or services that I’ve used and can honestly recommend. Reputation is everything, and I have no plans to risk mine for a few bucks.
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