Aim for your goals the right way

Reading Time ≈ 11 minutes

How implementing the book knowledge from 2001 can increase the trust in collaboration with your team and let you finally fix your messy room.

Productivity is everywhere! ROAR!

Productivity. That term seems like it wants to jump out of our fridge every morning. Doesn’t it? The society constantly mumbles about it (I know, me too), like it is the greatest skill you might have… and they are right! Think about it; if you are the master of productivity, you can simply do a lot of stuff (guess there is no master course in this specialisation yet; correct me if I’m wrong)! The more you know how to do, the better companies will look on you, and in the result, you will not fall into the never-ending job hunt. One of the examples is my recent career opportunity, where the organisation hired me for a role that does not exactly fit my highest expectations (pursuing Data Science career solely); however, I’m still contented to be working for them. I’m talking about the engineering consultant position, which again, will provide me with a broader skill-set than focusing entirely on analysing large heaps of data.

Coming back to what I said, quantity beats quality, at least if we think about our potential in the job market. Nonetheless, on higher levels, quality (expertise) is of a significant priority, where you need to understand lots of concepts from just a single field, like calculus, if you are thinking about discovering new architectures of neural networks. Anyhow, calculus is so extensive that I’m not sure if it’s correct to classify it into a single field.

Similarly, the author of Dilbert comic strips tends to discuss the idea of productivity in his creations. Besides, he also tends to philosophise about quantity/quality optimisation:

If you think extraordinary talent and a maniacal pursuit of excellence are necessary for success, I say that’s just one approach, and probably the hardest. When it comes to skills, quantity often beats quality.Scott Adams
Productivity Dilbert
Remember to organise/prioritise your tasks. Credit: Dilbert comic strip by Scott Adams[1]Adams, S. (1992) Dilbert Comic Strip on Friday January 10, 1992 [online] available from <http://dilbert.com/strip/1992-01-10>
Lots of people that I see around are not experts in a single specialisation, and they are doing more than fine having a skill stack of things mastered in beginner to “let me try, but later it might never work again” level. What’s more, they are even creating online courses to teach others what they have learned. It’s not wrong, as even if you know something in 10%, there will be dozens of people who understand the topic in 1% and would love to hear from you. Summarising, we can assume that our usability/value in the job market is what determines the career success.

The problem for some of us right now is what we want to do for the living/hobby, but that topic is for another night. Yes, I know a way to solve our doubts in this area, and it’s not magic. It’s rather something that needs to restructure the way we think.

To-Do Lists

Productivity is the mother of all the skills we acquire during our lifespan. The second most crucial skill might be writing as it applies everywhere, making us better teachers/employees who can communicate their thoughts clearly. Today, thanks to the internet we got access to extensive knowledge, and we know that daily activity is good for our health; however, most of us still tend to lie down in our beds for the most of the day, smoke cigarettes and complain that Lay’s continuously puts 50% of air into their bag of chips. Why? It’s all matter of setting up our mind, and without a doubt, it’s not something we can change straight away, and something that once changed will work forever.

The time management method presented by David Allen in his most famous creation “Getting Things Done[2]Allen, D. (2001) Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity. New York: Penguin is being applied in my case for over a year and most importantly it gives practical results! I definitely observed doing more things that are out of my comfort zone, and I changed my life dramatically (successfully finished university, found first job etc.). No, you don’t have to be a wizard and all you need to do is to familiarise yourself with the following workflow:

GTD Diagram
Didn’t you read the book? No worries, here is a brief workflow summary

Once a friend told me that there is no sense to note every single thing you want to do, such as making sure to feed your cats after coming back home. Right, it is something we aren’t likely to forget, but think of a brain as of the Random-Access-Memory (RAM). If you will need to remember about every little thing, you will only reduce your focus required in the current moment and at some time achieve lower results. Moreover, human brain works as a hybrid of RAM and hard disk, as such it tends to leak the data (forgets about stuff).

By writing everything down into your to-do list, you free your memory, just like you do with a task manager called by a combination of Ctrl+Alt+Delete on Windows. That way you can live the moment and achieve the highest performance! Arr!

Brain = RAM
Hopefully, one day we will be able to install some additional RAM implants into our brains

Todoist

Todoist is the ultimate app to manage your tasks, and initially, this post had to describe my way of using it solely, but I end up adding a little bit of background to it. I do not have any affiliation with the developers, I am just a thankful user who discovered this tool long ago through recommendations of people who I consider to be successful, so I merely thought that something must be in it.

I praise Todoist mainly for:

  • autocompletion with integrated keywords
  • cross-platform availability (I can even use it on my smartwatch)
  • simplicity (offer of just the right features).

Below you can see the example of how I add a task to remember about publishing this post. You can notice, that Todoist automatically highlights the word “tomorrow”, which will pop up a notification on my phone the next day about a project assigned to the project “Website” with the highest priority “1”.

Todoist automatically recognises predefined keywords
Todoist automatically recognises predefined keywords

 

Todoist - Sample Entry
And nicely aligns them. Oh… I’m so busy this day

As such, to start with Todoist, I highly recommend spending some time on organising it, defining some projects and labels which will play a significant role. Don’t worry if you cannot figure it out in the beginning. After more than a year of using the app, I am still finding myself changing some of the settings.

It’s definitely worth organising your tasks, so in the end, as a reward, you will get a shiny report from the Todoist team. Just like I did!

Pro tip: If you want to add something that cannot be ever done, use “*” in the beginning. It might be useful for things that you just need to check regularly, but cannot complete.

Projects

To start with, you should organise your tasks into different projects. Trust me; you don’t want to keep all of them in the “Inbox”, same as all the e-mails that you would later like to find in the categorised folders. Whenever you write down a task, use “#” sign, and you will be able to remember about buying milk by assigning it into “Shopping” project.

Let’s take a look at what I applied in my case:

My list of projects
My list of projects
  • 👤 Personal – store of all the personal duties, such as feeding my cat at 8 am
  • 👔 Job – everything related to corporations, interviews etc.
  • 💻 Website – things to do on my blog, such as publishing this post
  • 🎉 Social – well, sometimes I need to go outside
  • 💚 Health – don’t forget to drink more Aloe Vera!
  • 🛍 Shopping – it’s 3rd day since I forgot to buy some milk
  • 🔃 Lend / Borrowed – I’ll always remember to take back what I lend to you
  • ⏳ Awaiting Response – same as that it’s 4th day since you didn’t reply
  • 🔍 To Check – this project replaces the popular Pocket application. All the videos of cats that I have to watch in my free time
    • 🗨 To Message – I can’t forget to call my mom in the morning
    • 📚 Learn – online courses to go through
    • ⬇ Update – links to websites that post some critical updates, such as leaks of new Skrillex tracks.

Remember: all the colours/emojis are optional and they are here just for the satisfaction of my eyes.

Labels

You can treat labels as hashtags which you might use to SPAM everyone on Instagram. It’s some additional option to categorise your tasks, and sometimes it’s pretty useful. In order to assign some tags to the activity, type “@” sign, and you will be reminded of your labels.

My list of labels
My list of labels
  • doing – implement the “Personal Kanban” method to mark tasks in three categories: to do, doing and done
  • maybe – should I, or should I not?
  • quick – something that shouldn’t take more than 5 minutes. Something that takes less than 2 should be done straight away
  • meeting – we need to talk
  • OneNote – the task is described in detail in OneNote
  • fun – yaaay! Can’t wait to do it!
  • music – la la la
  • studying – I should bring some coffee and dark chocolate
  • job – JUST DO IT!
  • GCal – automatic tag assigned to tasks added through Google Calendar app.

Filters/Priorities

There is no such thing as ‘I do not have the time’. This is all just a matter of priorities. Maciej Aniserowicz

Type “p” followed with a number “1,2,3 or 4” to prioritise your goals.

My list of filters
My list of filters
  • p1 – very important, I can’t go to bed without marking it as done
  • p2 – quite important, but I can survive without doing it
  • p3 – it would be great to do it
  • p4 – meehhh… just a regular task.

Templates

If there is something that you go through continuously in the exact same structure, it’s worth to check out what are To-Do Templates. These are basically projects filled with tasks in a specified order that you can import and start ticking out. Personally, I prefer to store my templates in OneNote, such as the procedure of posting another article on my blog (unfortunately, it’s not only about writing few words and clicking “Publish”). The good thing is, that if you copy the list from OneNote and paste it inside Todoist using Ctrl+V, it will be automatically recognised and added in an organised way.

Online Calendar

If you have Todoist Premium, you can head into “Settings –> Integrations” to get your personalised token (iCal). With this URL you can tightly integrate Todoist with Google Calendar, so whenever you open it up, you will also see your Todoist tasks planned for that day (as on the image below).

Google Calendar + Todoist
Todoist can also automatically sync all the tasks to Google Calendar

Before discovering to-do lists, I used to note everything in the form of events in my Google Calendar. Nowadays, I keep Google Calendar only for special events/meetings, which cannot be marked as done, but simply have to be attended, such as my upcoming flight for the graduation ceremony.

Wait a sec!

If you already thought about creating your Todoist account, please do me a favour and sign up using my referral link so I will get 2 months of premium for free and in result save few cents for more yerba mate and bulletproof coffee.

Three Levels

We already know the way of keeping track of our duties, but there is one more issue. Let’s get back to the problem of finding out how to start doing. I think this is a topic for another post, but let’s try to describe it briefly. The idea of the system originally comes from the polish entrepreneur who constantly inspires me through his daily vlogs. Mirosław Burnejko (MiroBurn), who I am talking about, described the system not even once, well, he even designed an online course about planning your goals. I didn’t take part in it, as I follow him long enough to know what would he say, but if you understand polish and you are new to what is in this post, I highly recommend you to check it out.

Mirosław Burnejko was even so kind to share his list of goals publicly so that I couldn’t wait more but do the same. Taking a look at my list of goals, you can find the rules of the system and see my goals to achieve so you can verify my progress and inspire yourself to do the same. One of my friends already copied the template and applied it to his situation. You don’t even know how proud I felt!

Your plans vs. reality
Feels familiar, huh?

I think everyone seen the image above. Yes, that might demotivate some of us, but you can forget about the lower part of it with the application of “Three Levels/Goals” system. It’s all about restructuring your mind. Let’s take an example: each of us would be feeling good about accomplishing 100 km run, right? Undoubtedly, and it’s not hard.

I’m crazy?

I assure you that I am not. If you start thinking of how to run 100 km, in the case when you never get outside to run short distances of 5 km, it will be definitely looking like the “Reality” part of the image above. So, how to transform it into the “Your plan” part? Using the discussed system, you will divide the 100 km run into 10 km run for the next year, 40 km run in 2 years and finally 100 km run in 4 years. It will be pretty straightforward once you start thinking about the small steps and learning how to achieve the easier bits. Once you do that (run the 10km and later 40), you will understand that running 100 km is the same what you did before, but you only need to continue applying the technique you already know for a longer time. That’s it! Recheck my list to have a practical example.

PS. This Sunday I am getting much closer to one of my goals: Marathon Runner. I’m going to take part in the 10 km Independence Day run in Rzeszow (“6. PKO Bieg Niepodległości“). It’s not the longest distance I used to run, but it’s my first run with more than two people (exactly 2000).

Make up a daily routine

At least the morning part of the day; however, if you are strong enough, work on the night one too. Personally, I still struggle with the night section as it operates under its own law. Setting up a daily routine saves your daily dose of creativity such that you don’t have to think about what should you do every time you finish brushing your teeth. I’m not an expert, but I might tell you what kind of a system I apply at the moment so you can inspire yourself a little bit:

  1. Wake up at a similar time each morning (similar with going to bed).
  2. Take a shower.
  3. Eat breakfast (make sure to know what you will eat the day before). Currently, I only drink bulletproof coffee and watch a daily coding interview solution by Kevin Naughton Jr. in the meantime.
  4. Brush your teeth.
  5. Quick exercise (about 50 push ups/crunches).
  6. Meditate for around 10 minutes (with a mobile app or without).
  7. Read your affirmation and visualisation of goals.
  8. Check social media/respond to e-mails. (limit it to maximum twice a day).
  9. Get your stuff done (check Todoist, Google Calendar etc.).

The presented schedule works just fine in my case, and it is highly similar for almost 4 months. Sometimes I tweak some stuff here and there, but currently, I am never getting tired of this ritual. Obviously, sometimes I run out of time or wake up late and I end up with just taking a shower. It’s okay, and I don’t feel like punishing myself as I can do some of the stuff in the evening.

Remember, you cannot eat an elephant in one bite. Everything requires time, patience and even more patience! Oh, and if you think that this all is a significant loss of time, I would advise you to re-establish your mind and consider the entire process as the installation of SSD disk which takes time, but later you end up being more focused and productive for the rest of the day.

Good luck in changing your habits, my dear!

Extra resources

If you feel like that’s not enough, take a look at some of the resources that I have stored in my “Productivity” section of OneNote:

Interested to know more?

This post is #1 of Productivity Series on this blog, and I’ve got in plans to write about other tools/techniques that I find useful in the time when I need to get stuff done. Please let me know in the comments down below if there is a specific topic that interests you and I will try to do my best in organising my thoughts for another post.

If you don’t have a clear-cut subject in which you would like to extend your experience, keep following this site, its fan page, sign up for the newsletter and wait patiently for me to correctly prioritise the tasks in order to create more content.

In the end, I wish you to fall into the “flow” as often as you want. It’s the state when you cannot stop doing the creative thing like programming even with a full bladder.

See ya and thanks for staying with me! ❤

Done!
Done!

 

All Clear!
Isn’t it great to see this view, finally after cleaning your daily to-do list?

References   [ + ]

1. Adams, S. (1992) Dilbert Comic Strip on Friday January 10, 1992 [online] available from <http://dilbert.com/strip/1992-01-10>
2. Allen, D. (2001) Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity. New York: Penguin
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