My Productivity Apps

Productivity is on the decline when we are disengaged from our work. We tend to procrastinate, at times, or become lazy with a big chunk of tasks on hand. It is the reason why I am obsessing the idea of making my work more anxiety-free and be more productive.

It’s a good thing that there are many productivity mobile apps available to make our work life more comfortable. I’ve tried a lot of tools, and here is what I use for now.

  1. Trello – I fell in love with Trello after trying several project management tools. I tried Assembla, Jira, Asana, Remember The Milk, but Trello somehow fit in with my work and lifestyle because of it’s built-in support for agile. I also have met Michael Pryor, co-founder and CEO of Trello and mentored us in Lisbon Web Summit last 2016.
  2. Alarmed – it is a very flexible reminder app that can nag you, or give you the option to snooze, add more hours or minutes on the fly. We all know that our day doesn’t really happen as planned, and with this app, I can easily adjust accordingly.
  3. Viber, WhatsApp, Messenger, WeChat and Telegram – I use all of these tools because of the different preferences of my contacts. If I have a choice, then I would prefer to have a single app for all. I tried researching for one, but there’s no available in the market yet. Hopefully, someone invents this soon.
  4. Spark – I just tried this email client app to solve my problem in delegating an email to someone without forwarding it to the person. I still use the Gmail app in sorting out my email, but I use Spark when I need to delegate some messages in my inbox.
  5. Forest – I use this app when I want to focus on a particular task, and if I don’t want to be disturbed. It is an app where a user can set some minutes to work on a job (Pomodoro style). Trees grow virtually as a virtual reminder that you are growing and productive until you finish the time set.

These are just tools, but in the end, it is all about how your approach in using them. You can use this and still be stressful. The key is organizing your time properly, time-blocking, and being mindful of urgent-important matters vs. non-urgent-non-important ones.

Maybe you would want to stop and gather your thoughts before engaging. I use Evernote in journaling and mind mapping when things are a little bit all over the place.

Project Zero-Phone-Use: The Ultimate To Do List

todolist.pngAccording to a study, an average cell phone user touches the phone 2,167 times a day or equivalent to 2.5 hours.  Then there’s also a study that continually checking their phones results to a higher level of stress compared to people who spend less time interacting with their gadgets.

Some of us use the phone simultaneous with when we are talking to someone or even driving, which is worse.  Yes, there are benefits in multi-tasking, but the drawbacks outweigh those benefits.  It not only results in more anxiety or stress but a half-baked product of your work.

With this, I wonder, how can one person reduce the number of times they touch his or her phone?  If you’re a businessperson and you are managing all aspects of your company, it is given that you will be overwhelmed with so many tasks.  So if one can develop a system to automate some and minimize friction in executing your work such as checking your to-do list on your phone, then you’ll be more effective and efficient.

Over the years, I’ve been in constant research, trial and error on how to achieve that “nirvana” of doing my todo list.  I tried so many tools from Remember The Milk, Google Inbox, Google Tasks, Google Keep, Jira, Basecamp, Post Its, a physical notebook and Trello.  But I always end up with obsessively checking the tasks on hand and non-stop looking at my phone.

I even have a separate phone with me in the morning so that I won’t be tempted to glance at the notifications of my work phone.  I may seem calm from the outside, but my mind is pounding with stressful thoughts and anxiety.

Just recently, I thought of an experiment to minimize the number of times I will touch and view my phone and use a smartwatch or only the phone notification to glance at quick pings and IMs.

The main objective is, how can I be able to reduce the use of my phone while still be productive and efficient?  So this is what I am going to do at work in the next coming days:

1. Classify my activities.

    * a. Email checks and work planning using a laptop

    * b. Face-to-face meetings

    * c. Manage IMs

2. For activity a)., I will block one hour in the morning and one hour in the afternoon to reply to emails using my laptop.  Then I will use Google Keep to set tasks with due date reminder notification that will require me to do another activity, for example, a phone call or proposal review.

3. Use Google Calendar to set events for face-to-face meetings.

4. Classify IMs, using a smartwatch with cellular data can eliminate the use of a phone.  You can even leave your phone at home with the latest smartwatches such as Apple Watch.

    * IMs answerable by yes or no, use a reply/msg template to make a quick reply.

    * IMs that require a discussion, I can use a smartwatch with a wireless earphone to call instead of discussing over text if it’s urgent, or just call them after my current task.

To paint you a picture further, here’s a sample day for me:

7am – 8am – I will block this hour to reply to emails, messages, and set reminders to place a call in a specific time of the day.

7:45am – a watch Google Keep notification will pop-up telling me to start the sales meeting at 8am showing the list of things to discuss.

8am – 10am – focus on the sales meeting while glancing over quick IMs and apply item 4 above.

9:45am – a watch notification will pop-up telling me to wrap up and start driving to my a meeting outside the office.

10am to 12pm – sales call outside the office while glancing over quick IMs on my smartwatch.  Will reply using templates and/or set reminders via the watch to call back.

12pm to 2pm – lunch and do item 2 above – check emails using a laptop and re-arrange Google Keep tasks.

1:45pm – a watch notification will pop-up telling me what to do next…

And the cycle goes on and on.

With this “algorithm,” I might be able to reduce the time significantly in using my phone, if not entirely eliminate them instead of constantly checking and replying emails, msgs and attending to tasks real-time.

The smart way of using your phone this time is when you want to read an ebook peacefully on the bed, listen to podcasts or engage in social media when you are not in work mode.

If this experiment is successful, then I will try to share my experience with you via a vlog.

Stay tuned.

My OCD and Creative Ways to Manage Tasks

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I’ve spent years checking things compulsively. When I was in school, I checked all my pockets, my chair, my bag making sure all my stuff were in their proper places. I checked dirt at the back of my pants every time I stand up. At home, I checked my teeth each time I see a mirror, I checked the LPG if it’s closed.  My parents were observing me and asked me what I’d been doing.

When I touch things using my right hand, I usually touch it again using my left hand. I clapped my hands compulsively, tapped my stomach, stretched my neck, had facial tics, looked at the bottom of my plate before I eat. Up to this moment, I’ve been having random compulsive behaviors like checking my calendar, task list, email or text when I knew that I just checked them.

It’s evident, that the reason why I do these behaviors since I was a kid is that I have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). Checking things have been wasting my time and making me more anxious most of the time. Since I became aware of the disorder and these mannerisms, I researched things on how to eliminate them. I learned self-hypnosis, meditation, Buddhism doctrines, cognitive therapy and I even underwent psychotherapy.

I have grown accustomed to this, but lately, I’ve been realizing the benefits of having these kinds of compulsions.

When I graduated in high school, I dreamed to have my own business. Fortunately, I got in the software business a year after my first employment when I realized I wasn’t happy being employed. My anxiety grew exponentially when I faced a lot of adversity in my startup years. I was clinically diagnosed as depressed and started to take anti-depressants a few years back.

I made the business grow single-handedly after a decade and managed the company and projects all by myself. I studied finance and accounting including tax management. I made product presentations while I spearheaded project implementation alone and had been managing operations without any top-level or mid-level managers. My travel time between meetings was spent by replying to emails, text and answering calls.  

 

Eventually, I found good people who helped the company grow further and made the company the software organization that we are now.

After years of hating compulsive checking, I had this great sense of relief that after all, OCD was a big part of my success. Worrying and checking things that I do since the time I was in software programming (making sure that I don’t miss any features that the clients wanted and making sure I am following design standards) up to doing my role as a project manager, sales and finance were the traits that are very important in entrepreneurship and management world.

 

Meantime, I’d like to share some of the creative ways I did to organize and manage tasks especially if you lead a team and work on multiple projects simultaneously.  The key here is focus and concentration and not “really” doing it simultaneously.

 

1. Run tasks on themed-days.  It’s important to assign tasks to do on certain days, making it “themed.” My Mondays are Sales & Marketing in the morning, then Operations in the afternoon.  I lay out plans/activities for each department for the entire week.  Tuesdays are R&D. Wednesdays and Thursdays are sales calls. Fridays are Finance, Admin & HR. 

2. Plan at night. I do this usually after dinner or before bedtime.  I use a traditional notebook and write down my itinerary for the following day.  I cross each task out as I accomplish them on the day itself.

3. Set certain times to check messages.  I do this early in the morning, then just before lunch break and right after doing my tasks by end of the day.  Turning on your notifications and reading and replying each time will give you a lot of stress and will take your focus away on the tasks at hand. 

4. Time blocking.  I usually block my time like a 30min. standup meetings with the team lead for a quick check-in or fix roadblocks.  Another example is, I use a separate phone when I wake up and do my morning routines.  Because if I pick up my work phone at the beginning of the day, I’ll be bombarded with notifications and I won’t be able to do my morning rituals such as meditation, workout, reading, and writing.

 

These methods have helped me collect myself, calmed me at times when I need to concentrate, and most of all, made me feel that I am in control and on top of things. It gives me a clear mind to think, to handle tasks the best I could, and to get a better perspective on things. Try these for a week and see how it would help you function throughout the day. If you’ve got tips on how to better manage tasks, share it by commenting below. It surely will be useful for all of us.

A Creative Way to Manage Time Wisely

Running a growing organization is never easy. Day after day, I try my best to innovate and be creative in managing my time. It is still a work in progress.

But somehow I think I found a system and tool to manage time. The answer is Inbox by Gmail.

The problem with most of time management or to do list apps is that it is not integrated with email and messaging.

The traditional way of configuring my day is to list down my todos for the next day. While I am working on my current to do list, I am bombarded with a lot of messages, texts, calls and each of the interaction has another to do to list down. So what I’d been doing was to open another app and put the reminder or todo.

With Inbox by Gmail, email messages can be a todo itself and can be snoozed.

 

In the example above, I made it sure that I snooze the message either tomorrow, next week or a specific date/time so that I will be reminded to follow up if the instruction was not completed.  Another great feature of Inbox is that you can also pin or snooze a note, reminder or a todo list.

Below are some tips in planning a todo list using Inbox so you can manage time wisely:
1. Categorize your todo. In my case I categorize my todo per department. I set all tasks related to finance and admin at 8am, operations at 10am and Sprint planning at 2pm.

2. With Inbox, there are two sections, the tasks under Inbox and tasks under Snoozed. Todos under Inbox are tasks due. So normally I am mindful with Inbox tasks/emails.

3. I don’t usually show new email messages until my tasks due are finished. There’s an option in Inbox where you can hide new messages or if you prefer to see them, you can always snooze to a specific date for reply later.

4. Inbox by Gmail is not limited to work tasks, I also put snoozed todos or reminders for my time to read, workout, write and spend time with the family.

I’ve been using Inbox for awhile and I don’t think I will be using a new personal task management app soon. I seldom miss completion of tasks or a follow up ever since.