Don’t let random ideas interrupt your productivity
Good ideas can happen at any time – which is good and
bad. While creativity is key to competitive
advantage, you still have to maintain productivity if you want to get anything
done. David Allen goes into great detail
describing how the mind
is for having ideas, not holding them.
So, how to clear your head without losing these great ideas? I recommend the use of Quick Notes. Windows is able to call up Quick Notes from any application. You just have to use the keyboard shortcut ÿ+n (Windows key and the letter n). This will pop up a stickie-note window. Now, simply jot down the thought or idea on this note, with just enough information that you can make sense of it later – do NOT try to capture and clarify. Just capture the idea.
After capturing the idea, go back to whatever you were working
on, giving it your full attention.
Later, such as your next break or at the end of the day,
review your Quick Notes. At this time you can make an initial attempt at
clarifying the idea, expanding and filling in details such you can identify any
actions that you need to take.
Creating Quick Notes
From whatever application you are using, use ÿ+n.
Type your thought, idea or reminder on the new note.
The meeting notes feature of Office 365 connects Outlook Calendar with Microsoft OneNote. It serves as a great tool for preparing prior to a meeting, capturing action items during the meeting and then reviewing notes after the meeting.
Within Microsoft Outlook, Calendar captures meetings and appointments. When you select a meeting, the Meeting Notes icon displays in the toolbar ribbon. If you are the meeting organizer, you have the option of taking notes for everyone. Otherwise, you can choose to take notes just for yourself.
Once you choose whether to share your notes, Microsoft
Office creates a new page in OneNote.
The page will include the meeting details as a header section. Below the header, a space is provided for
taking notes. If you have a tablet with
pen capabilities, you can use this space to capture handwritten notes.
If any of the notes represents an action, you can flag that
item for follow-up using the Outlook Tasks feature. Flag items will show up in the Outlook Task
list and in Microsoft To Do.
The Meeting Notes feature makes it easy to find your
captured notes in multiple ways. If you
have a fairly organized OneNote structure, you can of course browse through
your OneNote folders to locate the note.
If you recall the meeting subject, attendees or key words, you can use
this information in the OneNote Search field.
If you know when the meeting occurred, probably the easiest way to find
the Meeting Notes is to open the Outlook Calendar item and click Meeting Notes. Office will then locate and open the Meeting
Note associated with that Calendar item.
Thus, Meeting Notes allows you to prepare before the meeting
by capturing your own discussion items and reminders. During the meeting, you can capture responses
and other items of interest. After the meeting, you can review your notes to identify
and then flag any action items.
Creating Meeting Notes
In Outlook Calendar, create or select an item.
In the Meeting tab, click on Meeting Notes.
In the pop-up window, choose whether to create shared notes or to take notes on your own.
Just about every productivity system recommends maintaining
an empty, or nearly empty, email inbox. The
very idea of moving emails out of the inbox terrifies some people. They fear they will never be able to find
what they need, when they need it.
I am not going to go into the philosophy of Inbox Zero,
as there are plenty of websites that can cover the concept in-depth.
To achieve an inbox of manageable size, I recommend the use
of follow-up flags within Microsoft Outlook.
These flags allow you to mark those emails that require some sort of
action on your part. Let’s look at an
Consider an email that you receive that has some specific
actions that you need to take. As shown in the video, Alice has two actions
that need to be taken. She quickly scans
the actions and determines that they cannot be done in under two minutes. As such,
she decides to address these later.
To ensure she does not let these actions get buried, she
uses the Follow Up feature on the Outlook Home ribbon. The defaults allow you to
mark it for Today, Tomorrow, or some custom date. Since she needs to clarify
what exactly the actions are, she selects Today. This does not mean that
she is going to perform the actions today, but she is at least going to plan
how she is going to complete these tasks.
Once she selects Today, a red flag appears on the
email listing next to the Preview pane.
She can now drag the email to her Archive folder, confident she
will be able to find that email later today.
Exactly how does she find it later? She uses Search Folders. The New Search Folder dialog allows
her to search all of the folders within her email account. When she clicks on that folder, any email
that has been flagged for follow-up will appear in this search folder. (Don’t
get me started on Tags vs
Folders, though. That’s a discussion for another day.)
Creating Search Folders
In the Navigation pane, right-click on Search
Folders and choose New Search Folder…
In the Select a Search Folder dialog,
under Reading Mail, select Mail flagged for follow up.
Click OK to close the dialog box.
In the Navigation pane, expand Search Folders
to display the For Follow Up search folder.
We often perform task analysis for clients –
identifying those tasks performed frequently, as well as complex or important
tasks. When we identify task that meet
these criteria, we typically recommend the use of a checklist to help ensure
Besides consistent performance, a checklist
has the benefit of capturing improvements to performance. Any additional steps, or modifications to a
step, can be easily incorporated into the process by editing the
checklist. Every time you do the job,
you perform it at least as smart, if not smarter, than the last time.
As well, checklists make knowledge sharing
easier. Should someone else need to
perform a job, such as when your responsibilities change or you need to be away
from the office, providing them a copy of the checklists increases the
likelihood that the job will still get done properly.
First thing, I recommend that you make two groups within
Microsoft To Do: one group called Checklists, for all of your new
checklists that you are going to create. I also recommend that you create a
second group called Used Checklists. Microsoft does not allow you to
just ‘archive’ a checklist after usage. So, if every time you use a checklist, you
just keep duplicating the ‘master,’ your Checklist group will fill up pretty
fast. This will make it difficult to
find the masters checklists in the future. Thus, you have two options. You can delete the checklist once it is completed; or, if you create a Used Checklist
group, you can put the completed lists there.
I prefer the latter, as I like to keep past checklist for future reference.
Should I something go wrong, I can go back and confirm I performed all the
required steps or consider if I need to edit the list for future use.
With the folders created, now we can create our new lists. Let’s
consider a scenario where we need to create a relatively complex report on a
monthly basis. Our first task involves
getting data from all the regions, so we make each region a step in the
task. After the new data is loaded, we
need to refresh the pivot tables within the workbook.
Oh, yes, last month one of the managers noticed that the
graphs did not reflect the data shown in the pivot tables. So, let’s add a step to also verify that the
charts are correct.
Now that we have our ‘master’ list, we add it to the Checklist
group. For April, we duplicate the
report checklist and move it outside the group folder. We then check off the steps as they are
performed. Once the checklist is done,
we have confidence the reports are accurate and complete. We now simply drag
the checklist down to Used Checklists for future reference.
Another checklist could be reviewing presentations prior to
a sales call. Some things we want to check before getting in front of the
client: spelling and grammar (always!); fact check (are the quoted prices
correct?); graphics and company branding (no ‘your name here’ entries).
The third example is prepping for a meeting. Does the meeting actually have an
agenda? Do you have ready access to all
of the relevant support materials? Have
the attendees confirmed?
As per David Allen’s GTD strategy, we now spend less brain
power remembering all the necessary steps and more brain power on the quality
of the work.
To Do Setup
Create two new groups:
Click New List.
Name the checklist.
Optional: Add an icon.
Add tasks to the list.
Optional: Add steps to tasks.
Drag the list to the Checklists group.
Use a Checklist
Make a copy of the ‘master’ version of the
Rename the copied checklist.
Move the copy out of the Checklist folder.
Mark off tasks as you complete them.
After completing all tasks within the list,
Drag the list to Used Checklists group
for future reference.
Besides the daily routines, you probably have tasks that you perform on a regular basis – just not every day. To keep on top of these, add them to a list along with an appropriate frequency.
To create the list, perform the following:
MS To Do open, in the left-side pane, click on +New List.
the list to as appropriate (Other Recurring, Weekly Tasks, Monthly Tasks, etc.),
and optionally add an icon.
the new item list at the bottom to add the tasks you want to perform on a
on each item to open the edit pane on the right.
a Repeat frequency.
the first date that the task should be performed.
These tasks will now appear in the Today
tasks (the lightbulb in the top left corner in the My Day view), based on their
A twist on this concept: Recall that Pavlov’s
dog demonstrated that the best way to encourage a desired behavior is with
irregular reinforcement. We can put this
to practice using our weekly reminders.
However, in this case we change the day around every week.
For example, consider that your company may require staff to lock their screens before leaving their desks. To help maintain this, you may perform a weekly walkthrough to verify compliance. Thus, you set a reminder with a frequency of Weekly. In this case, after completing the walkthrough change the day of the week for the next walkthrough. Most importantly, be sure that you report the results of your walkthroughs to the team in a positive way in order to encourage continued compliance.
Create a ‘Daily Routine’ to start each day off right
The second tip takes the ‘top goals’ one step further. Besides the issues that change from day-to-day, there are tasks that you need to perform at the beginning of every day. Capturing these tasks serves at least two purposes.
For one thing, it has you start your day off proactively rather than reactively. As an example, your first routine task may be to review your calendar – take a look at any meetings you have for the day. This way, you will not be surprised when you get a reminder in the middle of lunch for a meeting your forgot about that starts in fifteen minutes.
A routine also allows you do get all of those
little tasks of the day out of the way right from the start. For instance, you may put your phone on
silent at the beginning of the workday to keep from disturbing others. Or, maybe you put your phone on silent when
home to keep from waking the whole house up when it rings at two in the morning. Either way, you can add ‘check phone volume’
as a task you do first thing every morning.
To create your Daily Routine, perform the
With MS To Do open, in the left-side pane, click on +New List.
Rename the list to Daily Routine, and optionally add an icon.
Use the new item list at the bottom to add the tasks you want to perform every day.
Click on each item to open the edit pane on the right.
Set a Repeat frequency. For ‘daily’ items, you can choose either ‘Daily’ or ‘Weekdays’.
To use the list, perform the following each
and choose Add to My Day.
each item off as you work through your daily routine.
As you use this tip regularly, you will likely start finding a lot of items that will help get your day off to a strong start. When that happens, simply add it to your daily routine. Personally, I have noticed a big difference in my satisfaction with the day when I was able to start off with my routine. Those days that I come in fighting fires right off the bat feel like they go on forever all the while making me feel like I am neglecting the ‘important but not urgent’ items.
Use MS To Do “My Day” to capture top goals for every day.
Productivity can start before you arrive at your work space. Many people begin contemplating their day within a few minutes of the alarm going off in the morning. We often have moments of clarity before we get engulfed in the ‘fog of war.’ It is not uncommon for me to see clearly what it is I want to accomplish today before I get my first cup of coffee, only to lose that vision during the morning commute.
The first tip is to use Microsoft ‘My Day’ to capture your top goal at the start of every day. This is basically what Stephen Covey refers to as a ‘first generation’ time management tool. All we are doing at this stage is writing down one to three things you are going to accomplish by the end of the day, using the Microsoft To Do application to capture those actions. Although these tasks are probably ‘tactical’ (or else you could not finish them by the end of the day), they should be strategic in nature – maybe a small step towards a much larger, long-term goal you want to accomplish.
By using To Do, your list is available to you at your desk, your tablet and even your phone. So, while making your morning cup of coffee, you can use your phone to easily capture those things you are definitely going to do once you get to your office. Because once you actually arrive at your desk, there is no telling what fires are going to distract you from being truly effective today.
I vowed to use 2019 as an experiment in rebuilding my productivity process in order to address these weak points.
A year ago I found that although the method I was using with OneNote was not necessarily broken, it certainly was not as effective as I needed it to be. Here is how the original recommendations stacked up with regular usage:
Keep It Stupidly Simple – As the amount of data captured increased, the notebook-minimalism approach just did not work.
I use ON16 on a day-to-day basis, but keep checking back on the ONW10 version. When I went in today, I found the tag search was available. However, I found it still falls short.
The search appears to based on the label for the tag. For example, if you use the out-of-the-box tag “Critical” (!), you have to enter “critical” in the search box. So, you can search for custom tags but you do it by the tag label, not from a drop down of available tags.
The implication here is that ONW10 does not differentiate between a box that is checked versus non-checked.
In a previous post, we looked at how adding dates to tags allows viewing To Do lists sorted by when the action should be done. One way to take advantage of this is by using a preparation checklist.
In my case, I have certain tasks that I perform in preparation for delivering a classroom session. In particular:
25 days prior to the class: Send a quote for the class, reconfirming the class as originally scheduled.
3 weeks prior to class: Review any special requirements for the class, such as setting up scenarios in the training sandbox.
2 weeks prior to the class: Confirm travel plans
1 week prior to the class: Print/ship participant materials
2 days prior to class: Dry run and review content
Day before class: Stage my instructor materials
In order to capture these in my daily plans, I use an Excel spreadsheet to calculate the dates, counting back from the class delivery date.
In this case, B1 contains the class name, with the scheduled date in B2. Cells B5:B13 contain the lead times for each of the preparation tasks in column A. Cells D5:D10 rolls back weekend days to the previous Friday. Finally, E5:E10 simply combines columns C and A.
Once the dates are calculated, E6 becomes the title of the OneNote page. Cells E5:E10 are copied and pasted into the body of the page. I then add checkbox tags to each item.
Opening the Tags Summary pane, the checkbox items are listed and sorted by date, with the first task in the sequence at the top of the list. As more classes are added, the Tags Summary builds to include all preparation items.
This process minimizes the chance of getting so caught up in preparing for a class that the upcoming classes are neglected.