The philosophy behind the Adventures In Extreme Productivity Series is about finding ways to get stuff done that leads to living a fulfilled life. Some of the things that we have to do are non-negotiable – they have to be done whether we like it or not – others are about choices we make on what we want to do. I use a range of different tools to help me to achieve a life that I want to lead. Some of these tools help me to reduce those things I have to do down to the smallest amount effort/time I possibly can so that I can then go spend time doing the things I want, whilst other tools help me to be the best I can possibly be while doing the things I love.
The trick is to know which tools to use for what job.
This page is a collection of tools that I use in my day-to-day, month-to-month, year-to-year activities that support the idea of living a fulfilled life. Some of them are small, handy little things, others are larger, more complex systems. I’ll be adding to the list periodically, so please check back regularly (or subscribe).
Do you like to keep lists? Me too. I especially like lists that are smart and that keep all my stuff in one place. I’ve been looking for an outliner/list-maker for some time now. Everything I’ve tried has been either too complex with too much feature bloat or too simple and not flexible enough. What I really want is a way to make nested lists that I can easily expand and collapse and that I can export easily. WorkFlowy (www.workflowy.com) to the rescue. WorkFlowy is a web-based list maker that allows me to make infinitely nestable lists which I can then zoom in and out of to get exactly the right level of context that I need. I find myself using hierarchical lists as a way of organising everything in my digital world and the fact that I can export a WorkFlowy list as plaintext means that I can then import it into something like ByWord and create markdown for later publishing if I need. The workflow website doesn’t give much away so here’s a link to a video that shows the basic concept: https://youtu.be/C6k5sR_4qJY. WorkFlowy is freemium which means that you can sign up for free and start making lists, but once you hit the limit (currently 250 lines/month) you will have to upgrade to the pro version if you want to do more (US$50/yr). There’s a free iPhone and iPad app that works really well and those who roll with Android are also looked after.
Do you need to remember things? Are those things important? Are they recurring? If so, then Due (www.dueapp.com) is probably for you. Due is an iPhone/iPad app that lets you set recurring reminders for things that you need to do. I use it for those things that must get done, but I don’t want the hassle of having to remember to do them. For example, one of my ‘Due Reminders’ is to check the oil and water in our car. Every 4 weeks, on a Sunday at 10am, my phone sets off an alarm that reminds me to check the oil and water. I’ve set it such that it auto snoozes for 1 minute each time the reminder ‘pings’ which means that unless I defer the task or mark it complete it will continue to remind me (and more importantly sound the alarm) every minute. There is only so many times you can ignore that alarm before it starts to get on your (or your partner’s) nerves. It’s at that point I usually find myself checking the oil and water in our car. It has a great bunch of reusable timers that you can set for various tasks – I have one that I use for steeping my coffee in my trusty Aeropress, and you can set it to sync across your devices and macs if that’s your thing (warning – if you have it synced and all your devices in the same room, the alarm goes off on all of them at the same time. It can be quite the shock). Due helps to remind me to put out the garbage every Wednesday night, take my vitamins every morning before I walk out the door and a host of other things that are important enough that if I forget them they cause inconvenience, but I don’t want to spend mental energy having to remember to do them. Available in the Apple App Store for $4.99. I’ve been using it every day for a couple of years now. Well worth buying.
Everyone has their own approach to writing. Mine begins with creating an outline of what I want to write and then I progressively fill in the details. An outline is a great way to get ideas down fast. Over time I’ve tried various different outliner tools but none seemed to really fit the bill. Enter: Checkvist (www.checkvist.com). Checkvist is a web-based outliner tool that is dead simple to use and because it is web-based it doesn’t matter if you are a mac user or a pc user; as long as you have a browser and wifi, you’re set. Furthermore, because it’s web-based and written in HTML-5, it works on your phone/ipad as well. Get started by creating headline topics and then add subtopics underneath. You can quickly indent these subtopics by hitting the tab key or outdent them by hitting shift+tab. The nice thing is that depending on the level of the topic/subtopic entries are automatically sized to reflect the hierarchy. The feature I like the most is the one where I can re-order topics in my outline just by holding down the shift key and dragging and dropping. Checkvist supports markdown (Yay!) and you can export your lists in a variety of formats including plaintext. So far I’ve been happy with the free version, but I can see how if you wanted to collaborate with others and access some extra functionality the paid version would be worthwhile. If, like me, you begin your writing projects with an outline, Checkvist might become your new best friend.
Every task needs a deadline. Whether I am reading an article, marking a paper, washing the dishes or editing a chapter – they all need deadlines so that I can GET.IT.DONE. This is where I use the 30/30 app on my iPad and iPhone to help keep me on track. The 30/30 app allows me to devise routines of connected tasks and assign a specified time to them. Then, once I set it going, the timer begins to count down. When it get to the end of one task, it sounds a little alarm and if I have another task lined up, it then begins to count down that one. Here’s one example of how I use it: I often have to mark PILES of exams or assignments. I estimate how long each should take (including feedback) and I set the 30/30 app up like this: Task 1: Mark exam (20 minutes); Task 2: enter grade on spreadsheet (1 minute); [repeat cycle for 4 exams]; Task 3: 20 minute break. Repeat. If I’m a bit faster on one exam then I claw back some time and might be able to have a little longer break when it comes around. If I haven’t finished marking the exam on time, then I know I need to speed up little to catch up again if I want to have a 20 minute break. This is a great way to break down highly repeatable processes into their constituent parts and set time against each task to ensure you get it knocked over in the shortest amount of time. I use it for things I HAVE to do, but I don’t WANT to do – e.g. cleaning the bathroom. Each part of the cleaning process gets broken down (shower, toilet, bath, mirror etc) and each gets a limited amount of time to complete. I then power through tasks trying to ‘beat the clock’. The result is that the bathroom gets cleaned in an astonishingly short period of time, nothing gets missed, and I can move on to doing something else that will hep me live a more fulfilled life (other than wasting that time faffing around and cleaning my bathroom!). What’s cool about this app is that you can store routines and sync them across your iDevices so chances are you’ll always have a pre-configured timer for your more common but necessary tasks. The best bit? It’s totally free.
You are running late. A little late, but not too much late. You want to let someone know where you are/how far away you are, but you don’t want to make a phone call. Enter, Glympse. Glympse lets you send a private, interactive map of your current location to anyone you want. As you move, the icon that represents you on the map that the recipient is viewing also moves. IN.REAL.TIME. Your friend/business contact/wife/kids can see where you are, what direction you are moving in and how fast you are moving. A little late to pick up the kids from school – send them a Glympse to reassure them you are on your way. Delayed by a meeting that went a little too long from meeting you friend in that new, funky cafe – let them see you making your way there. The best bit? The recipient doesn’t need Glympse on their phone to view your map. It’s based in a browser. You can send a ‘Glympse’ by text message, tweet, email – whatever takes your fancy -no special software required at the other end. Oh, and the OTHER best bit? It’s totally free and available on all platforms. Cool.
Ever got up to leave home/work and discovered that you don’t have enough charge on your iPhone/iPad to survive the commute? Don’t you hate that? Yeah. Me too. Well, iBetterCharge is a small, lightweight, free application that sits on your mac (and windows) menubar and will pop up a notification once the charge on your iDevice falls below a level that you specify. It’s a nice way of subtly reminding you to make sure that you charge your device so that you can continue to do the things you want to do while mobile. No more missed calls. No more data interviews cut short because your phone just died. No more missed hook-ups at festivals because you can’t access Find-My-Friends. Check out their video. Neat.