I thought I might write a bit about what I'm using this semester to get stuff done, and work smarter; it's a mixture of things I've been using for a long time, plus some tools I only picked up as of late.
Sidenote: This article is being written during a huge bout of procrastination on my part. I've neglected this blog for far too long.
Kanban Boards Everywhere
I've recently fallen in love with kanban boards for getting tasks done. Whilst they fall apart if you have too many things on, a kanban board is a powerful tool to surface everything the average person will have on at once. At my previous workplace we used kanban boards team-wide so I'm fairly comfortable with spreading my workload across it.
The two key points I've got out of the use of kanban boards are:
- Keeping tabs on and surfacing your workload, to reduce the anxiety in the back of your head
- It is better to do one or two tasks at a time really well than six or seven tasks at a time poorly: Limiting the amount of items in the 'In progress' and 'Blocked' boards is hugely useful to making sure you don't spread yourself too thin
At work, I have a fairly rudimentary board consisting of sticky notes; I've gone through a concerning amount of these buggers already. My columns:
- Backlog - all items that need to be completed at one stage or another
- Expedite - important to-dos that really need to get done right now
- In progress - all items that are currently being worked on; due to my use of physical sticky notes it's easy to work out when I've spread myself too thin across tasks at once
- Blocked - either has dependencies from being completed, or pending a review
- Completed - this one is obvious
At home, my kanban is on the more abstract Trello, and I've yet to refine it to the point where I can be truly efficient. It's a bit of a collision between a sprint kanban, and a GTD workflow.
This one is a no brainer. If you struggle to get anything started, and instead spend two hours only half-working, you really ought to try timeboxing your work into shorter intervals.
Most of the time now, I just work in 25 minute blocks, and end up getting far more done in three of these than I would've had I sat at a desk for a solid three hours. It just makes sense, especially if you're prone to anxiety or
have access to the internet are easily distracted.
When combined with a kanban board, this will rip through your todo list and make you feel unstoppable...until you have another meeting.
I either use the timer available on Google.com, or Activity Timer for Mac (App Store).
OneNote Is Great
After two years and four semesters, I'm using OneNote for all of my uni work and notetaking at this point. It's such a fantastic tool and the Mac version is absolutely brilliant. For all the times I've been picking on Microsoft lately, this is one of the good tools that their team should be proud of (in fact, all of Office for Mac team who worked on the recent release should be proud).
Anything Else Goes In My Notebook
I've been aspiring to be one of those creative people who writes everything down in a notebook, and draws in it in their spare time. A month or two ago now, I bought a new blank spiral-bound notebook from Muji, and it's perfect. It's affordable but also eschews the lined pages that I really despise for anything creative.
So far I've mainly written scribblings and little pieces of frustration, but maybe something good will come of it.
Downloading an app to play ambient noises in the background was one of the strangest things I decided to do late last year, but did a surprisingly good job of helping me concentrate on what matters: the tasks in front of you. Better when you use headphones, these apps make you feel like you're in a completely different location, and help achieve a more relaxed state of mind.
I use Noizio almost exclusively, which is a Mac-only app, but there are Web apps that will do pretty much the same thing - Coffitivity, for example.