Time management and productivity tools

As anyone probably can relate to, time is valuable. There is only 24 hours in a day, and in that time you need to sleep, eat, work, etc. Over the years I have tried several different tools to optimize the way I spend every day, and to make my everyday life as productive as possible. What works for me might not work for you, but I want to share some of the tools I use, and talk a bit about how I make sure I get the most out of every day.

A typical day for me starts at around 6 (except weekends, where I do need about two hours more of sleep). I get ready for work and have some breakfast while reading the latest news. At around 7 I leave for the train commute to work, where I read books. The commute is where I manage to fit in most of the reading I do, in total about one hour each day. After 8 hours of work, I’m back home around 17.00. Seeing as I need 7-8 hours of sleep, there is about 5-6 hours left of the day, where I can work on my personal projects.

That is not the whole truth though. I have a girlfriend I like to spend time with, a couple of times a week I go to the gym (two more times in the weekend, which I don’t account for here), so in reality it is more like 2-3 hours of time left to work with my own projects. For quite a while I struggled to finish tasks, however a few months back I came across a blog post mentioning the Pomodoro technique. Basically this is a technique where you list your tasks, then you choose one and work for it for 25 minutes. When the time is up, you take a 5-minute break, and then continue (either with a new task if you finished the previous one, or the same one if you’re not finished). This technique has made my life much easier, as I manage to stay focused on one task until its done. You can read more on the Pomodoro technique on Wikipedia.

A tool I have found that takes advantage of the Pomodoro technique is one called KanbanFlow. Kanban is basically a scheduling method, and the way I use it is as follows. I have created a board with columns for each weekday, as well as today, next week, completed and later. At the end of a week I spend some time planning the next week, where I will fill in tasks for each day, and set an estimated time to complete each task. Each day I will put tasks from the current day into the “today” column, and naturally when I finish a task I move it to the “completed” column. If I come up with new tasks which can be done next week, I guess you can see where they are placed. Tasks I don’t need to complete the current or next week I place in the “later” column. How does all this relate to the Pomodoro technique?

Well, I have 4 color codes; 1 Pomodoro, 2 Pomodoro, 3 Pomodoro and > 3 Pomodoro, where 1 Pomodoro is 25 minutes, 2 is 50 minutes etc. I try to estimate the time it will take to finish a task, in terms of pomodoros. KanbanFlow have a nice timer function, which defaults to 25 minutes, so you can choose a task and start the timer. This way you also have control over how long time you spent on all tasks, which is benefitial in several ways. One thing I have learned all the time I’ve used this is that I need to improve my estimation skills. So far I’m not to worried about this, since I know I will improve with more experience. I got the idea to use this way of planning my week by John Sonmez, from Simple Programmer.

I have other productivity tools I use as well. I think the most important tool I have is Evernote. I use Evernote to take notes of any idea I might have, and I use the browser plugin to note web sites I need to remember later. I also keep track of tasks I haven’t put into KanbanFlow yet, mostly bigger tasks I haven’t split up into smaller pieces yet. Another tool for notes is WorkFlowy, which I use to keep track of books in my reading list, as well as blog topics I have planned. For these kind of lists I find WorkFlowy to be better than Evernote, as it is very simplistic.

Previously I used Trello, mostly in the same way I use KanbanFlow, but I really didn’t manage to use it effectively enough. Also, in my opinion, KanbanFlow is a tad bit better, due to the fact that it naturally works so great with the Pomodoro technique. I have also used OneNote for note taking, but again, I feel Evernote have some features that makes it better. There is several other tools I have tried, but the ones I’m using now is the ones I have gotten most out of.

Now I’m interested in learning more on how you manage your days? What kind of tools is essential to you daily life?

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