How to Clean Up Your Productivity System for Better Results
I don’t think there is a single productivity system out there that doesn’t recommend some sort of periodic review, usually weekly. This allows you to double-check priorities, follow up on waiting or someday tasks, and generally just make sure nothing falls through the cracks.
Then why to the cracks end up filled anyway?
I think in the beginning, we all have the best intentions when approaching a weekly review. We have a process; we are following a well thought out plan.
But as time goes by, we begin just doing it by rote. The weekly review pops up on our task list. We switch to a calendar view or a broader list view. We glance at everything and think, yep, that’s what I have to do next week. Then we put a checkmark by the weekly review task and get back to watching YouTube videos.
Another failure in both our daily procedures and weekly review is how we deal with things that don’t get done. We just move them to the next day. And the next. The low urgency, unimportant tasks just keep getting moved into some future, imaginary date we will finally do it.
But we never do.
Because the tasks at that level just keep getting piled up. Today, we have one task at the bottom of the list we probably won’t get to. In a week, those tasks have grown to three or four. A month down the road, we are grabbing great gobs of tasks and dragging them around the calendar.
So, instead of a weekly review, I recommend a daily review and then a weekly cleanup. This changes our mindset at the end of the day and how we approach the weekly review.
The daily review would include your normal end of day routine. Move unfinished tasks and get a good start on prioritizing the next day. But it would also have two other functions, both of which need to be given actual attention and not just rote action.
- Check All Collection Points
- Evaluate Unfinished Tasks
Check All Collection Points
A sound task management system should have at least one and preferably several collection points. They should all have some sort of inbox. This is where random, free-form thoughts and ideas go. Where you jot down things you think of during the day, but don’t have time to add into your regular system.
You can keep all unprocessed notes in your inbox, but I suggest having several separate ones for different purposes:
- Inbox — Your regular inbox, as described above. This should be the quickest and most accessible point of entry.
- Web Clippings — As the name implies, here is where clipped web pages go. Not all of these will be related to tasks or projects.
- Waiting — This task is waiting on someone or something.
- Someday — You don’t want to forget about this stuff, and you may or may not get to it at some point in the future.
- Reference — These aren’t tasks, but a repository for notes and reference materials. Much of the stuff in the web clippings will end up here.
Every day, at the end or beginning of the day, check these folders to make sure that something doesn’t need to be placed in your tasks lists. Some, like Inbox you probably need to do at both times. Just as with your email inbox, you should strive for inbox zero. Everything should go into your task lists or one of the other collection points.
The Productivity Academy emphasizes, “Getting into the habit of reviewing your tasks and activities and collecting all needed inputs.”
Evaluate Unfinished Tasks
This is the key to the whole process. Instead of sliding unfinished tasks into the next day, you need to evaluate each one and determine why it didn’t get finished and when or if it needs to get completed. Don’t just keep moving things around that need to get done, or more importantly, don’t need to get done.
I used to work with a woman that had years worth of unfinished tasks pop up in her to-do list every day. Every day, over 600 tasks popped up, and the number grew daily.
What’s the point?
If it’s a low priority task that you just didn’t get to, fine, move it into tomorrow. But if you don’t get to it the next day, you need to really give it some thought. Most likely, it either needs to go into the someday folder, or it needs to be deleted. It seemed like a good idea when you wrote it down, but you don’t need to spend time on it in hindsight.
Or, here is a method I used to use. At the time, I was using Outlook, and I had devised a system where I had 100 levels of priority. At that job, I might have dozens of things that needed to get done each day, and I didn’t want to have to sift through everything crammed into two or three kinds of priority.
But here is how I handled the low priority stuff. It was all stuff I needed to get done eventually and could have been stored in my someday folder, but instead, I moved it up. Each day, anything unfinished got moved one notch up on my priority list. Usually, within a day or two, the item got done and crossed off.
But however you process those unfinished tasks, think about why they are incomplete. And put them in their proper place or delete them. But don’t fall into the trap of using Someday as a dumping ground. It will make that folder unwieldy and useless. If you know you are not going to do it someday, delete it.
Since you’re actually doing your review daily, this becomes not just a review but also a cleanup.
If you like, this can replace and add to the regular daily review once a week. So it will start like your regular review, but this becomes more of a deep dive. First, bring up your task list for the next week. Now, applying the skills you’ve learned on your daily review, apply them to the full upcoming week. Once you’ve gone through the daily review process for a while, this should become trivial.
Next, go through your collection points. But in this weekly cleanup, spend a bit more time evaluating each item.
Where do these web clippings belong? Move everything to Reference that should be there. If they are part of a current task or project, copy the link or text of that clipping to that item and delete it from the clippings folder.
Are the Waiting tasks still waiting? Will the thing they are waiting for, ever occur? Should some of these be deleted or moved to someday?
Someday shouldn’t take as much time as this collection point is just a dumping ground. But take a cursory glance and be honest with yourself. Will someday ever come?
One of the premiere task management systems, Todoist has a great plan for your weekly review, but my method ensures it also gets cleaned up.
Use a daily review and a weekly cleanup to keep your productivity system productive. Your system should get you more time and keep things on track, not waste time, and derail the train.