In the dynamic world we live in, staying organised is not just a preference, it’s a necessity. This truth becomes even more evident when you’re part of a global team working remotely, spread across multiple time zones, and juggling a myriad of responsibilities.
Last week, during a team catch-up, the Co-Founder and COO of Rally OurBus, Narinder Singh, a person I greatly admire, inspired me to pen this blog. We were discussing the challenges and triumphs of remote work and hiring etc, and the conversation naturally veered towards the importance of organisation and productivity. It was then that I realised that my personal productivity system, honed over years of trial and error, might be of interest and use to others.
Working remotely presents a unique set of challenges. Without the structure of a traditional office environment, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. Your home becomes your office, and the boundaries between work and personal life can blur. Time zones add another layer of complexity. A meeting that’s convenient for one team member might mean a middle-of-the-night disruption for another.
In such a scenario, staying organised is not just about keeping track of tasks and deadlines. It’s about managing your energy, maintaining a work-life balance, and ensuring that you’re available and accessible to your team without burning out. It’s about being a conductor of a grand symphony, where every note, every instrument, every pause matters.
This is where my productivity system comes in. It’s a blend of time-tested techniques and innovative tools that help me stay on top of my tasks, manage my time effectively, and ensure that I’m always in sync with my team. It’s not just about getting more done; it’s about getting the right things done in the right way.
In this blog, I’ll take you through my productivity system, explaining each tool and technique in detail. I’ll share how I use time blocking to plan my day, focus work to tackle tasks, Notion for note-taking and project management, automation to streamline my emails and calendar, and how I carve out time for reading and thinking.
So, whether you’re a fellow remote worker trying to navigate the challenges of working from home, a team leader looking for ways to boost your team’s productivity, or simply someone interested in personal development, I hope you’ll find something useful here. Let’s dive in!
Time blocking is a powerful technique that I’ve found to be a game-changer in my daily routine. It’s a method where you divide your day into blocks of time, each dedicated to a specific task or set of tasks. This approach is not just about scheduling; it’s about creating an environment where your brain can focus on one thing at a time, leading to increased productivity and efficiency.
The neuroscience behind time blocking is fascinating. Our brains are not designed for multitasking; in fact, trying to focus on multiple tasks at once can lead to decreased productivity and increased stress. This is because switching between tasks requires the prefrontal cortex of the brain to work harder, leading to mental fatigue.
A study published in the journal “Agronomy” explored the concept of time blocking in a different context. They examined the effects of hydraulic retention time (HRT) on lettuce productivity in an aquaponics system. The researchers found that shorter HRTs led to increased productivity. This concept can be applied to time blocking. By reducing the “retention time” of distractions and switching between tasks, we can increase our productivity.
Time blocking allows me to focus on one task at a time, reducing the cognitive load on my brain and allowing me to work more efficiently. It’s like giving your brain a ‘to-do’ list and a schedule to follow, which reduces the mental effort of deciding what to do next. This is supported by the principle of ‘decision fatigue’, which suggests that our ability to make good decisions deteriorates after a long session of decision-making.
Moreover, time blocking provides a sense of control over your time, which can reduce stress and increase satisfaction. It allows me to ensure that important tasks are not neglected and that my day is balanced between work, personal development, and relaxation.
In essence, time blocking liberates me. It frees me from the constant pressure of an unstructured to-do list, allows me to focus without distraction, and gives me a clear view of my day. It’s like having a road map for my day, where I know the destination of each block of time.
Focus work is the practice of dedicating uninterrupted time to a single task. During this period, I eliminate all potential distractions. This technique is supported by neuroscience. Research shows that multitasking can reduce productivity by as much as 40%.
I usually set a timer (typically for 90 minutes), during which I dive deep into the task at hand. This is based on the concept of ultradian rhythms, natural body cycles that occur multiple times throughout the day. Each cycle consists of a peak period (where we’re most alert) and a trough period (where we need rest). By aligning my focus work with these cycles, I can maximise my productivity.
This is the practice of immersing oneself fully in a cognitively demanding task, free from the constant interruptions that characterise our digital age. It’s about achieving a state of flow where distractions fade into the background, and all that matters is the task at hand.
The importance of focus work cannot be overstated, especially when it comes to creating one’s great work. Whether it’s developing a new strategy, writing a report, or solving a complex problem, the ability to focus is crucial. But don’t just take my word for it; let’s see what the science says.
A fascinating study titled “Transformative Service Research and impact of indoor environmental quality on workers’ productivity: Potentialities of neuroscience in its assessment” delves into the relationship between a worker’s productivity and their overall comfort in the workspace. The researchers used neuroscience methods to understand whether a person is focused on their work or not. They used indexes like cognitive interests and mental fatigue, along with techniques like EEG and heart rate monitoring, to gauge a person’s focus. Their findings suggest that ensuring the optimal level of environmental comfort in offices can significantly enhance a person’s ability to focus and, consequently, their productivity.
This aligns with the principle of ‘selective attention’, which suggests that our brain can choose to focus on specific stimuli while ignoring others. This ability to focus is crucial for complex tasks that require deep thinking and creativity.
But focus work is not just about getting more done; it’s about getting the right things done. It’s about diving deep into a problem or a project and coming up with innovative solutions. It’s about producing your best work, work that you can be proud of.
In a world filled with distractions, the ability to focus is a superpower. It allows you to cut through the noise and concentrate on what truly matters. It’s the key to productivity, creativity, and ultimately, success.
Robust Note-Taking System
My note-taking system is my second brain. I use Notion, a versatile tool that allows me to create, organise, and store all my notes in one place.
In the digital age, the sheer volume of information we encounter daily can be overwhelming. It’s impossible to remember everything, and that’s where a robust note-taking system comes into play. It serves as an extension of our brain, a second brain if you will, that stores, organises, and retrieves information when we need it.
One of the tools I’ve found incredibly useful in this regard is Notion. Notion is a powerful note-taking app that allows you to create, organise, and store notes in a highly customisable and intuitive interface. It’s like having a personal wiki where you can create interconnected notes, databases, and even project boards.
But why is a robust note-taking system so important? Let’s look at some scientific evidence. A study titled “Replication of a dynamic coaching program for college students with acquired brain injury” provides some insights. The study involved students with acquired brain injuries transitioning back to college. The researchers implemented a two-semester coaching intervention that included note-taking strategies. The results showed that students improved on cognitive standardized test scores and grades. The use of prompted and unprompted metacognitive statements also improved, indicating an enhanced awareness of their own learning process.
This study highlights the importance of a robust note-taking system in enhancing learning and memory. Note-taking helps us externalise our thoughts, making them more tangible and easier to manipulate. It allows us to organise our thoughts, draw connections between ideas, and review and reinforce what we’ve learned.
Building a second brain through note-taking is not just about storing information; it’s about creating a system that allows us to retrieve and use that information effectively. It’s about creating a knowledge database that we can tap into whenever we need it. It’s about freeing up our mental space so we can focus on thinking, creating, and problem-solving, rather than trying to remember everything.
If you wish to know more about note-taking, read the below article.
Project and Task Management
Project and task management is the backbone of productivity. It’s the process of planning, organising, and managing tasks and resources to achieve specific goals. It’s about breaking down large projects into manageable tasks, setting priorities, and tracking progress. It’s about ensuring that everything gets done in the most efficient and effective way possible.
One of the tools I’ve found incredibly useful for project and task management is Notion. Notion is a versatile tool that allows you to create project boards, task lists, and databases. It’s like having a personal project manager that helps you stay organised and on top of your tasks.
But why is project and task management so important? Let’s look at some scientific evidence. A study titled “Work Fragmentation, Task Management Practices and Productivity in Individual Knowledge Work” provides some insights. The study examined the task management practices of knowledge workers and their relation to work fragmentation and productivity.
The study found that knowledge workers often experience work fragmentation, which manifests as extreme hurry and forgetfulness. However, those who regularly collected and listed all their tasks in one place were more satisfied with the quality and quantity of work they were able to complete. The study also found a negative correlation between work fragmentation and productivity, suggesting that effective task management can reduce work fragmentation and enhance productivity.
This study highlights the importance of a robust project and task management system. It’s not just about getting things done; it’s about getting the right things done in the right order. It’s about creating a system that allows you to manage your tasks effectively, reduce work fragmentation, and enhance your productivity.
Project and task management is not just a tool; it’s a mindset. It’s about taking control of your work, rather than letting your work control you. It’s about being proactive, rather than reactive. It’s about making the most of your time and resources, rather than wasting them on unimportant tasks.
If you wish to know more, I welcome you to read the below article.
Automation in Emails and Calendars
Automation is a game-changer when it comes to staying organized. I use it to manage my emails and calendar using Gmail and Google Calendar, along with a few key extensions that really elevate my productivity to the next level.
In my Gmail, for instance, I have set up filters to automatically sort incoming emails into different labels. Emails from my team with “urgent” in the subject line are marked as important and labelled as “team-Urgent”. This ensures they stand out in my cluttered inbox. I also have a “Newsletters” label for all the newsletters I subscribe to, which allows me to catch up on them when it’s convenient for me.
To increase the power of my email, I use the “Sortd for Gmail” extension. It transforms my inbox into organized lists, making it easier to manage tasks, emails, and projects in one place. Another useful extension I use is “Boomerang for Gmail” which allows me to schedule emails to be sent later and sets up email reminders.
For my Google Calendar, I schedule recurring meetings and reminders, like my weekly team meeting every Monday at 09 PM. I also utilize the “Goals” feature for personal development time, scheduling self-study hours every Wednesday and Friday.
To make my Google Calendar even more functional, I’ve integrated it with the “Calendly” extension. This tool makes scheduling meetings with team members effortless as it automatically finds a suitable time slot for everyone. Also, the “Google Calendar Plus” extension is a fantastic tool to customize event colours and add countdowns to events for a visual and time management boost.
Lastly, I use the “Checker Plus for Google Calendar” extension. It provides desktop notifications and allows me to add or snooze events without opening the Google Calendar app itself, saving me time and effort.
By combining Gmail and Google Calendar automation with these powerful extensions, I’ve seen my productivity soar. These tools offer a high degree of customization, making them a valuable addition to anyone’s personal or professional productivity toolkit.
Reading and Keeping Ahead
Reading is a crucial part of my role. It helps me stay updated with the latest trends and developments in our industry. However, finding time to read can be a challenge. That’s where time blocking comes in handy again. I block out specific time slots in my day dedicated solely to reading.
I use Notion to manage my reading list. I categorise articles and papers based on their relevance and urgency. This way, I ensure that I’m always learning and staying ahead of the curve.
Blocking Time to Think
Last but not least, I block out time to think. Yes, you read that right. In the hustle and bustle of our workday, we often forget to take a step back and reflect.
During this time, I ponder over strategic decisions, brainstorm new ideas, or simply reflect on my day. It’s like a mental pit stop that helps me stay focused and aligned with my goals.
The essence of staying organised isn’t about adhering to a complex system or using a specific tool. Rather, it’s about discovering and implementing the right strategies that resonate with your work style and personal preferences. For me, this involves a blend of time blocking, focus work, a robust note-taking system, project management, automation, reading, and setting aside time for contemplation.
It’s crucial to remember that the heart of productivity doesn’t lie in doing more, but in doing what’s most significant. The ‘what’ of our work often holds more weight than the ‘how much’. Therefore, I encourage you to seek out your unique productivity system and make every moment meaningful!
I sincerely hope that this blog has provided some valuable insights. If you have any queries or would like to share your own productivity tips, please don’t hesitate to leave a comment below. Until our next exchange, stay productive and focused on what truly matters!