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Just jot it down

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Great ideas are fleeting. That’s why it’s important to write down any and every idea that comes into your mind. You never know which one will evolve into your next big project. Even if the idea seems ridiculous or silly, write it down; something else might evolve from it.

I always carry around two things for taking notes: One is my Moleskine journal, and the other is my iPhone. I have a strong preference for physically writing things down. I feel that it helps those ideas stick.

If you are on the go your iPhone is the next best thing. Simply ask Siri to record a note for you, or open up Evernote and type it in. It really doesn’t matter what piece of technology you use to capture your thoughts, just make sure you write it down, other wise you will forget.

Our minds are only capable of remembering so many things. We have millions of things to-do, from meetings, to responding to email, to paying the bills, to strategic planning; that is why it’s imperative that you write everything down. Our days are filled with things that require our minds to work. It’s difficult to remember to run payroll, much less that great idea you had while walking from your car to a meeting.

Simply put, our minds are only capable of storing so much information. Writing down all your minds random thoughts and ideas is so important because we are bombarded with clutter – we will certainly forget.

Top Five Productivity Apps and Their Specific Purpose

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Evernote, productivity app!

Evernote, productivity app!

Evernote, although not my top pick is very useful for helping with productivity. It has very useful purposes, and keeping track of your to-do list is not one of them. I am not an Evernote expert by any means, so I’m sure the app has use beyond what I even know, but below is what I find most useful about the app.

1. Using it is a mind dump. If I think of something I need to do, a bill I have to pay, a phone call I need to make, or even a project idea, I will quickly open up Evernote and jot a quick note. I will later come back and reference it when I’m actually ready to put it into my more robust system for managing work. It’s very important to have a place you can mind dump, so ideas and work related things don’t continue to float around in your head.

2. Storing important information. I keep a note that contains important information such as my UPS shipping account, my insurance policy number and customer support numbers. Anything I may need to access on a regular basis I put in here for easy access. This is a valuable time saver and has probably saved me countless hours since I have created the “Important Stuff” note inside my Evernote.

3. It’s great for logging ongoing data; such as mileage for tax write offs, as well as taking photos of receipts to go paperless, pretty much anything you want to store long-term.

4. The app is very helpful for brainstorming, researching, jotting down random business ideas, and keeping that information in the cloud for you, so that you can come back to it later. The nicest thing about Evernote is you can have several different “notebooks”, and several different “pages” within that notebook.

Reminders/Siri (iPhone)

Okay, don’t laugh… Lets say I have something super urgent unexpectedly come up that I have to take care of later this afternoon. Rather than go through the long process of adding it to my calendar I will simply put my phone up to my ear and tell Siri to remind me to do that important thing at 4 p.m. and then I’m done. I can forget about it until I get the reminder, and I saved myself about a minute of having to manually add something else to my calendar. Reminders can be scheduled as well, but really you should be doing this in your calendar.

Calendar, the digital version with notifications

Don’t underestimate the calendar. Nobody can keep track of all their appointments in their head. I don’t care who you are, you have too much going on and that is just not possible. If you have ANY appointment at all that is scheduled at a specific time, it needs to go in your calendar app. I also highly suggest setting two notifications. One an hour before, and the second five to ten minutes before. I recommend the first one because you never know where you will be or what you will be doing an hour before your appointment, and you may need extra time to get situated, or prepare for the meeting. You should also use your calendar to mark important project deadlines and other action items that have to be completed by a certain date.

KanBan, LeanKit

Screen Shot 2014-04-24 at 5.49.38 AMI have talked about the KanBan system for organization and productivity in previous posts, but I can’t stop telling you about how amazing and life changing this system has been for me. Even if you don’t use KanBan, at least establish some sort of system, other than the standard “task list” that will help you visualize your entire work flow. The specific App I use is called Lean Kit, although there are several KanBan programs on the web.

KanBan is essentially a visual representation in column format of your workflow. My columns are: Choices (To-Do), Next, Today, In Progress/Waiting On, and Done. This allows me to see my entire to-do list, but not get overwhelmed with all that is going on. This visual way of viewing your work will relieve so much stress and will give you a peace of mind you didn’t know was possible.

I encourage you to move beyond the standard task list. I used to use Evernote to keep track of my to-do’s, but spent so much time just reading my list, of which half the projects were in progress or were awaiting information/action from other people. Plus, I’m not having to spend the start of every day re-organizing and re-prioritizing things.

Pen and Paper

Moleskin Journal

Moleskin Journal

Lastly, but definitely not least is the pen and paper method of taking notes and making reminders. I carry a Moleskin journal around with my everywhere. I use it for brainstorming, strategic planning, taking notes in meetings, crunching numbers, and just random doodles here and there!

There is something to be said for the tactile. I find I am able to focus a lot more during brainstorming sessions when I am using pen and paper, and there is an ease to note taking that a computer just doesn’t provide.

I’m also still a huge fan of the Post-It Note, even though I primarily utilize Evernote and KanBan for any mind dumping I need to do. I still occasionally will write something on a Post-It-Note, usually messages for other team members, or a simple action item I need to take on something.

Bearded Brothers was planned in Moleskin journals, so don’t forgo paper for a 100% digital life. If you are afraid of losing your notes, just make sure you take pictures of those pages and store them in Evernote. It does a great job at taking photos of documents, and making your hand written notes searchable.

These are just my favorite apps though. I’m sure there are loads of other useful productivity and business apps out there. What are some of your favorite apps, and why?

Personal KanBan a visual way to manage work

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I’m addicted to Evernote to some extent. I use it as a mind dump. I use it to manage my massive to-do list, take meeting notes, record receipts, track mileage, and store important information that I need to access frequently. It has many uses, but recently I have realized it fails in the way I need it most…managing my to-do list, and this is by far the most important need.

About two weeks ago I was so overwhelmed with my LIST, that it crippled me from moving forward. I couldn’t even figure out where to begin. But, a week ago  I met my saving grace, and was introduced to Personal KanBan. Personal KanBan is a way to visualize and complete work. It moves beyond the typical to-do list and allows you to see everything going on at once.

My biggest hang up with my LIST was that even if something was in limbo, or I was waiting on somebody to finish something before moving forward, it remained in the list, so it looked enormously huge, even though I was actually making progress on many of my tasks.

KanBan basically utilizes a horizontal and vertical column system to visualize work flow. For example, my Personal KanBan has 6 columns that work flows through: To-Do, Ready, Today, Waiting, In Progress, and Done (within this column I break it into horizontal columns by day).

Personal KanBan

My Personal KanBan at Bearded Brothers.

To-Do: Obviously, this is my list of stuff to get done
Ready: This represents the things I plan on working next, or things that are not, “future projects”, they are tasks ready to be worked on in the very near future
Today: Represents what I need to get done that day.
Waiting: Represents tasks I have started working on, but am awaiting a response to move forward, or waiting on somebody else to finish another piece of the puzzle.
In Progress: Simply means I have started the project, and I am the one responsible for completing it and need to take further action.
Done: Means I have completed that task and no longer have to worry about it.

The system is amazing. I have never been so excited about a way to mange my work before. The only other methods I have seen prior to this were variations of the typical task list…just version 2.0 of Overwhelming.

I have only been using the system for a week now, and already feel way less overwhelmed, and I have an excellent grasp of everything going on. I’m going home at night with less stress; I don’t have my list swirling around in my head because I know exactly what I need to do.

I also plan on using it with my team at Bearded Brothers to manage projects and work flow. Since it’s column based the columns can be used to represent different stages of a typical workflow, and the project moves through the columns until it reaches completion, thus allowing you to track its progress and always know what the status is at any given point in time.

The best part about this system is that it helps you become more efficient in your work. As you use the system you will start to see where things are getting bogged down. For example; at the start of my week I had nothing in the “In Progress” category, but within a few days I had five tasks sitting in there, I also had 5 tasks in the waiting column. This lets me know I have a lot of things I need to follow up on, and possibly need to be more diligent in following up with people and/or making sure I’m doing everything I can to move projects forward. It will also give you a realistic idea of how much you can complete in a given day, how long projects typically take, and it will help you determine high vs, low value tasks.

I’m really excited about continuing to use this system and eventually adopting the digital version of my large physical KanBan, so I can work from anywhere. I have been making an effort this last week to work in the office every day so I can get a better feel for what KanBan is really all about, and I have honestly enjoyed taking my PostIt Notes, placing them on the wall, and moving them through the various columns until completion.

Here are a few more resources for Personal KanBan. I also wanted to say thanks to Gerry, our Couch Surfing guest from Canada that recently stayed with us and introduced me to this system.

Personal KanBan – Visualize Learn Improve
Blog post on Nomad8 – Also sells small physical KanBan boards
Lean Kit – The digital version of a physical KanBan baord