Unfortunately, most productivity books don’t really go into detail about how to implement your Projects and Next actions into a digital system. After lots of trial and error, this is my interpretation on how to best integrate a productivity system into a digital environment using productivity apps
If you want to go less digital, you actually do not even need a productivity app. You can use a simple notebook or Word Document if you want and create a similar system.
Choosing the best productivity app can be difficult. I have gone through many productivity apps and they all have their pros and cons. I would suggest that you choose the one that best fits your personality and needs.
What makes a good productivity app?
- Simple Simple Simple
- Keeps track of Projects and Next Actions
- Allows you to prioritize Most Important Tasks
- Easily Defer Actions to Another Date
- Allows Input of Context
- Syncs through Cloud System for Phone, Computers, Watch
- Integrates with Your Calendars
- Allows vocal input (siri)
- Easily allows you to review all your projects
There are many productivity apps out there and this post won’t focus on the intricacies of each one. I want to present a system that you can use with any productivity app. However, before you begin to use a productivity app make SURE you complete the prior 8 steps if you want to use a productivity app effectively.
*I do NOT get any compensation for any of the apps I refer to on this post. These are just my opinions from my own personal experiences with these apps.
What do I use? I used OmniFocus for many years before switching to Todoist. The main reason I switched to Todoist was because it can be universally used across all platforms. Todoist can be used on Macs, PCs, iPhone, Androids, Apple watch, etc. So when I take screenshots or make tutorials it would benefit the most amount of readers. Also, Todoist is simple and easy to start using. I will use screenshots from Todoist in this post.
OmniFocus is a productivity app based
Here is a list of some of the more popular productivity apps: Todoist, OmniFocus, Evernote, Things, Wunderlist.
Caution! Do NOT Proceed without going through Steps 1-8
When people ask me what productivity system I use. I start talking to them about organizing my workspaces (physical, digital, email) and listing projects/next actions (
They just want to know what productivity app I use on my phone so they can start becoming “productive.” I will reluctantly tell them the productivity app I use. I will talk with them a few weeks later and they say they are using the productivity app.
When I look at what they are doing, the app is basically used as a glorified checklist with no true purpose of advancing their projects. This is probably how most people are using productivity apps. Without proper foresight and planning, these apps will unlikely contribute significantly to your life.
By explicitly defining all of your projects and next actions in the previous step (Step 8), this will allow you to easily organize your productivity app shown below.
Also, by clearing and organizing your workspaces (physical, digital, email)- Steps 1-7, this will allow you to most efficiently complete actions you place in your productivity app.
Create General Categories in your Productivity App
When I first started trying to integrate my projects, I would separate them by Personal, Work, Career, Family, etc. I found however that it was difficult for me to review all of my active projects effectively relative to one another. Finding a good way to organize projects was not easy or intuitive.
For example, if I have a work-related project due in 3 days and a personal project due in 2 days. It would be nice to be able to see how these two relate to each other even though they are in different general categories.
Therefore, I started to just group projects and tasks using the following categories:
- Inbox (Pending Review)
- Projects-No Deadlines
- Single Actions
Here is a screen shot using Todoist:
The nice thing about this system is that you can see projects throughout your life, irrespective of personal, work, career, etc. Below, we will go over how to organize each category and the reasoning behind its use.
Inbox (Pending Review)
Most productivity apps will have an inbox where you can quickly put in a next action or project that you think of so that it immediately clears your mind. I use this on a daily basis when I have a new idea or project that I may act on later. I review the Inbox every day and see if I want to toss it or organize into one of the categories described above.
Organizing Projects with Deadlines
So, for each project with a deadline I create the name using the following system:
Year.Month.Day Title of Project.
For example, if I have a lecture I need to present on “Use of Ultrasound in Shock” on March, 5th, 2020. I would label it “2020.03.05 Lecture on Ultrasound in Shock.”
I would do that for all of my projects and place them under the general category Projects-Deadlines with the project due soonest on top and latest on the bottom.
This way when I review all of my projects with Deadlines, I don’t just make sure each one has a next action, I can also spatially see which one’s will need to be completed sooner or later.
See sample below:
After you have listed your projects with deadlines, input the next actions that you have defined in Step 8 for each project along with a date for completion.
Organizing Projects with No Deadlines
So projects placed into this category are projects with no specific deadlines such as job titles, general life areas, etc.
For me this includes things like Ultrasound Director, Physician Zen Website, Productivity, Finances, Health, etc.
These projects are important but have no specific deadline since they are ongoing. After placing the project, input the next action for that you have defined in Step 8 for each project along with a date for completion for the next actions.
Organizing Single Actions
This category is for items that come into your productivity system that are not associated with a specific project and only require one action to complete them.
This could be something like “Call bank to dispute a charge.”
Organizing People as Projects
I often get odd looks when I say that I think of People as projects. However, if someone means enough to you then this is a great way to keep track of people who are close to you and you want to stay in touch with them.
This can be your spouse, children, parents, siblings, other family, friends, colleagues, etc.
Consider putting each person that truly means something to you as a project and define a next action towards fostering that relationship, such as calling them, sending them a gift, texting them, meeting up, etc.
Organizing Recurring Projects
This category is for all projects that recur every time they are completed.
Organizing Someday/Maybe Projects
The Someday/Maybe category is for all of the projects that do not fit into your current active projects but may someday in the future be an active project for you. Things in your someday/maybe list can include things like playing a musical instrument, running a marathon, writing a book, going to an exotic place with your loved ones, etc.
Using the Productivity app Inbox to capture any new ideas and projects, I constantly place items that I would like to possibly do in the future but cannot commit to now.
The secret to this category is doing weekly reviews (will cover in Step 12) of all of your projects in your productivity app. Reviewing your someday/maybe list each week will allow you to see if there is space to bring a Someday/M
By having all of your projects listed as above, you will have a precise idea of if and when you can bring something from this list to an active project’s category.
For example, this Physician Zen website has been on my Someday/Maybe project list since October 2016! At that time, I was in the process of doing research on the effects of medical student point of care ultrasound as well as starting to work with Oxford on an ultrasound text book. There was no way I would be able to start this website effectively with those commitments.
In February 2019, I had submitted the last chapter for the ultrasound textbook to Oxford Publishing with my co-editor. I did my weekly project review of my someday/maybe list that week and saw the Physician Zen website project. I knew immediately that was the right time to start the Physician Zen project, after three years of being benched
A productivity app is extremely useful if used correctly. Stop using apps as a checklist and start using them to truly help clear your mind and complete all the projects in your life!