5 min read

Getting the Right Things Done

If you’re like me, you’ve probably spent a lot of time trying to figure out the best way to manage your day. In this article I'll show you how I manage my daily workflow with a relatively simple lightweight process.
Getting the Right Things Done

Over the years I've used all types of methods and mediums to manage my day.  It took me a long time to find a great solution.  I thought my problems were finally solved when the iPad and the 2nd gen Apple Pencil became available.  With the iPad, I could finally take the entire process digital.  This would allow me to centralize and secure everything.  I tried it for a while and strangely enough, it didn’t last.  

I found that it takes too much time to get something written down in an iPad.  I heard somewhere that the brain is meant to generate ideas, not store them.  The ability to quickly write down an idea is crucial.  For me, it takes too much time to navigate through the device wake up, the face recognition, the password entry when the face recognition fails, application selection, and other clicks and swipes to get 'pen to paper.'  

I now use a traditional notebook for my daily workflow, with the exception of:

  • Long-term To-do Items (managed by Todoist)
  • Meetings (managed by my calendar app Fantastical)

Long-term To-Dos

To-Dos can get complicated.  The more complicated they get, the less to's I do.  So I’ve tried to simplify the process through an ‘eat the elephant one bite at a time’ strategy.  

I enter to-do items into an application called Todoist that lives on, and syncs across, all my IOS devices.  Todoist is my task repository, but not my working directory.  It's only for safe keeping of all future tasks.  

The items that I need to do in the next 24 hours, get transferred from Todoist to my workflow notebook that I describe below.  This does a great job of allowing me to focus only on what needs to be done today, without being distracted by the ‘size of the elephant.’  

Daily Workflow:  A Small Notebook

I use a notebook as the core of my workflow process.  I use the same notebook for both personal and business activities.  The type of notebook isn't too relevant.  Choose any format notebook that works for you.  I prefer an approximate 6x8 inch ruled hardbound notebook that is about a 1/2 inch thick.  It has able writing space, tough enough to be abused a bit, yet small and light enough to carry around. The notebooks I like, I get from Staples; nothing fancy or expensive.

My process uses the front and the back of the notebook.  I put a sticker on the front cover to help me orient front to back.  Plus, I like stickers and personalizing my stuff.

Daily Entry

Starting from the front of the notebook, I open the pages so there is a blank page on the left and a blank page on the right.  For each day, a new to-do list goes on the left, and new log is started on the right page.  The picture below shows the daily entry for Christmas 2021.  

From the front of journal, start each day with a blank left and right page.

To-dos

The left page holds my to-do list.  I put the date on the top.  I check my Todoist application (long-term repository) and pick anything that I can finish today.  I transfer those items it to the notebook's left page.  This list  only contains items I plan on completing today.  

If I fail to complete a task, no big deal, I just 'carry forward' the items to the next day's list.  I try to solve why the to-do didn’t get done yesterday.  I take any opportunity to simplify or chunk the task if it will help me to start, or finish it.  

Log Entries

On the right page of each day, I write short entries (similar to tweets) as I proceed throughout the day.  These entries can be anything I want to reference in the future for daily accomplishments.  I use it similar to a captain’s log.  I also write down who I spoke to and any major points of discussion or decisions.  This has saved my ass on so many occasions.  

Top Tip: If you keep a personal journal you can use this log as an easy prompter for your journal entries.  Just expand on any of your previous day's log entries.

General Notes

With daily entries (to-dos & logging) sorted, it's now time to learn how I create general notes.  Starting from the back of the notebook, I write down any ideas, drawings, insights, or meeting notes etc.  I add content flowing from the right page to the left page (Japanese style) and flip towards the front of the notebook as needed.  

To maximize paper, there is no need for a page break on different days.  I write in the current date at the last place I left off and continue on from there.  I use this method to take notes during business meetings, jot down ideas, and any random stuff that comes to mind.  

Take down general notes and thoughts from the back of the journal towards the front.

Processing Notes

On a regular basis, I will review my general notes and ‘process' them.  Meaning, I scan each page for anything I need to pull out, like action items (insert into Todoist), or reminders (goes into my calendar), due dates, etc.  I also put ideas and concepts worth keeping on my laptop in a writing application called Scrivener.

I typically take a lot business meeting notes.  I always process notes after the meeting, or after a day's worth of meetings.  I've found if I try to take notes and 'process' at the same time, I'll come up short compaired to just focusing on capturing the raw information being generated during the meeting.  Once I've processed a page, I put an 'X' on it so I know I don't need to look at it again.  

This system works really well.  It's easy to do and I regularly recieve praise (typically in the form of astonishment) at the level of detail and organization I can take away from a meeting.  I have no natural aptitude for this skill.  The success factor is all in the process.

When Trains Collide

Eventually the notes I enter into the back of the journal will meet my daily to-dos and logs coming from the front.  When this happens, I do a final review of the notebook for anything remaining pages that I need to process.  I retire the notebook when all the note pages have an 'X.'

I used to toss completed notebooks in my closet.  I've now started to photograph each page (James Bond style) and upload the photos to my laptop.  Then I shred the physical notebook.  By doing this I can secure the information from curious eyes and easily access every page, in every notebook, I've ever created, no matter where I'm located.  

I hope this help you improve you're own workflow process.

Note:  If you don't have a ton of long-term to-dos, it might make sense to consolidate them into your notebook as well.  Maybe reserve the first five pages of the notebook  for long-term to-dos.  


Published by Ruffin Scott, at www.ruffinscott.com