In this article, you’ll find my always up to date of my productivity framework. Fruit of many iterations and errors, this is how I currently organise and schedule my work and important parts of my life.
Before reading this, please be aware that working on productivity is a common form of procrastination. Yet, if you’re overwhelmed by a crazy workload that doesn’t lead you anywhere, I thought I’d share my framework for productivity.
Here’s how I get stuff done.
If you feel like time is running away from you and you haven’t had enough of it to accomplish anything significant when you look back, this article is for you.
I’ve pretty much always been in full control of my time. Sacrificing financial stability and comfort allowed me to always own my time (and be the master of my fate, blah blah blah).
The thing is, when your schedule isn’t dictated by a higher corporate authority, the degree of freedom you have in your time management is overwhelming. At least it was for me.
This is why I researched a lot on productivity systems. I crafted through many iterations — trial and error — this productivity system.
This system works for me and should work for you but feel free to tweak it to make it fit your lifestyle and occupations.
I haven’t created anything: it’s largely based on other’s work. I’m merely documenting my use of their productivity system.
This article is always up-to-date: if I make a change and keep at it for 2 months, the article gets an update. I test, tweak and optimise all the time, but I’m also ruthless if the changes don’t yield benefits.
All in all, this system allowed me to:
- Do meaningful work: it really disciplined me to get the important stuff done and make actual progress toward what matters to me
- Feel confident that I wouldn’t lose track of anything important: if you’re disciplined and follow this system step by step, nothing will slip through the cracks of inattention and daily chaos
- Have a system in place. As system outcomes can be measured, adapted and improved, this yields an interesting perspective for the future of your productivity
TL;DR There’s a summary of this framework right before the conclusion.
Let’s get started, shall we?
The long-term vision
If you’re used to setting annual goals this is going to rock your world.
Here is what’s broken with annual goals:
- Next year is too far away for you to feel the deadline. There is a very high chance you will follow the classical procrastinator path and work on meaningless tasks to keep busy and try to rush everything when the end of the year comes
- At the same time, next year is way too close for you to aim for meaningful, motivating goals
- Things change fast. A year ago — I’m writing these lines in dec. 2016 — I wouldn’t have considered settling down in France and incorporating here. Comes December, and I’m the co-founder of a digital agency in Paris.
Our human brains have a tendency to overestimate what we can do in the short-term but underestimate what could be accomplished in the long-term.
We follow Amara’s Law:
We tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run.
So what’s the fix?
Crafting a long-term vision. Projecting ourselves into the future, 25 years from now. I got this from Taylor Pearson’s anti-fragile planning and it’s pretty great:
- you shortcut any self-censorship because it’s 25 years from now so everything can happen until then, even your wildest dreams. In other words, you focus on what really matters to you.
- because they really matter to you, those goals are self-motivating and will make you take action
How to craft the long-term vision?
I like dissecting it into 3 parts and use a mindmap to help me visualise it quickly. I’ve seen and read about people using Evernote for this too.
Here are 3 areas you can divide your long-term vision into (adapt to suit your needs):
- health includes sports performance, body composition, diet experiments, etc. Whatever relates to your dream health situation. This is also where I put some notes on my ideal mindfulness and meditation practices
- business includes financial situation but also your ideal situation of “work”. What do you work on, how, what’s the impact of your work, etc.
- relationships or social: everything about your relationships. Family, friends, events, etc. What’s your dream family and social life?
If you want to craft a more detailed vision for your 25-years vision, there are links to resources at the end of this article.
It’s important to understand that this vision can be corrected every 90 days. You’re not committing to working your ass off for 25 years to achieve these precise goals, you’re allowed to change your mind.
Note: Pearson’s recommendation about your 25 years vision is to have it ambitious enough that you feel a little bit embarrassed by it. I think it’s good advice. Shoot for the moon…
This 25-Year vision document should be easily accessed. You’ll refer to it every morning to keep an eye on your North Star. I export it as an image on my Dropbox so I can access it anywhere, very quickly.
So now, let’s make your dreams a reality.
The 90-days planning
In the previous section, you have set your North Star, you know where you want to go. Now, how do you make your long-term vision accessible? How do you get closer to it with your day-to-day tasks?
We already established that yearly outcomes aren’t ideal. They were too far away to make you feel real urgency but too close to shoot for highly motivating goals. We solved the motivating goals problem by shooting for a 25-years vision.
Now it’s time to solve the urgency part. This is where the 90-days planning comes in.
90 days seems to be the sweet spot, leaving you enough time to make meaningful progress but not enough slack so you feel like you can spend the first month binge watching House of Cards.
I couldn’t pinpoint who first invented this 90-days planning but this is a widely adopted practice. I’ve talked to people using it, heard interviewees on podcasts and read books where people were using it, so it’s not a new thing. It’s been field tested a few times.
And it works wonders for me.
How to craft your 90-days planning?
There are many approaches. Following concepts from Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown, I tend to put one and only one goal for this part.
It’s in Evernote and covers one of the areas of my 25-years vision.
Note: focusing on a business goal for 90 days doesn’t mean my health will go to the toilet. I try to set my goals so they grow on top of each other to harness compound benefits.
This means that if I learned to do a one arm push-up, I’m going to keep a small workout routine to retain this skill while focusing on improving my business.
Here’s the template I use to set my 90-days goal.
Goal: it has to be measurable. You want to be able to put “Success” or “Failure” during your review process.
Deadline: next quarter (put an actual day, add an event with alarm in your calendar)
Fallback: this is my insurance policy in case I fail. How can I turn the failure of this goal into another kind of success? What experience or data am I collecting during the work done to achieve the goal and how can I leverage this? “Failure” isn’t really a failure if you manage to extract lessons from it. Additional points if you can salvage the work done.
How to 10x: let’s say your goal is to increase your income by $3k / mo this quarter. What would you do if I put a gun to your head and you had to increase it by $30k / mo? This should get you thinking and avoid small scale solutions.
Reverse engineer goal success (at 10x): what would be the step-by-step process, starting by the end to reach that 10x goal?
Once the 90-days plan is done, I commit to it for 90 days. I won’t change it, I have a separate Evernote document for remarks.
Comparing those remarks with the reverse engineered plan helps build better strategies over time.
Ok so, to summarise:
- Pick one area you want to improve during this quarter
- Create an achievable, measurable goal
- Fill the template (with the goal, the deadline and the fallback)
- Commit to this plan, use another document to write down notes to adjust during the next review
Achieving the 90-days goal
Now that you have your goal, the idea is to build the steps toward it and measure your progress.
I used to break down my yearly goals into monthly, weekly and daily goals. Although this structure was flawed by the yearly goal, there was a clear connection between the long-term goal and my day to day tasks. I wanted to keep this.
I break down the 90 days period into:
And create processes to reach the 90 days goal.
This part is important: my 90-days plan is a goal (i.e. Lose 10 pounds) however months, weeks and days have process-based actions (i.e. Don’t eat carbs on weekdays).
Here’s why it’s important: you can’t precisely control your weight but you can control what you put in your mouth. Processes are what you can act on, goals are what you hope they are going to help you achieve.
The best way to achieve your goal is simply to plan a series of actions and hypothesise on that their outcomes will bring you closer to your goal.
So basically, each month, week and day have a notebook in Evernote under a stack named “Agile Journals” (inherited from the Agile Planning series from Asian Efficiency).
I fill them when entering or finishing the corresponding period of time.
Below are the note templates in each notebook.
The Monthly Note
The monthly note is fairly simple. There are tasks to be done: the 1 to 3 tasks that are the most likely to bring me closer to my quarterly goal. Then there a space on it to review the execution of those tasks at the end of the month.
There’s also a monthly sprint. It’s basically something I do for the month, usually not really related to the main quarterly goal. Just some diversification exercise. This could be doing a specific stretch between Pomodoros, trying to work standing up 80% of the time, etc.
The Weekly Note
The weekly note is probably the simplest: 1 to 3 tasks to get the monthly to-do list done and a review of how it went.
The Daily Note
The daily note is by far the most complex.
From a productivity standpoint, it’s a simple to-do for the day and a review of what’s been done or not. The task list is usually done the day before so I don’t have to fear forgetting tasks and wake up in the middle of the night.
Now as you see, there are a lot of journaling elements in my daily review routine.
The morning journal helps me experience gratitude, focus on the top priority of the day and reaffirm my beliefs and vision by phrasing it.
The evening journal is a lot of positive reinforcement. The wins of the day and how it ties into my main goal helps me review the impact of my work in the long-term vision. The last question is a security question: I lost a lot of time working on projects that have never seen the light of the market. I now make sure part of my daily tasks don’t just live on my computer but are shipped to clients and gather market feedback.
Most of this digital journaling process — I also have a paper journaling routine but it’s another story — have been stolen from another great article on Taylor Pearson’s blog. Link in the resource section at the end of this article.
The Review Process
Each note — from the daily to the 90-days ones — has to be reviewed at the end of its period. This is key to measure progress and connect the dots.
As you can see in my templates above, there’s a space dedicated to the review of each note.
You should check what you’ve accomplished and why. Monthly, weekly and daily notes basically act as to-do lists. If you didn’t do the list, you should reflect on why you didn’t. You set your own tasks so why couldn’t you do them? Was the to-do too ambitious?
Maybe there’s too much reactivity in your schedule and you just get swamped by emails and calls and you couldn’t work on your important tasks?
I also like to reflect on what was shipped: what did I confront to exterior feedback (partner, client, prospect, …). This ensures I’m not just spinning my wheels and creating work that won’t be deployed or used later on.
Finally, as each task is a step toward the completion of the task of the bigger period, if something wasn’t done I need to report it for the next period. Daily tasks should achieve the weekly tasks by the end of the week, just like weekly tasks need to complete monthly tasks which in turn should bring me closer to the quarterly goal.
Additional resources & references
This article is largely based on my experience and implementation of other’s work. If you want to dive deeper and forge your own framework, I strongly suggest you go have a look at these resources:
- Taylor Pearson’s anti-fragile planning, his essay that inspired my daily journal notes I also recommend you check out his emails for “the effective entrepreneur”
- The “craft your perfect day” exercise
- Amara’s Law
- Asian Efficiency’s Agile Results series of articles
- Essentialism, or the disciplined pursuit of less by Greg McKeown
- Cal Newport‘s blog and his work on Deep Work
Understanding the building blocks of my system will allow you to hack it for a more customised approach.
If you’ve never built your own productivity framework, I recommend you apply one first, then figure out what could be improved from your usage of the framework, not from theory.
Planning Routine Summary
Here’s the gist of my system:
- Craft a 25-years vision of your life to set goals
- Create a 90-days goal that will bring you closer to your 25-years vision
- Break it down into a Monthly, Weekly and Daily to-do
- Every 90 days, review the previous 90-days goal status, revise the long-term vision, set the 90-days goal and the process goal for the first month, the first week and the first day of those 90 days
- At the end of each period of time — day, week, month — review the impact of the process/tasks for the period of time and set new tasks (actionable processes) for the next period
- Every day, start by remembering your long-term vision then get cranking on the tasks for the day. Once done, review the day and plan the next
I’m always eager to improve my system. Small tweaks can yield tremendous results over time. This is why I’d love for you to share your best/favourite productivity hack, tool or system in the comment section below.
Do you have a productivity framework in place? What are your favourite productivity hacks?