I juggle so many things, departments, thoughts, and personal errands. And because I wanted to organise my life and make sure that nothing falls through the cracks, I have tried EVERYTHING: apps (lots of apps!), notebooks, journaling techniques, and perhaps every to-do list technique out there. Name it, I have probably tried it. But none of them stuck or worked for me. Don’t get me wrong though, I think we all have different productivity tools that work for our learning and working styles. The other tools might be working for you right now and of course, stick to what works! But if you are still searching for your productivity tool, this article may help.
I’m sharing my Productivity Tool but it does not mean that this is THE ultimate productivity tool that could work for you too. No big promises here, just a simple sharing of the tool that worked for me! Here is the link to the Google Sheet template. Feel free to download and play!
So how would you know if this is for you?
- You work with a computer/laptop everyday or frequent enough
- You love organising every single aspect of your life but don’t know how (yet)
- You have several projects going on at once
- You want to see everything in one place and have the flexibility to move schedules without getting too confused or overwhelmed
- Your to-do list keeps on piling up and some of the tasks are important but not (yet) urgent (but will one day be!)
- You are comfortable with excel
Ready? Here it is!
Okay, let’s break it down (cue the music)!
STEP 1: Identify your column names. This is a super important step as the columns organise your individual to-dos and give them meaning (really!) and details. The screenshot (above) of my excel to-do list shows the columns that I chose and why I use them.
STEP 2: Create new excel file, start populating your columns! For each column, determine if you want to have a drop down menu or you want to freely input data. Also determine your lists (the list that will appear in your drop down menu).
Having a drop down menu is helpful when you eventually sort your tasks according to priority, category, etc. (if you are not super familiar with excel, there is a step-by-step tutorial here and here on how to create drop-down lists in excel. If you get a copy of my template, I already fixed this for you)
For my own To-do list, I have several drop down menus. The one below shows the “Priority” column and the list I can choose from, when I log my to-dos. This way, I can sort the Urgent-Important, Important, Not Critical/Nice to Have, Not Important, and Urgent. In case you are wondering why I have a “Not Important” option, I use this for random things I think of that I’m not too precious about (like: watch Stranger Things again) anyway. Your list really depends on you!
STEP 3: Start populating your To-do list! You can start with a few to-dos to practice. And trust me, if and when you get the hang of this, your to-do list will grow but won’t feel too overwhelming (hopefully!).
STEP 4: Use your To-do list! I organise my To-Do excel through sorting the “Target Date” column in ascending order (A to Z). This way, I can see all the tasks that are for the same day and could also see the other upcoming tasks.
STEP 5: Save your To-do excel using the tool that you are most comfortable with! If you love google sheets, use that. If you use Dropbox, use that. I personally use Dropbox to store my To-do excel. I also back-up frequently. Yup, do that too!
How to use and maintain:
- How to populate regularly: when I have access to my computer, I populate the excel file directly and I back up and save the file frequently. If I’m outside the house/office or in traffic, I email myself with the details of the task and when I get access to my computer, I log the task in the excel file. After I do, I could (temporarily) forget about it until I need to get back to it again.
- How it could work with a notebook: so this excel file is my master list! I used to just use a notebook for my to-dos but found it hard to track because some tasks are due in a few weeks or months or the to-do list piles up until it becomes unmanageable. But somehow, using paper is still so so satisfying. So this is what I do: I still log everything in my excel file but I write down the tasks that are due for the day on my notebook. I close the excel file and just monitor my progress through ticking off the boxes for the day’s tasks I wrote on my notebook (so satisfying!). By the end of the day, I open the file and update what was done and I reschedule the other tasks that were not done. I could then take my mind off the tasks, and call it a day!
Some tips and hacks:
- Don’t feel bad if you don’t get the hang of it the first time. It happened to me too. I designed it for myself and yet I was inconsistently using it for several months before finally deciding to stick to it!
- You can also use this tool to monitor emails that you need to send, emails you need to reply to, emails you sent that you have to follow up on. When I log the emails here, I mark the emails as “read” and I could get back to them on the date I scheduled for them. I have maintained a zero unread messages every end of the week because of this system! I need closure in a lot of aspects in my life, so “zero unread messages” by the end of the week makes me happy!
- You can design your own based on what you need and what you feel is important!
So there you go! Do let me know if you have any questions or builds! I’m interested to know about the productivity tool that works for you too. And if ever this works for you, please do share stories of how you are able to build it and stick to it! Even if I’m already using this for about 4 years now, I’m still tweaking it and thinking of new ways to make it better. I have been talking to myself about it for years, so new thoughts and ideas from other people are certainly welcome!