Category Archives: Productivity

The Overlooked Variable of Time Management

When we think about time management, the first thing that comes to mind is planning. Planning is a critical part of time management, but not the only component.

The other component of time management is the willpower to follow up with your plans. You might analyze and prioritize your projects and plan them in your to-do lists. If you don’t complete the tasks on your to-do lists, all of that work means nothing.

Execution is as important as planning. I shared how you can audit and improve your execution in yesterday’s post. Today’s post will be about practical, yet effective mind hacks that you can apply right away.

The Optimal Emotional State for Maximum Performance

There is an optimal emotional state for maximum performance. It’s neither being too happy nor being too depressed. It’s neither being too optimistic nor being too pessimistic. It’s a sweet spot between those extremes.

Acknowledge Your Accomplishments

As humans, we tend to downplay positives and exaggerate negatives. As a result, we end up being too pessimistic and get depressed.

To overcome that pitfall, acknowledge your accomplishments, and be grateful for what you have. That doesn’t mean to ignore your mistakes or weaknesses. Acknowledge them too and convert them to points of improvement (POI).

The golden ratio between accomplishments and POI’s seems to be around 5 to 1. At the end of each day, write down five achievements and one POI. This practice boosts your self-esteem and keeps you motivated to achieve more.

Build Momentum

Once you have momentum, you’re unstoppable. You’re driven to create more, deliver more, and accomplish more.

You build momentum by completing a series of tasks, no matter how small those tasks are. The secret to creating momentum is to divide your big tasks into smaller tasks.

Ideally, your tasks should take somewhere between 20 minutes and one hour. That way, you can complete them in a single sitting.

Work through a Checklist of Bitesize Tasks

Before starting a work session, come up with a checklist of bitesize tasks. That way, you don’t need to think about what to do next. You have clarity.

You won’t lose time between steps. You won’t miss a step. You won’t have to deal with massive, hard challenges. All you have to do is to finish those tasks one by one.

You can even convert creative activities to checklists of bitesize tasks. For an example, check the post A Creativity Exercise to Come Up with Counterintuitive Blog Post Titles that Get Clicked.

The more you accomplish, the more motivated you get to accomplish more.

As you complete the tasks on your list one by one, you feel a sense of accomplishment. You feel like a machine.

Focus on a Single Task at Hand

You can start ten tasks and feel like you’re working hard. Or you can complete one task and make actual progress toward your goals.

Starting ten tasks won’t make any difference in your life. Completing a task will. Focus on a single task until its completion. Check it on your to-do list. And then, proceed with the next one.

Gamify the Process

Assign a duration to the next task on your to-do list. Set the timer and try to complete the task within the duration you set.

Create micro-challenges for yourself. Those micro-challenges have to be attainable, but slightly outside of your comfort zone. That way, you’ll push yourself to perform a little better each time.

Adopt the Optimization Mindset

Small improvements add up over time. If you improve your life 1% a day, you’ll improve it 38 times over a year. That is 3800% improvement.

Ask Yourself Motivating Questions

Work toward Weekly Goals

To-do lists consist of action items that are entirely under your control. It’s up to you to get them done or not. For example, it’s under your control to publish a post every day for the next thirty days.

Goals aren’t completely under your control. They involve events that are outside of your control. That’s what makes them exciting.

Focusing on short-term goals such as weekly goals can make you obsessive about your work. That’s the type of motivation to achieve enormous feats.

Your weekly goals have to be related to your long-term goals. Ideally, you start with a meaningful long-term goal and break it down into smaller goals until you come up with a weekly goal. Check how I came up with my weekly goal.

Find Accountability Partners

Find a person or a group of people that will hold you accountable. Report the completion rate of your to-do list and your progress toward your goals, ideally once a week. You can find an accountability partner or build an online mastermind group.

Create a Failproof Identity and Environment

Most of the time, we focus on our actions to accomplish our goals. There are two other ingredients of success. They are more fundamental than our actions because they influence our actions directly. These two ingredients are our identity and our environment.

Building an identity might take some time, but that doesn’t mean you can’t start working on it right away.

Creating an environment is easier if you have the means. To start with, get rid of everything that distracts you and get the best equipment that would improve your performance.


Even though we can improve our performance, we all have limitations. Failure and dry spells are inevitable in any meaningful endeavor.

When I fail at a specific goal, I look at the big picture of my life and my long-term goals. That motivates me to keep going.

Your long-term goals could take longer than you expect. You need to survive those long stretches of dry spells. You can do that by focusing on essentials and letting go of everything else.

Reward Yourself

Last but not least, promise yourself some downtime and rewards. If your life looks like one big stretch of hard work, you might get discouraged and give up. To avoid that, schedule some quality time for yourself and for your loved ones.


There are a lot of little tricks you can use to improve your motivation and performance. I don’t expect you to learn, internalize, and apply all of these tips in a single week.

Pick one of the tips, and apply it for a week. Bookmark this post and come back one week later. Pick another tip and repeat the process.

Make continuous improvement in your life. Never stop improving your life and processes.

Your Turn

  • Which tip is your favorite?
  • Which tip will you apply this week?
  • Do you have any tips that I haven’t mentioned here?

Optimize the Execution of Your Plans with This Simple Exercise

We can divide time management into two parts.

Time Management = Planning + Willpower

We can handle the planning part in three steps.

  1. Analysis
  2. Prioritization
  3. Scheduling

I explained each step of the planning part in the previous two posts of this series.


Planning is a critical part of time management, but not sufficient by itself.

If you don’t have the willpower to follow up on your plans, no amount of planning will save you.

Today, I’m going to share an exercise to measure and improve your willpower to execute your plans.

Face Reality. Establish a Baseline.

The first step of improving your willpower is to determine where you are right now.

What gets measured gets improved.

Come Up with a Weekly Plan

The first step of establishing a baseline is to come up with a weekly plan. If you’ve done the exercises in the first two posts, you have your weekly plan. If you haven’t done the exercises, come up with a weekly plan now.

Measure Your Time Usage for a Week

For a week, write down what you have done at the end of each hour on a piece of paper. This sounds like overkill, but do it for a week. Do it only for the hours when you’re awake.

I heard this practice from Dan Peña, an American businessman and business coach. I tried it for a few days, and it was an eye-opener. I do this exercise from time to time when I feel distracted.

Interpret the Results

Bookmark this post and mark your calendar to reread it one week later. Studying the same material multiple times with set intervals in between is called the spaced repetition method. It’s an effective learning method.

At the end of the week, compare your results against your plan.

  • What is the percentage of the action items that you have completed?
  • How many hours did you spend productive?
  • How many hours did you waste?

Interpret the Percentages

  • If you completed more than 80% of your action items, your plan was in your comfort zone.
  • If you completed less than 80% of your action items, either you have willpower challenges, or you are overestimating your performance.
  • If you completed around 80% of your action items, congratulations. You have the ideal task completion rate.

It’s also important to calculate the percentages accurately. If you came up with four easy and one hard action items and completed the four easy action items, this doesn’t mean that you have completed 80% of your plan. Be honest when evaluating your results.

Improve Your Execution

In the previous step, we established a baseline for the execution of our plan. In this step, we are going to improve it. The first step in improving our execution is to analyze it.

Find the Critical Points in Your Execution

In this step, we’ll go over our activity log and look for critical points in our execution. These are the points when we deviate from our plans. Think about those points as dropout points. You drop out from your plans in those critical moments.

Find the Root Cause of the Dropout Points

If we can find the root cause of the dropout points, we can eliminate them from our execution. Let me go over a few examples from my experience so that you have an idea how to carry out this step.

Vague Task Descriptions

I deviate from my plans when my tasks aren’t defined clearly. When I don’t know what to do precisely at a certain moment, I get confused and become prone to distraction.

The solution to vague task descriptions is to define them precisely. For more about this, read the post What Gets Scheduled Gets Measured.

Overwhelming Tasks

When the task at hand is too big, overwhelming, or unattainable, I feel discouraged. My motivation suffers, and my productivity follows suit.

The solution is to divide big tasks into smaller tasks that can be completed in a single sitting. The ideal duration of a task is between 20 minutes and 1 hour.

As I explained in the post How Do I Publish a Post Every Day, I don’t aim to write a post in a single sitting. I first come up with an outline. Then, I write each section separately. That way, I have a feeling of accomplishment when I complete each step and section.

The Fallacy of Minimum Marginal Costs

  • What is the marginal cost of watching another YouTube video? 5 minutes?
  • What is the marginal cost of reading another tweet? 15 seconds?
  • What is the marginal cost of scrolling your Facebook feed once more? 30 seconds?

The marginal costs of those actions look negligible, but those numbers add up. That’s why the activity log is crucial. You’ll see how much time you’re wasting on a given day.

If you waste an hour a day, you lose 15 complete days in a year, and an entire year in 24 years. Think about it! What could you do with those days and years?

If wasting time is a problem for you, I recommend you read the posts The Fallacy of Minimum Marginal Costs and The Ultimate Self-Motivation Guide.

Low Energy Levels

We usually look at our problems on the level of our mind. Sometimes, the issue is on the level of our physiology. Low energy levels are one of those problems.

When I look at my activity log, I see that I deviate from my plan after the breakfast or lunch. Once that digression happens, I get distracted for the rest of the day. For that reason, it’s critical to avoid it.

My solution for the after breakfast or lunch dips is physical activity. I either walk around a little or work for an hour standing up after the breakfast and lunch. I didn’t invest in a standing desk. I use my kitchen counter for this purpose.


Planning is the first half of the time management equation. The other half is the willpower to follow up on your plans. You probably aren’t aware of your level of willpower at the moment. Your productivity and performance might suffer as a result.

To become aware of your level of willpower and to optimize it, follow the steps below for a week.

  1. Come up with a weekly plan.
  2. Measure your time usage for a week.
  3. Measure your task completion ratio.
  4. Find the dropout points in your execution.
  5. Find the root causes of those dropout points.
  6. Eliminate the root causes of your dropout points.

If you think one week isn’t enough to optimize your execution, repeat this exercise as much as you want.

Coming Soon

There are some mind hacks that I use to improve my productivity. They are easy and simple tricks that you can use right away. Yet, they make a big difference in my performance.

I’m going to publish a post about those mind hacks soon, so stay tuned and sign up to the email newsletter for weekly roundups of my latest posts.

Your Turn

  • How did the activity log exercise work for you? Are you surprised by the results?
  • What are your dropout points?
  • What’s your plan to deal with them?

What Gets Scheduled Gets Done

In yesterday’s post, I shared the simple formula of time management.

Time Management = Planning + Willpower

I split planning into three steps.

  1. Analysis
  2. Prioritization
  3. Scheduling

I explained the analysis and prioritization steps in yesterday’s post. Today’s post will be about the third step, scheduling.

What Is Scheduling?

By scheduling, I mean the planning of day-to-day activities. Technically, scheduling is assigning a date and time to an activity. Sometimes, I assign a specific time to an activity, for example, in case of an appointment.

In other times, I indicate the order of the action items, without indicating specific start and end times. This order usually matches the priority of the action item, but not necessarily so.

In some cases, I might have an appointment early in the morning and a more important task in the afternoon.

The Level of Detail

It’s up to you how much detail you want to include in your scheduling. I prefer to plan only critical and important tasks in my day-to-day schedule. Check yesterday’s post for what I mean by critical and important tasks.

By including only critical and important tasks, my daily plan doesn’t get crowded. I can quickly see the top 4-5 essential actions I have to take on that day. On some days, I go over 5, but 4-5 essential tasks seem ideal to me.

The Pitfall of To-Do List Apps

In the past, I used a to-do list app. I added every idea that crossed my mind as a to-do item to that list. As a result, I ended up with thousands of action items. The critical and important action items got lost among the “nice to-do’s” and “one day, I’ll do’s.”

I stopped mixing my casual ideas and high-priority tasks. I add my casual ideas to a separate note in Evernote.

The Tool that I Use for Scheduling

The app that I use the most is Evernote. I use it for scheduling as well.

I like the flexibility of a note. I can structure and format it any way I want. I can combine several notes together with the internal link functionality. Here are some of the features that make Evernote an excellent scheduling tool for me.

  • Shortcuts
  • Duplicate a note
  • Checkboxes in notes
  • Copy internal link to a note
  • Format a note

How Do I Schedule?

The goal of scheduling is to plan predetermined activities over days. If you wonder how I identify and prioritize my activities, you can check yesterday’s post.

I make a distinction between two types of activities.

  • Repetitive
  • One-off

Repetitive activities repeat themselves one or multiple times every week, every month, every quarter, and every year. I use templates to plan my repetitive activities.


I have three templates.

  • Yearly
  • Monthly
  • Weekly

I include the quarterly activities in the monthly template.

A template is a simple note that contains the repetitive activities to be carried out in a given time frame. For example, a yearly template includes the following items.

  • Birthdays
  • Anniversaries
  • Tax and insurance administration and payments
  • Car maintenance
  • And so on…

Those are the events and actions that happen once a year. I divide the yearly template into twelve months. The formatting functionality of Evernote is perfect for doing that. Similarly, I divide the weekly template into seven weekdays.

Fig. 1. Weekly Template

Creating an Actual Schedule

I create an actual schedule before the related period starts. I create a note for the next year, the next month, and next week, before they start. That is really simple with the “duplicate a note” functionality.

The “duplicate a note” functionality creates a copy of the note, in this case, our template note. Then, I adjust the title of the note to the related year, month, or week, and that’s it. For the week, I use the start and end date of the week as the title.

Once I duplicate a template note, I have the repetitive tasks in my note. Then, I add the one-off tasks to the period note.

How Long Does It Take?

Once you have the analysis, prioritization, and templates ready, it takes around 10-15 minutes to create a weekly plan.

It takes more time to prepare the analysis, prioritization, and templates. Those tasks are never complete.

As time passes, your life evolves, and your priorities change.

Your analysis, prioritization, and templates change with your priorities. You need to invest time in those activities to keep up with the priorities of your life.

How do I Create an Actual Schedule?

I work on scheduling once a week on Sunday. I complete all the scheduling work in 10-15 minutes.

  • If the next year is approaching, I create a note for the next year.
  • If the next month is approaching, I create a note for the next month.
  • In either case, I create a note for the next week.

Once those notes are ready, I move specific action items from the year note to the month note, and from the month note to the week note. Then, I add one-off activities to the week note. After that step, my weekly schedule is complete.

I only include specific action items on my schedule. I don’t add vague plans.

For example, “bring the car to maintenance” is a specific action item. “Think about buying a new car” isn’t. Vague plans have to be analyzed, made concrete, and prioritized in the analysis and prioritization phases.

Long Term Note

In addition to my year, month, and week notes, I have a long-term note. Don’t confuse the long-term note with a long-term vision or any other abstract idea. Those ideas go to the analysis document.

The long-term note contains the action items that have a deadline that’s after the end of the next year. For example, I have to renew my password and id every five to ten years.

Putting It All Together

There aren’t many options to order notes in Evernote. As a result, you end up with a bunch of notes without any logical order. I create an index note to overcome that problem.

Fig. 2. The Index Note

Every time, I create a new year, month, or week note, I add that note to my index note. This is really easy in Evernote with the “copy internal link” functionality. Then, I paste the link to the index note.

Quick Access to Important Notes

The index note and the template notes are important notes. I add a shortcut to them on the left panel.

Fig. 3. Shortcuts

The Order of Tasks in a Day

As I mentioned before, I don’t assign timeslots to tasks in a day. The only exception to that is the appointments with set start and end times.

I plan the tasks without set start times according to their priority. The higher priority a task has, the earlier it is scheduled.

Having a set order of tasks has several benefits.

  • Minimizes the time wasted on thinking what to do next.
  • Minimizes decision fatigue by avoiding deciding on what to do next.
  • The tasks with higher priority get done first.

The Impact of Planning on Your Life

“Every minute spent in planning saves as many as ten minutes in execution.” Brian Tracy

I included the quote above because I like the idea behind it. I don’t agree with it 100%.

In some cases, planning could be a massive waste of time.

In the past, I got lost in details and kept planning. As a result, I lost a lot of time planning without getting much work done.

As the years past, I learned to focus on the most critical and important tasks and let go of the rest when planning.

Focus on the most critical and important and let go of the rest. If you do that, planning has more benefits than 10x time savings. It makes impossible possible.


Time management involves planning and willpower. Planning requires analysis, prioritization, and scheduling.

I discussed the analysis and prioritization in yesterday’s post and scheduling in today’s post.

Scheduling involves two steps.

  1. Having yearly, monthly, weekly templates that include repetitive tasks.
  2. Creating actual period schedules based on the templates by adding the one-off tasks.

When scheduling, I focus only on the most essential, specific tasks. I order my tasks according to their priorities if they don’t have set start times, like appointments.

I use Evernote to create my day-to-day schedules. It has several features that make creating and using a day-to-day plan efficient.

When it comes to scheduling, the proof is in the pudding.

You have to go through the steps explained in yesterday’s and today’s post to see what it does for you and your life. Work on setting it up for a month and use it for a month. See the effects yourself.

Coming Soon

Most of us make the mistake of equating time management to planning. Planning is only half of the equation. The other half is willpower.

If you don’t have the willpower to follow up on your plans, no amount of planning will save you.

Stay tuned for a post on the willpower aspect of time management. That post won’t be the average motivational post shouting at you to get things done. I’ll back it up with some mind hacks that you can use right away.

Your Turn

Do you have any questions or feedback over the system explained in yesterday’s and today’s posts? Let me know in the comments. I’ll do my best to answer your questions and write a follow-up post if necessary.

The Simple Formula of Time Management

Do you have time management challenges? Do you read a lot about time management, but don’t make much progress?

If you answer yes to those questions, you’re not alone. I was exactly at the same point until I came up with my own system.

Time Management Is a Complex Problem

We treat time management as a simple problem. It isn’t. It’s a combination of several problems. Let’s divide time management into two problems. Then, we’re going to divide each problem into smaller parts.

Time Management = Planning + Willpower

If you have a time management problem, you either have a planning problem, a willpower problem, or both. Don’t worry if you have both. I’ve been there as well.

Now that we have the formula, we can work on each component separately. In this post, I’m going to discuss the first two parts of the planning component. I’m going to discuss the third part of planning and willpower in future posts.

Divide and Conquer

Dividing a complex problem into smaller problems and solving each part separately is called divide and conquer. It’s an effective problem-solving method.

Solving its small parts separately is much easier than aiming at the big problem. When you solve the small parts, the big problem is solved automatically. Let’s start with the planning part.


I’m going to divide the planning problem into three parts.

Planning = Analysis + Prioritization + Scheduling

In this post, I’m going to discuss the analysis and prioritization parts. I’m going to discuss the scheduling part in future posts.


The analysis part involves dividing a big project into smaller tasks. You can consider your life as one big project and divide it into life areas.

  • Family
  • Work
  • Finances
  • Social Life
  • And so on…

The list above is to give you an idea. Everybody has a different list. Some people have a few items on their lists, others a lot.

I’m not here to tell you how to divide your life into its components. It’s a decision you have to make. But I recommend dividing your life into areas and focusing on each area separately.

Divide Each Life Area into Projects

Once you have the main areas of your life, it’s time to divide them into projects. For example, your job might involve more than one project. Again, work on those projects separately.

Now, go over each project and break it down into tasks. Some of those tasks will be one-off tasks. Others will be repeating tasks.

Ideally, you should divide each project to a point where you can complete a task in a single sitting.

That’s a Lot of Work!

I can hear you screaming “that’s a lot of work!” Yes, it is! But you don’t have to do all of it in a single sitting. Moreover, you don’t have to go into detail for each area, for each project, or for each task.

Simply focus on the most urgent and important areas, projects, and tasks. That already involves some prioritization.

If you can’t divide a life area, project, or task to the point of single sitting activities, you won’t be able to schedule them in a specific timeslot on a given day.

If you can’t schedule a task, you won’t be able to complete it. As a result, your time management challenges will perpetuate.

What gets scheduled, gets done.

Which Tool Should I Use?

There are a lot of planning, scheduling, and to-do list tools out there. For the analysis part, keep things simple. Use MS Word.

MS Word has some less known features that make it more than enough to do an analysis like this.

  • Use heading styles to divide your plan into its parts.
  • Collapse and expand headings to focus on the sections you’re working.
  • Use the navigation pane to have an overview of the headings.
  • Use bullet points to jot down tasks.
  • Insert page breaks between life areas and projects if necessary.

In the navigation pane, you can use the following functionalities.

  • Click on a heading for quick access to it in the text editor.
  • Drag and drop headings.
  • Promote or demote headings.
  • Add a new heading or subheading.
  • Expand or collapse a heading or a subheading.
  • Adjust the level of headings to be shown.
  • Adjust the width of the navigation pane.
  • Move the navigation pane.

MS Word Life Plan Template

Adjust the Width of the Navigation Pane

The overview of your planning is as important as the details of it. For that reason, you can increase the size of the navigation page up to 50% of the screen.

Move the Navigation Pane

I prefer the working space to be on the left and the navigation space to be on the right of the screen. You can move the navigation pane if you want to try a different setting than the default one.


This step is a critical part of scheduling. Which tasks are more important than others in your analysis? Which tasks are less important?

In a previous post, I explained the Eisenhower Matrix. The Eisenhower Matrix is a method to categorize tasks. It has two dimensions, importance and urgency.

Prioritization means categorizing your tasks according to their importance. The Eisenhower Matrix has two categories in the importance dimension, important and not important.

The ABCDE Method

Today, I want to introduce the ABCDE method. As the name suggests, the ABCDE method has five categories. Each letter stands for a category.

  • A. Critical task. Serious implications if not addressed timely.
  • B. Important task. This task has significant benefits in the long run.
  • C. Nice to do.
  • D. Delegate. Someone else can do this cheaper, faster, better than you.
  • E. Eliminate. No benefits. Even harmful.

Now, you have to go over your plan and assign a letter to each task.


I first read about the ABCDE method from the book Focal Point by Brian Tracy. I came across the Eisenhower Matrix for the first time in the book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey.

The ABCDE method focuses on the prioritization of tasks. The Eisenhower Matrix also branches out into scheduling with the urgency dimension.


Don’t underestimate the letter D. It is the most avoided letter in this system. There are two counterarguments against delegation.

  1. Lack of money
  2. Lack of trust

Lack of Money

In some cases, lack of money is a legitimate argument, but not always. Think about it from another perspective.

  • What’s your hourly rate, your hourly income?
  • What’s the hourly rate of the person that you’re going to delegate the task at hand?

If your hourly rate is higher than the person you’re going to hire, then it’s only logical to delegate.

Moreover, some people complete a task faster and better than you. There’s a person who helps me with household once a week. They complete the task in half the time that I do. They do a much better job than me. I’m grateful for their work.

Lack of Trust

Some people want to do everything themselves. You can’t scale your life and business by doing everything yourself.

As I explained in the post, A Buddhist Monk’s Take on Business, employees are one of the four stakeholders of a business. If you want to get to the next level in your life and business, you have to start delegating some tasks.

If you have a difficult time trusting others, start slowly. Start delegating small tasks to freelancers.

Come up with clear requirements in advance and verify the work against those requirements. Once you build trust with your freelancers, you can increase the amount of work you delegate.


Time management is a complex problem. It can be divided into two parts, planning and willpower. Planning can be broken down into analysis, prioritization, and scheduling.

In the analysis part, we come up with an overview of all the areas of our lives. Then we divide each area into projects, tasks, and action items. In prioritization, we assign different priorities to each task.

Delegation is a critical yet avoided part of time management. If you avoid it because of lack of money, compare your hourly rate with the hourly rate of a freelancer.

If you avoid delegation because of lack of trust, you can build trust by delegating small tasks and following up on them.

Stay tuned for my posts on scheduling and willpower. They are also critical parts of time management.

The App that I Use the Most

There are a few tools that I use on a daily basis. Evernote is the tool I use the most. I can’t imagine my life without it. It’s like a second brain to me. It’s almost as important as Google in my life. I have two Evernote accounts. One is for private purposes and the other one is for my work.

When you first download and install Evernote, it looks like a simple note taking software. You just take notes and Evernote stacks them on each other. You might wonder what the buzz is about.

When you dive into different functionalities of Evernote, you realize that you can customize Evernote in various ways according to your own wants and needs. If you read different articles by different Evernote enthusiasts, you will come across different usages of Evernote.

When you look at how different people use Evernote, you might think that they are using different software. That’s the advantage of Evernote. It’s a simple software that can be customized the way you want.

In this post, I’m going to explain the way I use Evernote. It doesn’t mean my way is the best way. This is what works the best for me.  I will introduce you the functionalities that I use. Feel free to use as much or as less as I explain here.

What do I use Evernote for?

I use my private account to

  • Capture ideas,
  • Organize ideas,
  • Use it as a combination of an agenda and a to do list,
  • Take notes.

I use the work account to

  • Maintain a knowledge base,
  • Use it as a notepad.

Here are the Evernote features I use the most.

  • Synchronization between laptop and smartphone
  • Linking notes to each other
  • Duplicating notes
  • Tagging notes
  • Searching notes
  • Shortcuts

Capture Ideas

As I have mentioned in a previous post, I write down around ten ideas a day that pop up in my mind in Evernote. This is what I call capturing ideas. It is rather an easy process.

This is where the synchronization comes handy. I can take notes whenever I want, wherever I want with my smartphone. Then those notes are synchronized to my laptop and I can work on them at home with my laptop.

Organize Ideas

Capturing ideas is the easy part. Organizing them are the harder part, but it’s necessary to be able to use them, for example when writing blog posts.

Once a week, I go over these ideas and process them. I put the similar ones together. If there are sufficient ideas around a certain topic, I create a separate note for them. For example, I have separate notes for business, writing, productivity, and so on.

When you use Evernote for a long time, you end up with thousands of notes. They need to be organized to be useful. In the past, I used the shortcut functionality for that purpose.

Unfortunately, the shortcut functionality hasn’t been stable recently when synchronizing notes. Old versions of shortcuts started to override new versions. That meant I lost my work. So, I stopped relying on them.

I create a few index notes, which contain links to other notes. Index notes are more flexible and stable than shortcuts. Now, I use a few shortcuts on my sidebar. They point to my index notes. Even if those shortcuts are lost due to synchronization errors, I can easily find my index notes via the search box.

Use It as a Combination of an Agenda and a To Do List

When I got my first smartphone, I experimented with a lot of calendar and to do list apps. Calendar apps are great for keeping track of appointments. To do list apps are great for keeping track of your tasks. However, I wanted to have a combination of both.

I couldn’t find an app that combined the both, an agenda and a to do list. I created a system on Evernote instead. Setting it up and optimizing it took a while, but now, it doesn’t take more than fifteen minutes a week to maintain it.

I have separate notes for yearly, monthly, and weekly templates. Those notes contain the tasks that need to be completed every year, month, and week.

If a task requires several steps to complete, I create a separate note for it and add a link to it in the relevant template. For example, collecting the documents for tax returns is a separate note that is linked in the yearly template.

Besides the templates, I have separate notes for the current week, current month, current year, and longer term. I organize them in an index note using the structure below. Each line is a link to the corresponding note.

  • 2019 – 2021
  • 2018
    • 2018 March
      • 20180305 – 11
      • 20180226 – 0304
    • 2018 February
      • 20180219 – 25
      • 20180212 – 18
      • 20180205 – 11
      • 20180129 – 0204

It is really easy to create these notes, because I have the templates in place. All I have to do is to create a new note by duplicating the template note. Every year, I duplicate the yearly template, every month, the monthly template, and every week, the weekly template.

After duplicating the template, I update the dates and add the extra tasks for the related period, which doesn’t take more than fifteen minutes a week.

This system is the backbone of how I organize my life, including the administrative tasks such as company taxes, personal taxes, or birthdays, appointments, repetitive tasks, and so on.

Take Notes

This is an obvious use of Evernote, but this shouldn’t be underestimated. Especially, the search functionality plays an important role here once you have thousands of notes in your account.

Sometimes, I write down some notes or copy and paste something from the Internet when I’m at home using my laptop. Then, I can easily find that information back when I’m outside using my smartphone.

That’s a lifesaver, especially when you’re traveling. You can write down as many details as you want and plan your travel in advance. When you’re traveling, you don’t need to hold anything in your mind. All you have to do is to refer to your notes.

Maintain a Knowledge Base

A knowledge base is a lifesaver at work. A lot of public information can be found via Google, but I regularly need private information as well.

There are some procedures that I have to go through every once in a while. They have to be done every year or every quarter. Since they are so infrequent, I don’t know every detail of them by heart. If I saved those procedures in a document somewhere in my computer, it would get lost and not be well-organized.

Evernote is the perfect tool for maintaining a knowledge base. I create separate notes for each procedure. Then, I tag those notes with the name of a customer or a technology. Then, I can access notes related to that customer or technology easily by filtering the notes according to those tags.

Use It as a Notepad

When I start a complex task, I come up with an execution plan first. I write down that execution plan in a separate note in Evernote.

I can add as many details as I want to those notes, including screenshots, which are very handy when developing software. I keep an index of all of those tasks in a separate note.

Sometimes, I come up with an idea that is not urgent. Or I come across a bug or a point of improvement. I write them down in separate notes. I keep those notes indexed in a separate backlog index note.


As you can see, I use Evernote heavily in my private and professional life on a daily basis. It made a huge difference in my life and in the way I organize my work and private life.

I didn’t go too much into detail in this post. I just wanted to mention the possibilities. You can easily google the details of each feature.

You can customize Evernote according to your own wants and needs. It takes some time and experimentation. If you stick with it, you’ll find a way to make it work for you. If you get stuck, you can find a lot of documentation online using Google or ask your questions on their forum.

Focus on the Essentials

At any given moment, there is a single essential task that would move the needle significantly. Most of the time, that task is boring and hard. At any given moment, there are also a lot of secondary tasks that provide only marginal value. Those secondary tasks are fun and easy. Focusing on the essential task would create the most results in your life. Working on the secondary tasks without completing the essentials would give you the illusion of hard work, but your results won’t match your efforts.

At the moment of writing this post, I have a few tasks that I can do for my blog. I can write a new post. I can edit my previous drafts. I can participate on social media. I can improve the design of my blog. I can search for images to use in my posts. I can create quote pictures that can be shared on Facebook and Instagram. I can record a podcast. I can shoot a video for YouTube. I can start an account in each of the countless social media platforms. All of that would add some value to my blog. However, all of that would only add marginal value. Sure they would move the needle forward, but none of that would move the needle significantly forward.

At this moment, there is a single action that would create significant value for myself and for the readers of my blog. That action is to make an inventory of all the posts I have written and then organize them in an outline. That way the readers of this blog could see the big picture and avoid getting lost in separate posts. That would also give me an overview of the topics that I have already covered and the topics that I haven’t. I can use that overview as a roadmap to cover a broader range of topics instead of writing posts about the same topics over and over.

The secondary tasks I’ve mentioned above are easy and fun. Coming up with an inventory of my content is hard and boring. The secondary tasks add only marginal value. Coming up with the inventory adds significant value. That’s the problem with the essentials. They are hard and boring. Secondary tasks are easy and fun.

You can fool yourself that you work very hard by spending 18 hours a day on secondary stuff, but your results won’t show the effort you put into your work. Or you can focus on your essentials, get them done in three hours per day and you can spend an extra five hours a day working on secondary tasks. You would get way better results than the first scenario.

It’s crucial to determine which task is the most essential task, to start your working day with that task, and to work on it until it is complete without any distractions. When you are finished with the most essential task, you can continue with the secondary tasks if you want or you can as well take the rest of the day free, because you have already moved the needle as far as you could in a single day.

Use Tech as an Accelerator, not as an End

When it comes to tools, we are in the best time in the history of mankind. Yet, we are as busy as never before. How come? With all the technology and productivity tools we have, one would think that we would have a lot of spare time, because we would get everything done so fast with our new tools. But it isn’t the case. Why? Because we let technology determine our processes, instead of our processes determine the technology that would accelerate our already existing processes.

This is a lesson that took me more than a decade to learn. Tech can be fun to use and it can be a distraction. I don’t mean the social media or video game apps. They are obvious distractions. I mean the productivity and collaboration apps.

Back in the day, I would come across a new piece of technology and I would fall in love with it. Then I would actively look for ways of how I could use it in my professional and private life. Some examples are Google Buzz, Google Wave, and almost any “productivity” app on my first smartphone. After a decade, I realized that it is backwards thinking.

Technology should come second, not first. Processes should determine the technology, not the other way around. The first step is to have a process that works on paper. The second step is to find or develop the technology to accelerate that procedure.

For example, you can write a note and have an office boy bring it to a colleague. It’s a good process. You can accelerate it by using email. Maybe, you should think about it that way. Would you send this note if an office boy had to bring it to a colleague? If not, maybe you shouldn’t send it in the first place. Worst than that, would you ask the office boy to bring the same note to everybody in your company? If not, maybe you shouldn’t send that email to everybody in your company.

Would you write down all of your random ideas as tasks to your to-do-list, if you maintained it with pen and paper? You wouldn’t. But that is exactly what I did when smartphones and to-do-list apps became available. Maintaining a huge to-do-list gave me a false sense of hard work. In reality, my productivity didn’t improve. Probably, it worsened due to all the noise in my to-do-list.

Would you shout your random thoughts to everybody in your company? Would it be productive if everybody in your company shouted their random ideas around while the rest was trying to work? But that’s exactly what Google Buzz was about. Probably, there are other similar apps in the market now. I don’t know.

Nowadays, I only look for a piece of technology when I know it would accelerate an already existing process. The rest is hype and distraction. I don’t worry about missing an important piece of technology. The useful ones will find me anyway.

Next time you are about to adopt a new piece of technology like a smartwatch, think about how this will accelerate your already existing processes. If you can’t come up with anything, skip it. Ask the same question about your existing devices and apps. If your smartphone is beeping and buzzing all the time without accelerating any of your processes, maybe it’s time to delete all those noisy social media apps and check what’s going on once a day for a few minutes via an old-school browser, if at all.

How to Beat the Technology

The working day of the average office staff consists of one big chat and social media session with brief interruptions of actual work. If that sounds like you, let me tell you one thing: “you’re doomed.” You’re also bringing down your colleagues, family, and community with yourself.

In my previous post, I explained how technology is ruining our cognitive capabilities such as a healthy attention span, through an endless cycle of fight or flight responses and instant rewards. The destruction of our mental capabilities affects our individual and collective experience. This post will be about how to deal with the effects of the technology in our individual experience. I will address the second part, our experience with others, in a separate blog post.

Eliminate Distractions with Micro-Challenges

I’m using a variant of the Pomodoro technique to deal with the distractions in my professional and private life and to improve my time management skills. This variant involves an A5 notepad and a pen. It’s meant to improve my awareness and focus. I have a separate notepad for work and for home.

My goal is to improve my time management by improving it in different segments of my daily life. For example, the time that passes from waking up until getting ready for work. As you may know, if you don’t watch out, that time might take hours, especially if you’re self-employed and working from home.

Let’s say my morning routine consists of getting out of the bed, bathroom visit, taking a shower, eating a breakfast, and getting dressed up. Sounds simple, right? But we all know that waking up and getting out of the bed is not the same thing, especially when there is a smartphone next to your bed. Preparing and eating a breakfast can also take much longer than necessary, if you are surfing the Internet at the same time.

To avoid all the unnecessary delays, I set a time limit to complete my morning routine. It shouldn’t take me more than an hour from waking up until being ready for work. So, when I wake up, the first thing I write down is the time that I woke up, the target time to complete the routine, and the steps that I need to do. Then, it is a race against time to complete the morning routine within the set time. Now, I have created something more interesting than all the distractions that the technology provides me.

At the end of the morning routine, I make a quick evaluation. How long did it take me to get ready? More than an hour? Why? Did I waste time? If so, I better watch out tomorrow not to repeat that mistake again. Did I do my best and still not hit the target time? Then maybe my estimation wasn’t correct to start with. So, I better give myself more time tomorrow. Did it take me less than an hour, but I was still able to waste time on Facebook? Then I better give myself 15 minutes less to complete my morning routine tomorrow.

Once a certain timing is established for a routine, there’s no need to evaluate that part of the day and we can simply use the same timing every day. After a while, it becomes a habit and we complete our morning routine within the determined time.

Morning routine is just an example. Not every part of our day has an established routine. We also have non-repeating tasks. For example, I have completed my morning routine and now I’m in front of my computer with a fresh brewed coffee. Now my goal is to write this blog post. Normally, I don’t set a time goal to finish my blog posts, because this is a rather pleasant activity for me. But I have a rule to not surf the Internet for distraction until I complete my blog post. However, it is allowed to do some small research such as looking up for the synonyms of a word that I want to use.

Setting tiny goals throughout the day and trying to beat the time to complete them is a great motivator. It is more exciting than the instant rewards that tech gives me. Using a physical notepad and pen makes it more real. It becomes a game that I enjoy playing. It is fun and has great benefits as well. As a result, I save at least one hour from mindless tech use. What can I do with that extra time? I can go to gym. I can go out with my friends. I can read a book. All of which is more beneficial and more fun than looking at a phone screen.

Optimization Mindset

The method I described above helps you develop an optimization mindset. Now, as you go throughout your day, you look for time, attention, and energy leaks. When you find them, you eliminate them. If you look carefully, there are a lot of leaks throughout your day.

You even improve your productivity by using better tools. For example, I’m using LibreOffice when typing this blog post. It is suggesting me words as I type them. If the suggestion is correct, I just hit enter instead of writing the rest of the word.

When you eliminate distractions from your daily life, you not only improve your time management skills, you also improve your cognitive skills. You will be amazed with the quality of ideas, solutions, and insights you come up with, when you stay focused on a single problem at hand, for a prolonged period of time. The benefits of the latter one is at least ten times greater than the extra hour you win per day. Luckily, the method described above helps you with both. So, give it a try and let me know how it works for you. Let me also know, if you have other techniques to eliminate distraction from your life and to improve your time management skills.

How to Eradicate Distraction from Your Life

We live in the age of distraction. We carry a weapon of mass distraction in our pockets, our smartphones. All the distractions out there are stealing our most valuable commodity, our time. Time is the building block of our lives and the distractions are killing us slowly by stealing our time. We live our lives as drones, hypnotized by bright screens. We miss our lives. We are connected with the rest of the world, yet we haven’t been this disconnected.

The question we have to ask is “how do I eradicate distraction from my life?” The answer is not easy. There’s no silver bullet to eradicate all distraction from our lives. It requires some reflection on the causes and attacking the problem from different angles.

What causes distraction?

When we’re stressed, we want to escape from the situation that causes stress. We want to keep our minds busy with something simple, so that we don’t feel the discomfort of stress. That’s one way we give in to distraction. However, avoiding the problem at hand causes even greater problems and even greater stress later.

Facing our problems is discomforting for sure, but ignoring them only makes them bigger. It’s not that we don’t have enough time or energy. The main problem is that we waste a good portion of our time and energy. The remainder is not sufficient to achieve our targets.

Why are we stressed?

We are stressed, when we don’t know where we’re headed to. We’re stressed, when we don’t have any control over our lives and over our future. We are stressed, if we don’t have a clear vision. What is the antidote? The antidote is to set a major definite purpose, work towards it every day, and take the control of our lives into our own hands.

Another cause of stress is facing a challenge and not knowing how to approach it. When we face a challenge, the common reaction is to look for a crystal clear, step-by-step solution. We can rarely find such solutions for big challenges. The best approach is to start where we are and make continuous improvements.

Another common reason of distraction is when we don’t know what to do. Life is good on the surface and we have all the time to watch video clips and play games. Why not do it? Your life is too precious to waste your time on them. While you’re watching cute cat videos online, someone, somewhere in the world, produces something extraordinary. That person could be you.

Then there are practical reasons for distraction. We build habits around our favorite distractions. We give in to distraction when we’re tired or after a meal. Both cases can be solved with a two-step method.

The first step is to raise our awareness by keeping track of our behavior. We can do that by measuring how often and how long we give in to distraction. This is an eye-opener. If you figure out that you spend one hour per day on mindless internet surfing, that makes seven hours per week. That makes more than 15 complete days per year. You’re literally wasting a two week summer vacation every year. Is that really worth it?

The second step is to come up with substitutions to the distractions. You might find it difficult to work on a project after a long working day. However, that doesn’t mean you have to waste your time in front of your TV. You can switch off the TV and have a conversation with your family. You can journal and reflect on your day. You can read a book or listen to an audiobook.

By giving in to distraction, we waste mental energy. We not only waste time, but we also lose our attention. We lose our focus. We miss what really matters in our lives. The best solutions don’t come us when we’re actively working on a project. They come when we’re resting. By giving in to distraction, we miss that opportunity.

There’s no silver bullet against distraction. Yet, we can overcome it in time by working on ourselves persistently. Willpower is like a muscle. Don’t get discouraged if your willpower fails over and over. Keep on stretching it. In time, it will get stronger.

Ask yourself the following questions. “Is this the best use of my time? What is the best use of my time?” This requires some mindfulness. Write down a clear vision, a major definite purpose and evaluate yourself every day and every week. In time, you’ll see distraction disappearing from your life.

3 Step Daily Productivity Formula

Time is the building block of our lives. It is the most valuable commodity. It is irreplaceable. Once it is spend, it can’t be recovered. This post is about a practical method to make the most of our working days. It is the most effective productivity method I’ve come across.

What goes wrong in our offices?

Before introducing the method, let me go over a story to illustrate what’s going wrong in our offices all the time. Then you’ll see how this method can help you to take your working day under control.

After a fantastic weekend, Sam comes to office on Monday morning. He has to give a presentation to a customer tomorrow. He has to prepare the slides and his speech. He’s stressed, because this is the most important customer of his company. He turns on his computer and checks his email. He sees an email from another customer, who wants to purchase one of their products and needs extra information. He spends two hours writing all the details of the product.

Once the email is sent, he checks the social media to see what’s being discussed about their company. He’s disappointed by a few comments and takes his time to answer them. He realizes that it’s already noon and he’s hungry. He eats a sandwich and grabs a coffee.

Finally, he can start to work on his presentation, but the phone rings. It is the customer that he emailed in the morning. Confused by Sam’s email, the customer has even more questions now. Sam answers all of their questions and makes sure that the customer is satisfied with the answers.

He has little time left to prepare his slides. He quickly puts together some material prepared for the previous presentations. He decides to improvise a speech during the presentation. The working day is over.

Once he’s about to leave the office, he remembers the questionnaire he has to answer for the customer tomorrow. He hasn’t prepared them yet. He goes back to his office and works an extra three hours to prepare the answers.

Everybody thinks Sam is a hard worker. He spends a lot of hours in the office. He does a lot, but he has little to show for it. Although he’s frustrated with this situation, he accepts it. He doesn’t do anything about it.

Step 1: Make a list of the tasks that need to be done the next working day.

This is so obvious yet few people do it. Remember you have to prepare this list at the end of your working day for your next working day. If Sam did this step, he wouldn’t forget the questionnaire. He wouldn’t spend extra hours in the office to prepare them.

Step 2: Prioritize the tasks in your list.

This is also obvious yet even fewer people do it. If Sam prioritized his tasks, he would know that preparing his presentation was the most important task and the questionnaire the second most important.

Step 3: Start with the most important task and don’t move to the next task before completing it.

This is the critical part most people don’t get and don’t apply in their professional and private lives. Most of us have a counter-productive daily routine. This step is all about breaking that routine.

The Ideal Scenario

Let’s go over our example again. The ideal scenario for Sam would be the following.
Sam comes to the office. He immediately forwards his phone to the answering machine. In case of something urgent, his family can call him via his private phone. He doesn’t open his email client. He focuses on the most important task in his list. He spends three hours on his presentation and his speech. He’s thoroughly satisfied with his preparation and takes a break.

When he’s back from his break, he starts with the second most important item on his list. He spends two hours on preparing the answers to the questionnaire. When that task is done, he goes for lunch. When he’s back, he turns his phone on, opens his email client, and checks his answering machine. He sees the information request from the other customer. He schedules a meeting with this customer, because trying to answer their questions via email or phone would take too much time.

He spends the rest of the afternoon on social media answering the comments made about their company. When the working day is over, he makes the list for the next day and prioritizes the items in his list. He leaves the office happy knowing that he did a great job that day.

Now, it’s your turn.

Do you see how simple this 3 step formula is? Can’t you apply it in your job? If you find this method too difficult, you might need to work on your motivation, which is the ultimate productivity principle.

In my experience, the most challenging step is the third one. It requires some mindfulness to forgo checking your emails, to skip social media, and to start right away with the most important task in the morning. However, the results are worth it.