Friday 22 January 2016

How Productive are You?

Photo courtesy of Stuart Miles/
If you answered that question with I don’t know or I’m sure I could be more productive or something similar, you’ll be in good company. Well, at least there’ll be two of us. You and me.

Now for those who answered in the affirmative and are champions of getting things done, congratulations. I’m in awe of you. I’m certain there are many in this community. 

I used to pride myself on my ability to get things done, especially at work. But I’ve found as I’ve matured and spent more time in non-structured activity (ie, working for myself) I’ve lost some of my discipline.

I recently read a book by TimChallies, “Do More Better” and found it full of really useful tips on how to do just that, do more better.

A good portion of the book (it’s only 120 pages) is all the practical stuff about the three essential tools one needs to improve and how to “systemise” your day/week so you are effective which I found very useful. Most of us will use varying elements of these tools and have our own methods of establishing our daily todo’s and so on. But what was more challenging for me was Challies opening on focusing our daily habits around our purpose. Yes, we all know this but it’s always good to get a reminder of it, especially in these very busy lives we all tend to lead these days.

Good Works

We’re created to glorify God!

How can we do that, Challies asks. By doing good works.

“For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Eph 2:10 NIV)

Challies defines productivity then as:

“Productivity is effectively stewarding my gifts, talents, time, energy and enthusiasm for the good of others and the glory of God.”

Yes, we know that. But we can forget our purpose from time to time and allow the busyness of life and distractions to impede upon it too much. I found it useful at the beginning of this year to realign myself back to my purpose and be more diligent in applying discipline to what I do.


It’s full of useful tips some of which I’ve incorporated in my “system”. Challies describes himself as someone who has always been interested in productivity and has found a system that works for him. We’re not all meant to have the same system but it’s useful to compare notes by inspecting someone else’s which is what one does with this book.

BTW, the three tools Challies proposes one needs are:

  • Task management tool, ie, your ToDo list
  • Scheduling tool – ie, your calendar
  • Information tool – collect, archive and access information. This might be online (eg Evernote) or offline (eg filing system) or a combination of both.

Nothing we haven’t seen before and there are no doubt loads of other books that cover the same detail. How one integrates the three tools in an effective manner (a system) was one aspect of this book I appreciated especially the use of the Information tool. I underutilise Evernote and over emphasise email for information management so appreciated the insights on these aspects.

He has mantra: "a home for everything, and like goes with like" which has stuck in my mind since reading it. It reminds me to "house" everything rather than have it sitting in email or an inbox for months on end.

What useful tips do you have that help you manage your productivity?

Ian Acheson is an author and strategy consultant based in Northern Sydney. Ian's first novel of speculative fiction, Angelguard, is now available in the US, UK, Canada and Australia. You can find more about Angelguard at Ian's website, on his author Facebook page and Twitter


  1. Thanks Ian. In retirement I thought it would be easy to be structured - ha! When in ministry I enjoyed the discipline and the structure it afforded. Now I find it easy to be distracted. Still, even in retirement it is important to have goals and steps to reach them.

    1. Yes, the structure of formal accountability is a good one isn't it? All the very best in achieving your goals in 2016.

  2. I might have to read this, if only to figure out how to use Evernote. I've tried, but I didn't 'get' it.

    Productivity tips? This is something I'm working on myself.

    One free tool I use is called Boomerang - it allows me to keep my email under control, but not forget anything. For example, if an author wants me to email them the link to my review of their book, I Boomerang that email and set it to come back on the date the review goes live. Then I can send the link, and file or delete the email trail.

    Boomerang stops me reading the same email over and over again, to work out whether it's something I have to deal with. If it's in my inbox, it's something I have to deal with. If I can put off dealing with it, I Boomerang and schedule.

    1. Iola, Challies book won't give you everything you need to get Evernote working well. Interesting Jeanette below mentions she didn't enjoy Evernote either. I don't think it's as intuitive as an online filing system which in essence is what we want. Something with folders that we name to dump stuff into. And is easily searchable.

      There's an Evernote Essentials kind that the creator puts out which I think is free? One thing I've quickly discovered is if you want to send a lot of emails to Evernote, you're only allowed to do it 5 times with the FREE version so you need to start paying for it. Hey, if it provides value why should it be free?

      Thanks for sharing Boomerang. I might check that out to see if it would help me.

  3. Hi Ian - interesting post. I've tried a few electronic task managers but none really do what I want - so I've gone with my own notebook - in which I've put long term goals, medium term goals & goals for the year & then break that into the monthly 'to-do' list in different areas (family, personal, writing etc). I like being able to nest tasks. And then sometimes. I'll write out a to-do list for a week or a day.

    I used Google calender as my scheduling tool - and like that my entries can be shared with family (or anyone else for that matter).

    I'm using One Note to store information - I love it's structure of 'journals' with sections and pages, which makes it handy for future reference. Much preferred it over Evernote.

    Productivity, I think, is about motivation, balance and overcoming inertia or procrastination (which often means asking 'Why am I procrastinating?', 'Do I need a break?' 'What am I afraid of?". Though sometimes procrastination is part of the creative process. Though I suspect different strategies work for different people.

    1. One Note … sounds interesting.

      Being a Mac user I sue iCal as my scheduling tool which works fine.

      Interesting that you start with goals re: productivity. Challies considers goals a helpful but optional component of productivity. His system works with or without them.

  4. Ian, fascinating post. When I'm short on time, I try to allocate time to do certain activities. For example, I'm reading and commenting now on blog posts from over the last 4 days. I haven't tried Evernote and I use notebooks for writing lists etc. The calendar on the wall also works for me because it's an obvious visual reminder.

    1. Thanks Narelle. I find it fascinating how many people still manage their life with little technology. There's comfort in the tried and trusted methods. If it works why change it, right?

      How do you file your information and bits and bobs?

    2. I'm actually in the middle of a big clean up. I'm minimalising and getting rid of stuff and junk I don't need. I do try to store things I'll need to refer to later in electronic format. Spreadsheets are my best friend. I have a spreadsheet for each book plus a book promo spreadsheet. My paper lists are usually for short-term things and get binned when they're finished. I also have a diary for keeping track of writing business activities, including daily word counts, blog posting dates, deadlines etc. I use a number of email folders to sort my email, although most of my writing work eg. indie box set admin, happens in Facebook groups.

  5. What are some good Christian fiction authors?
    Christian writers


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