We all have different definitions of what is productive, and “what is productive” tends to be “whatever we imagine someone who is doing more than we are is doing.”
Listen to me read the below here:
Having introduced y’all to my systems and processes in Part I of this two-part article, I of course found myself slightly shifting my systems and processes in the days following the publication of said article—with the main change being that I finally splashed out for Omnifocus 2 to replace my former use of Todoist. This is by no means necessary for the process I’m describing, but was in my mind an aesthetic upgrade. As described in the “What I Learned in Nebraska” mini-esssay, I’ve also been recently diagnosed with chronic Lyme disease, which means fresh rounds of doctors’ appointments and the likelihood of new procedures and treatments, not to mention the symptoms of illness themselves. Some days, I’m too nauseated to get out of bed; I develop flu-like symptoms when overexerted. Such challenges are what caused me to create this way of working for myself, and I encourage you to do the same—especially in the face of unintentionally depressing productivity hacks that you wouldn’t be able to do on your very best day.
Before I get into the nuts and bolts of my daily operations, I did want to mention something that came up in a Twitter conversation resulting from “How to Be Productive… Pt. I”: we all have different definitions of what is productive, and “what is productive” tends to be “whatever we imagine someone who is doing more than we are is doing.” I haveno doubt that there are people out there accomplishing more in one day than I could get done in three weeks, and have even less doubt that those people continue to seek methods to get even more done, or perhaps bemoan the fact that they’re not productive enough. The grass is greener, etc., and the person over there is always getting more done than you are.
Having acknowledged that, let’s all take a deep breath and remind ourselves that whether we’re living with chronic illness or not, the hard work of doing what needs doing is a remarkable act; and “what needs doing” can vary wildly, from “drinking a cup of hot tea before diving into a a half-hour of editing” to “designing a new homepage for a client” to “feeding the kids” to “taking a nap.” We’re all doing our damnedest.
All right. Here we go.
With both Omnifocus and Todoist, I’m able to get a “forecast” of what the next week looks like in terms of tasks. This is a great tool for a number of reasons.
First off: I’m able to see if I’ve, say, planned to get ten things done on Monday and five things done on Wednesday. (See above graphic for an example of days with numbers attached to them.) Should I see that, which is, in fact, what you can see above, I’d be able to say to myself, “Esmé, you are not going to be able to get ten things done in one day. Shall we move some of those tasks to other days? Maybe Wednesday, which is looking a little lighter on tasks?” I also have a general feeling as to how many tasks feels like a manageable amount for one day (generally 4-5).
Second: I can see what days have more or fewer tasks assigned to them, which is important depending on what else is going on that day. I might have a medical or therapy appointment on a given day, which automatically cuts at least two tasks from the list; I also know that on one day per week, I’ll be unable to do any tasks due to medical procedures that greatly decrease my ability to function. Those days, for you, might be days when you’re extra-heavy on appointments and meetings, or perhaps you have a designated self-care day, all day, on Sundays that can’t be encroached upon.
When I get up in the mornings, I go through my routines and rituals (more detail about my rituals will be in a special feature for Amy Twon’s The Treehouse Studio next week). Such rituals include Tarot cards, lunar consideration (thanks to Ezzie Spencer’s Lunar Abundance practice), and drawing.
Given that I already have something of a list of things to do, it then becomes relatively simple to transfer that digital list to my paper To-Do list, which I designed myself, and which you can download here. This practice is important to me because while I do have Omnifocus 2 on my various mobile devices and computer, the tactile nature of having my list on paper is crucial to the way I get things done. After I’ve written my list, I put stars next to 2-3 items that I consider to be the most important tasks of the day; if I can knock off those items, no matter how big or small they are, I’ll have done a good day’s work. Client work is especially essential here—anything with a deadline, or an obligation to someone else, gets a star next to it.
I pace myself during the day based on my fluctuating energy symptoms. For more on this, see “How I Work with Limited Energy as a Solopreneur“, which addresses further the practice of evaluating my rhythms (and your own); for example, because I know the general state of my rhythms, I mentally slot in higher-energy tasks between 4 AM and 9 AM, because those are my premium hours for work. As the day goes on, it might be that I sleep for an hour prior to each task—I try to honor my body as much as possible when working toward accomplishment.
In the back of my planner (which happens to be a Passion Planner), I’ve pasted an assortment of my favorite gridded paper. Here, I jot down my accomplishments as I complete them. I also do this in the small time slots given for each day. I find that this not only helps me to remember what I’ve actually done in a day, but aids in giving me a sense of success when I’ve reached the end of my workday at 3 PM.
If you work with challenges or chronic illness, what notions do you have of productivity? How do you deal with the tricky business of getting things done while working within the boundaries of limitations?
On February 26, I’ll be debuting Where’s the Electricity?, an exciting workbook and audio that gives creatives and artists the tools to create vibrant work from their deepest passions. If this sounds interesting to you, please check out the image link above.