7 Key Ingredients to My (And Perhaps Your) Productivity Workflow

I initially set out to write a post about 3 Things I Learned About Myself and Productivity this past week. However, I quickly realized that I needed to first explain my current productivity workflow. So in this post, I will explain some of the ingredients in my existing productivity arsenal, and introduce those who taught me about those ingredients:

Merlin Mann’s Inbox Zero

The simplest policy, but so very worth it. Two rules: Don’t check your e-mail/text messages/voicemail often. And when you do, clear that bad boy out. Otherwise it adds up real quickly.

But how?

The answer lies in the second ingredient, the living legend:

David Allen and his GTD (“Getting Things Done”) Philosophy

There is more meat to these bones, but essentially GTD advocates that every time you come across a task, you either do it right then and there (if it will take only a few minutes), or you write it down to do later. Done enough times, and you have a nice inventory of tasks to be done, from which you can choose based on where you are or what you feel like doing (e.g., doing all of your phone calls at once, or isolating the most important tasks during the morning coffee high.)

But which goals drive my tasks? Without having specific goals, I might get lots of things done, but not the most important things.

And what tool(s) should I use to maintain this inventory of things to do? Surely there must be a better way than pen and paper, right?


Asian Efficiency’s advocacy for the trifecta of Agile Results, Eat the Frog, and Omnifocus

AE advocates the use of Agile Results, a system in which you choose 3 Yearly Goals, 3 Monthly Goals, 3 Weekly Goals, and 3 Daily Goals. These goals are meant to cover your life’s “hot spots” (e.g., Career, Family, and Finances.)

For the same reason, the Eat the Frog idea simply means to do the most dreadful, but important, task first. The idea being that, once it is out of the way, you will gain a huge boost for the rest of the day, content that you’ve already done something you were dreading.

So Agile Results and Eat the Frog help you choose which tasks to spend your time and energy on. But how to keep track of them?

In this increasingly interconnected and tech-heavy world, we have all sorts of stuff to do. Bills to pay every month, appointments to keep track of, oil changes, daily writing quotas, stuff our family members are bugging us to do, etc. Omnifocus allows you to keep track of everything and is more customizable than a Magic: The Gathering deck.

Omnifocus allows you to practice GTD, and at the same time, focus on only those tasks you want to see at any given time. And the Mac program syncs with your iPhone, iPad, and now, your Apple Watch. (But not your iPod.)

But you don’t always have (or want) access to your computer or devices. Personally, I like choosing my tasks from my Omnifocus system and placing them on:

David Seah’s Emergent Task Planner Notebooks and Notepads

Quite simply, the right side of these sheets have three lines for your day’s most important tasks (remember the 3 Daily Goals above?), and a few lines below those for less important tasks that you only write down AFTER completing the big three. On the left side of the sheets is a simple hourly calendar, on which you mark when you are going to do your most important tasks.

You might say: Okay, this seems complicated. After all this hard work to make your system, how do you maintain it?

A fair question. It's much easier to setup a system than to use it consistently. And if you don't use it consistently, or if you let it get all backed up or disorganized, it's very easy to abandon it.

For this reason, I prescribe to much of:

Kourosh Dini’s reflections on Workflow Mastery

His work is very comprehensive, but at its core, it suggests that all tasks--work and play--go into the same depository. A promising new Netflix series goes into Omnifocus much like "do your taxes" or "apply to job" does.

Kourosh Dini also emphasizes the importance of seeing only those tasks that are meaningful to you at that particular moment. Other tasks remain out of sight until they become relevant. In short: keep a clear mind devoid of anxiety about future tasks.


Simply so we associate the system with both the fun and the dreadful. This reduces the chance of us abandoning ship.

That's it. I also use Evernote, Pocket, and Reeder—along with a few other apps—as part of my workflow, but I'll save that for some other time.

Back soon with 3 Things I Learned About Myself and Productivity that tweaked the system described above.


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