Personal Productivity for the ADD Monkey Brain

Personal Productivity for the ADD Monkey Brain

Next week is a new year so now is a great time to sort out how you are going to stay productive and organized in the upcoming year. I’ve just finished my time management/productivity/organizational system year-end housekeeping and realized that the latest version of my process has been rather successful. For the past eight months, it has provided:

  • high level of user (me) compliance,
  • improved daily focus, and
  • improved my ability to retain and retrieve information.

What’s not to love?

Let’s face it. We are all a little bit ADD. After one of my family members was diagnosed with ADD, I did a little research about what ADD actually means. As far as I can discern, most everyone experiences ADD-like symptoms at some point or another in their lives. Why else do we have a billion dollar personal productivity self-help industry, an industry that I’ve done more than my share in supporting.

In an effort to bring my own ADD monkey brain under control, I threw caution to the wind and began experimenting with a paper based organizational process. This was a radical change for me. I committed to a paperless existence back 2010 and have been drinking the digital kool aid since my first Mac Plus. That being said, I do have a nostalgic soft spot for paper and pen left over from my old Elephant Calendar days.

After eight months of ink & tree pulp experimentation, I have found that the act of handwriting notes has vastly improved what information my brain retains. Plus, I have a tactile pile of paper pages that have made it super easy for me to go back and retrieve notes. Dare I say, it’s often even easier finding my chicken scratch notes than searching through my seven plus years of digital Evernote files. The great thing is that when I look at my page of handwritten notes, I remember what I was thinking when I wrote them. It’s pretty amazing.

My process is a mashup of my pomodoro for footballers, kanban, stand-ups, and the bullet journal note taking framework.

My Tools:

(Your goal is to pick tools you will be psyched to use and carry around all year. If you don’t dig your tools, you won’t keep with the system. This is the entire reason I print my own paper page templates. I want pages that are a pleasure to use. Maybe it is makers pride but using my home grown pages makes me happy.)

  • Late 90’s vintage (hipster alert) Filofax A5 (5.8″ x 8.3”) binder.
  • Page templates (PDFs):
  • Printer to print my page templates for my binder.
  • Hole punch that matches my binder configuration. I had to jerry-rig a standard US ring binder hole punch by adding additional punches from an another ring binder punch so I could match the Filofax 6 hole config. Bit of a pain but I like the results.
  • Lemy Safari pen, a pen I like but can lose without feeling gutted.
  • Apple Calendar
  • Trello to host my kanban board.
  • Evernote to save scans of my notes

My System

I have a standing PM (project management) meeting with myself every morning, usually well before 9:00 when my office kicks into gear. During this PM meeting I run through the following agenda:

  1. Add a homemade daily calendar pages on the left side of my binder. I print a pile of these every week or two and keep them in the back of my binder.
  2. Enter date and page number. Page number goes in the [ ] box.
  3. Open my Apple calendar and transcribe my “hard” appointments into my daily calendar. I consider “hard” appointments meetings, calls, and events that involve other people. I know this seems like stupid extra work, but it does serve a purpose. It is a good way to internalize my day and identify tasks that need to be accomplished prior to the events on my calendar. Most of my meetings require some form of prep and I use this time to make sure those tasks have been identified. I try to schedule all my hard appointments for during and after lunch. I religiously try to set aside mornings for my thinking/creating work because my brain is freshest at this time of day.
  4. I transcribe my 3 to 5 monthly objectives onto the daily calendar page. This repetitive task keeps me focused on my high priority deliveries for the month.
  5. I open my kanban board and identify the 3-5 critical tasks that need to be done today. Hopefully I was diligent the day before and already per-identified the 3-5 critical items for today.
  6. I then schedule 45 minute time blocks (pomodoro for footballers) for each of the tasks that need to be accomplished.
  7. I always try to schedule a block or two, later in the afternoon labeled “buffer.” These buffer blocks of time allow me to be flexible and deal with life’s unexpected occurrences. If nothing unexpected happens… W00T!, more time to get more things done.
  8. I look at yesterday’s notes and make sure any new to-do’s/tasks have been entered in my kanban board.
  9. Lastly, I open Evernote on my phone and take pictures of yesterday’s notes in order to retain a searchable backup digital copy of my poor penmanship.

Over the course of the day, I use my blank ruled filler pages for my daily notes. The bullet journal note taking framework works well for tracking my daily activities, thoughts, notes, dreams, hopes, complaints… you get the picture.

The biggest take-away I’ve had from the bullet journal framework is the importance of maintaining an index page at the front of my binder. This is key for data retrieval.

If the stars are aligned and I have time, at the end of the day I like to have a “standup” meeting with myself to

  1. review today’s notes and
    • migrate new tasks to my kanban board or
    • put new tasks on a future month’s objective list. I keep a page for each of the upcoming 12 months to list things that I’d like to accomplish in that month.
  2. identify:
    • what went well today?
    • what didn’t go well?
    • what did I learn and do differently moving forward?
    • what will I do tomorrow?

During my Friday morning PM meeting I add a progress against my monthly objectives review to my agenda. This is when I take a step back to make sure I am doing what is needed to achieve my objectives. If I am not on schedule, figure out why I am not, and what do I need to do to get back on schedule.

On the first business day of the month, I schedule a longer period for my PM meeting in order to

  • Review how I did on achieving my monthly goals.
  • Set my goals for the upcoming month using my future month list and my kanban. These goals represent the work that executing, including:
    • basic routines
    • current work projects
    • deadlines
    • prioritized tasks

To maintain control over my notebook and to archive my pages, I move all pages from the month before last to a storage binder. This keeps my notebook manageable and my most recent notes close at hand.

This is where we are now. During the Christmas/New Years period, I spend a few hours plotting and planning what I want to do in the upcoming year and over the next five years.

For the upcoming year, I have four pages that are each divided up into one-third boxes, one box for each month of the upcoming year. I use these for work that is being planned rather than executed. In each month, I list

  • projects planned, and/or
  • projects that are being formulated.

For my five-year plan, I again have two pages divided up into thirds for each of the upcoming years. In each box I list work that i’d like to accomplish one day, along with significant life events that I know are coming like graduations, weddings, etc. The work includes

  • ideas
  • dreams
  • goals
  • wishes
  • wants

Hopefully my management/productivity/organizational system will provide some structure for your ADD monkey brain. Your milage may vary.

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