Tag Archives | productivity hacks

Coping with stressful changes, your vocation, and the real reason why you need a productivity system

Why we Want to Start “Organizing Ourselves”: Getting a Grip on the Mundane

I was thinking back the other day about all the crazy changes my wife and I went through since we got married: moving house and country four times, changing jobs, adapting to new cultures and languages, getting involved in various parishes and churches, starting a teacher training and a PhD…gosh, they say change is good, and it is, but they forgot to mention how stressful it is! Don’t get me wrong, I’m extremely happy about the final outcomes of all these changes, but man was it was tough sometimes. It was challenging, because it meant thinking about so many things at the same time. That’s where my need for a better productivity system came. That’s why I’m writing on this blog today.

We all had to live through stressful moments like that, where there seems to be no time for anything. However, I learned over time to embrace these times of change, and take them as opportunities. As it turns out, those moments are actually ideal to stop for a moment and re-think about our lives, not just about that new house and how the commuting thing is going to work with the new job, but to actually think about what our living space is, what work really represent for us.
These are the time when we think about “getting a system” to “be more efficient”, but they also can be the very moment when we can ask “why”?
These are the moments of chaos we can embrace to challenge assumptions and build a better life for ourselves and the people around us. These are the moment to buy a new filofax or try a spanking new iPhone to see if that’s going to finally work for us as a productivity tool, and these are also the moments to pray and ask the Lord to guide us in uncertain and sometimes outright scary moments.

Why we Should Keep our Productivity and Organization Skills Sharp: Staying In Touch with What Really Matters

These changes, these decisions we made to change our lives, what are they for? More importantly, who are they for? If you took the time to think about that, you’ll find the right productivity system, the best tools for you (that unique you, the real you, not the one that your boss or others might want you to be), simply because you know exactly what you want out of it. And if you know what you want, you’ll know what you need.
If the change was imposed on you through bad circumstances such as health or the economy (we live in very difficult times, especially for young people), this might be the perfect moment to make the best you’ve ever made of a bad moment. That’s what true success is all about: not avoiding failure and problems, but rising from them and being grateful for what we actually have. Hang in there, and learn to appreciate what is beautiful about you and your life before doing anything else: your family, your friends, your passion. Then, pray and think back to what your really want, what you really need, maybe that thing you never had the time to do before “it” happened. And then, do it. It will be hard, but you will find your way through it, if you know who you are, if you know what success, real success, means to you.

And here is the big secret, my friends: once you know where to go, a productivity system is only a compass to guide you there, so that you never, ever stop looking at what really, truly matters to you. And as Catholics, we believe that what truly matters to you, your profound desire, is actually God calling you to be great, for His glory. We think it’s so important, we even have a name for it: vocation. It comes from the latin “voce”, the voice.
Lets’s start listening.


To-Do Lists, Strategic Thinking And Focus: The Art Of Defining Useful Tasks

This is the first guest post on Productive Catholic, and I must say that’s it’s pretty darn good.  If you want a great introduction on how to use tasks as a means to get things done, look no further.  Let us know what you think in the comments, and be sure to give Jean-Rémy a little love!

Being productive starts with focus, and achieving focus means beating procrastination. To stay out of distraction I need to do everything I can to eliminate thoughts that might steer me away from the task at hand. This is trickier than it sounds, but it mostly starts by writing down everything I have to do and think about to achieve my goals in some sort of system. Personally, I’m a big fan of Getting Things Done (GTD), but I understand why this system might seem overwhelming to some, and it doesn’t really matter anyway: just get some sort of system. Whatever works for you.

Whatever your system, though, storing things to remember for future reference is simple enough, but in my experience, many people get it wrong when the time comes to write a to-do list. This is why simple to-do lists don’t work (at least for men). Not only do they give us an insufficient idea of the priorities and deadlines, they also very often lack the necessary precision to tell us where to start, what to do here and now. For priorities, you can use contexts (a different list for things to do at home, on the computer, in the week-end, etc.) For deadlines, you’ve got a calendar. For the bit on precision, read on.

So what’s a task anyway?

In the context of a GTD system, to-do lists are essentially made of “next actions”, ie. the smallest next physical, measurable step you can take to make a given project move forward. It might be a phone call or an email to send, a page to write, and excel sheet to complete,etc. It’s best if it’s measurable in time, and achievable in one sitting.

I like to use this approach, because it really breaks down my projects in small, less scary steps, and when I open my to-do list I immediately have a list of things I can do right now, without too much thinking about the greater picture. The strategic thinking part has been done by my former self, therefore I know these things will get me forward in one project or another, because I planned it all while reviewing my system. Yes, I ‘review a system’. I am kind of a control freak, especially when it comes to managing my time. I defend my time and attention like a lion: they are precious gifts from God. But I digress.

The GTD way might not work for everyone, and that level of precision probably seems like unnecessary hassle. But making tasks precise and actionable is extremely useful, because it allows you to get on with your work as soon as you fire up your task list, confident that what you do now is getting your current projects forward without re-organising all your life in the back of your head at the same time (cognitive overload is bad for productivity, my friend. It’s the source of all stress). It’s a healthy separation of high-level organisation activities from the actual work, so you can actually do things well, just on time. So, whatever system you have, try to break it down to basics.

Breaking it down, and defining the outcomes of your tasks: make something now

So how do we go about breaking down a project (however big or small: a project might range from subscribing to a gym to completing a PhD)? Well, this brings us back to our idea of actionable next actions, doable in one sitting, and measurable in time.

In addition, one question you might ask yourself is: “what’s the outcome?”. What do I get from completing this actions, and when can I tick that to-do list item? Is it when I’ve written a paper, produced a mind-map about that thing I’m trying to learn, obtained an agreement with a colleague? It can be whatever suits you, but try to make sure some concrete thing, some artefact, will come out of it. I use that so I feel guilty for not producing that artefact. And I’ll know what to do about it if I couldn’t produce it: either just get on with the task and make it, or refine the task, generally by splitting it in several parts.

The zen of to-do lists

Hopefully, these ideas will help build a better to-do list, and to separate the moment when you figure out what to do on each project and the moment when you actually do something. The ‘strategic thinking moment’ might be every morning, twice a day, or just once a week depending on the information load you have to sustain (I try to eliminate from that workload everything that isn’t absolutely essential, so I only do it once a week, usually on sunday afternoons or monday mornings). The “doing something” part, well… that’s you life. Experience it to the full.

Make the smart decisions now , so you don’t have to panic about it later. Build a better to-do list.


How to Wake Up Early the Easy Way

I have never been an early riser.  Even in the military I was never able to get in the habit of waking up at a reasonable time.  Unfortunately, now that I am a father and husband I realize that the earlier I wake up, the easier it is for me to get things done that would otherwise jeopardize family time.  That being said, I have had to devise tools of forcing myself to wake up a couple hours earlier than I normally would.  Some are obvious, and some are creative, but hopefully all of them work to help wake you up! Continue Reading →