For a while now, I have been struggling with managing and keeping focused on the current task. An excellent example of this is I have spent more time tinkering with my blog and migrating to a new platform than I have written this. These habits have been built up over time, and have been introduced slowly. Once I have felt confident in one area, I looked at others to improve.

The areas I still need to work on but have started working on are.

  • Keeping on task
  • Reaching deadlines
  • Tracking Tasks

This isn’t designed as a guide on how should you work its information on my journey, and maybe you will find something useful for yours.

Keeping on task

When I first started looking at improving my productivity and output, I researched what the prominent people were doing and scanned over blogs. Didn’t have any real cookie-cutter takeaways, more everyone has their way you need to find what works for you. One thing that did stick in my mind was a technique called Pomodoro, have a read of that post, but the short version is below.

  • Choose a task to be accomplished.
  • Set the Pomodoro to 25 minutes (the Pomodoro is the timer)
  • Work on the job until the Pomodoro rings, then put a check on your sheet of paper
  • Take a short break (5 minutes is OK)
  • Every 4 Pomodoros take a more extended break

I started to test if this would work for me, I just used the built-in timer in Windows 10, which can be found in Alarms & Clocks. Also, I am not good at following instructions; I made changes to make this work for me, I set it 30 minutes and didn’t put a check on a sheet of paper. I found 20 minutes too short for my tasking, and with a longer timer, I just didn’t keep on task.

Windows 10 build-in timer

I am still working on the breaks currently I keep rolling into the next timeslot. To help with this, I do try to stand up and move around every segment, pat the puppy, when I was feeling very keen, did a few pushups (that didn’t last). Its also when I feel the call of caffeine, I make my coffee or top up my water.

But I felt this started to work and I was building a habit of saying “for the next slot” I will work on clearing my mailbox or work on my task list, but I wanted to take it one step further. My company works on timesheets and if I was tracking slices of time could I use my new love of time tracking to build my timesheets for me, I found out I could.

Enter toggl

After a bit more research, I found a tool that could take it up a notch and made an account with Toggle Track, this website/App is a time management app. You can get reports, syncs across devices and its base plan (which I use is free). Out of the box, it replaced my handwritten notes and some guesswork. I setup up some “projects” which were areas I wanted to track to was required by the company when I start the timer all I do is start typing a project, and it starts tracking it.

Toggle Time reporting

This was great my timesheets were more accurate, I could see in the reports if I was working the split of tasking I needed to or how many hours I spent in meetings. What I didn’t know at the start, it had built-in features for Pomodoro. My two requirements were covered in one place. So in Toggl once you start your timer, and the allotted time has passed, you get a notification the slice is over. It will ask you what would you like to do; carry on the project or start on a new one. With a one-button push, your back to your workflow. I have found doing this hasn’t added any overhead to my day. You can also make it tell you when to take a break and come back, but that’s currently too much for me.

Toggl tip, Also it nags you when you forget to track your time, and its calendar view means you can see missing chunks of time.

Out of everything I have done this app has changed the way I work, and I have ideas on how I can integrate it more reference numbers to update calls via than API in our Project management system. Meaning one app could do all my time management for me.

Reaching deadlines

I am better at tracking my time and getting the smaller tasks done, my next focus point was I was never getting to the bigger stuff, tasks that were an hour or longer. I always said I will do that next time slice, the problem was I never got around to it. I needed a way to plan my time better get some of the more significant pieces of my work pie done. I didn’t want another app which is a bad habit of mine always thinking a piece of tech will fix that. I wanted something in my current workflow, something simple. I already had my meetings in outlook, why not book out appointments for my self. This one surprised me as it worked really well. I have found I have moved these chunks of time around, and if it’s not a fun task, it gets bounced a few times, but now some of the larger jobs are getting done. It’s surprisedly simple and effective.

Tracking Tasks

So I now have a good handle what I am spending my time on and taking some breaks to help maintain focus. I am getting to larger projecty tasks. My current work in progress is when I get an email or a call, and I say I will have a look at that, they can get lost. I forget to check my notepad when using a kanban board like Trello it’s like my notepad I forget to check it. I need to start a good habit for work, and again it’s a simple one of logging everything in my project management tool not later but as soon as a call is over but don’t think the office is interested in all the work in my house.

While I figure it out the best way of tracking these for home, I am using Toggl plan. Which like Trello is more a project management tool and is more useful for a task that requires planning. But like when using Trello I keep forgetting about it so its about creating a habit to check it. Other examples are Microsofts Planner which I have started using for work, and if I get external sharing working with my personal O365 account could mean I can see all tasks in one place. Till then just sticking to planning tasks with Toggl Plan, an example of this is below, which is my home network upgrade plan.

Toggl Plan

Personal goals

So whats what my next thing to work on. I have focused a lot on my 9-5 work-life, but what about personal growth? Those who know me know I have focused on my physical wellbeing (a post about that has been written about three times, one day it might get published) the next part is my mental health. Taking the struggles at the start of my fitness journey and trying to learn from these, I researched building habits. What I found was rewards and visualisations of completion have a positive effect and mean your more likely do them again. I am currently in the research stage, but the idea is for recurring tasks to have a way of visualising them. If I work out five times in a week seeing a green mark reinforces a job well done. I want to read at least for one hour a week a non-fiction book or write a blog post a month. Seeing a streak going and not wanting to break that is a powerful tool for motivation.

So far, I have for my testing.

  • stickK - Can put money on the line for a habit, sign a “commitment Contract” but also can have friends be a referee and a supporter to ensure you stick to your goal. Gave this one a quick look and it doesn’t have the option to check a box each day so wasn’t what I was after.
  • SnapHabit - A simplistic app which looks like it has some hidden features for graphs.
  • Habitify - little less daunting that StickK but can only have 3 habits being tracked before you have to fork out some money

Doesn’t all this make you less productive

At first, I noticed a slight drop in productivity as I played with the new tools and tweaked them but now with Toggl it is fire and forget, every 30 minutes it goes you still doing this or time to move on, and I push a button. Having all that data saves my timesheet guesswork. Adding items into outlook does take time, but if I didn’t, I might not get to it. The most significant time sink is tracking tasks but knowing when I should chase someone or when I promised to look at a thing and never delivered is part of being productive. And who doesn’t like seeing items crossed off when something has been done?

What about you, any productivity or time management tips?

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