Productivity continues to be an unsolved need in my life. However, I have to say that the tools and methodology have come a very long way since this journey started for me many, many years ago. I have been very blessed in the sense that through my professional journey I've been introduced to different ideas along the way. For a bit of a reminder of context, here are a few things about me that have a deep influence on how I think about personal productivity as a whole.
• I am a data nerd. I love it when I can actively use data to understand and validate my thinking
• I believe there are many similarities between the person and a small start-up. As such, I find myself applying a lot of the same practices and tooling in my personal life.
• My goal for personal productivity is to actively balance my personal ambitions as well as sustain my mental well being which includes time with family
Here are a handful of thoughts that jump out at me when it comes to personal productivity:
• Long-term planning matters
• Ongoing plan adjustments help
• Daily discipline
• Self-forgiveness is the ultimate key
Learnings of productivity in 2022
Long Term Planning
The best way to be productive is to be extremely intentional about the outcomes you're driving for. Over the years, I've experimented with a number of formats. Typically, my goals for the year have followed the SMART methodology. While I've never always hit those goals specifically, I've always felt that I made meaningful progress toward the things I want to do. This year, I'm trying out OKRs. I'm not nearly as familiar with this format but there's a level of clarity and intentionality that I really appreciate about OKRs. You can find my OKRs for 2022 listed here.
Once my OKRs are created, I then spend some time creating a loose roadmap for the year. I've experimented with a number of tools but I find myself coming back to Atlassian Jira for roadmaps. In particular, I've found that the Advanced Roadmap feature is helpful for this because I’m able to organize my goals with a hierarchy. I typically start the year by mapping out a series of Epics that give me a sense of what I want to work on and then build out Initiatives to help organize them into releasable chunks that are then valuable to me.
Ongoing plan adjustments
I've always had ongoing weekly planning sessions for my personal activities. One of the more recent changes I've decided to make is to be more focused. Instead of driving towards a few goals at any given time, I've decided to focus on only 1 main theme and to actively drive to get it done. The thing that continues to be helpful is to actively allocate time during the week for the things that I want to accomplish. The weeks that I'm most productive are the ones that I make the effort to actively plan my time. Part of planning for that is also about being realistic - not just accounting for available hours but also adjusting to available mental capacity to focus.
The act of ongoing planning for me is two phases. A big part of my ongoing planning activity is to ensure that my personal life roadmap is updated. This means that I have all the things I want to do to get organized in epics and stories within a particular initiative. Once I am convinced that this is the work required to accomplish my outcome, the goal is now to schedule the work. This is where Sunsama comes in. Sunsama’s strength is that it is an awesome orchestration tool for productivity as it integrates with a fairly large set of tools that make this work easy. In Sunsama, I’m also able to set up my goals for the week and can organize my specific time and tasks to align with those goals.
Daily discipline is required to execute effectively the overall plan. It is critical for me to set this up to accomplish an ongoing and sustainable routine for me to be successful. This is also where the bulk of my data is actively being generated for me to do my analysis on a weekly basis. Another tool that I found really helpful is to actually write down my routines. I have a few written down - one for going to the office, one for working at home, one for winding down at the office and one for winding down for the night. I found that by writing this down, I forget fewer things and am less frustrated. My routines are also designed to optimize logical things together. This follows the “habit stacking” concept from Atomic Habits.
Sunsama plays a critical role here as it is the tool that allows me to coordinate data from my personal Jira board and my calendar, as well as helps me set up my goals. Every morning, I allocate my tasks to the available time. There are different task types for me - things that are “quick hits” which are things that I can do quickly and are typically pointed at 1 point and then larger tasks which are pointed 2 points and above.
At the end of every month, I get together with my accountability buddy. It’s someone that’s close enough to me to know how I work and operate as well as what’s going on in my life but also not so close that I can get away with not being productive. My buddy and I jump onto a Google Meet every month and go through our own versions of an OKR and we have a tracking sheet that allows us to track our progress.
There are a number of opportunities with my monthly accountability that could be helpful. I’m already generating a lot of data when I’m operating and I’m only using the data very tactically. I think there could be more valuable to look at all of the data more holistically to result in different choices when it comes to planning.
Lastly, the most important thing I'm actively valuing of late is self-forgiveness. The best plans rarely go the way you had intended. The biggest value of the plan is the thinking that went into the plan. The self-forgiveness is essential to allow me to be realistic about my plan and make the appropriate adjustments instead of continuing to push myself to hit a plan for the sake of hitting the plan.
At its core, intentionality is extremely key. The biggest takeaway is to have intentionality at multiple levels. The distribution that I found that really works is - to do long-term planning yearly, adjust the overall plans monthly, and manage and measure the information weekly while collecting that data daily.
The other crucial lesson continues to be that no plan is perfect. It’s good to be reminded that I am human and there will be times when I’m tired and will not be motivated to execute the plan. No plan is perfect.
The value of most plans is the diligence put in to think about the goal and adjust along the way.