My top 5 productivity tools: In solidarity with your fight for focus

Elizabeth Goffe singer, yoga teacher Creator of True Self Centre of Being, Jamaica Photograph by Malaika Brooks-Smith-Lowe

Elizabeth Goffe singer, yoga teacher
Creator of True Self Centre of Being, Jamaica
Photograph by Malaika Brooks-Smith-Lowe

Elizabeth and I often sit, on a cool patch of floor or in the yard at TrueSelf, reflecting on our mutual experiences as young Caribbean yoga teachers, living, working and running studios in our respective islands. We both take fairly informal approaches to managing our work but are continuously seeking new ways of working that enhance our effectiveness, allowing us to offer more to our communities. We have been reflecting on how we can live purposeful lives with minimal stress on our bodies and minds. All of us work differently so hearing about the challenges and best practices of others can give us new insight to adapt into our own approach. 

How do I avoid that drowning feeling when I look at my email inbox?

As a result of my own ongoing battles with focus and productivity I have been on a (seemingly life long) pilgrimage in search of organizational methods which allow me to manage my life and workload.  Like many of you fellow inhabitants of a world full of distractions, I sometimes (often) find myself trapped in the heavy, grey, sap of procrastination. This past year I shifted away from bullying myself because it didn't make working any easier. I would become stuck in a sinkhole of self-doubt and frustration. Who can work from there? Along the path of breaking that cycle I have found tools that ease the way. They provide me with the support I need to practice habits that better serve me and my work. In honor of your intentions for the new year and with a wish for your success I share my top 5 productivity tools:

1. Schedule: Work.Fit.Play.Push

Try scheduling your days around these four categories that present an ideal day: Work, Fit, Play and Push. When I used this most frequently I created my weekly agenda on Sunday and emailed it to my friend Zahra, and she emailed hers to me. Accountability buddies are a huge help when you are trying to build new habits. 

The creator of this model, Amber Rae, shares useful suggestions on how to organize your weekly schedule using these categories: How to Schedule Your Day for Peak Performance

2. Email: Multiple Inboxes (For Gmail Users)

I just started implementing this method for managing my gmail that lets me categorize my emails into 4 inboxes (needs reply/action, awaiting response, delegated and scheduled). Already I feel less stress when I view my inbox because as soon as new mail comes in, I either send a quick response if I can, or label it appropriately and archive it for later. I still have a backlog of emails to sift into the system but so far so good! 

Andreas Klinger gives a clear description and step-by-step break down of setting it up: Don't Drown in Email! How to use Gmail More Effectively.

3. Task Management: Trello

I have tried multiple websites/apps for task management and have now resettled on Trello, a free, flexible, visual way to organize projects. You can even work collaboratively with others, at Groundation Grenada we've experimented with project managing on Trello. The past few days I've been doing a mind dump of every task on my plate, from replacing my booklight battery to finding a carpenter to work with on my installation project here in Jamaica. Now I am beginning to plug them into Trello so that I can review my projects consistently and not feel worried that I am overlooking something. On a weekly basis I can select my priorities and plug them into my Work.Fit.Play.Push.

There are endless articles with suggestions on how to use Trello. One good example is Gautam Ramdurai's reflection on how his search for the perfect app lead him to Trello and exactly how he set his up: Locus/Focus: an approach to productivity without myopia.

4. Time Management: Pomodoro Technique

Francesco Cirillo the creator of the pomodoro  (tomato) technique named it after shape of the little timer he used to track his work as a university student. The result is a simple approach to breaking down your work into 25 minute intervals with 5 minute breaks in between. You work in short focused bursts and it is easier to stay motivated. Ideally use a timer like tomato.es, which automatically has the intervals so you don't have to think about it. Sometimes I'm distracted on my phone or some random youtube video and when I catch myself I restart the 25 minute cycle and begin again.

LifeHacker.com (an amazing website!) has an overview with a link to a great video: Productivity 101: A Primer to the Pomodoro Technique.

5. Notes & REferences: Evernote

I definitely use paper notebooks but having a place to store things digitally is also really helpful and Evernote provides that. Evernote is a website/app where I am consolidating personal project notes and references (information I am tired of continually googling) so that they are quickly accessible in one place. I have notes for upcoming meetings, recipes, html codes I commonly use etc. My brain is not made for remembering, it is made for creating and my suspicion is yours might be as well. 

Lastly,

If you like to work with music, stream my playlists on 8tracks for free. Since yoga students ask about my playlists after class I've started uploading some of my favorites such as Yoga Mix | Cultivating Creativity (which I'm listening to as a write this post). If those aren't your style explore the website, put in your mood, activity or preferences (eg. instrumental) and it will recommend playlists for you. Share your favorite playlist with me, I'm always on the look out to new music!