We live in a data-rich world. Connecting different data streams or making sense of incoming information (and your older knowledge) can help you become more organized and efficient. But, to achieve peak productivity and maintain a healthy work-life balance, you need to organize your physical space, your workflows, your digital life.
Power organizers realize the value of productivity systems, from the most basic (Eat That Frog or the Seinfeld Calendar) to the more complex (GTD, ZTD, and, finally, PARA).
Which method would be your ‘champion’? Let’s unpack the leading contenders so you can decide who comes out on top.
Productivity solution #1: ‘Eat That Frog’
“If it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning. And if it’s your job to eat two frogs, it’s best to eat the biggest one first.”
In our fast-paced world, we’re faced with a never-ending list of tasks to accomplish. The smart approach is to identify your ‘frog,’ your Most Important Task (MIT), and tackle it first. This very literal interpretation of Mark Twain’s quote was conceived by motivational speaker and self-development author Brian Tracy, and while it may seem simplistic, it’s part of every power organizer’s productivity toolbox.
So how do you ‘eat that frog’ without major indigestion? Identify the task and ensure it’s something you can complete within four hours. If your frog is going to take longer than half a day’s work, break it up into smaller bites… *ahem* ‘frogs.’
Tackle your frog first thing every day, starting with a fresh, singular focus each morning. It helps to prep your frog the night before. If you need to edit a document, for example, make sure it’s accessible and/or open on your screen before you log off the evening prior. Avoid distractions by not checking emails or scheduling a meeting in the morning. Direct all of your focus and energy at your frog.
Power tip: Organize your frogs by tagging notes with keywords to sort them by category, even if they’re saved in different notebooks. You can find notes by searching for titles, dates, content types, and keywords—even words in pictures and handwriting—and get results while you type.
Power tip: Tasks in Evernote give you the ability to identify and prioritize your daily frogs. With Tasks and Calendar (which syncs with your Google Calendar accounts) you can manage your notes, schedule, and to-dos all in one place. To-do lists live inside your notes, complete with priority flags, due dates, and reminders to help you stay on top of it all.
While this approach works best by focusing on your most pressing and important frog, you also have the option of zooming out for a comprehensive overview of all your tasks. This way, you can keep your to-do list in context and better prioritize your frogs, deciding which one will be for breakfast tomorrow.
Productivity solution #2: Don’t Break the Chain, a.k.a. Seinfeld’s Calendar
Yes, it’s coined after comedian Jerry Seinfeld, who cites ‘Don’t Break the Chain’ as an integral part of his phenomenal success. This came to light when fellow comedian Brad Isaac asked Jerry if he had any tips for a young, aspiring comic:
“He (Jerry) told me to get a big wall calendar that has a whole year on one page and hang it on a prominent wall. The next step was to get a big red magic marker. He said for each day that I do my task of writing, I get to put a big red X over that day. After a few days, you’ll have a chain. Just keep at it and the chain will grow longer every day. You’ll like seeing that chain, especially when you get a few weeks under your belt. Your only job is to not break the chain.”
What’s most remarkable about Jerry Seinfeld’s story isn’t just the awards and the accolades, but the incredible productivity and enduring consistency of his achievements. Motivated or not, the only thing that matters for him is consistently checking off tasks and not breaking the chain. Utilizing this method, you will eventually build long-term organizational habits that will improve every aspect of your personal and professional life. It’s not about how you feel or how inspired you are—the name of the game is consistency.
Power tip: Change can be hard, especially if you’ve been doing things a certain way for a long time. However, when attempting any change in routine, it’s important to keep a close eye on progress in order to stay on track and focused. One way to do this is by recording your habits. Use Evernote’s Habit Tracker template to document the progress you’ve made building new habits or breaking old ones.
Power tip: Evernote also offers daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly calendar templates that can be saved into your notebooks. Set due dates and reminders to track and tackle your tasks, motivating you to celebrate your milestones and not ‘break your chain.’ Then enjoy that gratifying feeling of hitting “complete” and watching it slip to the bottom of your task list (or off your radar completely)!
Productivity solution #3: Get Things Done (GTD) and Zen to Done (ZTD)
GTD: Get Things Done
David Allen’s GTD method is founded on the principle of recording all your to-dos and projects and then breaking them into actionable steps within defined time limits. It’s based on five fundamentals:
- Capture—Write, record, or gather any and everything that has your attention into a collection tool, such as Evernote.
- Clarify —Is it actionable? If so, determine the steps required to tackle the tasks.
- Organize—Organize them by priority or category in your productivity system.
- Reflect—Review your content regularly to regain focus.
- Engage—Make decisions with clarity.
The GTD productivity method spans a wide range of use cases and is simple enough to support a personal system, yet complex enough to help you tackle some of your biggest work projects.
ZTD: Zen to Done
If all that structure sounds a tad overwhelming, ZTD takes a more minimalistic approach. “It’s about the habits and the doing, not the system or the tools,” is how Zen To Done (ZTD) founder Leo Babauta describes his take on productivity. ZTD, as he further notes, places emphasis on simplifying tasks and focusing on one habit at a time.
ZTD requires you to reduce your goals and tasks to essentials and focus on what is important. This means aligning projects with your goals and simplifying your commitments. This can be done on a daily, weekly, or monthly scale. Leo says ZTD is aimed at taking “as much stuff off your plate as possible, so you can focus on doing what’s important, and doing it well.”
Power tip: The filtered notes widget—the more powerful cousin of the notes widget—allows you to select the exact set of notes you’d like to see in Home. You can create “sets” of content based on search criteria and put them into your dashboard. The filtered notes widget narrows down what you see, only displaying notes with audio, or lists, or keywords, for example.
Home in Evernote is a powerful place to implement GTD because you can see all your projects and steps in the workflow in one place. Using the filtered notes widget gives you a bird’s-eye view of every step across your entire workflow.
Productivity solution #4: The PARA Method
Developed by leading productivity expert, Tiago Forte, this method is more about getting organized and less about productivity. That said, being organized is essential for productivity.
The PARA productivity system hinges around four strategically identified top-level categories that encompass your work and personal life:
- Projects—A specific goal or task with a deadline. Example: Draw up a new Employee Handbook.
- Areas—An area of responsibility that generally has a standard to be maintained. Example: Human Resources.
- Resources—Topics of ongoing interest and related materials. Example: Your resource file will contain a collection of documents regarding vacation policies, benefits, and communication procedures.
- Archives—Items that are no longer active or required for task completion. Example: Projects that have been completed, areas you are no longer committed to maintaining, or resources you are no longer interested in.
Evernote’s flexibility means there are limitless ways to utilize the platform and seamlessly organize your life. You can easily structure tasks and related information according to the PARA Method, but specific to your needs:
Projects: Evernote Teams is your project management hub and keeps all relevant ideas, documents, meeting notes, timelines, and to-do lists in one place—accessible for the right people. With everything organized into notebooks and spaces, you can easily track timelines and deliverables. This way, you ensure everybody’s up to speed, whether they’re working onsite or remotely.
Areas of Responsibility: You can implement this in Evernote using Tasks, which consolidates your to-dos and notes, creating the context you need to make progress. Tasks and notes combine to help you reach your goals faster, eliminating the gap between what you need to do and the information you need to do it.
Resources: With Evernote’s Web Clipper, you clip it once and it’s saved forever. When you find something good, clip it. Every research article and bit of inspiration is collected in Evernote where you can always find it when you need it.
Archives: Anything from the previous three categories that’s no longer active. Just create a new tag called Archive and attach it to all your old notes. Prefix the names of notebooks and stacks with an X to send them to the bottom of your lists. As soon as something is not front-and-center, you may want to move it, but you can still keep it in case you need it again.
Remember everything, accomplish anything
Outlining the company vision in 2021, Evernote CEO Ian Small said, “We see a future where you can feel more organized and confident, boost your productivity in the workplace, pursue your personal dreams, and keep your daily life on track. And we see Evernote at the heart of that movement.”
When Home, Calendar, and Tasks intersect and connect with your notes, something special begins to happen. Together, they structure your day in an organized dashboard that consolidates what you need to know with what you need to do. It’s that simple, but yet so very effective. Your most pressing tasks and up-to-date schedule appear together in a single consolidated view, so the moment you open Evernote, all your important pieces of information are connected, and productivity beckons.