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How I turned my chaotic workdays into a productivity road trip

How I turned my chaotic workdays into a productivity road trip

This week, I’m going to share my secret on how I brought order and simplicity to my workdays, making a significant difference in working towards my larger goals. But first, let’s take a trip down memory lane to the early 2000s and reminisce about the sheer joy of road trips. Packing a few CDs, printing MapQuest directions, and tossing a duffel bag of clothes in the trunk for a 2000-mile adventure with a good friend over a long weekend was an absolute blast. We’d keep driving until the next exit, explore service plazas along the way for a quick bite, and take turns selecting songs. The mental freedom from today’s overwhelming distractions allowed us to connect with our friends on a deeper level, engaging in fascinating conversations. Have you taken a road trip lately? Things have changed dramatically since then.

Nowadays, road trips have transformed into a frantic ordeal. Everyone in the car is swamped, constantly switching songs, checking out apps displaying points of interest along the route, responding to social media notifications, searching for highly-rated restaurants to stop at, researching activities at the destination, securing pre-booked parking near the hotel, swiftly replying to text messages, and attending to a million other demands from their phones. In my view, while technology has enhanced many aspects of our lives, it has taken away the simplicity and enjoyment that road trips once offered.

A few months ago, during my morning walk at work, I had an epiphany. I realized that my days at work resembled the chaos of modern road trips. Every day felt overwhelming, scattered, and unfocused as I ran between dings and icons bouncing on my dock. As soon as I powered up my computer, I was inundated with emails demanding attention, Slack messages requiring a response, a to-do list app incessantly notifying me of tasks, appointments and invitations cluttering my calendar, client tickets just assigned to me, and SMS messages from family members awaiting replies. I observed that my days were slipping away as I hopped from one task to another. Each day began with grand plans to accomplish significant tasks, only to have them postponed for another day. Does this sound familiar?

Initially, I believed this busyness was temporary, but the situation only worsened as more apps vied for my attention. If I ever hoped to make headway towards my goals and be truly productive, I had to address this problem.

Curious what I did? Here is the six-step formula that worked for me:

1. First, I recognized the need for a single source of truth—a solitary to-do list to guide my day. I evaluated various to-do apps and project management tools. My choice isn’t as important as finding the one you will enjoy using. It also has to be easy to organize and integrate well with your other tools. What matters most is what works best for you, even if it’s a traditional paper notebook.

2. I delved into all the features of my chosen to-do app to optimize my day. I became familiar with each feature’s intended purpose and how they could benefit me.

3. I established a system leveraging these features of the app. I created priority tags, project folders, and rules for task prioritization based on due dates, among other customizations. I personalized the app to serve as my assistant, effortlessly guiding me through my daily tasks with as much automation as possible.

4. I created consistent requirements for each task. They had to have a priority, project assignment, and due date when necessary. The ability to quickly add tasks was crucial so I would often add these attributes in step 6 below.

5. I set up a “sweep” schedule, currently every 2 hours (with plans to extend it to 3). Every two hours, I would check all the various apps and services demanding my attention. If a task took less than 5 seconds to complete, I would handle it immediately. If it required more time, it would get added to my to-do list.

6. When adding a new task, they would initially get tagged with the default project called “temp”. As a final step, I reviewed and assigned all the attributes mentioned in step 4 to these tasks to ensure each task had its rightful place in the queue.

It may sound mundane, but this systematic approach helped declutter my mind, enhance my focus, and yield more satisfying results at the end of each day. Some aspects of our lives have become needlessly complicated due to technology, but we possess the ability to manage them. While we may not be able to eliminate these complexities entirely, we can create systems to live life on our own terms and achieve the outcomes we desire. Technology may have complicated some things, but it also presents an opportunity to simplify what has become convoluted.

I enjoy nothing more than solving such puzzles and I’m happy to chat. Do you face a similar challenge you’d like to tackle? Care to share?

See you next week,

– Burak Sarac, Team Lead

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