10 Productivity Tips

I like podcasts, specifically those from the 5by5 network. There are some excellent ones on productivity at work. Over the years, I’ve gathered some tips and tricks from them that you might find useful. I will share some of them here.

  1. Check email only twice a day. The rest of the time, get on with the work you are supposed to be doing.

  2. I am a bad typist. I have tried to learn touch typing here. But I prefer to use speech recognition software, like Dragon Dictate 3.0

  3. I subscribe to a Getting Things Done system. One of the keys aspects is having a single Inbox for all your new tasks. Tasks of course can be anything, from a letter that needs a reply to a grant that needs to be written. In fact I have 3, one physical one at home and another at work, plus my email inbox. I try to process them to zero (i.e. act on things) at least twice a week.

  4. Instant capture - I carry around my iPhone with Evernote on it. This lets me take pictures of whiteboards, jot notes, record meetings/talks and write ideas quickly. They are then available to me on every platform (iPad, Mac), and can be shared via email very easily.

  5. I sometimes have trouble focussing on the task at hand. I use the pomodoro technique to get around this. 25 minutes of focus then a 5 minute break is workable.

  6. Try and build exercise into the working day. Even if it is just walking up the stairs. Getting outside for a few minutes also helps me recharge and focus. I use a Fitbit Activity Tracker to track my exercise but then I’m a numbers geek.

  7. Have trusted systems for your areas of responsibility, and don’t endlessly fiddle with them once set up. It’s tempting to always be adding the latest and greatest software to your setup, but it’s a real time-sink. I leave things as they are and revisit every 6 months.

  8. Turn off spell and grammar checking whilst you write. It’ll distract you and interrupt your flow. Get a first draft down. Prettify it later.

  9. Have a list of boring but straightforward tasks you can do when you are not on your best form. Save the ones that need more thought for another day.

  10. Don’t try multi-tasking. Even if you are female.

Mac applications and training resources I find useful

I'm a subscriber (and have been for several years) website does great instructional videos. It's called Screencastsonline.

Remember The Milk - A very straightforward task management web-based system. Once complete, I put tasks into Evernote. That said, I'm test driving Omnifocus these days.

Dropbox is great for synchronising all your files automatically. It's crucial to my workflow, as I have a desktop at work and a laptop at home. I also have an iPhone and two iPads to maintain. Luckily there's a great iOS dropbox application that keeps everything available wherever I am.

For dealing with PDFs, there is an easy winner - the fabulous Papers application from Mekentosj Software. It's where I dump all of my PDFs. The software will make them fully searchable, plays nicely with Endnote for creating bibliographies, imports the metadata from PubMed and allows direct import from PubMed, Google Scholar and many other research repositories. Papers is the main reason I switched to Apple in 2008.

At least half of my time is dedicated to research. For writing research papers, I have to use Microsoft Word like most of the world. But before the text gets into Word I organise my thoughts and research documents in a program called Scrivener. This is a beautiful piece of software that has many functions over and above a standard word processor. I can write in the top half of the screen and have research documents (PDFs, webpages, images, movie files etc) in the bottom half. I can outline large writing projects on a virtual cork-board to get an overview. After writing is complete, the text is exported to Word (or Apple's Pages) for references and bibliography to be added. Papers can now insert bibliographies but it's a little in the beta stage right now.

Curio - brainstorming new ideas, diagram construction - dragging email conversations into it, Mindmaps, Outlines, researching images (websearching of google images, putting images into a table). Start off ideas in Evernote or Byword/NValt file then import into Curio for formal outlining before Scrivener for grant applications. Can also drag aliases of Papers PDFs into Mindmaps and Outlines.

Launchbar - Essential application and document launcher

CrashPlan - off-site automated backups

SuperDuper - disc-cloning backups

BusyCal - my preferred alternative to the built in Mac calendar application iCal

PDFPen - for putting electronic signatures on PDFs and otherwise annotating them

Devonthink and Devonagent - finding and sorting and storing information. A secret weapon of the Mac user. Importing pertinent Evernote notes. Can annotate and highlight PDFs of indexed documents in Devonthink and they stay annotated in the Finder. Can also highlight in Preview which appears in Papers

Skitch - image manipulation and annotating, takingscreenshots and making quick diagrams

Instapaper - nice for storing webpages for later reading in a distraction-free environment