I got some great advice from a career coach I worked with for a while: prioritize the things that are important, ditch the rest. To do that I went through a mind mapping exercise where I made a small connected map of the things that I really care about or need in my life (this was tied to a larger activity of mapping out what my happy future self could look like/needs). Then I took a sheet of paper and divided it into sections for each of those things (six things in my case). Each day I put a couple items in some of those boxes, not all of them, and I try to do those things. At the end of the day I fill in the sheet with whatever I did that day for each category. Sometimes it’s really full, sometimes it’s empty. But this helps me get a sense of how much time, or not, I’m putting into the things that matter and gives me a tool to help adjust when I need to.
She, and many other people, have also told me over and over that not every hour should be productive. I’ve worked on getting better and just leaving space for boredom or thinking (or reading). Things that let my mind wander… this has made my “productive” time much much better in terms of focus and energy. It also opens me up to lots of new ideas that otherwise wouldn’t have had time or space to develop.
For the technique I mentioned above I just use paper and pen. I do keep some rough todo lists and notes both on paper and in my favourite writing app, Ulysses. No system though, I just write down lots of thoughts and lists so that I don’t forget stuff and always have a place to reference when I need a reminder.
I’ve never liked any of these productivity systems, and I’m learning that maybe it’s because they fetishize productivity as the goal?
Oh, I also use Google Calendar to keep track of meetings, appointments, and blocks of time for things. I block off time for my own projects or just to keep some empty space where I need it… to make sure it doesn’t all get filled up with too much stuff. I try to keep my personal time for things (music, art, reading) protected as much as possible.
I also really liked this when I read it: https://medium.com/message/against-productivity-b19f56b67da6
I also do this and find it incredibly useful. Google Inbox has been really helpful for managing communication, but also for easily adding reminders for myself or keeping track of things I want to check out or do.
And I’ll echo some of the other comments about time spent on social media platforms, or generally on the internet looking at random stuff. It’s so easy to do that and realize that it’s been hours and that you haven’t done anything that contributes to any of your goals, including rest, down time, or aimless thinking. I don’t have any magic fix for this, other than to recognize when I’m slipping into that state and tell myself that’s what is happening so that I can stop it. Instead I will read, or play a game, or noodle on an instrument, or really anything else that could in some way actually help me feel like I’m making myself happy or fulfilled, which endlessly scrolling through Facebook doesn’t do.
I hope you find some things that work for you!