Productivity Progress and Tackling Time Management

“Are you tired, run-down, listless? Do you poop out at parties? Are you unpopular? The answer to all your problems is in this little bottle.”1

"Lucy Does a Commercial"

“Lucy Does a Commercial”

Wouldn’t it be great if the solution to all your problems really was in that Vitameatavegamin bottle? Can’t find that ancestor? Take a spoonful of Vitameatavegamin! Struggling to figure out that source citation? Missing records from the courthouse? Don’t have enough time in your day for everything you need to get done? Another spoonful of Vitameatavegamin to the rescue!

Did someone say not enough time in the day? Oh what truth! At my full-time job I’m pretty close to a productivity and time management guru, but it seems like once I get home that guru is nowhere to be found. It’s always been a source of frustration for me. And it’s a frustration that I’ve finally been forced to meet head-on thanks to last month’s ProGen assignment. Spending time identifying “time bandits” may seem counter-productive at first glance (because, why would you use time identifying what sucks away all your time when you could be researching???) but it actually helps save time in the long-term. Once you’ve identified what needs to be changed (and accepted that you’re having the same struggles as thousands of other people!) you can begin to make the schedule changes necessary to more fully use your free time (and I use the term “free time” very loosely). I was able to complete and submit my ProGen assignment early, which I was very proud of! Baby steps to better time management, right? But that wasn’t good enough. Once that assignment was submitted it occurred to me that I shouldn’t just stop there. As Oscar Goldman said “We can rebuild him. We have the technology. We can make him better than he was. Better, stronger, faster.”2

Or, in this case, myself. I could rebuild my productivity and time management skills. I had the technology. I could make myself better than I was. Better, more productive, a time management master at home as well as at work! So I sat down at my computer and continued researching best practices for productivity and time management. I had already implemented email and calendar access on my smartphone. My smartphone is my brain. I don’t leave home without it, I make sure it’s always backed up and updated and it serves as my personal assistant in all things. But what I discovered, as I read about different productivity and time management systems is that there were people in the world who were using their smartphones far, far better than I was. Then, I ran across a post about Inbox Zero and became obsessed. Inbox Zero was developed by productivity expert, Merlin Mann and it’s goal is exactly what it sounds like…an empty (or close to empty) email inbox. Could I reach Inbox Zero, I wondered? I couldn’t actually remember the last time I didn’t have emails just sitting in my email waiting for me to deal with them.

As I continued to read articles and blog posts and responses to the time management assignment in ProGen I heard about the time management method called “Getting Things Done” and was intrigued. If you’ve never heard about “Getting Things Done” by a productivity consultant named David Allen. Wikipedia has a good description of the method here and Lifehacker has a great post that breaks down how to get started with GTD here. But my “AHA!” moment came when I read Jamie Todd Rubin’s post Going Paperless: My Process for Keeping Evernote Clutter-Free. Jamie provides a graphic illustrating his clutter-free process in the post that really hit home with me and it was exactly what I’d been looking for to help me understand what to do next. So I combined bits of GTD with Jamie Todd Rubin’s clutter-free process and…drum roll please!…actually achieved Inbox Zero!!!!! But not just on my emails, I also managed to completely clean out my Feedly newsfeed as well!

No unread emails!

No unread emails!

No unread blog posts!

No unread blog posts!













My dear friends, I can’t tell you how good it felt to see this! And now that I’ve successfully achieved Inbox Zero it feels less overwhelming whenever I open my email or Feedly. I’ve now scheduled time each day to review and act on all (or most) items in my inbox and Feedly. My next project is cleaning up my Pocket feed.

So, here’s the specifics: it took me two days of research and reading to determine what I thought might work for me. I had many of the services already set up or in use so I didn’t need to spend any extra time doing that. Here’s the list of services I’m currently using:

  • Gmail – I have a couple of Gmail addresses that I use, one for personal items, one for genealogy, one for my HAM radio-related emails and one for junk. I set up my personal email to also accept my genealogy and HAM radio emails, using filters to give them special labels and by-pass my inbox completely. I can then review each set of email separately without having to log in to the different accounts. I looked at the multiple inbox lab option in Gmail but just didn’t love the way it looked.
  • Trello – Trello is a service that helps organize your projects. It’s well-known in the business world as a project management and collaboration tool that utilizes boards, cards and lists. I set up a board for my to-do list and used the email to board feature to start creating cards from my emails for items that needed to be handled. I also use it to collect and organize ideas for my blog as well as use it to collaborate with my family on our genealogy.
  • Zapier – Zapier is a service that connects together two web services. Think cause and effect for the digital age. You select the services you want to integrate (for example, Gmail and Trello), set up a “Zap” (basically a recipe) and turn it on and it helps you automate tasks. So in the example of Gmail and Trello, I told Zapier whenever an email came into my inbox that met certain criteria a new Trello card should be set up on my to-do board. One less thing I have to manually do which means time saved.
  • Pocket – Pocket is a service for managing items you want to review at a later time. You can save articles, videos and more. This is my “middle man” for items I want to read later but don’t want to clutter up Evernote with until I decide whether I want to keep the item permanently or not.
  • Feedly – Feedly is a news aggregator that compiles news feeds from various sources for a centralized reading location. I use it for reading blog posts from other bloggers.
  • Evernote – Evernote is a service for note-taking, organizing and archiving. I use this to store items I want to keep permanently and refer back to later.

This may sound like a lot of things to use but once you get everything set up correctly it actually saves time.

The next step was to sit down with my email inbox and just start slogging through it. I adhered strictly to the “Two-Minute Rule” in GTD. The two minute rule basically states if you can read and reply to an email in two minutes or less you should take care of it immediately. Otherwise it goes into a follow up area. Then you schedule time to take care of items that you’ve filed in your follow up area. I spent a full day going through my email inbox learning how to identify items that could be handled immediately, what needed to go in follow up, what could be added to my calendar, task list or Trello board and what needed to be stored in Evernote. I did the same with my Feedly news feed using Pocket as my “middle man” for things I wanted to save and read but would take longer than a couple of minutes to review. Once I finished weeding and organizing my email I determined what items I could use Zapier to automate and set up Zaps for those items. In Trello I use the reminder feature, tagging and email to board or email to card features. In Evernote I use the notebooks and tagging features. In Gmail I use filters, labels and the check mail from other accounts settings.

While this system may work for me others won’t find it so useful. A system of organization is a very personal thing and, unfortunately, a spoonful of Vitameatavegamin won’t fix productivity and time management problems. If you’re looking for a way to reach Inbox Zero, spend some time looking at the different systems out there right now. Maybe whiteboards and post-it notes are your thing or you’d rather have a spiral-bound notebook next to your computer. Whatever system you try, don’t get discouraged if it doesn’t work for you on the first try. Keep trying other systems and eventually you’ll find something that works for you. If I can do it friends, so can you!

And now, my dear friends, I think a celebration is in order 🙂

South Lake Tahoe, United States

Photo by Kimson Doan (Unsplash)


1 Oppenheimer, Jess, Madelyn Davis, and Bob Caroll, Jr. “Lucy Does a TV Commercial.” I Love Lucy. Desilu Productions. Hollywood, CA, 5 May 1952. Television.

2 Schwartz, Elroy. “Population: Zero.” The Six Million Dollar Man. Silverton Productions. Universal City, CA, 18 Jan. 1974. Television.

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Let’s Talk Goals

The end of each year always brings with it a whirlwind of activity and with all that activity comes the realization that the list of things you meant to complete continues to grow in length. Then come the New Year’s Resolutions, those items you want to see happen or get done in the coming year. In 2013 Forbes posted an article titled Just 8% of People Achieve Their New Year’s Resolutions. Here’s How They Do It. which stated “But for all the good intentions, only a tiny fraction of us keep our resolutions; University of Scranton research suggests that just 8% of people achieve their New Year’s goals.” Wow, just single digit successes. And, sadly, I’m among the double digits who did not succeed with New Year’s Resolutions. Thus, I stopped making resolutions years ago because of this. A few years ago I began to realize that maybe it was simply time for a reorganization of my resolutions. Instead of resolutions, I would set goals to be completed throughout the year. Well, it’s taken a couple of years but I think I’m finally beginning to understand how to create goals that I can complete successfully. And now I feel like I can go back to creating a list of goals at the beginning of the year for completion during the year.

And it seems to be that type of year. Amy Johnson Crow recently posted about setting SMART genealogy goals in her post How to Set a Smart Genealogy Goal. Family Sleuther also referenced the SMART goals system in his post Genealogy Goals in 2016. These posts were a great reminder about the structure I should be using for my goals for the upcoming year. The concept of S.M.A.R.T. goals has been around for many years. One of the earliest references to S.M.A.R.T. goals is found in a November 1981 issue of Management Review. According to Wikipedia “The November 1981 issue of Management Review contained a paper by George T. Doran called There’s a S.M.A.R.T. way to write management’s goals and objectives. It discussed the importance of objectives and the difficulty of setting them.” The S.M.A.R.T. goal system has stood the test of time and still provides a good structure for goal setting. So I decided to use the S.M.A.R.T. system along with the information from Five Golden Rules for Successful Goal Setting which was posted on to set my goals for 2016. Here’s what I came up with for my 2016 genealogy goals:

1. Submit assignments/homework for my ProGen class on-time or early each month.

2. Watch or participate in at least 3 genealogy education events each month. This would include things like webinars, online discussions, society meetings, etc.

3. Genealogy Do-OverFully participate in and complete the 2016 Genealogy Do-Over. I’ve been playing with getting my genealogy file cleaned up for the last year. Since the announcement of the discontinuation of Family Tree Maker I’ve been considering whether to change to a different software program for my family tree information. I downloaded and played with several programs and finally made the decision to change to Legacy Family Tree software. It was a difficult decision between RootsMagic and Legacy but Legacy seemed to fit my needs better. And since I was switching software and it seemed like a good time to go all in on the Genealogy Do-Over. Plus the new timeline of the Genealogy Do-Over suited my current work load much better than the previous timeline.

4. Get OrganizedActively participate in and complete DearMyrtle’s FINALLY Get Organized challenge. I struggle with organization anyway so interests or hobbies that require storage of anything really tax my few organizational skills. DearMyrtle has created a weekly checklist challenge to help those struggling with organization to finally get organized. I’m interested to see what DearMyrtle has in store for this challenge. It sounds promising and I can use all the help I can get!

These are the goals I’ll be starting out with in 2016. Since I’m participating in ProGen, the Genealogy Do-Over and FINALLY Get Organized I’m not setting any goals specifically for researching. I may set these types of goals after seeing where my time falls between family, work and the goals set out above but I want to set myself up for success on my goals this year instead of failure. And my wish for you, dear reader, is success as well. Success in whatever goals you may choose to set for yourself.

Here’s to all those that I love.
Here’s to all those that love me.
And here’s to all those that love those that I love,
And all those that love those that love me!
Author Unknown

Photo by Glen Carrie (Unsplash)

Photo by Glen Carrie (Unsplash)

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