Trust is a Must
For all of the aspiring Pebble Snatching, Productivity Fu Masters out there, I’ve created a Fu Master Productivity Checklist with Things3 as the backdrop. My goal is to provide a framework that will guide others to a point where they can confidently TRUST their Productivity System.
Why is trust so important? Because with trust comes confidence. With confidence comes the ability to let go and focus on whatever you’re doing … to be present and in the NOW … to focus on what’s truly important.
When trust is missing from the productivity equation, a constant haze of distracted worry tends to set in 😬.
Did you remember to get back to your boss about that one super important thing? Is there a thought or idea that’s been buzzing around your head all day and won’t go away? … and how distracting is that buzzzzzz? How insanely full is your Today List and how often do your todos tend to rollover from day to day?
At times, this productivity thing can feel like a moving target. It can be a frustrating and defeating proposition.
The Fu Master Productivity Checklist is designed to help you get from constant haze of distracted worry to Productivity Fu Master where you can confidently trust your productivity system … where productivity confidence oozes from every pore.
Master All 10 Components
The Productivity Checklist has 10 key components, starting with mastering your INBOX (which sits at the TOP of your productivity system) all the way through making sure that a healthy dose of PURPOSE exists in your day to day (which is the foundation of your productivity system).
This checklist isn’t a how to use Things3 tutorial, Cultured Code has an awesome guide for that. This checklist is all about how to think about using Things3.
I’ll use the Anytime List as an example: IMHO, the Anytime List is the key to unlocking the power of Things3 and your ability to trust your system. Over-stuffed Today Lists & Over-scheduling todos are a symptom of an underutilized Anytime List. I want Anytime to be a go-to list for everybody because I know how powerful it can be!
Once you’ve mastered all 10 concepts, you are ready to confidently roam the Earth as a Pebble Snatching, Productivity Fu Master 🥋👊💥, spreading the good word about the impact of being Productive with a Purpose.
The Fu Master Productivity Checklist:
Click a link to jump directly to additional details about each component …
- Use your INBOX to capture evil distractions immediately throughout the day (Mastering your Inbox is the #1 step towards becoming a Productivity Fu Master)
- Start the day with a glass of water & a solid MORNING ROUTINE
- Always do a DAILY REVIEW to create a laser focused Today List
- Always pause for a WEEKLY REVIEW to focus your Anytime List (by utilizing your Someday List … which I swear, is NOT an idea graveyard!)
- Use AREAS to track ongoing areas of life focus (these can have multiple projects over time), use PROJECTS to track shorter term goals (2+ todos & an end date), only keep NEXT ACTIONS in Things3 (todos are always actionable) & once a todo lands on your CALENDAR, it’s a done deal
- Keep your TODAY List tight & stocked w/ only “Must Dos” & constantly use your ANYTIME List for “Bonus Todos”. Trusting your Anytime List is the key to trusting your productivity system!
- ALMOST NEVER SCHEDULE TODOS, consider using Due Dates instead
- Use TAGS SPARINGLY & STRATEGICALLY & master basic KEYBOARD SHORTCUTS to find todos instantly (this is where the magic happens!)
- Use a separate app like BEAR TO TRACK NOTES & PROJECT DETAILS & for JOURNALING when tough questions need answered
- Know that PRODUCTIVITY IS THE FORCEFIELD that allows you to stay focused on what’s TRULY IMPORTANT
… and do it that way EVERY SINGLE TIME.
The minute you stray from your productivity system … the minute you skip a Daily Review or don’t use that Tag the same way you did last time or you don’t capture that distracting thought immediately in your Inbox … you’re sunk. You’ve opened the door to doubt. And doubt makes it really tough to trust anything.
Doubt is for jerks 👎. Trust is for the cool kids 👍. So, let’s do this.
You’ll find additional details for each Fu Master Productivity Checklist item below …
1. Master Your Inbox
For anyone wondering: “Where do I start?” … welp, you start right here! Mastering your Inbox is 💯 the first step on your Productivity Fu Master journey.
Your mind is for having ideas, not holding them.David Allen, Getting Things Done
You need a single place to put thoughts and ideas when they hit you, no matter where you are. Capture every thought, idea (big or small!), email, web link, etc that requires later thought immediately in your Things3 Inbox so you can get it out of your head and get back to what you were doing!
Head Zero, Inbox Everything gets weedy into how I use Things3 as my one, true (trusted) Inbox. See how you can utilize quick entry, Siri, mail to Things, etc to help you master your Inbox.
2. The Morning Routine
Launch Your Day
When you wake up in the morning: drink a glass of water (clarity 🧘♂️), plan your day (focus 🤓) and do the most important thing first (impact 💥)!
I boiled the Internet’s Top Productivity Tips down to one statement. What I’ve realized through my research is that the best way to set EACH DAY up for success is to double down on your MORNING and create a simple, consistent morning routine. And do it that way every day.
I have a 🚀 Launch Area @ the top of my Lists in Things3 where I keep daily and weekly reminders that help facilitate my morning routine. I track these as separate “todos” … you can just as easily use a checklist within a single todo … it’s completely up to you.
My daily routine is the exact same every single day:
- I chug a giant glass of water 💦
- I get my coffee ☕️ (and chug that too 😋)
- I take ~10 minutes to do my Daily Things Review and plan my day (what’s my #1 goal for today!?). This is the best 10 minute investment I can make because now my day is planned out and I can live in my Today List. (More on my Daily Review in a bit.)
- I get my 2nd cup of coffee because I’m really on a roll now …
- Each Monday, I take ~30 minutes to do a super weedy Weekly Review in Things. (More on my Weekly Review in a bit.)
- I have a “💪 ME goal” to write for 30 minutes each morning!
- I sneak a workout in
- I help get the kids ready for school (and since my day is already planned, I don’t need to stress about work stuff … I can be present and sneak a few laughs in w/ my kids before school 😃)
- Work starts … where I want to do that #1 most important, most impactful thing first 💥
I happen to be a morning person. If you’re a night owl, I’d still encourage some sort of “Morning Routine” to get your day pointed in the right direction, but you can certainly do your Daily Reviews in the evening and your weedy Weekly Review on Sunday night. It’s best to do this type of work whenever your brain fires best.
Shifting Gears After Work
I’ve recently added a “🧘♂️ Shift Gears” Area @ the very bottom of my Things3 Lists. I work from home, so it can be tough for me to mentally shift gears from Work to Home so I created a daily reminder to Meditate & Journal. I meditate for 10 mins and then Journal for a few minutes, reflecting on the day and thinking ahead to the evening w/ my family. It has really helped me turn the page and get into Dad mode.
(FYI: If I could schedule todos to automatically show up in the Evening, I wouldn’t need a separate Area for this purpose. But since I can’t, this is how I’ve solved for this need.)
Bottom line, a simple, consistent morning routine is absolute gold ⭐️. By front loading your day, you build early confidence and ownership over what’s ahead of you. And you can start experiencing “success” during your first cup of coffee!
3. The Daily Review
The goal of the Daily Review is to get you to a point where you have a clear, concise list of “Must Dos” (i.e. today’s top, I HAVE to do them today priorities) in your Today List. If you do a thorough Daily Review, you should be able to LIVE in your Today list (and not ping pong around in Things3, hunting and pecking for todos) … all day long!
At a high level, the Daily Review looks like this:
- Check your Calendar – What’s already scheduled for today (and over the next couple of days)? What actions are required today for these future events to be successful?
- Clear your Email Inbox – Review any unread emails and use Mail to Things to forward anything to your Things3’s Inbox that requires later review or follow up.
- Clear your Things3 Inbox – For each item, ask: What is this? How Much Effort? When do I NEED to do this? Where should I put this? What Else will help me find and / or take action on this later?
- Review your Today List – You may have previously scheduled todos for today … is everything still relevant? Review and tighten your Today List so it just has the items you Must Do today.
- Now Visit your Anytime List – Peruse your Anytime list for other todos that you need to tackle today. Always take a minute to review your ME specific todos (non work related) so you always have a healthy dose of purpose in your Today List!
Check out Be a Pebble Snatching, Productivity Fu Master. It gets super weedy into my Things3 setup, hitting on my Daily & Weekly Review processes, how I use Tags, some of my go-to Key Board Shortcuts, etc.
4. The Weekly Review
If the goal of the Daily Review is to create a focused Today List, the Weekly Review exists to create a focused Anytime List. Ponder that for a second 🤔 … If you have a tight (and trusted) Weekly Review process, your Anytime List should be the only place you’ll need to go to find Todos throughout the week.
With focus comes IMPACT 💥. The Weekly Review helps you get real focus for the week and it’s basically the Daily Review on Steroids:
- Get Weedy – You’ll roll up your sleeves and comb through your Things3 setup: Area by Area … Project by Project … todo by todo (including the Someday List).
- Clean House – Each week is an opportunity to do some hardcore Spring cleaning in Things3. Add, remove & consolidate projects, delete todos that are no longer relevant, organize and tidy things up. When you finish your Weekly Review, you should feel really good, liberated almost. Your Things3 setup should feel as fresh and clean as it did the first day you set it up.
- Pause & Celebrate Success! – Part of my Weekly Review is pausing to reflect on my Accomplishments from the previous week. It’s too easy to jump head first into the next thing and that’s no good. Productivity Fu Masters also ain’t scared to share their goals and celebrate their successes with others 😉 … it creates a mini-support system for your success + creates accountability for you to do the work. I’ve started doing this with my team at work and it’s good to realize that you’re making an impact every single day!
- Set a Goal for the Week – Pick ONE 💻 WORK Goal + ONE 💪 ME goal (something that’s non work related that’s all about YOU) that will net the largest impact this week. Think 80/20 rule: What 20% of your efforts will net 80% of the results? Do these things FIRST. PERIOD. Once complete, find your next biggest impact item, focus on that one, crush it, etc. Know this: If you only complete these few items this week, it’ll be a successful week 🏆!
- The Someday List & THIS WEEK – I swear, the Someday List isn’t a place where ideas go to die 💀! In simple terms, the Weekly Review helps you identify what you want to focus on THIS WEEK. Anything you don’t plan to focus on THIS WEEK should go in your Someday List. Conversely, during your Weekly Review, you’ll also scour Someday to see what Projects or Todos you do want to work on this week and pull them into Anytime. If you do a thorough and consistent Weekly Review every week, you can trust that your Someday List items won’t fall through the cracks!
5. Areas, Projects, Todos & Your Calendar
- Areas (Ongoing, Important Areas of Life Focus) – Areas are where you track important areas of focus in your life. This could be Work, School, Home, Hobbies, things you’re super passionate about, etc. I use Areas for any ongoing, higher level life bucket or initiative that doesn’t necessarily have a start or end date (like a Project would). Areas can have multiple Projects over time.
- Projects (Start & End Date, 2+ Todos) – I think of Projects as mini goals that have a defined start and end date and have more than one todo. Every Project should always have a Next Action (even if that Next Action is to “Think about the project to determine what the next action should be …”)
- Todos (Always Actionable, Next Actions Only) – I subscribe to David Allen’s GTD (Getting Things Done) approach to todos: 1) They must be Actionable & 2) Only “Next Actions” should live in Things3.
- Your Calendar (The most actionable level possible) – Once it lands on your Calendar, you’ve secured time to do what needs to get done. At this point, it’s a Crocodile Done Deal.
Next Actions Only
When we have a project, our instinct is to add the five steps “we think we’ll need” to get from point A to point Z. There are two problems with this: 1) We often can’t take action on steps 2-5 until step 1 is complete (this creates noise and clutter in your system) and 2) These are “possible” next steps. Too often, once step 1 is complete, the flow of the project takes it in a slightly different direction than what was originally planned. Now you need to go back and rethink a bunch of todos that are no longer applicable.
Here are a few options:
- Use the Project Notes section in Things3 to list out steps 1-5. When you do your Weekly Review, you’ll review these details and can adjust accordingly.
- Utilize the Someday List. Someday can be a great place to keep possible, future todos for a project. Again, your Weekly Review is when you can confidently review these items, delete the stuff that’s no longer applicable and adjust accordingly.
- Use a 3rd party Notes App like Bear (more on that below). Notes apps are a great place to keep detailed notes and thoughts and goals for a given project. With Bear, you can copy a link in the Things3 Project Notes that take you directly to your note in Bear.
I encourage you to play with these options to see what works best for you. But, like everything else we’ve discussed, once you land on something that feels right: stick with it and do it that way every time!
A Quick Example – From Inbox to Calendar
- You’re sitting in a meeting and all of a sudden, “Team Meeting Slides” hits you out of the blue. Oh geeze! I need to finish the team meeting slides by this Friday!
- So you cntrl + space on your Mac (quick entry!) and enter “Team Meeting Slides”. This thought is automatically saved in your Inbox. You can relax and go back to being awesome in your meeting. This item isn’t Actionable yet … but that’s ok. You know that during your Daily Review on Tuesday morning, you’ll dig into this one more and make it Actionable.
- Your Tuesday morning Daily Review rolls around and you come to this item. You might decide to turn it into a Project: “Complete Team Meeting Slides”, if it’ll take multiple steps to complete. Or it could turn into a single, Actionable todo if you feel you can knock it out in one sitting. That’s what you decide, so the title becomes Actionable: “Complete Team Meeting Slides”, you set the Due Date = Friday. You assign the 😎 Focused Action Tag. You move it to your general 💻 Work Area. You add a checklist of items to the todo that you want to include in the Team Meeting Slides.
- You can either decide to do it Today or leave it in Anytime where you know you’ll have an opportunity to work on it multiple times before Friday.
- If it’s a high priority item, you may decide to block 30 minutes on your Calendar so that you have time dedicated for this specific task. Once scheduled, you can let it go and move on with your day!
6. The Today & Anytime Lists
If you nailed your Weekly & Daily Reviews, you should be able to straight up live in your TODAY List (which should only have a tight list of actionable “Must Dos”). The only other view you should need to visit is the ANYTIME List, and that’s only after you’ve completed all of the todos in your TODAY List … Anytime is where “Bonus Todos” 🎉 hang out!
Back in the day, my Today List was busting at the seems with stuff I had to do today + lots of extra todos that I hoped to get to today. Frankly, it was a hot mess. It seemed that I could never complete everything in my Today List, there was simply too much stuff. The same few todos would start to shift to tomorrow … and the next day … and so it went. It was super defeating.
I’ve since realized that I did this because I wasn’t utilizing the Anytime List to it’s full potential. If I didn’t see the todo dead square in front of me in my Today List, I was afraid I’d forget about it completely. Why was this? Because I didn’t trust my system 🤦♂️.
Once you complete all the “Must Dos” in your Today List, that’s when your Anytime List becomes your new best friend. The Anytime List is chocked full of “Bonus Todos” that are just waiting to be completed! (And IMHO, “Bonus Todos” are way more fun to complete than the “I hope I can get to it today 23rd item on your over-stuffed Today List todo!”).
Go all in on your Anytime List and you’ll make one ginormous stride towards trusting your system! You’ll notice that Anytime continues to pop up … it’s even tied to your success when Scheduling todos …
7. Scheduling Todos & Using Due Dates
Over-scheduling Todos & Your Anytime List
Think for a minute … when you schedule a todo for a future date, what are you solving for? If you really can’t take action on the todo until that date, then great! This is when scheduling is appropriate.
But if you’re really scheduling the todo for a future date because you want it to pop up on your Today List as a reminder … because you’re afraid you may forget about it otherwise … then you’re not using scheduling effectively (and you’re causing yourself other issues). You may not realize it, but you’re missing a huge opportunity to utilize your Anytime List.
By definition, a Scheduled Todo = Any todo you can’t take action on until a specified date in the future.
By definition, the Anytime List = A list of todos that you can take action on … well, Anytime. If you misuse scheduling, you’re inadvertently breaking your Anytime list.
As tempting as it is, I rarely schedule items in Things3, unless I really can’t do something until a specific date in the future. Why? Because during every single Daily Review, I review my Anytime List and I can choose what todos I want to tackle each day. If you trust your system, the Anytime List is an amazingly powerful view where you see all of your todos that you can take action on … Anytime 😃!
Use Due Dates Instead
I’m more apt to use Due Dates than to Schedule Items. A Due Date ensures that a todo will pop up in your Today List when you need to see it, but doesn’t remove it from your Anytime List. When you add a Due Date, you can have the confidence that the todo will magically surface on a specified date (if you did somehow forget about it) … but you can also grab it off your Anytime list and knock it out early if you so choose.
8. Using Tags & Keyboard Shortcuts
Simpler is Better
It’s important to use Tags sparingly and strategically. Why? Because they can add unintended complexity to your productivity system. It’s easy to get lost in Tags and this is one instance where I subscribe to way less is way more.
The only reason Tags exist is so that you can whittle a big list down to a small list so that you can find that one todo you need, when you need it. That’s it. When used consistently, a simple set of Tags are unbelievable powerful! So you should definitely use them, just remember: The only Tags you need are the ones you use to filter your lists.
Since my original Fu Master article, I’ve simplified my Tagging system even more. I found that there were Tags in my system that I never used as a filter … so I deleted them.
I only use three types of Tags
Focus Tags – Every Area in Things3 has ONE Focus Tag
- 💻 Work – All of my work related Areas, Projects & Todos.
- 🏠 Home – Basic boring around the house stuff, projects, errands, reminders, etc.
- 💪 Me – Projects and Todos that are all about ME! Research for my blog, coaching my son’s baseball team, doing an art class with my daughter, etc … inspiring stuff thats fun for me to work on.
- I assign a Focus Tag to every Area in my setup. This way, each Project and subsequent Todo automatically inherit the Tag. It’s then super easy for me to filter any of my Lists to only see todos based on what I want to focus on.
Action Tags – Every Todo has ONE Action Tag (initially assigned during my Daily Review)
- ⚡️Quick – Anything that’ll require low mental effort and will take me less than 10-15 minutes to complete.
- 😎 Focused – Anything that’ll take longer to complete. I use this Tag when bigger picture decisions have already been made and I know it’ll take me 20-30+ minutes to complete the task.
- ✍️ Journal – I use my Journal Tag when there’s a big topic, idea or problem that I need to flush out more. Todos with the Journal Tag require a much deeper level of thought. I use Journaling as a problem solving weapon and it works every time! (More on this in a bit.)
- 🚧 Waiting – Used when I’m waiting on something.
- 🛒 Errand – Stuff I need to do when I’m out and about.
- ☎️ Call – Something I can’t take action on unless I’m engaged with someone else.
People Tags – I have Tags for family, friends and coworkers (anyone I may want to filter a list of Todos by later).
When you pair Keyboard Shortcuts with a tight list of Tags, magic is only a few key strokes away! I have my primary Keyboard Shortcuts set up across the top of my keyboard. This makes it super easy to A) remember what my shortcuts are and B) fly through them when I filter my Anytime List (it’s become total muscle memory at this point).
Revisit my original Productivity Fu Master article to get a closer look at how I use Tags & Keyboard Shortcuts. I tell ya, it’s like magic ✨.
9. Using Bear with Things3
I use Bear for all of things writing, notes, journaling and to track supporting details for my Projects in Things3. I love Bear because it’s super easy to use and has the best UI of all the Notes apps I’ve tried.
A huge perk is that I can save links in Things3 that take me back to my notes in Bear. Bear also has a super flexible tagging system that allows me to keep my Tags consistent between Thing3 and Bear.
I mentioned Journaling … I Journal A LOT. For me, it’s an amazing problem solving weapon. Check out Journal like a BA, Sucka to learn more about how I think about Journaling and for additional details and screen shots regarding how I use Things3 and Bear together.
10. Productivity is the Forcefield
Life is about being in the NOW. Purpose puts you there. Productivity is the forcefield that keeps you there.
Productivity isn’t the end goal, it’s a means to an end. Being productive for the sake of being productive isn’t the point. There has to be a purpose … a Why? behind all of the lists and todos and productivity tools and that constant, incessant desire to be more productive.
If your Inbox sits on top of of your Productivity System, Purpose is the foundation that keeps it upright.
I’ve spent a ton of time Journaling in Bear about “My Why?” I’ve landed on a few areas that are Uber important to me … being a Loving Husband, a Great Dad, a Caring Son, Brother & Friend, an Inspiring Leader, my Health and my Productive w/ a Purpose Blog. I call these “My Why Buckets” and I’ve added them to Things3 as Areas because I want to keep them front a center. I then add Projects & Todos that will help me try to fulfill my purpose for each bucket.
When I do my Daily and Weekly Reviews, I always prioritize a few 💪 ME todos … stuff that’s not Work related, stuff that’s just for ME. I try to keep my Today & Anytime Lists chocked full of them.
In The Why is Your Shark Repellent, I tackle the importance of asking WHY? Why? Because everyone has a Purpose. And when we can confidently trust our Productivity System, we can redirect our our time, energy and focus to the things that are truly important.
From their Inbox to their Daily Review to their Anytime List … A true Pebble Snatching, Productivity Fu Master 🥋👊💥 understands what being Productive with a Purpose is all about.