My favorite part of building software is that I get to help people focus on what they’re good at, by using computers to do what people suck at. One of the reasons I was so happy to come on board as BatchBook’s Product Manager is that I was joining a group with a strong hold on that sensibility.
We all want to believe that our memories are like steel traps, our communications are always crystal clear, and our relationships are totally under control, but there’s a lot of power in seeking a little help from your computer, even in these squishy human topics.
One such area that I’ve been giving a lot of thought to lately is personal productivity. I wish I could say I was a naturally productive person, but I’ve begrudgingly come to realize that my mind is no match for a pen and paper, nevermind a good software system, when it comes to some tasks. At last month’s NewBCamp conference, I gave a talk about some abstract tools that have helped me keep at least a little more focused, and I’d like to share some of those ideas with you.
One approach that has made a huge difference in my own productivity is having good a good system of buckets. (Bear with me!) The buckets are just trusted places to keep your stuff, and the system is so that you can remember what bucket your various stuff is in. BatchBook’s Communications tab is a great example of a bucket that works for both individuals and groups. If you don’t already have a convenient and trusted place to put this information, you might be amazed at how much time and mental energy you spend in a day just figuring out where all your stuff is. On the other hand, when you have confidence that you can find all of your team’s communications and stop worrying about keeping track of everything mentally, your mind is free to stay focused on the task at hand.
Another great advantage of using buckets is making your priorities explicit. For example, having all of my tasks waiting for me in BatchBook’s To-Do list gives me a single view into all the things on my plate, which makes it easier to see what most needs my full attention. I’ve been practicing Merlin Mann’s Inbox Zero approach for a while, which not only helps me ensure that all my To-Dos are in one place (i.e. not buried deep within my inbox), but also removes a certain “urgency confusion.” Dealing with things as they come in can screw with your sense of priorities. New stuff that comes in can feel more important than it is. Of course, some interruptions are necessary, so you may never be able to isolate yourself from them entirely. But you can definitely limit the impact that unnecessary interruptions have, when you know exactly what bucket to dump them into. This improves the quality of the time spent on the things you decide to do, but also helps you make better decisions about what to work on, when you re-visit your buckets’ contents at an appropriate time.
Communications and To-Dos are just the basic stuff that every BatchBook user is already acquainted with. But you probably have a lot of loose info that’s specific to your needs. This is where BatchBook’s flexibility really shines. BatchBook’s SuperTags let you build your own buckets that perfectly fit your workflow now, and can adapt as your work changes in the future. Adam recently wrote about one example of such a system that super-user dcis-steve built for managing projects. While I happen to think that’s a particularly good system (seriously, check it out if you’re into David Allen’s GTD system), the take-home point is that any BatchBook user has the ability to make things work that well for their own situation.
There are many different approaches to organizing your buckets, but the most important thing is that you have a system that you trust and actually use. When you stop using your buckets for everything, they are not nearly as effective, because you can’t trust them to contain the information you need.
As always, we’d love to hear how you’re using BatchBook to lessen your mental burdens, and what we can do to help you continue kicking more ass at the things you really want to do.