February 11, 2015
On Saturday, life coach and poet Jeff Zettel took to the stage at the Nomad Summit in Chiang Mai, Thailand, to share his three-part productivity system.
It all boils down to three lists that help Zettel clarify his priorities, translate them into action, and plan his day:
- “Big rocks”: Goals that he wants to achieve in the next three months. Every quarter, Zettel sits down to review his goals and set new ones. This is probably the list you’re least likely to make, but it’s the difference between productivity that seems to get you nowhere and a life that feels authentic and fulfilling.
- This week: Before the week begins, Zettel defines 25 specific tasks that he wants to accomplish in the week ahead. Each one should be tied to a goal on the “big rocks” list, and ideally – to have a more balanced week – you should be taking at least some action on each goal.
- Today: The night before, pick 5 tasks from your weekly list to work on tomorrow.
On top of this, Zettel adds a few techniques that help him improve over time and stay on track:
- A raw ideas list: One of the biggest sources of mental strain is a pack of ideas bouncing around your head, demanding attention. Zettel captures all these ideas on a generic raw ideas list. When it comes time to set his quarterly goals, this list can provide inspiration for new things to work on.
- A weekly review: At the end of every week, Zettel sits down to write 2-4 sentences about how the week went. Did he feel like a productivity badass, or a robot crunching away on mundane tasks? If the latter, maybe he didn’t have enough variety in the tasks he chose for the week.
- The Pomodoro technique: This popular technique involves working for 25 minutes, resting for 5 minutes, repeating that 3 times, then taking a 30-minute break. During the 25-minute sprints, Zettel tries to avoid Facebook, email, and his smartphone.
You can go low-tech and write these lists on paper, but Zettel keeps track of everything on Trello. There, he can simply drag tasks from “This week” to “Today” to “Current Pomodoro,” then mark them as “Done” or “Waiting On” (if another team member needs to take some action).
I started making a daily to-do list in September, and I literally don’t know how I ever got anything done without it. It seems mind-numbingly obvious to have a daily to-do list, but I didn’t. Before, I just had a vague idea of what I wanted to get done every day and would often end the day guilty, compelled to work more. Now, when I cross that last item off my list, I feel a sense of accomplishment that I’ve gotten done what I wanted to do. I can imagine that the results of a productivity system like Zettel’s would be even more mind-blowing.
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