The overarching theme of my goals this year is to stay more focused. It requires consistently organizing and de-cluttering my schedule and mind. Knowing that this was going to be the case, I started honing in on a productivity stack in late 2018 that allowed me to spend time on deeper work.
After a few weeks of tuning, and months of experimenting with different products, I think I’ve stumbled upon a setup that works really well and wanted to share. In addition to my email and calendar, below are the products that I’m finding I’ve worked really well to help keep me moving forward with purpose.
I’ve been using Airtable on and off for the last year or so, but the improvements they’ve made in usability over the last 6 months have turned me into a more loyal user.
The most useful thing I’ve built in Airtable is my Personal Relationship Manager (see above). I think of this as a happy medium between LinkedIn and my iOS contact list and the result is a curated professional network.
One of my favorite ways to use the database is the “needs” column on the contacts tab. This allows me to track the needs of my network in a quantitative way while also making better connections that are deeper than “you two should meet” across my network.
Most of the columns and tabs are self-explanatory, but one of the best features within Airtable is the ability to link multiple tables/records across a database with just a few clicks. For example, I have a “Companies” tab and an “Interactions” tab that are used for this purpose.
- Companies: This is just a basic list all of the companies my contacts are connected with. The easiest way to do this is pulling a CSV (link) from your LinkedIn account and add the companies column from the resulting spreadsheet. This allows me to create a linked field in both the “Contacts” and “Interactions” tabs which is useful if contacts have multiple companies or interactions include multiple companies in attendance.
- Interactions (the magic): Here is where I record all of the meetings I have with my contacts. Again, most of the fields are self-explanatory, but I’ve also included a hand-written notes column. There’s nothing like pen and paper in a meeting to show people you’re engaged and disconnected from your device plus it’s my preferred method of notetaking with a few exceptions like annotating decks or PDFs. I simply include a picture of my notes on the row once it’s over. If you take notes in something like Evernote or OneNote you could include a link to those notes instead.
Airtable is great for a multitude of things, but this is my favorite use case and highlights its flexibility extremely well. It’s also a great tool for project management and the site has several preformatted bases that you can customize to fit your needs.
A few months ago, I purchased a Microsoft Surface Go (link) and as a result, I’ve migrated from Evernote to OneNote. I’m as surprised as anyone that I actually favor the latter over the former.
Microsoft did a fantastic job developing the stylus for the Surface and OneNote’s freeform nature allows me to take advantage including annotating PDF’s as I mentioned above. Additionally, I like the overall layout of the app much better than Evernote because it feels more like Google Docs and Word.
I use the following notebook structure:
- My Notes – think Cabinet or Inbox in the GTD method, but more organized. I have sections in the notebook for Ian, articles useful for startups that I share regularly with founders, podcast notes, email templates plus a few more that are personalized to my work style.
- Kindle Notes – I occasionally read on Kindle and after I complete a book I clip the notes into OneNote (link). This makes the notes more readily accessible as well as searchable.
- Saved Tweets – I set up an IFTTT integration to have all of my linked tweets sent to OneNote with the primary goal of having them be searchable. It also acts as a bookmark system for tweets.
- Saved Articles – see above but with Pocket
- Diligence – resources and templates for performing due diligence on prospective companies
- Portfolio Companies – see above but for portfolio companies. This is where I track board and touch base notes as well.
OneNote still has some work to do on recognizing handwriting for the “ink-to-text” feature and searching notes that are scanned in from handwritten work. However, it is actually really great for most things. And speaking of things…
Things3 has become my default to-do list manager and I’ve tried just about all of them. Unfortunately, Things is available only on Mac devices but that hasn’t stopped me from becoming a power user.
The ability to email your to your to-do list (hint: create a contact) and the integrated calendar view are easily the two best features of Things. The “Today” and “Upcoming” lists will not only bring in the tasks you need to get done today but also your meetings which provides a holistic look at the time period ahead.
My to-do list is largely tasks that have come from email or one-line thoughts/tasks that come into my head randomly so my to-do isn’t where the details of the work come together. That’s where I use OneNote. For example, let’s say I had this post as a to-do. In Things, it would be under my “blog” list as “Productivity Stack” then the article itself is written in OneNote.
This is probably more than anyone cares to know about the way I work, but I’ve always been a fan of sites like Lifehacker and My Morning Routine that highlight how others go about their days.
Hopefully sharing this post, and the granular boring details that go with it will help prevent others from going through the hassle of tinkering with a setup for months like I’ve done previously and allow them to focus GTD rather than reading about how to GTD.