Steal My #1 Productivity Secret

If you've worked with me before, you know I get stuff done. That's kind of my thing.

But I don't think I do anything special. Everything I do, you can do for yourself. It's just a matter of setting yourself up for success.

In the fall of 2009, I worked for a psychologist at his home office. He was re-releasing his book which was how I got involved. I ended up learning a lot about how to do research and the process that goes into scientific publications. But what made the most impression on me is what he called the "Dead Intern Rule".

Whenever he got a new intern, he set us up with our own spiral notebook and instructed us to use a single page for each day and write out all the tasks we got through. And before we left for the day, we were to turn the page and write out a list of the things we intended to do the next time we came in.

I thought this was kind of a pointless exercise (what a waste of paper, right?) until he explained the story behind it. There was an intern that had worked for him. One day, she left work as she usually did. But on the way home, she got in a car accident and passed away.

Obviously, that was an incredibly sad incident for all involved. But what he discovered in the aftermath and why this rule came to be, is that he and the other people who were working in his business at that time had no idea what she was working on and how to pick up where she left off.

I've told this story over and over again to my own assistants and interns because it makes so much sense when you hear it. If you died today, would anyone be able to pick up where you left off?

I worked for the psychologist for a year and that year was long enough to cement this habit. Almost nine years later, I still use the notebook method. One because I enjoy the satisfaction of crossing things off and two because that list that is made at the end of the day is almost entirely responsible for my productivity.

The notebook method works so well for me because I don't have to be at my best when I sit down to work. And I don't have to waste time figuring out what I need to do. I already have an entire list of tasks written out before me. And with the kind of work I do, it often does not much matter what I start with as long as I start with something.

These days, I use Trello to keep myself organized.

Trello is a free collaboration tool with assorted paid power-ups. It's available as a desktop and mobile app for iOS and Android. I'll let the folks at Trello explain how it works:

"Imagine a white board, filled with lists of sticky notes, with each note as a task for you and your team. Now imagine that each of those sticky notes has photos, attachments from other data sources like BitBucket or Salesforce, documents, and a place to comment and collaborate with your teammates. Now imagine that you can take that whiteboard anywhere you go on your smartphone, and can access it from any computer through the web. That's Trello!" 

What's great about Trello is that unlike other freemium products, the free version is pretty much all you need. You get one free power-up with your account. The one I like is called Card Repeater. You can also pay for any additional ones that you want, but I have never felt the need to go beyond Card Repeater.

One of the first things I do when I sit down at my desk to work is to open up Trello and organize the tasks on my list into the order I feel like they should be done in or that I want to do them in. If I have to write content, I'll probably put that a little further down the list - got to wait for the caffeine to work its magic. I can start with something simple like reading the emails from last night. Or if I have to do something easy like resend a file or edit the mistakes a client pointed out to me, I'll do that because I don't need to think very hard.

The most important thing is that I get started. Newton's First Law of motion is that objects in motion stay in motion. The same is true of productive people. I have found that once you start checking tasks off, you build your momentum and continue checking tasks off your list.

Note: this is the SAME list you conveniently created for yourself the day before.  So you don't need to think, just do!

As the day wears on, I'll think of new things that need to be done or receive new instructions and I'll keep adding tasks for myself. There is no end to the master to do list, only an end to the to do today list. That's where the paper copy and physically crossing things out help - it gives you that sense of accomplishment. The master to do list is kept digitally on the computer (which is helpful because I have terrible handwriting) and the to do today list is a handwritten paper copy that I get to scribble on. When I'm done working for the day, I always close out by making sure I have tomorrow's list ready to go so when I come back to my work station, I know exactly what I need to do.

Now, I wanted to give you guys a special gift! I made a public Trello board for you to check out that is set up exactly how I use Trello in my business. So, not only am I sharing my number one productivity secret with you, I'm showing you how to use it, too! All you have to do is click the button below to get access to my demo board!