401-423-2400 Kristin@Zhivago.com

Personal productivity – three lists that will change your life

RoadmapToRevenue-Productivity[1]All of us struggle to get our to-do list done every day. And we all know that we should be spending more time on the “important” than the “urgent.” Not to mention being plagued by distractions, swarming around us like gnats in a swamp.

Yep. Got it. But finding a solution isn’t so easy.

I recently tried out a new method that is really making a difference in my own life. As usual, if I discover that something works, I’m eager to share it with you.

What I’ve started doing is using three 5×8 yellow legal pads. The fact that they are yellow pads is insignificant, although they do seem to be the right size for the way I’m using them.

One pad has “revenue work” on it – work I’m doing for clients. This is the most important work I do every day, and I want to get it done first. I suppose you could think of this as your Important Work pad. It’s the work that you are responsible for generating – your output.

The second pad has “all the other work” on it. These are the things I need to do to promote my business and my new book (like how I got that link in there? haha), administrative work such as accounting and taxes, stuff I have to do to keep our personal lives humming along nicely, and so on. I think of this as my “Other Work” pad.

These two pads live in a little zipper binder I got recently when attending a client’s user group meeting. The Important Work pad is on the right, and the Other Work pad is on the left. I keep these pads in front of me on my copy stand (my dual monitors are at eye height, the copy stand is just below, and my keyboard is in front of the copy stand). I use a copy stand because there are times when I refer to something printed (not as often as I used to, of course), and having the printed piece right there under the monitor is perfect, ergonomically.

Now I’m finding that having these two lists in front of me at all times keeps me much more focused and productive – and more aware than ever of all the Important Work that must be done. When I finish a task, I look first at the Important Work pad, choose the next thing I should get done, and go for it.

The third pad is my Distractions pad. As I’m working on the important things, I keep this pad just to the right of my mouse. If I get a distracting thought – no matter what it is – I write it down on that Distractions pad. It could be an idea I have, something I need to remember to do, the desire to click over to a news site, or even to check my email.

The point is, I don’t stop what I’m doing to pursue the distraction – but I also don’t lose the thought if it is something I want to take care of later. It’s written down, and I can go back to work. It’s interesting, by the way, to see what distracts you most. That alone is helpful information about your habits and how you can improve your productivity.

The Distractions pad can also help you when someone comes into your office asking you to address something for them. Write it down, tell them you will get back to them, thank them, and go back to work.

You can also add things to your Important Work pad and Other Work pad as you are working. Having these three pads in front of you covers all the categories of thoughts that you must capture and act on later.

Of course all this could be done electronically, but the trick would be having these lists “open” and easily added to, at all times. In other words, they would have to be all visible at a glance. Using an iPad for this comes to mind, but I’d want a dedicated screen for each one.

In any case, if you have a solution to doing this electronically, do tell.



  1. I don’t know about Windows because we don’t have any of those machines around here, but on a Mac it’s easy:
    Open three Sticky Note windows, put a title on each one and you have your three lists. You can double click the top bar to collapse each one to a single bar with it’s title on it to save screen space if you want (double click again to expand the note).


  2. Awesome, thanks, Jerry. Yes, EVERYTHING is easier on a Mac…

  3. Trying out new methods is always a great thing. I like David Allen’s book “Getting Things Done”; it’s a productivity system that uses file folders under specific headings (i.e. similar to the notebooks you described). I’ve been working through the system for the last 2+ years and created a hybrid that allows me the flexibility to use a paper-based component (I like to draw ideas, computer won’t replace that part) OR an electronic component… not both at the same time, but very, very integrated. Since you’re looking to do something electronic, I’m going to get back to you: I recently read the 4-hour workweek and I think Tim Ferriss mentions an online tool that he finds useful; I’ll find out what it is and let you know.

  4. Thanks Monica! Appreciate the input!
    Looked at the site you recommended, and am familiar with the 4-day workweek concept/book, but wondered if you wanted to steer us to a more specific link? Did find this one, thought it might be useful:


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