What are your productivity tools? originally appeared on Quora: the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world.

Answer by Anna-Katrina Shedletsky, CEO at Instrumental, former Apple Watch Product Design Lead, on Quora:

Even though I've worked on gadgets and technology my entire professional life, I'm actually a pretty analog person. I'm incredibly productive, and as a startup founder I have to be, but I believe that comes more from systems and self-awareness than it does from specific tools.

My best to do list? Post-its. I have tried all sorts of digital lists that could be on all of my devices, and they just don't work for me. I forget to check them. I even forget to check notes I take in a notebook. But one post-it, stuck to the bottom left corner of my laptop, with a by-day due date list of things I've got to do where I can physically cross stuff out? That works. It feels great to recycle the whole post-it, and then I can start on a new one.

Email hacks? Like many, I struggle with email: keeping up with it, remembering to come back to respond to stuff that needs time, etc. I got some formal training on how to "do email" (and I'm not embarrassed to admit it). I use the Apple Mail client, but these tactical takeaways work for any email arrangement:

  1. Do a first pass to archive (attach it to a hotkey), delete, and flag.
  2. Use color coded flags. I use flags based on actions, urgency, and who's going to handle what:
    1. Purple: Priority 1. Absolutely urgent, do first.
    2. Red: Response needed (general)
    3. Green: Response needed (sales -- green for money!)
    4. Blue: Response needed but someone else is going to handle it (as a way to check in)
    5. Grey: Response needed (extra-curricular)
  3. Keeping an inbox under control takes time. Step 1 and Purple-flagged emails are a good thing to squeeze into the context-switching times that happen throughout the day - but the rest takes actual time so plan for it.

My other productivity tool is my own self-awareness of what works well for me. You can do the same for yourself. Some things to think about:

  • What conditions are best for you to work under? I get a little extra pep from feeling like I'm getting ahead on work, and procrastinating makes me stressed and stress makes me slow. So I try to do stuff early and in advance, when possible.
  • Figure out when you have the most energy and do the hardest stuff then. I get a burst of energy from 9-12 every day, and again from 4-8PM. I spend the low-energy hours doing things that require less mental creativity, like walking 1:1s, emails, etc. I'm not an early riser and have strong circadian rhythms, so even waking up 30 minutes earlier can impact me the whole day. I try to avoid that when possible.
  • Know your limits. I can, but should not, do more than 4 sales, investor, or candidate interviews in one day. My brain gets fried. Now I know that about myself, and try to schedule accordingly.

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Published on: Jun 19, 2019