Jan 272012
"Balancing" on the walkway of Old Town, Shanghai, China.

"Balancing" on the walkway of Old Town, Shanghai, China.

“Argh!” my friend emailed, “How are you able to juggle all your work and social and fitness obligations??”

“Help me organize my life!”

In the email I wrote back to her, I realized that I have, indeed, honed a set of concrete Life Juggling strategies that have enabled me to get a ton done (click here for examples of uber-productivity) while still staying sane.

Allow me to share these productivity tricks with you now, as you may find some useful. Accompanying these tips are some unrelated (but still delightful!) photos from Old Town in Shanghai, China this summer.

Feel free to share your own organization and productivity tips in the Comments section!

Productivity Trick 1: Variety. I juggle about 12 different obligations, along with necessities like exercise and fun time. Because each of these things is very different but very important, when I’m sick of one and want to procrastinate, I can just work on another, and still be productive. Further, several of them are true passions (especially this blog), so doing them is a joy!

The famous Tea House in Old Town... across from a Starbucks!

The famous Tea House in Old Town... across from a Starbucks!

Trick 2: Put your To Do List on specific Google Cal days, not a list. I live by my Google Calendar, and it is also my To Do list. I’ve found this much more effective than a separate To Do list because it’s more in-your-face and concrete.

The moment I realize I need to do something (ex: “Do Teach Plus Homework“) or make a plan or appointment (“Doctor, 3pm“) I whip out my iPhone and enter the item directly on a day.

When a day is over and there are items I don’t complete, I drag them onto the next day. If they get dragged too often, I may decide they’re not worth it and delete them, or force myself and get them done at last, or ask for help with them.

For extra important Google Cal items, I set up email reminders– sometimes even multiple email reminders if the event is particularly important, or I’ve forgotten it in the past.

Inside Old Town's famous Tea House. Beautiful! And expensive.

Inside Old Town's famous Tea House. Beautiful! And expensive.

Trick 3: Use Gmail Labels to Create a Secondary To Do List. I use Labels for my Gmail, which help filter and schedule my time.

The most important label is “A-Respond-To” (which has an “A” in front so it’s at the top of the Labels list).

What’s useful about this is it allows me to read email, and if I don’t have time to respond or follow up right then, I can mark it “A-Respond-To” and get to it later, rather than re-marking it unread and uncategorized. Then, several times a day, I filter to the “A-Respond-To” labeled items and respond to or act on them, then can remove them from that label. This functions as a different type of To Do list, and does not get repeated in the Google Cal.

A mother and son in Old Town watch the pretty fish.

A mother and son in Old Town watch the fish in the pond.

With this, I use sub-labels of, for example, EdTech Conference Planning or “Meet, Plan, Go Events,” which I can filter to when I need to pull out emails on that responsibility. Some emails have several labels.

Trick 4: Don’t waste a minute. I use every free second to do something. This goes back to Trick #1; when I need a break from grading papers, I write a blog post. This does not, however, mean to never relax, because…

Trick 5: Make sure to schedule in some fun and relaxation! I’ve learned this year that fun, date nights, and exercise need to be scheduled in the calendar too, and honored just as meetings are! You don’t need to be totally robotic about it to the point where you kill spontaneity, but if you see you have a persistent complaint that, for example, “I never see my friend Bertha!” call her up and make a few concrete meetup dates that you both get in your calendar. Anyway, we’ll never be productive if we’re miserable and lonely and out of shape. Fun and fitness must be included in life balance!

One of many cool passageways in Shanghai's Old Town.

One of many cool passageways in Shanghai's Old Town.

Trick 6: Get others to make you work. I ask loved ones to hold me accountable for getting certain things done, and give them permission to yell at me if I don’t.

What also works is to tell a lot of people what I’m doing, so they’ll harass me about the tasks, and whether I have to have done them yet. One reason I’m so active on Facebook and Twitter is because having an audience helps me perform!

Trick 7: Use Google Docs magic for project and event organization. I adore Google Docs and Spreadsheets and use them for everything from wedding and honeymoon planning (!) to organizing blog ideas for my websites, to curriculum design. These Docs and Spreadsheet can be shared with others for collaborative work and added efficiency.

Trick 8: “Throw your hat over the wall,” thus forcing yourself to climb onward. Buy a ticket and then plan later how you’ll do the trip. Tell someone you’ll have something done by a certain time who you know will be furious if you don’t. It works! “Someday” won’t make the exciting stuff happen. 🙂

Love this photo of a woman in Old Town and statue!

Love this photo of a woman and statue in Old Town!

Trick 9: Consider weird places to work. Sometimes I hole up in Logan Airport or South Station! And cafes and houses of productive friends are great, too. I also work at home a lot, in very strange physical positions. Kneeling on the floor works well for me to write… while eating Greek yogurt with chia seeds and listening to cheesy 80s songs.

Trick 10: Surround yourself with workaholics. We’re fun people, AND we help you get stuff done! It’s a lot easier to be productive when there’s peer pressure to work, versus pressure to watch TV. One of my favorite activities is working side-by-side with beloved folks.

So those are my “Getting It All Done” secrets. I hope you find some of these strategies for productivity and organization useful. Do leave comments saying if and how they work for you, plus any additional organizational tricks YOU use, yourself!

If Old Town can balance Starbucks with historic buildings and masses of tourists, we can balance our lives!

If Old Town can balance Starbucks with historic buildings and tons of tourists, we can balance our lives!


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  39 Responses to “10 Ways to Become Extremely Productive and Organized”

  1. It might be my age, but I always worry bout using an online calendar, although I keep meaning to try it because the benefits are obvious. I worry that I won’t be able to get online and then I will be totally at a loss. In fact, where I was last, on a smallish, very mountainous island, it wouldn’t have worked at all, because my internet access was so poor! That or I would have spent an awful lot of money in the bars I used already for wifi!

    • Valid points! The online calendar really does only work well with solid internet access, which is not a given in many places.

  2. […] on scraps of paper to putting my tasks into specific days into Tasks on my Google Calendar like Around the World L, but my priorities aren’t defined clearly. I have a bunch of tasks that I just keep moving […]

  3. […] 4. Lillie Marshall (a Meet Plan Go! Host from Boston), from Around the World “L” has given us her 10 tips to becoming extremely organized and productive. […]

  4. Such a great post! Just what I needed now.

  5. I can’t disagree with any of these tricks, except for #9. #3 is especially effective for me as I proved when I switched between my blog, my school work, and social life. I doubt #9. How can you work when you’re in weird places?

    • Solidarity in the excitement of multitasking! I will pop over and hang out at your blog now.
      To answer why it helps to work in weird places: it just adds this element of hilarity and thrill that is absent if you always go to the same old couch or cafe!

  6. You are sooooooo much more organized than I am! Luckily, I have Mary to help me remember that my head is attached to a body, and that it occasionally needs to be screwed on a little tighter!

  7. […] 10 Ways to Become Extremely Productive and Organized by Around the World L […]

  8. This is a resource I so desperately need.


  9. These tips are really helpful. The only problem that I have is that I procrastinate A LOT and I am not organized. When I know I need to do something I usually put reminders on my phone just like you do. 🙂

  10. It really helped me a lot. I never knew that Google could be so useful.

  11. There are some great nuggets of advice in here. I love the Google Cal idea and just started implementing it. Also love getting people to hold you accountable. Excellent point to improve productivity. Thanks for the helpful post!

  12. My favorite is trick 9, where you could work in a weird place. Just saying, that would so be me.

  13. In the first picture, you’re like the only one not holding an umbrella. Today many people still use umbrellas as sunscreen. =]

  14. On the first picture, I love how almost everyone is holding an umbrella, while you’re not. But why are they holding an umbrella when it’s a sunny day?

    • Good question! In much of Asia, people (especially women) use umbrellas as sunscreen! It works pretty well… I should have bought one, because it was HOT AND BRIGHT!

  15. […] myself to be more “flirting with disaster” when dealing with a project or deadline. But Lillie’s tips on getting organized are great for everyone, whether or not you are on the road or still in your cube. Also, buy Getting […]

  16. This article was very interesting for me to read. I will use your helpful tips, well maybe more of them when I get older.

  17. Awesome tips! I totally agree that variety helps me be more productive. 2 other things I swear by:

    1) There’s this strategy called the “Pomodoro Technique” where you set a timer for 25 minutes – when it goes off, you get up and take a 5 minute break. I was reluctant at first, but it actually makes you *so* much more productive in the long run.

    2) There are always going to be those annoying, mundane tasks to do (for me, it’s grading papers)…so why not turn it into a game? I like seeing how quickly I can grade papers while still leaving helpful comments, and then I try to break my old record! Little rewards help too 🙂

  18. I am sort of organized, but these tips will help me!

  19. This is very interesting. This can help me a lot.

  20. Staying on top of everything is always tricky. Great tips though. I’m still new to google’s apps but I have a look at those later for sure. Thanks for organising my week a bit more.

  21. I like all these ideas. I do like to procrastinate. I’ll be honest about that. After school, I like to go eat then start to do my homework. Everyone keeps asking me, “Why do you always do your homework early? You nerd.” I just say, “I don’t want to do it later. I need my sleep and I want more time to be on the computer and Facebook. Plus, I have nothing to do now so why not try to get most of my homework done?” At home, I don’t have to stress out on doing my homework late or in the morning. I don’t use my studies for the homework the day before because I like to use my study for that day’s homework so I don’t do more at home. It also helps to lighten my bag.

    • YES! Other students should learn from you, Christine! I became a MUCH happier teacher when I began to finish and set up everything for the next day RIGHT after school, so that I can have free evenings. Great minds think alike!

    • You know whats funny Christine I do the same exact thing! Lol XD o_O

  22. We met at the December Meet,Plan,Go Boston meetup and I was incredibly curious how you were able to stay on top of everything on your plate… now I know!

    Have you ever read David Allen’s “Getting Things Done”? He discusses very similar email organizational tips that I definitely used when I was working in an office… thanks for reminding me how helpful “A Respond Later” email folder can be! Definitely going to start using that for personal emails now (only used it at work before).

    • It was so great to meet you at the MPG Boston meetup, and I see you two have left now for your RTW adventure!!! So exciting!!!

      I haven’t read “Getting Things Done,” but thanks for the tip.

      Enjoy your travels, and be in touch! You’re an inspiration to the Boston travel community!

  23. Great article. Turns out I do some of these but having them validated gives me ‘permission’ to work as I choose.

  24. The pictures are so random. -.-

    • Grrr! Well I like them and wanted to use them somehow, but didn’t have much to write about Old Town, Shanghai, except that it is beautiful and super-touristy, and we were there for two hours! 🙂

    • What does that have to do with organization? It’s not as if Shanghai is the most organized town in the world.

  25. I need to use these tips more often because I am so angry when I am not organized. I really like the idea of Google Calender. I will try to use it.

    • Google Calendar is basically an online agenda book, and you can access it from any Smartphone or computer with internet access!

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