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10 Ways to Be Productive and Organize Time

"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 manage my life to get it all done!”

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 via productive procrastination.

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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Sunday 30th of March 2014

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!


Sunday 30th of March 2014

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

productivity hack #3: no cherry-picking

Monday 4th of March 2013

[...] 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 [...]

TGIF: Best of the Web July 6, 2012 | Trail*Licious

Sunday 6th of January 2013

[...] 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. [...]


Friday 29th of June 2012

Such a great post! Just what I needed now.

Andrew Liongosari

Saturday 19th of May 2012

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?


Saturday 19th of May 2012

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!

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