Show Me Your Planners: Our Favorite Books & Tools for Productivity

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Here at the Riot, we frequently compare notes as to books, planners, apps, and techniques on how best to get things done. I thought it was high time we shared some of our favorites with you!

Jenn Northington: Getting Things Done by David Allen + the Bullet Journal

Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity by David AllenI’ve been a GTD nut ever since seeing David Allen speak at a conference, but I confess that I hadn’t read the full book — until the reissue, that is! The new edition takes into account the digital workplace and the abundance of apps, programs, and tools that are out there. But my favorite things about Allen’s advice still holds true. He’s not trying to tell you the one perfect way to work; he’s giving you the principles for how to find your own best workflow. I highly recommend reading this book one chapter a week; it gives you space to reflect on what you’re doing now and how you might want to change it, without feeling like you need to fix everything RIGHT AWAY.

I was introduced to the bullet journal by Our Lady of Productivity Kelly Sue DeConnick, and it’s quickly become my favorite way to organize my personal life. I use a digital program for my work (although I’m in the midst of breaking up with one and finding a new one), but I had always half-neglected the things I needed to do in regular life. TURNS OUT, that is a path to feeling disorganized all the time. Enter the bullet journal: it’s a simple set-up, flexible enough to change what doesn’t work for you, with lots of great hacks and tips from other users available with minimal Googling.

S. Zainab Williams:  The Nerdist Way: How to Reach the Next Level (In Real Life) by Chris Hardwick + Nespresso Machine

thenerdistwayI’m the sort of curmudgeonly cynic who grumbles about people who make scads of cash off common sense and repetition when it comes to productivity books, but I had so much fun creating my Nerdist Way character sheet. This is one of the activities Hardwick proposes to assist you in better understand yourself, your strengths, and weaknesses, and in using this information to take control of your life and figure out what you want to do with it. The book is split into three parts: Mind, Body, and Time, and its target audience is the minutiae nerd who’s striving to identify and pursue her or his passion. While I already knew what I wanted to pursue when I acquired this book, I did find the time management section helpful in addition to having fun with the character sheet.

I’m not even being facetious here. If I was a dwarf, my name would be Sleepy. I work a full-time job so all of my side jobs and freelance work, including all of the reading I get done, happens in the evening when I’m already world-weary. Going to cafés is fun and all, but my life changed when I bought my beautiful Nespresso machine. Espresso shots all day long! Now I can curl up with a good book or sit down to write with a hot, crema-topped Americano and without the fear of falling asleep before I hit pan on my task list.

Kim Ukura: Manage Your Day-to-Day: Build Your Routine, Find Your Focus and Sharpen Your Creative Mind, edited by Jocelyn K. Glei + Todoist

Manage Your Day to DayThis short book is a collection of brief essays by “leading creative minds” about how they structure their day to make time for creative work. It’s broken up into four sections – building a rock-solid routine, finding focus in a distracted world, taming your tools, and sharpening your creative mind – that encompass a variety of different challenges. Nothing in the book is rocket science, but I like it because it shows how real people have developed strategies for productivity and offers their tips up in digestible pieces.

There are a lot of online to do list apps and websites, but Todoist is my absolute favorite. It syncs across a ton of platforms, so I can pull it up anywhere I am to check on projects. It’s easy and intuitive to add tasks, and it has a lot of great ways to indicate recurring tasks. I also love that you can turn emails or websites into tasks, so they’re easy to get back to. The design is beautiful and it works wonderfully.

Jessica Tripler: Day Designer 

Day DesignerI’ve always loved planners, but stopped using them when I started using Omnifocus, a personal task manager built on the principles of GTD. The thing is, I still need that quiet time in the morning with coffee, pen, and paper to focus and plan my day. The Day Designer has a page for each day with hourly schedule (beginning at 5:00am!), to do list, “today’s top three”, extra room for notes, an inspirational quote, and space for daily gratitude. It’s expensive and, at two pounds, heavy, but you can buy streamlined, more affordable versions at Target. With a gorgeous classic design, the Day Designer offers the middle ground I wanted between the aesthetically bereft business-type planner, and the more colorful, customizable planners (washi! markers! stickers!) that make me feel like a failed crafter.

Nikki Steele: Getting Things Done by David Allen + Remember the Milk

I’ll echo everything Jenn has already said about GTD. It’s an amazing book that is simple in its message, but quite life-changing in its application. As she noted, read it slow. Also, feel free to tackle only a few of his suggestions at a time. You don’t have to be a GTD wizard from the very start! (Allen also mentions a process for doing this in the new update.) Incorporating the 2-minute rule into your life and writing all tasks down in *some* system as soon you have them will be enough to get you started on some serious zen-like productivity.

Remember the Milk keeps all of my shit in one place. It auto-loads when I open up my web browser in the morning so I can add notes all day. It’s dynamic, allowing me to create repeatable tasks, add priorities, create notes, assign to different work lists, etc. I can also access it from my phone or tablet as I have other things that come to mind during the day. It’s not as complex as other electronic task management systems, which I appreciate, but it’s enough to manage multiple clients and house tasks and writing tasks and such. (Also, for those of you with your own small business, do check out FreshBooks! Invoicing and time tracking and expenses and eeeeee!)

Angel Cruz: Muji planner/pens

Muji planner and pensI’ve always been a pen-and-paper person — the connection of ink to a blank sheet keeps me grounded and the action of writing things down helps me remember things. I used to be a Moleskine lady, but I wanted to try and find something a little less expensive to use for 2016. Enter Muji, the Japanese retailer with an excellent and minimalist stationery collection. I’m currently using their A5 suede diary, which is compact enough to fit into my smallest purse and pretty enough that I rarely keep it inside my bag during the day. The layout is similar enough to Moleskine’s planners that I didn’t have to adjust too much in how I write out my daily plans, and the paper is much better quality. I use a few Muji colored pens to color-code different tasks and personal notes, and I decorate with washi tape to liven up the cream pages. Weekly pages alternate with blank grid pages, and I use the space and my pens to organize tasks based on what they’re for (e.g. Book Riot gets a blue heading, my own blog gets purple).

Andi Miller: Guiltless Reading’s Inbox Zero

The Inbox Zero challenge post finally gave me the kick in the butt I needed to have absolutely NO EMAIL in my inbox. I spent some time filing important things away in keeper folders. I searched by topic to weed out things I thought I might need for reference. Then I set a date. Everything 2014 and before had to go! The rest could be weeded through. Now I’m onto the stage of creating multiple inboxes for multiple purposes and priorities. Sometimes you just need a shove in the right direction.


Tell us, because we really (REALLY, really) want to know: what are yours?