I love productivity–but in a peculiar way. I love exploring productivity techniques and learning more about why we work the way we do. But there is a large chunk of productivity culture that makes my blood boil.
If you took a look down my daily digest emails from Medium, you would see a list of stories with titles like this:
- 7 things productive people do before 8am
- 3 ways to write articles fasters
- How [insert random thing here] changed my life
- The 5-step method I used to make 6-figures
- How to get more done every day
- 6 things you should stop doing right now to be more productive
I love reading articles like this, but there’s a trick to it: you have to remember that no single piece is going to hold the magic wand that will help you get your shit together.
And this is really where I start getting annoyed.
Most productivity articles claim that if you follow their steps, it will work for you, too. And that if it doesn’t, it’s because you’re lazy or you didn’t try hard enough.
Well, guess what? Young, white, abled men write most productivity advice. So guess who it’s going to work best for?
While I could pick apart a lot of productivity advice I’ve seen over the years, I’m sharing three today that I find to be toxic and wish would just disappear from the productivity landscape.
Are you ready? Let’s go!
Let’s start with the most obvious one. If you’ve followed my work for very long, you’ve probably heard me get up on my soapbox about this one.
I can’t stand it, and it’s pervasive not just in productivity culture but also in personal finance.
There’s this idea that you should be willing to sacrifice a few years of your life to cushion the rest of it.
And I just can’t get behind that anymore. I speak from personal experience on this one.
Hustle culture quickly leads to burnout, poor health, and damaged relationships.
It comes down to the fact that time is not a renewable resource and other things are more important than money.
And the most toxic part of it all is the assumption that when you reach your “goal,” you can just shut the hustle culture off.
That once you reach six or seven figures, you can just relax on the beach with a cocktail, and the hustling is all over.
Instead of participating in hustle culture, I’m all about sustainable productivity. And that’s not to be confused with slow growth. You can grow quickly and sustainably.
It’s a commitment to prioritizing all of the essential parts of your life. I won’t feed you some myth about balance–you’ll never really be able to show up equally in every aspect of your life at once. But you can grow a business, spend time with your family, and take care of yourself.
Yes, there’s power in having a singular, laser-like focus on your business goals, but it drains your life of everything else.
I’ll take a joyful life and a thriving business, thank you very much.
The 5am Club
First, let me preface this by saying I am a total morning person. I love the peaceful quiet of 5am. From 5am-8am, my brain is like a well-oiled machine that pumps out amazing ideas and can focus.
But I hate the “5am Club” culture–this belief that to be successful, you have to wake up early, and if you’re not willing to do so, you must be exceedingly lazy or not care about your goals.
Sure, the early bird may get the worm, but that night owl is getting some pretty tasty treats of his own.
I could go on for ages about why I disagree with this advice and find it toxic, but the big reason is that it fails to consider individual needs.
We’re all wired differently and have a different set of circumstances.
Women, in particular, are hurt by this toxic advice. Unlike men, our energy cycles do not work on a 24-hour rotation. Even if we default to being a morning person, there are simply times when it’s not feasible or healthy.
Get enough sleep and work when it feels good. Accept that even if you are a morning person, you won’t always see 5am and that what feels good one week might not the next.
Give yourself some grace and accept that “one size fits all” productivity advice probably won’t fit you unless you’re a young, white, abled male.
This is possibly the most toxic of all of the productivity advice because it comes implied in every word of it:
If a technique or strategy isn’t working for you, it’s because you’re not trying hard enough.
Beneath every piece written on productivity advice is the assumption that it will work for you if you have enough discipline and want it bad enough.
It’s the most toxic and ablist piece of productivity culture. And it bit me in the ass for years.
There are plenty of other reasons something isn’t working and “trying harder” or beating yourself up over your perceived lack of discipline doesn’t fix it.
This is especially true if you are neuro-diverse, have health conditions, or have many other obligations (like kids).
View every piece of productivity advice through the lens of your own life and needs. There is no such thing as the perfect productivity routine that will work for anyone.
Save yourself a ton of energy and heartache by understanding that from the beginning and working to understand what rhythms work best for you during this season of your life.
And then combine giving yourself grace and understanding with seeking out and asking for the type of help you truly need.
Instead of beating yourself up for not having self-discipline, consider arranging the accountability you need to get things done.
You’ll find productivity peace when you stop trying to cram yourself into other people’s boxes–especially since most of those boxes were built with privilege.
Looking for Accountability?
The doors to Productive Shift, my 5-week accountability program for creative entrepreneurs are open until September 18th (or spots fill up, whichever comes first). Click here to learn more.
If you do a quick google search for “how to get started with Notion,” you’ll be greeted by a plethora of how-to articles detailing the platform’s features.
They’ll tell you about the different block types and how to create pages and format everything.
And nearly all of them will compare the platform to building with LEGO. (I don’t fault them for this at all…it’s apt.)
But they are all lacking one critical component: how to actually use the platform.
So while these articles seem helpful, they’re just adding to the overwhelm that probably sent you scrambling for a new platform to begin with.
Sure, now you know what it can do, but how do you make it work for you?
Today I’m sharing the tips, tricks, and secrets that I wish someone had told me when I first encountered this marvelous platform.
Start with an Inbox
At its most basic level, Notion’s job is to house information that you collect throughout the day: ideas, thoughts, tasks, resources, research…anything. And the biggest way we overcomplicate that is by having a million places we could put it.
Most of us started experiencing this issue when we had a million different apps. Now we have Notion, with a million different pages and templates.
It’s still too complicated.
I’m repeatedly asked, “will I be able to stick to this system?” The answer is that it all depends on you. If you overcomplicate it, no, you won’t stick to it. And I think we sometimes do that just to sabotage ourselves.
So, I encourage you to create an Inbox page, whether you have three pages or thirty in your Notion account.
A blank page, titled Inbox, nothing in it. And be sure to mark it as a favorite and keep it at the top of your navigation pane.
All of the information you collect goes straight here. You’re not wasting time trying to decide where to put it or getting distracted by anything else in your account. You’re recording it in the Inbox and getting back to what you were doing.
Make Notion Part of Your Routine
The inbox works exceedingly well when we make two things a habit:
- Gathering every piece of information in that one place.
- Making time to review the information we’ve gathered.
Make adding things to your Notion inbox as easy as possible.
Make sure you have the app downloaded and in an easily accessible spot on your home screen on your phone. Also, check that it’s enabled in your share settings so that you can easily send information to it from other apps.
On your computer, download the app and again, make it easily accessible. I also highly recommend adding the web clipper to your browser extensions.
The key to building a habit of using it consistently is to make it as easy as possible. And then to make alternatives more difficult.
Go ahead and remove or hide other competing apps so you aren’t tempted to use them instead. Evernote and Google Keep were banished to a folder on my phone, and I removed the Evernote and Keep web clippers from my browser.
Your brain shouldn’t need to think about where information goes. Let that thumb reach for the Notion app become muscle memory.
Make time to review and process what you’ve gathered in your Notion inbox.
Information gathered is excellent. Information processed is better. Information used is the goal.
Once you’ve built the habit of gathering the information, you have to develop the habit of reviewing and processing it.
For me, this is the time every day where I sit down and look at what was added to my Inbox and process it.
Tasks I already completed get deleted. Events/dates get added to my calendar. Everything else gets moved to it’s home within Notion or stays on the page.
It’s truly okay if some things don’t have a home and just stay there for now. It’s actually better to leave oddball pieces of information to linger there rather than create a home for them just because.
Don’t try to build out a complicated Notion eco-system all at once.
Speaking of creating homes for your information, please don’t try to do it all at once.
I actually think this is why most people give up on Notion (or any system, really). They see all of the things it CAN do, and jump right into the deep end with a million templates and pages.
None of it works quite right, and it’s confusing and complicated. And then you’re off to hunt for something better.
So, I implore you to start small. Once you have your inbox, start looking at the type of information you’re collecting and see where themes pop up. Or pick your biggest daily pain point and start there.
If you find your inbox is full of recipe links and things to add to the grocery list, then it sounds like a meal planning setup might be useful for you.
If your biggest daily pain point is staying on top of client project statuses, how about starting with a client project database to visualize your workload?
By starting with two or three areas where you’re collecting various data and learning how to use Notion to make them work together to make your life easier, you’ll be able to get in a groove with the platform and then add things as they make sense.
Use databases to organize information and then pages to display and use related information together.
One of the downfalls of creating a ton of layouts all at once is that you don’t have a chance to see how different collections of information might work together.
Using meal planning as an example: You might build out a grocery list, recipe gallery, pantry inventory, and meal planner and then display specific views of them together to make meal planning a breeze. But you might also display the meal planner on your family hub page, too.
As you review the information you collect in your inbox, you will discover themes and trends, enabling you to build databases that strategically organize related information.
But the real magic happens when you connect the dots between the different types of information you’ve gathered and create an ecosystem that combines them into truly usable tools.
When you link together your thoughts/ideas/quotes database with your content creation database and can actually search for and use that idea you had six months ago, you realize everything clicks.
Instead of gathering information and leaving it to wither and collect dust, you’re building a system that empowers you to use that information, bringing everything full circle.
It’s all fun and games to play with a new platform and discover the millions of things it can do.
But when that initial burst of excitement wears off, you’re left with a complicated, unusable platform, and you’re right back where you started.
Start small, create a routine, and take the time to build out your own personalized system. I promise it’s more satisfying and productive.
Want to get the most out of notion? Check out my Reliable External Brain Blueprint. It’s a full training on creating your own Reliable External Brain using Notion and includes a plethora of templates and tech tutorials to help you get started without getting overwhelmed.
Whenever I meet with a client for the first time, we always start by discussing where they are in their life and their business. And every discussion features one of two words: overwhelmed or scattered. More often than not, both words make an appearance.
Overwhelmed and scattered come up in almost every email, DM, and social media comment I receive. They represent the status quo for digital female entrepreneurs.
And every time I see or hear those words, I’m filled with sincere empathy.
I’ve been there.
But I’m also filled with hope because while I know we can never banish those feelings completely, I know that we are not powerless against them.
We have access to tools and the ability to create systems that can help us banish feeling scattered.
And ultimately, as tough as this is to hear, feeling overwhelmed is a choice. We can choose to wallow in self-pity at the unfairness of our circumstances or choose to take action and change the result of those circumstances.
It’s up to you to create a new reality where you don’t always feel scattered and overwhelmed. And a simple solution to getting started is to create a digital headquarters for your life and business.
Eradicate Feeling Scattered by Creating a Digital Headquarters for Your Life
At this point, we’ve all adopted a vast network of tools and apps that we use daily in an attempt to make our lives easier. We have apps for our calendars and apps for our grocery lists. We have notebooks for ideas and folders for research. Our systems are as varied as the information we gather.
But none of this helps us feel less scattered. Often it further compounds the feeling.
This is because we replaced remembering the individual pieces of information with remembering where we stored it.
It’s the constant feeling of “If I put this here, it’s safe, and I’ll remember it” — which becomes a mystery location when we actually need whatever the thing was. It’s frustrating enough when we do it with a physical item with limited hiding places. It’s downright maddening when we do this with something intangible like an idea.
A digital headquarters eradicates the problem because it gives every piece of information a home. We no longer have to waste time and energy remembering which app or notebook or tool we chose to house the information. We simply open up our digital headquarters and search for it.
With a digital headquarters, our thoughts, ideas, notes, and plans are no longer scattered about, and neither are we.
Increase Mental Bandwidth by Offloading Information to a Digital Headquarters
Committing your thoughts, ideas, and plans to a digital headquarters allows your brain to close a loop. It’s the biological equivalent of closing out programs on your computer to make the one you’re working in run faster.
When our brains are preoccupied with remembering a piece of information (or remembering which tool we offloaded it to), it eats up precious mental bandwidth and fractures our focus.
A digital headquarters allows our brains to rest, knowing that the information is safely tucked away in an easily accessible location that we won’t forget. It can now put that energy into other, more fulfilling processes, like actually using information that we’ve collected.
Not only can reallocating that mental bandwidth help improve our focus and be more productive, but it can also increase our creativity and even rest more effectively.
By reducing the constant mental load, we make it easier to be present in the moment, no matter what we’re doing.
Improve Task Delegation by Sharing Your Digital Headquarters
Often we feel like if we could just ask for help, we could get out from beneath the mountain of overwhelm.
But asking for help and delegating tasks comes with its own increased mental load. So we default back to feeling like it’s just easier and less stressful if we just do it all ourselves.
It’s a vicious cycle.
Creating and using a digital headquarters reduces the friction involved with delegating tasks.
Instead of spending more time and energy trying to get the related details out of your head and into a format you can share with someone else, you can simply share that piece of your digital headquarters with them.
This is a big reason I recommend using a digital headquarters versus creating an analog system.
By creating a habit of adding information to our digital headquarters, we can easily delegate tasks to our household members, assistants, and colleagues without reinventing the wheel every time.
Feeling overwhelmed and scattered doesn’t have to be your reality. Creating a digital headquarters for your life and business can significantly reduce the friction in your everyday life, helping you feel less scattered and freeing up precious mental bandwidth for more fulfilling activities.
Notion is the glue that holds my ADHD-self together.
I never used to be so fanatical about specific apps. I was more of a “whatever gets the job done” kind of gal.
But over the past year, as I’ve learned to work /with/ my brain rather than try to force it into boxes I thought /should/ work, I’ve gotten attached to specific tools that really help me thrive.
One of them, Amazing Marvin, was the catalyst for learning about my brain and trying to work with it. Hands down, it’s the most ADHD-friendly task manager I’ve ever seen. If you’re curious, I wrote about my love for Amazing Marvin here.
But there’s another very important piece to a true personal productivity system. Honestly, a task manager is a very small piece of that puzzle.
I feel like it’s really important for me to stop and define what I mean when I say “personal productivity system.”
It sounds like I mean “let’s get stuff done and be as productive as possible ALL. THE. TIME.” And that is how I used to look at it. My brain never really slows down or shuts off. (And thanks to a recent ADHD diagnosis, I now know why.)
What I really mean is a system that you can rely on to live your best life. Under my definition, productivity encompasses rest, relaxation, enjoyment, hobbies, adventure, curiosity — everything that makes you feel like you are living your life the way you want to live it.
Unfortunately, many of us enter adulthood thinking that we shouldn’t need to rely on any systems. That we should just magically “adult” with the help of nothing more than a basic to-do list and a calendar.
And then, when we need realize that’s not working, we beat ourselves up for failing to be a normal, operational “adult.” We resent systems we need (like that phone reminder to brush our teeth) and even refuse to use them, lest those around us think we’re completely unfit to live on our own or have families and careers.
So I’m here today to share something very important with you:
You deserve to use, rely on, and live by whatever systems make you feel whole and functional.
Got that? Okay, good.
So let’s discuss a huge problem with our current systems. We’ve hodge-dodged them together as any piece became a necessity, and we’ve typically resentment their use, so we go with the quickest, prettiest way to do a thing.
That means we have a bajillion over-complicated apps, plus scraps of paper, and 15 planners that didn’t work.
When our systems are fractured, our focus is fractured.
When we’ve built our systems up piecemeal, they are likely doing more harm than good.
You see, the pieces of our lives don’t exist in a vacuum. Managing them in separate systems only makes them harder.
Taking time to curate my systems into a single platform helped me learn to make connections between areas of my life that I’d never seen before, which smoothed my life out considerably.
The Elements of a Functional Personal Productivity System
Our lives revolve around information, and in the long run, there are three things we do with every tiny piece of information that enters our brain:
- We gather it.
- We organize it.
- We wield it.
And we do this with the simplest information, like “I like the taste of bananas.” We do it on such a subconscious level that we don’t even recognize we’re doing it.
We recognize the taste and feeling of enjoyment, and then our brain files it away for later, connecting it with the scent and visual recognition of the piece of fruit. Then later, when we’re standing it front of the freezer case at Target, we wield that information by reaching in and grabbing a pint of Ben and Jerry’s Chunky Monkey.
Our brains are pretty fantastic at automating this process for simple pieces of information that trigger a strong emotional response (love, joy, fear, disgust). It also helps if there are repetitive sensory pieces to rely on (a smell, a touch, a taste, a visual or auditory cue).
But what about the rest of the information that we encounter on a daily basis that is more complicated, less tangible, or not obviously related to one another?
Some people have an easy time with these things, but I’d say they’re a rarity. Think Sheldon Cooper, from Big Bang Theory. Some brains are simply wired for remembering more and easily making connections between seemingly unrelated pieces of information.
The vast majority of us, though, need a little help. And some of us, well, we need more than a little help.
That’s where personal productivity systems come in. And when we’re using a million different apps and random scraps of paper, we’re still relying on our brain to remember where it all is and connect the dots.
The Reliable External Brain
Once I realized all of this, and accepted that I /deserved/ to be able to rely on whatever systems I needed, I began creating what I now refer to as my Reliable External Brain.
It’s a single system that supplements my not-so-reliable internal brain when it comes to managing all of the information that I’m flooded with each day.
I use Notion to house my Reliable External Brain because it’s ridiculously flexible, and as my needs change, it can flex and change with me.
It serves as a single place to gather information that I don’t trust my internal brain to keep track of. Whether it’s a link, a file, a random note, an image, just about anything, it can go straight into my Inbox page in Notion. I don’t have to be picky about the format or worry about it going in the right place.
Once information is gathered, it’s easy for me to go back and organize at (semi-) regular intervals. Everything in my life has a home within Notion, and as a new area appears in my life, it’s easy to add a home for it. Again, the flexibility of format is a lifesaver.
But the real magic happens when it’s time to wield that information. Information gathered and organized, never to be used is useless. And this is where nearly all of my past systems have fallen flat.
To properly wield the information we’ve gathered, we have to be able to find it again make connections between other pieces of information.
A quote I highlighted in an ebook a year ago does me no good sitting in my Kindle highlights. At this point, I probably won’t remember I read the book, let alone highlighted something, or remember to even look at my Kindle highlights. But in my Life Notes section of Notion, I can easily locate it when it’s time for me to sit down and write a post on a related topic.
Gathering information in the same place you’ll eventually use it, and organizing it in a way that’s easily searchable allows you to make those connections effortlessly.
The type of information you gather, the level of detail you organize it with, and how you set yourself up to use it will be specific to you and your life.
The relief you’ll feel when you don’t have to wonder which app something’s in or whether or not your best idea is buried in a coffee-stained notebook somewhere, well, that’s pretty much guaranteed.
If a Reliable External Brain sounds like something you need in your life, but you’re not sure where to start, I invite you to join me for my next live Blueprint session. I’ll be sharing how I used Notion to create my Reliable External Brain and I’ll be sharing all of my templates to help you get started without reinventing the wheel. Click here to learn more.
I believe that the question isn’t which to use, but what files should go where.
In online business communities, the debate has raged for years. Which cloud storage is better for documents and digital files?
I used to be quite firmly planted in Camp Google Drive. Its flexibility for collaboration is virtually unmatched, in my opinion. And these days, almost everyone is familiar with its Docs and Spreadsheets.
But in the past year, I became a convert to the middle ground—I use both, and I couldn’t be happier.
“But Dani,” I hear you saying, “you’re always telling us to simplify and making a case for fewer apps!”
I know, I know. But hear me out.
Google Drive and Dropbox serve two different functions if you organize them correctly.
Google Drive for Collaboration
As I mentioned earlier, Google Drive shines when we look at collaborative processes. It works across all platforms, and unlike ten years ago, not everyone has Microsoft Word.
Being able to live-edit documents together, track changes, and always know that this document is the most up to date—well, those things are pretty amazing.
A bonus is that each user can store the shared document in their folder system, meaning that how I organize my Drive doesn’t have to match how you organize yours. I’m all for effective collaboration without forced organization!
Dropbox for Archiving
On the other hand, sometimes shared organization is essential. But that’s usually once a document is no longer “in progress” and has moved on to an archiving stage.
Dropbox is fantastic for long-term storage and being able to share files without wondering where a file was moved to or having to navigate complicated share settings.
Another brief note on this: I strongly feel that Dropbox is the safer storage space for media items like photos, videos, and audio files. While there’s no official documentation of this, there’s a lot of anecdotal evidence that Drive compresses some of these files. If your business is heavily reliant on these file types, it’s not worth the risk.
Tips for Success for using Google Drive and Dropbox Together
If you’re going to use both platforms as I do, here are a couple of tips to make the experience run seamlessly:
Use the same folder structure and naming conventions on both platforms.
If you look inside mine, the folders are identical for the most part. The top-level is precisely the same, and as you go deeper, the only thing you’ll notice is that there are more folders in Dropbox. I also use a standard naming convention so that my search habits work across all file storage platforms (hard drive, Drive, iCloud, and Dropbox).
Know what goes where.
And keep it simple. In my case, in progress files go in Drive (docs, spreadsheets, presentations) or stay on my hard drive (Illustrator, InDesign, etc.). Once completed, they are saved appropriately and filed in Dropbox. It’s obvious what types of files go where and at what point they make the transition.
Connect both platforms to your computer.
I’m a Mac user, but I know this is also doable on a PC. Having both platforms accessible from Finder on my laptop means that a quick search will bring up the file no matter where it’s stored. It also makes it easier to move files around between them. I also have the apps for each downloaded to my phone and tablet, as well as using iCloud sync for my hard drive folders, enabling me to access files on the go when needed (an essential part of nomad life).
Different platforms serve different purposes, and as always, what works best for me may not work best for you. When I work with clients on streamlining their processes, inevitably, file storage is a hiccup we need to smooth out. The method I describe here works to do that in nearly all cases, whether it’s a solopreneurship or a growing small business.
If you’re interested in going deeper on this topic and learning how to easily maintain your digital files, join my live training, the Organized File Management Blueprint, on August 5th at 6 pm Central. Click here for more information.
You may be wondering what tire maintenance has to do with your downloads folder. How could those two things possibly have anything in common?
Oh, but they do!
You see, tire maintenance and file management are both simple things you can create a habit of that will bring a small, almost unnoticeable (but useful) improvement to your day-to-day life. But their real value lies in the more significant catastrophes they will help you avoid.
The other thing they have in common is that people don’t usually take up either until they’ve lived through the consequences of not doing them.
So what are the consequences of not doing regular tire maintenance?
- a bumpy ride
- lower gas mileage
- poor handling (like trouble stopping)
- increased wear on your tires (and needing to replace them sooner)
- overheating, blowing a tire and causing an accident
Notice how those range from minor-but-helpful, to expensive or dangerous? Scary, isn’t it?
But the preventive solution is rather simple. Every time you fuel up your car, check your tire pressure, and tread depth. It’s simple, and what are you doing while you wait on the gas pump anyway?
What we have here is a simple habit that, when done regularly, not only prevents something terrible from happening but also provides a nice day-to-day improvement in your drive.
So how can we apply the same thing to file management?
If you don’t have good file management habits, then you’re already familiar with the consequences. On the “minor annoyance” end of the spectrum, you have the daily wastes of time spent looking for a file that you can’t quite remember what you named it or where it’s stored. On the “oh crap” end of the spectrum is losing an important file completely or having your computer crash and losing everything.
Once again, the preventive solution is rather simple. Spend just a few minutes deciding on a naming convention and stick to it. And then spend a few minutes each week sorting your files into their proper homes. Round that out with a one-time setup of backups, and you’re completely covered.
Day-to-day, you’ll waste less time looking for things, and over the long-term, you won’t be at risk for losing anything important. These are easy habits to build, and once established, take less than 15-minutes per week—an easy task to do while you’re stuck on hold or waiting for something to load.
Can you imagine being able to pull up any file you have with a quick search on any of your devices? It’s not that hard to get there. It’s the file management equivalent of a smooth ride and good gas mileage. And all of that is within your reach without a whole lot of effort. All you have to do is get the right tools and build a simple habit of using them regularly.
And for the love of everything, do it now. Don’t wait until that blowout or crash to realize you should have been doing it all along. It’s not worth it.
If you’re interested in going deeper on this topic and learning how to easily maintain your digital files, you need my Organized File Management Blueprint.