Productivity Hacks

Mark Suster has a great post up on his blog called Productivity Hacks. He lists three things he's done to improve his productivity:

  • Eliminate Voicemail with Google Voice or even better PhoneTag
  • Stop foldering things: ie move to gmail and start tagging your email
  • Each day put three things you want to get done on a 3×5 card

I've done two of these three things. 

I stopped using voicemail and moved to PhoneTag (fka Simulscribe) about three years ago and have never looked back. PhoneTag intercepts my voice mails, transcribes them, and emails them to me. I get your voice mails, but I get them via email. It works great. Google Voice offers a similar service but the transcription is done by machines, not humans, and the results look a bit like my "dictated blog post" last weekend. Google Voice is free, PhoneTag works out to be about $10/month. I've learned that voicemail transcription doesn't have to be perfect for the message to get thru (as long as name and phone number are captured accurately). So you may be able to make do with Google Voice. If not, get PhoneTag and pay the roughly $10/month. As I said in my initial post on voicemail transcription, it's a lifechanger.

I stopped foldering email when I moved from outlook/exchange to gmail last year. I've also stopped foldering paperwork for the most part. I just keep an electronic copy and tag and or label it and make it accessible easily with search. This seems like a small change, but in actuality it is a huge productivity enhancer. You can tag/label and save so much faster than you can folder things. And folders don't scale. Tags and labels do.

I have not tried the three things on 3×5 card idea. I am going to start doing that right away. I've never been able to make a "to do" list work for me because it gets so damn long I can never get them all done. I really like the idea of three a day and no more. I may not need the 3×5 cards but I am going to try them anyway. It may be fine just to put them into a calendar entry at the start of every day. We'll see. I'll report back on this one.


Comments (Archived):

  1. Carl Rahn Griffith

    Always having a small notebook and an ergonomic – and satisfying to look at – retractable pencil (Lamy, being my personal preference for being relatively low cost and beautiful in design) are my essential productivity tools, always by my side.This may sound somewhat retro but getting into the habit of scribbling notes during calls/meetings, transcribing random ideas, visualizing mind doodles, etc, never ceases to help me.

    1. fredwilson

      i know so many people who do this, including my partner bradthat said, i have never been a note taker, not in school, not nowit’s not my thing although i recognize the value that others get from doingit

      1. Mark Essel

        You blog and comment Fred. That’s my note taking. As well as scribbling for day job problems.

        1. Dave Pinsen

          A few weeks ago, I had an hour-long phone conversation I intended to summarize in a blog post, so I had the blog open and started typing notes on my laptop while we spoke. That worked out really well — much better than if I had done it by hand. It only required minimal editing in the end.

      2. andyswan

        I hear ya….my parents taught me that note-taking was a crutch that hobbled real learning. That worked really well, but without that habit (skill set?) there is no way I’m actually writing and keeping up with “to do” notes.The calendar option sounds like a good alternative. Thanks.

      3. jonsteinberg

        Not taking and filing are largely wasted activities. I think 80-90% of things filed are never un-filed. Only documents worth filing are legal signatures, etc. I think in most cases a FIFO (or for some a LIFO) desktop stack is actually ideal. I wrote on this

      4. Tyler Willis

        Same here, although a combination of Moleskine pocket notebooks and evernote for iPhone have changed this.I just maintain an evernote notebook that’s photos of my moleskine notes. Makes storing/finding notes pretty easy. Also should make them searchable and machine-readable, but, honestly, I’ve been having some trouble with that lately.One of the game changers for me has been the ability to email my notes to folks after we meet. For example: I started advising a few companies on Product Marketing last year. This note-taking habit allows me to share the most salient points of our conversation in a follow-up email creating a record that can be referenced by the entrepreneur at a later date if needed.I’m still learning a lot about how to add the most value as an advisor, but I know this has been helpful.

        1. Aid G.

          I love the moleskine & evernote combo! Writing on paper is less distracting to others and can give you more freedom if you take “conceptual” notes with lots of diagrams or mindmaps. Evernote can usually recognize my handwriting and relevant page photos came up in search results (along with related snaps of bcards, whiteboars, etc.). Best of both worlds with very little effort …

    2. CJ

      How do you organize those? That’s always been my issue, I take decent notes but editing them later ends up making the entire picture murky and transcribing my notes seems like double work and a time waster rather than a time saver. Maybe I should try leaving myself a voicemail and let Google voice transcribe it for me.

      1. Carl Rahn Griffith

        That is the key challenge, Malcolm – is interesting to read some of the other comments here re: people consciously not taking notes as it’s seen as an impediment. Different strokes for different folks, I guess.Anyway, how to organize? Well, I never have, formally – chronology pretty much sorts out what’s relevant/temporal for the here and now and immediate future – ie, my current notebook at any given time will reflect that and any past notes/notebooks that have an ongoing relevance will have already evolved into a formal email/document/etc. When doing board meeting notes – and the subsequent formal minutes (most recently at @ensembli), I found copious note taking to be essential, especially in the early brain-storming days.I don’t mind the double-work element involved because if a note’s worth taking it’s worth re-assessing later and deciding if it’s worth curating in some other more structured format, based on its objective merits in the cold light of day.

      2. Chris_Maresca

        I also take notes during meetings, but not to refer back to later, which is something I never do. I take notes for two reasons:1. Writing something down helps me remember it2. Keeping my brain in checkNo. 2 deserves an explanation. I often find myself thinking ahead of the conversation and, rather than interrupt the speaker (a bad habit I used to always do), I write down my thinking. If I didn’t do this, I’d probably forget what I was going to say by the time there was an appropriate break….I agree with Carl about the nice pen thing. My current favorite is a multi-function Rotring (which I regularly loose…).

    3. David Semeria

      I takes notes – but in my head. You can think much faster than you can listen. As information comes in I think about it and distill its essence in real-time. Sure, I lose a lot – but at least what remains is readily accessible (unless I’m drunk).

      1. Carl Rahn Griffith

        I bet you don’t you lose as much as Liverpool, David.The irony – that coming from moi, a Sheffield Wednesday fan, ho ho … πŸ™

      2. awaldstein

        But being in Nebbiolo wine country, your drunk state is at least refined πŸ˜‰

    4. Nigel Walsh

      I end up writing notes, then meaning to action them, then get stuck behind and never manage to read my own handwriting.. arrghhh

  2. reece

    Whether it’s meant to be a productivity aid or not, Boxee’s bookmarklet is a time saver. ‘Clicking through’ in general is a huge productivity killer.What I use more is Instapaper’s “Read Later” bookmarklet. There are lots of articles I want to read, but it’s easier and more efficient to fly through them on my phone while on the subway.

    1. fredwilson

      i need to get an instapaper app on my android phonei’ve taken to getting to my usual breakfast place a bit early every morning and reading for 15-20 minutes

      1. reece

        I find early mornings and late nights are when I’m best at getting work done. During the day I’m on the phone a lot – speaking with customers, coworkers, investors.The irony of all this is the time-suck that is commenting in this community. ;)Luckily, Disqus makes it fit into my workflow.

        1. Dave Pinsen

          If it’s a time suck, why do it?

          1. reece

            I derive value from it. “Time-suck” only means it takes time out of my day. It doesn’t mean it’s a not valuable use of my time.

          2. Dave Pinsen

            “Time-Suck”, Urban Dictionary definitions:1) waste of time2) Something that’s engrossing and addictive, but that keeps you from doing things that are actually important, like earning a living, or eating meals, or caring for your children.3) An uninterruptable quest to find an answer to a problem that should only have taken less than a few minutes to solve. Solving this puzzle is most often unavoidable and attempts to work around the problem generally add more time and more suck.

          3. reece

            “Timesuck” (also via Urban Dictionary) http://www.urbandictionary….”The void that gets created by engaging in an activity that seems like it will be short but ends up taking up huge amounts of time. Like watching video on YouTube…” or looking up definitions on Urban Dictionary and/or commenting on Fred’s blog. ;)It’s a matter of semantics and is ultimately a cyclical argument.

          4. Dave Pinsen

            Not to be argumentative, Reece, but it really isn’t a matter of semantics. None of the definitions or examples either of us has cited has a positive connotation for “time-suck”. None supports the meaning you intended, which was (I think), “time-consuming but worthwhile”.Back to productive activities…

          5. reece

            haha… all right man.

      2. CJ

        KindleFeeder is most excellent too, if you have a Kindle. Not quite as portable as the phone but a little bit more readable.

  3. Geoff

    Oh dear Phonetag is not available in the UK πŸ™

    1. fredwilson

      try spinvox

      1. Geoff

        Thanks – I love their drop down menu for make of phone is missing Apple as a phone manufacturer!

  4. 1706

    It is amazing that Google Voice continues to suck the media air from competitors so much so that people do not realize that they were not first to market or have the best product. PhoneTag is a decent point solution, but why not mention or other competitors that have a stronger product than Google Voice (i.e. Virtual Number) that is extendable to services required by small businesses today (via Virtual Number).Unless PhoneTag is a portfolio company then I do not understand why you do not address the whole landscape of competition here.

    1. fredwilson

      the only products i’ve used are google voice and phonetagi’m not even aware of phone.comnow i amthanks

  5. Mark Essel

    I pretty much never use the phone for voice (two exceptions: I called Robert Scoble to setup a meeting in June, and I called Tyler last night to synch our efforts). Setting expectations of availability saves me trouble there. People know to email me, send me a tweet, or leave a comment on my blog.I have a list of 4 category placeholder things to do each day. They are not specific because my life right now doesn’t afford me the pleasure of knowing precisely what I’ll be doing each day.1) walk & write a blog post about what’s eating me. Aka purge my minds cache2) walk & read up on what’s important in my world (tech, social, startups, design, marketing)3) do day job (think about algorithms, write code, test code, talk with coworkers)4) get home, eat dinner spend time with my better synaptic half Michelle, and hack on where I left off or sleepOn my days off from the day job I spend more time on 4. And on the weekends I try to spend as much time as possible with Michelle while doing 1,2,4 on my days off

    1. fredwilson

      “purge my mind’s cache”i love that line. you’ll be seeing it soon enough

  6. dthull

    January is a great time for productivity hacks it seems. I just started the following, similar to the 3×5 card idea:- make a list of areas that are important to you (personal and professional – target ~4 each)- for each area write down *weekly* objectives (max 3 per area)- then do the daily routine (each morning write down max 5 objectives per day (i found 3 too restrictive)).So far it seems to work. I have the feeling I’m not loosing control. The weekly schedule is a good planning tool, the daily objectives make me feel productive. The hard part is choosing the *right* objectives, i guess.Let’s see whether I’ll get to February without falling back into the old habits… :)ps: this is actually partially based on “the 7 habits of highly effective people” by Covey

  7. laurentk

    Reg Gmail, I used the QuickLinks gadget from Labs, and use “Unread” as the default view (search term: “l:^u”).This helps me keep a clean inbox, and basically my unread mails has kind of become my to do list.

  8. andrerib

    I moved all of my project management for gmail instead of any specialized app. With gmail tags that’s super easy to manage. We have emails for specific things: bugs@ features@ etc and priorities are defined by the email subject type:- Low priority -> all lowercase- High priority -> all uppercase- Urgent -> all uppercase + the occasional f**k wordIt works for us.

    1. Mark Essel

      The third case is what gets me moving. Lots of “engineering terminology” and unexpected disasters.

  9. Dmitry Shapiro

    Fred, would love to have you check out my upcoming UCLA classes Please message me.

  10. LIAD

    necessity is the mother of invention.when things get bad/hectic enough we auto-optimise.improving productivity is a means to an end…..question is…whats the end?

    1. Mark Essel

      There is some merit to preparation taking the impossible out of the emergency. I admit to functioning in relation to the perceived need.The higher the critical decision density, the better for my “accomplishments” per day/hour/minute. We all have a HYPER mode, we just don’t want to break the glass too often, or maybe we should try?

  11. scottythebody

    What do you use to capture your paperwork and tag it / search it? I’m on The Quest for the optimal solution. I love Evernote for its functionality (sync across numerous devices is the key for me), but the UI and attention to detail leave much to be desired. Getting data into it sucks compared to a really nice app like Yojimbo (but terrible sync, so can’t use it).

    1. RKarl

      Ditto @scottythebody — what is a tool for paperwork tagging. I would be interested in trying this.

    2. LissIsMore

      Ditto. What do you use to tag your files?

    3. Gregg Smith

      What don’t you like about Evernote’s UI? It’s definitely clunky, but it’s become a huge part of my routine. The 3.5 beta for windows is buggy but the UI is much more customizable.As a notetaker, I’m shifting to taking them on my iphone with evernote. So easy to bring up a discussion or relevant document from past meetings or PDFs that have been scanned into Evernote that I get over the clunkiness. I also wish I could set reminders with Evernote.

      1. scottythebody

        Why should it be clunky? I use Evernote every day, and it’s crap UI and bugginess trip me up every day. Try using Yojimbo or Things on a Mac and you will see how crap Evernote’s client software is. The service and functionality, however, are freaking KILLER. I use it on 3 iPhones, 4 Macs, 3 Windows machines and the web interface when I have to and I get all my notes and tags.Of course I’d love to see improvements, but it rocks. I took my offline iPhone notebook with me to Se Asia for a month with all my hotel, flights, tripadvisor web pages, NYT articles and gothamgal thailand blog entries. How cool is that? Everything I needed available offline and searchable, but, unfortunately, dragged down with a crap-ass UI.

    4. fredwilson


      1. scottythebody

        Ah, I see; it’s all in Gmail. Cool.

  12. HysBrian

    I completely agree about the voicemail I wrote a simple post for setting it up for voicemail management here (….I really like the index card idea and have a similar setup that is digital using things and anxiety (… That has worked really well for me and is probably worth a try. I like it because it lets you keep long running to-do list but easily move what you need to do for today into a simple window.

  13. Aviah Laor

    “Most discussions of the executive’s task start with the advice to plan one’s work. This sounds eminently plausible. The only thing wrong with it is that it rarely works… Effective Executives, in my observation, do not start with their tasks. They start with their time. And they do not start out with planing. They start by finding where their time actually goes. Then they attempt to manage their time and to cut back unproductive demands on their time”. The Effective Executive, Peter F Drucker.

  14. Kevin Spain

    I use parts of David Allen’s Getting Things Done (GTD). I don’t use the full GTD process as I find it to be a bit overwhelming.In my view, the biggest productivity improver in GTD is the idea of quickly throwing things away, or deleting them, if they don’t require any action on your part or if they don’t have any long-term value. This was tough to get used to, but has been well worthwhile. The reduction in unnecessary clutter on my desk and in my inbox has made me much more efficient.

    1. Aviah Laor

      and his idea to manage to-do list according to places/people rather than priorities. So when you talk to somebody or be somewhere you have a list of all the to-do’s regarding this person/place, important and trivial alike. This way you don’t remember to buy the milk in the car and fix the car in the supermarket.

    2. Dan T

      Kevin – awesome point: One of the best way to complete something is to make a decision to NOT do it, get it off your list and move forward without looking back.It’s amazing how insignificant something can become after it sits on a to-do list for a week.

    3. fredwilson

      gmail’s archive button is my “delete” button. it gets emails out of the way but i can always get them back

  15. Bart Mroz

    I switched from Google Voice to Ribbit Mobile. They use PhoneTag to transcribe. Its free right now to use. They added an iPhone up and Caller ID 2.0 that integrates social networks.

  16. Ivan Walsh

    I use an abacus to making quick calculations. A friend showed me how to ‘work it’ and now I can do math faster this way than with the calc. Not bragging or anything, it’s just quicker,

  17. Gennady Borukhovich

    Fred this is awesome! I’m a huge fan of productivity hacks. I’ve never been able to do the to-do list thing either, but I’ve been using remember the milk for todo lists for over a year now and molded it for the way I like to work and continue to improve my process. I’ve also started reading about the Pomodoro Technique ( and put it to the test a couple of days ago and it was amazing how much I got done! I strongly recommend it. The commonality for me is that, now, I always have a short “most important/do now” items that I can focus on. WIth that said, I really like the 3×5 idea, but if you want to use something other than 3×5 cards and want to keep track of different levels of backlog, I recommend remember the milk.


    Don’t forget org-mode [] if you emacs!

  19. albert

    I have done all three — instead of the 3×5 cards though I simply use the notes on my BB (synchronized to my laptop). I keep a list of top items by portfolio company and then each day pick a couple to get done that day and put them on a separate note. I do that on the train ride into the city.

    1. fredwilson

      the train ride into the city is an awesome productivity booster. when i lost that, i lost a lot

  20. awaldstein

    Great discussion.I’ve never made a list that didn’t become useless before I finished with it…so I stopped. I organize my thoughts around the day around a few words and use the ‘sticky notes’ on my Mac or iPhone. They never last more than a day. Kind of words in the sand for a daily slice of my life.I did the folder purge around the same time as you Fred and will never look back. The only organizing principal I added was to remove all attachments from emails which I do sort and file based on value so I’m not slave to email based ‘events’.

  21. theschnaz

    I’ve a big fan of lists, like the ones used in Pivotal Tracker. The most important stuff is at the top, so that’s what you should be working on. When new tasks come up, you add them somewhere to the list, and by default, you’re ranking the task’s importance.A nifty trick I’ve been using for a few months is to spit the list into 3 sections: 1- watch, 2- active, 3- nice to have.The watch list is for things you need to remember (Gcal helps here too) but you’re not actively working on. The active list is things you really need to do, and the stuff at the top is the most important. The nice to have list is for stuff you should do when you have free time; good luck with this list =)Save your list in your dropbox and you can view it any time!

  22. Nick Oliva

    I always had a problem with todo lists until I realized that since items on a todo list take actual time that it’s really no different than putting them on my calendar. Nothing is easier, or more of a motivator for me to get things done, than dragging and dropping items to future dates.The phone tag thing bothers me… do you have a disclaimer on your voice mail so people know someone else is hearing/transcribing it? For business use this isn’t a problem, but if you have one phone for both, personal contacts could have privacy concerns… no?

    1. fredwilson

      not a disclaimer. just a notice. nobody has ever told me they were bothered by it.

      1. Nick Oliva

        No, but I imagine if anyone “was” bothered, they might not say anything. Personally, I don’t like to leave, or receive, voice mail. But if I wanted you to read my message instead of hearing it, I would have written instead of spoken. What happens if you are multi-lingual? I’ll get messages frequently where two languages are intermixed in the same voice mail.

        1. fredwilson

          they come out pretty garbled!

  23. Elie Seidman

    I almost always have a moleskin notebook and pen (an old rotring or a disposable Itoya Blade fountain pen) with me. I rarely look back at the notes I take but find that writing them helps me remember them. Sketching strategy ideas – by hand – helps me formulate them. All of this Is interesting to me bc having learned how to type in 5th grade back in 85 I’m far more comfortable typing than I am writing by hand.

  24. im2b_dl

    personally..1 foot in front of the other. …don’t stop for longalways make sure your visual field is clearand don’t miss the signs for the exits or your turn offs.and sometimes you have to break in a window, drive over the median or cut through the woods… to get inside of the door, back in the right direction and reclaim your path… don’t waste too much time trying to figure out if the cops are gonna slow you down …or “was the door really locked” or “is it worth it”but I am kinda dangerous …lol. bottom line feet need to keep putting one in front of the other and your field of vision needs to be clear.

  25. Josh Payne

    I do the 3×5 card thing with good success. It keeps me focused on the important tasks for the day through the chaos of intermittent meetings and choppy blocks of free time.And I agree with with Marc Andreesen’s original description — it feels great to scratch off the items when you’re done.

  26. Rob K

    Fred- Not sure if you have ever tried Evernote. It’s a nice tool for consolidating “remember this” notes as well as web pages to read later.

    1. fredwilson

      i tried it a few times. it is too complicated for me.

  27. Chris Phenner

    Great topic and a life’s work. I’ll add three mechanisms I use:1. BBerry: On the subway I tap out a list with the subject line “ToDo: 1/13/10,” and draft these items before the day starts and prior to inbounds (email, vm, posts) cluttering my agenda. I cc my Google Apps email for archival/tagging purposes, and on-the-fly creation of tasks/gCal events. If lists of the ‘undone’ pile up, I can search by keyword/tag to re-visit and re-prioritize.2. Moleskin: For capturing thoughts during meetings/travel/home, when tapping on a BlackBerry is rude or inconvenient. I find that anything that makes it into written form signifies extra commitment to the task/thought. Another useful feature of the Moleskin is that if you’re ever walking around with a notebook in your hand, you never look lost :)3. GDocs: This is work-related, but having a worksheet of weekly, monthly and quarterly metrics is the lightest-weight manner of which I’m aware to offer and SHARE a sense of progress. I wish Basecamp did a better job of tracking metrics-driven (instead of milestone-driven) progress, so GDocs does the job for me and my team. We have three years of historical results in this manner, and it’s validating at year’s end to see and share how far we’ve come.I was hopeful for Evernote, but the ‘Evernote Habit’ is not taking hold.

    1. Gregg Smith

      Using Evernote to get a taggable, searchable PDF of my moleskine notes (when taking notes directly into Evernote is socially unacceptable–working hard to change this) is invaluable.The list via email is a great idea.I spend a lot of time in the car and need accurate voice transcription. Hopeful that the Nexus 1 raises the bar here. For now, a combination of Reqall and the Dragon apps for the iphone will have to work.

  28. Dave Pinsen

    I never foldered e-mails to begin with. I’ve always considered my Yahoo! e-mail account to be one big folder and used Yahoo! mail’s search feature (which seems to have been a little off in recent days).

    1. Phanio

      I don’t folder either – I just try to read and answer them as soon as I get them. This way they don’t accumulate.

      1. Dave Pinsen

        I make a point of responding to every e-mail within 24 hours, but I still refer back to e-mails for phone numbers, links, and other data in them.

  29. Nigel Beck

    Funny I just wound up blogging about this here –… – January must indeed be “productivity improvement month”Somehow ( and the greatness of org-mode notwithstanding), I always wind up going back to a piece of paper for the “real work” of the day. Perhaps the whole point of systems like GTD or various uses of pieces of paper is that really organizing yourself is a process of reviewing what work you need to do, not a tool or technique for capturing the work.

  30. Tim Roberts

    I mentioned this in the comments at Mark’s blog, but I will drop it here as well. This is one of the most important techniques I use for productivity hacking my todo list and worth trying.SEQUENCE YOUR LIST. Write it out in the morning and then compose the list in the sequence you want to perform the items. why is this so frickin’ important?Productivity is mostly lost when you get distracted and/or procrastinate. This happens not when you are focused and working on a task, but in the moments between tasks. It’s kind of like a loose ball on the field. You want to control the ball and move it from task to task as efficiently as possible. When I do not sequence tasks I find i frequently skip those nagging things i need to do, but don’t want to do. But if I must finish task 5 before I can do 6, it forces me to power through it.This is more than prioritization. It is making your to-do list a serial process. I believe multi tasking is less efficient than singular focus.Also – if you have a Mac, Things is awesome for todo list management

    1. Phanio

      Like your ideas – but would add that your list should be done at the end of the day for the next day – again, not to drop the ball.

      1. Tim Roberts

        why end of day versus beginning of day? I like spending the first 15 min of my day with coffee planning what I am going to get done. seems like 6 of one… half a dozen of the other?

    2. andyday

      I Agree, the mornings are fine for making a todo list. Can’t see why anyone would need 3×5 card, you can use your phone.

      1. Aid G.

        I’ve been using the “3 top tasks for the day” method for a while and it works great (like all simple things usually do). I find that setting goals at the end of the day is better for things that require some thinking because we subconsciously prime our brain to complete the task more effectively or find a more creative solution.

    3. fredwilson

      that’s a great tip. i’ll try that

  31. Phanio

    Don’t want to start anything negative here but what about spending less time social networking as a way to be more efficient. I am not saying you or your readers spend to much time in this space as I don’t know how much time you do spend – but, if it is not being used for marketing – it is not being used efficiently (at least during work hours).We have been trying to increase our social presence – but every where we turn for information, one of the top pieces of advice is to not get caught up in it too much or it will eat away your day.

    1. fredwilson

      social networking is my business

  32. Harvest Creative

    I use a large desk calendar in place of 3×5 cards. I only place my 5 priority items for the day on the calendar. Using the desk calendar cuts down on note card waste and clutter. This also allows me to quickly reference everything completed each month and when it was completed.

  33. goldwerger

    As someone’s whos adopted all three, let me give my small variation… I use GoogleVoice and (at least conceptually) I have a 2-3 key things per day thing going. Biggest change for me is archiving/accessing data -My method is based on:1. I’ve gone completely paperless. My office cabinets are totally empty. I save no papers. I keep no papers. I require all info sent to me by email, and when I need a paper record I scan it.2. I am though a huge Outlook Exchange user. The fact is, the application is so incredible rich in features, learning it and using it enhanced productivity immensely. And I am a heavy folder user. My balance to that is simple – Google Desktop.Google Desktop has been the single most important element in productivity for me over the past 3-4 years. It works incredibly well. And let’s me find anything on my computer – not just emails, or files (that also in folders), past browsing, past instant messages, literally any info.I highly recommend it.

  34. Paul Edmondson

    I like Google’s list feature in Gmail instead of cards. Put your top few items on it the night before.

  35. RacerRick works great for voicemail, with or without the transcribing.

  36. Chuck Cohn

    Just tried out PhoneTag. I left a few voice mails to myself and I was surprised by the accuracy (~80%). I’ll give it a try for the next week and see how it works. Appreciate the idea!

  37. ShanaC

    I’m just watching the hacks and seeing what I can and cannot implement at this point in my life. we shall see…

  38. Siminoff

    Thanks for the mention Fred. It is always exciting to see how PhoneTag has been such a positive influence on people like you and Mark for productivity.You are both going to have to try my newest productivity tool for conference calls that we launched last week,

    1. fredwilson

      i hate conference calls!

    2. msuster

      I hate conference calls, too. πŸ˜‰

      1. Siminoff

        Well it seems as both you and Fred hate conference calls as much as I did… so I should probably better explainPoketyPoke.What I created is a service that you load all of your conference calls into, when the time of your conference call occurs it calls you at all of the phones you have registered with PoketyPoke and deep dials into the bridge that you have to be on. It then places you into the bridge. So no more worrying about the exact time to dial in or dealing with all of those damn conference codes and voice menus.The other cool part about PoketyPoke, is like with PhoneTag it is a service built leveraging technology and good old fashioned human horse power. To schedule your calls you just forward a email to [email protected], it can be totally free form. If our system can not scrape everything accurately it will kick the info to a live operator who looks through the email and schedules everything for you. If there is not enough info then we will email you back with what we need and again you can just reply with free form email. We are leveraging the greatest and most ubiquitous mobile app out there, email. Also you can invite [email protected] onto any calendar invite.In Summary:1. Never late again to a call.2. Never have to remember conference call codes.3. If your call drops, you just call back the number that called you, PoketyPoke knows where you should be and pops you right back in the correct call.4. First ever personal conference call manager.5. Does not require any apps or going to a website.Anyone can try it by signing up at, feedback is welcome and necessary as the product is new and has a few rough edges still.

  39. Vasudev Ram

    Great post, Fred! Thanks. I’m interested in productivity tips. All the three you mentioned are interesting.Sort of related to the 3×5 card idea: there was a good tip in a book by the late Mark McCormack – “What they don’t teach you at Harvard Business School”. He was the founder of International Management Group – which, I’ve read, more or less invented the whole idea of sponsorship / advertising of / about leading sports people – and made a big business out of it. And of course that has been a huge business for years now. He used to use index cards with the names of people he knew, and what he wanted to talk about with them, and keep them in his coat pocket (this was before digital gadgets were common), and take out the relevant card whenever he met one of those people – that way, he always had at his fingertips (literally :-), the things he wanted to discuss with them. Low-tech idea as seen from today, but effective, I imagine … :)I also liked his practice of writing down everything, rather than relying on memory – though it’s a bit difficult to practice that completely. I’ve found that what you can do (writing down, that is) does help, though – as long as you can access it quickly, as you point out (i.e. search).…- Vasudev

    1. fredwilson

      i read that book. it’s a good one. i can’t write stuff down though. it doesn’t work for me

  40. Mark S

    So what do you use for your document tagging and search. I used google desktop a couple of years ago, but unfortunately I can’t get it on my work desktop? Curious if there are any other solutions out there.

    1. fredwilson


  41. ShanaC

    Ok, since after scanning this:I realized that I am at my most productive when I can complete a chunk of large tasks in large blocks of time. This however can wear me out completely -(like towards the end, forget to eat sort of large blocks of time) -and a lot of small tasks that need to be done end up going to the wayside.Then I get anxious about those. So as a result I have a hard time with say email, but I have no problem sitting down and say painting for 4 hours straight or starting to learn to code for 4 hours straight. The next day though is a killer. And the little tasks always nag at me- which is often how I don’t get my 4 hour blocks to just shove through material.As a result, the short things turn out to be distracting long disjointed things because I put it off for too long.Adds to the anxiety about time again, because the disjointment makes time wasting worse…plus I end up underestimating how long the short things will last.How do I fix this hacking time problem? So I can get my long blocks in?

  42. DCTech

    I have been using the 3 x 5 approach as recommended by pmarca blog (Andressen’s). Works great. Tried the calendaring approach without much success. I use Highrise Task list with tagging feature to organize to do’s (personal, co specific, etc) and then use filter when deciding what goes on 3×5.

  43. Γ‘lvaro ortiz

    At our office we do a pseudo-scrum which we send at the start of the day to a mailing list: each member of the team shares what he did yesterday, what he’s going to do today, and any blocker he might have. This way you plan your day in advance and have a short list of what you are actually going to do today.It works very much like the 3×5 card. Another benefit is that you have an archive and can look back at what you were working a month ago if some problem appears…I also like this pic:

    1. andrerib

      That’s a great idea Álvaro. It keeps things simple and spreads the knowledge of what others are doing which can help to solve problems and get new ideas.

  44. Chris Voss

    Theres an iPhone App I’ve been impressed with Ribbit Mobile. It does a pretty good job transcribing (depending how clear the caller talks). It can/will send you transcription by sms txt or email. Plus on your iPhone you can open the app and review them. What nice is you can txt them back or schedule a call back reminder task. Nice little program.Chris Voss

  45. Kelly Taylor

    Kevin,I agree, and can’t think of a single example in which throwing something away has hurt me in my work or life. 99% of the time I need to find something that I’ve deleted it’s in my Gmail trash anyway.

  46. daveschappell

    You know, there’s a telephony app called Twilio that can enable something very similar to PhoneTag for less $ πŸ™‚

    1. fredwilson

      yeah, i heard something about that πŸ™‚

  47. Steffan Antonas

    I’m a big fan of – it’s the simplest, web based task list ever. I’ve made it my home page. Whenever I sit down at my computer, I just start knocking things off the list.

  48. Ben Arnon

    I’m a big fan of Things by Cultured Code. I use it on my Mac and sync it with the Things iPhone app. It’s the most flexible GTD-based productivity tool I’ve found, primarily because they use tagging. I agree with you that tags are scalable and folders are not. Things uses tagging to enable a user to filter his/her to-do list depending upon the particular context within which that user is operating at the moment.For instance, if you’re at work, there’s no reason to clutter your To-Do list with tasks that can only be accomplished while you’re at home. Or if you’re not able to access the Internet at a particular moment, then you can’t complete any Internet-related tasks at that time. Therefore there’s no need to clutter your viewable to-do list with Internet-related tasks. By using tags and placing them across a horizontal menu bar on the top of the UI, Things enables you to easily filter your list by various contexts (ie. @home, @work, @computer, @DIY store, etc.). Therefore, you as a user are in control of how cluttered your list is when you look at it. You can choose to filter your list so you only see home-related tasks at one moment and you see all tasks at another moment. Plus, you create the tags so you can build whatever system works best for you.There are other really good GTD-based productivity systems in the marketplace, such as OmniFocus, but those tend to be a bit too complex. Though one feature on the OmniFocus iPhone app that is really great is ‘location-aware contexts.’For example, if you have a to-do entry to buy milk, this can obviously only be accomplished at a grocery store. The problem with most to-do lists is that people have so many tasks on their list that they often remember to do a particular task at the wrong time (for instance, remembering to buy milk once you’ve already arrived home from work). OmniFocus’ iPhone app maps your to-do list entries to the GPS on your phone. Therefore, in my milk example, if you’re walking in Manhattan and you happen to be a few blocks from a grocery store (where you can actually complete the task of buying milk) the app can send you a notification to let you know that it’s possible for you to complete that task now if you have the time available.

  49. Michelle

    I do the three things list. I use a post it note. I stick it to my desk, to the left of my keyboard. Anytime I look down to write something, there’s my list. Works pretty good.

  50. Geoff

    As an early adopter of gmail, I slapped my head when I read the idea of throwing out a foldering system and moving to tags. Of Course! Win7 makes it really simple.Then – should have expected it – the problem.Can’t tag PDF files. Anyone have a workaround?

  51. paramendra

    3 things on a 3×5 card might be the most powerful of the three ideas, actually. Fred, get on the train! πŸ™‚

  52. terrencemurray

    Hi, those are good tips. I have also moved from outlook to gmail but have not done the phonetag/google message transcriptions. Will give this a try.This is a little out of topic but I am rebuilding my music list on itune (another productivity tool: I work well with music in the background) and there was a band you recommended a while back. They are from Canada, I think Manitoba (one of the western provinces) and actually came to NYC to play and you went and saw them and wrote about it on AVC. I can’t remember their name but liked them and would like to download some of their songs again. Thanks for this and the great postings.

  53. Vero Pepperrell

    Hi Fred, Thanks for the reminders of tangible tips! The latter is the one I use most (blogged about it many moons ago: http://www.thatcanadiangirl…While you’re right in saying that sticking them in the calendar might be enough, for people who get distracted as easily as I do, I find the physical reminder (and the physical ticking of items at the end of the day) incredibly satisfying, and a great way to bring you back to focus when you get sidetracked by other jobs.So 3×5 cards it is for me!

  54. Stephanie LH Calahan

    There are a number of techniques that you can use to manage your to dos. One challenge with a traditional to do list is that people put too much on it and then need to re-write it every day. The old pages don’t get tossed, so multiple lists end up floating around.One focusing strategy is the 3 items on a 3×5 card that you mentioned above. This is just an abbreviated version of a longer to do list.Another strategy is to have 3×5 cards on hand and put only 1 to do on each card. You keep the cards in one central location. Then, at your regular planning time, you sort the 3×5 cards in priority order and pick the top 3 to focus on. This strategy works well when you have priorities that change frequently and you do not want to continually rewrite a list.I have found that my clients either love this system or completely hate it — definitely polar — but for those that do like it, they find fabulous success using it.To your success!

  55. bryc3

    I’ve become a big fan of Lets you keep two separate lists. I used the same idea as the 3×5 card in that I put the three most important things I want to get done that day in the column for that day, then put the rest in the “someday” section. I think the distinction is brilliant, the design is beautiful and and use case simple.

  56. Nigel Walsh

    I have a love hate relationship with to-do lists, actually lists in general!. I love them at the beginning of the week, but by the end have usually put too much on them and set myself up for failure! as many things are not done. You end up spending more time managing the tasks than actually doing them!.People often talk about a ‘not to do list’.. I heard Richard Harpin, CEO & Founder of HomeServe speak this week and this is one of his key things. I have started to use this now, albeit mentally.I use categories & colours, for work, home, personal etc.. this works well – although my personal stuff seems never to be done too. My wife will concur here!I also came across this recently –, looks really good – simple and effective. I might give it a go – although it doest meet all my reqs.I use outlook tasks extensively, but am thinking of moving to Google Tasks. Ideally I would like, something thanks syncs with the iPhone too – which Google seems to do nicely.I looked at GTD, but I think we are beyond that – its as mentioned here, too complex…what ever happened to Keep It Simple….I am also going to re-order my morning routine. I often get lots done at 6-7am when no-one else is about, no point setting a task for when you cant possibly do it..Thanks for all the tips & ideas here. Nice to see how similar people manage often busy & chaotic schedules.

  57. Mark Essel

    Just recently threw away all my papers at work. Totally understand the negative effects of clutter on thinking. My bookmarks at home have to be pruned. My Twitter input stream is 51 and it’s amazing how much more I get out of Twitter compared to when I had 2300 inputs. Consistently listening to a few is so much more powerful than ignoring thousands. Ever talk to someone who’s distracted? You can hear their lack of presence. Your full awareness on a task at hand is much the same. The more of your attention a challenge gets, the more quickly and effectively you can come to a solution.

  58. fredwilson

    if you ever get around to a mac build, let me know Charlie. i’d love to try it out