If I started this post with “I have a confession to make…”, that would be cliché, so I have three confessions to make:

Confession one:

This post is not solely about event planning, management or marketing – it’s about being productive through better organisation. I suppose a little to do with being a better event professional, but please feel free to stop reading now.

Confession two:

To write this post I’m stealing other peoples’ ideas and this is down to confession number three.

Confession three:

I’m unorganised, unproductive, take ages to respond to emails, quite often jump from project to project and struggle to get stuff done!

I’m the best at being a busy fool, so over the last couple months I’ve been investigating and testing various ways to improve my personal productivity and in this post I’ll share the techniques and tools, which I like and have included into my routines.

Warning: if confession three sounds familiar, I don’t want to pretend that this post is going to change your life, however I am hoping it will offer tactics to improve your organisation and help you get stuff done as well.

Problem: get to the end of the day and feel like nothing has been achieved
Answer: picture the perfect day before it starts

After reading this article by Laura Vanderkam I’ve adapted Laura’s picture the perfect morning to picture and plan the perfect day before it starts. Rather than just creating a to-do list, this involves thinking about, and visualising everything you would like to achieve by the end of the day – personally and professionally, e.g. cycle to work, eat a salad at lunch or finish a particular project.

Problem: feel like you’re drowning in things to do
Answer: create an ignore list

After reading this blog post by Peter Bregman on the Harvard Business Review, I feel less guilty about ignoring unimportant tasks. To create your ignore list requires knowing which tasks are important and which ones are not – so making time to think about upcoming tasks, prioritise them and then focus on what NEEDS to be completed rather than trying to do everything.

If you’re unsure whether a task should go on your ignore list or not, take Tim Ferris‘ advice – when thinking about this task ask yourself “[by doing the task] am I being productive or just active?”

Problem: spend my life dealing with emails
Answer: batch daily activities and have a zero inbox policy

After reading Eric Ries’ book The Lean Startup and Tim Ferris’ book The 4-Hour Work Week I decided that I needed to find ways of working smarter rather than harder. Like for many, I found that email was my time-sucking enemy and the ultimate tool of distraction. So rather than allowing myself to check my inbox every five minutes I’ve reduced this to twice a day – 11am and 3pm. I now spend 20-30 minutes checking and responding to email, and if emails can’t be answered within two minutes adding a task to my to-do list and deleting the email.

At 11am and 3pm I work through all the emails to get my inbox at zero rather than leaving it filled with thousands of to-dos that I never get around to-doing. If you use Gmail, one of the best inventions ever is the archive button. I used to file emails very neatly in Outlook, which I would never look at again. If you archive an email, you’ll be able to find it with a specific search in the Gmail search box. Much better!

Problem: the owner of various notepads, known for recording notes in ‘safe places’
Answer: order one *pretty* notepad

This simple, but life changing idea is recommended by Paddy Moogan where he suggests buying a special pad and then using it for everything, rather than going from pad to pad. And Paddy is correct, investing more than a fiver on pad will encourage you to use it.

Problem: fed up of pointless meetings
Answer: set start and finish times, create agendas, assign minute taking and always leave time for actions

A quick Google search shows that I wasn’t the only one with this problem, e.g. why meetings kill productivity and wasted time in meetings costs the UK economy £26 billion. You can analyse your business’ meeting spend using this meeting cost calculator – quite a scary result.

In The 4-Hour Work Week Tim Ferris admits he tries to avoid all meetings when possible. His strategy is to either divert matters to email or allow others to have meetings, taking him out of the equation. I actually think face-to-face meetings are important, I don’t believe world leaders would travel thousands of miles if meetings were not worthwhile. I agree more with Will Critchlow in this interview and avoid unnecessary meetings or ensure meetings are planned, have a structure and are actionable by setting timings, creating agendas and assigning somebody to take minutes and actions.

Problem: struggle to keep up with what my team is working on
Answer: record everything on Toggl, get a huge whiteboard and for techies – Trello

Toggl is an online time tracking tool, where staff keep a diary of their time at work. The reporting feature gives you the perfect overview, showing all projects or activities and how many hours are spent on each. The manager can also see individual tasks. Also a great tool for recording time spent with clients.

A huge white board or Trello (online collaboration tool) are easy solutions to plan upcoming tasks and to see what everybody is working on right now.

We do all three!

Problem: struggle keeping up with trends
Answer: make one hour a day for learning

This hour mainly involves reading my favourite blogs, magazines and watching online conference videos.

For the techies, I recommend setting up an iGoogle board that pulls in feeds from your favourite websites. However, I use an app called Pulse on my IPad and phone, which does the same thing.

I love Pocket. Pocket is another app on my IPad and phone, which allows me to save anything interesting that I come across on the web to read when I have time.

Problem: I don’t have control of all my projects
Answer: Every Friday take control of your projects

Every Friday I block a slot in my diary and follow Paddy Moogan’s system for getting things done:

This involves…
Getting clear – answer remaining emails, read through notes made throughout the week and create actions, check your calendar and get everything on your to-do list
Get current – review all to-do lists, projects you are responsible for and tasks you’ve delegated to others
Get creative – make creative time to enhance projects and come up with ideas

Paddy’s post is worth a read.

I hope this list helps. These tools and tactics have certainly improved my organisation and helped me to get stuff done.

I’d love to hear in the comments what others are doing to be more productive at work.


Michael Chidzey is the chief juicer of eventjuice and runs Event Organiser, an event company based in London, UK. He also founded the digital marketing agency Good Signals, blogs on several websites and is a visiting lecturer in events management at London Metropolitan University.Follow Michael on Twitter @michaelchidzey
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