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Editor’s Note: This is the first installment in a periodic column where we’ve asked Matt Heinz, who has been writing an occasional column on productivity for GeekWire, to answer questions on topics related to productivity, work/life balance and time management practicesIf you have questions, email Matt directly or leave them in the comments below.

When taking notes, do you recommend digital or paper & pen formats?  What are the pros & cons of each?

This is really about personal preference.  I prefer paper and pen when possible, as it allows me to sketch, make boxes for to-do’s I can translate to Outlook Tasks later, and the like.  Plus, I don’t really like having my notes in an electronic device when I’m at a meeting or talking to someone else.  It makes it look like I’m checking email or doing something else, even if I’m just taking notes.

More important than the format in which you take notes, however, is the way you process, organize and index them for future reference.  If you take notes in Evernote, for example, but continue to forget to go back and extract your action items, that’s not good.  I like to take my hand-written notes (typically on letter-sized pads), extract any action items, then scan and index the page digitally into a cloud-based filing system.  That way I always have notes available for reference again later.

What one productivity book should I read first?

The book that really got me organized was Getting Things Done by David Allen.  It’s a lot of common sense and his recommendations, I believe, are accessible to anyone.  He strongly recommends following the full system, but I’ve found you can take elements of it and still make progress from where you are today.

I also recommend Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by the late Stephen Covey.  And for team-related productivity, check out The Rockefeller Habits by Verne Harnish.

I spend more than two hours a day in my car, commuting.  How can I make that time more efficient?

Might I suggest four things:

  1. Dial2Do:  It’s a simple app for your phone that lets you call a number, leave a message, and that message will be translated to text and sent to your email.  Perfect for recording ideas, action items and any other reminders when you don’t want to fumble with pen and paper
  2. Catch up on phone calls:  Let’s leave the debate about hands-free calls when driving aside for a moment.  I recommend queuing up calls you need to make for when you’re driving.  Make East Coast calls in the morning.  Call your mother in the afternoon.  If you take five minutes, I bet you can come up with a bunch of people that are worth a quick call.
  3. Brainstorming:  Before you get in the car, come up with 1-3 things you need to think about.  Topics you need to brainstorm.  Use Dial2Do to take your notes.
  4. Books on Tape & Podcasts:  Tons of “reading” you can get done while in the car.  Catch up on the stack of books you’ve meant to get through, or find podcasts from the blogs and other publications you like best.

I love the idea of taking Tuesday and Thursday nights off, but what if I still have an idea I want to remember for later?

Write it down!  There’s nothing wrong with having pen and paper handy (on your coffee table, in your purse, whatever).  Write it down, and let yourself forget about it.  It’ll be there in the morning.

No matter how much of these productivity tips I follow, I still feel behind.  Get to inbox zero, and more comes in.  Reading, projects, it all piles up and makes me anxious.  Should I schedule a “catch up” day?

I recommend the exact opposite, in fact.  Declare information bankruptcy if you fall too far behind.  I’ve heard Guy Kawasaki say that he deletes automatically any email he hasn’t gotten to that’s over 30 days old.  He figures they’ll either email him back, or it wasn’t really that important.  Good rule of thumb. 

I like a clutter-free environment, but my wife prefers visual cues to what needs to be done.  How do we resolve this?

First of all, this is a column about productivity, not marriage advice.  That very well might be a sticky and/or complicated issue.  That said, I’d recommend designating somewhere in the house that your spouse can use for her visual cues, and another space that can be your Zen.

Previously on GeekWire: Matt Heinz was our guest on last week’s GeekWire podcast, talking about these topics and more.  Listen to the show here

Matt Heinz is president of Heinz Marketing, a Redmond-based sales & marketing firm. You can connect with Matt via emailTwitterLinkedIn or his blog. He writes occasionally on GeekWire under the column Productivity Porn. Previous columns…An introduction to productivity porn: How to be lazy, productive & successful… 15 New Year Resolutions for Entrepreneurs.… Productivity Porn: 7 tricks for beating procrastinationHave a productivity question of your own?  Email Matt directly for a future column, or ask in the comments below. [Productivity image via BigStock]


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