I have over 10,000 notes in my Evernote account, including everything from work to-do lists, goals, and meeting materials to bills and my children’s artwork. That may sound like a jumbled nightmare, but I’ve figured out how to make it all work for me.
After all, it would be a shame if I couldn’t. As the CEO of Evernote, it’s my job to help others control information overload and gain back a little more time in the process. Here are a few of the ways I’ve learned to stay organized and productive, both inside Evernote and in the wider world.
Assign Each Weekday A Theme
It’s easy to get sucked into an endless cycle of emails and obligations. To avoid falling into this trap, I assign a “theme” that I focus on each day.
Mondays are for taking care of the business side of Evernote. This typically involves weekly leadership meetings and one-on-ones with my team, where I help solve problems, move things forward, and discuss ideas about how to innovate or move faster.
Tuesdays are blocked off for a weekly all-hands meeting with the entire company, including our global offices, which join via video stream. This meeting is about celebrating our employees and their accomplishments as well as ensuring we’re all on the same page when it comes to our strategy and long-term mission.
Wednesdays are reserved for marketing and our go-to-market efforts. We’re lucky because most of Evernote’s growth is organic and happens through word of mouth. I typically devote Wednesdays to planning how to put that user feedback into action. For instance, last year, our Android users were very vocal about wanting a fingerprint-scanning feature, so we prioritized it in the roadmap and built it for them. That was a Wednesday project.
I split Thursdays between product and recruiting. This is when I’ll typically do a deeper dive into our product roadmap and examine the progress we’re making. We’re actively recruiting across all functions and regions, so I also spend Thursdays meeting candidates and partnering with our People team to run a smooth hiring and onboarding process.
And finally, on Fridays, I handle anything that didn’t get done earlier in the week. I also use Friday afternoons to reflect back on the week and prepare for what’s to come in the week ahead.
Of course, I know there will be times when I go off track–it’s bound to happen. But organizing my week thematically at least gives me a plan to stick to.
Plan Ahead And Prioritize
I probably oversee about nine different Google calendars (which are, of course, integrated into Evernote) that reflect the different roles in my life: Some are for work, others are for travel and my personal obligations, and others cover my kids’ sports schedules.
I set up my work calendars to take into account what my quarterly goals are for myself and my team–this way I can see that I’m making an impact over the long term. I also make sure I have enough time to achieve everything my team and I planned to do day-to-day.
Resist Letting Emails Dictate The Workday
As a rule, I try to resist checking my email first thing in the morning. Instead, I consult my #TomorrowList, which I write the night before. This list simply spells out my top three priorities for the day, in order of importance. I try to tackle the hardest problem that requires the most energy and creativity first, to get it out of the way.
It’s been said that your email inbox is other people’s to-do list for you, and I feel like that’s certainly true. I try to check my email just twice a day, and use a modified version of the Getting Things Done (GTD) method in order to stick to that. I’ve also set up automatic filters to reroute emails to the appropriate folders.
I have two simple rules for dealing with email:
- If it takes two minutes or less, I deal with it immediately.
- Everything else, I route to someone else on my team or send to my Evernote to deal with later. Otherwise I just archive it.
I’ve found that emailing during the day brings more chaos into my routine than I need.
Keep Meetings To A Minimum
My teams used to hold biweekly status updates with dozens of people, but I realized this was a waste of everyone’s time. Now, I limit meetings to eight people and maintain a “no agenda, no attendance” policy: If the meeting host doesn’t share an agenda beforehand that makes it clear what the meeting is for and what they need, I don’t attend. For the meetings that I do attend, I make sure there’s a designated notetaker who can later share their notes and action items afterward.
Taken together, this approach works for me, but everybody’s different. Still, I believe that there’s no such thing as an inherently productive or unproductive person–there are just methods that improve how well you work, or don’t. The key is finding the right combination for you.
Chris O’Neill is the CEO of Evernote.