The Four Pillars of A Productive Foundation

I’ve spent years of my life struggling to get things done. I’ve done my fair share of trying to persevere through my challenges with the hopes that my desire would be enough to make things happen. Sadly, it isn’t and it wasn’t until I took a giant step back to build a sound foundation that I began to get anywhere. Most of my time and effort over the years was spent getting better at my job, focusing in on the specific tasks and skills needed to excel in my field of choice. This approach did not get me far.

It wasn’t until I discovered and dealt with the key fundamentals that I was able to become more ambitious in the projects that I undertake. It wasn’t until I built a sound foundation that I was able to improve at doing something specific.

Over time, I came to realize that there were four key areas that needed to be dealt with before I could ever do the things that I hope to accomplish in my life.

Idea Capture

It doesn’t matter if you have a great memory or the recall of a goldfish like I do, we live in overwhelming times with more input than even the most organized brains can handle. You need to have a place to put your ideas and a quick and easy process for calling them up.

My Suggested Tools: nvALT for OS X (Your Mac) and Simplenote for iOS (Your iPhone and iPad), Instapaper for iOS, Evernote for OS X and iOS.

Correspondence Management

While email tends to be the true beast here, we receive and insane amount of contact through a comical amount of media. Having a process for organizing and responding the messages that come our way is an essential part of every career.

My Suggested Tools: Gmail, Mailplane for OS X, TextExpander for OS X, OmniFocus for iOS and OS X and a CRM (I use Simplenote and nvALT for correspondence notes).

File Storage

At some point your crap will overwhelm you. Without a method for giving the tangible and digital information in your life a proper home, you will find yourself distracted (if not buried) by the reams of paper and gigs worth of files that get created every single day in the pursuit of our best work.

My Suggested Tools: Dropbox, Evernote for OS X and iOS, Hazel for OS X, Fujitsu ScanSnap1. and David Spark’s Paperless.

To-Do Management

Without a way to store the things you need to do, you will find yourself overwhelmed and you will notice things slipping through the cracks. No matter how good you are, it’s improbable that you can keep this all together without a system. For some, that will be as simple as a sheet of plain paper; for others, robust task management systems like OmniFocus will do the trick.

My Suggested Tools: OmniFocus for iOS and OS X, Due App for iOS, Fantastical for OS X, Listary for iOS and David Seah’s Emergent Task Planner.

There will be a wealth of specific tactics you need to learn and master in order to achieve your goals, but these four general areas serve as the starting point for the disorganized souls amongst us. Regardless of how obvious this list may seem, it is essential to figure out how you can best approach each of these areas. I don’t care what it is that you’re looking to do, I don’t care how hard you work, if you are one of the many amongst us who struggle, you need to create this foundation before you become distracted from your true focus. Steal what you can (both from myself and from others), but experiment and find the way that works for you. The more natural the process, the less you will have to think about it, and the more you can focus your energy on what matters: the work you’re meant to be doing.

What other skills do you believe to be essential for a sound and productive foundation?

  1. This is an affiliate link. Regardless of that fact, I still love this frigging scanner. []