How to make organizing your daily work easier? Productivity Tools

I’ve recently been asked to write a brief article for my colleagues at Predica, to talk about the tools I use in my daily work, and why I chose them.

Many of them found it quite useful, so I thought I’d share it with you too – maybe you’ll find your new favorite here?

Key points

  • What are the 4 basic productivity tools anyone can use?
  • How to use them effectively?
  • Why do they work?

Everyday tools

When I first thought about this round-up, the initial thing that came into my mind was – ok, I will write about my key daily tools:

  • PowerShell + Visual Studio Code for automating + my favorite site for Microsoft Graph 🙂
  •, of course, for managing Microsoft cloud
  • Postman for making HTTP queries and testing OIDC/OAuth, APIs, etc.
  • OneNote where I put literally everything – all my knowledge. I also use it for requests/incidents and case tracking
  • Fiddler/Wireshark for web debugging
  • KeePass for storing passwords (no, I do not store passwords in a notepad!)
  • Chrome browser with the built-in possibility of using multiple profiles and themes that allows me to easily separate sessions, so I can see which environment I’m working on, and with which permissions.

Check out the screenshot below. It shows 3 browser windows. I am signed in on each of them with a different account. Based on the different themes, I can easily tell you that:

  • the top one in white is for my standard user account for a client’s Azure environment, SharePoint, MyAccess, OneNote, ticket system, OWA, Azure DevOps, documentation, etc.
  • the middle one in red is for my administrative account for a client’s Azure environment
  • the bottom one in yellow and black is for my administrative account in my private Azure tenant – for testing and fun.
A screenshot illustrating individual Chrome accounts

Customized Chrome tabs

If you haven’t used it, give it a try!

  • …and last but not least – the wonderful Visio for building diagrams, schemas, etc.

Oh, and I use the built-in Windows Snipping Tool 😉

4 essential tools

After listing the above tools, I thought, nope… I work with great specialists, and if you’re reading this, I’m sure you are one too – so you already know how to use them! So, I went in another direction.

I will share the tools I use to organize my day-to-day responsibilities, track small tasks and bigger projects. I’ll also share how they help me with the preparation of monthly or quarterly evaluations.

Let’s dive in!

A day in the life

To give you some context, I work in our Managed Services department for one of our larger clients.

Typically, during the course of the day, I will do the following:

  • check/answer e-mails
  • check the ITSM (IT Service Management) tool for active requests/incidents and resolve them
  • create SOP (Standard Operating Procedure) and documentation
  • automate or improve repetitive tasks to have more time for – wait for it – more interesting tasks
  • participate in projects
  • improve service and knowledge sharing by sending findings and updates to the team. It allows me to easily jump into new engagements. How?

Everything I know is either documented or shared with someone else. When a new opportunity is on the radar, I don’t need to transfer the knowledge to another person, as there is already someone who can handle this – it’s a win-win situation.

The problem

Now you know what I do on a daily basis, you need to know another thing: my memory is so bad that I have to write everything down.

I bet it’s because I never had any walnuts growing up! (If you didn’t know, walnuts are great for memory and brain health.)

Jokes aside, the truth is that I am, and always have been, a list-maker. I like to have everything written down. I want the list to tell me what I need to do – nothing more, nothing less. When at the end of the day everything is done, I am happy, and I sleep much better!

The solution

I use several tools to manage my work and personal life – perhaps you’ll find them useful too.

  • Private life: paper notebook, Android Habits App, Android Google Task App
  • Work: paper notebook, OneNote.

This is what I thought my old-school notebook would look like:

…but in reality, it is much simpler and looks like this:

notebook example

General structure of my notebook

My paper notebook

My paper (or “analog” ?) notebook is the first place for every incoming task. It also serves as a tool to quickly jot something down to remember it, while I’m focused on something else.

Its structure is simple, divided into 3 parts:

  • Routine
  • Priv (private life)
  • Job (work)

The Routine section includes tasks that repeat every day. As for Priv and Job, both of them are structured in the same way. Each task can be split into subtasks, and all tasks can be prioritized as follows:

  • Task 1 (orange) means medium priority (do it after all the ones in red are done)
  • Task 2 (red) means high priority – do it now.
  • Task 3 (strikethrough) means it’s been done or moved to another tool. Sometimes I need to move it somewhere else, e.g. if it’s a complex case where I need to collect some data, screenshots, etc., if there’s no set timescale or I want to set a reminder for it.
  • Task 4 means a normal priority task = do it when you have the time.

Yep, no rocket science here. It looks simple – and it is!

Click the image to see it in full size.

notebook explained

Sections of my notebook, explained (click to view full-size)

My applications

In addition to my notebook, I also use some apps – so let’s go over what they are.

Habits app (Routine)

It contains the tasks that I repeat every day, multiple times, that are related to my health.

There are just 4 categories there: strengthening and breathing exercises, pull-up bar, water, supplements.

When at the end of the day, I have done a task a desired amount of times, I mark it as success in the app.

Why do I use this system?

Because in the past I thought that if I was doing something healthy enough times, I should see the results. But once I started to actually track it on paper, I noticed I would only do 30-40% of what I had planned.

Also, at first, the target frequency wasn’t as high as I wanted it to be. You know how it is when you’re starting out – you want to get going, but not do so much that you give up after the second day.

This is the view of the app:

screenshot from Habits app with Task view

A screenshot from the Habits app showing task progress and analytics

Google tasks (Priv)

This one does not need an explanation. Here is where I add tasks with a specific deadline. This way, I can access them from anywhere – I don’t always have my paper notebook with me – and I can set reminders.

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OneNote (Work)

I use it for everything related to my work: projects, tasks, resolved requests/incidents, knowledge, service improvements, OKRs, etc. – everything that in the future can help me work faster.

As per the below screenshot, it is divided into 3 main sections:

  • Evaluation (blue)
  • Dairy for TGO (purple)
  • Knowledge (green)

You might want something simpler or more complex – this is just the structure that works for me. Click the image to see it in more detail.

OneNote structure

The structure of my OneNote notebook (click to view full-size)

Evaluation (blue)

This section contains everything related to OKRs and my progress at work. Each year and quarter have their own section. They sum up everything I’ve done in every 3-month period, as well as plans for the next one (after my 1-on-1 with the Team Lead).

Having this section makes it much easier for me to prepare for my quarterly evaluations. I like to be well prepared for this meeting and this way, I have everything written down.

Plus, because I have everything in one place, it saves me going through my mailboxes, projects/repos, ITSM system and notes to find the things I need to include in my review.

With OneNote, I can just link to each item, write a short description, highlight the effort, organize it, and add the information to 7Geese which we use for OKR management – and that’s it! All done in 10 minutes, instead of hours.

I also have another section to help, which is:

Diary for TGO (purple)

Named this way after the one and only Tomasz Gościmiński! He was the first person to recommend to me a great course on productivity and show me how to effectively organize my tasks and responsibilities. It made sense to honor him in this way! 🙂

In this section, I track everything that I do each month. The structure is always the same (highlighted in purple on the right of the image above):

  • SNOW ritm/inc: named after the ServiceNow system, it includes all requests and incidents that I’m working on, or completed in the current month. I use a simple table for tracking them.
    This section allows me to easily provide reports on all completed tickets, and also include some of them as Service Improvements in the monthly review.
    You might think: “But you can do such a report in the ITSM system!”
    Unfortunately, we cannot. Hence, the table 🙂

Other sections include:

  • Not started: this section contains my backlog.
  • In progress: here is everything that I’m working on, which is bigger than a request/incident in the ITSM system. (Of course, requests/incidents can also become something bigger.) If I need to, I also create a subpage for each task, to better organize it. This can include scenarios, solutions, troubleshooting, etc. This way I can easily create any documentation or SOP, or use the information in the next project and share it with the team.
  • Done: when a task from “In progress” is finished, I just label it as “Done: <Name>” and move it to this section. It makes it very easy for me to list my client service improvements.  It is also very useful during the quarterly review – just as the SNOW ritm/inc page. It also shows my Team Lead what I do besides the regular duties.

Dairy for TGO lifecycle

The section is divided by month. At the beginning of each new month, I move the completed tasks to the “Done” section. Whatever is left in “Not started/In progress” stays in place. This way, I can keep my list tidy.

To clear the whole item (with subsections) you can just click on the arrow (highlighted), minimize item, and then move it:

OneNote section zoomed in

Click on the arrow to minimize the section

In the past, this section used to be really detailed also divided into days. I gave up this idea as it was too complex just for tracking tasks. Now I can say: the simpler the structure, the easier it is to use – and the less effort staying organized takes, the easier it is to achieve!

Keep in mind that all of the above works for me, but you might find other tools that work better.

Which tools do you use?

So, what do you think? Do you use any of these tools and have any tips? Or maybe you’d like to recommend something else? Share it in the comments or let me know!

Key takeaways

  1. OneNote is very powerful when it comes to organizing your tasks. Remember to keep it simple, it will make it easier to use.
  2. My way may not be the most effective, and I see improvements for it. Still, it works for me, gets me the information I need, and allows me to save a lot of time.
  3. You might not need a paper notebook at all. I like it very much though, and crossing out completed tasks gives me more satisfaction than moving an item from “In progress” to the “Done” section.

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