A Case Study in Workflows and Productivity: Chuck Grimmett

How to be productive: 

  • Know what you need to get done
  • Prioritize and schedule your work
  • Build habits and routines
  • Learn how to get back on track when you fall off your schedule
  • Add tools to increase your productivity and efficiency

This week on Praxis Monday, we were joined by Chuck Grimmett, a former team member at Praxis and the current product manager at Crash.co. Chuck spends his time balancing projects and product builds, which means productivity is very important.
Chuck’s worked as:

  • The Director of Web Media at FEE (rebuilding FEE’s web presence)
  • Project Manager 
  • Product Manager

Each one of these roles has required him to be organized, focused, and efficient. He’s learned how to be productive in order to succeed in each job, and he’s developed a strong skillset when it comes to getting work done.
That skillset is what he shared with us in our Praxis workshop — how he thinks about how to be productive, and how he structures his own day-to-day productivity system.
Side note: you can learn more about Chuck’s early career journey in his back-to-back episodes of the Career Crashers podcast, where he talked about how he got started in the first place. It’s well worth a listen.
A few fun facts about Chuck:

How to be Productive

Chuck thinks about his workflow as a five-step process:

  1. Know what you need to get done
  2. Prioritize and schedule your work
  3. Build habits and routines
  4. Learn how to get back on track when you fall off your schedule
  5. Add tools to increase your productivity and efficiency (the most fun part, but only important after you get everything else done)

Live on the Praxis call, Chuck broke down his approach to each of these points — how he organizes what he needs to get done, how he figures out what to tackle first, and how he gets himself back on track when something throws him off his schedule.
Below are notes on some of Chuck’s biggest points. As you read through this post, think about it — which of these points would be good to integrate into your own workflow?

Step 1: Know What You Need to Get Done

“Capture everything that needs to get done and get it out of your head so you don’t need to spend brain power trying to remember what comes next and when it is due.” — Chuck Grimmett
We’ve talked about the importance of to-do lists on the blog before. They’re one of the most important tools when it comes to being organized.
Capturing all the tasks you’re responsible for on a to-do list helps you to always know what you need to get done. Knowing what you need to get done makes it easier to organize those tasks, which in turn makes you more likely to successfully complete them all. 
Chuck’s advice on to-do lists:

  • It doesn’t matter which task manager you pick as long as you use it consistently.
  • Capture tasks in your task system as soon as they come to you
  • As soon as you’ve completed a task and need something else to do, check your to-do list first before you go down the email/Slack/Twitter rabbit hole.

Step 2: Prioritize and Schedule

“The main question I ask myself when looking at a task is, “Is this moving towards my main goals?” I have two main goals, which are user growth and revenue. If something on my to-do list doesn’t move me towards those two goals, should it even be on my list?” — Chuck Grimmett
Chuck’s advice for prioritizing and scheduling your work:

  • Always know what’s most important, and schedule those things first.
  • Your day begins the night before. When Chuck finishes his day, he takes time to write down the next things he needs to accomplish tomorrow, so when he comes to his desk the next day he can jump immediately on the first thing rather than wasting time.

Step 3: Build Habits and Routines

Your habits and routines will evolve over time, as your needs change and as you figure out what you like and what you don’t. Worry less about coming up with complex routines and more about finding small habits that work really well for you.
We talk a lot about building habits in Praxis. They’re really important — they’re the framework that structures all your other work. Getting in the habit of checking your email is really important for staying on top of your communication. Getting in the habit of working at certain times every day can radically increase your output (because you don’t have to spend time each day getting into the zone).
Good habits are an important part of Chuck’s productivity system, and he shared his most important habits with us on the call:

  • Inbox Zero — always clean out your inbox before the end of the day!
  • Guard your focus — close out all other distractions when you’re working on something
  • Eat the frog — if you eat a frog, it’s probably going to be the worst thing you have to do all day, so you might as well eat it first thing in the morning and get it out of the way. He puts a big circle around the frog on his to-do list.

Bonus advice, on one of the most important habits for professional development: “One of the things that’s really important in the working environment is to follow up with people who are waiting on you, even if you don’t have an update. Just tell them what’s in progress every couple of days, even if you don’t have anything finished. It goes a long way in easing people’s minds on what they’ve delegated to you. Send regular updates, even when things won’t be done for months.” — Chuck Grimmett

Step 4: Learn How to Get Back on Track

We’ve all been there. You’re doing great, sticking to your habits, getting things on your to-do list done, and then something comes along that throws you off track.
Learning how to be productive requires you to know what to do when things get hard, not just when things are going according to plan. Resilience is everything!
What do you usually do when you get thrown off track? Do you have specific habits or routines that help you refocus? A specific playlist you like to listen to? Do you go for a walk or to work out and come back later?
Chuck’s favorite strategies to get back on track:

  • Change the body, change the mind — Tony Robbins says this a lot, and it’s good. Even just doing a couple squats or going for a walk or doing some pushups can get you in a better mind frame.
  • Get a change of scenery — go work in a different part of the house, or head to a coffee shop.
  • Remove distractions — go through a mental checklist and ask what’s been distracting you and how you can get it out of your life for the next three hours.
  • Make a plan — when Chuck gets really stressed, he pulls out his notebook and writes down the things he needs to do — not quite just a to-do list, but a more intentional brain dump. 
  • Build momentum — getting out of the weeds happens one step at a time. Start with one thing, followed by another, and build momentum as you go.

Step 5: Pick Your Tools

Once you have a good working system in place, it’s time to find some great tech tools that will help you become more efficient and increase your productivity (by making you faster and more streamlined).
Chuck’s top recommendations for places to start — no matter what type of work you’re doing, these should be valuable to you.

  • Clipboard manager — paste (iOS/macOS), ditto (windows). Check out Chuck’s video explaining how clipboard managers work here. 
  • Drafts (on iOS, but not android — you can find something similar for windows). A great plain text editor, that allows you to export in different formats.
  • Focus — for Mac users, but a great Windows alternative is the Chrome extension Stayfocused. Additionally, Praxis alum Levi Zitting created a similar tool called Focusapp, which you can download here
  • 1Password — password manager
  • Notion (alternative: Airtable) — great for information capture and organization.

How to Be Productive: Additional Resources

If you think this is useful, here are some additional resources that Chuck has compiled:
How to Get Work Done: a Primer — this post covers all of the points Chuck covered in our workshop in much more detail, and is a great jumping-off point for learning how to be productive.
Thoughts on Providing Solutions, Learning, Culture, and Distractions Chuck’s analysis of his own system and the biggest challenges he faces at work
Portfolio Project Ideas With Python Need some ideas for documenting your work while learning Python? This post should give you some ideas.