Battle-test Your Productivity System During An Emergency


Life turns upside down sometimes. Emergencies happen and my life changes in a heartbeat. I can’t foresee every emergency but I can prepare as best as I can for it. I recently had a medical emergency and my normal daily schedule was disrupted. I had more pressing matters to worry about. This was the perfect time to test the durability of my productivity system and find ways to improve it.

No one wants unfortunate events to happen. But Life has a way of throwing obstacles on one’s path. It’s a challenge to adjust to a different way of life and a new mindset. Our productivity system can change for the better to handle new situations as they arise. Life becomes unsustainable when I have new added priorities. Something has to give sooner or later. I’d rather be the person who gets to control over what I want to give up.

I decided to document my baptism-under-fire and record what I’ve encountered and how I can improve my productivity system for the next emergency.

Capturing During An Emergency

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A notebook is a must-have accessory that I’ve always found comfort in. I usually go for an A5 notebook. It’s small enough to carry around but big enough for me to write. When I’m tryin to capture ideas and notes, my handwriting is not pretty. I’m trying to write down as quickly as I can. My horrible handwriting wouldn’t be able to fit on a bunch of index cards. The A5 page size is generous enough and I can scribble across several pages with ease. There are times when I am consulting with people and tapping away on an iPhone doesn’t feel quite right. I’ve found that writing down something forces me to be economical and truly think about what I want to capture. If I’m typing while capturing, I am just transferring a conversation from my ears to my fingertips. It feels like I’m bypassing my brain when I’m transcribing. Writing notes into a notebook engages my mind to understand the conversation I am having. During emergencies, there are so many things flying at me and it becomes a whirlwind of chaos swirling around me. Capture everything now and process it later.

When I feel lost, I start a GTD mind dump by documenting my fears, my concerns, and any lingering questions that I might have. It feels so much better to get everything out of my head and on to paper or a checklist. The first few days of any crisis can be mind-numbing. There are so many questions and worries to deal with. A mind dump can relieve my mind of all the stress that comes from worrying if I forgot about something.

Afterwards, I start to process the ideas I captured. Some items go into the calendar. Other items are entered into my task manager. Miscellaneous go into my DevonThink notes database for future reference. Process the notebook as an inbox to make sure every note goes to its proper destination.

Prepare In Advance

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Somewhere in the back of my head, I always wanted to prepare for an emergency ahead of time. I never want a crisis to happen and I wanted to make sure I was prepared as much as I can be for anything. Natural disasters such as hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, and wildfire has a way of changing lives in a heartbeat. Medical emergencies and accidents also have the same effect. I prepared as much as I could before any emergency.

Preparing My Checklists

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Checklists is the first thing I create to prepare for future scenarios. Atul Gawande wrote a book about creating checklists.

When I’m in crisis mode, the last thing I want to do is think. There are too many bullets flying around or too many fires to put out. Checklists gives me a way to offload a lot of decisions and focus on the current situation. Checklists can be created in a text editor, a task management app, an outline, or a mind map. An easy way to create a checklist is to follow a template created by someone else. Then customize it to fit your particular scenario.

My task manager has several checklists that I can follow up on when my current emergency take top priority. I have checklists for a natural disaster, a medical emergency, and for when a family member or close friend is in need of immediate help. I also have an emergency contact list of immediate family and friends who can cover for me. Checklists prepares me for the worst cast scenario and helps me avoid missing anything that I need to take care of immediately.

Review The Due Soon Checklist

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Many task managers have the capability to creating a saved search view. In my instance, OmniFocus’ custom perspectives allows me to create a Due Soon perspective that lets me see all tasks that are overdue or due soon.

Using a Due Soon checklist allows me to see any tasks that needs to be done despite my current emergency. From here, I can see which due tasks can be delegated to others. I can negotiate with other people and defer a due task or eliminate it. Due tasks must have a true deadline date for a task to be completed before penalties are incurred. I discourage myself from assigning fake due dates to tasks that don’t really need one.

I review this Due Soon list either daily or every other day during an emergency to ensure that I don’t miss anything that needs my attention. Multi-tasking is hard enough during normal situations. But it becomes necessary when simultaneously dealing with the real world and the immediate crisis.

Update My Documentation

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Keeping my documents up-to-date has always been important. During a crisis, the last thing I need to do is go crazy looking for documents that were misplaced. I’m already stir-crazy with my emergency and I don’t need to run around the house or the office looking for important documents. 1Password has been a saving grace for me. I scan all of my documents such as passports, credit cards, identification cards, insurance cards, registrations, and medical information. It’s kept safely from prying eyes with 1Password’s security measures. I have everything I need in digital form. I also note where the original documents should be located at if I need to produce them for others.

Every six months, I run a checklist to make sure my digital documents are up-to-date and I know where my original documents are. It’s a safety net that I have relied upon when s••t really hits the fan.

Take Care Of Myself So I Can Take Care Of Others

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I can’t help people when I’m not taking care of myself. Sleep, exercise, and rest is always important, especially during a crisis. It’s not easy when I’m worried about someone else’s medical condition or situation. But I need to be strong when others need me the most. If I get sick or exhausted, it becomes harder to think clearly and make decisions.

Review As Needed

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As soon as an emergency occurs, I start a massive unscheduled review in my task manager app. I park all of my active projects and set them to On Hold status. There are some projects that must continue onward whether I’m available or not. I delegate as many projects to colleagues I bring into my circle. I can negotiate with clients by explaining my situation and work with them to come up with new terms and conditions. Sometimes I might have to drop a client and forward them to another shop. I try to make sure that the client is well taken care of if I can’t manage the existing work into my new situation.

After a week has passed, I can review my situation and try to resume my projects. Sometimes it takes a while to recover from the beginning of a medical situation or natural disaster to get back to normal. I need at least a week to get my life under control once again. I review whenever I start feeling lost and I’m unsure of my current projects’ status.

Communication Is Key

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When my situation started, I knew I had to reach out to my colleagues, friends, and family to appraise them of my status. I set my new boundaries by explaining my current condition and set possible new conditions (at least temporarily) about the near future. Thankfully, I have a great social support network who can help pick up the slack while I deal with my emergency. I create a list of all the people I report to. I update my status on a weekly status (or more frequently as needed). It’s always a blessing to have people offer me prayers and support when I need it the most.

In times of uncertainty, I’ve learned to seek out mentors. Someone has been in my situation before and they’re a great source of information. When I’m in shellshocked mode, it’s nice to know that I’m not alone. The unknown becomes clear when I seek the advice of those who have gone through similar situations that I am in. I learn from them about pitfalls and warning signs that I might encounter in the near future. I’m always grateful for the help and advice that has been graciously given to me.

After the emergency has passed, I make a note of sending thank you notes to those who have helped when I needed it the most.

Prepare For The Future

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There will always be special case scenarios that I can’t foresee. Now that I’ve been through an emergency, I’m better prepared. I look at my current emergency checklists and look for new ways to improve it. In my first rodeo, I can prepare but I won’t be able to see every pitfall that I may encounter. Now that I’ve been through a situation once, I have a better feel of what I can work on.

One of my current Big Rock projects that has been going on for a while is documenting all of my workflows. I document any repeating tasks. I document any situation (how to deal with a difficult client, what happens when something breaks) that may arise. I record anything that might need special handling and my thoughts on why I settled on a workflow. I know I might be giving away my secrets but I’d rather make sure that there is someone else that can take some workload off me while I take care of my emergency. I dedicate at least two hours every week to record my workflows. I like to know that the business can go on while I’m offline for a few weeks or longer.

I’ve given my 1Password master password to my wife if there is ever a need for her to check certain accounts such as the bank, utility companies, and other secured web sites. I documented notes on each 1Password entry and why each entry exists.

Every emergency is an opportunity for me to stress-test my productivity system. I look for weak points where my productivity system started leaking. I record that in my journal and prepare a small project to review my current workflows and come up with adjustments or a new system that can handle future emergencies. It’s a great learning opportunity that shouldn’t be passed over. I can feel more confident when I know I’ve improved my system so that future emergencies won’t be so shocking.


Start preparing for emergencies by working on your systems today. It’s impossible to cover every situation. But if I can prepare as much as possible, I’ll be ready for nearly anything. Documenting my workflows, preparing my checklists, having a notebook ready and available, and communication with my support network have been key in helping me with my emergencies. I’ve had some pretty tense moments to start the new year but I was able to wade through it with care. I’ve been able to analyze my productivity system for weak points and have create many new projects to strengthen those areas.

S••t happens. That’s a part of life. Some of us are not prepared for uncommon events such as storms, Acts of Nature, a medical emergency, or a disruption in a relationship. Some of are not ready to even think about it. But if we prepare now for the worst case scenarios, things can go a lot easier. What have you done to prepare for emergencies? Are all your ducks lined up in a row? Do you have a “Break glass in case of emergency” plan in place? Share with us some of the things you’ve done. I’d love to learn more about what I can do to prepare myself for any future emergencies.

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