My Story: How I work, the services I use

I’ve always been fascinated by being productive. I continually look at what I’m doing to see if I can make it easier, more efficient, faster, more repeatable and less error prone. One of the things that I actually love to do is read or listen, to writings, to podcasts and to audiobooks about “hacks” or systems that can help improve my productivity. I’ve decided to start writing up some of what I’ve learned in a new series on this blog entitled, How I work. It’ll be my attempt to help you, perhaps, adopt some of my habits, rituals, and systems. I’m not the most productive person on earth, but I’m also not the least.

In this post, I’m going to start out by explaining how I use multiple services in my life to make my myself productive everywhere.

It all starts with apps and the cloud…

It probably sounds a little bit like marketing BS, but it does, for me, I work for Microsoft and we use Office 365 for everything now. My email is in Office 365; my documents are in Office 365. Of course, there are some things that Office 365 can’t do so I have to use some other cloud services too. Office 365 is my linchpin.

Email: Office 365

I probably receive about 50 to 100 emails every day in my inbox. I subscribe to, and use mail-rule ninjitsu to manage, about 50 internal email lists generating about 1000 emails a day. So you could say I get about 1100 emails every day. My mail-rule-ninjitsu means I don’t read them all every single day but I snack on mail lists every couple of days.

I’ll do a separate post on how I manage my inbox another time. I have a very specific system there too.

Notes: OneNote

I keep notes of everything in my OneNote and, because it synchronizes across all my devices and is also available anywhere on the web, I always have my notes. I do almost everything first in OneNote, using it as my scratch pad. I use it to plan projects, to write outlines and to keep critical information. It’s the page-file of my brain.

Blogging: Word

Word 2016 is my blog editor of choice these days. It easily lets me post directly to my blog, which runs on WordPress on Azure. What I like most though about using Word is the proofing tools. I’ve had more than a few comments about my poor grammar and spelling over time and Word’s proofing tools are my first check that everything is good before I post.

I also use the “Read” function of word (at tip from Ben Armstrong). It’s really helpful for quickly editing things – hearing them aloud helps and having the PC do it means you don’t feel strange talking to your computer alone in your office.

Presentations: PowerPoint

I present a lot and create an awful lot of PowerPoint decks. Besides email, it’s the way that Microsofties collaborate the most, I think.

So outside of Office 365 what do I use?

Other services I use

Probably, how I use all these services requires another specific post for each, but this basically is what I use.

ToDo and Tasks: Trello

I manage my personal Kanban board of tasks and projects in Trello. I thoroughly recommend reading Personal Kanban: Mapping Work | Navigating Life by Jim Benson and Tonianne DeMaria Barry. When I’m on my various different devices I either use the Trello app or a 3rd party app on Windows Phone or the website on my desktop.

I love the Kanban approach to task management because I really value the process element of the system. Moving items between different stages of completion.

Automation: IFTTT

If This Then That takes some of my inputs and puts them into practice. I actually have recurring tasks for scheduled in IFTTT that will fire up Trello cards for me at certain times. For example, every Friday I get a “Update team report” card and every last Thursday of the month I get a “Finalize Team Report” card.

IFTTT also helps me manage my social channels well. When I tweet something with a link IFTTT spots it and adds it to my Pocket (see below).

Reading: Feedly

RSS is still a pretty easy way to reliably know what’s happening in the world. I consume lots of Microsoft official blogs, blogs from our MVP community and from people who I think should be in the MVP community. To do that I use Feedly. I watch our competitor’s blogs too. I also watch other blogs that really interest me, like Wired.

Sharing: Buffer

When I read something in Feedly, and I think it’s worth sharing with my Twitter, LinkedIn and Google+ followers (Follow me if you aren’t), I post it to Buffer. Buffer then drips out the links at times that I’ve configured to be good for people reading my Twitter, LinkedIn and G+ feeds. That way I don’t swamp you folks with links.

This is where my workflow starts to really get automated though. Remember, every link I tweet goes to my Pocket thanks to IFTTT.

Reading: Pocket

Pocket saves things for me to read later. IFTTT catches all my tweeted links here for me too and I explicitly add things that I didn’t want to tweet about immediately.

Once a week, on Thursday afternoon IFTTT reads everything that I’ve added to Pocket in the last week and sends me an email digest. The five best things become my Friday Five for that week. (If you don’t know what my Friday Five is it’s simple; the best 5 things I’ve read, laughed about, listened to or watched).

Reading: Kindle

I like to read quite a lot. Mainly about productivity, management, technology and the like and I only read things on Kindle now. Paper books aren’t something that I like to cart around with me if I have them signed by the author they live on the coffee table in my office.

The last word

Well that’s the tools I use most often that live in the cloud and are pivotal to my workflows. I haven’t included things like publishing platforms, like this blog or Channel 9. Hope this post is interesting and little different.

The next post I’m thinking about writing is about how I keep my learning productive. The tips and tricks, systems and processes, methods and mental manipulations I employ to never stop learning. Use the comments to let me know if you like this kind of stuff.


  1. I love thee types of post. Always good to see how others work and hopefully improve your own process

  2. Thanks Simon, great post!

    I was always wondering how to make things simple and be productive in the era of continuous change especially Microsoft.

    I would really appreciate if possible to go into more details for each point mentioned here.

    Thanks again,

  3. Thanks Simon, Trello looks good, I’d be interested to know how you use it in another post? You use a lot of toolsets… I’m trying to simplify things and hoping for a day I can just use OneNote for everything! Do you know if task management is coming to OneNote?

What do you think?