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Ask HN: What tools have most helped your day-to-day productivity?
119 points by cadeljwatson on March 10, 2018 | hide | past | favorite | 105 comments
I'm looking to find out what tools people use (software, apps, or otherwise) to increase productivity. It could be things like task management systems or more specific development tools (like a certain CI provider).

I have a 7-minute sand timer I picked up for a few dollars. Whenever there is a task I keep putting off, I'll commit to doing the task at least until the timer runs out. It probably sounds silly, but it really helps me get things done that I'd avoid otherwise.

>Whenever there is a task I keep putting off, I'll commit to doing the task at least until the timer runs out.

This does work. I noticed that when I force myself to spend only a few minutes to get an overall idea how I would solve a task I keep putting off -- after a few minutes of contemplating I suddenly get inspiration to have it finally done.

How often do you find yourself either keeping to that seven minute limit or going past it? Also, do you flip it over at the end if you go past the seven minutes? How do you decide when to start it?

I don't flip it over. Usually I'll go beyond the timer for some period of time because once I get some momentum on a task, I'll want to finish it up. I also use it to timebox activities that can consume the entire day. For example, if my office starts getting messy I may decide I want to spend 7 minutes a day just straightening things and organizing. In that situation, it becomes more of a notification of when to stop and get back to other work.

Yes, getting started is the hardest part.

You should try pomodoro ;)

I have. It is interesting but didn't really stick for me when I tried it. I've found some techniques that didn't work well in one period of my life work incredibly well in a different period when I'm working on different types of tasks, so I should try it again sometime.

My reply falls in the otherwise category.

The Nutribullet blender has let me add one additional billable hour a day. Instead of cooking breakfast I blend it. Half an avocado, 1 raw egg (for the downvotes), protein powder, a little flour (or walnuts), creatine a frozen banana (or carrots), and almond milk. I love them.

I make these twice a day and prepare 3 smaller quick meals. Less dishwashing. Less decision fatigue as to what to eat when I awake.

I also purchased a pull-up bar and skip the gym most days.

A better Wifi router surprisingly helped too. I was previously adamant that my old one was fine since it provided 5X the bandwidth provided by my ISP anyway. I was wrong.

I'd also recommend learning to cut your own hair and stop watching the news so you can concentrate on your tasks and not ruminate about the state of the world.

I use to visit a barber twice a month to maintain my hair. The total time cost was 5 hrs/month, and a cost of $50/month. Now I shave my head 3 times a week. The total time cost is 8 minutes a shave, or 1.5 hours/month and a cost of $10/month.

The 3.hrs/month and $40/month extra is nice, but I wouldn't recommend it to someone as a productivity hack.

What kind of hair "maintenance" are we talking about? My admittedly low-maintenance hair style takes one visit about every two months and costs ~20USD each. Just wondering whether this is a case of both different hair styles and different local barber pricing, or whether there's more to it.

I had a stylish haircut. It included using both a razor and scissors. The haircut looked significantly worse if it grew 1cm and noticeably worse at .75cm. My hair grows about 1.4cm/month.

I bundle style, hygiene, diet and exercise together in a group called "appearance" and find investments in this category valuable for non-malicious social engineering.

I forgot to factor in combing, washing, and drying. The time saving is closer to 5hrs/month and $45/month. It's kind of crazy how I forgot people have to comb their hair.

Yoo could start enjoying a nice breakfast if you started billing by, say, the week.

I think the raw flour actually has more of a risk of salmonella contamination than the raw egg. And doesn’t it taste gritty? No downvotes here though, that’s an interesting routine.

same here about buying a better router. In my case, was an ASUS RT-ACRH17 AC1700. Best USD70 bucks spent on 2017´s xmas.

Mind sharing which wifi router you have? Did it improve your bandwidth dramatically? Thanks.

Yes, the Netgear AC1750. My DL speed went from 15Mbps to 70Mbps. I honestly thought all these years my ISP was capping me at ~10Mbps. Who knew.

Note some of my recommendations above are in Tim Ferris' book Tools of Titans. Love that guy.

> a little flour

Whoa! Flour in a smoothie?

Yes, but in my creatine blend I also have psyllium powder. It acts as a laxative since raw flour can is a good way to get constipated.

I use a bunch of IDEs from https://www.jetbrains.com/ (mainly Idea) and it is hands down the most important thing for my productivity. Been using them for over 10 years, super worth it.

Seconded. I've used RubyMine for years (at home and at work), just getting into Go, and finding GoLand by them is fantastic.

Also tmux.

me too. After i got used to the shortcuts and tuned the JVM, never looked back ( to eclipse ) again.

I record my screen all day using a cron job and shell script and a small node express app to review the day and categorize time. I always was inspired by John Carmac's discipline so I do that knowing I'm recorded and know I will see it later when reviewing my day.

It's way more of an optimizing tool than switching ide's ever was for me.

I've found doing fine-grained time sheets had the same effect on me. The trick, of course, being the discipline to actually do it.

Open source it! :)


Interesting, what does the node express app do?

It shows thumbnails of my screenshots in a timeline so I can zoom and see what I was doing. Then I click on them and tag them to tasks. It sounds time consuming (pun intended) but I have keyboard and mouse shortcuts in the page.

I'm thinking I should push it to a GitHub repo since it lets me log time for the day down to the minute in about 5mins on average.

That sounds really neat and useful. Sometimes when I'm billing hours, time gets fuzzy, and I forget. Making it take just five minutes is a very trivial amount of time given that value.

Couldn't you just sample window titles and automate the categorization?

please, open source it.

I've slowly developed my own system to focus my efforts. It's mostly manual now but I'm automating it.

Daily: Reference my weekly goals and decide what I intend to do for the day. Look back on the previous day and pull over not-done items that I still need to do. It's very tactical execution. Examples are cleaning the house, finishing up taxes, or scheduling lunch with a friend.

Weekly: I write a summary of the areas in life I care about (work, family, social interactions, fitness, reading, volunteering) because my memory isn't great. I also reflect on the previous week's goals. Then I decide on goals for the next week. It's similar to iteration retro/planning at work. The big thing to watch for is intentions that show up multiple days but I don't end up executing. This is a sign that either I need to focus on it more, or stop wasting energy on it if it's not actually important. Examples of weekly goals are getting 7 hours of sleep, going to the gym 3 times, or building a feature in a side project.

Quarterly, or whenever I finish a big goal: Review the big picture goals. Are they the right goals? Are my weekly goals helping me achieve them? Examples of these are training for and running a 15k, completing a side project, or starting a band.

What tools or apps are you using to track/automate this data?

I'm building a web app for it. I could probably piece it together from existing tools but I needed a side project and I think other people might benefit from it.

Bullet journaling.

If you scrape off the layer of Tumblr or pinterest types who spend their time on calligraphy and washi tape, underneath is a really great system for productivity and dumping your brain to an analog medium.

Bonus: it's just a book and a pen, so it's "cross platform", and I never have to worry about XaaS providers going under, or Google killing a project and losing all my notes.

Do you have any recommendations for tutorials or guides?

Just use the "official" one, with the caveat that you don't have to format your pages the way the author does.

I use Ike for Android (Eisenhower time management matrix). It's adapted for people who can't use 'Delegate' for less important tasks:

      Now | Soon
    Maybe | Don't
Everything else I've tried for task management left me kinda paralysed trying to figure out what to do first and procrastinating.

The `Don't` quadrant is also a good place to record the things I do to procrastinate.

Keeping it all on my phone and not syncing it to a device that I actually use for work also stops me idly peeking at other tasks and loosing focus on what I need to finish (at which point I just take a break instead)

The app I use can have multiple matrices for work/home/whatever, but I tend to just usea single matrix and focus on managing all of my time.

I also use Workflowy for my notes/todos/journal. I connect it with complice.co where I set my intentions for the day every morning.

I usually create reminders from my desktop but I want to READ, DISMISS, SNOOZE and RESCHEDULE them on my phone. This led me to combine two usefull apps.

1) Remind Me Later (https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/remind-me-later/id408236729?...) - Let's you create Google calendar events from your desktop with single shortcut. It works like google "quick event" text box. Just write the reminder with a day or time at the end. I created a new calendar in Google to group all my reminders.

2) Calendar Notifications Plus (https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.github.qua...) - Ensures you get a notification for every calendar event, even ones without an alarm. From the lock screen you can dismiss or snooze the reminder. You can configure the list of snooze times and the default swipe length. You can move the event to a different date and time. You can pick which calendars it monitors, so if you just want it to see your reminders, it can.

>It works like google "quick event" text box

Google has removed this feature in Calendar, sadly.

Gmail filters. Take a month. Whenever an email comes in that is not actionable, unsubscribe, or create a rule that either trashes it or sends it to a low priority folder. PayPal notifications of monthly statements, your credit card bill has been paid, mailing lists, make a rule for all of em. Now your inbox contains almost exclusively email from a person to you. This makes it far easier to operate at inbox zero.

There's a nice open source alternative I use called imapfilter by Lefteris Chatzimparmpas. I have it set to run every 2 minutes on a remote server and have the config file in an svn repo. It's easy to add new rules locally, and I have it set to auto-deploy when I commit a change.

It's also pretty powerful. For example, any email in my "Newsletters" folder is automatically deleted if it's 30 days old.

Same as the above comment, it only works if you are diligent about adding new rules, but after a while you'll notice that the only emails in your inbox are important.

When moving to this type of system, instead of manually deleting or moving an email from your inbox, add a rule to do it for you, commit it, and watch the email disappear from your inbox. Write the rule once and you'll never have to deal with that type of email again.

A door that closes.

I wish

Being able to work out of a home office helps with this. And moving out of San Francisco helps with being able to afford a home office. This wasn't my primary motivation for moving out of SF, but it's been a nice benefit.

Sorry for the non-answer here, but I think this is rather subjective depending on what kind of work you're doing and the tools needed for the job.

With that being said, learning shortcuts/macros for whatever tool you're using can lead to impressive productivity gains. This can be learning up more shortcuts for Vim, to learning how to create tables efficiently in Excel (lol). Customize some for yourself if you need to.

Another thing that has worked for me is automation. Automate as many things that are repetitive as you can. In software, this can be simple bash scripts. Learn how to scripts well. If it's 3 manual steps that you need to get an app running for dev purposes, stick it all into 1 script and run just that 1 script.

You're minimizing the risk of human error and increase your productivity significantly.

StayFocusd chrome plugin -- I set it up so that I have a grand total budget of 10 minutes combined between 8am-10pm to look at notorious time-suck sites like Reddit/NYT/FB/etc. After the time is up, you're locked out of all the sites. It's great, and free.

Emacs, Org mode, magit, Alfred.

Visual Studio Code with the LaTeX Workshop addon is definitely my favorite LaTeX editor. The integration with the Chktex linter, latexmk, git, and all that jazz just makes it so much easier to focus on writing.

For research management I had been using Mendeley for a while and got a bit frustrated with the way it handled bibtex. Like it got really annoying when I had papers which fell into multiple categories and/or were used in multiple papers. My new setup is to use JabRef to manage individual bibtex files for specific projects and to use Mendeley just for document management and notes.

Oh also PyCharm is extremely good.

I initially like Mendeley but ran into problems over time. I've tried half a dozen options out there and found www.paperpile.com to be my favorite.

Workflowy: https://workflowy.com

Dynalist: https://dynalist.io

Either one works great for productivity.

I used Workflowy for a couple years and loved it. But I craved something a _little_ more robust and found https://checkvist.com. It is similar to WF in terms of concept and UI but it has a lot of handy extras.

Hi, thanks for mentioning. I'm a Checkvist developer, if you have any questions - please ask.

Wow, has this really existed for seven years? Congratulations, smooth as silk, impressive!

Well, a bit more, actually. It will be 10 soon :)

Huh, this even exposes an Open API. I'm going to have to check this out.

C# Developer:

- Vi-key bindings in Visual Studio (and VSCode) for editor navigation

- Resharper for code generation and file navigation

- A password manager for maintaining secure passwords

- Todoist to for task management

- Evernote (premium) for notes management

Tools really only can help you so much. Productivity is a lot more about attitude and skills. The necessary attitude is that you are trying to avoid unnecessary work, instead of the more typical of attitude of trying to do all the work more efficiently.

More here: https://codewithoutrules.com/2016/08/25/the-01x-programmer/

I have ADHD-PI (previously called ADD).

The two things that have helped me most are (1) ritalin and (2) pair programming. Between the two of them I can stay mostly on task. I am able to use less ritalin when I am pairing, which I like, because at higher doses I get uncomfortable muscle tension.

Coming third, a fair way back, is a calendar program. Any one of them will do, so long as I can program multiple reminders.

Everything else is negotiable. I'd scribble code by hand before giving up ritalin.

I use this every minute of the day :) https://tomato-timer.com/

Came here to say pomodoro technique. I use a physical kitcten timer at home but use this website when I am working out of a coffee shop.

I have a running list on google doc where I write down every and anything that pops up in my mind throughout the day that I consider a to-do or inquiry. I organize the document by day and start with three categories: high priority, medium priority, and low priority. I tend to develop anxiety when I think I might forget a novel idea or task because of the other obligations I have throughout the day. Once I write down the to-do/inquiry, I vow to put the thought away until later in the day when I have down time to get more in depth. This has really helped me stay focused on tasks more deeply.

I also maintain a bullet journal. Like others have described, once you get past the frills and truly customize it's functionality, it becomes a very powerful tool for accountability. If you are a paper and pen type of person.

Switching Gmail to the Inbox mode. Then it suddenly becomes a pretty decent task queue management tool.

Figma.com (a browser based Sketch) for me.

I am able to quickly prototype out ideas. I used to use Slides or OneNote for jotting down ideas, now I just sketch them out and wire them up as a quick prototype. Now I have all of my quick sparks sketched and drawn out without getting lost.

have you seen http://www.draw.io? I like that one.

Yes - I have & I use it for user flows. But that is mainly for flowcharts and visio type of drawings.

I'm using "Lights spreadsheet" to fight procrastination and build good habits: https://www.ultraworking.com/lights/

Workflowy (https://workflowy.com) - diaries, projects, brainstorming, someday/maybe idea storage.

Evernote (https://evernote.com) - a store-and-forget tool for information of any kind that I might need at some point.

Matterlist (https://matterlist.com) - to-do lists, recurring tasks, calendar. (Full disclosure: it's my own Wunderlist alternative, currently in alpha testing.)

Matterlist seems interesting. My problem with these kind of services always comes to two things:

- Pricing; - Privacy;

I find it incredibly expensive to spend 5usd (and 10 on some) for essentially a to-do-list software. And you might tell me that it's the price of a coffee, but it really is not. A coffee, where I am from, is much cheaper, but more importantly, everything is subscription based nowadays. How come it is so expensive?

- Privacy: Is that E2EE? I suppose not. Does anyone know of such a project that has E2EE and is not from the US? (edit: apparently, matterlist is from estonia. Good)

Also, you state "Try our native apps now! It's free!". I would, but apparently it's "coming soon". There are no accounts and there is nothing to download yet. Is it even possible to use it right now?

> Is that E2EE?

Not yet. However, this is something I'd absolutely like to see implemented, including for my own personal use. Alternatively, we could use optional LastPass-style encryption based on a master password for task texts, which should be easier to implement (though it will restrict search by task text to client-only).

> How come it is so expensive?

We'll need to be self-sustained for the long term. The app is 100% bootstrapped and there will be no external funding. Plus, a to-do app just cannot afford to be unsustainable, because its closure will hurt a lot of its users. So we'd prefer to scare off some part of our potential user base, but in exchange gain better financial stability and thus longevity.

Also, it may be just me, but the app, as it currently is, with all its rough corners, provides much more value (at least by a couple of orders of magnitude) to me than it's planned monthly cost.

> Also, you state "Try our native apps now! It's free!". I would, but apparently it's "coming soon"

Sorry for that. We haven't publicly announced the app yet, but the site is written and designed as if the app is already available for download, hehce the mismatch.

The timer on my watch for Pomodoro. The tactile alarm is less jarring than audio.

Also Vim.

rm -f gulpfile.js

I recently made a decision to try hard to avoid a build step in my scripting projects. Happy with it.

There's no object or process (hardware or software) instrumental to productivity. It comes from the personality dimension called conscientiousness (not intelligence). It can be improved with focused work.

Here's Harvard's advice on doing that: https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/raising-your-...

https://rescuetime.com , when I bother to pay attention to it.

I'll detail some of my favorites for Alfred, in the terminal, and in sublime-text.


I like http://www.alfredapp.com. Gives you immediate access to lots of tools and you can install custom workflows. A few favorites:

sublime workflow - https://github.com/franzheidl/alfred-workflows/tree/master/o... - Useful for opening folders or files in sublime.

git repos - https://github.com/deanishe/alfred-repos - Search local repos in alfred

font-awesome search https://github.com/ruedap/alfred-font-awesome-workflow - Retrieve css for fontawesome.com icons.

HN - https://github.com/wkgg/hackerNews-alfred-workflow Shows hacker news in Alfred.

I've also written a couple workflows. There is a really nice python library: https://github.com/deanishe/alfred-workflow that makes it easy.

gist-alfred - https://github.com/danielecook/gist-alfred - Search and copy github gists from alfred.

Quiver-alfred - https://github.com/danielecook/Quiver-alfred - Search and open quiver notes

codebox-alfred - https://github.com/danielecook/codebox-alfred - Search and copy codebox snippets.

I've come to rely on the codebox and gist workflows for managing snippets quite a bit.


Autojump https://github.com/wting/autojump - Remembers what directories you have visited and allows you to jump to them. Jump to them by typing

  j <fuzzy search dir name>
pyenv - https://github.com/pyenv/pyenv + python-virtualenv - Manage python versions or virtual environments at the directory level. Makes managing multiple projects with different software requirements much easier.

direnv - https://direnv.net - Similar to pyenv except it allows you to set environmental variables. Useful for setting things like API keys.


I'm a big fan of sublime text. Some of my favorite packages are:

git - https://github.com/kemayo/sublime-text-git - Add, commit, branch, push, pull

GitGutter - https://github.com/jisaacks/GitGutter - Shows which lines are modified, added, and deleted in the gutter of the editor.

SendCode - https://github.com/randy3k/SendCode - Send code to the terminal/iTerm/IDE.

SublimeLinter-flake8 - https://github.com/SublimeLinter/SublimeLinter-flake8 - Used to clean up Python code.

I use Pocket to save articles to read later, Todoist for my to-do list, and OneTab chrome extension to keep my Chrome tabs clean.

Wallabag is a great open source alternative that you can host yourself. Anything interesting that I stumble across on hacker news (or elsewhere), I add to Wallabag, then when I fly I have a huge collection of articles to read.

Sorry for a non-answer, but I noticed whenever I get excited trying out new tools and apps (I love productivity apps), what is really happening is that I just procrastinate. Tools can be useful but won't make you magically more productive.

Having said that, what I find incredibly useful is Scapple as a form of "smart" paper.

I use Sunsama daily (https://sunsama.com) to navigate my time + tasks. Disclaimer: I also work on making it.

I also built a really fast rig recently. It saves me a lot of time since I’m spending less time waiting for projects to build and can’t lose focus.

TextMate - simple with great bundle support.

Also, a new version (v2.0-rc.8) just came out a few days ago: https://github.com/textmate/textmate/releases/tag/v2.0-rc.8


Developer journal, simply in OneNote, kept day by day and a separate section for general knowledge or quick snippets.

It takes some time before it pays off, in my case one month, but it offloads your memory and allows you to quickly look up issues to problems you have had before.

vim,tmux,i3,taskwarrior and redmine

It's totally fine to be a nerd about your tools, but sometimes, productivity comes when you stop being one.

I had major productivity boosts after switching from a nerdy tool, to a more mainstream one:

Linux -> Mac

Vim -> Emacs -> Sublime -> Vscode

Gdocs/OpenOffice/iWork -> MS Office


Also, stopping hating JavaScript and embracing it allowed me to do awesome things. I used to be a system/backend-only engineer, but once you get your head around UI, you get a lot more freedom.

And it's not just about getting MVPs out. For example, I had to make a few audio-processing algorithms, and in order to help myself understand and debug those, I build a simple web app to visualize each step of effects chain. Oh, and with hot module reloading, I can record a sample, then change the code and see updated results without losing the sample. Bret Victor level of productivity ;)

Oh, and after some bundling and transpiling (if necessary), I can run the same code in browsers, node.js and mobile (we're actually using jscore directly)!

I'm surprised nobody has mentioned Freedom:


It's a siteblocker, except at the VPN level (so you can't just disable it from your browser).

Really helps me be productive.

if like me, you're an avid user of vim, the vimium [0] plugin was a game changer in my productivity.

[0]: https://vimium.github.io/

Walls. They block distractions to a number of senses: audio, light, smell.

I use http://www.hammerspoon.org for scripting my own window management, extra shortcuts for my mouse, pomodoro timer.

care to share how you use hammerspoon?

- Flip audio outputs dependant on the application running (e.g. if Zoom I want my headset with mic, if Spotify I want my DAC/Amp).

- Mute sound when suspending, so I don't accidentally wake my laptop up with the volume on in some public place.

- Bind applications I use often to capslock+letter.

- Close ScanSnap application when my scanner isn't plugged in, and open it when it is.

- Move windows and resize them when I'm docked into monitors.

- Type my paste buffer into places where paste is forbidden.

- Extend my screen timeout from 2m to 10m when at home (based on SSID).

A few of the examples, there's 1000s of things you can do.

Evernote and VSCode have both been gigantic productivity boosts for me.

The "Do Not Disturb" mode on my mac and iphone

Vim, although now I often use Atom with Vim bindings for Clojure work.

Parinfer for Atom.

Clojure. Easily the most productive tool in my library.

Netsso.com, bookmarker which holds all my links to places I might wish to revisit, behind one single sign on, from any PC/ Android. Very fast re-find search. Also loads my Dropbox while encrypting the files if i wish to, and they decrypt on any other machine, with no software required. Takes Notes, too,

The clipboard manager in Alfred

Ditto, indispensable utility within a must-have mac OS utility. I look forward to one day having the option to increase the font size of the clipboard.

Autohotkey, Resharper, Timesnapper, Evernote, Stickies (the app, not the paper)

gitlab projects - for todo lists, notes etc., (so they can be accessed everywhwere)

pycharm - for editing python programs

Zim - for wiki style editing

vim - for remote files, non python files etc., where pycharm is not option

tmux, emacs/emacsclient, org-mode.

pen/paper, OneNote, think-cell for graphs / reports, Alteryx for quick data blending.

orgmode for work on the Mac, OmniFocus on Mac and iPhone for private tasks.

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