- one inbox to absorb tasks you distribute later
- lists go into working contexts so you do them while in that context
- short term and long term are different
The issue I have is that we also have different “recording” contexts. These days I can use an app on my phone, a note in my computer or a notepad in a meeting. I have multiple inboxes that have to be routed.
In addition I think the relationship between project and tasks needs to be fleshed out.
However I think those 3 insights persist across all good productivity systems.
- I got overwhelmed by what I was capturing
- Contexts weren't useful at all and only complicated the system
- I had far too many tasks on my list that made me feel guilty for never starting, no matter "when" I would schedule them
The sort of system that ended up helping me was an exhaustive exercise that helped me determine my lifelong values, and how they related to my priorities in terms of actions. Then I could identify my tasks - not as "oh gosh, I should do that too" impulses, but as actions that were actual logical implications driven from my values. I discovered that the large majority of my "guilt-driven" tasks were tasks that actually weren't connected to my values, or could be replaced by other tasks that were a better fit. And I almost never "capture" - I will review my values, and reason from there.
Overall, that worked better for me because then I had a system that gave me a built-in way to say no. From what I learned about GTD at the time, GTD doesn't have that.
Mind sharing how you went about determining your life values?
I always envy those who seem to have a clear cut purpose.
So for instance, I started with the statement, "I have a happy, fulfilling life." Then I tried to think of the 3-5 things that were each necessary and collectively sufficient, and without overlap, in order for that to feel like a true statement.
It breaks down in a somewhat predictable fashion from there. For me, there was health, financial security, social, purpose, etc.
Then for each of those, you do it again. Visually, I had the "fulfilling life" statement on top, branching down from there. So like an upside down pyramid. As you go down, the statements get more personalized and actionable.
Over the years I've found that the lower levels change more frequently than the upper levels. Like, staying up to date on a particular Anki deck used to feel necessary to justify the statement above it. Now it doesn't.
It's also pretty impossible to always keep the entire DAG up to date and perfectly reflecting all my priorities in my life. Life's too big. (Or maybe I just don't have the right UI/UX.) But doing it once gave a lot of perspective in terms of telling the difference between what's really important to me, and what I thought was important but really wasn't.
How I use them:
I wanted a system where there are a number of to-do lists defined by the work area(I would do all tasks in one work area at once).
I used to use Trello before this but the three board format(to do, doing, done) did not work for me as it only took lots of screen space without simplifying things. I basically just wanted a “to-do” and “done” list on top of each other rather than side-by-side
TickTick has a beautiful app that is very flexible to how you want to organise the tasks. You have boards > which have lists > which have sections > and also have tags. With TickTick I am able to make the list acts as to-do with check boxes and when we check them, they move to the bottom of the list struck-through. This way I am able to put more lists in one single view related to completely different aspects of my work.
Every task that I need to do or anything I hear in a meeting that I want to take action on in a few days, I dump it into TickTick. Then I have different board for Work and Personal (and I those boards lots of lists and within lists, sections)
Sorted3 (iOS/Mac only)
It’s a mind blowing time-boxing app where you can schedule your day to the minute. This way I get more done in less time. And then I chill!
How I use it: First I mark every task I am going to do tomorrow as “tomorrow” in TickTick. Then I have created a iOS shortcut called “Plan Tomorrow” which brings all those TickTick tasks into Sorted where I assign them a time of the day/sequence while mostly using the auto-schedule feature. And I have the Sorted3 widget on Home Screen so I see all day what’s next and stay motivated to see the work ending much sooner.
I have never paid for any app in life but this app compelled me to since it solves a problem no one else could and in an elegant and user friendly way.
For storing knowledge for long term use. It’s a knowledge management system that actually works. I never get confused or looking for old info as I have it organised in there.
Although obsidian would also work well with fuzzy finding since it stores markdown files locally. For any rough edges, you could write a Lua plugin for neovim, if you want fully featured vim (I tried out the Obsidian vim mode but it doesn't seem to be feature complete).
I’ve tried a handful of note taking apps with checklists, and actual checklist apps over the years. The one thing they’ve all had in common is that they’re too cumbersome to really integrate into my daily habits. I need something that lets me add and adjust super quick to accelerate the actual task getting done.
I think org-mode does this. You can schedule tasks and get org-mode to compile an agenda for you.
The better way to do it is to set priorities on TODO header items in org-mode. This is far from perfect through because you're still manually setting priorities across all projects - which is very flawed.
For myself, I think that’s too cumbersome so I use vimwiki. A sibling comment mentioned org mode and I think that would be an excellent tool to implement this and imo, work better than vimwiki.
Contexts, yes, I just found out that I currently was not benefiting from it. For me, nowadays, its more like "work mode" and "not-work mode". And simple and short lists are working efficiently enough. I don't know, maybe my life just got simpler ;)
* macbook: at a desk or whenever/wherever it is accessible
* iphone: quick note pretty much anywhere like train ride
* apple watch: running, in the pool, during sauna session or in the gym weightlifting
* siri: while driving car or riding bike
These all end into a single inbox.
Unfortunately this requires full buy-in into the apple eco-system.
Normally, I can trivially capture every note on either mobile or laptop into the root of Workflowy and distribute later as needed. This is already a pretty decent single inbox.
The one leak was capturing thoughts in contexts where typing is not feasible. Ultimately, I landed on using Siri and just jotting notes into Reminders on iPhone/Watch/Mac. When I'm out, I capture notes this way, then at home run a script to transfer the notes into Workflowy.
Here's a hype piece with the script. The page also doubles as an experimental art study of contrasting zero HTML styling with exaggerated ad copy. Hopefully it's pretty dissonant.
oncretely, I use Things for my to-do lists, and can easily drag an email into it (or use its Mac hotkeys) to make a Things inbox item like “Reply to Joe about the Foo project”. Once everything’s in Things, I schedule them where appropriate, or move them into projects like “Work > Icebox” to come back to later.
The core principle is that I have one place to look to know what I need to do. This works for me. The other option of having multiple active inboxes fills me with dread and I can’t operate efficiently like that.
I like to use one text file per big project and keep all related notes and todo items in there. I also have one text file specifically for meeting notes and its todo items. I also keep random daily things in that file (one headline per day). In case todo items from meetings belong to a specific project I can move them to the project file, if not, I leave them in the one big meeting/journal text file.
That's the other large point of GTD that apparently you didn't internalize. It's "don't do this". Centralize those contexts into the same storage, if any of them are on paper, store the papers around the computer where you sort things, if all are digital, synchronize the files.
Unifying the inbox adds a lot of value.
My entire productivity system revolves around Vikunja. It's essentially just a todo list application, but it's super flexible (e.g. view as list, kanban, gantt, etc), supports having many lists (I keep one per different idea/topic), and so many other features. You can also self-host it for free, which has been a completely painless process for me personally, and gives you the standard peace of mind from being in control of your personal data.
Highly suggest checking it out!
I read it about ten years ago and still use some parts of it, it's a good system and probably becomes more and more useful the busier you are. I'm sure it could be used alongside the app you shared. Which looks nice btw, I've been looking for something self hosted to use for a small team. I'll check it out.
I've been using Remember The Milk for the last several years. At $40/year it's been rock solid.
Essentially as a leader in a larger engineering org, the productivity systems that generate more value are the ones that are shared. Even though I can't control them directly I can create more value by A) getting onboard with the way that collaborating teams want to work and B) influencing people and nudging these systems in the direction that makes sense based on my expertise. This often feels like herding cats, but it's a core job of a manager. In addition, all software workers, whether manager or IC, need space for deep freeform thinking. It's imperative that whatever systems we use not come in the way of this.
With this in mind, my personal system has to be lightweight and flexible so that it minimizes overhead and doesn't impose any constraints on how I am working with others. To that end, I've largely reduced to using Workflowy for all tasks / notes / plans. I do this in a reverse chronological style w/ regular chunked archiving. I also star every "important" email thread and bookmark every relevant doc or page that comes across my desk. In this manner I can go back and search history comprehensively as needed, but my working space for any given project or domain is always small and generally fits above the fold in the Workflowy context. There are a few little tactical hacks I use (eg. #action hashtag for todos), but those are ephemeral and I will discard or change them whenever it suits me. The key thing overall is that the system requires less than an hour a week of maintenance and is a single source of truth for my personal focus.
I was usually using a single text file from which I was removing done items. The problem was that I then didn't remember all those small things I did that added up to big amounts of time. The feeling of time running away without remembering how is really demotivating.
With this, I can see on a calendar view when I did what, it's very low ceremony, and I can easily plan for the week ahead. It also integrates with a ton of other tools.
I switched off all the included rituals to start with, so no opinion about these.
It's a bit on the expensive side at 20$/mo, but if it saves me just a little time every month, it's already paid for itself, so yeah.
Overall, very recommended, happy user. And I'm definitely not one of those "maximize my daily productivity and optimize every waking hour around it" folks. I've also tried many other todo list / task board tools, but they don't really fit the "daily planner" bill.
I consider myself pretty highly productive. Typical week had 8+ meetings, calls, follow ups, research, thinking time and sometimes coding. Typical CTO and CPO stuff. I tend to get 90% of important things done. If not more.
I’m fairly busy, but just use my inbox with search, Apple notes and Apple reminders. Works fine for me.
Am I just missing out on something?
This becomes obvious once it comes to your attention that the people who are supposed to be experts in this, apply their productivity towards selling more productivity. Which is delightfully perverse.
In reality, if you are embarking in projects that are important to you, you rarely need that many reminders and get by with the simplest system (such as what you are describing) or none at all. All trivial other tasks can fit in a single list. And the things in your personal life that are actually meaningful, such as fulfilling relationships, are not something you can Zettlekasten your way into beyond setting a reminder for some birthdays.
My ‘system’ now is just focusing on one major goal outside of the regular work/family stuff.
I use tools for quick capturing of ideas. I always keep a pocketmod and a pen on me. Notebooks at home. Voice Memos and Voiceliner for when ideas hit late at night.
Jonny Decimal synchronized with Dropbox. Org-mode for digital notes. Organice for mobile access.
Nothing rigid though, process should not get in the way of just living.
For example, even the creator of SuperMemo seems a fairly average person and not the polymath/hyperpolyglot one might have expected him to be (or at least I could not find any indication of that).
Likewise, what has David Allen actually done beyond writing the same book half a dozen times?
As far as I can see this stuff mostly exists to fill a need for structure, but it does NOT make one exceptionally productive (also accounting for the time that needs to be invested in the tools and techniques themselves).
ZK wants to apply a linearity that just isn’t relevant to the things I want to record.
It's also important to keep in mind that in the kind of research he did, concepts were a bit shorter.
Stories by people that were once at the middle rungs and made it to the top through better organization would be a lot more interesting and relatable.
You're probably not missing out on much. You've hit the 80/20 long ago.
Complex GTD systems are useful in unorganized workplaces where things are left to individuals to solve.. It's a way of juggling constantly changing priorities. So if you don't need them, it's likely that your workplace organizes well.
Without productivity tools, my life would be a stressful chaos.
E.g. you cant control how your boss treats you but you can control how you organize your tasks.
I use Apple Notes/Reminders for most things. Calendar is critical. Lastly I do use Trello, similar to Cal Newports recommendations, just so I know how to organize my sets of tasks. But seriously, Apple Notes is a godsend in its simplicity.
A simple but constant reminder system (perhaps with a smartwatch or phone) can be of more use.
1. Executive Dysfunction
2. Limited working memory
Organizational tools can help with #2, and can also help break down tasks to be less daunting, which can help sometimes help #1, but only if the executive disfunction is being managed with other means like medication.
This is part of GTD.
Sure, you can try breaking a task down to its smallest component, but not all problems can chunk like that. And even the smallest component will take non-zero work.
I would be curious to learn about a system that could actually accomplish that.
For my side projects and explorations I use org-roam, Nix, and direnv.
So activation energy is:
- org-roam-find-file, type, "so me proj string", enter
- C-c C-n to go to heading
- C-c C-a f to open project directory attached to heading
- envrc-mode sets buffer local PATH values according to flake.nix 100% reproducible environment
So tying this to my productivity system with org-mode and org-agenda is either org links that can execute arbitrary elisp like:
elisp:(org-roam-find-file "so me proj string")
These combine to rule out the biggest factors preventing from moving side projects forward:
- build issues or the chance of them that inevitably arise with anything less than 100% reproducibility
- a way to talk about and organize each project and ascribe meaning to groups of projects because each is an org-roam node
- a radical assault on anything monotonous I feel the computer should be doing for me or anything that annoys me at all
- the freedom to wander aimlessly and make progress, yet never lose a given starting place
You are correct that many tasks cannot be made that small, if they cannot be achieved then the task becomes locate and ask for assistance.
To expand, when I teach people productivity, I keep it simple. I am familiar with both GTD for tasks and BASB/PARA for knowledge. Both approaches boil down in to having a central location to put stuff, organizing stuff around based on how immediate it is, and then having a regular review process to trim excess.
It's very similar to scrum. Dump everything into the backlog, organize it around what's going to be the most actionable, and then periodically trim/refine it.
That's the key. It works fine for you. It wouldn't come close to working for me though. I've had to dedicate many hours building a system that works for me.
That said, I've never been into productivity porn. I've spent my time figuring out what wasn't working and how to fix it. Reading about 'productivity' is an unproductive use of my time.
Every year there are new apps/tools/"systems". There is an entire industry catered to making you "productive"
It took a few times to stick, but I've now fallen in love with Obsidian and am migrating everything except a large project's task-tracking system to it. The WYSIWYG editor, fully nested hierarchy and fast full-text search is fantastic and makes it better for my personal documentation.
I'm extending my Trello backup project to make the migration easier. Take a look if you're considering the same move. https://github.com/GSGBen/t2md
It's the only productivity/todo list type app that I have ever stuck too.
I think it's mostly because of the flexibility it overs. I put everything into it.
I have a whole board called 'Spark File' which is just lists of stuff, so whenever I need an idea for something it's there. Want to watch a movie? I've made a note of every trailer I saw that looked intreasting, every movie i've had recommended etc, I can find something on there to watch,
Want to get someone a gift? I've noted down anything they have said or I have seen that is relevant, so i've got a list of stuff to consider to go.
Black Friday? I've already got a list of things I am looking to get sometime, so i can simply check if anything is on offer, etc etc.
My main todo list has Inbox, todo, Doing, done. I capture everything to the 'inbox' and then when i sought through it, it either becomes an entry in the relevant list in the 'spark file' or I figure out an action i can take on the idea and it becomes a todo.
It also feels more permanent. I used to use other note taking apps where the notes were thrown away after migrating to a new app because it wasn't that convenient to transfer between apps. Plain text can't go wrong in this matter.
I used Dropbox Paper and Google Docs before. Once you reach certain size, it is very very slow.
The caveat with the text file is the lack of fuzzy searching capability... but it's tolerable so far.
PS. I've built my own git sync: https://github.com/tanin47/git-notes -- it is written in Go.
Text files are organised in yearly folders with a file per month. Each file is basically an ini setup, each day a section with either free text or boxed tasks: [ ] or [×]. If I need associated files, dated folders.
Paper notebook is pretty much a bullet journal without the flowery nonsense you see on Pinterest.
In the end, I stuck with Drafts. It doesn’t have the 7-item feature/gimmick, and it’s not as pretty, but it’s been 100% rock solid for me for years.
For me this little app is so useful and flexible that it has definitely improved my productivity. It’s not GTD and I use it both for it’s original purpose but also to capture and manage tasks I need to do. Wanted to throw this out there for anyone looking for something super simple but also genius.
I have a journal where I write notes with daily todos or make notes about systems/code, etc. It's okay for everyday stuff.
Then I have a separate PARA for larger ongoing stuff.
For example, one of the main symptoms of ADHD is limited working memory; thought to be caused by underdevelopment in areas of the frontal lobe.
> Antoine St. Exupery (author of the little prince)
"(author of the little prince)" could have been taken away.
Tasks -> Projects -> Streams -> Goals
I think in this format.
I do love how Noteplan handles daily notes, and used Shortcuts to script up my replacement app of choice to emulate my favorite bits of it.
The Daily Notes are essential, especially with templates.
TL;DR, I use a PostIt pad.
I've read three of his books, and although not all are "great", there's always some interesting thoughts about what he shares. I also like that he really gets people to develop a sense to actually think and work deeply, and move away from shallow and unsatisfactory busyness.
His newsletter and now his podcast are excellent ways for people to ask questions and get suggestions and help for free.
He has a bit of a big ego, but I wouldn't use that to call him "another BS self-help sales person".
Teaching productivity is not like teaching mathematics or philosophy. There is a limited range of things to learn and apply, and the core ideas are concise but difficult to put in practice. A good teacher in that space would essentially be able to impart their wisdom in maybe two hours, at which point the success of the teaching would lie in the student actually following what they were told. An ongoing productivity podcast or book series flies in the face of this. The mere act of commercializing productivity dooms the entire edifice. If the student is still on episode #23, the sales has succeeded but the teaching has failed.
The productivity genre also never seems to provide empirical data to back up their recommendations. Like it would be great if these gurus actually conducted experiments into the best notes-taking systems. Evaluate them against each other with real results.
Oh, you say that every person’s best system is going to be different? Then maybe an innovation in this genre should be helping readers figure out which system should be best for the self, rather trying to prescribe one-size fits all systems and merchandising it with bullet journals and paid tools and the like.
Everybody else has turned hocking productivity advice into lucrative careers.
However without reflection that may include notes on notes, you are doomed to the suboptimal or even counter-productive.