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My productivity system (nunodonato.com)
197 points by nunodonato on Sept 18, 2022 | hide | past | favorite | 140 comments

There are three insights that David Allen had with GTD that I appreciate:

- 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.

It's interesting to me that GTD has so many adherents - clearly there is a wide cross-section of people for whom it works well. I tried really hard for a while but ended up concluding I must be a different category of person. I experienced the following pain points:

- 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.

Wouldn’t the clarify step involve such decision making? Whether or not you actually want to tackle the stuff you may have captured?

No, because the clarify step is applied to everything you capture. If your problem is that you're capturing too much, then it doesn't really help. It sort of assumes you're going to process what you captured someday.

That sounds a good approach.

Mind sharing how you went about determining your life values?

I always envy those who seem to have a clear cut purpose.

There's a business term called MECE - mutually exclusive, collectively exhaustive. It's just a way to break things down. You can break one thing down into multiple other things, MECE-style. There might be a bunch of different ways to do that, you just pick one.

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.

It’s pretty much the Covey-Franklin pyramid method.


The biggest thing for me from GTD is building a system I can trust. It goes in and I can forget about it until the right time. Mind like water.

I was pretty much the opposite. Going back to Day Timers, I basically don't do systems. But I found quite a few little insights. Break big tasks into actionable steps, if you're sure something will really just take 5 minutes don't put it on a list do it, don't fill up your calendar with todos that mostly won't be completed, etc.

It is more than just tasks for me. Ideas. Somedays. Etc. not losing things is important with adult ADHD. There are still only a few important tasks per day, but not losing track of things like “call someone this evening” reduces cognitive load for me.

Oh. Definitely having lists even if it's for a project I shouldn't forget about though it will hopefully solve itself if I drag it out long enough. Essentially everyone forgets about things that are some months hence if they're not captured somehow.

For me, GTD told me that if a task takes under two minutes, just do it now.

and that great acronym: OHIO

After experimenting a lot here’s my productivity system that really works for me: Apps I use: 1. TickTick (for task management and short term notes) 2. RemNote (for knowledge management) 3. Sorted3 (for time boxing)

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 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.

RemNote: 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.

That's exactly my problem. After using all these apps I am having hard time routing these into one app and my lists are scattered across different apps. I wish there was a painless and easy way to jolt and knowing it would end up in my master Todo list. But instead I have to think which app list i should be using...

I've been using Omnifocus for to track Todo items and Apple Notes for taking notes. Both sync across all my devices. This has been working really great. Before the pandemic I used physical notebooks to take notes during meetings because it made it obvious to others that I was paying attention to them and valuing what they are saying rather than slacking with someone else. That led to the integration problems you describe and I needed to spend 15 minutes every day syncing things. Arguably that also was a valuable review time that sometimes led to new insights.

I’ve stuck with vimwiki + fuzzy finding for years and it’s worked without any issues. If you’re into vim based tools, and haven’t tried it, I recommend checking it out.

What about on mobile? I've been trying to switch to obsidian because of that.

I'm not big into using my phone for notes. I'll put random stuff in Bear or Apple notes but I take my computer everywhere so I just use that for the wiki.

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 was reading every tool is a hammer by Adam Savage and he also has a variant of short term and long term task lists. He essentially keeps a mega checklist for each project which can have infinite resolution and be as fine-grained as he needs it to be. Then for his daily lists, he pulls in tasks from various mega-lists. I thought it was a neat approach and it’s been fun to adopt it.

That’s a really interesting way to solve the problem, and I would like to try it. Do you happen to know if he mentioned any software that operates in that way? I’m imagining many lists, with a nearly frictionless way to say ‘do this today’, and the task moves accordingly.

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’m imagining many lists, with a nearly frictionless way to say ‘do this today’, and the task moves accordingly.

I think org-mode does this. You can schedule tasks and get org-mode to compile an agenda for you.

The issue with this is that you have to pre-schedule tasks across all lists, which means you need to go through all the lists to schedule every item - often each day.

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.

Adam mentions in the book that his solution is fully analog. He has notebooks with project lists and daily lists and he manually re-writes tasks when he wants to copy them over.

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.

GTD suggested as few inboxes as possible, and have them reviewed regularly, not keep it to one inbox.

One inbox is not a hard rule. You need capture tools in many different places (home/office/car are a few examples). You can even use voice recorder (memos) or similar tools. Its important to note that many updates have been made to recommendations as we move forward in time and tech is more present in our day to day, compared to when it was when the first edition of GTD came about.

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 ;)

The apple reminder app(s) work surprisingly well for many cases:

* 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.

For a long time this was a stuck for me. I use Workflowy to manage my projects.

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[1]. The page also doubles as an experimental art study of contrasting zero HTML styling with exaggerated ad copy. Hopefully it's pretty dissonant.

1. https://drivingwithworkflowy.com/

I have one definitive inbox. Each morning, I go through the other inboxes (email, Slack, texts, etc.). I do the tasks I can do immediately, like replying to an email asking a question I know the answer to. The ones I can’t, I copy into my main inbox.

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.

In the below article [1] is suggested to use your regular calendar app on the phone and then later write it clean into your desktop system, whatever you use.

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.

[1]: https://easyorgmode.com/blog/working-with-org-mode-on-deskto...

The biggest improvement to my personal todo systems I’ve experimented with was to quit working for a boss’s vision / to quit taking wage labor where the reward for getting things done is more things to do toward ends that don’t benefit me. Getting value directly from the product of my labor and deciding for myself who I want to work with and how is a great foundation for any todo framework

> 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.

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.

Was really thrown by all the references to "GTD". It seems like a heavily commercialized productivity workflow?

My entire productivity system revolves around Vikunja[1]. 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!

[1] https://vikunja.io/

Getting Things Done is a book that describes a system for... Well you get it. There doesn't have to be anything commercial about it, you can find synopses online for free and the system is simple so those are probably nearly as good as reading the book.

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.

Smooth UI and I can actually try it without an account, that looks promising. I guess I'll add Vikunja to my to-do list ;)

Vikunja looks good, thanks for sharing. The biggest drawback seems to be that the mobile app isn't at parity with the desktop version.

I've been using Remember The Milk for the last several years. At $40/year it's been rock solid.


There are commercial training courses, which most people don't take. The recommended techniques are based on pen and paper - so no real potential for commercialisation there. Of course most people born after 1960 will use some form of computer assistance, but that's not the GTD people selling product.

Is there any way to interact with vikunja through the command line? Or does it defeat the purpose?

Vikunja looks really nice!! I might actually be able to replace MS TODO!

I dabbled with GTD in the late 00s/early 10s. This coincided with growing the team at my startup and generally needing to keep more balls in the air from a management perspective. I even used OmniFocus for a while. But as I moved into larger companies where efficient collaboration is the limiting function, I realized that my personal productivity system is not where the value is.

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.

My productivity "hack" for 2022 was discovering Sunsama[0] a few weeks ago.

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.

[0]: https://sunsama.com/

If you prefer continue using a text file for your todo/done items, then I recommend Easyorg [1]. There you can see the todos from the text file in a more organized agenda. There is also a calendar view where you can scroll week by week to see what you have done and see what's coming up. Kind of what you explain. No need to remove the done items from the text file.

[1]: https://easyorgmode.com/

There is almost no information about that product on the website.

I’m always fascinated by people obsessed by productivity and its range of tools.

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?

It's not really about productivity. It's about creating a sense of control over your life. The reason there is an industry around this is because the need is never sated, and the productivity methods are switched around like fad diets because the underlying issue (anxiety and lack of satisfaction) is never corrected.

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.

You either read, or should read, "four thousand weeks" ;)

4000 Weeks was a game-changer for me. I found the takeaways liberating, and more in-line with my perspectives in general.

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.

I'm 70% done with the book. Definitely a game-changer and already one of my all-time favs. One of those books that I need to buy and own a physical copy (I usually just read ebooks)

I gave it to a friend of mine, who also found it profound, and now they have given it to someone else. I probably will buy another copy.

I would be willing to take productivity porn seriously, if the people obsessing over it were provably exceptionally productive (like, I don't know, "here's how I learned multiple languages and musical instruments while finishing a physics PhD as a single parent" or whatever).

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).

"One researcher famous for his extensive use of [Zettelkasten] was the German sociologist Niklas Luhmann (1927–1998). Starting in 1952–1953, Luhmann built up a Zettelkasten of some 90,000 index cards for his research, and credited it for enabling his extraordinarily prolific writing (including over 70 books and 400 scholarly articles)"


Then, we have had decades to observe whether this approach (that I assume to be familiar to at least many in his field by now) actually made sociologists more productive (at whatever it is that sociologists do), or not.

I tried Zettelkasten, but I think it’s a good solution to a problem I don’t have. I take notes to remember and find information, not to publish it. ZK is more geared toward sharing with others.

No, ZK is only for you. It's like a personal wiki which you use for thinking.

I think that’s much closer to “Linking Your Thinking”. Short version: your PKM is a wiki. Make lots of index pages like “Restaurants Index”, with a master index that maps to all of them.

ZK wants to apply a linearity that just isn’t relevant to the things I want to record.

Luhmann also used lots of index pages in his own original Zettelkasten.

It's also important to keep in mind that in the kind of research he did, concepts were a bit shorter.

Ahrens says as much in his book - the primary goal of Zettelkasten is writing.

I'm partly the opposite. A lot of life advise I see comes from people at the top, meaning they have all the resources they need and are looking for a way to maximize their time. Their methods may not be applicable to randos like me, so I tend to dismiss it.

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.

Re SuperMemo: Well, there is his huge wiki[1] in which he writes pretty long articles about a wide range of topics. So I'd say he is very productive.

[1] https://supermemopedia.com/wiki/Main_Page

I tried, I just wasted a few minutes clicking "Random Page" and ALL results are about the supermemo software itself, most are support emails republished as wiki pages.

like the other guy said "wide range of topics". If you click random you just go to short article after short article about the app?

Click one of the articles from the front page. The short articles about the app are because the wiki is also used to answer questions from users of the app.

Depends :) Maybe you are awesome in managing all that in your head (which would be an exception to the norm). Or maybe you think you are handling at pretty well, not knowing how much better you could handle it. I noticed you only referred to work. GTD is a life-centric system, valuing personal stuff as much as work stuff. Some people use all their brain powers to manage all of that, and then have very little less to keep up with the responsabilities/expectations that are part of a healthy personal and family life. That, for me, its what always made GTD stand apart from other systems.

This is fair. I do use the same system for family and personal stuff. Separate inbox and separate Apple Reminders list.

Here's the productivity blackpill — most "productivity" improvement are dwarfed by immediate skill improvements. Want to be a better insert relevant profession? Get good at skills relevant to profession, don't try to improve some abstract "productivity" that's 10 steps removed from the actual craft.

You're probably not missing out on much. You've hit the 80/20 long ago.

> Am I just missing out on something?

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.

Or for people that simply don't have as good executive skills, a trait that seems to be more variable than is commonly accepted.

I have a job, a side business I'm trying to get profitable, house, garden, 4 kids and wife. Stuff keeps pulling on me constantly. Things need to get done in every aspect, and events planned and done.

Without productivity tools, my life would be a stressful chaos.

Being busy does not = being productive. That is not to say you aren't productive, I don't know you. But it is easy to be "busy" while not getting anything done at all.

I certainly have those day / weeks as is normal in any startup or work environment. But they tend to not be super frequent.

For the people who get a little bit too into it I think it's a kind of a displaced attempt to bring some measure of control over a life that feels out of control. It sates anxiety.

E.g. you cant control how your boss treats you but you can control how you organize your tasks.

I delved deeply into this world and over time, have largely gone back to almost precisely what you do.

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.

I organise things similarly to you. I created montaigne.io as a means to create and publish a website, blog or portfolio directly from Apple Notes.

Congratulations, you don't have ADD

Sounds like a specialized productivity tool would be of little help there, since no tasklist can withstand the problem of just not being able to get started on a task. And something like GTD is only going to be another burdensome and anxiety-inducing task for someone with executive dysfunction.

A simple but constant reminder system (perhaps with a smartwatch or phone) can be of more use.

ADHD has two primary symptoms:

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 depends on exactly which executive functions are impaired, which are not always the same even for those with an ADHD diagnosis.

Breaking task down into small single actions can be very helpful for those with executive function disorders.

This is part of GTD.

And then if you use a system malleable enough to reduce starting effort to 0 across anything (project or task) you do... you just about solve that problem

How can a productivity system reduce the starting effort of any task to zero? There’s such a thing as activation energy.

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.

> How can a productivity system reduce the starting effort of any task to zero? There’s such a thing as activation energy.

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")
Or more often these days emacs bookmarks which can be set with C-x r m by default.

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

Bit by bit add all the links, phone numbers and information to do the task to the todo, once it is all right there then it becomes much more possible.

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.

That is incorrect. Organizing information about commitments and plans is an enormous help.

No, it sounds like you have worked out a good process as opposed to obsessing over tools.

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.

> I’m fairly busy, but just use my inbox with search, Apple notes and Apple reminders. Works fine for me.

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.

No. How many successful people have credited their success to some productivity technique? It doesn't matter, and worst case it wastes time.

What's most likely happening is that a bunch of people need to stay more organized than you to keep track of what you're throwing out there.

The only productivity hack is to not be terminally online.

Every year there are new apps/tools/"systems". There is an entire industry catered to making you "productive"

True that. For me it was not about not being online, but actually being online without getting distracted from useless websites (mostly social media or chat). I wrote about that in my previous blog post. Ever since I cut out all the noise I've found lots of time to read and write, which I love.

I used to use Trello for my entire personal KB, but the description editor grows unwieldy with large cards and you only get a few levels of nesting. It's still great software.

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

I adore Trello.

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.

My working memory file is just a giant txt file that is synced using git to github. It's free and fast (because a text file editor like Sublime is fast and can handle a very large text file). You can also use it offline. The conflict is handled by git, which is familiar to a programmer.

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.

I think that if your memory file is too big, you are implement the idea wrong. It is supposed to be a daily thing, not a permanent memory.

I used to have multiple files, but that didn't work well either. It's nicer to have everything in a single file where you can scroll through quickly. But as mentioned the fuzzy search isn't there though.

Text files and a paper notebook (squared).

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.

As far as productivity goes, I use a text document to track when I begin a new task and I don’t “start” the next task until I finish the previous one. Doing this has made me really conscious of finishing something before I start something else. As far as studying goes, I use SuperMemo to keep track of useful bits of knowledge and my Notes app on my iPhone to keep track of what goes into SuperMemo. I use Things 3 on my iPhone to keep track of recurring To Dos and I work every day to get that list to zero. I have made sure that my Things 3 to do list gets to zero by the end of the day, and I’ve been doing that for the last 554 days.

On macOS, Tot [0] is a great app that replaces the "working memory dot txt" format that Cal Newport likes. The upshot with Tot is that you get a fixed number of pages, and they're synchronized via iCloud. So, you can add to your "working memory text file" from anywhere you have an iOS or macOS device, and it's simple enough that it can't grow into a more complex system.

[0]: https://tot.rocks/

I wanted to love Tot, but its iCloud sync just isn’t good. In my first week or so of ownership, sync between my devices stopped working a couple of times. I followed the instructions (https://support.iconfactory.com/kb/tot/icloud-sync-not-worki...), and that worked for a while, but then it un-synced again. I ended up getting a refund for it.

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.

I've used paper notebooks as working memories for almost 10 years, until I learned about Evernote, which I had adopted ever since. I quickly became addicted to it. I was storing absolutely everything in it. It was around 1000 or 1300 notes when I began to lose track of things, meaning, information and documents. Search stopped being effective to me and I ended of with too many tags. I decided to adopt the model which uses only 2 notebooks: .Inbox and Archive. Everything else is organized via tagging. Today I have around 3500 notes which are mostly a personal archive. I simply gave up trying to be productive finding things in that ocean of information. So I'm using Google Keep for basic note taking and txt files with long descriptive names in project folders when I need to keep specific notes isolated from all the rest. Nautilus search works fine in finding those files as I type parts of their names.

My productivity system: I turn off the internet


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 like using Notion + PARA[1].

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.

[1] https://fortelabs.com/blog/para/

The system I’ve been polishing[0] along the years is similar to the one from this article. I believe that there is an ultimate solution from where is hard to deviate.

[0] https://github.com/slowernews/hamster-system

The name “working memory” is neat. I have been trying to settle on a specific working memory, right now i am on Craft. The woking memory things can change from time to time, I just make sure everything can eventually go to an online note, a Markdown based online “notebook”.

I think the term comes from Computer Architecture/Operating System Design. Working memory in that context is defined as the set of code and data pages that need to be in main memory for the program to function without incurring page faults. As long as the working memory of a program fits within available memory the performance will be constrained for the most part by CPU performance. If working memory set exceeds the size of available memory the program will 'thrash', i.e. excessing disk access that effectively stalls program execution.

Working memory happens to be the technical term used in medicine/psychology.

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.

I found being able to start up quickly, compress link, are the important features of the working memory.

I used Dropbox Paper heavily but ended up migrating all of my documents to Notion.

> Perfection is achieved not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing else to take away.

> Antoine St. Exupery (author of the little prince)

"(author of the little prince)" could have been taken away.


I have been using GitHub’s new project for my personal and family use and I enjoyed it so much. The filtering is very good and flexible. I used Things but it seems I prefer Kanban style.

What new project?

GP may be referring to GitHub "Projects".

* https://docs.github.com/en/issues/planning-and-tracking-with...

Yes this is what I am using.

It's refreshing to see a productivity system that isn't 12 different note taking/organisational apps + Notion all strung together with Zapier.

I generally break down goals into tiny actions and try to combine tiny actions to goals to see if there is any confusion.

Tasks -> Projects -> Streams -> Goals

I think in this format.

I've been using whatboard.app to manage my tasks. I pin ongoing tasks, unpin to-do's, archive things I may have to tackle or recall later.

You can do all of this in https://noteplan.co/

I bailed on Noteplan when the author doubled the annual subscription price to $120. I switched from Obsidian to Noteplan because I greatly preferred the native app to Electron, but it’s not that much better to justify costing $70 per year more.

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.

I think I'm locked in at the old price, thankfully.

The Daily Notes are essential, especially with templates.

To be more productive. Be more selective.

I posted my own tracking/productivity system, a few days ago[0].

TL;DR, I use a PostIt pad.

[0] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=32799964

my productivity system: not having a productivity system

Ah, Cal Newport. Another BS self-help sales person.

Curious about that opinion. I find your comment rather negative and, slightly, toxic, but I'll bite. Care to share why you have that opinion about him?

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".

Cal Newport is probably one of the "best" salesmen in the space because he has an actual non-meme job and seems to have more good faith than most others. But at the end of the day, his actionable material can be easily compressed into maybe three blog posts. Even if he had good intentions at the start, he still got caught up in the nonfiction sales logic.

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.

I'm pretty sure he would be able to impart all his "wisdom" in 2 hrs. But, like you said, it can be difficult to put in practice. That's why a question and answer format is helpful for many people. Sometimes its really hard to pick up a seemingly easy idea and apply it to your own life. Having help from someone who has seen it applied in many different ways, and dealt with the usual problems, is really helpful. That's what he does with his podcast. Not really selling anything there, besides occasionally mentioning his books where some concepts are expanded. I honestly don't get the hate.

It makes more sense to see it as frustration about the space that is then applied to individual authors. Hating on Newport is rather pointless; it will not affect his life or yield useful ideas. What's happening is that people are growing tired of the whole hustle/newsletter/productivity fetish/repackaged stoicism atmosphere that permeates the internet, and are directing their frustration poorly. There is something deeply sterile about the throbbing mass of podcasts and blog posts that revolve around these topics, but there rarely is a precise target to focus on or even a useful way to voice the accompanying frustration.

I will never forgive Cal Newport nor HN for the hype around Deep Work. What an ironically vacuous book stuffed with filler anecdotes about modern day blacksmiths and card deck memorization, completely in contradiction to the very ethos of focused deep work. It should’ve been a nice long blog article but he wanted to write a NYT bestseller so I wasted time and money reading it.

Same. Bought his book "The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fck" and threw it away in disgust a few pages in. Good thing is, now immediately anybody is referencing him I know they are full of sht.

Different author for that book: Mark Manson

That book is not by Cal Newport

I'm not sure he gives a ....

To Cal's credit, he has somewhat done this. He has a playlist on YouTube [1] which covers 90% of the lessons and it's pretty short. There is a lot more material sure but it's mainly focused on smoothing out that last 10% and can easily be skipped.

[1]: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL8xK8kBHHUX43VVxO3b7s...

How could it be possible to encapsulate the perfect optimization of all possible processes in "a few blog posts" or "a couple hours" ?

It's not that complicated. Have you ever read something from this guy or similar (eg James Clear, Ryan Holiday, Peterson etc). If you do, it will become obvious quickly, that all these people do is blow up every little bit of information into it's own little chapter, and 10 more chapters to sell it to you under a different name. Most of the stuff they tell you are platitudes or rehashing of what has been said before. Next thing, if they are really good salesman, you will find them on Ted or Tom Bilyeu, because they are so good at it, everybody wants to have a piece of the pie.

It’s like self-help: in principle it’s supposed to help people and in practice if it does, that’s great. But in practice, the content is inevitably over-stuffed with padding, which sorts of contradicts the very principle of getting stuff done and not wasting time.

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.

He's one of the few self-help promoters who actually still has a real job and yet stays productive.

Everybody else has turned hocking productivity advice into lucrative careers.

never trust anyone who writes notes on taking notes

I agree that without use in practice outside of "notes on notes" you are almost certainly improving the wrong things.

However without reflection that may include notes on notes, you are doomed to the suboptimal or even counter-productive.

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