tyler d

On Productivity

I've long been a productivity nerd. I try out different systems to stay on top of my tasks and schedule. Many of my trials came from different productivity articles and videos, but this course summarizes everything well. Here are ways I think about productivity and some tools I use.

TLDR; I recommend Evernote, Todoist, and Fantastical.

Guiding principles

Capture now, organize later. Whenever something pops into my head, I make a note immediately. I later review my notes and categorize them (does it need a calendar event? does it warrant a task with a deadline? does it need to be stored for future reference?).

Aside: this principle fits with Anne Lamott's advice to write shitty first drafts (write now, edit later).

Trust the system. I've fallen into the trap of starting a new system only to revert to sticky notes and chaos. I now intentionally use my system and set up a weekly time to audit the system itself.

Automate and streamline everything. Example: set up auto-pay. I schedule a weekly and quarterly time to review finances and rebalance portfolios. Think about the order of tasks. What can run in the background while I do this other thing? The goal is to take life's minutiae out of my head and into the system.

Am I the bottleneck? Prioritize tasks where I'm blocking others so that they aren't idle waiting for me.

Shark tasks. If it takes less than five minutes, do it now.

Tasks

I manage my tasks with a bullet journal and Todoist. You can use any notebook, but the idea is to write notes during meetings and capture any action items. I'll transfer any to-dos to Todoist after the meeting. I keep a separate notebook for notes and task management and another for ideas and writing.

With respect to Todoist, there is an inbox feature where new tasks go. I set up a dedicated time, usually in the evenings, to process my task inbox and categorize my to-dos by project and assign deadlines. There are many ways to filter tasks and create custom views that work for me, but any tool will do. Don't get stuck on the tool - focus on the system.

Calendar

I use Fantastical because it shows my work and personal calendars in the same view and syncs across my Apple devices. The main idea here is to have all possible events in one view. Hopping between different calendars is a surefire way to miss a meeting. If your workplace doesn't allow external calendar access, use a paper scheduler. I cannot overemphasize the importance of having everything in one place.

Use the details section of the calendar event. I provide a location, travel time, and notes for the event, so when the time comes, I'm not scrambling to calculate transit times or digging through my notes to find the information I need.

Schedule blocks of time for thinking. My best thinking is done in the morning, and I save rote tasks for the afternoon. I decline meetings with no agenda or where my participation is not required.

Email

I use Hey.com for my personal email. It builds the OHIO (only handle it once) principle into its interface. But any email provider will work. When I process my inbox, I either:

  1. Reply now
  2. Save it for reply later
  3. Archive it
  4. Delete it

Anything that requires a lengthy response goes into the reply later folder. I then set a dedicated time to reply to email. Nothing stays in my inbox - everything that I've read is either in the archive or reply later folder.

I also disable notifications for email and set aside time to batch process the inbox.

Notes

The most nebulous of the productivity system - notes. I keep everything from ideas to daily notes to bookmarks in Evernote using the capture now, organize later principle.

If you find yourself using spreadsheets, Airtable is a great alternative. I use it to track house hunting, portfolio performance, and even plant watering schedules.

Keeping track of itineraries for busy travelers can be hard. TripIt allows me to forward flight, hotel, and car bookings directly to them, and they automatically organize everything in a timeline with confirmation numbers at a glance.

Lastly, I use Bitwarden to generate and store passwords. It syncs across devices and browsers and is free! I formerly used LastPass, but they went corporate and started charging for basic features.

Files

I've been struggling with file management. I'm currently split between Dropbox and iCloud files. Dropbox syncs much better (even on Apple devices!) but is more expensive.

Ideally, I'd consolidate everything into one service. Filecoin seems like an interesting decentralized solution but is years away from production. The main idea is to not keep important files only on your local device.

Conclusion

The big takeaway - make a system that works for you and stick to it! If something isn't working, change it and incorporate it into your new system.