A vague Notion of a more productive system

Notebooks, and task lists

I spent a little time in my Pocket recommendations, and found this great post by Marie Poulin titled “One Tool To Rule Them All” and her, and her partner’s search for a more effective, more complete productivity solution. Along the way, she considered Bullet Journals.

I wanted to get on the bullet journal bandwagon, but the sheer inefficiency of hand-drawing the same lines, shapes, numbers, and tasks week after week, and month after month made me twitchy.

Looking at some of those bullet journal masterpieces made me wonder, how much of bullet journaling is just…productivity porn? Are people creating entirely separate accounts for their bullet journaling as a creative outlet, or to distract themselves from actually getting shit done?

Marie Poulin

I’ve been curious about bullet journals, too, but I found myself having similar doubts about how effective the method would be for me. I much prefer digital productivity tools, largely because I’m really apprehensive about having a productivity solution without a backup and sync option.

Also, I really have to watch out for my tendency to go down a complete “productivity tool testing” rabbit hole, and literally lose days testing solutions without actually getting anything done.

Poulin and her partner settled on tool called Notion, that looks pretty promising. I like how flexible the service seems to be. I like how Evernote uses a notebook metaphor with fairly free form notes as a way to capture information. That said, I don’t seem to use Evernote all that much lately (for a couple reasons).

If you do think that Bullet Journal is the option for you, definitely read Jamie Rubin’s post titled “Bullet Journal: One Book to Rule Them All“:

I recently began using a Bullet Journal. Longtime readers who recall my going paperless days might find this odd. My going paperless experiment was just that–an experiment to see how far I could go without paper. Eventually, I decided that there were good reasons (for me) to continue to use paper. I’ve been carrying around Field Notes notebooks for years. I use notebooks for work, and large Moleskine notebooks for my journal/commonplace book. So why a Bullet Journal, and why now…?

Jamie Rubin

For the time being, I’m clinging to a semblance of productivity with Remember the Milk as my main task list. Now and then, I’ll use Evernote to add a task to RTM by syncing between the two services.

The benefit of this approach is that it enables me to associate a task with a note containing relevant materials. Like most things in my life, it’s very much a work in progress that’s hampered by my erratic discipline.

unsplash-logoFeatured image by Matt Ragland

Critical steps to get things done when you clearly lack focus

How to get things done

We live in a wondrous technological age that also makes it harder to get things done. This is a challenge when you have a lot of things to do. Obviously.

Fortunately there are a few steps you can take to be more productive. Here is my list for tomorrow morning.

Step 1: Silence reminders

I love that I can set, snooze and gaze fondly at reminders on my phone. I also really like how Google Calendar can help me schedule time to achieve goals such as learning Hebrew, how to code in Python and do my weekly reviews.

It’s all great.

The problem is that these reminders tend to chime at the same time when I am in the middle of some or other task. That is mostly my fault because I don’t really think through the timing for my reminders when I set them.

My first step is going to be clearer about when I need to block off time to finish a task. With that done (possibly by blocking off the time in my calendar), I can set my reminders for “unreserved” times.

Step 2: Email should know its place

I know better than to keep checking email throughout my morning whenever my phone informs me that I have received more email. Sadly, I have forgotten the importance of batching this sort of stuff.

Email, calendar defrags and task batches (or "How Gina Trapani could preserve my sanity")

My next step is to remind myself to keep my email tabs closed until I reach my designated time slots dedicated to checking my email and other batch-able tasks.

Step 3: Be antisocial

I should have paid attention to Catherine Jenkin’s Facebook/Twitter hiatus. She clearly had the right idea.


Although I am tempted to take an extended break from social media, I probably won’t. What I can, and must, do is severely limit how much time I spend on social when I need to focus on my work.

I am also going to keep WhatsApp and Skype closed. Yes, people contact me through those apps and some of those conversations are even work-related. But do I need to keep the apps open all the time and check them obsessively? Probably not.

I can batch this stuff too.

So, step 3 is resisting the idiotic urge to open Facebook/Twitter/Google+ (yes, it is an equal opportunity, time-wasting urge) when I should be focused on the task at hand. That goes for WhatsApp and Skype too.


Step 4: Quiet, you beast!

One of the biggest culprits is my phone. It notifies me about everything. My phone finds everything just so exciting that it has to tell me immediately.

Lacking discipline and willpower, I pull my attention away from what I am working on and check my screen far too often. Each time I do that, I break whatever flow I’ve managed to cultivate and cost me additional time restoring my focus on what I was doing in the first place.

This sort of thing does not constitute “winning” when you need to get things done.

Fortunately, my phone has a handy “Do Not Disturb” mode that silences notifications from anyone outside my family members. It also silences incoming phone calls, which can be a challenge in itself, but the benefits may outweigh the downsides.

Step 4 is going to be to switch my phone to “Do Not Disturb” and cut out most of those little interruptions that pour in throughout the day.

Note to self (2017-04-26): Create an exception for event notifications so you don’t inadvertently miss the important, scheduled events you need to attend!


Right, so that is the plan for tomorrow and, quite possibly, all the other work days that follow.

I hear that it can be pretty rewarding when you actually get things done when you mean to.

Featured image credit: Veri Ivanova

What? Me? Procrastinate?

Oh boy, this explains so much about me and why I probably tend to procrastinate so much …

I’ve become better at noticing when I procrastinate and developing tactics to help me manage my procrastination habit better. Much of what I do tends to focus on a highly structured and granular productivity system, specifically my imperfect implementation of Getting Things Done.

GTD has become my lifeline to a much more productive workflow and I guard it from other people’s attempts to disrupt it fairly actively. As it is, I often find I need to somehow harmonise my GTD implementation with whatever my colleagues are using so it can become a little complex. That said, it remains the bedrock of how I (mostly) get stuff done.

I can’t say I have conquered procrastination but I think the trick is to reign it in so it is more manageable. I try be more patient with myself when I do drift off. There is no point being hard on yourself, it just reinforces the habit.

Anyway, where was I … ?

Image credit: ejaugsburg (via Pixabay)

Great GTD overview to coincide with OmniFocus 2 for iPad

Omni Group, the company that produces a number of terrific productivity apps that I use, has just released OmniFocus 2 for iPad. It is a long-awaited overhaul that updates the app in line with the Mac and iPhone versions. I rely on OmniFocus heavily and use it several times a day. It is such a useful and powerful app that it is probably the single biggest tether I have to iOS and Mac OS (not that I dislike iOS/Mac OS but if I were going to switch to a different platform, OmniFocus would be very hard to replace).

Anyway, Omni Group published a great Getting Things Done (aka GTD) overview video which is worth watching, even if you don’t use OmniFocus. The video takes you through GTD at a fairly high level and is a great starting point if you find yourself lost in a sea of email and working largely reactively.

On that note, I have a long overdue “weakly” review to get back to …