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A Journey Through Productivity and GIFs

I've tried this before on my own. I read GTD years ago and had a system, and I remember how helpful it was, but it had some major holes. I was using Toodledo, which relies on subtasks instead of having a separate concept for projects. I also had no structure around weekly reviews, and didn't keep reference materials properly.

I moved abroad and stopped keeping my system updated, and when I came back and tried to bring it up to date, the pain points of my old system made it nearly impossible to pick back up where I left off. I tried lots of new tools and tweaks but couldn't find a better way. That's when I stumbled upon this course. I'm hoping Tiago has figured out what I couldn't.

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First up, get a new todo list app. I've chosen Things. I tried a few others since Toodledo, and they didn't work out so great:

Droptask

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Droptask was gorgeous, but I just wasn't getting much done with it. It's very hierarchical, and they don't have good filters and views for GTD.

OmniFocus

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I don't understand why everyone says OmniFocus is overwhelmingly full-featured. Not only does it not support priorities, it doesn't even support tagging, so you can't work around it.

I'm hopeful that Things will be the answer I'm looking for though, having watched Tiago use it in the videos. I hate migrating all my tasks from one system to another, it's super painful, but I don't have much choice.

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Oh my god, amazing! I found a script online that did all the importing for me! That just saved me so many hours of data entry!

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Alright, Things! This is getting fun. I was so happy with that import, I just bought a $50 license even though there's a free trial, downloaded the $10 iPhone app, and signed up for their $15/month cloud hosting. So that's a lot of money for me to drop on software. Don't let me down, Things!

Okay, time to get all my inboxes to zero. I'm gonna start with the physical stuff since that's always the most painful.

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I took a laundry hamper around and filled it with all my loose papers and unread mail. Then I processed them one by one, in order, starting from the top. I made action items for the things that required action, threw away what I didn't need to keep, and filed everything that I remained in my little folder box, which is now full to bursting. I'm gonna need to buy a second one. Better put that on the todo list. On to emails!

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Okay, personal email down, on to work email.

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Crushed it. Now it's time to corral all the stuff into projects. 

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Ack! When I went to process all the stuff I'd accumulated in Things, and pretty immediately got fed up with the system. The promise of tags did not deliver. In Toodledo, the extra pain of having to add priorities to everything had real benefit. They had an algorithm to determine importance based on priority and due date. In Things, like everywhere else, tags are just cumbersome. Tiago has a good article on why. Also, they don't have geofenced contexts, calendar integration, or defer dates, and cloud syncing $15 a month.

Oh well, that money is a sunk cost. Gotta migrate all this stuff back to OmniFocus now. There's an automation script for that, right? NO?!?

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Okay, fuck it, transferring manually. I swear, eventually I will stop switching productivity tools and actually use a productivity tool.

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Boom! My whole life, organized in a single app. 

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Now I just need to master my daily, weekly, and monthly review process.

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About a month later, my daily, weekly, and monthly review process remain thoroughly unmastered. I think I've narrowed the problem down to the fact that OmniFocus does not have a good method of creating and maintaining a Today list, which is really just a barebones version of priorities. I really miss that feature in Toodledo, despite how horrendous their UI looks. If only they would implement support for projects and hire a designer, I would go back to subscribing to their service.

So I've started with the templates Tiago provided for daily, weekly, and monthly reviews, and I've set an alarm on my phone to do the daily review. It's a baby step, but I think it will help. I'm also strongly considering migrating to Asana. I know, I know, stop switching productivity tools and actually use a productivity tool.

Anyway, I'm hopeful the new 6pm daily review routine will start to make a difference.

March 9th, 2015

I made it all the way through my daily routine!

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Can I make it two days in a row? Stay tuned to find out.

March 10th, 2015

So I guess I made it, kind of. It took me like 2 hours to get through all my emails, which was all the time I had alotted. Even after I was done, there was a third email account whose inbox I didn't clear, and it actually contains a couple important emails. I'm feeling pretty frustrated that I wasn't able to get through them faster. I think tomorrow I'm going to focus on staying on task and being more ruthless. I want to be ruthless about:

a) not reading email I don't need to read

b) finishing each email before moving on to the next without getting sidetracked

c) going in order instead of jumping to easier emails

d) working with a sense of urgency.

If it actually takes me two hours a day to go through all my email after work, I will be screwed after missing only one day. I've got to figure out a better strategy. Perhaps I need to make fewer commitments so there aren't so many damn emails I need to respond to. Also, definitely Finish One Thing Before You Start Another. I'm making this into a mantra.

March 11th

I did my daily review again today, but again it took 3 hours because I kept getting sidetracked. This time I recorded an hour of it for analysis later, but I ran out of time. I know without even watching it that the problem was I didn't finish one thing before starting another. I need to be more strict about that.

March 12th

Well this is going much better today. I got through all my email in about an hour and am now getting ready to do my weekly review.

I am still finding it really tempting to just do the tasks in my system instead of managing the system. I'm a little worried this is because the system does not actually surface important tasks for me, so my mind is latching on to each important task it finds and trying to get that done before moving on. I'm still longing for a system that will help with this. Toodledo's algorithm was totally workable, it's a shame they'll never implement proper support for projects / nested tasks.

March 21st

I'm surprised this project has gone on for so long. I started in January and I thought it would only take a few weeks. If I'd known it'd take this long, I would've started putting timestamps in here sooner.

I still don't feel like my system is working. Thankfully, my daily review has gotten much shorter. Tiago Forte commented saying that it should take no more than 10 minutes, which was a nice little kick in the pants to get me to force myself to stay on track. I'm not down to 10 minutes just yet, but I'm getting close. The key was not stopping the review process to complete tasks. Almost nothing takes less than two minutes, I've found.

I still need to work on my weekly review process, and continue to tweak my OmniFocus workflow. I also really need to figure out a better 'daily todo' view. If anyone out there is using OmniFocus and has a good perspective for this, let me know.

There's still more to be done here, but I feel like I'm still on track, and I've come a long way from where I started.

March 24th

I started my daily review and 7pm. It's 7:38pm and I just realized I'm still on the first step. I was logging a to-do item for learning to tailor a dress shirt myself (a skill I decided I wanted today), and I've been googling around about it ever since. Why are these rabbit holes so easy to fall into?

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I think the reason is because I subconsciously expect myself to prioritize this particular task very low (probably because it's not that important), and I suspect I will never get around to it. Therefore I'd like to get a bunch of research done now, while I've still got the idea and am motivated to follow through with it. Perhaps if I do enough research now, I'll remember why I wanted to do it, and prioritize it higher. Or better yet, if I get the ball rolling, maybe it'll gain some momentum on its own. Like I could just impulse buy a sowing machine, wouldn't that be awesome? Then when it arrives and I remember how much money I spent then I'll be guilted into following through. It can sit next to that expensive microphone I bought for the podcast I still haven't recorded, or that fancy camera I bought and can't seem to find.

The issue isn't even that there is a lack of time and motivation (although I am spread really thin these days). The issue is that I never prioritize anything that isn't on fire. I'm still in crisis management mode most of the time. 

I got interrupted by a phone call about holiday plans with my extended family and switched to researching what train to take and debating whether or not I even have time for a vacation. Now I'm 45 minutes behind and my 2.5hr window for this is basically over.

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March 25th

I was ready to start my daily review at 5pm, but ended up reading articles online until about 7pm. Again, it took until 9:30pm to finish everything. The problem is that some emails take a long time to respond to. For example, one email required I supply a resume. I had a resume, but it was outdated and I didn't remember where I'd saved it. It took probably 45 minutes to track it down, update it, and send it over. This effectively turned into me pausing my daily review to actually respond to the email. Frustratingly, the opportunity was just to volunteer teach a class on programming that I wasn't even that excited about doing. The email had been sitting in my inbox for two days though and it felt urgent.

What I should've done was create a project for 'volunteer teach a class on programming' and made the first task 'find old resume'. But if I'd done that and archived the email, it would've slipped in among all the other projects on my list and never gotten done.

I think there are two key features I'm not utilizing properly. The first is due dates. I'm afraid to put a due date on anything that isn't really due because of some external deadline. If it's just me deciding I want it done by a particular date, that seems unworthy of a due date. Perhaps I should re-examine that idea. The second is the daily todo list. I need to start flagging all the tasks I want to accomplish for the day and keep an eye on the flagged tasks list in OmniFocus.

I found a new trick. Previously, when I hit an email that was going to be particularly difficult to process, I'd find myself getting up to get a drink of water, or go to the bathroom, or just pace a bit. This time I decided to set out a piece of hard candy in plain view next to my computer. This would be my reward as soon as I finished processing the task. I immediately found myself drawn back to the chair. I'll have to experiment more with this strategy.

March 26th

I blew through the first 90% of my daily review in record time, only to then let the remaining 10% explode into hours of work. Now I am again out of time, just before completing the process. I did not use my hard candy trick, mostly because I forgot about it since the candies were in the other room. I'm moving them to near where I usually do my reviews. 

I've started using a specific soundtrack to do my routine to, which helps. I paused it to take a phone call and forgot to turn it back on, which seems to have noticeably reduced my focus. I'm going to make a point to keep that music on while I'm reviewing.

March 27th

I did my weekly review today with my new checklist and it went waaay better. It's mostly a clone of Tiago Forte's. Having the checklist just makes it so much easier to finish in a reasonable amount of time and to feel confident you're actually done.

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March 30th

Daily review took forever again. Literally three hours. The trouble is that responding to emails and doing the simple stuff actually takes a long time. It's frustrating because I wanted time to actually work on some of my projects, not just responding to emails and doing small tasks. That said, the checklist is still helping, and I do feel like I'm getting better at focusing. Rewards are helping. I've been using hard candies and it's highly effective.

In other news, the -2/+2 days calendar review is HUGE. I am so much more on top of scheduling because of that trick. I highly recommend it to anyone who's ever missed an appointment or a meeting. Once a day, look at your calendar forward and back two days, just to remind yourself what's there.

I've also started reading The Power of Habit, which is giving me some new ideas for things I can try to help with this. I'm excited.

March 31st

Daily review would've been faster, but I got interrupted. One was an hour long call and the other was a half hour long call, both about not particularly urgent things on side projects. As a result, I'm up past my bedtime trying to wrap up my review, and once again, what suffers is the most important part of the review: the agenda for tomorrow. I need to get more ruthless about getting off the phone with people.

April 1st

Okay, today is going to be different. I'm setting a timer and I'm going to get through my whole daily review in 15 minutes. Ready? Go!

Okay well that motivated me to work faster and I got through a lot in 15 minutes, but unsurprisingly I still have a lot left. Going for a 10 minute extension. 3, 2, 1, GO!

Okay I just barely made it through all my emails. Though it's still been 25 minutes total now, that's still a heck of a lot faster than usual. Alas, I fear the hardest part is yet to come: when I process all my OmniFocus items into projects and prioritize them. I don't think there's any way I can get this done in 10 minutes, but I didn't think I could get through everything else as quickly as I have, so lets give it a try. Ready, set, GO!

Wow, that was like not even a little bit close. I barely made a dent. Okay, 10 more minutes and really gonna power through it this time, no distractions.

Wow, okay, so I got way closer than I thought I would. I've got like two items left in omnifocus. After that it's just reviewing my next actions section. This has been extremely efficient, I'm quite pleased. I'll actually have time tonight to get some stuff done! Progress! Let's see how long it takes to finish.

It took 15 minutes. So in total that was 50 minutes. Still way too long if Tiago Forte is doing it in 10 minutes. Feels like a huge accomplishment though. Anyway, on to actually accomplishing the goals for tonight!

April 2nd

I just did my entire daily and weekly review in an hour! How?! Amazing! This is great progress. Hopefully I'll continue to get faster.

April 6th

I was not expecting this, but as this routine becomes more habituated, I'm finding it easier to focus and move quickly. I just blew through a lot of my usual setup with hardly any distractions at all. I haven't even been timing myself. Speaking of which, I'm going to set a timer now. Timing myself seems to be a super effective tool in the beginning of the habit formation process. I'm going to experiment with using a count-up stop watch instead of a count-down timer today and see if I get similar results.

Wow, okay, epic fail. Definitely do not recommend the count-up stop watch technique. Does not help at all. After and hour and a half I had to transition to recording a podcast and am now going to have to go to bed without having completed my daily review. Definitely switching back to the count-down timer tomorrow.

April 7th

Today I wasn't able to use the timer technique because my evening was again very interrupted. I went out for a drink with coworkers, and I had a lengthy call about my side project before sitting down to write this up. That said, I got a chance to start the daily review checklist while I was still at my desk at the office, which proved very helpful, and the whole routine is feeling more automatic as I continue practicing it and improving the checklist. Also, I've taken to opening the checklist in a separate window when I start, and closing it when I end, and the feeling of completeness when I close the checklist with all the checkboxes filled in is an excellent reward to encourage the habit. Coglode had an interesting article on the positive reinforcement you get from actually closing something and its value in reinforcing habit so I thought I'd give it a shot. It's very effective. The big weakness is still that I don't have enough time left over to actually get things in my system done, and until there's more movement, there will be problems.

April 8th

Okay, back to the timer system. I'm giving myself 20 minutes this time. Go!

Alright, 20 minutes is up. I was very focused but there's still lots more to do. I'm gonna push myself to get this done in 15 minutes. I think I should at least be able to get through my personal email that fast.

Damn, so close. Okay, 10 more minutes.

Man, I'm so close! I have like one more task to process in OmniFocus and then it's just reviewing next actions and writing up notes for standup tomorrow. Surely I can do this in 5 more minutes. Actually that sounds like at least 10 minutes, but I'll give it a try anyway.

BOOM! I hit the 5 minute mark on the head! So 50 minutes for the full review. I've gotta get faster than that. Still though, I've come a long way. Now it's time for my reward, which is that I get to open this mysterious package I received from Amazon. I ordered enough stuff last week that I actually don't know what it is, but I know it's something I wanted since I ordered it.

April 9th

I've decided to break my checklist apart into segments, each with an estimated start time and duration. My hope is that this will help me use the timer to identify slow the slow parts and get faster overall. My first segment is only 10 minutes and I think I can do it even faster.

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Done. I clocked in at an hour and six minutes. Not great. You'll notice just where all the extra time went:

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That would be the personal email section, which I targeted 15 minutes for and which actually took 57. Luckily every other section was under time, so it didn't take forever. Now I'm left with less than two hours before bed to actually do work from the checklist. Gotta get better.

April 10th

I didn't time my daily review at all today and I feel like it flew by!

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April 15th

I am coming to really regret all these animated GIFs. They are crazy distracting.

Anyway, back to the daily review. I skipped the past few days because I was working on a big presentation. Let's see how hard it is to catch up.

Hmm, this process is not going very fast. Let's try timing again.

Got through my personal inbox in 27 minutes. Not bad.

I'm not so good at recording when I start and when I finish. I think this effectively took 2.5 hours probably but it's hard to say for sure. Note to self: always record your start time. I'll actually put that on the checklist so I don't forget.

April 17th

Continuing to experiment! Today I'm dressed in gym clothes and am all ready to work out, but I have to wait until I'm done with my daily review. Hopefully my desire to go to the gym will propel me faster through this task. I really like the idea of using exercise as a reward, because until recently it wasn't something I could use that way. I'm a little concerned I might break the association between the costume and the activity, which I've worked hard to cultivate as a way of getting myself to the gym, but it's just a one-day experiment and I think it could really help. So here goes. It's 8:33pm. On your mark, get set, GO!

Boom, 5 minutes in and hit my first checkpoint basically on time. Keep it coming!

Fuck, just got sidetracked watching youtube videos for 5 minutes. Okay, focus William. Interesting note, this happened while I was waiting for my work email to sync. It seems that when I am waiting for something to sync, I am particularly susceptible to distraction. Obvious enough. Now I just need a way to make sure that I plan ahead and have something to do while waiting for it to sync. I'm rearranging the todo list so there's something else in the same section I can work on while waiting for it to sync.

Hmm, so that was actually a startlingly light email load to get through, and yet it took a whopping 50 minutes. So I would say the gym reward trick did not work. Oh well, it was worth a shot.

Hmm, my daily review normally takes max 1.5 hours and here I am at just shy of 2. What's gone wrong? It seems I've once again started actually doing tasks instead of reviewing tasks, and as a result, I am unsurprisingly doing tasks other than the ones which are most pressing. How is it that I can be so aware of this pitfall after having documented it here time and time again, and yet fail to change my behavior? Surely something in the behavioral research I've been reading up on has a solution to this problem.

Okay, so all told it clocked in at 1:50. This is unacceptable. I think I need to set aside another hour of work time to do all the items I flag during review so I have more confidence they will get done and allow myself to finish without doing them.

April 18th

So today I'm going to be doing a weekly review. First thing's first, I'd like to shoot for 45 minutes on this. It's 1:47pm now, let's get started.

Hmm, was making really good headway, and then got sidetracked signing up for Trunk Club. As usual, it was a classic mistake of doing the task instead of planning it. Somehow I didn't trust the system to result in it getting done.

Interestingly, it may be that I shouldn't sign up for Trunk Club---an expensive clothing service---which is why the system wouldn't result in it getting done. If I didn't sign up in the spur of the moment, I would likely decide to be more frugal. I just had a stressful shopping experience and was particularly motivated to find a way to avoid a repeat, yet also very aware that I need new clothes. How can impulsive present William make a case to frugal future William that this is necessary? This may just be present William talking, but I honestly do think it's worth the money.

Maybe, if I leave notes explaining why it's worth it, I can persuade future William of the value. He will undoubtedly have forgotten how much we hate shopping. Or, perhaps as part of making my case, I might realize how flimsy my arguments are and decide it's better not to bother at all. The next time I get distracted doing instead of planning, I'm going to try this strategy. I'll write a case for why I think it needs to be done. I'll report back on progress.

Hmm, it just happened again. This time it was a 30 minute dive into building a new blog. I was hoping to try the persuasion trick before I got this deep into the rabbit hole, but hey, better late than never.

Oh god, I went to make the note and found one already there. The worst part is, I'd actually read it, and that's what started the rabbit hole. I'd persuaded myself so effectively that I stopped my weekly review to explore the topic further. This is clearly not a good solution.

What else can I do to keep myself on task?

Hmm. I never get distracted while pairing at work. Having another person with me seems to keep me laser focused. It's not practical to convince someone to do all my daily reviews with me, but perhaps if I broadcast myself doing it on twitch.tv, I could get a similar effect. The (usually nonexistant) audience might be enough to keep me focused.

Well that was an amazingly deep rabbit hole. It took 3 hours but I set up my twitch stream and screwed around with it for a while before realizing it just made me self-conscious and also prevents me from doing any categorizing of tasks relating to my day job (I'm a consultant with an NDA) and prevents me from listening to any music with a copyright (which is most of it).

Wow, I am really staggered by my own inability to stay on track with this review. I somehow just did yet another item from my todo list instead of reviewing it. It's making me a little worried actually. How is it that I can be actively writing about how I need to focus and exercising all my energy on staying on task, and yet somehow still be getting sucked into distractions? Even if these are productive distractions, they are not what I set out to do.

Part of me thinks I'm simply not trying hard enough to focus. That some part of me is just being lazy. Part of me is reminded of how I was always easily distracted as a child, always wandering off and not listening to my parents. Part of me thinks that's bullshit though. I'm trying to focus, and lots of people were easily distracted as children. Also, I've been working on this project for literally months, which doesn't seem like typical ADD behavior.

At the end of the day, we are all just bundles of habits. Focusing on my weekly review is simply a habit. If Tiago Forte can cultivate that habit, so can I. Let's get back to the review.

I just finished my weekly review. It's 9:04pm. That means I technically spent 7 hours and 17 minutes on my weekly review. The truth is, a lot of that time was spent doing actual tasks, like setting up a twitch.tv stream, signing up for trunk club, outlining a blogging plan, and writing emails to family. Unfortunately, few of those were pressing activities. I had listed out the actually pressing activities on my daily todo list, and if I'd finished my weekly review in the 1 hour I'd set aside for it, I probably would've spent my day working on those.

What's frustrating about this is that I'm starting to feel like I'm out of potential new strategies for getting myself to concentrate and follow through. And I'm worried that if I can't make a task management system work with enough time left over to do tasks, then eventually I'll give up on the system and go back to being disorganized. Even though I know how miserable that makes me. Even though the system has made me feel so much more in control.

So what is left to try? More importantly, why is this so hard? It doesn't seem like it should be that difficult. I've got checklists to follow. All I need to do is follow the steps like I planned. What am I doing wrong? Am I self-sabotaging somehow?

Self-sabotage actually seems like a likely answer. This is by far the longest my weekly review has ever taken, and it happens to be on a day I'd planned on practicing for a major presentation I'm supposed to give and am nervous about. I've been putting off the prep for ages. And this is a pattern I've seen in myself before. It reminds me of the poem Too Busy by Bruce Lansky.

So what can I do to stop sabotaging myself with this procrastination?

Well, I just tried visualizing myself actually doing the task and then giving myself a pep talk, and that actually worked, I did the prep I'd been putting off. Or maybe that just worked because it was actually the last minute and I was actually out of time. Anyway, I've stayed up too late prepping now and really need to get some sleep.

April 20th

It's 5:19pm and I'm starting my daily review. I have two emails right now so this should be quick.

Boom! it's 5:41pm and I'm done in a record 22 minutes! I have no idea how I could possibly shave any more time off of it, I was laser focused and hustling the entire time. 

April 25th

Just got back from a several day long conference during which time I did no time management at all. There's likely to be a huge backlog to get through, so I set aside 4.5 hours for it, of which I've already frittered away 1. Today my procrastination took the form of doing laundry (it was gonna get wrinkled!), online shopping, and looking at other conferences. It's always the 'productive' distractions that are most difficult to shake.

Thankfully, I have my handy checklist, and if I just follow the plan, it should all get done. Even with my less-than-stellar review speed, I've set aside enough time to get it done. I think. It's 10:35am, let's get started. 3, 2, 1, GO!

April 26th

Looks like I forgot to finish explaining what happened yesterday. Unsurprisingly, my daily review tool all 4.5 hours and I didn't get to weekly review. Luckily, that's all done, so theoretically my daily review today should take no time at all . . . . right? It's 7:40pm, let's head to the races.

It's 8:26pm and I'm done! All my inboxes are at zero, and we're good to start the weekly routine.

I'm only partway done with the last step of the weekly review (reviewing finances) but it's my bedtime so I'm gonna call it good. Signing off at 9:31pm. Not too shabby considering all the interruptions.

April 30th

Skillshare desperately needs local storage. I have lost a number of entries because I forgot to save the project, including yesterday's. Also, I should note, I don't document every daily review I do so don't go thinking I'm slacking off just because the last entry was the 26th.

Anyway, getting down to business. Start time: 6:26pm.

Wow, today is not a hustle day. It's 7:35pm and I am not even halfway done. I've been getting sidetracked youtube videos. Time to buckle down.

Hmm, its 10pm and I'm still not done. I spent about two hours debugging an issue with my family's blog instead of doing my daily routine. It occurs to me that I am spending my life almost entirely in front of computer screens.

May 4th

I'm frustrated because I wrote several angry paragraphs and lost them because this goddamn piece of shit skillshare platform doesn't know how to use goddamn piece of shit local storage so that users don't lose their goddamn piece of shit work in the middle of typing. Fuck.

I've been working on improving my productivity since registering for this course on January 19th, exactly three and a half months ago, and it seems like I spend my whole evening doing my daily review. Finishing my daily routine in less than an hour is a pipe dream, and since I don't enjoy it, I usually put it off for an hour, which means I finish right around bedtime without having actually done any of the tasks on the todo list. Pretty pissed off this evening.

So here's the plan. I'm starting this review at 7:30pm, and at 8:30pm I'm stopping and doing something else, no matter how much is left.

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