Fear and Loathing: The Bane of Productivity | Skillshare Projects

Olivia Witkowski

Coder | Creator



Fear and Loathing: The Bane of Productivity


For years, I've been on quest for the holy grail of tools that will transform me from distracted layabout into a lean, mean, coding machine. I read tons of blogs about various productivity techniques, including Getting Things Done. This research phase lasted a long time... Funny how just reading about productivity makes you feel really productive. :)

In December 2012, I got serious and fired up Google Calendar and Task, bought RescueTime, and signed up with Todoist and Evernote. The alerts and reminders came flooding in... and I ignored them.

I had poured my blood and sweat into crafting my initial todo lists and calendar entries. I loved my tools with their pretty graphs that reinforce my delusion that I'm pretty productive most of the time.

But alas, I ignored my lovely tools' pleas for attention. Why?

Because of fear.

More specifically, a fear of commitment. Also, a loathing of imperfection. There's a specific kind of panic that sets in after one realizes that nothing in the world can be perfect. Panic leads to irrational responses and my case is no different.

I chose to freeze up, ignore my tasks, and let my inbox grow untended to the thousands. I didn't realize this until the Unstuck app asked me:

And I realized the app knew me better than I knew myself...

So, I signed up for this course (partially thanks to a discount) and dusted off my Google Calendar/tasks and Todoist accounts. I'm using 21 days as a guideline, although I'll probably need double to learn the habit. No matter! Persistence is the key.

Courage in the face of fear. 

Chapter 1 - Collect

On Friday Oct 11th, I gathered all my collection containers into one tidy list so I could evaluate which could stay for the ride, and which had to go.

  1. Personal Gmail - Created in 2005. Most of my other email accounts funnel emails into this account and I try to organize them with gmail labels. Not super successful so far.
  2. Professional Gmail - Created in 2010. This account has a name I'm willing to put on a business card. :)
  3. Outlook Inbox at work - I'm employed fulltime as a Java programmer for a company that really likes Microsoft products, and therefore Outlook. So, for 8 hours every weekday, I'm dealing with an Outlook inbox instead of Gmail.
  4. Two student email accounts - I rarely check these unless I know there's something important for my university/college classes.
  5. Google Tasks - I tried using this but burned out.
  6. Todoist - I tried using this but burned out.
  7. Everest - I have an Ipad but not an Iphone. Never used seriously.
  8. Evernote - I used this daily but it's very disorganized. I have to try multiple search terms to find anything I'm looking for. 
  9. Dropbox - contains misc files and half-finshed projects
  10. 2x Google Drive - contains misc files and half-finished projects
  11. Google Calendar - I used this pretty frequently.
  12. Outlook Calendar - Forced to use this at work, arg.

I've resolved to use 3 containers: Personal Gmail Account (forwarding other emails here), Todoist for capturing open loops, and Evernote for reference items.

The next step was to collect all my open loops into one spot. I recovered my Todoist password and typed in any tasks that popped into my mind. This is what I started with:

I spent about 3 days just typing in open loops with no deadlines or worry about organization. Previously, I would write some ideas down in a notebook, or in notepad, or in an email draft, or on a postit, or napkin, or SMS message, etc. After transferring these scattered open loops into one location, I felt decongested.


Chapter 2 - Process

Just like a robot (or a program), I followed a simplied flowchart to process my open loops.

One step at a time.

As I completed the previous step, I became more aware of the natural groupings for tasks.

I went through my massive open loop list and created "Projects" for them. I say "Projects" because that's what Todoist calls them. In practice, they're more like Areas with no definite end date. This is what I have so far for "Areas" in Todoist:

In Todoist, Tasks a date/time field while Projects do not. So, I create a top-level "project" task with the projected project end date and nest the individual "actionable" tasks within. It's important to include deadlines for projects or they WILL drag on indefinately. 

This screenshot shows the way I organized some of my online classes tasks.

The next step is to go back over thse processed tasks to reword them using "Next Physical Action" as was discussed in the Phase 2 videos. The process step will get more efficient once I get the hang of wording tasks as actionable.


A week after I started, I feel the best part is recording all open loops. I'm liking Todoist so much that I upgraded to premium for the fancy reports and the ability to sync with my Google Calendar.

Now, I need to start organizing my gmail labels and inbox!


Update Nov 1st: 

Celebrated my 10th year wedding anniversary this past week! Unfortunately that means my todoist progress took a nose dive :(

Feeling refreshed... time to get back into the swing!

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