4 text files that go from vague life goals down to concrete hourly tasks:
- todo-year.txt : all goals for the year
- todo-month.txt : track subset of annual goals to finish this month
- todo-week.txt : track all monthly high-level tasks to finish this week
- todo.txt : daily task plan based on weekly plan. Switch tasks every 1 hour. In a day, I plan for about 4 tasks, so each task ends up getting about 2 hours.
Self-employed consultant here who has suffered from chronic procrastination after my daily routine became disorganized and unsupervised for some years. If I focus on only one thing for days on end, I feel I'm not doing much. The system above has helped me reduce (but not eliminate) both procrastination and distractions, and given me some satisfaction that I'm being relatively more productive.
I do something very similar but I use a Trello board with columns like these. Specifically:
- [YEAR] Completed
I like Trello because the cards support checklists, due dates, and comments which are great features for promoting habits associated with getting stuff done. Some cards are recurring (getting moved from monthly or weekly to daily column), others are finishable. I take a small but real pleasure in moving cards between columns and especially getting things over into the annual completed column.
One note on the due dates: I don't use due dates as deadlines. I use them as "check in on this no later than" dates. For me, the distinction is critical.
For any workflow, it is worth considering org-mode. It has certainly satisfied me after trying many different alternatives.
It is plain text, so you are not locked into a proprietary object format. Thus, you can edit it using any text editor in case Emacs is not around. In fact, Vim is on its way towards implementing a decent subset of org-mode. GitHub and GitLab also support org-mode syntax and can even render HTML from it. There are also decent mobile clients, and even some bridges to things like Trello.
Emacs has lots of org-mode primitives that can be used to deploy any workflow. Moving items across sections or files can be efficiently done using org-refile. Storing new items on the flight from many different places can be done using org-capture and org-protocol. More importantly, you can easily create alternative views of your files using org-agenda. org-mode also has timestamps, so you can set schedules, deadlines or simply record events.
I've just scratched the surface. My favorite workflow is Ivy Lee's Method, which is a very basic kanban with two states. Easy to implement in org-mode. Just two trees: Today and Inbox. Every morning I refile 6 tasks from Inbox to Today. I keep new thoughts and important items with deadlines, etc inside my Inbox. I can use org-agenda to quickly see if there are any incoming deadlines or events, which I store in a separate calendar file.
If you want to get fancy, you can use lots of trees, one per project. And create lots of tasks to plan things ahead. Then use task states to schedule things for today and get a clean view, again, using org-agenda or a sparse tree. There are infinite possibilities.
I use a 4 file system as well. I keep them in Evernote for easy access.
- health: things I need to do to improve my health. It goes from food recipes to medical appointments to exam results.
- future: I'm in my mid-forties, so I look ahead with more pragmatism in my eyes. In this file I put the kind of work (or projects) I want to be involved with until retirement (included). Info here serves as directives for all the things I need/want to do.
- want!: here I list the things I want to buy in order to "settle down" as a consumer. I put a total cost of things in the bottom line of the file. It shows $ 12,000 as of today.
I have a "want" list in evernote too! I think it helps me buy less stuff that I don't really need. I add stuff to it when I see something on the expensive side that I 'want' but am not sure about purchasing. I check on it every once in a while and think "why did I want a GoPro, I never would have used it". Boom saved $500.
I started something similar. I keep a list of all the money that I saved by either not buying some fancy thing, use a cheaper service, DIY/repair, etc. Then, I spend it on some cheap thrills. Funnily, This process has made me happier. I kinda have a good reason to say no!
Yes. What I do is I leave the item in the list but cross it out to indicate I have changed my mind. I have 7 different motorcycle models listed, all crossed out at the moment as I gave up the idea of buying one. I bought an XBOX instead of a PS4, I check marked the former and crossed out the latter.
Reviewing: I review the daily todo every morning and update it every night, and I do EOW and EOM status updates with detailed analyses for the weekly and monthly files.
Why could I not finish something? What should I do next month to correct it? That kind of analysis.
Moving / Reprioritizing: It's a necessity for me, because unlike a salaried job, I have to balance between my revenue-earning work and my hobbies. I do have to defer tasks often, to a different week or even a different month, all the time. The EOW and EOM updates are when I decide what I should defer to later. But the ideal is to stick to the schedule as much as possible through self-discipline and willpower.
Working notes: Each project and idea gets its own directory. I maintain current status of each project in its directory along with detailed notes, so that I can pick it right back months later. These are stored and tracked outside the above todo system. Since I review even the yearly goals everyday, everything gets done to a reasonable extent even if it's some months later than planned.
Trivial tasks: When I started off, I had just the yearly and daily todos. It's precisely because of trivial tasks - esp tasks which are one-time but critical nonetheless - that I introduced weekly and monthly todos. Anything important that takes time and requires me to allocate time goes into one of these lists. Otherwise my mind is unable to allocate time efficiently. Very trivial tasks like "have lunch" don't go anywhere, but I keep buffers in the daily todo for all such daily routine tasks.
If you are into learning stuff, you have probably heard of "deliberate practice". Reviewing tasks daily/weekly/monthly, and explicitly analyzing and planning for them is my way of "deliberate practice" for my life goals. I have tried a lot of visual tools in the past - GTD tools, Trello, Mind mapping - but two problems all of them had was 1) writing detailed analysis is not possible in the given interface and 2) they are designed as store to remember tools which means review may be possible but deliberate practice of planning is not easy.
Thank you! I truly appreciate you taking the time to explain all that. I think this system could work for me. I've just added those four text files into a folder, a notes folder, and also found an ios app which lets me easily view and edit txt files via Dropbox.
So, you review all four files each day? I'm guessing that if the review system is properly done, then daily and weekly files see the most change?
I've also had issues with trello and other apps, and agree it's hard to handle the analysis within the interface. I don't follow your second point though. What do you mean by store to remember, and how does it inhibit planning but allow review?
Am also self employed, so looking forward to this system. Self management required constant attention.
Also this is a trivial feature, but do you list things with asterisks and cut/paste them down to a "Done" area when finished? Or something else?
Reviewing: I read all 4 files everyday to motivate, reinforce my memory and also see if anything is off track. It can happen sometimes that I have ended up allocating too much time to one thing and not enough to another. Daily reading corrects helps correct that. I write end of day analysis every night, end of week analysis on Sunday nights, and end of month analysis on last day of the month. Daily file sees the most changes, weekly less so. Monthly and yearly typically change if I get a new idea or drop an idea or get approached with a new project.
Problems with other tools: Writing a daily plan from scratch helps me go into the details of the task for that day. My experience with those other tools was that they were ok for creating a high-level plan once, store it, modify it occasionally and even review it everyday. But the interfaces were not convenient to design a detailed daily plan everyday, which meant a lazy person like me would simply review the plan without much modification, and I'd also lose the history of the project. In my text file, I can easily see if I end up with a long sequence of partial or skipped tasks, and make some corrections, but in those tools I could not.
Done tasks: I just write [DONE] / [PARTIAL] / [SKIPPED] against the task, along with reasons for the latter two. If I accumulate too many partial or skipped tasks on consecutive days, something is wrong - typically I'd have underestimated complexity of some idea - and a correction is required at least in the weekly plan.
My best wishes for your system! Keep at it with systematic self-analysis, and you'll be able to find and correct your weaknesses.
I have exactly 4 files - no new files.
At the end of the D/W/M/Y, I just add a new section on top and plan the period there. So each file has a record of all previous period plans. These are all cumulative files - I never clear out previous period's plans, just add a new section on top.
To see a task that's delayed multiple times, I just have to scroll down and look for [PARTIAL]/[SKIPPED] markers and their analyses. Usually, the daily analysis results in some corrective action that may also go into the weekly or monthly plans.
I have tried all sorts of methods and software, but in the end always ended up with a single "today.txt" file.
This year I have started to the same thing, split into today/this_week/this_month but also buy, sell, and for repetitive events, monthly (change passwords, upgrade comps, lubricate all the things), spring and autumn.
I try to review most weekly, with a special focus on this_week, this_month, buy and sell.
That is in fact the core of the idea. I suck at low-level planning. All the wishful annual life goals have to trickle down as concrete daily activity to get anywhere. My mind is excellent at building castle projects in the air and even good at high-level analysis of them using flowery language. What it sucks at is converting all that into concrete steps. That's why I have to explicitly break them down into monthly, weekly, daily, and even hourly chunks.
TLDR some aspects were a progression, but the planning part was something I had to try out over a year to convince myself that I finally have something that works.
I'd say I have always done the daily todo all my professional life. Started it as my daily work plan when I was a salaried employee. Only tracked work-related tasks with it, but it was necessary because I had multiple project responsibilities and deadlines then. I actually thought of myself back then as a very disciplined person.
Even the life goals thing is something I have been doing from my salaried years. An annual document where I wrote details about my career wishes and personal improvements for the coming year. There were plans in those docs, but they were rather nebulous and not tracked.
That system worked ok for my salaried life. But when I became a consultant, things fell apart. When I had client projects to work on, my work-life balance became terrible, I missed project deadlines constantly, missed out on hobbies, and felt stressed and demotivated.
When I did not have client projects, I went the other extreme - making lots of plans but terribly distracted and not finishing anything.
Until then, I had not realized just how much of my earlier discipline was not because of me alone, but actually because of the structured and supervised environment inside a company. When I went alone, much of my discipline disappeared, and along with it, my self-confidence. I had actually refused lucrative client projects because I wasn't confident of meeting any deadlines.
I tried many planning systems over those years. GTD, Trello, Mind mapping tools. It's taken me a lot of self-analysis, experimentation and tweaks to understand why I had planning problems, and what I should do to overcome them. The main evolution between the system I have now versus the system I had back then is that all life goals now trickle down into concrete hourly tasks. While 2015 was a terrible year professionally, this system helped me improve my situation in 2016, and more so in 2017-2018. It's working out for me, thankfully.
Revisiting: Yes, all the time. The yearly plan would be framed at the start of the year, but new opportunities and personal ideas arise quite often and unexpectedly. If something can help me achieve my life goals better, the entire planning cascade gets reprioritized from that point on. I have done things like defer personal projects, drop ideas that turned out to be impractical after prototyping (an example of a wrong track), and renegotiate scope of client projects. It's a dynamic thing - the idea of the system is to force life goals to convert into concrete daily activities, but the goals themselves can and have changed.
Leisure time: Leisure time is very much part of the daily plan. I put tasks like jogging, workout, reading, going out in all my plans. Even have things like fitness annual goals and explicitly write them in my weekly schedule and daily plans. Anything that I should allocate time for goes into these files.
Missed goals: Yes, that happens. I'm quite bad at time estimation, and some ideas involve a lot of exploratory prototyping that may take much more time than anticipated. I mark incomplete tasks as [PARTIAL] or [SKIPPED], analyze at the end of the D/W/M what made me skip them, adjust scope if required, and modify my plans to correct the problem by next D/W/M.
You can be as meticulous or as high-level as you want, depending on your disposition.
Because my default state is one of procrastination and laziness, I have to explicitly plan such things. If I don't, the other work or distractions will just expand to fill my time, and I'll just keep perpetually delaying them only to find at the EOM that I didn't indulge in my favorite hobby for even 1 hour the entire month, and that feels really bad. My system has evolved to overcome my own mental handicaps.
But I personally know 5x times more productive people - with spouses and multiple kids and time sinks like house constructions - who don't do anything like what I do and still manage to fulfil all their professional and personal plans much better than I do.
I have only one daily, one weekly, one monthly and one yearly file. Each file covers all categories of life goals. Organizing categories into multiple files seems natural at first and I had tried it in the past with mind mapping tools, but quickly realized that tracking and updating them is inconvenient and didn't really help me with planning my day.
Here's an excerpt from my daily todo to show what 2 days daily plan looked like - maybe it gives a better idea of what I'm describing.
I feel, with a certain definitiveness, that I need a schedule. Rather than working on a strict task-to-task basis, I feel like what I need is an obligation: "Do project X at 10, for at least an hour, then take your time until project Y at 2" etc.
I can't speak for OP, but I've been addressing "leisure planning" primarily with logging and reminders instead of planners: I received a Fitbit over the holidays which has done a great job of encouraging me to block out 10 minute activity breaks and to stick to a certain wake-up time. I just used break time to do some cleaning and often start chores like laundry and dishes on breaks too. When the "activity day" ends, it's functionally like "work is over, real leisure can begin," although since I am working independently I tend to spread everything across the day, just now I bias towards household chores and physical work early in the day, and mental work later. It works for me since I no longer have to feel disciplined about physical activity - it's simply built into the schedule that I will get up and do something, so something will get done at random, and when the break is over I can just put it down and come back to it.
For gym time I use the FitNotes Android app to track progress and set session goals. I have done this for about two years successfully. Since this has gotten me on a roll, most recently I installed ActivityWatch to correlate the sleep/activity/health metrics against my screen time. What I find most important for myself is closing the loop of goals/plans/feedback: if some part of it is missing then progress stops. Usually it's lack of feedback that causes the biggest problems.
I've been thinking about specified breaks. My idea was: a 5- or 10-minute break every hour, away from the laptop, doing anything at all. I've noticed that, once AFK, I have my mind back: it springs back, outputs ideas, regains its perspective...
I've also been thinking about implementing pre- and post-workday breaks, for 1 and 2 hours, respectively.
The former is about starting the day right: instead of diving into whatever web the Internet has for me (a web of my own making, don't get me wrong), I could take a walk, or do a little cleaning, or cook, or read, or...
The latter, preceded by an hour of review, is to wind down, in order to maintain a proper sleep pattern (which I have serious problems with at the moment: waking up at 1 PM is not good for me).
Let's see how it works for me.
Best wishes to you and your own scheduling. I hope it works out to an excellent result for you.
-- I sync my TODO.txt with Google Drive so when I switch computers, or I want to check on my phone it's sync'd.
-- I don't do weekly or monthly goals, but I do yearly check-ins with myself and every few weeks after I feel like I'm not as focused as I want to be. I keep those goals in Google Docs since those are things that I want a more permanent place.
Yup. Command-line, git and a dumb text file editor are all that I use.
But I wasn't always this way. Used to be a Windows guy in the past and used to prefer specialized GUI tools over command-line or general tools. Have tried all kinds of planning tools - GTD tools, Trello, some Kanban stuff, multiple Mind mapping tools. All of them had some minor deficiency or the other which I'd end up obsessing over, instead of doing my actual freaking work. It's taken me years to satisfy myself that git and an editor are more than enough.
But I'd like to caution people here who are impressed with my system that in the past, I too have been very impressed by other people's planning systems. I have tried a bunch of systems and tools that have worked for others - GTD, Pomodoro, Mind mapping, Trello, Kanban.
But they did not work for me, often for minor reasons. The problem was not with those systems, but with my mind. Understanding how my own brain works, knowing its quirks, and using something that gets out of the way is how I got here. Text files and simple command-line tools work and even motivate me, but may not work or motivate somebody else. I'd suggest focussing on knowing your own quirks, and on ways you know can improve your self-discipline. The tools are usually not the root problem.
Blocker in client project : either DIY, or look for workarounds, or escalate to client and reduce scope. Planning gets suitably modified for rest of the week and month.
Blocker in personal projects : some of my ideas have turned out to be not as easily implementable as I had first imagined. I usually reduce scope - because the idea after all started off as part of some life goal - but I have also dropped some ideas entirely. I record the reasons in the project directory to revisit later. I deliberately avoid overanalyzing in such cases - as somebody prone to procrastination, overanalysis of a tough idea is like entering a blackhole for me.
These are plain text files that I sync using a git repo on my private server. I don't need to travel much, but I do switch between 3 machines regularly, which means I have to sync them up often. I use git command line.
For anyone that already uses git for work, it doesn't seem like much of a difference from normal workflows.
I also use git to handling backup and syncing of a bunch of personal data.
One of my projects for the new year is I've started keeping a daily journal both for personal stuff and for work.
I have a git repo with two folders "Personal" and "Work". I run "vim `date -I`" to open a file for the current day and add to it periodically throughout the day. Each time I add something I just commit and push like I do already for work.
I've found that it has been helpful at work in particular for maintaining a running log of what I'm planning to do and what I've actually gotten around to.
Like all new years resolution things, time will tell if I actually keep it up.
But I guess circling back around: Git works really well for syncing things between machines. That's sort of what it's for after all.
Most of the time, I'm on laptops or a desktop. All Linux. I'm comfortable with the command-line and have moved away from GUI tools. So, I don't find this workflow convoluted.
Not much of a mobile user and use very few apps. I especially don't use apps that store data on external servers. I use Evernote for storing some information, but not for any kind of planning. I'm sure good apps with self-hosted options exist, but this system works for me, is efficient, and so I don't feel like trying out anything else.
I'm trying op's system. I put the text files in a top level folder in dropbox. So any machine of mine can access them.
For iphone/ipad, I use Textor to quickly access and edit them. It's faster than the dropbox app, which requires taps to get to the right place and a further tap for edit mode. Textor is about as fast as on my computer.
The problem is that you don't want to see a lot of the other goals very often, you want to stay focused on what you want to do, so a primary TODO is a great way to do that.
I also find that the speed to setting your TODOs matters a lot, and nothing is faster than a TXT file, especially if you travel a lot and internet can be spotty.
As a mental trick, it also seems to help that the first thing I do is look at my TODO since it's the fastest and untethered from my web browser. Once I open my web browser, I need to check e-mail and other things and it's quick and easy to get distracted before you're focused on your short term goals for your working session.
But of course, if Trello works for you, but all means.
I have tried Trello in the past over an extended period, but it didn't motivate me to keep using it.
Elsewhere, I have talked about solving disorganization by knowing the quirks of one's own mind.
One of my quirks was internet distractions, and at one point, it got so bad that I'd simply keep my router switched off and use an inconvenient mobile for any research. No easy internet=less distractions, but also no trello.
Another quirk is that I like to write down my planning analyses and thoughts, sometimes in multiple paras. They help me to plan and correct plans. Trello or mind mapping interfaces are not convenient to satisfy that kind of quirk. TXT is ideal for it.
That article really resonates with my thinking, thanks for the link. In the past, my planning used to be guided purely by what ideas I found exciting. Important, but unexciting tasks were deferred or left unattended. My system now allows me to work on tasks even on days when I don't particularly feel like working on them.
I had an epiphany of sorts about this when working on a freelance project with a client who was particularly organized. They had a kanban board split up into Inbox (ideas and incoming features and bugs), Backlog (accepted tasks), In Progress (doing right now), Review (for others to look at), and Complete columns.
At the beginning of a sprint, the project manager sat down for about 10 minutes and looked at all the cards in the inbox and decided if any should be moved to the backlog. He then rearranged the cards from most to least important.
This prevented the need to think at all when working on the project - I just took the top card from the backlog and put it into in progress until it was done.
I realized, why don't I do this for my own projects too? Since my own projects aren't paid, I for some reason think they should just be able to be done without organization. I've implemented this same system in Trello for arbitrary projects and it seems to work well when I use it. Also nice that it makes it easy to collaborate if relevant but that isn't required.
It's a hard problem though - figuring out how to "Just Get Things DoneTM" is a skill that requires trial and error to figure out what you'll actually stick to, but in some ways is the most important thing to figure out.
I also highly recommend the book The One Thing - my coach recommended it to me and though it started a little fluffy the second and third sections were solid. In short, doing less helps a lot.
The Twelve Week Year is another book with some good ideas - instead of planning long into the future, plan only on a quarterly basis, and have that quarter align with your grand vision for the future.
Happy to chat more about this, as it's a problem I've wrasseled with a lot too as a self-employed freelancer. My email's in my profile.
Funnily, 5 years ago I developed my own personal kanban tool. It's still running on http://multikanban.com Of course Trello is a thousand times more powerful and polished. I was just sharing to show that I had my "personal kanban" phase in the past. It worked for some time... but for some reason I stopped really benefiting from it. The idea was to have multiple kanban boards easily accessible, where each board would be a project. "Todos", "Money", "Family", "Refurbish motorcycle", "Code projext X", etc. Of course it worked nicely for specific projects since it helps you be very critical about what gets done and what doesn't. But I think the problem I experienced there is that basically I ended up working on a single project, two at best. Like they were top priority and they never got finished, so I missed on everything else. I still have this problem now, that's why I try something different like having specific times of the day/week allocated to "main project", "sideproject", "money", etc. I just feel that the more thought I put into it, the more complex the system becomes, the less likely is it for me to follow it through.
I did https://everyday.app to sort of define a schedule of habits I want to follow through every day, and so I feel progress in all directions I want to work on.
I very much identify with the struggle of lots of different projects. Another thing that's helped me recently is to make it "impossible not to" do the thing I want to do. I managed to solve my exercise problem by hiring a personal trainer. Now I lose $80 if I don't go to the gym at a specific time on Monday and Friday. I've not missed a day in months. I've wondered if with certain ways of arranging my environment if working on projects could be similarly solved in that they require no motivation or willpower because there's no other option.
Cheers, and thanks for posting this question. Just writing out some of my ideas here is helpful since I'm certainly working on this right now too.
I disagree. I signed up for the free initial plan of "everyday" yesterday (before seeing this thread - actually one from indiehackers). Yes, I could do something in Excel spreadsheets - but $12 is more than useful.
Another thought I once realized - I think early on in my career I heard about Agile and thought it meant "not planning at all". This seems to _not_ be true at all but I think it made me subtly opposed to planning. I now see that it is more about shorter iterations, and The Twelve Week Year talks a lot about effective "just in time" planning, on a day, week, and quarterly basis.
Second the ideas of a 12 week year - I find a lot of my “really want to do” ends up being a “this year” thing, which ends up becoming a “next year” thing. If you are not likely to work on something in the next 12 weeks, for me at least it should be on a long term list and not expected to be done at all.
I would recommend for you to read and implement the organization/productivity system from Getting Things Done by David Allen . It discusses essentially your main problems of dividing up your life into projects and timing yourself. The system also includes sections for putting some of your ideas in an 'Incubate', basically putting it off for another day once you get through what you have. Having a running list of all your commitments and projects like the system does I think will help you to analyze your time usage and realistic expectations for your productivity and stuff you want to engage in.
I second this recommendation with a suggestion that has hugely helped me. I have more or less copied the approach to to-do lists described in that book into a Trello board and then – importantly – made it my home page on Chrome.
This accomplishes two things for me:
1) any time I open a new tab, I get a reminder of what needs to be done
2) adding an item or recording an idea to be processed later is just a cmd-t away.
This approach (combined with the Trello mobile app) has made the list so easy to maintain it's almost hard not to use it. YMMV, of course.
I do the same with a personal dashboard that pulls in my "today" Asana tasks as my new tab homepage. Are you using the New Tab Redirect Chrome extension? It seems that you can set a homepage for when you open a browser natively with Chrome but not a new tab.
Hmm,I hadn’t thought of a week/day in Trello. It’s an interesting idea, but having a les productive week seems like it really screws things up by forcing moving back to Maybe and Backlog while you plan out your week. But i see a possible benifit in that.
I wouldn’t do that to my collaborative work board, but for a personal board that seems interesting.
I’m really very surprised that so many people recommend GTD. I absolutely hated the book. It felt like he was trying to sell the book for half of it. The techniques are very outdated and manual. It requires a huge amount of categorization to the point of way too much. I tried it, and really strongly do not recommend it in any way. It’s like Org Mode in emacs. Feels like most people just recommend it because they bought into it so heavily and hive-minded around it. Sorry but I really wanted to balance out the positive comments about GTD.
My one caution with this: It's pretty easy to OVER categorize your life and never get anything done either. I had a former co-worker who read GTD and began to impliment it for everything. It felt like he was perpetually planning and never actually doing.
Additionally it became rather humorous to see how the most minute things became 'projects'. Sometimes it's worth just stepping back and observing what you're considering to be 'projects' or 'tasks' and ask if you're over doing it.
I agree completely. This book was recommended to me as “life changing”. I was skeptical given that my experience is that 90% of self help books are a rehash of “How to win Friends and Influence People”.
As I have moved into professional roles with progressively more responsibility, the tools and techniques in this book are what have allowed me to scale myself out in a way that my prior ways of working would not have enabled. Many productivity tips (such as inbox zero) have their roots in this book.
I mean, I kept using it, thinking it was working, but I'd look back and ask myself key questions:
1. How often do I stop looking at my lists, because I felt overwhelmed?
2. How often do I need to spend a large amount of time cleaning up the lists?
3. How often are things getting missed? How often am I doing things not in my GTD lists because I couldn't figure out how to put it in there?
4. How often do I tweak my GTD system to fix the above?
And so on - I realized that while GTD was of some help, it was not really working.
It did have some useful things/ideas, and as such it was not at all a waste. However, it really didn't do a good job of the fact that my lists were huge. I think he recommends looking at your Someday/Maybe in the weekly (or monthly?) review. That list is huge.
Even the TODO list can be large with his system. I don't think he addresses granularity well. Should my TODOs be the mundane small things, or just the big picture project (he leans towards the former). In reality, the potential Next Action on a project could be multiple things, so I would have multiple TODOs (it's not always clear which one I can do first due to external constraints).
His system is mostly priority agnostic. He does address it a little (10000 ft view, etc), but it was very vague.
No clear guidance on how to know if you're trying to do too much. Especially needed with GTD, because as a system, it makes it easy to try to do too much.
I think if someone could write a book with all the stuff GTD is poor at or doesn't address, with solutions, then GTD + that system may actually be great.
It's a good book, but don't beat yourself up if it doesn't work well for you. Try to tweak it to your needs, and if that doesn't work, look for something else.
You're describing success, not failure. The GTD system is generally so good at streamlining work that a novice will react to the new streamlining and the sudden availability of time and mind space by simply filling the space with "more to do". GTD is agnostic about the quantity of work you take on.
If you like using systems to help balance out your selection of work, I would suggest looking into OKRs. The book Measure What Matters is a good start.
I used to use GTD. I still use it for reactive tasks. It is not good at proactive tasks. I use evernote as a GTD repository, but I only act on it occasionally.
Since I retired my tasks are by nature proactive (since they come from me). I tend to organize by long term goals. I start a goal by defining the success criteria for that goal then each long term goal is a "project" in an outline text file. Each morning I look at my long term goals and decide what I want to make progress on today. That turns into a backlog for today.
Since one of my long term goals was to learn swift - I wrote an iphone app to parse the file for items marked "@today" and turn that into a todo list that I can carry with me. Apple made this convenient when they added an icloud file system for the iphone.
I second Getting Things Done. This book is a little engine of productivity. It was responsible for a good chunk of any special productivity I've been perceived to have.
The book is easy to start with as your read it because it ties together skills you already have with creating an air tight system that enables your brain to trust you trust you not to forget anything - lowering your mental and cognitive load so you can focus in the present by taking a unique approach..
It literally lets you collect every random thought that has no relevance to the moment, capture it in a "someday/maybe" pile and put it away for future review. The brain, one emptied is ready to focus.
The new edition is updated for digital life too, which is great, I try to read it every year or two as well to keep sharp, the current read has been a nice refresher.
Currently using the newest 2Do app between Android/MacOS/Windows /iOS. It's really decent inter platform tool. If you're all Mac a lot of people like omnifocus too. I found other apps (things, toodle, rtm) lack the ability to break apart projects into super detail when needed but otherwise are great.
There are a few other books that help build a car around this engine (Mindset, Focal Point, So good they can't ignore you, Deep Work), but a car without an engine isn't a car.
I can also recommend GTD, it was definitely an eye opener.
A few takeaways for me:
* There is no (need for) 1 list to rule them all. I'm using Google Inbox, Calendar, Keep, Post-it notes in the house on doors & walls, and a handwritten notebook for my day job.
* Inbox helped me organize a lot better. Snooze is great for getting an empty inbox. It used to have "snooze to someday" to incubate, but unfortunately that's not an option anymore. I still have 50+ items in there that I review a few times a year. I'm sad inbox is getting killed. Gmail has most of the functionality, but the UI is waaaay to busy.
* Keep is nice for simple lists. Grocery shopping has become a lot faster and easier. I will try to order the list so I can pick up everything in one pass. The kids & wife are joining the shopping trip? We can split up, see the list update instantly, and be done in half the time.
* GTD defines 5 phases: collect, process, organize, review, do. I wasn't used to having collect as a separate phase, but a lot of sites make this easy. Inbox has reminders, and a browser extension to save any page, Reddit has a save button, Inoreader has starred items. HN even has a favorite button, but does a very good job of hiding it. Seriously, I have to click on the post/comment age to favorite it?
Second reading this book at some point. I think what originally hung me up about it was that it isn't really prescribing an exact system, just a series of general ideas that you can use in whatever system you are using. It can be used with Trello or Asana or Omnifocus or pen and paper. But generally the idea of projects and an inbox and the someday maybe list are great. In short, get things out of your brain taking up cycles and into a system you trust.
I agree with this as well. Reading this book really helped me get organized.
Some of the information on it is getting a _little_ bit dated. In particular, it talks a lot about the different 'contexts' you have your tasks to complete, like at home, at work, at a coffee shop, etc. I feel like this holds up a little bit less nowadays, because almost the entirety of all my work can be done if I have my laptop with me.
This book is a great foundation for you to build off of and make your own 'system'.
Contexts should be adjusted to make them personally useful - mine are mostly categories like "work", "home", "community group" so that I can sit down and focus on work tasks without seeing other stuff, and then I can spend a solid hour working on my community stuff, etc. I also have a couple place- contexts: "house" for things like fixing a thing, "9-5" for tasks that have to be done during business hours, and if I have travel etc coming up I might sort some stuff into "offline", like reading a bunch of docs I have downloaded.
I don’t think the idea of contexts is dated at all, it just sounds like it doesn’t apply to your situation specifically because you have special circumstances. Most people don’t have that flexibility. It’s important to understand when things don’t apply only to you vs when they really don’t apply generally (when giving advice).
I've come to terms with the fact that I'm never going to have enough time in life to do everything I want to do. And I'm okay with that—I always have something on the list that I feel is worth doing, so it's hard to lose a sense of purpose.
When I'm overwhelmed with must-dos (rather than just want-to-dos), I try to remind myself that I just need to be doing something. It might not be the perfectly optimal thing to be doing at that particular time (though often it is), but it is indisputably better than paralysis.
Over organization can kill the spirit. Especially in creative endeavors. Let's say you are working in independent game development. And you alone are responsible for all design, tech, art, music and distribution. Allocating hourly intervals for each task at a set time each day can breed monotony. Rather, when you feel that inner fire to work on the music. Focus solely on that one task for an uninterrupted period of 4 hours. And always with the tools of reinforcement to show steady progress, such as documenting everything and visualizing milestones.
I thought it was really interesting to hear about Ninja, the fabled Fortnite streamer, talk about his work ethic. Which was basically to have two 4 hour chunks of livestreaming per day. One in the morning, and one at night. Separated by a 4 hour slot in the middle to spend with family and friends. He's had the discipline to keep it up for a decade, even when few people were watching. But having that accountability of an audience to livestream to, provides the impetus for daily progress.
- critical tasks that have high yield on goal productivity
- usually work stuff and active projects
- important not urgent
- tasks that need to get done but are not time urgent
- inactive projects, and other future tasks or projects
- a backlog of soon to be "urgent important" items
- urgent not important
- peasant tasks
- daily tasks to survive (food, bills, etc.)
- personal life stuff
- not urgent not important
- tasks and projects that do not carry a high yield on goal productivity
- home DIY projects, etc.
The urgent important section is where you should be spending most of your day time, but to live a stable life, one has to be able to balance out some time to the other tasks...or delegate those lower nodes to somebody else!
Every couple of months I open a text file, insert headers denoting the coming months, and write down things I have to accomplish under those headers. Whenever I progress an objective, I jot down the task that helped me progress in the past tense. For instance, under January I could add "Spend time with family" and under that I would include "Went snow boarding with siblings".
I do this because I'm not prescient; I don't know how unforeseen circumstances might affect my ability to complete my objectives. By only writing down things that I have completed, I'm not discouraging myself if/when I can't finish something.
Here is an example of what I mean:
# Work on personal projects
# Study Graph Theory
- Implemented Dijkstra's algorithm
- Read "Introduction to Graph Theory" by Richard J Trudeau
In short, I just organize my ideas into broad categories and then when I think I've progressed, I further categorize it.
Procrastination is fun and complicated. "Just Do It" doesn't seem to help much for me. After reading more I've found a number of reasons for procrastination that may be helpful depending on the cause:
Is the task too vague? If so, making it more concrete helps. "Do taxes" is impossibly vague and scary and the brain rebels. "Make a list of all expenses this year" is better but still large. This is the most common actually helpful advice I've found. But also
Do you not actually care about the task? Having a grand overarching goal for your career/life can help you make sure the task is worth doing. Or for something like taxes, you can say "this helps me achieve my goal because if I don't pay my taxes I'll probably go to jail."
Do you not believe your project will succeed? This is a subtle one I only recently discovered. If I'm working on an app or a business idea and I get to the point where I don't believe it has a chance, I strongly lose motivation. Some say this is a survival mechanism - if a hunter gatherer had a plan to kill a wooley mammoth with a spear up close and that'd probably result in death, a strong sense of "procrastination" could be a lifesaver.
Is it resistance to something that threatens your identity? This is a fun one - maybe you've internalized that you don't finish projects (I've had some of this I think). Finishing a project would threaten your "identity" of a non finisher, and some part of the brain _hates_ things that threaten it's identity. I think this one you just have to figure out a way to push through, and give that part of the brain fodder to convince itself that it's identity is not of "doesn't finish projects". The same can be true of earning money, and other kinds of success.
The mind is great at rationalizing excuses. It is about executing. It is about having the discipline to do the things you don't want to do, but know they have to get done.
As soon as you start thinking about motivation, you have lost. Motivation is fleeting. Even the most important task that is also fun will likely become a grind before you are done. How do you get it finished? Have the discipline to grind it out.
I'm not implying any of this easy. When the alarm goes off every morning to go to the gym, it sucks. But I do it anyway. The first step is accepting it is not easy and it will suck at times.
I agree that discipline > motivation. And thus, habit formation becomes important. What I'd like to add here is what I call "learn to enjoy". I try to "learn to enjoy" waking up in the morning to go to the gym. I think it's just an euphemism to lowering the barrier between "what I want to do" and "what I have to do". What makes waking up early suck at times? How can I make it suck it less? How can I actually turn my mindset around so that I actually want to wake up early and go to the gym?
Sure. I don't mind getting up many mornings at this point. What I wanted to head off though is people thinking that it's somehow easy. That I'm a 'morning' person, or I am different than everyone else somehow. I'm not. I get up early and workout because I chose to, and it's not always what I want to do.
My goal, if there could be one, is to make waking up early and working out just like breathing. It's not enjoyable, nor does it suck, it just is.
See I might be wrong here, but I think the problem starts when you see yourself as a depressed person. Do you see yourself as someone who can wake up early and go to the gym? Do you see yourself as someone who could be disciplined?
Don't get me wrong, you might be a depressed person. I see depression as a water swirl that keeps dragging you down and doesn't let you look at yourself as what you could be. It's the typical comparison of "I am trying to quit smoking" and "I'm not a smoker".
You get to that point, mentally, by acting. Mentality affect behaviour, and behaviour affects mentality. If you see you can wake up, it's more easy that you'll see yourself as someone who can wake up and go to the gym.
To be fair, it's difficult to not see yourself as having <something> when <something> is everpresent in many aspects of your daily life.
I want to socialize, but it's difficult. I want to work out, but it's really difficult. I want to finish the projects I start, but it's almost impossible after a while. Not because I want it to be – so that, perhaps, I could escape the strain of putting in the effort – but because it just is. That's the sad part.
I get what you're saying – "Define yourself as someone who does the stuff you want to get done" – and I'm behind it. You're saying I should behave as if I'm already <someone> – the person who exercises, the person who socializes well, the person who finishes what they'd started?
I've tried that before. It worked for a while, but then it always gets to the point where I feel the kind of an existential "meh" – the apathy towards achieving the thing because the thing no longer seems meaningful, even though I realize how much I value it in my head. That's the sadder part.
Ernest Becker wrote about it in The Denial of Death. We all strive towards completing our projects of immortality – the things that memorialize us, the existence of which help us overcome physical death by becoming culturally immortal. People with depression lose faith in the fact that their projects are achievable.
But suppose it's not true: suppose I can actually manage it. What do I do?
> Were you raised with discipline in mind – as in, were your parents/guardians promoting discipline within you? Did you get to it yourself?
Good questions. I think I was raised with less forced discipline than most kids. I say forced because there was necessary discipline. My family didn't have much so when I was old enough to want money to buy things that meant finding a job. With that said, external discipline never lasts. IMO, that's more like motivation. There is a reason discipline is almost always called 'self' discipline. It comes from within.
> How do you get to that point, mentally? What do I do?
Understand that there is no end point. If I reached my goal today, I would just make another goal farther out. The goal becomes less important than the process.
Also understand it's never easy. You may think you have no discipline right now, but in reality I might be a half step closer than you are. I fail at my self discipline all the time. Good, it gives me something to work on.
What you need to do is simply start. IMO, exercise is so important not just physically but mentally. Powerlifting taught me so much about the grind and pushing forward when your body wants to stop. It took months one time for me to add 5# to my dead lift.
So workout - right now. Get up do some burpees, push ups, sit ups, and squats. In 20 minutes, workout one is done. Set your alarm for 20 minutes earlier and do the same tomorrow and the day after that. Ignore whether or not those 20 minutes are meaningful (do you ponder the meaningfulness of watching a single TV show??), just do it. Embrace the strain of putting in this tiny bit of effort to get up and workout.
By that point I had been dead lifting for years. Every 5# I added over 500# was a struggle. Some days progress was measured by lifting the bar 1” off the ground.
How did I start? Many years ago in my early 20s I thought I had it all. Great fiancé, good job, and a good life. I could see my whole future and it was good. Through a bunch of random circumstances I started playing DAoC (old school mmo). I had always played games for fun, so no big deal.
Fast forward 2 years and every waking moment I had that I wasn’t working I was playing DAoC. I was still doing my job, but I was certainly not excelling. Eventually my fiancé left me. Even though I quit DAoC Soon after, it was too late to get her back. It reminds me of a scene in Mushashi where he asks the priest why he tied him to a tree. The response was he tied tied those ropes himself - exactly as I had done.
Suddenly I had all this time, was getting pudgy, was depressed, and couldn’t sleep. My apartment had a gym so I started working out doing things like you just did today. Suddenly I was tired enough to sleep again, my confidence came back, and I had a new focus.
Later I found powerlifting and it was like finding zen. Take the craziness of the day, complexity of work, and relationships and throw all that out. While of course there is proper technique, the dead lift is simple. See that weight? Pick it up. Repeat :)
From that one self discipline decision to stop DAoC and then start working out so many other things presented themselves. I went back and finished grad school, excelled at better and better jobs, and today 15+ years later I’m married to a great woman.
I certainly have not perfectly followed self discipline this whole time, but even just the little I had made great changes for me. If I can be the catalyst for even just a single person to do the same, I’m happy :)
Glad to hear things worked out for you because you'd made a better choice. Shame that it came to that, of course, but once you're in a rut, the only good thing I reckon I can do is praise your efforts towards getting out. :)
What was your mindset like from the day you quit DAoC to now? Did you feel like it all doesn't matter anyway, so why bother? Was yours a resolute mind?
this might be the single most useful reply in the whole thread.
Specificitiy (paragraph 2) is crucial.
I'd add that goals (paragraph 3) are a result of identity (paragraph 5) so it's basically the same idea. How do you see your better self? Do these projects/tasks align with your vision of your better self?
If you feel you are X (paragraph 5) and you feel you can be superX (paragraph 4) you'll undoubtedly be able to carry on with your goals (paragraph 3). Breaking these down (paragraph 2) will help.
Not satisfied with the way I put it but that's the idea.
There's a lot of valid perspectives, but I think its some kind of false reward system. Archiving a link on neural-networks is a low effort task that superficially appears to move you toward your goal of machine learning, whereas the Coursera class takes work (ie. not fun struggling with Octave syntax)
Also the mind is masterful at protecting it's ego by making you procrastinate things you think are difficult. You end up not doing them because you _think_ they're hard to do and you don't want to risk it.
Identify when this is happening and just do it. Force yourself to at least give it the 30 minute try and 90% of the time you'll find yourself in the zone and just doing it.
> Realize that this behavior is just fancy procrastination. I can collect recipes all day, but it won't make me a better cook.
I don't believe this assertion makes any sense. I may never be a Michelin-star chef, but if I set a goal to learn how to cook and set a plan on how to achieve that, I will surely be able to cook a decent meal within a reasonable amount of time and results will be far better than what I would get if I procrastinated instead.
Indeed I analog with fountain pen and handmade notebooks for X17 for mobile. The physical act of writing shit down has made all the difference. If I need to track or posterity, it goes in Tiddlywiki and/or VimWiki
I wrote my own task management application that I use to organize long-term goals (and different aspects of my life) into high-level categories (represented by sections on the page like “work” vs. “home” vs. “personal”), and more granular categories (represented by cards of tasks) as they become more well-defined, or if i want to group tasks into a “project”. I can break cards into tasks and schedule them within the same UI. The important distinction between this and most “GTD” systems is that I schedule at a much less granular level (days) than most systems and I can very easily move tasks around between “scheduled” and “unscheduled” states while maintaining a link to their corresponding category. The system is extremely adaptable because it’s not very prescriptive. I tweeted about it here: https://twitter.com/crabl/status/1073248575612542976?s=20
Without explaining my whole process, here are some general tips from trying to do this various ways over the last few years:
- Regularly review your TODOs, and keep them up-to-date. This is way more important than the tool you pick. Pick a slot in your calendar, fight to protect that time, and stick to it. Ultimately all these systems are just a UI veneer on you regularly deciding what’s important. It’s easy to focus on tools and not sticking to a regular process.
- Start small It’s very easy to barf everything you want to do into a system and then be completely overwhelmed by it. If this is a problem, use the review process so that you always have a list of what you actually expect to do in the next day, week, and month. Be realistic.
- Have goals at different time horizons, and have reviews for them. The GTD system of daily, weekly, monthly and annual reviews works well for me.
- Become comfortable with putting complex multidimensional things into coarse little buckets. E.g. this is a task, this is a goal; this is kinda for project A and B, but I’ll put it here; this deadline is self-imposed, this one is for a release, etc. etc. There’s no trick here apart from keep doing it, realize that these are only abstractions which are supposed to be useful to you. You’ll change them over time, but...
- Aggressively separate doing your review system, and improving it. It can be easy to sit down to review what you want to do in the next week/month/year, and end up fiddling around with how your system works. Both are neccessary, but the reviews must happen, and improving your system is a separate activity which you can schedule when appropriate!
- Dont sweat it. It takes work, and everyone’s system is more of a mess when you look at it vs. hear them explain it. The most important thing is regularly dedicate time to thinking about how you want to spend time.
I have a rather meticulous program. For starters, I write everything down on a daily log. Thoughts, notes, tasks, everything. I do it with pen and paper because I like writing and it helps me thinking things more thoroughly. Then at the end of the day I move actionable tasks to a different journal which has to-do lists by project. At the beginning of each week I peruse the projects lists and choose tasks to move to a weekly to-do list. This way I have a planned-ahead weekly schedule which keeps me from procrastinating.
I suppose if you can focus on a single project you don't need to go into such lengths of detailed logging. But for me it's imperative to keep detailed notes because I work on multiple projects simultaneously, and I can also keep track of older ideas that might get lost in the mayhem that goes around in my head. The best way to stop procrastinating is to break down projects to single tasks. Then I don't feel overwhelmed by the variety of tasks I have to accomplish. I only need to do a single task each time. I've adopted this system in the last couple of years and my productivity has increased at least 100%.
This is quite similar to my approach. I use the same notebook for my actionable tasks though (my daily to-do list is in this notebook), project-related stuff is kept together in separate files if necessary. The layout of the 'action-day' calendar comes closest to meeting my needs, so I use it
I’ve created a Slack account with just one user, me. I have a private channel for every project, every category of problem and every interest I have.
It’s not just about pasting links in the channel, you can leave messages in the channel(obviously) create documents, threads, todo lists, the search and the automations even sometimes I chat to myself in private to clarify my mind. All this is registered and can be revised later.
It might seem a bit weird but it works for me, problably because the familiarity with the tool and the versatility of Slack.
Also it helps to have this place to quickly dump ideas in the right channel and move on so you are not distracted at work, you can come back to the channel when you have the time for it.
I use e-mail as a task list (only file threads when the work is done), and OneNote checklists for the rest (it irks me a bit that not all platforms have proper strikeout formatting for denoting cancelled tasks, but it works).
I also use my calendar for timekeeping (I’ll toggle over to it and move time slots around to plan when I’ll get to the next task on my plate). My priorities are fairly fluid, and I will often move a longer task later in the week and fish out smaller things from my e-mail backlog or checklists to fill that gap.
I just _do_ stuff, and focus on clearing out my inbox and checking out those lists afterwards as part of the cleaning up/re-focusing in between tasks. I also don’t worry too much about not getting something done, because if it doesn’t happen at all, there were certainly more important things that got done in the meantime.
For checklists, OneNote works mostly fine offline (it’s been years since I had trouble with syncing, and was hesitant to move to it because of that) and on all platforms I carry around with me.
I do think about going back to a pure text file set up now and then, but the closest I get is using GitHub flavored Markdown for checklists and roadmaps (most of my READMEs on GitHub have a checklist of what needs to be done, and of late I’ve taken to adding similar lists to my Azure portal for projects).
Again, do stuff. Document it. Plan next steps. Iterate.
I once read in an biography on the Beatles that they would often hold off on writing down songs till the next day. Their theory was that if their song truly was "that good" they would have no trouble recollecting it the next day. And if they forgot it, then it clearly wasn't worth doing.
I like to apply this principle to a lot of the ideas I choose to work on. It's easy to think that every idea is the cat's pajamas, but sometimes it's best to let the concept cook for a bit. I find that after a few days or so the idea will have either fizzled out, and I'll have forgotten about it, or I'll be itching to really work on it.
This is the most comprehensive setup I found, and I have modified it to suit my workflow.
I use dropbox to save all the Org files, which I can open (view/edit) on my phone with Orgzly.
As a philosophy, I don't do everything I write in the task list. It is just there to keep my mind empty to think clearly. I actively find tasks to take off the list - by delegating it, by paying someone else to do it, or by just saying no to those tasks.
I use my own system dubbed NL0 (N = Now, L = Later, 0 = Never). I keep a Trello board online with these 3 columns, and once in a while I clean it up (maybe once every month, but it's not a rule - whenever I feel like it).
I also write things and ideas on paper, but, eventually, I sync it all up in the Trello board (I also have Trello on my phone, so, it's usually around when I need it). The [Now] column is for things I need to do / learn now (highest priority); the [Later] column is for things that I need or would like to do / learn later, in the medium-term future; the [0 (never)] column is for things that I am sure I won't do / need, or things that represent no meaningful value (for me) anymore, including things from the other 2 columns. It's been working for me for years now.
P.S.: I keep talking about things that you need to "learn" / "do". Actually that sums up everything we do in our lives. We either learn something or we use what we already learned. Keep learning, keep doing!
I was in the same situation from the last 7-8 year, I read so many self-help books, watched countless motivational videos and other activities to stop procrastination. And the most important thing which I learned is 'Focus in one thing at a time'
I will recommend you to read this https://www.briantracy.com/blog/time-management/the-truth-ab...
I use index cards and pen/pencil. i keep them around me car/home etc and I write ideas, to do list, whatever on them and as I finish/archive what I wrote on the card I toss it away. Please note I am an old person
Another user recommended The One Thing, and I'll second that. You have to always be prioritizing. Figure out what you really, REALLY want to do, and you will make time for it.
I definitely suffer from the "everything looks cool and fun" syndrome. There are a thousand things I want to learn and only enough time to learn maybe three of them.
You can do anything, but you can't do everything. So how do you decide what to do?
I also use a Full Focus Planner and the corresponding method that goes with it, to distill annual goals into quarterly, monthly, weekly, daily habits. FFP is definitely not for everybody, but when I commit to using it I do find I get a lot more done. Then I invariably fall off the wagon.
The One Thing is good. It was free to read on Kindle for Prime members recently. The OP should check if it's still there.
The hard part is figuring out the one thing. Tim Ferris talks about this a lot - finding the one thing that makes other things you want to do either irrelevant or so much easier. This concept has lots of names. Jocko Willinks books Extreme Ownership puts it simply as "prioritize and execute".
Anytime I feel overwhelmed with the amount I have to do what I have really done is not prioritize.
And yes, it is not easy and requires daily discipline.
Something that helped me regarding this - I took some time and made a document that contained every project on my plate. I realized I was trying to do 11+ projects of significant size. And as such I was really doing not much at all from worrying about not working on all the projects I wasn't working on right now when working on another project. Ack! But it's so easy to fall into that, especially for ambitious people like OP.
I think your problem is not lack of organisation but either lack of action or wanting to do too much at the same time, or both. There are only so many things you can do in a given day/week/month. Hence it's much better to not scatter that time across a wide variety of different activities and just focus on a few key ones.
Having said that, there are always things that pop up that I would ideally like to do at some point. I keep track of these in various lists on my notes app (recently switched to Notion) and sometimes look at those lists when I am at a point where I have the ability or feel ready to start something new.
Having said that also, I believe that good shit sticks anyway.
By "life gets in between", do you mean that you have things you want to do but other random things pop up and you do those instead? If so this is a prioritization issue and maybe you need to start saying "no". If you can't really say no, then you need to plan for these things instead of letting them derail you.
Also as I am sure you know, you always think that you can get more done than you actually can. Plan to do less. I like to keep a list of things I'm working on this week and what I intend to finish today. I journal every morning about what is still in the today list. It helps me think about why that happened and what I can do about it.
I created a life goal of a happy and fulfilling life, and then attempted to identify the 3-5 necessary subgoals that were sufficient for that, and continued down the chain until I got to day-to-day activities.
I have a whole system for that, but the upshot is that if you find yourself doing something that isn't on the graph, then you have a choice - either update your graph to justify why it's necessary, or... consider not doing it anymore.
Kind of an anti-todo list. Because when I had earlier only used todo lists, my completist nature led me to get overwhelmed with list items. This other system helps prevent that.
A little over 10 years ago, I realized my life was a total disorganized wreck. My career as a software developer had stagnated, my side real estate venture hit the same hard times that everyone else hit, I was teaching fitness classes on the side as a “working hobby”, and I was still reeling from the effects of a divorce.
I decided to simplify my life, decided what goals are important in the grand scheme of things and refocus. It’s s lot easier to organize when you aren’t trying to do so much.
1. I got out of the dating scene and just started hanging out with friends, freeing up my time to focus.
2. I cut down on teaching to just enough to stay healthy. After I started dating my now wife, I cut it out entirely.
3. I did a lot of hard work to get my career on track.
Now my life is really simple to organize and it’s all about just having a schedule.
1. Health - I have a home gym and set aside 6 hours a week on my calendar to work out.
2. My wife and I have a shared calendar so we know what’s going on and we put our date nights on it at least once every pay period.
My son and I have “hair cut days” every two weeks where we get our haircuts and just hang out.
I also schedule time to hang out with friends once a month at least.
3. Career. I choose jobs that will keep me current with technology so I’m not required to do side projects to stay competitive. I also spend at least one hour in the morning, studying toward my agenda items of new to me technologies/frameworks I want to bring into work. I might also do a quick proof of concept.
I do have a list of things I want to learn but no real schedule. Whenever it gets done between personal studying and work it gets done.
Every one is at a different point in life, but I enjoy having a mostly care free, check list free life, and coming home to my wife and just relaxing.
For work, I break my task down to measurable chunks and do the best I can. If I worked as hard as I can and it’s still going to miss it’s deadline, it just does and I tell them far in advance. I go home in a reasonable time and so don’t answer emails after hours.
1. Start with THE goal: what is the goal? Make sure it has a “why” that energizes and excites and inspires you, that imbues you with a transcendent vision of clarity.
2. Assume maximum responsibility for achieving this vision— expand your mind in a way that allows you to see the largest sphere of influence over your desired outcome. Often we think too small, and get stuck in the weeds. We wait for permission. Take responsibility. Act, and ask for forgiveness later. You alone are responsible for your dreams.
3. Practice daily meditative reflection— spend more time alone, in isolation, with yourself. Be still for long periods of time, let your mind open, and listen to what arrives, what presents itself to your mind. Pay attention to pain— discomforting thoughts and feelings are teachers pointing us where we need to go and what we need to do. Write down these thoughts. Write them all down. List, connect, associate, outline. Let these thoughts illustrate that vision, and materialize it with every connecting realization.
4. Spend time organizing these thoughts. Prioritize. Distinguish the signal from the noise. Always keep the goal in mind— each idea should connect and justify the goal, the vision. Each of these ideas should produce clarity. Create a plan, with goals, and steps for each goal.
5. Execute. Make the vision manifest through intentional activity. You alone are responsible. Do not depend on anyone. Learn what you need to learn. Partner with like minded people, who share similar visions.
Org mode files are stored on dropbox. One file per project, plus one for Personal Stuff.
Android app "Orgzly" is the main editor for those files. I also use VS Code's org mode extension to edit those files sometimes.
Square-dotted notebook is used for daily notes from meetings. + symbol means TODO, bullet point symbol means Item To Remember. + symbols are swept into the relevant org mode files at various times during the day or week. Different colour pens are also used when different projects may get covered in the same meetings.
Personal Stuff gets entered directly into Orgzly, which then forms the main backbone of my Agenda display in the same app.
I don't attempt to sync tickets between the various different tracking systems of different projects and my org mode files.
Longer notes and documentation are written in Markdown and converted as needed using Pandoc.
The most important thing I found was to offload everything into your head into tools that you trust and can do the job. I trust google calendar to remind me of stuff I've set it up to remind me, I trust wunderlist to remind me of the weekly stuff I need to do when I need to do it. Tiddlywiki will get me any of my old notes in seconds and dynalist let's me get thought processes out of my head into the computer better than anything else I've used.
If you're lacking time to work on stuff you could keep track of your daily tasks and see trends in how you spend your time. If you know what you're doing, then you can re-organize your schedule to do things that are more important for you.
If you have a large list of projects to do, you could try assigning value to each and put them into a queue.
Take a spreadsheet, put the projects into rows, add columns for what's important to you, weight the columns appropriately, compute a final importance score, and rank the items in the queue. Column names for projects could be: community value, work value, personal value, and maintenance cost (negative). That at least datafies the tasks so you can objectively work with them.
Otherwise org-mode for taking notes and small daily tasks. Having random facts on hand about systems at work and what you did 5 months ago to solve problem X have been really helpful for me.
There is something to be said for just getting excited about something and hacking it though. It's way more fun :D
I've recently discovered Notion (www.notion.so) and it's changed A LOT for me.
The main selling point is that it's all the other tools - Trello, Kanban, Asana, Google Sheets (to an extent) in one place, with a planned release of an API.
I've been loving it so much that I've started helping my brother organize some of his company's projects using Notion to showcase the value of having your content organized in one place with the tools that make you feel like your living in 2019.
Writing down your ideas is a good thing - you may likely come back to them later and expand / learn from them.
I think the trick is to work out what you "really want to execute" vs "what you are willing to spend time to execute". If you have a lot of ideas, you will not be able to execute them all, and that is a hard pill to swallow.
Like you, I have lots of ideas I'd love to complete but time is a factor - pick the ones you want to finish first, and work through them. Write the others down, so you can expand on them later if you want.
> I think the trick is to work out what you "really want to execute" vs "what you are willing to spend time to execute". If you have a lot of ideas, you will not be able to execute them all, and that is a hard pill to swallow.
The Eisenhower Decision Matrix is a very effective framework to decide which tasks to execute and which goals to drop.
The biggest storage (also the longest term) is Trello. I have a board with many "lists" in Trello term. Some examples:
- Software development
- Home (repairs, improvements, etc.)
- Physical organization*
- Digital organization*
*: Having lots of data and items create its own mess.
However, the most important four lists in my Trello board are
- ToDo (what I've decided to do next, when task at hand finishes.)
- In Progress (What I'm working on).
- Cancelled (Sometimes problem solves itself or you change your mind or else).
Using Trello effectively is the key. All the research about a task is under that Task's card. All the documents, all the links, everything. When the task gets rolling, all documentation is moved to its own Evernote notebook and stored forever. The documentation evolves there and gets more useful over time. Another useful tool for this task is Zim wiki. It's arguably more useful, but running it on Mac is a problem for me (I don't like Homebrew).
Trello is updated weekly. New ideas are added, maybe some are cancelled. Completed ones moved to appropriate places, etc. It takes 10 to 15 minutes.
For daily tasks, I have a notebook. I write every night the next day's tasks. I have some implicit categories in it. Office, academic and personal. Incomplete tasks repeated the next day. It's like a bullet journal, but it's not.
This creates a big picture for me. I don't need to remember anything, can see my backlogs, remember what I'm working on and see how far I progressed. Writing daily tasks keep me motivated. Updating Trello also keeps me motivated and on track.
For allocating time, I have two tools. Google calendar and Pomodoro technique . All my fixed tasks (like social stuff, meetings, etc.) are in my calendar. I generally decide to work on some project the night before.
When I'm working on the task, I track time with Pomodoro, so it keeps me motivated. 4-5 Pomodoros are sufficient for me to produce meaningful work. I generally use the last one to update progress and documentation, and end the day.
Hope this helps, please ask any questions you may have in your mind.
I had basically the same problem as OP some years back. Then I wrote down, for each and every task, how much I'd value having already completed it (including how much I'd value having experienced doing it), and how long I estimated it'd take. This immediately gives value / hour. Add some categorization (e.g. to only work on work tasks during the week), and voila: Auto-prioritization. Helped a lot with getting the actually important things done and get reminded to do useful long term stuff when idle time arose.
You can't do everything you want to do. First thing is to realize if you are working a full time job, you can't really do much else. If you have a full time job and children, don't really expect to do anything more than that. if you want to do something else - you need to get rid of children for a while (parents/boarding school) or quit working.
One thing I've stopped doing is shopping around for the best possible price bargain. I spend hours and hours to get the best laptop I could get for a price. If I just paid a few hundred dollars more I would have a better model and saved myself a literally a week's worth of work.
I have to focus one one project, at the moment i'm writing a programming language and i've pretty much got there by saying to myself "ok, i want to do this.. what language features do i need?" and work from there.
I think this can apply for anything. Work out what you want to do, then the steps that you need to do it.
It doesn't really matter whether you use trello, a text file or some other notes system.
Don't try and do things in parallel, it doesn't work. If you want to do some big project, save some money so you can focus on it. Work out the outer logistics as well as the inner.
I've become so disorganised, lazy and demotivated that my only goal right now in life is to do 8 pomodoros/day, doesn't really matter what i do in them. just doing 8 of them per day is huge accomplishment.
1. mindmap that syncs all devices, type on your phone, see changes on TV immediately
2. super intuitive gamified keyboard shortcuts (no need for mouse); super intuitive mobile gestures
3. has node-level in-browser encryption via tweetnacl so if you provide a crypt key, only you can see what you typed under a crypted node - crypted data looks like gibberish in the db and there is NO way to recover it, except you provide your crypt key. If you lose your key, you have lost the data under all crypted nodes, forever
4. copy/paste nodes to/from freeplane/freemind directly onto your map
5. full disclosure - I am the developer and working on a second release, sign-ups paused for now but I can open it up for signups if there is interest in working on the beta - I use it to organize my entire life
join waiting list here: email@example.com
I'm late to this but: After trying many different things over the years, I wrote this: http://onemodel.org (AGPL; and yes I plan to move to https sometime). In it I organize things in a variety of ways, depending on the topics: for periodic/calendar things, I just write a date and have a (relatively) few memorized keystrokes to move it forward a certain amount. For other things I prioritize and have lists by "role" in life (job, health, husband, father, etc).
Each entry can link to as much detail on that topics, including from other areas, as I want. Like a todolist for where I left off so I know what is pending, and what is already done, when I have to come back to something. For topics, I have hierarchies based on what it relates to, and sometimes the same thing is in multiple hierarchies, but it seems to evolve well within the system to meet ongoing needs. It is keyboard oriented and efficient, but you have to slightly configure postgres to install: there are clear instructions and a tutorial. On the web site are some tips for organizing info (in a somewhat raw form), but many more available upon request.
You can think of it something like a personal wiki + emacs org-mode, very efficient, keyboard-oriented, using postgres, but with a much larger vision than today's features, including sharing (linking/copying securely) between instances, and computability of the info for things like anki-like features. Self-hosted now but open to hosting for others. The most current code is in github (AGPL). Comments/questions very welcome, preferably via the mailing list; be patient if my answers are slow. The lists are currently low-volume, and the announcements list should always be.
(It can store files, but isn't especially smooth about it yet. For personal notes of all kinds, it is the most efficient, effective, flexible thing I know of. The FAQs link to a discussion comparing it with emacs org-mode and others. It has fulltext search, some finicky but very functional import/export, a nice numbered-outline export to text, and a journal/activity log.)
If someone checks the web site first, I am happy to answer questions per the email address (or preferably, list) indicated there.
Okay, this won't be the clearest answer here because I didn't have a system I am extremely happy about right now. However, I have tried alot of the other suggestions here. I will try to offer my opinion on a few tools / systems.
2. org-mode: It is incredibly powerful, honestly, the most powerful productivity / todo app. However, I found that this power slowed down my process, and I find that kills my productivity. If you love powerful, complex tools, org-mode is for you.
3. Todoist: it is an adequate list app; if thats all you need, it works well. Also, it has an open api, but I never used it.
4. Todo.txt / Markor: this is my current setup. Markor is a really nice android app; https://github.com/gsantner/markor . I generally like the philosophy behind todo.txt. It forces you to simplify your todos. My main problem is that notifications aren't a part of the programs at all.
Covey's "7 Habits" taught me everything I needed to know.
I use the app Things to throw new items into an Inbox. This takes half a second and doesn't distract me from whatever it is I'm working on at the time.
Later, when I have a free moment, I use the classic time management grid to mentally map every item in the Inbox into one of four categories:
1. Urgent & Important
2. Not Urgent but Important
3. Urgent but Not Important
4. Not Urgent & Not Important
(Visualized as a 2x2 matrix)
This categorization step could be done once a day or once an hour depending on how much incoming work there is.
Based on the outcome of that quick assessment, I move the item into one of the categories 'Things' provides out-of-the-box: Today, Someday, Any time. And I have tags for every project or area of responsibility I have. During this step I usually take a few minutes to fill in some details about the task that I don't want to forget. Sometimes I realize the task is an entire project in itself, so it gets a new tag or Project item in Things.
Every day I start out by scanning my projects and moving items into the Today list. The day is done when I've checked them all off (yeah, right!)
It's all derived, I believe, from the Getting Things Done methodology.
* When I have a new "project" (boards are cheap, so everything can be a "project"), I run a ruby script that calls the Trello API to: 1) copy a template trello board that has "to do", "doing", "pending" and "done" columns. 2) name it with the argument I passed it to the script. 3) this new board is created into a specific team I created for those kinds of cheap boards.
* In the PHP page I created, everything is an html anchor to its corresponding trello URL (boards, card).
So it gives me a birds eye view, at a glance, of everything I need to do. I still have specific trello boards for certain specific things, and I still use a calendar and a todoist account to organize my weeks. But i've found this hack to help me streamline all my non-time-sensitive tasks to do.
If you want, I can give you the code for those 2 scripts. Let me know if someone is interested.
I have tried GTD and but it didn’t feel quite right for me. I believe the best system is the one that is tweaked to your life circumstances, and that changes over time. I’ve settled on the following system for now
- quarterly goals in a google doc. Every once in a while I review them and mark it green if it’s done, yellow if I’m working on it and red if it’s not going to happen. I do a new one for next quarter at the end of every quarter
- day to day in google keep. Here I use labels to categorise. I have a “who” label and a “what” label. Let’s say I’m working on a project with John. If I have a meeting with John I’ll write notes if I have to remember anything and a list of what needs to be done, then label it John and Project Name. Using this system, I can go quickly review what needs to be done on a project across the whole team, and also I can review what I’m doing with John for a 1 on 1.
Important notes or lists get Pinned, and I archive stuff once it’s no longer relevant.
- I use my calendar to prioritise. Every night before bed I take a look at my calendar for the next day and have a look what my priorities are and plan my day.
- shopping list in the google assistant shopping list
- things that need to be brought to my attention at a certain time or place go in my phone reminders
Like many others it seems, I keep lists of things in places I'll have to see them when I need to :
- For work, things to study and technical things : a file I make my text editor always open at launch.
- For "consumption" : a list I keep in my browser's side bar. At this point in time it's mostly made of shirts, displays and chairs I want to look into when it's globally budgeted, and random domestic maintenance consumables.
- For life goals and life events I want to handle, I've got a sheet of paper stuck on my desk lamp. You'd find things like calling some company which billed me an extra 20€ it shouldn't have, getting some bad mole removed or talking to friends that drifted away (having had periods of depression withdrawal, it really hit me that if you keep in touch with people they won't do it for you).
- For entertainment, I've got a text file of things to watch and read on my desktop. And an Amazon list for the more serious literature.
It's not very organized, but I do better when I have a few things to handle within a day and keep me engaged rather than being tunnel-visioned on one task.
Stephen Covey's system embodied by the Franklin Covey planners were the most holistic system I've ever seen for managing the day to day, and keeping the big picture in mind (the fulfilling part). It's sad the company has all but died.
GTD is great for churning out done tasks. Though afterwards I felt less fulfilled.
Since Franklin Covey failed to ever produce a software product of any use I use an ugly mix of iPhone reminders, Things (by Cultured Code) and Microsoft OneNote.
http://weekplan.net is an attempt to mix Franklin Covey and OKR (Objective & Key Results). It has some good features, but it's buggy and confusing.
I've also gone without any planning system for a time. Only focusing on what bubbled up in my mind. If you remain undistracted it's incredibly liberating when you discover how little you must accomplish to enjoy a healthy productive life.
Most of the items on our todo lists are worthless to us anyway. Which is why the Self Authoring program helped me immensely. https://selfauthoring.com/
Sometimes in December last year, I started using Bullet Journal again. I got a book and read it and applied it. What I discover, that along with other tools, it does help me feel focused and less overwhelmed.
For projects, I kind of need Pivotal Tracker to be able to organize and do things. I still write them down in my notebook also, otherwise I have two different places for things (which I do). Hope this makes sense.
I have been struggling recently with this as well. Here is what I have come up with:
For Personal Daily Goals:
I bought a bound journal that I write down the things I want to accomplish for the day. After I finish a task, I cross it off (odd school satification). Anything I dont accomplish by the end of the day, I assess its value and determine if I really want/need to get it done. If so, then I move it to tomorrows.
Monthly personal goals follow the same procedure with the exception that the goals arent assessed on a daily basis.
I really enjoy organizing my thoughts on Evernote. The application syncs with my phone and desktop, so I never am without it. Tasks, goals, resources, and works go into Evernote. If its more intensive, I will use the google suite to process my ideas or layouts (spreadsheet projections, complex docs, etc.)
After using this system for a while, I have found that it reduces my stress surrounding the projects. However, my solution works for me... OR so I believe... after reading some of the other comments.
I have kind of an open question but: do we have a way to quantify what it means to get something done?
For example, I feel in my heart that I can solve any problem, given enough time and resources. Sometimes I don't get even 1 important thing done in a day. Meanwhile I watch other people get what seems like 10-100 things done in a single day. Then they do it again the next day, consistently, their entire lives. Which of us accomplishes more in the grand scheme of things? Which of us feels happier, or more fulfilled? Which of us makes more money? Is that want accomplishment is, earning money? Or is it freeing oneself from obligation? Or is it having been useful to others? A few thoughts:
* Is getting something done mostly about the feeling of accomplishment? Or is it a tangible, quantifiable thing like crossing an item off a todo list?
* I began using the calendar app in my phone a year ago. I feel a sense of relief not having to remember everything, and I stopped missing appointments. But my calendar is filling up fast, and it worries me. Is this good or bad?
* If (potentially) we're not after the things, but the sense of fulfillment from the things, then could it simply be about changing habits? Getting up early in the morning and accomplishing nothing in the 2 hours before work may feel more rewarding than deliberately wasting the hours between 11 PM and 1 AM over a beer and video streaming. But is the risk/reward worth it? Is it sustainable? Can life be improved by simply going through the motions until the improvements stick?
For what it's worth, my new year's resolution is to begin starting things, finally. So I am working on improving motivation, building a new habit every week or two, saying yes to the accessory gatherings and exercises that build rapport, etc, feng shui'ing my life basically.
Just the standard stuff: Calendar - I have a CalDav server running which provides CardDav as well but there are plenty of commercial alternatives. In addition I use the notes app - without sync - on my phone to plan days if there is a need for it at that day.
Like many others here, I also tried this todo-$timeframe approach. It's better than nothing. But honestly, since I have my own Redmine installation pursuing any long term goal or complex personal project becomes actually doable and isn't a pain anymore. (Trello etc. would probably work as well but I like that it's open source and provides a lot of interoperability which I didn't set up though yet)
What I especially like is the Gantt chart feature and that tasks can be split (manually of course), set in dependency and to some degree stuff automatically gets rearranged when it comes to the time frame.
My only recurring daily todo is somehow to actually use these tools.
You’re procrastinating. Your organization is probably not the problem.
My trick: my work laptop has all my favorite websites blocked in the host file. I do my most productive work at coffee shops on that laptop. My todo list is a page in my notebook. I suggest creating a place to work, and only do work there, nothing else.
> You’re procrastinating. Your organization is probably not the problem.
I'm going to have to strongly disagree with this. I have ADHD. I have a strong guttural reaction to the summation of "Oh you're procrastinating, so stop it and work instead". The number of times I've been told this, or that I was just being lazy, or that I just needed to find something I truly cared about I've lost track of.
Organization and structure is how I function.
* Task managers store all of my individual task, so I can stop having them flit into my head and distract me. I organize them once a day, with a full review once a week (Sunday). There are also a series of recurring events to help me maintain a routine. I cannot stress how important having a strict routine is for me personally.
* Timed work/break sessions. I use a pomodoro like system, by declaring break sessions it makes it easier to deal with all of the distractions or little things that I need to do so I'm not constantly switching between things. Anything no directly related to the item I'm currently working on goes into a list, which is reviewed during the break period.
* Calendars keep track of irregular events and serves as a event log, with varying degrees of importance (e.g. doctors visits, when I change my water filter, conferences, when family will be where).
* Long term goals are less of an issue for me. I will regularly flit back to them, or work in starts and fits on them, but I keep an orgmode notebook to keep notes and resources on it. Because of the irregular nature of my work on them, being able to return to something easily is important for me.
* Text to Speech reader. I use these to 1. read back what I've written, and 2. read me blocks of text. Generally I will read along as well, but because its external to my attention with a constant flow it is easier to follow.
All of these are what works for me. What works best you for may, and probably will, be entirely different. To somewhat agree with the sentiment of your post, experimenting with your system can often be counter-productive. Think of it akin to your editor. There is a cost-benefit ratio for improving your editor, and a point in which even if there is an improvement, the cost will never be recouped.
The best suggestion I can possibly give is find a way, and do it continuously and unapologetically.
I use categories like you, and a combination of Trello for the list and OneNote (could use any note app) for details. I have a 2y.o. and one on the way and manage to find at least 2 hrs a week for a side project, sometimes up to about 8hrs. Yes it’s slow going but I feel better for making some progress.
Google Keep with a combination of Labels (area in GTD), Colors (for different status: urgent in-progress on-deck)
It's super fast on desktop or mobile to navigate by label or color. Click search, click label or color.
I can view cards in each area very quickly so I can refresh my sense of context.
I limit the number of in progress projects and I focus on completing.
I can share web links to Keep from mobile. That's a good place to dump interesting research that I probably won't ever find time to get to read.
I post ideas and mini Todo lists all the time, just to be it out of my brain.
Cards can have alarms and scheduled date and time. Shows up on mobile and Gmail and gcal
I don't care if I never export or if keep gets sunsetted. Any idea of things to work on are short term, and I would rather pivot to a new approach then get stuck on a massive project list that just makes me feel helpless and unable to complete.
It's a basically like a tree-style notepad, which makes it easy to break larger goals down in to subtasks or dependencies
For each tree node that you click on, you can add notes in the textbox on the right.
I have a similar process to what some other people mentioned they do with text files -- divide it up into several lists (top level tree nodes) to separate short term goal (daily) from medium term or longer goals (stuff I might get to next week or next month)
This software has been around a long time and the author has packed a ton of features in there, so there are a lot of different ways it could be used, but I really like it for just simple hierarchical notekeeping for tasks.
I am using Scrivener. It is a software used by writers. Imagine a Microsoft OneNote, but simpler. I create Folders-Chapters-Texts and I use standard name sorting for my entried. E.g. for journaling my texts are titled "2019-01-12" so they are sorted automatically.
I keep separate Folders for Work-Personal-etc, and sub-folders for Work: GRC, Coding, App Ideas, etc
It has the ability to paste screen clippings in there and URLs, and it backups up everything on a My Documents subfolder (which MyDoc is automatically synced to my Carbonite)
I also keep there my To-Watch, and my To-Read where I keep listing of movies, and books.
I also have a Books folder where I make entries/notes for each book I read (I got this idea from a HN comment)
I have one app which i made myself and which allow me to add "sticky notes' to specific files, folders, applications urls and documents open in applications.
That way i only add notes to the context i need them in.
I stopped collecting notes for any other things as I don't want to deal with structuring my notes and have all this stuff that I might or might not do anything about anyway.
That way I have completely decluttered my life from notes and the stress and time of keeping it up to date. If it's important I will remember it otherwise it will just linger in my subconsciousness and if it was something important it will resurface on my computer when i open a document or go to a website.
I have a trello board with all personal ideas/projects. New idea? Write it down. Have some spare time? Do some work on one of the ideas/project. Trick is to optimize setup on anything you do in the way that it takes seconds to start working. For that you have to know an overview of what needs to be done and setup process should be as painless as possible.
Hardest for me in that regard are hardware projects. I don't really have any dedicated hardware workbench. So every time I have to get all my boxes out, all my equipment (soldering station, meeters, etc) and then pack it back. Which usually means I don't have enough time to do actual work.
You simply need to sacrifice something in order to do the other thing. It's a question of priorities and realization that you simply can not do all of the things you want to do. This is really hard to accept.
Are you doing these projects for fun, future profit, knowledge?
Whatever your answer is right now doesn't seem to be sufficient motivation. We all get the same time during the day but we all prioritize our day differently. You're prioritizing other activities over these projects (maybe for very valid reasons).
If you try and fail to create a habit, then you need a better reason for doing it.
One of the highest forms of procrastination, but it seems it's much easier to come up with ideas than to execute them.
The best system I ever had consisted of papers that I just hammered up on a wall using nails. Such a good system it has a spatial element to it that is just fantastic. Might want to check with your landlord first though.
Other than that I do trello, notes that I have in a directory and keep track of with git and tomboy. I have to say that tomboy is a gem for sure, does a lot of sense in many ways sad to see that it's not more polished.
I used to do this too, but I think it results in too much scattered focus. What I've done for the last 8 years or so has been really effective, and has reduced my stress quite a bit.
Each year, I pick one larger goal that I want to achieve. It can be learning a new language, completing some Coursera courses, getting fit, traveling, etc. But I find if I just focus on one thing, I'm much more likely to achieve it.
It also reduces the stress to get all these other little things done. I still wind up doing a lot of them, but I don't feel any pressure or compulsion to get them done.
This new year, I decided to allocate time on the habbit forming basis. Some are daily habbit, monthly habbit and weekly habits. Once a week I will make something with my children, daily early morning I will program for a 3-4 hours ( only if I have predefined end goal, else I will just sleep ). 15 minutes meditate, 15 minutes burpy like excercise. I am adding more as I thought it to be useful and required. It's just 13 days in, but till date it's successful. Let's see how it goes ahead...
I use trello for idea and known todo ingestion, and also daily todo lists so that I’m still using it each day. I have a problem of not realizing how much I actually do in a day so I put literally everything big and small into a “live” completed tab.
For managing, I use a chrome plugin on desktop that lets you tile the sections which is easier to deal with. I have a separate instance for work stuff since I don’t want to be thinking about it when I get home. It’s nice because it’ll work offline and syncs between devices for free.
For things I need to do that have a date and time: I put them in Google calendar. Even for the most mundane of activities.
For things that don't have a specific date and time but I know I need to do them: I put them in Asana. And I have them organized by day, so my main Asana page has subsections labeled "Monday:" "Tuesday:" etc and I just put all of my todos and spread them out throughout the week.
These two things have done enormous things for my productivity.
It's funny, I was just talking about this very thing yesterday and got what I feel is some pretty good advice.
The long and short of it is that you are having a hard time organizing the things you want to do because you aren't _finishing_ anything and the backlog is building up. So rather than focusing your energy on organizing all the things you want to do, pick one, maybe two max and finish them. Rinse, repeat. Don't start anything new until you've cleared out the backlog.
Once you've picked, its imperative that you then schedule time in your week to focus on it. Like literally block out time in your calendar and defend it like you would any other appointment.
tldr; finish something and schedule time to do it.
After plenty of trial and error I ended up using 3-item mini todo lists and a bare minimum of "action" categories. The system worked well so I felt comfortable writing it up as https://easyproductivity.com - it's free and open right now so please forgive the self promo.
I use a pen and a cheap notebook (A7, squared). I organize different topics (e.g. work, personal, etc) in different pages. For tasks I follow the basic bulletjournal ideas.
I tried to use technology before (particularly a smartphone), but the UX still sucks compared to the pen and paper. For long texts, typing on a screen is too slow. For small texts, the unlock-open the app-type cycle is annoying.
Every Sunday evening I spend a few minutes writing a "todo" list in my notebook for the week. Items can be anything from "get coffee beans" to "record one song" or "take GRE practice test" but it works for me.
I love using my Rhodia Dot Pad and Lamy Safari fountain pen and I'm not convinced any notetaking software will ever be as enjoyable.
I have 3 Google sheets that I've kept for about 4 years. Finance, health, and things to read, the latter of which is basically a semi organized dumping ground of links and book titles color coded by completion state. I've found it to be valuable, though as of late I haven't been using it as much.
Life getting "in between" is what "The 4 Disciplines of Execution" would call "the whirlwind." Tracking/organizing your tasks is only one tool to combat the whirlwind, but I'd recommend reading the book to consider a more comprehensive set of tools to fight that fight.
Trello, with voice commands via IFTTT. That way there's no loss in jotting down ideas or shopping list items.
This Trello board is also connected to my family Slack, so that events and such are coordinated with my wife. Also any comments on the Trello cards cause a Slack notification. Kids are currently too young to use it.
Now that GitHub has private repos for free accounts I use issues + ZenHub as a kanban board to organize things. This helps me get the ideas out of my head and organized in one place that I can search and filter and group into milestones.
I use the same tools at the day job so why not my personal stuff too!
At the very least, I have a list of priorities that i HAVE to get done in one place. Anything else I have to do, I do categorize but I'm not worried about getting to them. If I make this any more of a system, I'm worried I turn my life into work so this is good enough for me.
I use Evernote for personal project ideas. I was using Trello for my company, but I've recently migrated everything into Airtable, and I really like the grid view instead of Kanban cards. It's nice to see all of my tasks in a spreadsheet with groups and labels.
Wunderlist works really great for me. It helps me coordinate my list of todos between my laptop and phone. It has many advantageous features like setting a reminder for a task which helps me focus on other stuff without worrying about remembering my todo list.
I have a 24” x 18” whiteboard that has a Kanban layout on it. Smaller postit notes let me put a lot of things up and I follow the simple “Todo, In Progress, Done” column model. It’s on the wall at home where I have to look at it every day at least a few times.
iCloud with a txt file in/on my Desktop and/or Notes.app. Everything is seamlessly, effortlessly, nearly instantly synced. You can even share notes using Notes.app easily.
It's simple enough and easy enough to access that it's the only way I can stick with this setup unlike every other setup and app I have tried.
My only negative is that it is yet another variable that has me entrenched in the Apple ecosystem. So, despite not exactly the most impressed with the current MacBook Pro (2017) I own the time and convenience it provides I feel has made up for it.
my 2 cents for my personal planning I use pen and paper for monitor teamwork (10 people) I found great help with https://abstractspoon.weebly.com/ todolist (win based) it store everything into an xml but unfortunately only windows based.
I've been struggling with GTD for years. It's obviously a thoughtful system, but it's hard to implement the advice of not getting nerdy about it. It's easy to fall in love with tools.
But lately I've been having more success and I like the story I've generated around it. I'd suggest you implement GTD slowly, in stages, to combat anxieties that you have. In combating an anxiety you need to recognize it, implement a solution, and recognize how that anxiety is relaxed... and replaced with a new layer of them!
Anxiety 1: lack of trust in yourself to do what needs to be done.
This was for me the baseline ambient anxiety. I had originally solved it by abandoning most todo list systems and even calendars so that I could organically ask myself regularly: "what is the most important thing right now". That was a good practice, but many things "slipped through the cracks".
The first practice of GTD is to have a single, "global unified inbox". As I decided to implement this I realized I had collections of half-measure "inboxes" all throughout my life: email, partial todo lists, memory cues, people I relied upon to remind me of things.
So I cleaned that all up as much as I could and funneled it into a single todo list and kept uncovering more of these secret reminders I was keeping for myself. The result was a relaxation of this anxiety through building trust that I was at least adequately in control of _finding_ and _capturing_ the things to do. From that you can build trust that you won't let things slip because you forgot.
Anxiety 2: there's too much to do and I can't handle it
This anxiety was often hiding underneath the first. In times of emergency I could get things done, but without that focusing my needs and furnishing energy... I'd just let things slip and lie to myself that it was "ok, because important things will come up again". This was true, but a half-measure and one that stole from me conscious control of my life.
So the second practice is "organize" and in particular the compelling notion of the "next action". Organize says "regularly look at your commitments and think about how best to think about them" and the practice of next actions says "for any commitment, know exactly what the next, simple, tangible, visible step you could take is".
For instance, I need to get my car emissions inspection updated. I'd sat on that for months because it was both buried in a listing of "car stuff" and was also sort of a big, mildly important thing that was easy to defer. I chose to reorganize it to my "weekly chores" list which I respect as something to review regularly, especially on the weekends, as a mechanism to keep my life healthily managed.
I also chipped off a next action: "research locations for emissions inspections and their times". With this step I located one nearer to me that I had never known before—reducing the activation energy. I got stuck again with my next action "drive there and do the inspection" because I don't drive that frequently. It felt like it was still a "next action" as I saw it as immediately doable with the closer location, but I reorganized it to be on my "list of things to do next time I get in my car" list it became very natural. I also made a note to bring a book so I could resolve the anxiety of sitting there bored waiting.
So organization helps you create systems to manage and encounter your commitments and the design of next actions helps you tactically erode anxieties which keep you from moving forward. It all boils down to "intentional planning" in a lightweight way.
Anxiety 3: this all takes too much time and I'm slipping
This is something close to where I am now. Relaxing the first two anxieties has already been a big step, though. Here, I am realizing that I have to reconnect with the notion of "letting go". If my system is too big for me to handle it then I'm either (a) not investing enough time in what's truly important in my life or (b) trying to have my cake and eat it too.
Automation and schedule can help. I collect regularly, organize daily, and review lists on weekly, biweekly, or monthly schedules. Omnifocus helps with this by making the schedules something I can forget about and rely on the system to handle.
But what also helps is recognizing things that are just aspirational projects and launching them off into the future as opposed to hanging on to them and feeling a little regular guilt as I choose to do something else instead. My attention and energy are limited—I need to be thoughtful about what projects I am truly engaged with.
"Snoozing" big ideas is another practice to eliminate this anxiety, but the latter one seems more important. With limited bandwidth, I have to be conscious about what I really want to achieve and, finally, choose actively to focus my energy there.
To some degree I feel this is the ultimate aim of any "system".
I'm a firm kanban person, and I think it might help you. I happen to use the tool KanbanFlow for this.  But I also have done it with index cards on a wall , and Trello's ok, too.
Boiling it down, Kanban approaches require you to 1) break big things down into small deliverables, 2) describe your workflow in columns, placing the units of work in the correct columns, and 3) setting strong work-in-process limits on the columns.
For example, my main board has these columns and WIP limits: backlog (∞), soon (12), today (5), pending (3), in progress (3), and done (∞). Work normally flows from left to right, with the exception of the pending column, which is used when something in progress gets stuck because I'm waiting on some external event.
If I've finished working on something, I try to look first in the in progress column, so that I can finish off something on going. Next, I'll check the pending column, to see if I can unstick anything. Only if those two are solid will I look at the today column. Last thing at night or first thing in the morning, I'll look everything, load up the today column, and make sure it reflects my current priorities.
I should note that the WIP limits are integral to this. There are two basic ways you can run a workflow. One is a pull system, where running out of things to do means I pull something forward. I'm mentally standing at the "done" end of the board and pulling things through one at a time. This is very different than a push system, where I mentally stand at the backlog end and stuff things in, hoping useful work gets squeeze out the other end. WIP limits help keep me honest, in that the board is not about what I want to accomplish; it's what I am accomplishing.
I think the Kanban approach will be helpful to you in two ways. One, because it's a pull system, the amount of time one spends reorganizing is limited. At worse, I reorganize every time I finish something. But hopefully, because I already have small numbers of top priorities in the today and soon columns, it'll be easy for me to pull without working about everything I have to do.
Two, it sounds like you're trying to do more than you can. Executive you has made a grand annual plan, but worker you is struggling to juggle priorities and allocate time. This is not just stressful; as you say, it's inefficient. Optimize for worker you, because that's where things actually happen.
In addition to the Kanban board, I also use Evernote to keep a "projects" notebook. It's one page per project idea, and for active projects that page turns into a journal. I'll often describe future plans there, which I will mine for to-do entries as I pull things in. But those future visions aren't consistent or complete; they're just top-of-head notions. That much more efficient than trying to express my ever-changing vision in work-management tools.
I've never had a lot of luck with categorizing and allocating either. Which is actually fine, because what category (or, God help us, categorIES) a task fits into is ultimately not a terribly valuable piece of information. It's costly to obtain, in terms of time spent categorizing, but yields no particular insights, other than maybe the frustrating realization that a surprising number of tasks fit plausibly into multiple categories. (Which is as it should be, if you're productive and your life is reasonably well integrated.)
The only question your system needs to answer is what to do NEXT. And the only categories as far as I'm concerned are "work" and "home." Keep it simple. Therefore I have a spreadsheet for each. Within each one, here's what I have:
I have a list of things that repeat every day, called "dailies." I do those first.
Then I have a list of small one-off tasks that can be taken care of relatively quickly. This list is called, inspiringly enough, "uncategorized." I do these right after the dailies.
"Uncategorized" is also the default landing place for any new task. Sometimes you just want to write something down without thinking about it much. Next time I go through the list, any tasks that need to be moved to another list, I'll do it then.
Finally there's the "projects" list, which consists of bigger tasks with sub-tasks under them, in order, and with deadlines noted, and the whole bit.
Using macros, key bindings and event triggers I can re-order all these lists with one keystroke. Each item has an integer next to it for sorting. I usually use 0 through 4:
0 - waiting for something or someone else
1 - doing right now
2 - next
3 - later
4 - tomorrow
You'll notice that by doing "dailies" and "uncategorized" first, I'm doiog the opposite of what some advice suggests: I sweat the small stuff first. That's because I'm a night person, so I save the morning hours, when my mind is dull, for small, routine and easy things. By the time I get to my projects list, I'm fully alert and ready for it.
But if you're not a night person you could certainly do projects first, then one-offs, then dailies, or something. Also there's nothing stopping me from putting something demanding (that happens to be repetitive) on the "dailies" list for example. Something like studying a new technology for a couple hours a day would go on there. But I would probably tend to postpone it until the evening, i.e. put it in the "dailies" portion of the "home" spreadsheet, and start it when I get home from work. (Or if I'm working at home, start it when I declare that I'm home from work.)
By the way (back to "projects"), I try like hell to have only one project active at one time. Unless fucked-with by someone else, I will endeavor to finish each one that I start, before moving on. There are many reasons why focusing resources on fewer projects sequentially (rather than more projects simultaneously) is the best way to do things.
Therefore my day consists of, go to work, get a bunch of small ducks in a row, focus on a project for the mid-morning and afternoon, go home, do daily chores or studying, get small home-ducks in a row (things like "order underwear" or whatnot), and if there's time (usually not until the weekend) work on a home-project. I like sleep.
Things that recur at intervals other than a day, those go in the calendar, and I get a reminder, every n months or n weeks or whatever. From there I use automation to transfer it into the "uncategorized" area. (Home or work, depending on whether it came from my home or work calendar.)
If I ever think up a big over-arching life goal, I will make it a project or split it up into projects. Projects are things that you do. Goals are things you just think about, that I don't really believe in. Or rather, if it's important enough as a goal, I don't need to write it down, I just let it influence all my decisions in that direction. It's best not to have too many goals; just a few high-quality ones. Kind of like how it's best to have just a few high-quality friends. Life is not a shopping expedition; or actually maybe it is, but I say that as someone who thinks the fewer things you "buy" (into), the better. Also it's not good to try to plan out your entire life; give yourself some freedom to steer the ship in real time. Rely a little on your wits and creativity instead of on a script.