2017 was a really good year for me. I did a lot of freelance work, improved my financial situation, built this site and started blogging, moved, and generally accomplished a lot of stuff personally and professionally. But getting all of those things done came with a downside: I was constantly stressing out about them.
Over the years I had built my own system to manage my life which basically involved me writing short term projects down in different iCloud notes with a daily todo list and writing down longer term projects in documents in Google Drive. I would find often myself staring at these documents for way longer than I needed to and going over and over them in my head. I think this is partly because I have some low level anxiety, but also because my system was very disorganized and wasn’t actually decreasing my cognitive load at all (what’s the point in writing it down if you’re constantly thinking about it anyways?)
When I started thinking about what I wanted to focus on in 2018, I knew something needed to change. I have a lot of things I want to accomplish this year, and because I have gotten better at paring down my goals and making sure my motives are correct (I want to write a blog post about this someday) I knew that they were all reasonable and achievable, but I was still worried about not being able to get them done… because how will I manage that many things? I knew that I physically could do all the things I want to, but was worried about managing them and making sure I get them done. To me, that was the final straw in moving to a better productivity system.
Building a new system
It’s been a couple weeks since I began this project and I’ve tried a lot of different things. I did a deep dive and read about a lot of the different systems out there like Kanban and Pomodoro. Eventually I settled on one that I really liked: Getting Things Done. Here’s a quick primer on the system if you aren’t familiar with it. It can be a little complicated and I’m not sure I’m working it 100% yet, but already things have improved quite a bit. I don’t have to plan my week anymore, I just keep all my tasks in a “Next Actions” list and work on them when I feel like I can. I also don’t plan to follow GTD as closely as possible. I will mix and match with other systems and find what works best with me. It’s nice to have a base to work from.
After I had a system I wanted to figure out some focused productivity software to use with it. Now, there are a million productivity apps out there that all pretend to be the one that has it all figured out. In truth, after doing a lot of reading, I don’t think there’s any specific application or productivity system that will work for everybody. I think everybody has to find exactly what works best for them. Also, what works for you might change. I genuinely think each of these apps starts with a developer going “Well, this app kind of works but it should do X this other way because that’s how I like to do it!” and so spawns yet another productivity app.
Because of that, I chose an app that was very simple but allowed a lot of flexibility: Workflowy. Basically, the only data type is a list. Everything is nested inside a list. It’s a really cool concept and you can implement several different kinds of productivity systems in it. Unfortunately, the project needs a lot of help on the design/development front: it feels very ancient and the iOS app was so bad it was almost unusable. After searching around I found an app that implements the core concepts of Workflowy but with more features and much better UI: Dynalist.
This service has been a game changer for me. It really helps me get things done more efficiently. I still have a lot of work to do before I feel the system is perfect for me, but it is already way, way better than what I was doing before.
I hope this post helps somebody out there find the motivation to get their todo list under control!