Over the last few months, I’ve slowly refined my productivity system to something I’m thrilled with. I’ve tailored it to me and my needs, but one or two things I’m doing can be helpful to you, too.
- Task capture: Todoist
- Scheduling and Planning: Sunsama
- Virtual Coworking: Focusmate
- Note-taking and writing: Obsidian
- Reading and Highlight capture: Readwise
- Calendar: Cron
Todoist is an excellent task manager and to-do list app. The number one thing I need in a to-do app is frictionless task entry, and Todoist nails that flow.
Todoist has an app on Windows, Mac, iOS, and even Apple Watch. It has global keyboard shortcuts for Mac and PC, so capturing a task is just a keystroke away.
It also has integrations, and I’ve set up shortcuts so that my Google Reminders get turned into Todoist tasks, and I can tell Siri to add a new task.
Capturing tasks in a reliable place is essential to the Getting Things Done methodology, so I want it to be as easy as possible.
I have “Inbox Zero” in my email, but that’s only because all emails I need to act on get sent to Todoist. It is easier to have one big, messy inbox than 3-4 different inboxes spread across apps. With everything in one system, tasks don’t fall through the cracks.
Planning my day with Sunsama
Sunsama is a terrific daily planner app that helps me choose the most important tasks and put them on my schedule.
Sunsama integrates with Todoist, so I don’t need to rewrite my tasks: Todoist is the source of truth. When I finish a task in Sunsama, it updates in Todoist too.
In Sunsama, I look at what’s on my to-do list and my calendar for the day. Then I block out time for specific tasks and plan my entire day, one hour at a time.
First, I plan out my free time, which ironically makes me better at work.
If I overload my schedule with work, my inner-child rebels and, at any time during the day, might take control and derail me for several hours to relax.
However, if I save some time for fun and relaxation, I will likely stick with the work. My inner child is reassured that we’ll have fun later, so we stay on task.
It’s amazing how much more work I get done on days I schedule video games after dinner.
I tend to crash around 2 PM, so I schedule a 20-minute nap. That little bit of shuteye completely changes my energy levels for the rest of the day.
I also schedule breakfast, lunch, dinner, and a nice walk around the neighborhood after lunch.
These activities lower my stress levels, re-energize me, and give me productive days.
Blocking out your calendar with all the tasks you want to do is called time boxing, and it’s been incredibly effective for me.
When tasks are out of sight, they’re out of mind. After meetings, I used to see white space in my calendar and think, “Nice, I have nothing to do!”
My friend, we both know there’s always something to do.
By planning my day out minute block by block, I complete what I want to get done.
Spending 20 minutes at the start of my day can sometimes feel like a lot of time spent “not working.” But planning sets me up to complete my to-do list and go to sleep feeling accomplished.
Getting work done on Focusmate
Once I schedule tasks into all empty calendar slots, I book focused work sessions during those times through an app called Focusmate.
Focusmate allows you to schedule hour-long or 30-minute sessions at any time of the day, and they will pair you with a random partner. You join the one-on-one call and say what you will work on for that session. You both mute your microphones, and you get to work.
It enables something called body doubling, which can be helpful for focus, especially for people with ADHD. I wrote more about body doubling and Focusmate in this article.
Reading and highlights with Readwise
I love reading on my Kindle, but all the highlights and notes I take in my books are trapped there and pretty useless. Readwise runs a process that fetches your Kindle highlights and pushes them wherever you want them.
They recently created a ‘read it later’ app called Reader that I love more than the original Readwise product. I wrote about Reader here.
Note Taking with Obsidian
I love Obsidian because of how quick and straightforward it is. There are also a ton of user-created plugins that allow me to customize my space.
The Readwise plugin syncs my highlights from Kindle books, articles, YouTube videos, and more into my notes.
I’ve tried Notion, but creating and then needing to organize notes in Notion created far too much friction. I didn’t want to make the note because it was a hassle. Now with Obsidian, I capture everything I want to remember for later.
I follow the PARA system by Tiago Forte, where you organize things into:
- Projects - Short-term efforts in my work and life that I’m working on now
- Areas - Long-term responsibilities that I want to manage over time
- Resources - Topics or interests that could be useful later
- Archives - Inactive items from the above categories.
The organizational system makes the most sense to me, and I love how adaptable it is to anything I’m working on in my life.
So that’s the combination of apps and habits I use to get things done and capture what I learn. I handle everything through this system, both work and personal tasks.
Before you write in and say, “You can do all of that with Notion,” I get it, and I respect people who choose to do so. We use Notion for work, and it’s a fantastic tool.
I tried running a productivity system through Notion, but there is so much friction just to add a task to my list. I prefer using tools that specialize in doing one thing extremely well. Notion is good at everything, but it’s not the best at any one thing. It’s a Swiss Army knife, for better and for worse.