A Productivity Journal

A Productivity Journal

Hey all – I don’t have any friends at the moment who are into productivity like I am. So to say, I don’t have anyone to keep me accountable! So, as an effort in accountability with my goals and keeping on track with my systems, I’m hoping to dump a quick journal once I complete my weekly review here to get some feedback on. It’s going to be a rough brain dump of my thoughts, so sorry if there are incoherent bits and pieces in advance :stuck_out_tongue:

Does that sound good? Here we go!

Week #1

This week has been challenging. When things blow up, I do a very bad job of prioritizing and being okay with letting certain responsibilities slip. Honestly, my system has been serving me mostly well for work, but I have been struggling with keeping the other areas of my life in motion. I look at the tasks in my other areas of responsibility and internally sigh just about every time. I guess you could say I feel overwhelmed.

I’ve written here before about trying to overcome what I’ve heard @bobbleheadjoe describe as the ‘urgency scanning mindset’ (I think I got the name right). At work, I recently moved into a leadership role, so my email load has increased about 10x. I’ve been working to set some boundaries by not keeping email up all day, but I’ve been failing at this.

Additionally, I suck at capturing. I tend to use my email and IM as my task lists most of the time. Since I don’t work on my Mac primarily (though I have ways, and I’ve been bringing it to work with me), capture hasn’t been as natural as Ctrl+Space to send to the OF inbox. The exception is the list I make on a notecard in my morning review trying to denote my priorities for the day. If I don’t do this, I will definitely get off track. This morning review helps me stay out of my task manager all day as well.

I’ve made some adjustments to my routines. I created an “Afternoon Review” to review my lists after lunch and process my inboxes. I also modified my Shutdown Routine to review tasks for the rest of the day after work.

I’d have to say my focuses for the next week would be:

  1. Capture tasks on my index card or in a note instead of reacting to email/IMs.
  2. Select a task or two to complete after work
  3. Stay out of email except in the morning, after lunch, and right before the end of day (90 minutes total scheduled for this)

Thanks for letting my dump and process my thoughts here!


:cry: I used to be in the same place. That’s partially why I started connecting with @shouit and @bobbleheadjoe. Having folks to bounce ideas off of and share your struggles is huge. So kudos for sharing it with us here. :thumbsup:

Emergency scan modality?

Is it now your job to ask and answer questions or to share your opinions on things? This would be instead of writing code, building computers, or general IT support. If it is then I wouldn’t see it as a bad thing to have email open all day since it’s likely your job now. But if you still have a lot of the latter pieces involved you may simply need to increase the number of email checks you do in a day. That and TextExpander is your friend. :wink:

Hey, me too! I fall off that train a lot. I’ve found that when I stop capturing I’m either stressed out or I have a piece of the process with too much resistance.

  1. It’s too many steps to capture.
  2. I don’t have the project created in OmniFocus yet.
  3. I don’t want to make it a project because it’s only two or three steps.
  4. I don’t feel like I have time to work the system on it.

Any and all of these will lead me to not capturing. So I chip away at the pieces each time I find myself struggling with it and I slowly shorten the amount of time I spend away from the Capture habit. It sounds like you have a good path forward, though. I’d be interested to see how it pans out in a week.

I love this! If more people get into it, I’ll create a new category for these.

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Once upon a time, we were mechanics and we loved getting our hands dirty. As we went up the ranks and wanting to increase business success, we start learning to wear another hat. Eventually that hard hat has to come off and we put on the executive hat. We miss being in the trenches and get ourselves knee deep in mud playing with the tools we needed to get things done.

I guess you are transitioning to another stage and miss being on the frontline.

Even in my life, I hate doing all the admin work but someone’s gotta do it. Thankfully I have my wife alongside me to take some of the load off.

I do enjoy a life that is free from all that e-mail stuff. That was a source of anxiety that I don’t miss anymore.

I think many of us have been in the same boat. We’ll have wild swings where we are stuck in e-mail mode for days at a time. Then we have to put out the other fires that flared up when we weren’t looking. I also look at the OmniFocus review perspective to see the “on hold” projects that keeps getting ignored.

There have been days where I just come to work with a resigned look and just say “ok, world… Whatcha got for me today? Hit me with your worst and let’s see if I’m still standing at the end of the day.”

I’ve been learning to deal in time blocks. In between all of the daily stuff that comes up to you (walk-in clients), phone calls, fires to put out, etc., I try to have at least one time block of 1-2 hours in the morning and another one in the afternoon to help me focus on working on all the stuff that comes in.

Routines have become a great way to calm me down. I know that I can handle admin work from 10:00 am -1130 am and 3:00 pm - 4:30 pm. This might be e-mail or some admin work that needs to be done. Then I try to work around those times to work intensely on a big rock project in morning and in the afternoon. Sometimes my admin blocks will need to float to earlier in the day or later in the day. Trying to be flexible but I try to keep churning away on admin work so that i can get to the fun stuff (my big rocks).

I am residing on an island in the Pacific Ocean. So I also find it hard to find that accountability partner. But thanks to Joe, he’s got something going here.

Thanks Justin for bringing up your own struggles. Look forward to seeing more of the daily musings.

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Sometimes I’ve found it helpful to write everything down on a text file or lately, an inbox I’ve created in an app called Bear. Not just tasks. The band that my buddy mentioned. The food trucks coming to work tomorrow.

When I’m doing that, I get momentum for capturing, and I’m also not editing for what I capture.

I’d feel weird about writing something weird that my coworker said in an “official” task capture tool, but not in an open format.

I’ll denote any tasks with a dash at the front of the line so it stands out.

Sometimes it helps me. Just a thought.

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Week 2 - A Tale of Proverbial Failure

I’ll be honest. I feel a bit like @bobbleheadjoe and @joebuhlig discussing their action items on Bookworm. This week was an absolute failure.

I switched to using a pocket-sized, Field Notes-esque notebook for writing down my MITs, which I’ve been using as my capture tool. It’s been helpful, as it has less friction for me than trying to open a notepad file and type items out.

Back to the failure part though. My email was open almost the whole time. While Joe is right in saying this is my job, it continues to foster emergency scan modality for me. I constantly get pulled in directions, but the daily task list at least kind of helps out with that.

I’ve been light on sleep and heavy on work (not working extra hours, but more so the emotional stress of it). As a result, I haven’t been doing much after work, nor doing my reviews. I especially skipped my weekly review today for lack of time and energy. I’ll probably work through it tomorrow sometime, but still. I have side project and volunteer stuff to do, too, that I haven’t touched all week.

My action items for the next week:

  1. Continue focus on effective capture
  2. Get more sleep
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Maybe it’s time to temporarily reduce your role in the side project and volunteer stuff? I’ve had to recalibrate my life several times over and let go of commitments or at least transfer commitments to others who have more talent and/or better skillsets to tackle what was once my responsibility.

Then I can focus on my important stuff. Over time, I’ve been able to take training classes to better equip me to resume some of the side projects/volunteer work that I had to relinquish.

I remembered having a friend who had a bachelor’s degree in art. She couldn’t get promoted because she lacked a master’s degree. So she had to resign and become a student once again. A couple of years later, she found a much better job after acquiring her master’s.

Sometime recalibration is necessary. I think your new responsibilities is asking you to recalibrate.

I’ve slowly morphed my job into the same without realizing it. That’s almost inevitable when you start working with clients or in IT. The one thing I’ve done that has helped me with this is checking email between tasks instead of leaving it open. That means it gets checked about every 15-30 minutes but it doesn’t derail me.

At the same time, what do you do to separate from tech entirely? Do you take weekends off from your phone? Read books? I’ve found that making sure I have space away from all the gadgets daily and weekly gives me a better grasp on how to handle the connected times.

I’m considering it. My side project is fairly minimal right now (a couple small web projects). However, my volunteering is a different story. I’m the director of my worship department at my church. I lead ~15 people to make our worship services happen on a weekly basis. Thankfully, I don’t have to be there every Sunday. However, there are some items occurring which will require me to take on more. :sweat: Stepping back in this role will require some creativity.

I’ve been trying to do this. Now that I’m supervising 10 direct reports instead of doing the technical work itself, I get a lot of interruptions.

Hehehehehe ehhhhhhhh… I do a bad job at taking a break. I know I should. I love reading and learning, but I also don’t make enough space to do it.

Looks like I have some things to think about here…

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Week 3

I’m quickly realizing I’m missing the aspect of prioritization. And pruning. Everything that goes into my task manager, I tend to think of as “THIS MUST GET DONE!” Well, that’s not super helpful, as you know. So I’m right now wrestling with the idea of what level of detail I need in my task manager, how to get myself to ruthlessly prune or push off tasks to a better time or delegate them (if possible), and how not to feel stressed out about it all.

To revisit some of my previous concerns:

  1. Capture - I think this will continue to be a major focus going forward. I’ve been more mobile this week, so my normal capturing process didn’t work as well. I also feel terrible at doing mind sweeps. I’ve used the guides, but when I sit down to do them, I feel like my brain locks up and can’t think of anything. Any tips?
  2. After Work Tasks - I’m still way off base on this one. I haven’t landed on a good recalibration in my life yet. I actually haven’t had much time to even think about it. One positive note - I may be able to take a few month break from my volunteer responsibilities. There will be some requirements before that can happen, though.
  3. Email - Yeah, no. I think a barrier to being successful with this is my work email is in Outlook, which is where my calendar is as well. I pretty heavily rely on it during the day. If I can be okay solely using my phone for this, I may be able to convince myself to close Outlook, which I think might be necessary.
  4. Sleep - This week was worse than last. The last 3 nights I had a grand total of 4-5 hours of sleep each night for various legitimate reasons. Today my feeling of productivity was extremely low because of this. Understandably.

I really think I need to go through some of the Wheel of Life stuff talked about by @bobbleheadjoe on an episode of The Productivity Show I recently listened to. I’ve been trying to keep up with goals in every area of my life, and I’ve been doing effectively none of them. I’ve also been flying from week to week reacting to where I’m failing. That’s also not working.

Action Items:

  1. Complete Wheel of Life activity.
  2. Set goals from now until the end of June.
  3. Post goals here!

i’d think that there are times when you might have to ignore different parts of your life and focus on a small handful. Take care of one area of your life first and do the absolute minimum in the rest (or ignore it at worst).

I work in retail. Every Christmas shopping season, I tell my family that I won’t be able to do all the wonderful Christmas shopping trips, all the parties, and related Christmas events. My main focus is doing the Christmas shopping campaign for the storefront. I make an agreement with myself and my family that I’ll focus 85% of my energy towards the shopping campaign. The remaining 15% will be divided up by my other areas of responsibilities. After Christmas, I can finally breathe a sigh of relief. I can start returning back to something that looks like normal for me.

I’ve tried to approach life with a yin-yang type of focus. Life doesn’t have to mean your energies are divided equally among the various areas of responsibilities. It could be 50/50 one month. It might become 80/20 the next month. After that it might be 60/40 or 20/80. Life’s demands changes so much. We have to adapt and go with the flow. But still have the awareness to switch when needed. Feel the burnout coming? Time to recollect, do a GTD review, and course-correct my life. I try to stay aware of where I’m at and adapt accordingly. Oftentimes I fail. Other times, I succeed.

I think I was listening to an audiobook by Alan Deutschman called :Change or Die."


I guess I’ll have to download the audiobook once again and reflect upon it. In yin and yang, we learn that life is not always 50/50. Be flexible and adapt as needed.

For capturing, I subscribe to the Hipster PDA. Low tech and easily replenish-able.


I carry it in my pocket and bought one of those cheap mini pens. When I find it too inconvenient to capture on my phone, I’ll write it down here. I also use a voice recorder phone on my app and place it in my dock. I’m one step away from capturing voice memos.

After Work Tasks
I try to focus on tasks that will help me with advancing my career or one of my personal major goals. At the moment, my two major goals are building a nest egg and master bathroom renovations. So I want to keep all of my other someday/maybe projects on hold and set my current special projects to active. But I think your church projects sound like a priority at the moment. Maybe a special project for “transition/delegate volunteer responsibilities” is needed?

I think I saw a book called “The Sleep Revolution” from Ariana Huffington on sale recently. it’s probably something i’m gonna pick up later. I also have The Asian Efficiency “Better Sleep” ebook. Sleep is definitely something that we take for granted.

Week 4

I didn’t even complete my Weekly Review (or any of my daily reviews for that matter) last week. It was a total dumpster fire. @joebuhlig @shouit

Week 5

I’ve been getting back on track, but I’m finding myself in a state of near constant interruption, both with things I’m allowing and things that are unavoidable or important.

I’m also quickly realizing how my reference system is falling apart. It takes way too much work to manage. I’m going to revisit it. I’m using 3 different tools at this point (Apple Notes for quick stuff, Evernote for personal and side project, OneNote for work). While in some sense this makes sense, in others it does not. I’m seeing some efficiencies I need to work on.

That being said, I did do my Wheel of Life evaluation, but I have not worked out my goals. My three lowest areas being fun/recreation, health/fitness, and family. Family I’ve been working on a bit more naturally.

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Dumpster fire… bringing the term back… I like it.

I use two different tools for reference, kinda. I use Evernote for personal/side project stuff. For work, we are a Google house so I use Google products and not OneNote. I’ve used Apple notes from time to time just to see, like the Chinese Food order for a party this weekend.

What is the Wheel of Life evaluation?

Interestingly enough, I’ve found myself in that same boat. There’s something called “Life” that gets in the way of my goals.

I’ve got my Admin circle which represents all the daily routine stuff I need to get done just to maintain my life. These include weekly/monthly/quarterly reports, bill payments, housecleaning, weekly writing sessions, and other repeating tasks.

Then I’ve got my Someday/Maybe projects that have been put on hold and parked. It’s waiting for me to activate one day.

My Big Rocks are the active projects that I have in OmniFocus. Half of the current active Big Rocks comes from the Someday/Maybe circle. These are the projects that I really want to get done. These projects will most likely improve my life in some fashion. It might be that new BBQ pit in the backyard for the summer BBQ sessions. Or it might be deep diving into Lynda.com to gain some new skill to improve my work performance. Or it can be that much needed planned vacation that we’ve all been looking forward to (hello, Disneyland!).

But then there’s something called Life that interrupts everything. It pushes aside some of my currentBig Rock projects. I might have to defer some of the current Big Rocks because the boss declared that I have to finish something that is now deemed more important. Or my kid gets into an accident and I gotta spend time to pick up the kid from school or the hospital. Or a water leak sprung up at home and my wife is frantically calling me to take care of it NOW! Or it may be something as simple as a new customer/client that walks in and takes up a large chunk of my time as we hammer out contract details.

Life doesn’t stop. It’s tough to say no to Life’s demands, isn’t it?

We’re encountering that fine balance between Someday/Maybe (on hold projects), Big Rocks (currently active projects), Admin (general housekeeping and maintenance), and Life (everything else that gets thrown into our laps).

I know I’ve got to carve some time every week for the daily review to try to re-calibrate my direction and slowly nudge the boat back in the right direction.

This wheel of life sounds more of that work/life balance theory where we try to balance ourselves between different parts of life. I haven’t quite gotten to this point. Everything is just a blur to me as work/life seems to encroach into each other on a daily basis.

I guess it’s interesting to see that I’m not the only one struggling with “Life.” I’m just trying to make sure I know what is happening in my 4 circles. If I can maintain the 3 circles under my control (Admin, Big Rock, Someday/Maybe) then I can handle whatever Life throws at me,

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It’s the exercise discussed by @bobbleheadjoe and Thanh in Episode 139 of The Productivity Show. I have trouble wanting to chase everything at once, and this is helping me find areas to focus on.

Oh yes, this is very much the case. I’m usually flexible with the real emergencies in life. However, most of the interruptions are someone else’s emergency, and I haven’t learned not to respond to it as such yet.

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I enjoy this thread and the honesty behind it.

Hope this isn’t spammy but it’s too on point not to mention it: http://productivityjournals.com

It explains how I keep a productivity journal and try to keep my short-term life (working on the big rocks, etc.) in sync with my longer-term self (goals, etc.)

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I’m still trying to find my way through interruptions as well. I just saw this article pop up in my news feed:

Week 6 - A New Hope

Thanks everyone for the thoughts and such over the last few weeks. It’s really helped me process through my struggles and make real, solid adjustments.


I now have three goals to shoot for over the next 12 weeks. I’m still working on breaking them down. They are:

  1. Develop a consistent journaling routine.
  2. Just start moving around.
  3. Dedicate one day of the week to disconnect and focus on rest and recreation.


I’ve developed a system for my journaling, and it has changed things for me. The center of this system is now largely paper.

I’ve adapted a concept called Hybrid Journaling by Josh Ginter. In the past, I’ve struggled with journaling on either paper or on a computer. Now, I’m doing both. Similar to Josh’s setup, the high level stuff I have goes into Day One. I have a Text Expander fill-in snippet I run every night which prompts me to answer a few questions, which then I save to Day One so it’s searchable.

The thing that has changed my day to day feeling toward productivity is taking all my notes now on paper. During the day, I sit with my Baron Fig Confidant open, and any time I am in a call, or need to jot something down, it goes in there. This has simultaneously done two things for me: solve the issue of capture, and kept me out of my fiddly digital tools. The result of this has been increased focus throughout the week.

Before I run my TE snippet at night, I snap pictures of all my notebook entries to Evernote (:open_mouth:) where I tag them with the year and month (i.e. 2017-06), and note the page numbers in the title. Later on when I process my Evernote inbox, I’ll add the appropriate tags depending on what meetings were with who and where, etc.

I then have a Workflow workflow that pulls the latest created note in my Inbox and grabs the Evernote:// URL for it and sends it to the clipboard, which I then have a field for in my TE snippet. This way, I have a summary of the day, a physical paper reference, and a digital OCR’ed copy all referenced in my Day One Journal. And it really doesn’t take that long to manage.


I’ve been trying to work moreso out of my Contexts in OF than in my Dashboard perspective. What this has caused me to realize is my context game is all out of whack. I don’t think in batching tasks at allow which is a huge inefficiency for me. I wanted to ask you all – how do you set up your contexts for batching work? And how do you generally work through them?

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I’ve also found it helpful to review the last month’s entries to give a general theme or the overall temperature of the month. About 2-3 days before the end of the month, I’ll start going over my journal entries. From there, I can pick up vibes about what irritated me (generating new projects and/or tasks to get rid of them) and what really made me happy (gotta do more of these types of experiences).

A journal is pretty useless unless we can get around to reviewing them. It’ll just sit there and rot into eternity unless we take action on our journals. Reviewing the journal entries gives me new ideas about what I can do to improve my life or take care of issues that I entered into the journal but quickly forgot about.


I’ve found myself using the Today perspective only in the morning to see what really needs to be done. Then I write down the most urgent due tasks onto my Today index card.

If I have a time block available, I might just pick a context to work from instead of looking at the Today perspective.

If I need to do Admin work, I’ll go to my @Admin context which shows tasks that are admin in nature. These are mostly repeating tasks such as the weekly/monthly reports, bill paying, maintenance stuff, etc.

If I feel like working on my computer, i’ll switch to the @Mac context perspective and just work entirely from that view.

Or I might just go to my @office context perspective and work on all the non-computer stuff around the office.

These context perspectives will not focus on one big rock project. It might stretch across many different active projects. But they all belong to the same context.

I’d prefer not to switch contexts because the time it takes to transition from one context to another forces me to change mental mindsets. I don’t want to bounce from my Mac to my warehouse and back. It’ll take too long to re-adjust. I’d rather just stay in one context and batch as many tasks as I can while I’m in that particular context mode.

On other days, I might just focus on one Big Rock project and I’ll switch to my Big Rocks project perspective and focus on a single Big Rock project.

It helps me to stay in one context and do as much batch tasking as possible. I hate bouncing from one context to another. That’s where I’ve seen big improvements. No more context skipping for me.


It’s a bit strange how happy this has made me. :blush:

I’m a big fan of the Leuchtturm notebooks for things like this. There’s a level of detail with them that I’m especially drawn towards. Which in turn makes it something I enjoy using and thus begin looking for reasons to write things down.

I had the exact same epiphany about two months ago. I’ve been running without my beloved Dashboard and operating purely off of contexts. I choose the best context suited for the task and review those lists daily to see which ones I need to focus on tomorrow. Then I plan to work on those contexts (or sometimes specific projects) the next day.

Here’s my current list of contexts for reference:

  • Horizons
  • Checklists
  • Read
  • Learn
  • Analog
  • Communicate
  • Develop
  • MacBook Pro
  • BCC (our church)
  • iPhone
  • After Hours
  • Agendas
  • Waiting
  • Errands
  • Running

Week 7

This has been a week of paper.

Goal 1: Paper Journals

I’ve wholly moved away from using my pocket notebook to only my Confidant. Since I’m primarily working from home, it stays on my desk or tucked in my Tom Bihn Ristretto bag with a handy dandy Pilot G2 .07mm attached.

[Side Note: I used to have a Lamy Safari fountain pen, but lost it. It was a very sad day. I haven’t brought myself to buy one again yet. Pilot G2’s suffice for the time being.]

I’m writing down my daily action lists every morning during my daily review. Throughout the day, depending on the day, I’ll either take really well organized notes, or scattershot notes. I tend to be an outliner, so it works well for me.

My retention has gone up, but sometimes, if I miss writing something right away, I fail to get it down in its entirety without missing something else.

I’ve only missed 1 night of journaling so far, and the scanning my pages to Evernote has been a nice way to archive the contents. I haven’t gone back to refer to the contents yet, but I’m sure it will be helpful.

Finally, having a paper notebook in front of me has largely solved the capture problem. Either at the end of my work day or when I journal, I’ll go back and process all my notes for tasks.


I’m going back to the Dashboard view. That high level perspective is so much more helpful than contexts and Forecast alone. Much like what @wilsonng stated, I have one spot I can go in the morning to review what is past due, due, and flagged so I can determine the best plan of action forward. Those will get written in my notebook.

That being said, this experiment is showing me the value of contexts, which I didn’t fully understand before. My list expanded quite a bit, so i have to do some pruning. I also have to make some adjustments to my modes of work. I threw some “best guesses” out there previously, and now I’m adjusting them to what I’m learning I actually do.

Two contexts I’m developing as well: Cleaning, and Sharpen the Saw.

  • Cleaning - I tend to be pretty bad at keeping track of household chores. This context will help me keep track of what needs to be done whenever I feel like cleaning.
  • Sharpen the Saw - From 7 Habits, I’ll use this context for anything relating to personal development, unless it best fits in another context.

I’ll report back when I clean this up.

Goal 2 - Moving Around

I went for a walk once this week. I think I’ll go again today. While not where I hope to be, it is a start. I’ve been sitting way too much.

Goal 3 - Disconnect

My disconnect day is Saturday. It’s the one day a week I most often don’t have some form of a commitment.

Last week, I succeeded in disconnecting from my normal routine. I did not entirely stay disconnected from technology, but that’s not the point. I rested. I even rested by diving into some Ruby on Rails for fun. [I have a background in Computer Science, but never took a job in the field after graduating. It turned out to be great, but I still like coding and development.]

There’s one last thing I want to leave with you here…