A Productivity Journal

It doesn’t feel so much like upkeep when I can enjoy the process. My journaling tends to be freeform stream of thought. Then I have to look back at the fragments and form something out of it.

Isn’t that what it’s like to compose music or write a blog? You have snippets of guitar riffs, drum beats, and bass licks. You take a little from here and a little from there to eventually make a song.

Right now, I’m playing around with Ulysses and trying to prepare the third part of my OmniFocus post for the Guild. I’ve always had snippets that I’ve saved in my journal about my OmniFocus workflow. But I’m plucking ideas and watching it take shape. I’m sure you have plenty of ideas hiding in your journal if you review it after getting some time and distance away from the original date of entry.

Week 19


Dumpster fires all around this week. I’m not really even going to get into it. It was another one of those weeks that got away from me.


  • Out of town for Tues/Wed
  • Didn’t sleep well Tues and haven’t felt rested since
  • Persistent feeling of being behind the 8-ball



I did some journaling last weekend and nailed down what I’d like to have my system be like. I think I’m really close to a useful system. Honestly, it turned out super close to what @wilsonng is doing. I don’t have time to get into the details of it right now, but it basically involves a bit more organization and focuses on putting projects On Hold and trying to keep only 3 Active projects in each area of responsibility.

I removed my Dashboard perspective entirely in this process. Instead, I’m trying to plan my day on paper. In a way, this has helped, but it also has caused me a little anxiety as I relied on the Dashboard to tell me all the important things. Yet the reason I gave up the Dashboard was there were too many important things.

Now, I primarily try to review four perspectives when I plan:

  1. Habits - The recurring items I complete on a regular basis (reviews, stretching, etc.)
  2. Active Projects - A high level of what projects I’m currently working on
  3. Routines - I have a big list of 20 routine projects I use to keep up on my regular duties at work. This helps me see which ones are active today.
  4. Backlog - All my On Hold projects in each of my areas of responsibility.

I do pretty well still at getting my workday tasks done (though my Shutdown Routine often gets left behind as hot actionable items love to creep up at the end of my workday). The problem I still find is being able to make time to do simple, routine household tasks alongside resting and spending time with my family (which is my #1 priority when at home).

I think I have a hard time doing this because I do value spending time with my family heavily and have a very hard time breaking away from it.

Yes, probably. My issue is getting out there and making time for it. So I figured I would try to at least start small.

It’s not :stuck_out_tongue: but I wanted to note it. However, it might be in the category of “Book Goal”. I’m revisiting it.

Project planning was maybe a bad description. More like planning what projects I’m going to focus in a given period.

I think the way you (and now I) have structure OF with On-Hold projects will quite suffice for now. None of the other tools do what I need, so I’d be making bigger sacrifices to use something different.

One item I’ve never implemented is a monthly or quarterly review. I’m thinking this would be part of that process. Again, it all comes down to me feeling like I’m cramming a ton into my life already, and much of the basic stuff is slipping through the cracks as it is.

I do realize most of my overwhelm right now is coming from being flat-out tired.

yeah, “everything” is important. What my wife thinks is important is secondary to me and visa versa. It’s been a challenge.

Having a maximum of 3 active projects helps to limit the choices. This is on top of all the maintenance/admin tasks (repeating and one-off) that are screaming for my attention. Everything is screaming at us saying “me first!” But I just choose three, roll up my sleeves, and get back to work. The rest will eventually get fed soon enough.

i don’t know if i’ve ever found a real balance. But I do see my life similar to yours. It’s a monthly thing for me. One month, I might have to focus on the fires in one area of responsibility and just put everything else in life-support mode. The trick was to remember to switch off from life-support mode and spend some time with my family too. Life will swing back and forth like a pendulum. Eventually we’ll find the pendulum swinging smoothly.

I do some initial exploration into things like Personal Kanban and mind mapping. But, yes, I agree with you. For now the way we’re structuring OF with On-Hold projects will suffice for now. I’ve been slowing down my shiny-new-toy syndrome and just keep humming along with what I have.

As long as you’re capturing it into OF, you know it’s always there and it doesn’t fall further down the crack. The tasks are waiting for you in OF. Sometimes they try to poke you. Other times, they start to raise their collective voices. But at least it’s not fully fallen through the cracks. We’ll catch up eventually (especially when we have a fire lit under our collective @$$es. :face_with_raised_eyebrow:

Not doing an update this week due to not feeling well.

Gotta take care of yourself, right??


Know when it is time to retreat, recharge, and come back in…

Week 20 - It’s Time for Something New

Last week, I had to take the last half of Friday off due to not feeling well. It turned out to be a huge blessing, as I spent a lot of time thinking about my life, technology, and productivity. I came to a few major conclusions.

  1. I spend way too much time entrenched in technology. My entire workday is spent in front of a screen, as well as every single one of my side projects requires time at a device. I just can’t keep doing this to myself.
  2. My system was breaking me. What I mean is I felt like I had to manage too many details just to keep myself on track. While I can be detail oriented, I don’t thrive in that place for too long. Minutiae exhausts me.
  3. I have too much on my mental plate.

So, in the last week, what did I do about that?

1 - No devices after work.

I stopped wearing my Apple Watch. I don’t carry my phone with me at home. I quit reading digital books. I seldom watch television.

How’s that turned out?

  • I have fewer headaches.
  • I spend more focused time with my family (and it wasn’t lacking before either).
  • I spend more time thinking. While making pancakes for my son, I think about my life and world vs. twitterating and emailing the moment away.
  • My head feels less abuzz with trying to stay connected and is more clear.

2 - I blew up OmniFocus and GTD.

Seriously. I did. And I went paper.

Well, for the most part. I’ll get into that in a bit.

The Framework

I switched to a framework called Agile Results by JD Meier. It hinges on a few main principles, and I’m adapting it to my own use case.

First, there’s a large focus on results-oriented priorities. This has helped me keep my head above water this week and focused on the right tasks, versus my previous mad rush to try to clear out OmniFocus items.

I create a new todo list every day on paper, starting with my top 3 desired results, followed by any other items that may need to get done that day. The key difference here is I don’t keep a running todo list database like I used to. We’ll see how it works long term, but so far the cognitive load is much lower for me. I feel more relaxed and able to do important things.

Second, there’s an idea about letting things “slough off”. Basically, from day to day and week to week, if a task isn’t relevant, don’t copy it over. I still have it written down in my notebook if it comes up again anyway, but the fluidity of this is freeing. In GTD, I felt like I had to be so much more adamant and decisive with every single task.

Third, AR focuses highly on just getting started and making adjustments every day/week along the way. And the adjustments feel easy and fluid, as there’s not a complex system and process I have to adjust to do it.

As I said, we’ll see how this is going in the next few weeks, but for now, it’s been very helpful for me.

The System

I mentioned I switched to paper. This is augmented by a couple of light-use digital tools.

Paper is used for:

  • Daily priorities
  • Daily task lists
  • Weekly priorities
  • Daily & weekly journals

There are a few items I still need some sort of a due reminder for. Those items are going into 2Do. :scream:
There’s maybe 10-15 items that fit in this category (take out the trash on Thursdays, etc.)

High-level planning (and routine checklists) are located in Trello. I have 4 boards set up (Scripts, Hotspots, Personal, and Work). Scripts has the most items, as it’s a simple reference checklist repository. The rest have no more than 10-15 items on each. It’s a simple way I can quickly see a high level visual view of my priorities, what’s active, what’s backlogged, etc.

Every morning, I review the priorities and create a todo list.

Every evening, I create my priorities for the next day.

Every Friday, I review it all, journal what went well and didn’t, and set the priorities for the next week.

That’s really all it is.

What was the switch like?

The first day I felt like I was losing my mind. I didn’t have a “backlog” in place, nor due task alerts. A few days later, that all went away, and I’ve been doing well ever since.

3 - I abandoned everything.

Okay, well not everything. But all of my side projects are officially on indefinite hiatus. I’m no longer thinking about them in every moment. They weren’t really all that important anyway. Plus, I like my job.

I abandoned Twitter and Facebook. Too much input. Plus, Cal Newport’s TEDx talk on this convinced me how terrible social media is.

Same thing with RSS, and most of my podcasts. I’ll keep a few, but will likely sporadically listen instead of every free moment alone in the car.

I quit reading news for the most part.

And I’ll tell you what, I needed this break from input. Might I come back to some of them? Maybe. At this point, likely not. My head is so much more clear.

I have mental space (and time) to focus on what’s really important to me – my spiritual life, family, friends, and work. Honestly, I don’t know if I need that much more in my life right now.


Yay! Agile Results was the reason why I adopted a journal style approach. Reviewing my journal at the end of the week was essential in helping me plan for next week.

That’s why I was using a hybrid of pen+paper and OmniFocus. OmniFocus held all of the things I wanted to do (projects and single actions). Then I would write down the things I wanted to do for the next day into a paper journal.

That’s what I felt. I don’t always have to spend my time in front of a screen but referring to my electronic task manager way too much was just getting me discouraged. I’ve found that the less time screen time I spent in OmniFocus (or whatever task manager), the more time I had to actually doing. I minimized screen time to processing my digital inboxes, planning my projects, and planning my day (choosing the tasks to work on for the next day). Afterwards, I hide OmniFocus from my screen and get to work. I will look at OmniFocus only if I need to review some notes about a task or project I am working on.

I tried to do the 12 week year but it felt like 3 months was just too far into the future for me to accurately predict. I preferred Agile Result’s 30 day cycle. It fits me better. Long enough to make progress in a large term goal but short enough for me the measure results. Maybe I’ll look at the 12 week year again but it’s on hold for now.

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I’ve heard great things about AR. You can play games right on your kitchen table! Oh, wait. :thinking:

Seriously, though, Agile Results is a great framework to work from.

You can be sure I’ll be asking more and more questions about this in the future.

Bingo! Trick is staying there. Everything else keeps moving so you have to keep rolling with the punches.

Week 21 - Life Strikes Back

A lot of life happened in the last week. Nothing major, but a lot of little things. I noticed a lot of nuanced details between my previous system (centered around GTD) and the one I’m working with now (centered around Augmented Reality @joebuhlig).

  • Agile Results was formidably, erm, agile. I didn’t feel like I had to put a new priority in a project or task format in OF. I just wrote it down and did it.
  • I also found it forgiving. If things blew up during the day, I didn’t feel like my entire system fell into a state of disrepair. I often felt that was the case with my OF system.
  • There were also a few times I found I didn’t know what to do next. Initially, I felt annoyed about that; however, I think this was a sign of success. I then took that time to think strategically about what needed my attention or could be done. Prior, I would try to rely on my system to tell me what to do. That just didn’t work for me.

My weekly review takes me 20 minutes now instead of 60. I like that.

I’ve also been excessively tired this week for various reasons, some of which were out of my control. With that I found myself toward the end of the week browsing around the 'Net more instead of taking a break. What’s helped in remedying that is going for a nice long walk!

Using the daily wins from a “results” perspective has been extremely helpful.

Prior, my priorities would look like this:

  1. Run the daily report and send out
  2. Call the place about the thing
  3. Respond to email from so-and-so

Now my list looks like this:

  1. Rested well throughout the day
  2. Related well in my 1:1s with reports
  3. Went for a relaxing walk

There are some subtle but important differences. All my priorities are listed in the past sense. JD Meier advocates for this for a variety of reasons, but I see it in part as a way to implement Stephen Covey’s principle “Begin with the End in Mind”. It’s helped me to think about the result I want to see, versus the sometimes-mounting list of tasks that may prevent me from getting there.

I also like how I’m building my priorities around my whole life, not just what’s most pressing or due that day. I know you can do this with GTD as well, but I was really struggling to make it happen.

Devices after Work

I’ve stuck to this mostly well. There have been a few lax evenings, but rarely am I on my phone for more than 5 minutes total without a purpose.

I am experimenting with the Apple Watch again. I found myself missing the at-a-glance capability to see what meeting is coming up next or a text from my wife. I didn’t miss all the other notifications. So I turned them off!

Did you know you can set a pseudo VIP notification for text messages? I didn’t until I researched a way this week.

  1. Under sounds, set your default text sound and vibration to none.
  2. For each contact you want to receive audible (or tap) text notifications for, configure a custom text ringer and vibration pattern.

This effectively creates VIP message notifications. Now the only notifications I get on my watch are from very extremely select applications and people.

There’s still an interesting problem I’m watching to see if I fully embrace the Apple Watch again – the fact it’s on my wrist.

It’s the same problem I have with my phone. There’s a process running on my brain somewhere expecting at some point there’s an action I might have to take. It’s constantly waiting. When I’m at work I don’t notice it, as I’m in and out of apps and communications all day long as a technical supervisor. When I sit down outside to take a break, relax, and just think, that’s when the problem hits me. I just want to look at, fiddle with, and overall distract myself with the watch.

I’m hoping turning off most of the notifications (including the little red dot signifier) will help that cognitive overhead. We will see.

Oh, also, I’m reading digital books. But on a Kindle versus an iPad/iPhone. It’s been just as good as the experience reading in a paper book has been. (I’ve done both in the last week)

Interestingly, since I blew up my way of life (exaggerated) I’ve read 3 (yes three) books.

Here’s to continuing that trend.

I’ve been looking at and coming back to AR for the last 18 months or so. I’m glad I jumped in.

I was really making my way this way, but the granularity I felt OF required (or I required of OF) was the ultimate overhead that pushed me away.

Oh please do. My paper use is still in infancy, but I’m really liking it.

Yeah, GTD is definitely a monster to tackle. The David Allen Company has a lot of marketing muscle behind it and is at the forefront of the task management arena. I think the introduction of contexts is still something that is tough for many folks to wrap their head around it.

I do love Agile Results. How much has your weekly review changed?

I’ve felt this way many times with OF myself. I also felt the same way in 2Do. It must be GTD that is the common factor that makes it a bit difficult. That’s why I’ve been steering away from GTD and implementing J.D. Meier’s Agile Results and Michael Linenberger’s Master Your Workday Now ideas to create a Frankenstein system that seems to fit me a little better.


-shakes head-

This probably requires it’s own topic, but I’d love to see a breakdown of the lists/maps you created to get AR to work for you. I have a notebook arriving today where I’m setting up an analog GTD system so I’ve been researching this a lot lately.

That e-ink technology does a very good job of simulating paper instead of the LED display of our iOS devices. I’m truly impressed by the screen technology.

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Week 24

This will be a short post.

I’m struggling with my system again. First, due to busyness, I had to skip my reviews the last 2 weeks. My system fell apart. Second, I’m missing a lot of detail my project lists in OF that help keep me on task. But I also don’t miss how I used to stay “busy for the sake of busy” using my lists and systems. I feel I’m at a crossroads, and I’m not really sure what I’m going to do.

If I go back to a more detailed system, do I do paper? If so, how the heck would I even structure that? And if I do a digital database, I feel like I want to use a cross-platform system since I spend most of my time on Windows at work.

Life’s been crazy lately, which means I feel like I’ve been going a level of crazy. Trying to level off and recover well, but it’s a challenge.

I’ve been into my phone a lot lately as a result. I actually am using parental controls to block Safari use just because I tend to get into repetitive browsing habits.

Since I don’t have huge project lists, I don’t have to do a bunch of managing details. Most of it is the same, but it’s more high-level reflective than before.

Shh. At least I’m not reading on my iPad.

I couldn’t skip it. I always make it top priority to review. Otherwise, my system would fall apart too. I put review up there with taking a shower and brushing my teeth. I just do it automatically. This was a habit that I had to work on like an upper-body gym workout. Slowly, I developed the muscles to make it effortless.

Have you torn down your complete productivity workflow? I know I’ve had to tear mine down completely. I went back to my books and looked at the different parts of the productivity systems I liked. I took out a small notepad and wrote down the parts of GTD I liked using. Then I referred to J.D. Meier’s Agile Results and wrote down part of Agile that I liked. I also referred to Michael Linenberger’s Master Your Workday Now to see what parts I could steal. There were a couple of others such as Leo Babauta’s Zen-To-Done that I grabbed. But for the most part, it was GTD, Agile Results, and Workday Now that formed the basis for my reboot. I had to develop habits to consistently work on the different parts (capture, review, processing, 2 minutes, doing, etc.). It took a while but I think I got most of it working. I’ll fail every now and then but I can see what’s happening within a day or two if something is amiss.

For me, OmniFocus is mostly used for planning, capturing, and reviewing. I do most of my work on paper. When I want to start on an On Hold OmniFocus project, I’ll set the project status to active and print out the project’s next actions. Then I work off of that. The less time I spend in OmniFocus during the “doing” phase, the happier I am.

I deleted Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram from my phone. I have those apps on my iPad. This helped reduce the distraction of reaching for my phone to check out the latest tweet or social media notification.

Paper will fall apart without the review (GTD or not), you don’t have the benefit of the regular alerts to bring things up.

@wilsonng is right, it has to be an automatic / non-negotiable thing. Figure that out before worrying about the rest of it.

What detail is missing?

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Oh I wholeheartedly agree. Due to circumstances I was forced to skip the last few weeks. Self-created time crunches. :man_facepalming:

I have not logged into any of these services for over a month. The onslaught of information was overwhelming me.

Thanks for this insight. I was religious about reviews for a year or so until I started reworking my system. The lack of clarity around reviews in the revised system is what did it. I’m working on getting more clear.

My system revision focused highly on day to day lists and high level planning, but was missing the mid-level project details.

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My stress levels gets reduced when I do my weekly review. I am not stressed out when I just happened to miss something because I wasn’t aware of the current state of affairs. If I do the review, I am reviewing everything to make sure nothing falls through the cracks. Every once in a while, something will slip by me but it isn’t as often as it once was. I hate getting surprised and mutter to myself “I should’ve caught that one but I took my eye off the ball… S••t!”

It’s like cooking. Check the oven at regular intervals. Check the stew so that it’s not overcooking. Watch the grill so that your barbecue doesn’t turn into a black, crispy disappointment.

I think this is your next 12 Week Year Goal! Get that review habit going! Good luck!

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Week 25

This was an interesting week. As you may recall from last week, I was having significant issues with my task management system.

In lieu of that, I decided to make a big switch. I had tried this in the past, but was unsuccessful because I couldn’t get my mind wrapped around it.

The switch is that I moved to Todoist.

It’s amazing how much these systems have been iterative for me. That’s not something that’s always visible or noble when you first get into the productivity space. However, you need to be iterative in order to be successful.

I used to think that was a problem. Now I know it’s how things should work.

The major thing I was missing in the last iteration of my system was detail. I had high level mappings worked out in Trello, daily planning on paper, but nothing to manage the details in between. That’s why decided to incorporate Todoist.

Todoist serves as a less detailed database than OmniFocus was for me. I don’t have things broken out at this time in segregated projects. Instead, they’re broken out into buckets. I have one fo work, one for personal, and a couple other high-level buckets.

I will probably write up an article about how I use Todoist at another time.

One interesting thing, though. In Todoist, I was finally able to get my mind around how to organize it. There’re still shortcomings, like the lack of start dates, but I really like the approach where you can throw a ton of tags on the task. No longer am I restricted to a single context, which didn’t work for me anyway. Now I can appropriately tag tasks to filter them. Or even to get them to stand out.

But enough about Todoist.

In Joe’s other thread, there’s been a lot of talk about weekly reviews. I really struggled with those recently. I’ve implemented a checklist again, and that’s helped me stay on track immensely.

I’ve also finally landed on some goals.

  1. Explore what it would take to record a music album
  2. Lose weight by changing my diet and being more active
  3. Launching new initiative by the end of the year at work

Something that stood out to me this week is I’ve been trying to do a bunch of new things as goals. But again, goals don’t always have to be new. They can be iterative.

I’m limiting myself to one new thing per set of goals I create. I don’t have room in my life to add a bunch of new things, but I do have room to improve current things.

Overall, I feel good at the end of this week. The last week and a half I felt very aimless because I didn’t have any structure. Initially I thought this was a good thing and freeing. But now about a month into it I realized very clearly that was not the right choice.

As always, I love the brutal honesty of these posts, Justin.

I think that as long as your system doesn’t get in your way at all, then you’re on the right path. It’s simply a challenge to find the one that lets you be creative and yet efficient.

I would venture to say that your bout with an analog system likely helped you figure this out. I’ve been realizing in my experiment a greater need for the calendar over lists. I’m guessing you learned some things that told you to go with Todoist. Am I wrong?

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I’m going to write this :arrow_up: at the start of my next journal. I definitely suffer from guilt about missing entries, which then makes me less likely to do the next one!

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