Noisy Deadlines

Nirvana

This one example of the little things that make me enjoy Nirvana as my projects/task manager.

I have a project deadline today and when I created the project, I added a due date to it. This is a hard deadline, the day I must submit a budget to the Client. So today the project became red on the projects list! Which helped me prioritize my daily tasks while I was doing my daily time blocking.

I’m not sure if this is a new thing, but I don’t remember having noticed it before. Or I wasn’t adding deadlines to projects before. Something to remember for next projects.

Anyway, it’s a nice touch 🤩.

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By Noisy Deadlines Minimalist in progress, nerdy, introvert, skeptic. I don't leave without my e-reader.

I came up with some questions yesterday about my GTD system when I was bored. I will jot down some notes about the first one:

What do I wish my system to do to support me?

That's a good question because a productivity system should be there to support me. It's how I got into GTD in the first place: I was searching for a way to be more organized and less stressed. I needed a framework on how to deal with all my life inputs and dreams.

So, how exactly can it help me?

Here are some of the elements that I wish my system should do to support me:

  1. Ease of use: I want it to be simple to use. I don't want to spend too much time or energy on managing my system, but rather on doing the things that matter. A good thought experiment is imagining a day when I'm sick: will I be able to use my system then? Will it be easy enough to use it when I'm not feeling 100%? A simple system is more resilient and adaptable to different situations and moods.

  2. Digital and multi-platform: It should be digital, multi platform and sync between my devices (mainly laptop and mobile). I want to be able to access my system from anywhere and anytime, without worrying about losing or forgetting anything.

  3. Reminder system: It should be able to remind me of things. On days when I'm most distracted having a reminder pop-up on my devices really help me not forget important things. Sometimes I need a gentle nudge to get started on a task or to follow up on something. Reminders also help me keep track of deadlines, appointments, events, etc. that I don't want to miss.

  4. Punch list: It should be easy to narrow down next actions into a “punch list” so that I can plan which tasks I will work on each day. One of the key concepts of GTD is breaking down projects into actionable steps that can be done in one sitting. This helps me avoid procrastination and overwhelm by focusing on the next thing I can do. Having a punch list of these next actions also helps me prioritize and schedule my day according to my energy, context and goals

  5. Aesthetically pleasing: It should be fun to use and visually appealing. I think having a system that I enjoy using makes a big difference in my motivation and mood. I like to customize my system with colors and emojis and also it is rewarding to hear a sound when an action is completed. These little things make me happy and keep me engaged with my system.

Of course, there is no one-size-fits-all solution, but after reflecting on this question, I'm rethinking some of the tools I use. I knew that the visual appeal was important to me, and I feel that lately it has become even more important.

Here is a quick diagnostic of the tools I currently use:

  • Calendar/Email => Outlook: I see no issues here. It's easy to use. I use the web version of Outlook in both my work and personal accounts. I like how it looks, it sends me reminders, it's available on all my devices. I can sync my personal and work calendars to see whole picture.
  • Task Manager => NirvanaHQ: It's relatively easy to add things to the Inbox. If compared to other tools, processing stuff is not that easy because there are drop downs menus and selections to go through each time. Aesthetically speaking it is not my favorite. Adding emojis to it make it less boring. I like it for its neat organizational buckets and multi platform sync. I can make a punch list using the Star feature.
  • Reference system => OneDrive/Standard Notes/One Note: I enjoy using all these tools. They are multiplatform and accessible in all my devices. I enjoy their user interface; I see no issues. I don't need reminders in these tools.

🧐 So, I am looking at you, NirvanaHQ! I will give it some thought. More later.

—-

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By Noisy Deadlines Minimalist in progress, nerdy, introvert, skeptic. I don't leave without my e-reader.

I don't remember exactly when it happened, but I now can have emojis in NirvanaHQ, my list manager. I’ve always liked some nice visuals in the tools I'm using, and Nirvana is extremely plain: elegant and minimalist. I remember a few years ago I reached out to the developers to ask about emojis and at the time they responded it wasn't possible with the code they were using. Back then I discovered I could use some Unicode symbols, and that's what I did for a while.

Now emojis are working and that made me happy! 😊

I particularly like to have emojis for my context’s lists. I think they add a touch of joy and personalization. So here is how my contexts tags look right now:

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By Noisy Deadlines Minimalist in progress, nerdy, introvert, skeptic. I don't leave without my e-reader.

After spending some time using a Time Block planner and paying closer attention to how I kick off and wrap up my workdays, I've had some cool insights:

  • Apps Aren’t the Culprit: The problem is almost never the apps I'm using, it is how I'm using the system and my own habits.
  • Review Regularly: Things will fall through the cracks if I don’t do my reviews periodically.
  • Time Blocker Magic: Planning the day with the Time Blocker has been a game-changer for maintaining focus. It’s totally fine to tweak the plan multiple times during the day (just like Cal Newport suggests).
  • Shutdown Ritual: The end of day shutdown routine is non-negotiable—it guarantees a smooth transition from work mode to relaxation.
  • The Nirvana app works like a charm for me, it's distraction-free, simple, light and powerful.

I renamed my start and end of day routines and now they look like this:

Morning: Plan the Day (do my Daily Review)

  • ☀ Open physical notebook and insert the day
  • Check Calendar: what do I need to do today? is there anything I need to prepare for?
  • Process Inboxes (E-mail, NirvanaHQ): Clarify: Is it actionable? What is the context – Organize: is it part of a project? Energy? Time?
  • Check Next Actions List and move items to Focus list
  • ⭐ Check and update my Focus List
  • ⏰ Open my Time Block Planner and plan the day. Schedule time for defining work if needed
  • Engage: Filter context and begin work!

End of Day: Shutdown Routine

  • Capture: Quick mind-sweep of tasks I failed to capture and add them to the Inbox.
  • Process: Meeting Notes from the day.
  • Check off any completed tasks.
  • Review my Calendar for tomorrow: Do I need to prepare anything? What things do I want to achieve tomorrow? (Flag them to the ⭐Focus list, add notes on my Time Block Planner)
  • Say to myself “Shutdown Complete!” and mark the checkbox on the Time Block Planner.

I added the morning Daily Review and the Shutdown routine to Nirvana as a daily recurring task. They show up in my Focus list every day:

Snapshot in time: What is on my Focus list today

These routines are inside the notes section in Nirvana as a checklist so I can check them off if I want to:

On some days, things go smoothly, and on others, chaos reigns.

On the good days, I take a solid 30 minutes to plan my schedule down to the nitty-gritty. But when chaos strikes on the bad days, I glance at my calendar, block off meeting times, and dive headfirst into urgent tasks. After lunch, I do a quick ‘post-mortem’ assessment, tweak my time blocker, and figure out where to focus my energy for the rest of the day.

I’ve learned that aiming for perfection is counterproductive. While checklists serve as a helpful template, I play it by ear and adapt as necessary.

One of the best insights I had this year is to embrace flexibility while still having some structure.

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By Noisy Deadlines Minimalist in progress, nerdy, introvert, skeptic. I don't leave without my e-reader.

For the surprise of absolutely no one, I'm back with the Nirvana app for my tasks and projects. 😏

I lasted roughly 2 months with my 2-accounts setup in Microsoft To Do. All the integration features offered by MS To Do that I thought were detrimental to my daily setup ended up not being that important.

Drawbacks of Microsoft To Do

Over the past two months, I've found myself utilizing the file attachment feature only once.

Although the option to flag emails in Outlook and synchronize them with Microsoft To Do seemed promising, it didn't significantly impact my workflow.

The handling of recurring tasks also posed a challenge – the lack of separate copies meant that altering the due date by a day affected the entire task series.

While Microsoft To Do serves me well during less hectic periods, I've noticed a pattern: when faced with complex projects at work, I tend to feel overwhelmed. This is where I remember the effectiveness of the Nirvana app to deal with it all. Nirvana just makes more sense with how I compartmentalize multiple projects and next actions.

This brings to mind the classic GTD (Getting Things Done) discussion about linking projects to next actions.

The truth is: there is no right or wrong way to do it.

The fundamental principle is: maintain a a list of current projects to review weekly and assign one next action to each project to move them forward. That's it. But for some people (like me) it is beneficial to group next actions by project. Occasionally, the project itself defines my entire focus for the day.

Microsoft To Do attempted to facilitate this organizational aspect with hashtags, but it felt somewhat loosely structured for my taste. Without a centralized list of hashtags, I found myself typing various versions of the same hashtag for a single project, leading to confusion.

Also, the pop-up hashtag list that appears when adding a new task doesn't work when editing a task post-insertion, requiring me to recall the correct hashtag or go search for it.

The 2-accounts setup also was a bit cumbersome, because in my head I didn't have one unified Inbox. I prefer having no friction at all for capturing things. Capturing tasks should be effortless and instinctive, without any unnecessary cognitive load. However, I often found myself contemplating whether a task belonged to my work or personal account, disrupting the capture momentum.

It took time and experimentation to determine what truly suits me. Through trial and error – as you can see documented in my GTD Journey blog posts – I've gained clarity (finally!). Microsoft To Do is undeniably a great simple app, yet Nirvana resonates more closely with the natural functioning of my mind.

All that being said...

The little things that make me come back to Nirvana:

  • Nirvana guides me towards a more disciplined GTD approach by neatly categorizing everything into predefined sections. This alignment with GTD principles removes the need to invest excessive time in personalizing settings (a big win, especially for someone like me who can get lost in endless customization choices!).
  • Nirvana handles recurring tasks better than many tools, since it doesn't bother me with them until the start date. This clever approach involves creating new instances of tasks for their upcoming occurrences. I can even adjust individual due dates without disrupting the original sequence. Also, I appreciate the option to set deadlines and determine how many days in advance tasks appear in the “Focus” section (I use that a lot!).
  • The way Nirvana integrates next-actions with projects is amazing.
  • It has Start Dates (very hard to see in other apps).
  • I love how Scheduling works by keeping a next action hidden until they are ready to appear in the “Focus” section.

After years of back and forth I've come to this conclusion: Nirvana aligns closely with my personal work style and preferences, making it my preferred choice over Microsoft To Do or any other task managers.

At the end of the day it's all about trusting the system and regularly reviewing my lists (weekly reviews!). Consistency is key – the more consistently I engage with my system, the more reliable it becomes, reinforcing my confidence in it.

I feel that I completely trust Nirvana right now👍.

So, I’ll renew my promise: I will stick with it for at least a year and re-evaluate.

#GTD #productivity #MSTodo #Nirvana #apps

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By Noisy Deadlines Minimalist in progress, nerdy, introvert, skeptic. I don't leave without my e-reader.

Every once in a while I feel unsatisfied about how I am managing my projects and tasks. It’s a recurring thing and I know now that perfectionism has some of the blame. Looking back at all my past iterations, I’ve used the Nirvana app the most over the years. I stick with it for a while, then I see something shinier, experiment with the new app, only to go back to Nirvana again.

My last distraction was Microsoft To Do. The company I work for transitioned to Microsoft for everything: emails, files, calendars, chat, meetings, the whole system. I was already familiar with Outlook and OneDrive, but Microsoft To Do was new to me. So I tried it. I can say that I tried it at least 4 times over the last year. Not to mention the times I tried Todoist as well. I believe the sequence was:

  • Aug, 2021: First test of MS To Do. I didn’t like it.
  • Sep, 2021: I tried Todoist (not for the first time). I got overwhelmed by all the tags/filters options (not the first time this happened…)
  • Oct, 2021: Back to MS To Do. Maybe I can make it work? Also, emojis are so cute!
  • Jan, 2022: I got back to good old Nirvana. So simple and organized! 😎
  • May, 2022: Tried MS To Do again. Can I let go of having the next actions linked to projects? The UI is so beautiful, and tasks can show up alongside Outlook or even inside my calendar. Cool!
  • June, 2022: Things got out of control, I was handling a lot of projects at once at work so I went back to Nirvana to gain some clarity. I also noticed I barely used the integrations with Outlook Calendar.
  • Sep, 2022: But it would be so cool to have my emails integrated with my tasks! Wouldn’t it? The emojis were cute 🤩 So, back to MS To Do, trying to manage 2 separate accounts (personal and work).
  • Oct, 2022: It was too much overhead to have two separate MS To Do accounts, I didn’t know which Inbox to put things in, I constantly neglected one or the other and things started to get off the rails. So back to my trusted tool: Nirvana ⭐.
  • Jan, 2023: I read somewhere about new Todoist features coming up and I tried it again. I created a brand new account, got the Premium subscription, and set it up just to feel like it wasn’t for me anymore. In less than 20 days I cancelled my account and asked for a refund. Again, I had too many options to customize it and it became very distracting.
  • Feb, 2023: I decided to solve the 2 accounts issue with MS To Do, by using the lists sharing feature between my personal and work accounts. It was okay, but I still thought it was confusing to have 2 inboxes. Also, since in MS To Do we have to use the “Tasks” folder as the Inbox, I noticed this cognitive discomfort of not having an actual “Inbox” there. It may sound like a petty detail, but it really bothers me! Capturing is something I struggle with and having any sort of resistance destroys my ability to get things out of my head.
  • Mar, 2023 (aka, Today): I moved back to Nirvana! It just felt like home. I know how it works, things have their specific places, and I trust it more in the end😍.

I decided to write this timeline to try to understand why I was jumping from tool to tool. It became clear that Nirvana was the to-do list manager I used for the longest time because I like it! And so I’m making a decision to continue using it, even though sometimes I miss some colors and emojis.

Looking back I can say that when my life got busy I would always rely on Nirvana to manage all my commitments. It gives me the type of clarity I can’t really find in other tools.

So I’m making a personal commitment to not distract myself again and to stick with Nirvana for at least a year! Focus! 🎯

#GTD #Nirvana #Productivity #apps

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By Noisy Deadlines Minimalist in progress, nerdy, introvert, skeptic. I don't leave without my e-reader.

Yes, I have a confession to make: I went back to Nirvana. Again. After spending time customizing MS To Do, being excited about colorful emojis, backgrounds and all sorts of integrations with Outlook… I went back to the good old Nirvana.

I probably said it before, but Nirvana is still the best GTD implementation for me. It's simple and elegant. I like it because it allows me to have neatly well organized GTD lists. It is the only app that gives me a clear and straightforward view of all my commitments. And you might wonder why is that important?

Well, I worry a lot about things. My mind is constantly thinking, re-thinking and planning. One of the things that attracted me to GTD was the idea of “unloading” my thoughts, stepping back and making sense of them. But all those unloaded things need to be processed, and for my mind to be at ease, they need to be in an organized trusted place. So, Nirvana is the best digital tool to take care of all that stuff.

“You can only feel comfortable about what you're not doing when you know what you're not doing.” — David Allen, Brandon Hall. The Getting Things Done Workbook: 10 Moves to Stress-Free Productivity, 2019.

Maybe it’s because Nirvana has a more fixed structure, things are either in:

  • Inbox
  • Next
  • Later
  • Waiting
  • Scheduled
  • Someday
  • Reference

And that’s it. My brain enjoys having these well-defined buckets. And also because Nirvana allows a bird’s eye view of everything, distributed in all those buckets, or views filtered by Personal or Work areas because of the global filters. I have better control of projects states, so if a project becomes inactive, it’s easy to drag and drop it to the “Later” or “Someday” folder and all its next actions will be inactivated as well. No need to go back to the contexts list and move inactivated actions individually (something I would have to go through in MS To Do).

I liked my setup on MS To Do. I think it might work for a lot of people. But there were some details that bothered me:

  • NOT having ONE Inbox to rule them all. I was using two accounts, one for personal and one for work, so I ended up with 2 inboxes (that is not an issue if you use one account for everything). The process of having a thought, recognizing it as something to be captured and then having to decide in which instance I was going to capture it created some friction to my capturing. I tend to capture a lot while I’m on my computer, and I would pause to switch accounts and get distracted. I kept remembering how ubiquitous and easy it was to add something to the unified Nirvana Inbox with a keyboard shortcut. And also, how Nirvana syncs between my personal and phone mobiles, so no friction at all.
  • Not having the Projects linked to Next Actions. Yeah, I tried to let go of it linking next actions to projects”). And it turns out my preference is to have everything linked. I’ve heard it is a cognitive preference, some people are okay with having things separated, and some people don’t. I’ve tested it for real, so now I know. Linking actions to projects is a must for me.
  • The hashtags drop-down selection only appears when adding a new task. So, I was using hashtags to identify projects keywords. When creating a new task in MS To Do I could type “#” and a list of hashtags terms already used would appear. But if I have already captured something and I was processing it to add a hashtag later, the drop-down menu wouldn’t show up and I ended up creating variations of the existing hashtag because I didn’t remember exactly the word I used. It’s a minor detail, but when you start having too many projects, this can be an encumbrance. Of course, this problem is avoidable if you’re not worried about linking next actions to projects, which is NOT my case (see the previous item).

It’s a journey…

I feel comfortable now with my decision. I was triggered to experiment MS To Do because of a change in my work (which recently shifted everything to Microsoft). So I used MS To Do for about a month and realized it was not exactly all that I expected. I still think it’s a great app.

And that’s okay. I know I will change my system based on my experience level, current needs, and changes in the available tools. And Nirvana still works for me, so I’ll stick with it a little bit more!

#GTD #productivity #Nirvana #apps

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By Noisy Deadlines Minimalist in progress, nerdy, introvert, skeptic. I don't leave without my e-reader.

After spending more time on changing apps than I'd care to admit, I finally realized that it was turning into something of a hobby, and I'd be better off picking something, accepting its limitations, and trying to make it work.

Over the past few years, I've been plagued by the “Feature chasing” virus.

I promised myself to stick with one productivity system after testing out several tools in 2018, then I rediscovered GTD with the Nirvana app in 2018, I jumped between Nirvana and Todoist, I kept using Nirvana for a while in 2020 only to get back to Todoist at the end of 2020, used it for a while throughout 2021 and got a little annoyed with the number of new features and updates the app was getting.

After 7+ months of tweaking Todoist tags, flags, and filters to conform with GTD I concluded that the hassle was not worth it. While Todoist offers some cool things like the perfect calendar integration and the natural language input, the way it manages projects and sub-tasks is still clunky (to me).

I am project-oriented so I usually have 10 to 20 active projects at one time. And their status can change on a weekly basis. That means if a project becomes “inactive” or “on-hold” I want to easily change its status and not have any next actions related to it showing up on my daily lists. I solved that in Todoist by creating separate folders for “someday/maybe” projects and used filters to exclude those from my active lists. It worked for the most part, but the process of moving projects/folders in Todoist has not been smooth for me.

I just think Todoist is cumbersome for projects. Maybe if I stopped using projects and not linking next actions to projects I would like Todoist better.

But I use projects. A lot! I quickly tried Microsoft To-Do using hashtags to filter next actions by projects but at some time point, the hashtags became pretty messy. And they weren’t good placeholders for my next actions. I totally lost control.

I still prefer the way Nirvana handles projects: it's built in the system.

So I'm settling back down with the Nirvana app. I think it conforms with how my brain works. It covers the GTD method elegantly with simplicity.

Reasons why I prefer Nirvana:

  • Nirvana has that .txt simplicity. I think having an extremely colorful to-do list manager was distracting to me. I like some colors, so I added a few emojis to Nirvana’s tags and I’m happy with it. (Note: not all emojis work in Nirvana, I’m not sure why, but some do).
  • In Nirvana, I can actually add a due date to a project and mark it as complete. I love this!
  • The projects list is way more organized. It's clear to see what is active and what isn't.
  • Someday-Maybe is managed in a much better way with its native functionality.
  • To read more: I talk a little about how Nirvana works here.

A snapshot of some tags I keep in Nirvana

So I’ve experimented a lot this past year…

… and I’ve read a lot about GTD and productivity. I used to receive weekly news and articles about productivity tools and I decided to let go of all that. Consuming productivity content was making me anxious.

I was induced to keep trying new tools...

…Experimenting with different methods…

…Spending whole weekends tweaking an app…

…And it wasn’t working. The perfect tool was never there.

There was a book that helped me a lot last year: The Getting Things Done Workbook by David Allen and Brandon Hall. It’s an action-oriented guide based on the GTD principles and it made me realize I was overcomplicating everything!

2021 was a year I learned a lot about myself. I developed a better sense of how my brain works and its preferences. And I concluded that the GTD workflow still aligns with me. I rediscovered Nirvana, a simple tool that I always enjoyed.

I also set up an Excel spreadsheet to help me organize what GTD describes as “Higher Horizons”:

  • Horizon 02: Areas of Focus
  • Horizon 03: Goals
  • Horizon 04: Vision

And in this same spreadsheet, I have a tab for my quarterly/monthly Planning.

I will write a future post about this spreadsheet. It’s working beautifully! 😍

#GTD #Nirvana #Productivity

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By Noisy Deadlines Minimalist in progress, nerdy, introvert, skeptic. I don't leave without my e-reader.

I have never asked that question before. But suddenly I felt like I was overwhelmed and that I was spending too much time and energy to manage my lists. So this year I decided to sit down and write a description of my GTD system to understand what was going on.

The inspiration came from a post from Cal Newport in which he describes his Rooted Productivity document. For him, it's a one page document that he keeps in a plastic sleeve on his desk. The idea is to have a “root commitment” that includes all your productivity habits.

GTD is based on 5 steps, which are:

  1. CAPTURE: Collect (Inbox)

  2. CLARIFY: What is it?

  3. ORGANIZE: Put it where it belongs

  4. REFLECT: Review and Update

  5. ENGAGE: What is the next action? Do it!

Based on Cal Newport's idea, I came up with a description of my system based on the following questions:

  • Which tools do I use for each of the 5 GTD Phases?
    • What are my Inboxes? Where are they?
    • What are my list managers? (including tasks and project lists)
    • How do I organize the stuff that comes into my inbox?
    • What is on my Calendar?
    • What is my reference system? How do I file non-actionable things?
  • Core habits and routines: what are the habits that are important to me?
  • Periodic Reviews: what are the reviews I have scheduled to keep the system up-to-date?
Read more...

💾For a complete summary list of my blog posts grouped by year, click here.

🎈 Things I write about :

Sections:

🎨 #NoisyMusings: a little bit of everything 📂 #Productivity: organization, methods, apps, GTD 📚 #Books: everything book related

Some Topics:

#apps | #Nirvana (the app, not the band) | #Todoist | #GTD | #MSTodo | #notes | #journal | #journaling #BookReview | #ReadingList | #Reading | #ReaderGoals | #BookWyrm | #TheStorygraph | #weeknotes | #podcast | #GTDnotes | #100DaysToOffload

#internet | #socialmedia | #attentionresistance #minimalism | #digitalminimalism #outdoors | #Hiking | #winter | #iceskating | #music | #heavymetal | #puzzle