Noisy Deadlines

Productivity

After several false starts the company I work for is finally migrating to Microsoft 🥳. No more sync issues between Google Calendar and Outlook for me (yay!).

I remember taking a quick look at Microsoft To Do last year and liked its simplicity, but because I only had one account I thought it was cumbersome to deal with personal and work stuff all together in one app. One of the reasons I liked Nirvana was the global area filter, so I could switch from personal to work mode, and keep a minimal number of context tags that were shared between personal/work .

Now I have 2 Microsoft accounts so things can be organized separatedly. I can switch from one to the other using the Microsoft To Do desktop app, both on my personal and work computers. I also have 2 mobile phones, one linked to my personal account and the other linked to my work account.

The 2 setups are similar, I’ll get into more detail about my personal one.

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So I use the GTD (Getting Things Done) method to organize my brain. It has allowed me to manage anxiety and stress over the years. From time to time I look at my system and reflect: is it getting messy? is it too complicated? is it really working for me now?

One of the things I’ve always thought was fundamental to me was having a system in which Projects and Next Actions are explicitly and solidly linked. I tend to spend more time organizing rather than executing projects. The truth is that we don’t execute projects, we execute actions that will eventually attain the project goal. And that idea is the basis of why GTD recommends having the next actions sorted by Contexts.

A context can be a place, a tool, a mindset, or the people required to complete a given task. If I want to make a phone call, I need my phone (@calls). If I want to pick up something at the grocery store, I need to go there (@errands). So the idea is to assign contexts to next actions so that it’s easier to decide what I should be doing at any given time because I have a limiting factor (context). It’s about focusing on execution.

I don’t think I paid too much attention to contexts in my system, I was more worried about setting up projects right. Hence, my preference has always been to use Nirvana to manage my projects and actions. But I want to do an experiment: use a simpler tool in which contexts are more upfront, forcing me to work by contexts.

Experiment with Microsoft To Do

I chose the app MS To Do for my experiment. I’ve tested it before and I think it provides a clean and beautiful interface, syncs on all my devices, and provides an easy setup.

I’m using two different accounts: one for personal and one for work. The company I work for is switching everything from Google to Microsoft so I will take advantage of that. I already have an Office365 subscription for my personal file storage and calendar.

I followed the official GTD guide to set up my system. I have a “Projects” list with hashtags to identify them. So I still have some way to “link” projects to next actions, but I would say it’s a weak link. The hashtags are more like temporary keywords to remind me what that action is related to. I don’t have a proper “project folder” anymore, containing all actions related to a project and that’s a big mind shift for me.

Right now I’m happy with my setup. I like the option to use emojis, it makes my lists more enjoyable. One of the few things I disliked about Nirvana was that it was visually uninteresting to me. I like some colors and visuals to attract my attention.

One thing I’m using consistently on MS To Do is the “My Day” feature. In the morning I open up the “My Day” tab and it really helps me plan my day. It’s a smart list that resets every night, so it forces me to think about what I want to accomplish every day and focus on them. In Nirvana I used to have the “Starred” items to focus but since this list didn’t reset, I used to have stale items in there and I constantly skipped the daily planning.

So I’ll see how this experiment goes. I’m already seeing benefits in having a quicker way to process my next actions: I just move or drag/drop the item to its context. Done. No filters, no clicking and choosing through various drop-down menus. Also, personal and work are 2 separate accounts, but on the desktop app I can easily move between the two. So it creates a nice work-personal boundary in my brain and still allows for some integration. Let’s say I remember something about work that is bothering me: I can easily capture that capture in my work inbox if I’m on my personal computer. Same thing if I’m on my work computer and want to see my personal lists.

#GTD #MSTodo #Productivity

Thoughts? Discuss... if you have an account or email me


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

I started using Standard Notes by the end of 2020. I loved the simplicity, the privacy focus, and the syncing between devices. I subscribed to the 5-year extended plan at a discounted price then.

I had thousands of notes in Evernote that were accumulated during 7+ years of use. When I realized that all that information was trapped in one proprietary application, I asked myself: “What if I wanted to move these notes around?”. Also, Evernote got increasingly slower and bulkier. After learning about Markdown and Standard Notes, I exported all my notes from Evernote to the markdown format.

Starting over (almost) from scratch

So I had all my notes backed up in markdown, now what?

I didn’t actually re-imported all of them to Standard Notes. I archived my old notes because I noticed that most of those notes were assorted clippings from the internet. I realized I was a hoarder of information created by other people.

So I started over, copying only a dozen notes that had information I wanted to continue having access to.

As of today, this is how I’m organizing my notes:

(Note: I use nested tags, a feature only available on paid plans in Standard Notes)

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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

Thoughts? Discuss... if you have an account or email me


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

I'm moving all my notes out of Evernote. And I have a notebook there with all my e-books notes and highlights for the past 7+ years. A total of 276 notes. One note per book.

I've always used this free service my.clippings.io to export my Kindle highlights to Evernote. It also exports to .txt, .pdf and .doc. But, the only way to have separate files (one note per book) is when I use the Evernote option.

My issue here is: how can I convert all these Evernote notes to markdown??😕

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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?
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A Blank Notebook Photo by MESSALA CIULLA from Pexels

I'm bummed about note taking apps now. I've been thinking that they've become much more than “note taking” tools.

I've always been a “files/folders” person. I like to own my files, and move them around, and copy them for back-ups. So, I have my main reference system on my hard drive, but also synced to the cloud. I now have the Office 365 subscription, so all my files are synced in OneDrive. At one point I had Google Drive, then I tried Dropbox and ended up with Microsoft because of the Office suite included.

When note taking apps became a thing, I wanted to try it. I started using Evernote in 2010 (oh, geez, 10 years !?) and I've been on and off it many times. It's always been confusing to me what belonged to Evernote and what belonged to my OneDrive.

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This video by CGP Grey has so many good points to go through this COVID19 lock down period!

If you're feeling anxious or out of energy, this video can boost your focus and will probably make you rethink your priorities. Highly recommended!

Take good care of your spaceship!

#noisymusings #productivity

Thoughts? Discuss... if you have an account or email me


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

My GTD organization has been a moving target for years. GTD – Getting Things Done is a productivity method created by David Allen and I've been more or less applying its principles to my life for almost 6 years now.

7 months ago I wrote about sticking with one productivity system. At that point I had just started using Trello as my main app, applying Kanban principles and leaving Todoist behind.

But why?

Well, about a year ago my lists were overwhelming, I was trying to create filters in Todoist and apply the Eisenhower Matrix and it was a complete mess!

I started reading about Kanban and thought that that would be a good change for my organization system. Kanban is all about process and visualizing the work. It was created by Toyota as a scheduling system for cars lean manufacturing. Over the years it became a project management tool designed to help visualize work, limit work-in-progress, and maximize efficiency. Trello is a popular app that applies the Kanban board principles and it's extremely user friendly.

I started using Trello and I liked it for a while. But I felt it lacked agility. See, I use GTD as a productivity method (which is list based) and Kanban is based on boards with focus of process flow. Using Kanban made me understand my process but adding next actions and processing them in Trello was too cumbersome. I spent more time organizing and making the system look beautiful than actually doing stuff. Trello is an amazing visual tool!

But after a few months with Trello I decided to go minimal. I understood the Kanban's basic concepts of “backlog”, “doing” and “done” and I wanted a simple straightforward system but that still had some GTD structure.

I remembered testing an app called Nirvana HQ that was strictly based on GTD. So I started using Nirvana HQ again, which is a lovely app! It's perfect for GTD and it's the best digital implementation of GTD I've ever seen. Elegant, simple, to the point. But there is not much customization you can make on the app and it's lots of whites and light greys. Not too exciting. And there is almost none integration to other apps. It's extremely bare bones.

Nirvana H

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I've bee using Evernote for almost 10 years now! And because of a job change I was unable to use the desktop version on my computer so I started looking for alternatives. I tried Evernote Web at the time (this was last year) but the web version was full of bugs and many Evernote's functionalities weren't available yet. It was frustrating to try to use the web version.

So I started using Microsoft's Onenote and I kinda liked it at the beginning. I enjoyed the notebooks structure without tags. And that actually made me realize that my Evernote tagging/notebook system was over complicated!

Recently, with the new web version and the ability that I have now to use the Evernote desktop version on my work computer, I decided to get back to the green elephant.

So a great decluttering began and it's still ongoing...

My idea is to have a few generic tags and use notebooks for the major structure (just like Onenote). I think it's easier to just file a note in a dedicated notebook than processing it and choosing tags. Tags can become very messy and out of control! And that's exactly how my system is now! Totally out of control. So many random tags!

I'll not use so many tags for references anymore. The search function on Evernote is so good that I don't need perfectly organized tags.

I have notes that were automatically generated (using IFTTT) of every post I published on Instagram. I've deleted my Instagram a while ago already (and I have a backup of the pictures I posted). So I'll delete a notebook called “Timeline” with 292 notes generated from Instagram in it.

This cleaning process will take a while. I'l handle the big ticket items first (like the Timeline notebook).

Deep inside I think I want a brand new Evernote account. Clean slate. Start again. So, that's it! Purging mode on! I'll make Evernote as clean as I can.

I also have some old notes from the time I used Evernote as my GTD system (including To-do lists), and I have notes for each action I had to do and now it's completely useless. I'll delete them all.

#evernote #notes #productivity

Thoughts? Discuss... if you have an account or email me


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