Noisy Deadlines

productivity

Inspired by these thoughts, I’ve been testing a Todoist setup in which the main principle is not linking next actions to projects. I’ve used Todoist before using a lot of filters, having lots of projects, priority flags, etc. It became too complicated to manage for me.

You see, linking next actions to projects is not required to have a good system. The basic components of the GTD list organization are:

  • Inbox
  • Next Action List
  • Projects List
  • Waiting-for List
  • Someday Maybe List
  • Calendar

They can be simple lists which makes the system easy enough to implement on paper. Thinking about these building blocks, I wanted to try a simpler setup in Todoist. At least, simpler than what I have tried before. I’m an accomplished overcomplicator 😎.

This is what I came up with.

Lists

I have my typical GTD Dashboard list with links to other parts of my system, like Areas of Focus, Goals and Objectives, Dashboard, Purpose and Principles, etc.

I left a Read/Review list mostly for articles I want to read online. It could be a context (using a label) but I just wanted to test it out as separate list.

I have 2 major action-oriented lists: WORK and PERSONAL. I like to have these two major areas separate, as always. And inside each of these areas I have the same set of folders:

  • Agendas: this one could be a context, but I put it as a separate list to be more visible and easily accessible.
  • Recurring: for all routines, repeating actions.
  • Projects List: using one task per project, separated in a Kanban board style for status.
  • Next Actions: all actions go here, labeled with a context.
  • On Hold: actions that are blocked for the moment.
  • Waiting/Follow-Up: delegated actions, things I’m waiting on.
  • Someday: all someday/maybe items.

Contexts

I’m using labels to indicate contexts.

Filters

I’m trying to use the minimal number of filters, so I have filters for Work and Personal Next Actions and some Focus this Week filters.

The “Focus – This Week” filters only show actions that are overdue, due today and with priority flag P1.

The “All Next Actions” filters show all next actions, grouped by label using the “View/Sort By” option in Todoist :

My Thoughts

I’ve been using this setup for about a week now. I’m taking full advantage of Todoist’s quick add keyboard shortcut. It’s very pleasant to use and easy to capture and process things. The inbox is great!

Some of the features I thought I was needing the most like file attachments and reminders don’t seem that important now, I don’t think I’ve used them that much.

I love the option to have a Kanban style view for the projects list:

There are a few things that still bothers me:

  • I can’t manually rearrange the order in which the tasks show in the next actions list. The only way is to use priority flags and set it to sort by priority. It’s just because in Nirvana I was used to manually reordering my actions, especially in the Focus lists.
  • Not linking next actions to projects: It gives a degree of freedom and simplicity, I understand that. Right now, I don’t have too many projects going on at once. But I envision that particularly at work, when things pick up rhythm again, I’m not sure I will like it. I’ve seen it happen before: busy season with lots of projects: I run to Nirvana to help me manage the chaos. So that’s probably a lesson learned. I understand the advantages of not linking actions to projects, but I really prefer them linked. It kinda feels unstructured to me if they are not. It’s all about preference.
  • No start dates: all dates in Todoist are due dates. I could use some “due dates” to indicate a future date when I want to look at certain item, but it will create confusion in my brain. Again, I’m used to Nirvana’s “Scheduled” actions feature.
  • Because Todoist is so focused on scheduling tasks and due dates everywhere, I feel like it blurs the edges between Calendar and Next Actions. I know I could just ignore this feature, but it’s so tempting to add due dates for everything!

Anyway, I will test it for a couple more days and see how I feel about it.

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

I’ve encountered the minimalism movement back in 2013 and since then I’ve been rethinking my lifestyle, my possessions, my habits, the tools I use, etc. I’ve come a long way. I started a huge life declutter in the year before moving to Canada (2016) and that completely changed my relationship with stuff and my life.

Today I have a clearer idea of what I want to bring into my life, be it objects or responsibilities. I’m happy and content with what I have. My home has just the right number of things, I plan and rethink my purchases to make sure they are truly needed. I carefully consider new projects and responsibilities, and I’ve learned to say “no” more often. Saying no to new purchases, saying no to people, saying no to social invites. Minimalism has been a great tool for me.

So why I’m talking about minimalism?

I’m thinking about minimalism in my productivity tools/system. I tend to overcomplicate things, and right now I feel like I’m trapped in my own GTD system. I’ve been thinking about it for a while now, but I could never pinpoint the issue.

These are my thoughts right now:

  • I want it to be stupid simple and easy to add any type of item to my Inbox, both on mobile and on desktop. I want zero friction.
  • I want to be able to easily capture digital items into my Inbox in its entirety. More apps integrations (I’m mostly thinking about mobile and web browser here).
  • I wish my to-do app could handle more information, so that I wouldn’t need to manually add a link to an external drive, for example. I have lots of external stuff I use with my tasks.
  • I wish I had more flexibility in creating folders and buckets. I never bothered about that too much in the past, but now I want some degree of freedom.
  • I wish I could have more notes options for my projects/tasks, so that I didn’t need a separate file to track these notes (and consequently having to manually add links).
  • I want to be reminded of things and I want them to be synchronised both in mobile and desktop.
  • I want to be able to send a Rocketbook scan image to my to-do Inbox.
  • I want the option to organize Projects in Kanban style.

Considering all those points above, it was clear to me that the app Todoist is a suitable candidate, because:

  • It has excellent Inbox features, capture is easy and accessible in any device, including the universal keyboard shortcut in the desktop. I love it!
  • Has email to Inbox option.
  • Has space for notes in markdown, with the possibility to attach files and images.
  • Has excellent reminders and recurring tasks options.
  • Has integration with the Rocketbook (which I’m using a lot!)
  • It is visually pleasing and easy to use.

Simplifying my Todoist setup

So, I’ve tried Todoist before and it didn’t work out that well. But now I realize why it didn't went well: I was overcomplicating the setup.

I’m going back to basics, thinking about the building blocks of GTD and I’ve changed my mind about one crucial thing: I will stop linking next actions to projects. That alone is a huge simplification! And that was creating most of my issues with Todoist: I never liked the way that projects are nested and shown. Also, having too many filters creates a lot of complexity! But what if I simplify this whole thing? That’s what I’m on this week.

I’m letting go of over-organization in favor of ease of use. Sometimes simplicity comes from how stupid easy it is to use something and still being enjoyable.

—-

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

This is a walkthrough on how I currently have my Nirvana setup.

Nirvana is a to-do app built for the Getting Things Done® methodology. I’ve been using it for years now. I’ve written a lot about switching back and forth to Nirvana, but I don’t think I’ve ever published a full setup post. So here it is!

Nirvana comes with these predefined sections, and they cannot change:

  • CAPTURE
  • ACTIONS
  • FOCUS
  • PROJECTS
  • REFERENCE
  • TAGS

The “Later” folder inside “ACTIONS” is an optional feature in the app (we can toggle it on or off in the settings). I leave it enabled to park actions that are blocked, actions that I started but had to put on hold or that I want to look at again in a couple of weeks (but that don’t fit in “Someday/Maybe” anymore).

Read more...

I'm enjoying some slower days at work. There has been only one big procurement project with tight deadlines to deliver a budget. All the other budgets I've been working on are for internal projects, buildings that are already under construction and the deadlines can be easily negotiated. I can allocate enough time to deliver all those budgets comfortably.

This is very unusual! And I'm loving this phase! 🌟

It feels like I'm back in the early 2000's when things overall ran at a slower pace. I remember my first job in a construction company: I didn't have a work mobile phone, the only way to directly contact me at work was via the land line at my desk or in person. I had a computer with internet access, but it was slow and mostly used for checking and sending a few emails. The volume of emails was very manageable, nothing compared to what we have today. I worked on one thing at a time.

Right now, I have plenty of time to plan my day, plan my week, plan my month without feeling I should be tackling my to-do list right away. It’s a refreshing and unique experience: I find my workload to be perfectly manageable.

I like it this way. This situation reminds me of the emerging trend in productivity: slowing down intentionally. I love the ideas described in “Slow Productivity” by Cal Newport and “Essentialism” by Greg McKeown, but I recognize that not all work environments allow us to fully implement these ideas. These strategies require a good amount of agency and independence over our workloads.

Despite the obvious challenges of my fast-paced work environment, I'm still convinced I can introduce minor adjustments to my schedule to make it more manageable.

As I said, it's been easy-going these past few weeks, but I know that when things get crazy busy again, I have these tools at my disposal:

  • GTD: The GTD framework helps me a lot to make sense of all the “stuff” that comes my way. I use it all the time and when times get tough, it's even more valuable.
  • Time Blocking: Finding those small pockets of time for reflection and prioritization (Plan the Day in the morning and doing a Shutdown Routine at the end of the day)
  • Short breaks: Using brief moments to breathe, grab a snack or stretch and quick recharge my mental batteries.
  • Pomodoro Technique: For when I need deep focus. The ticking timer becomes my companion, urging me forward.
  • Remember to Write Down Things: Capture, Capture, Capture! Reduces mental clutter (see GTD above).
  • Weekly Review: Another GTD practice that helps turn chaos into order. It’s essential!

As much as I'm enjoying these calm waters at work, I know it won't last forever. The storm will return: the urgent emails, the deadlines, the unexpected crises. But I feel equipped to deal with whatever comes.

Post 09/100 of 100DaysToOffload challenge (Round 2)!

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

This week I decided I had some time and headspace available to experiment with Todoist for my GTD (Getting Things Done) system. Why??

Back in 2019-2020, I had used Todoist and enjoyed it. But then there was a big update that altered some features and screwed up my existing setup. As a result, I explored other tools, eventually discovering NirvanaHQ (which is my current tool of choice).

I’ve tried Todoist before throughout the years, and I could never get it quite right. I know Todoist development is continually active, and I thought I could give it a go again because… well, maybe this time they’ve changed things that could work for me now? 🤷‍♀️ Also because I felt I could spend some time tinkering with the tool, which I usually enjoy.

So, I tried setting it up again. I took a look at the GTD Official Guide, sat down with my pen and paper and started to think:

  • Do I want to link projects to next actions? => Yes!
  • Ok, so I will use projects as projects and labels as contexts.
  • I want to have projects separated between Work and Personal. Ok.
  • I will have Someday-Maybe folders separate for Work and Personal. Ok.
  • I will use labels as contexts to organize my next actions. Ok.
  • I want to make sure that I don’t see actions that are in Someday-Maybe showing up in my next action lists. Ok, so I will use filters to be able to exclude items that are inactive in Someday-Maybe.
  • This is something crucial to me, because sometimes I have a project started, with labeled next actions, which then is postponed or put on hold. I want to be able to move the project to Someday-Maybe so that all of it is removed from next actions. I know I could un-label the actions, but I don’t like doing that (then when it’s active again I would have to re-label everything... not my jam).
  • I will have a “Routines” project for all recurring actions (daily. monthly checklists and reviews). Ok.

So, I set up the basic folders. I added initial labels (the typical @computer, @home, @errands, @agendas, @calls). Now it was time to set up the filters. That's when I got frustrated. I know I could set it up the way I wanted it, but the process was not as fun as I've initially imagined 😐.

I had to tweak the filters to exclude incompletable tasks and exclude subtasks from showing by themselves without their parent task (because subtasks can have their own labels in Todoist), to separate work and personal, and on and on.

I had initially thought I would incorporate the priority flags with the context’s filters (something like, P1 is priority, P2 is next, P3 is later, etc...) but THAT was me overcomplicating things! I scratched that idea.

And then I thought about a moment in the future when I wanted to add a new context, and create a filter for it, and all the hassle to have it done. Too complicated! I imagined future me wondering why the hell did I complicate things this much?

Long story short…

…the energy and disposition I thought I had to set up Todoist wasn't there anymore. I'd rather spend that time reading a book.

And when I went back to my normal day, using Nirvana as usual, I just felt this peace and calm, seeing everything organized in its place. I recognized I already have a system that JUST WORKS as it is. Is it perfect? Hell, no! But it works for me! 😊

I was also altering a previous Todoist setup I had in my account, so maybe that was the wrong approach. I should have deleted everything and started 100% from scratch. But now I don’t really want to try Todoist anymore. I am happy with what I currently have.

So that's the story of my failed experiment. I could have pushed through and had all the context filter issues sorted out? Yes, I'm sure I could have. It's not Todoist's fault. It's a great app. But just not for me at this moment in my life.

Post 07/100 of 100DaysToOffload challenge (Round 2)!

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

This is a note to self about planning my day:

  • Lunch & Shutdown: Schedule the Lunch break and the Shutdown blocks.
  • Email time: Add blocks to handle emails.
  • Meeting Buffers: Insert buffer times before and after meetings for preparation and follow-up.
  • Breaks: Add breaks/snack time.
  • Check-ins: Rearrange my “Organizing” and “Check-in” blocks.
  • Work Focus Blocks: Add work blocks by context or projects
  • While I'm working on focused blocks, don't look at emails!
  • Revise plan as needed.
  • 🍵Take it slow, no need to rush!

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

I have a system I've been using since 2019 for taking notes at work.

I use an Arc notebook that I got from Staples that has refillable pages. It's a customizable system, so I can remove pages and insert them elsewhere in the book by simply pulling out the sheet. It’s really nice! I’ve had the same notebook for 5 years now.

I mainly use my notebook for meeting notes, notes from calls and notes about projects I'm working on. I also like to use a Pentel Energel 0.5mm in blue as my default pen.

Everyday I open up my 8-½” x 5-½” arc notebook and insert the day:

And then for every project or meeting that I'm currently working on I add a sequence number and a title/subject and start writing. If I change focus and start working on another subject/project/meeting, I will add a sequence number with the title and continue from there.

Some of those notes will generate new next actions, which I add an asterix or arrow so that I remember to capture those into my Nirvana inbox during my shutdown routine at the end of the day.

The notebook will hold 50 pages at a time, and when they are all filled up, I pull them out, and refill the notebook with new pages that I get from Staples.

I then scan all the written pages into a PDF and save the file. At the end of the year I will have around 350-400 pages scanned. Then I recycle the paper copies.

These are all the notes from 2023:

Thinking about Reusable Notebooks

After 5+ years of doing this, I can see the amount of paper I generate! I feel bad about using that much paper, honestly. That’s not even considering the paper I use for time blocking every day, and personal notes.

I'm curious to try out a reusable notebook, so I ordered a Rocketbook!  I will try the 6” x 8.8” Fusion (Executive size, like my current notebook) because I'm super curious to see how it works! And to know if I will enjoy writing on it.

It should be delivered later today, so I will write a post about my first impressions once I’ve used it for a while.

P.S.: Wow! This is the 100th post since I started the #100DaysToOffload challenge!! 🥳

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

So, when I started Rethinking My To Do list this week, I was feeling disconnected. I was craving for something different. I’m not sure why, but I was bored. And I didn’t want to look at my to-do list. So, avoiding it only intensified my disconnection. I thought I needed a new to-do list.

I wanted to get a better app and test other things. And I did test a few! Only to realize that the tool itself wasn’t the problem. I was just feeding the distraction dragon, searching for novelty.

But I wanted to see it for myself, stubborn that I am.

So, I looked at TickTick. It is an amazing to-do list! It has lots of features, calendar, pomodoro timer, timeline views, routine tracker, cross-platform, etc. It’s highly customizable: I saw I could set it up however I wanted to fit my needs. And then came the realization that I would have to spend several hours tweaking it. Creating lists, and folders and custom filters. And moving everything I have in Nirvana to TickTick. Moreover, I was not able to install the desktop app on my work computer, so that was a clear hint that my employer doesn’t approve of this software. Another detail I didn’t like: I couldn’t find a way to set up a shortcut key to add tasks to the Inbox. The “add task” shortcut will add the task to whatever folder/list is open in the app.

Then I looked back at Todoist. I’ve used it for a couple of years. Very flexible, cross-platform, super easy and fast at collecting and organizing things. But the new interface now has “hashtags” symbols to represent folders/projects instead of the old circles, which I think makes it more visually polluted. And then I remembered the entire process of creating the folder’s structure and the custom filters to use it with GTD the way I like it. I didn’t want to go into that rabbit hole again.

Lastly, I revisited Microsoft To Do. It’s a cute app, fast and simple and integrates well with my work system. But… there is something that always gets me out of it: projects management. I like linking projects to next actions, and things get very messy in MS To Do if I want to do that with hashtags, while using lists as my GTD contexts. I told myself I would use it for 90 days to see how it goes. But I changed my mind. Last time I used it for 60 days and abandoned it to get back to Nirvana. I remembered things that I don’t like about it: the Inbox situation (which is a list called “Tasks”), there is no direct “email to inbox” feature (I must send an email to Outlook, and then flag it: too many steps for capturing), I prefer Nirvana’s way of dealing with recurring tasks and organizing projects.

So basically, everything I wrote in January when I was Testing Microsoft To Do and saying goodbye still holds true. I will let it go this time. For real, let it go!

In the end the effectiveness of my GTD system depends on my commitment to maintaining and working my lists in an app that I’m familiar with. I still can use Nirvana at work (I can even install the desktop app on my work laptop) It synchronises on all my devices, it’s fast and reliable.

The issue wasn’t the tool itself but rather my quest for novelty. I can see clearly now.

I’ve decided to stick with Nirvana, which strikes the right balance between meeting my needs and minimizing frustrations.

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

There’s something going on with how I’m engaging with my To Do list (currently using Nirvana). I’ve been craving for something more interesting. I’ve had this feeling before, and when that happened, I tried out Microsoft To Do but it never stuck with me.

I’ve decided to do some exploration. I don’t want to be in a place where I’m compulsively looking out for new apps, but I want to use my curiosity to experiment with some options.

I will take a look at TickTick. I’ve never really used it and I’m curious to know how it works. I will also go back to good old Todoist, which has been my to do app for a couple of years and I remember I liked it because of all the colors, reminders, and super quick capturing and processing features.

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

In Gloria Mark’s book “Attention Span” she delves into the fascinating world of attention management.  We usually fall along a continuum for how we like to work:

  • Monochronic: we prefer to finish one task to completion before beginning another task. We thrive on focused, sequential work.
  • Polychronic: we prefer to juggle multiple tasks at once. We are comfortable with interruptions and context-switching.

Interestingly, Mark identifies a rare breed: the “supertaskers”. These exceptional individuals can seamlessly shift between tasks without sacrificing focus. However, most of us fall somewhere in the middle, balancing monochronic and polychronic tendencies.

While I was reading this, I felt represented in the more monochronic preference scale. And that explained a lot about the feelings of overwhelm I experience so often in my work life:

“As you might imagine, monochronic types are the ones who tend to experience role overload, and yet they are stuck switching among multiple tasks, trying to keep up. This is consistent with the many people in our studies who report feeling overwhelmed in their work.” — Gloria Mark, “Attention Span”, Chapter 4

I’m not a supertasker, but it seems there is this expectation from companies (and managers) that all office workers are natural multitaskers. The demands of our modern workplace are mixed with continuous real-time electronic communication, and that is exhausting!

The author points out that switching attention away from a challenging task can be beneficial at times. Moving to a new activity can refresh our cognitive resources. Incubating a hard problem can help us figure out a solution later.

“On the other hand, too much task-switching at a fast rate, where you are continually forcing yourself to refocus your attention, is often detrimental because of time and performance decrements, and it leads to stress.” — Gloria Mark, “Attention Span”, Chapter 4

Sometimes I feel bad because I can’t get to focus on something important and I wonder what’s wrong with my brain. But I’ve been learning that the problem isn’t my brain per se. The environment I work in does not foster focus. And then I might feel stressed and overwhelmed at the end of day. It’s fascinating how our personal preferences impact our work experience and vice-versa.

Anyway, this book is an interesting read and I hope the author will explore strategies to navigate this delicate balance between attention and productivity.

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