Personal Productivity / Prioritization


I am trying to improve my personal organization skills to accomplish more without going crazy. Some of you seem pretty good at this so I want to ask…what has helped you overcome personal and professional challenges in this area? Might be a mobile app or something similar with notebook, paper and pen…

I’d like to draw on your collective wisdom. Whether you use a system for music and diy projects or for other aspects of your life, please share here

Life-improvement advice for the privileged

I’m a rigorous user of Omnifocus and use a personal system roughly based on Getting Things Done.


I have an email in my drafts folder with a “to do” list in it.

I also have coffee.

If I ever don’t feel like doing anything on the “to do” list, I drink coffee until I’m motivated enough to do it.

Anti-depressants have also really helped my productivity.

I also achieved more when I didn’t have a TV.

Physical activity stimulates mental activity for me - If I get in low, going for a run makes me want to get on with other stuff. Plus the fact I may have to go for a run is usually a good motivator to not get in a low.

Also, set goals. I’m massively motivated by completing things, and being able to set a goal, a deadline, and finish the task, is great. I think that putting out work because of an arbitrary deadline means I don’t get in a perfectionist never-ending improvement session.


I’m also a user of Omnifocus and GTD.

Rather, I’ve read the book, and do a lot of the things it suggest, but not 100%.

I found it to be very useful when the my life got significantly more busy at one point (starting a PhD and getting a big jump in responsibility at my job at the same time). Compartmentalizing things and being organized about what I’m doing (even, and especially, creative projects), gives me more brain overhead to work with.


For work, I’ve found that allowing time as needed to be entirely unproductive has been most beneficial. I approach it as a stage of just living with the task, tends to help me focus to the point where all that’s needed to complete it is a sharp burst of productivity. Might not work for everyone, as it probably skirts dangerously close to maudlin procrastination, but I write a lot of data-heavy words in a week, which likely would threaten to crush me if I didn’t stop to stare at frivolous things throughout the day

I’ve tried various productivity tools/apps, none have really gelled with me. For anything time sensitive, month views on calendars still have been most useful for me. Otherwise, scattered bits of notes and lists and reminders has worked better for me than any central app that compiles it all.


scattered bits of notes and lists and reminders has worked better for me than any central app that compiles it all.

Hmmm, yeah I guess that’s my dream: to have a central app since I always carry my phone around.

Checking omnifocus now…thanks @declutter @Rodrigo


At work I have my Outlook calendar and a paper diary. I start each day going through both and making a list of things I need and would like to get done. Need things get numbered in order of priority. Like things I fit in between these.

I’m not a fan of bringing methods from work home. I do keep a list of things I need/want to do as a sticky note on my laptop desktop and work through them as/when I feel like it.

There’s a fair bit of research out there around creativity and inspiration which says that this is the very thing we should be doing! Your brain often comes to solutions about things/has moments of inspiration when you are doing something totally unrelated to what you are actually trying to achieve.


I’ve been tempted to pick one of these up recently.


I was going to reply to this thread, but I’m too busy!


I’m still trying to improve on this as well…
but here comes a random list of things that have helped one way or the other, mixed with random thoughts: I don’t have WhatsApp, Messenger or any of that crap. My social-media time is very low (this forum taking up 90% of it lately). Actually, I’m back with a dumbphone and am happy with that after realizing that what I was using the Smartphone for was covered 99% by any 20€ Nokia thing.
I do not leave things in my email inbox as todos, I use Asana for that, and mostly just use the “today”, “upcoming” and “later” folders (though Asana is total overkill for me, and I’m actually looking into replacing that with something self-hosted).
I try to do the stuff that is most important not the one that is most urgent.
I only meet people on AV conferencing when I have to, and do not use text chatting except when there’s no other way. For most things email works fine (I do mostly work with and for people who are far away).
I do try to group tasks by type and do as much as possible of the same in one day.
Monday is admin day, getting the annoying stuff out of the way makes the rest of my week more pleasant.
I have a computer for work and a computer for watching movies, and doing non-work stuff.
I usually don’t work on weekends and do not overwork into the night.
Kids can have a deep impact on how you work… if your studio is your home as well, no idea on how to solve that yet.
Lacking a proper studio with generous spaces, a “relax” zone and a big table to just sit down and scribble stuff, or do whatever you want to do can help loosing the momentum over time. Where you work has a deep impact on how you work. Right now I not have a space for making music, which makes it very hard for me to accomplish anything right now, fortunately music is not what pays my rent.
I found that moving your workspace a lot, and not having a proper “HQ” does make it hard for me to stay focused and just get things done.
Believe it or not, finding the right chair is also pretty essential.
I do firmly believe that productivity is very overrated, but I still fall into the productivity myth trap often enough.


Also take a look at Things, as you can do a lot of the GTD stuff, but it’s much less overwhelming (I used Things2 for about 1.5-2years before switching to Omnifocus).


I tried GTD, Omnifocus, Things. Ended up just taking notes in a Markdown editor. It’s mostly chaos, but at least I don’t forget about stuff.

Er, at least I don’t forget about important stuff.


I’m definitely soft on GTD, though part of me wants to learn/apply a bit more.

More than anything, the way my brain works, I feel much better once I’ve written stuff down and/or organized it. Whether or not I return to it, or even use it, I can get it ‘off my plate’ (brain).


Yea I’m not strictly GTD at all, but the two principles that have saved me are (1) have one consistent inbox for all new ideas and thoughts and tasks; and (2) tasks and projects are different, and there is a time for doing tasks, and a time for thinking about what the right tasks are.


I think this is the important bit. Bunch of research supports this.


I make lists every day… just pen and paper. Doing it on my phone/computer is too distracting and I always find myself falling into the same cycle of wasting time deciding which organization app has the best aesthetic that I want to download.

Daily lists, monthly lists, long term lists, self care lists, goals, need to do, want to do, etc…

I hang them on the fridge if it’s really something I am having anxiety about and every day I try to accomplish all my to do’s. The act of just writing things out and then taking it one thing at a time is really what unloads a lot of the psychological weight for me.


been thinking of upgrading to something better (need to check out onenote, being a windows user) but i still just use a single text file split into several categories: short list | short term | monome firmware | studio | long term | music to check out. i go over the list each morning and pick what to pull into the short list and then email it to myself - this helps to keep me focused on what requires top priority or just the stuff that i think i might be able to get to, so there is less pressure.

as long as i can kill one or two things from the short list a day i’m happy. another thing i try to do is balance short list between fun stuff like working on firmware and boring stuff, like doing taxes, this seems to make it less like a list of things i dread to do :slight_smile:

and yeah, writing stuff down is a great way to stop my brain from worrying about forgetting it.


I’ve tried a few different “todo systems” over the years. I’ve found that it’s really hard to predict how successful a system will be, no matter how much you think it’s a good fit for yourself. I always wanted GTD to work for me, but it just doesn’t.

Also, changes in life circumstances often necessitate changes in your system.

Things that currently work for me:

  • Inbox zero! Echoing @declutter, I use my email inbox as my everything inbox, and I try to keep it so that it’s as short as possible (ideally less than a screenful). I also have some Launch Centre / Workflow actions on my iPhone that allow me to quickly send text, photo or voice emails to myself. (Voice notes are amazing for getting stuff out of your head at 2am.)

  • Habitica, this is really dorky, but it works really well for weekly chores and habit building. It’s pretty useless at todo management, but I decided ages ago that I had no trouble remembering what I needed to do, it’s actually getting of my backside and doing it that’s the issue.

    I have the laundry schedule in there, the weekly online grocery shop, etc. As well as habits I wish to encourage, e.g. dealing with a item in my inbox, “focusing” for 30 mins, for every 5000 steps I walk.

  • Daily plans, every morning I try to write out a no-obligation schedule for the day (in conjunction with the tasks I have from Habitica). I find this helps me visualise the ebb and flow of a day, and has helped stop days being too full or too empty.

  • Notebooks, I use org-mode in Emacs for persistent information, but a lot of the time I’ve found that writing plans and lists (with a nice pen) in a notebook (made with nice paper) really helps a lot. Even though I know I’ll never read it again.

  • Procrastinating, sometimes this is just your subconscious telling you that you’re not ready yet.

Good luck. Wanting to improve things is half the battle.


I got some great advice from a career coach I worked with for a while: prioritize the things that are important, ditch the rest. To do that I went through a mind mapping exercise where I made a small connected map of the things that I really care about or need in my life (this was tied to a larger activity of mapping out what my happy future self could look like/needs). Then I took a sheet of paper and divided it into sections for each of those things (six things in my case). Each day I put a couple items in some of those boxes, not all of them, and I try to do those things. At the end of the day I fill in the sheet with whatever I did that day for each category. Sometimes it’s really full, sometimes it’s empty. But this helps me get a sense of how much time, or not, I’m putting into the things that matter and gives me a tool to help adjust when I need to.

She, and many other people, have also told me over and over that not every hour should be productive. I’ve worked on getting better and just leaving space for boredom or thinking (or reading). Things that let my mind wander… this has made my “productive” time much much better in terms of focus and energy. It also opens me up to lots of new ideas that otherwise wouldn’t have had time or space to develop.

For the technique I mentioned above I just use paper and pen. I do keep some rough todo lists and notes both on paper and in my favourite writing app, Ulysses. No system though, I just write down lots of thoughts and lists so that I don’t forget stuff and always have a place to reference when I need a reminder.

I’ve never liked any of these productivity systems, and I’m learning that maybe it’s because they fetishize productivity as the goal?

Oh, I also use Google Calendar to keep track of meetings, appointments, and blocks of time for things. I block off time for my own projects or just to keep some empty space where I need it… to make sure it doesn’t all get filled up with too much stuff. I try to keep my personal time for things (music, art, reading) protected as much as possible.

I also really liked this when I read it:

Yes! 100%.

I also do this and find it incredibly useful. Google Inbox has been really helpful for managing communication, but also for easily adding reminders for myself or keeping track of things I want to check out or do.

And I’ll echo some of the other comments about time spent on social media platforms, or generally on the internet looking at random stuff. It’s so easy to do that and realize that it’s been hours and that you haven’t done anything that contributes to any of your goals, including rest, down time, or aimless thinking. I don’t have any magic fix for this, other than to recognize when I’m slipping into that state and tell myself that’s what is happening so that I can stop it. Instead I will read, or play a game, or noodle on an instrument, or really anything else that could in some way actually help me feel like I’m making myself happy or fulfilled, which endlessly scrolling through Facebook doesn’t do.

I hope you find some things that work for you!


I long ago stopped feeling guilty about procrastination. It’s really just prioritization.

Very important for mental health.

Also: get plenty of sleep.