Manual Productivity

New productivity app? I’ve tried it. Things, Twos, Tana, Bloks, Agenda, Routine, Mem, Amie, Evernote, Bear, Fabric, Lazy, Notion, Craft, Reflect, Superlist, Sunsama, Superhuman, Morgen, MayDay, bullet journals, tickle files…endless and exhausting.

GTD? Read it every year. I even interviewed David Allen years ago about how smartphones help/hinder productivity.

I’ve tried automating everything. Star an email in gmail? Send it to my task app. Read later in Slack? Send it to my task app. Tag, star, tag, star, send, send, send.

Has anything worked? Sure…now I have managed to make a list of 1000 things in my task app that I ignore.

For me, the realization was that I will never be the guy that wants my tasks decided for me and added to my calendar — via AI or something else. My calendar is my protected daily operating system — it is up to date at all times with the things I need to get done in the context that they need to get done. Automating this will never happen for me.

I’m a manual and deliberate person and something that lands on my calendar needs to be a manual and thoughtful process.

I’ve taken advice from Dan Martell and chunk my time (read his great book Buy Back Your Time if you are looking for a deliberate approach to running your day/week/month/year). But I do it manually.

My week could look like this:

Mondays: 1:1’s with my team
Tuesdays: Finances
Wednesdays: Product focus
Thursdays: Sales/Marketing focus
Fridays: Executive/working on the business
Sundays: Weekly prep

And I stick to it. Things fall apart when I try to bleed things into other days. My mindset is what dictates my productivity. For example, when I’m in finance mode, I’m in finance mode. Everything else is an alien language to me. Context-switching is a drain and usually doubles the time and effort it takes to complete anything.

My productivity stack is minimal these days:

Things for ToDos
SuperHuman for email
Reflect for notes (although I’m currently testing Lazy)
Notion Calendar (love the time blocking features it has for cross-calendar events)

That’s it. I capture tasks as they happen to me in Things (ctrl/space is a miracle). I guard my calendar against useless clutter. I keep church (events) and state (tasks) apart…they are two different things, two different mindsets.

Does this work? For me, right now it does. Keeping it simple is my aim. Productivity has to be done with intent and the only way I can control my time and be at my best is when I decide how to run my own days.