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Productivity Apps Overview
A look at my personal journey and setup.
I hope your new year has been treating you all well! I’m writing from Washington, DC, where I’m crossing my fingers this week that the city’s COVID-19 new cases are plateauing — and to a much lesser extent than the weather will stabilize a little too.
This past week, I started a new job as the technology director at CARE. It’s an incredible opportunity and a fantastic global team working on some of the most pressing humanitarian and development challenges around the world.
Don’t worry, I’m continuing this newsletter, though I might push it to every 2-weeks. Stay tuned!
So let’s get to it —
New Year, New Productivity Approach
I was fortunate in having a little downtime to review and reflect on my own goals, systems, and personal growth.
Having solved it all, I now have an air-tight, fully enlightened, and 100% efficient approach to productivity tools, and I’d like to share them with you. 🙃
But over the years, I have tried so many different approaches, software tools, systems, etc. Some of these have worked well and continue to be in my toolbox, others failed miserably and have been abandoned, and many others have been somewhere between valuable and insufficient. But even the ones that fail help lead me closer to a better understanding of what works for me.
That said, it has been helpful to review my systems and share them with you all in case they’re helpful and enlist your insights and feedback on what you’ve found has worked for you.
I should also note that these are primarily for my own systems — not necessarily those I use for interacting with teams and clients — which would be another post altogether! 😊
Now, on to my current setup...
Project Management / Notes / Knowledge Base
I’ve been a Notion evangelist for a couple of years now. It’s hard to describe the platform simply because it does so much, but essentially it provides note-taking, project management, and knowledge management functionality. Notion has a nice intro to their platform, and this one from a power user is an excellent intro.
I use Notion to track my consulting work, writing projects, goal planning, and 100 other things. For anything that used to be a quick note or one-off spreadsheet, I now use a Notion page or table (database.) So everything from checklists for travel to books I want to read to my own journaling practice. I use both the desktop and iOS apps (and you can do this entirely from the browser).
If you’re new to personal information management, this might be overwhelming. I get it. I went through a long journey that started with text files, to Notational Velocity, to Evernote, to Microsoft OneNote (which I still use for professional work).
I’m considering doing a deeper dive on this, as I’m seeing the popularity of folks like Thomas Frank and Marie Poulin — so let me know if you’d like to see a deeper dive and glance at my own templates.
Oh — and I’ll put a plugin for watching platforms like Roam and Obsidian. Interesting, but they don’t fit with my mental model (folks cite the value of Roam as not needing a mental model, and you can start writing, but the value of these platforms for me is that they do have friction that forces me to organize my thoughts).
I use Todoist to track tasks — and I am quite happy with it. I actually did try to do my tasks and todos in Notion as well — in all sorts of configurations, but at the end of the day, it just lacked a few key features (recurring tasks, smart dates).
Todoist helps me track daily and weekly tasks, priorities, groceries, things I’m waiting on from others, etc. There’s a little bit of overlap with what I’m doing in Notion when it comes to specific projects, but I try to split it logically — Notion manages my projects, whereas Todoist reminds me of project todos.
The other nice thing about having a dedicated task application is that it has mature integrations with related tools like Gmail, Alexa, Siri, etc.
Email. I don’t have a ton of super unique insights in these areas. I’m pretty boring, and I use Gmail primarily for email. I have been a big proponent of Inbox Zero for probably around 20 years (!) for myself in both personal and work. I recognize this isn’t for everyone and depends a lot on things outside one’s control — so I’m not a zealot on it, but I do think it solves a ton of downstream challenges for folks.
RSS Feeds. I’m a massive proponent of RSS feed readers — I track over 200 feeds with Feedly, and it is my secret weapon in consuming information quickly and reducing overall screentime.
Reading. I use Instapaper to bookmark things I’d like to read later (and also remove ads and site-specific formatting). It’s great.
Mind Maps and Flowcharts. Oh! I almost forgot, I use Whimsical for a lot of mind-mapping-type activities, ideas, and workshops — particularly in the context of digital meetings. It’s a lot more user-friendly than Mural.co or Miro.
A Note on the Productivity Rat Race
It’s important to recognize when you’re one of those folks that will always be optimistic about the next system that will revolutionize your system, solve your problems, and bring prosperous harmony to your life. These folks are content to spend 12 hours integrating a new method for something that would otherwise take 1 hour.
Hi, I am one of those folks.
The bad news: there is no such platform on the horizon that will act like the one-ring to rule them all.
The good news: you shouldn’t discard your interest in new systems as frivolous procrastination, either. The best approach is to thread the needle between the extremes of only continually adopting new systems and never adopting new systems. At the same time, it can be constructive to force yourself to move to new platforms. It provides an opportunity to review, critique, evolve, and better understand your processes and priorities.
In other words, don’t beat yourself up.
Abraham Lincoln said, ****“If I only had an hour to chop down a tree, I would spend the first 45 minutes sharpening my ax.” (he probably didn’t say this)
Just remember that at the end of the day, you still need to cut down the tree.
What Else I’m Reading
Drone carrying a defibrillator saves its first heart attack patient in Sweden - The Verge — This is really cool. In this example (Sweden), they were able to deliver the defribillator in three minutes.
Bugs are evolving to eat plastic | Canada's National Observer: News & Analysis — This is simultaneously tragic and optimistic.
These Lemurs Have Got Rhythm. Scientists Have Got Questions | WIRED — Indris are quite a special type of lemur, and their songs can be pretty incredible.
Thanks for reading, Gabriel
GoodTinker is a weekly email from Gabriel Krieshok about technology, design, and social impact. If you’ve enjoyed this edition, please consider forwarding it to a friend. If you’re reading it for the first time, consider subscribing (it’s free!).