My Fight Against "Overdoing Productivity"

I’ve been wrestling with Productivity for years. New apps, new methods to track tasks, new email programs, note taking apps, timers, focus modes etc.

At the end of the day though, it comes down to:
a) actually referring to, reviewing what needs to be done
b) DOING what needs to be done.

Has A or B above improved over my years of ingesting productivity tips? Maybe, but there is a HUGE discrepancy between what I’ve put in and what I’ve got back.

I’m having a mid-life tech crisis I think, in that the shiny new tools are holding less and less appeal to me. In the past several weeks I’ve gone from using Spark and fighting excess spam in Gmail to Fastmail and the stock mail app. I stopped paying for Obsidian sync to be on all my devices, opting to use iCloud on my computer and iPad only – my phone doesn’t have it installed anymore. I’ve reverted from Evernote to Apple Notes and saving things like receipts as files in iCloud. I’ve stopped clipping pages and screens “just in case”, and I’m moving on to my task manager situation next, looking to simplify that.

While I suppose the argument could still be made that things aren’t exactly simple, I’m not juggling 25 Obsidian plugins, clipping groups of web pages and sorting in Evernote, or checking my email more than a couple times a day.

In simplifying my systems and taking a step back from the “everything has to be power user status” point of view, I’ve reduced my stress levels.

I know someone will inevitably post on here saying simpler systems would stress them out, and they NEED to capture everything they do, watch, read, smell, see, and write in a complex Obsidian system. I’d argue that’s almost never the case.

Part of my inspiration for all this comes from fellow MPU users who are trimming subscriptions and focusing more on what works for them as opposed to what all the salesmen are peddling on YouTube and via podcasts.

I’m happy for the people who have complex systems in Obsidian and have to track things to the nth degree. I used to be one. But it feels to good to drop some of those rocks from my back pack. If anything, for me, it has helped me gain some clarity and increased my productivity.

I’m not here to tell you what to do, but the next time you think “oh, I NEED this to survive”, take a step back. You may be needlessly overcomplicating things. I know I sure did and still do here and there. It’s always a work in progress but don’t be afraid to say “I don’t need this!”

My stress levels are down and my number of subscriptions are down. I’d consider that a win.

I’m reminded of a quote Gordie Johnson from Big Sugar (Canadian band) mentioned on his YouTube channel. He was noticing people covering their songs on YouTube had their guitars tuned to standard tuning while Gordie usually uses open tunings that make it easier to finger the chords in their songs. He said “BB King once told me…you can play that way, but this way is so much easier. Why you wanna work so hard?”.


Very well said! I’ve noticed that my stress and anxiety are greatly reduced since I moved to a much simpler system for organising my daily life (mostly just Calendar and Reminders) and rethought how I do various automation tasks.

Don’t get me wrong, utilities like Hazel, Typinator and Keyboard Maestro are still very much part of my setup, but I use each where they’re the best tool for the job and try not to overcomplicate things. Easier said than done, and I’ve gone back and stripped out a lot of steps from various past automations after seeing a better way to handle things.

Yes, there’s a cost issue too, I don’t begrudge paying developers for their work and resources but I’ve had to tighten my belt over the last few years, meaning I’m only paying for subscriptions where the cost is reasonable and the value is obvious.

A less obvious benefit of having fewer apps installed is that you’ve less updating to do, and less chance of problems arising from macOS upgrades or similar events. (I’m going to hold off moving to Ventura on my iMac until the folks at Rogue Amoeba have confirmed full compatibility for their various products — I rely on those for broadcasting and audio production work.)


Thanks for the posts @AppleGuy and @AlanRalph. Spend time doing is the most important piece. All I need for that is a Calendar (block scheduling), Reminders and a GTD-ish process.

PS: BB King is one of my favorites. I’ve seen him play on his birthday many times.


I like that BB King quote a lot. In any field, it’s satisfying to reach a level of expertise that lets you do more with a smaller, better set of tools.

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tl;dr - +1 and I totally agree with you.

You guys, this is great! Your a) and b) graph struck a chord with me. I was discovering a disconnect in my productivity system and went through an entire re-design and simplification the summer of 2021 to address this very issue. Though, I didn’t realize (until this post) that I was thinking of the problem in precisely this way.

I would add one element to your chart to complete the picture. The “Zeroeth” element is the capturing part to make sure you have everything you need to do in a place where you can find it. In my early days of productivity, my focus was on this zeroeth element. As a young kid in high school and later in college, I was struggling with managing my commitments and things were falling through the cracks. So, getting good at capturing was my high priority.

Fast forward 100 years later to last summer, and I realized that I was a master of capturing things: things didn’t slip through the cracks, but there were still tons of things that I captured that I wasn’t doing, or wasn’t doing “right away”–i.e., I was procrastinating. That got me to my vision quest regarding your a)/b) analysis. I put things in my system, but never wanted to look at them or do them. (I’m speaking more universally to make a point. I’m a responsible professional, husband, and parent, so I wasn’t shirking things off, but I was not “being productive” to the extent my system should have allowed it.)

I discovered that my issue was not in the capturing/managing aspect of my life, it was the actual “doing.” And what I realized was that my systems were so finely tuned to capturing/managing, that they somehow disincentivized the doing.

I spent all last summer redesigning my systems to simplify them to make the managing part less time consuming and less of a focus, and re-centered on “doing.” I pulled everything out of Omnifocus, put it all in Reminders, got the system working and then I went back to OmniFocus with a much cleaner and clearer approach to my personal productivity.

My process now is far less fiddly, far less time consuming, far less all-encompassing, and I use far fewer apps and services. I’m pleased to report–which is consistent with your experience–that I’m no less organized, I’m far more productive, and I feel freer.


You guys are beginning to sound like my minimalist approach—scary—I know! :joy:


Your posts heavily inspired this. I couldn’t remember your user name as I was writing this, but “wise man in his office icon” came to mind :rofl:


It’s funny how that can happen. “Delete” is a very important part of GTD (and other systems) but it’s often underprioritized in software. One of the best small changes I made in recent years was to assign an easy keyboard shortcut to Drop Task in OF.


When I was trying to do too much and had too many projects going on over the summer my own productivity system fell apart. Once I finished things up though and got back on a normal cadence, going back to OmniFocus and DEVONthink felt completely natural.

I tried going with just Reminders, and I tried pen and paper, but for me, the subset of capabilities that I actually use in OF and DT are irreplaceable. Without them, things get lost, and I have more stress that things I should be doing are not getting done.

If I had to I could use a different toolset, but I really hope I don’t have to.

That was nice to read, and brought a smile to my face. That said, you will want to give this a little time to see if in fact, this really works for you, otherwise, I may have done you a tremendous disservice. :blush:

This is very inspiring.

That said, I do wonder how many people think their workflows are complex. I keep finding ways to simplify my own, but each seems like a sudden revelation – things didn’t seem so complicated before…


I know that there are people who enjoy tinkering with their set ups. I don’t. I think more power to them if they do, and lang may they thrive, but I’m here for the wordage. If a workflow or app results in more wordage, and less labor, I’m all for it.

Bottom line: Do what works for you.


That’ll be when you start convincing people to hire executive assistants even though their employer doesn’t provide one. :stuck_out_tongue:

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A few weeks ago, I moved from a task manager to a long, long list in Drafts, formatted with Taskpaper, also out of an urge to simplify my systems. Been working great so far and I’ve never been happier.

Occasionally radically simplifying our workflows can be helpful - either showing us that we don’t need the complexity at all, or showing us how we can set things up to flow more smoothly. I still use, for example, Obsidian, but it’s so fluidly integrated into my workflow at this point that I don’t really need to think about it. I’ve also set things up so that I don’t need to maintain any configuration and I only use a few small plugins that I could go without if necessary.

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Interesting - how do you move text from Taskpaper to Drafts or vice versa?

Welcome to the other side. :wink:

The key thing about software like Hazel is that you spend some time (fun time, I say) working out something useful and then you forget it’s even there as you let it make your day easier. Apps like Obsidian are the opposite in that you’re constantly in there interacting with it.

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I feel your pain! I have also simplified my workflow. Brought on by starting an MA and having much less disposable time. All my projects and tasks now live on 3x5 cards in a box in a tickler file. My project/task review that used to take me 30 min now takes 10. I don’t need to worry about cards in the tickler system as they are already scheduled, and my active card pile is very easy to go through. I can add notes with my my pen. Every day I go to the tickler pile and pull out what’s there I then shuffle the cards into the order I want and off I go. I’m picking up my iphone about 50% less and getting distracted about 40% less.


Clarification: I use the Taskpaper notation, not the Taskpaper app. That is, the list is formatted according to Taskpaper syntax, but it permanently lives in Drafts. Drafts has built-in support for Taskpaper notation - you just have to change the type of your note from “Markdown” to “TaskPaper”.

The main advantage of this approach is that it allows me to view & edit the list across my iPhone, iPad, and Mac and have everything sync back up nicely - hard to do sometimes with plaintext-based systems. I also don’t actually own the Taskpaper app on macOS, so there’s that too.

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This is very powerful and timely refresher for me. Thank you @AppleGuy

The last four weeks, I have cut down heavily on tech podcasts (including MPU) because they introduce new apps/workflows that I spend time exploring. I know what my workflow is and I don’t need any new temptations …

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I really liked the TaskPaper app, its syntax, and support for that syntax in other places! I used it for a couple of months to create my Daily Notes. And then this forum introduced me to NotePlan :slightly_smiling_face: and TaskPaper was lost to me. :upside_down_face:

I still hope that someday I once again will find a place in my workflow for TaskPaper (wistful face).