My Fight Against "Overdoing Productivity"

One other thought occurred to me, and that is this: de-coupling project management from task management was one of the largest contributors to reducing the complexity of my system. Doing so, was also one of the largest contributors to the improvement in productivity I have enjoyed. Curious if anyone else had similar experience.


I agree. At work, I have to use Windows and only company-approved software. I tried my best to use a single tool and cycled through Outlook tasks, OneNote, To Do, and Planner. For me, trying to use a single application for both project and task management was an exercise in futility; I found myself having to create complicated processes because some tools good for project management weren’t good for tasks, and vice-versa.

Eventually, I decided to use one application (Planner) for project management and one application (To Do) for tasks. Using multiple applications removed the overhead I experienced when trying to shoehorn all my project- and task-based work into a single tool and has definitely increased my productivity. And thanks to integration between Microsoft products, all my tasks in Planner also show up in To Do, so I get the benefit of having a single view of all pending granular work, whether it’s related to projects or not.


I’d like to know more about how you are distinguishing between project management and task management.

My intuition, when I first started reading this thread was that when I am in a groove in a project, I don’t really track tasks and, in fact, my task system usually falls by the wayside, as does any capture system. It’s when I am between projects or juggling multiple projects that I find myself trying to refine task/capture “systems.”

My system right now runs on Things — because deferring tasks is very straightforward and I can use it like Reminders (which I largely use for household chores) and Craft, which I use because its GUI is so damn good. I like Obsidian a lot, and I’d like to use it to capture things that go into a personal blog-like notes setup, but I’m afraid its fiddliness, at least in my hands, puts me off at this moment where I just want to get work done — I feel the same way about LaTeX by the way and recently switched to Google Docs for ease of use and collaboration (especially with non-tech-savvy people).

Good question. Coming from a GTD perspective, task management is dealing with my individual “next actions” across all my projects. Those are my tasks.

Project management, in my mind, consists of all the things that need to be done to complete the project. Many of those things might be dependent upon other things being done first.

Most tools, like OmniFocus, allow you to manage all the details of your tasks and projects by unifying them.

For me, I have found that putting all the subprojects, tasks, and sub tasks that I need to do to complete a major project makes the task management piece overly complex and cluttered. That does not mean that I don’t use “projects” in OmniFocus, but that I’m careful not to build them our with every task that could or should be done. That kind of planning may go in a note, project outline, project notes, or outline. I bring things into OmniFocus in discrete tasks or groups when they are ready.

It’s not a fine distinction, by any means. It’s just a technique that I’ve used that has helped decrease the amount of task management that I’ve had to do. Less gardening, for me, but more harvesting.


This. So much this.

This is what I was trying to describe, but you have said it better. When I am in a groove, I don’t really need task management because the work itself makes clear the tasks — I’ve actually written about this in terms of repair shops but never thought about it in terms of my own work!

Put another way, it seems for me that a task manager is for those things that are not self-evident or embedded in the work itself. When I have tried to put everything in, it not only gets burdensome to maintain but it feels redundant.

Maybe what I’ve come to realize is that, at least for me at this moment in time, capture systems, like GTD, are about capturing stuff I might lose.


I also find adding tasks for a project to my task manager helpful when I need to know/need to plan roughly how long it will take to complete each task - or for getting a sense of how much is left to finish.

Here’s what I decided to do years ago… I only use stock apps for productivity: Mail. Calendar. Reminders. Notes. Finder/Files. Preview (for PDFs). End of story. If the stock app can’t do x, then I don’t do x. I try to tie things together via shortcuts and scripts, but that’s more of a problem-solving hobby (which pays dividends in controlling my platform).


That’s great as long as not doing x is viable…


I think about this every time I set up a new machine. As I get older, sigh, I find that I really resist adding more than I need to, well, almost anything.


Cal Newport had a recent blog post that reminded me of this thread. The framework is a little too much of a reduction, but I think we have a number of members who want to be Grishams and perceive third party developers as tempting them towards Crichtonism.


This describes the issues I have within setting up a productivity system as well as how I feel about my career and work-life. I only arrived at this conclusion on my own a few months ago, and that conclusion is – to use the example in this article –

I want to be a Crichton. Listening to productivity podcasts and YouTube videos definitely pushes the Crichton.

But I am most definitely a Grisham. This has been the source of years of inner conflict.


This is the key point IMO. The tools need to support the actions.

I have typically done research, then settled on and then implemented my various systems after a period of months or years of tinkering. Once set up they tend not to change for decades. I am still in the process of reconfiguring my system which was in place for over 12 years but is no longer working for me. It’s a multi-year process to change as I am testing out, then rejecting or refining new processes and tools. For me I have jobs to do and I want my system to support the decisions I make about those tasks and seamlessly keep the documentation I require.

In my case some things are still the same. Email is POP and done on only one machine. Calendar is still Apple Calendar and on a single machine. What is changing is the task management, research and project support parts.

In some ways my system is becoming more complex right now but it’s also still in flux and I’ve learned that any time I make major changes I will have a fairly long period of time while I fine tune it.

My first big change was moving all the things I want to refer to: notes, facts and information I have to look up all the time, project planning and support materials into Obsidian. I had them scattered in DEVONThink, LibreOffice and Scrivener.

Next up was moving the scientific papers that I refer to often but that were scattered in various locations in folders by subject into Zotero and stored in a single location on my server. From there I move them for annotations onto my iPad. Now I’m working to adapt the Zotero annotation workflow and get those annotations into Obsidian in a more seamless fashion.

For books I didn’t have a system at all which meant that locating my annotations took a long time when I needed them. I finally have a better system for getting my annotations from books and articles into my Obsidian system. I’ve abandoned using the Kindle app to read e-books and now use the Readwise reader app specifically because I can get annotations in from any book in there not just books from Amazon. Reader also supports annotating web clippings which is a lot easier to use than my previous system of clipping reference articles into RFT files and then trying to create new notes with the annotations. This is now a more complex workflow. I have to download the .EPUB versions of books and import them into Readwise. I have had to concede my cloud adverse nature and use the cloud for that and I’ve added a Readwise subscription. However, the time savings and ability to use those annotations later make it worth the upfront effort and the angst of using a cloud system. At least once the annotations are down and into Obsidian I have them under my control.

Typically my AnimalTrakker and LambTracker development environments were used only by me. While I used Git and GitLab to do version control I never really implemented a proper Git workflow. Now that I have more collaborators working on the code I have had to add a much more robust system of feature and bug fix branches and pull requests. The ability to more easily share code with the other programmers makes the more complex Git workflow necessary.

I’ve had a well defined Omnifocus system for years but I’m finding that a lot of maintenance tasks are falling through the cracks. I do all of my project planning and much of the real work in Obsidian. I am not going to check Omnifocus for tasks as regularly and that’s caused me some problems. So I’m considering moving all my task management into Obsidian. What’s holding me back is that Obsidian can’t do the same sorts of task management as I can in Omnifocus but it’s better to have an imperfect system that I use vs a perfect one that isn’t being looked at regularly.

All of these changes are to help me get more done not fiddle with the system in the long run. Even though right now I’m fiddling a LOT with nearly every part of my system.

1 Like

I am contemplating this approach as well. Currently I use a combination of bookmarks, read-it-later, and Apple Notes but it’s starting to feel creaky.

1 Like

I strongly recommend it.

Some things seem trivial, but when I need the size of the furnace filter, or the battery that goes in some gadget, or the date I replaced the smoke-alarm batteries, or details from a doctor’s appointment, or the dimensions of some room or window… it’s invaluable

And that doesn’t even count the more complicated things


For me the big advantage is one place to look. I know that within another couple of months everything of that nature that was scattered about will be collected into one place. May still be a bit messy, not linked really well but gathered together at least.


One place to look. That is on my mind now as I wonder how to resolve the current division of my notes between EagleFiler and NotePlan? Do some notes reside forever in NP? Or should I move closed notes to EF? Is this the same division facing those who use DEVONthink for PDFs and Obsidian for notes?

1 Like

For me the division of where a thing will reside forever depends on the type not the state.

So scientific papers and journals live in Zotero. They are almost exclusively PDFs. Distinction is papers I may have to reference in a bibliography later.
Notes, project plans, journal entries, cool facts, checklists, someday/maybe lists, reference articles not in PDF format, illustrations, graphics and photos that are part of non-PDF reference articles, Farley file notes on people (living, historical and dead) all live in Obsidian Doesn’t matter if the project is closed the linking and data still stay in Obsidian.
Passwords and secure notes live in Strongbox


This term is new to me, but having Googled it that sounds exactly what I’m looking to do for my new role which involves lots of pastoral relationships with large numbers of people. Obsidian seems like the way to go, rather than a dedicated CRM as I can cross-link with meeting notes, reports, etc. which I often keep on a daily note.

1 Like

That’s why I’m moving my scatter farley File ntoes into Obsidian. They are the hardest to convert out though. I haven’t done many yet as I’m still developing my people template.

1 Like

Oooh, my eyes just popped when I read this!