What is (and how did you come up with) your productivity system?

Over the course of the last few months, I’ve fallen off the tightrope and down the rabbit hole of the App Store. In the hope of improving my work flow, I’ve downloaded a number of new apps and have got all confused about which ones can help me and which ones I’m just playing with.

Rather than rather than making things more efficient, I’m now finding myself spending work time wondering: Is pushing everything into Readwise still a good idea? If so, where do I export stuff too - Roam or Notion? Drafts looks nice, but is it overkill? And a number of similar bits and pieces.

In short, I need to re-design my productivity system, and stop the beating that my credit car has been getting thorugh monthly subscriptions. I’m wondering how best to do it.

At the moment, I’m just mind mapping stuff, but I wanted to see how you guys came up with your systems. What worked for you? What sort of things did you consider and would you be able to share what you came up with?

Thanks a lot for your help in advance.

I wrote about my annual process and my new workflow for 2021 earlier this year. You may find this of some value. The only thing in my workflow that is still in a bit of flux is my email app. I’m still undecided about Mail vs Spark.

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I’ve implemented Getting Things Done like most of us, studied @kourosh ‘s Creating Flow with OmniFocus, applied @macsparky’s posts on hyper scheduling, taken the Linking Your Thinking workshop. These four components make 90% of my whole productivity system and I feel that I’m pretty well set for life now - all that remains is personal tweaking and adaptations as life evolves, but all the principles are there. :slightly_smiling_face:


I think as fun as it is to discover new apps and techniques for optimizing your time, you need to keep as simple as will work. If mind-mapping and transferring works and requires 2 apps great! But don’t try and shoe horn in processes and apps that work for other people’s workflows.

(I’m saying all this in the most hypocritical way possible :weary:. But we have to try! :fist:)


Sometimes I think when we find ourselves loaded down with software and chasing the latest trend down the million rabbit holes of so-called “productivity” advice: forums, books, podcasts, etc., that it’s best to stop. Shut down the computer. Quit reading advice. Assess your personal circumstances and what itches really need to be scratched.

I’d take out a sheet of paper and a pencil. Do a self assessment; in whatever way comes to mind. Maybe list the five top of mind answers to “why do I feel disorganized” – or lacking control, or feeling overwhelmed, or whatever story you tell yourself that drives you batty. And then “what would make me feel satisfied with my organization” – or control, etc.

Think about that for a while. Put away the sheet. Come back to it tomorrow, and the day after. Change the ranking on your top five list maybe, or restate the problem. Just refine the list for a few days without feeling compelled to do anything about it.

And then after a few days, when you really feel you know the problem, ask yourself: what should I do to improve item #1? And then only do that for a week. Or maybe a month. Until you begin to feel you’ve mastered that issue. Then move on to the next (if #2 is still the next issue by then).

The point is that self-reflection tempered by empowering yourself to act, and then the satisfaction from acting, is worth more than any software, or “workflow” or anything the culture is telling you you need to do.


@quorm well said and sound advice!

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I’ve been really trying to hammer this point home on my podcast lately.

It’s not about picking the right tools. It’s not about setting up effective systems. It’s about solving one small problem after the other until you’ve created something that works for you.

It’s good to have starting points (GTD, Linking Your Thinking, Hyperscheduling), but there is no one-size-fits-all solution. You’ll find advice that works and advice that doesn’t. The only way you know is to experiment with solutions, but that first starts by defining the problem at hand.


I have tended to become more simple over time. I have reverted to using the stock apps…and

I actually now only use Devonthink. I have an active database where I think about current projects etc. I spend an hour in the morning on my Mac.

Also I try to do three things every day, and plan them out at the beginning of the day.

It may be simple but I am actually much more productive than I used to be, when I was deep into all these productivity apps.


I’m curious as to whether or not you are able to use Apple Reminders as a replacement for third-party project apps. I’ve tried but Reminders is just too simple, at least I think so based on my needs. Are your projects pretty simple or complex?

I started with the Franklin Planner system then ultimately switched to GTD. Used paper planners, Palm Pilots, Blackberries and now iPhones. The bells and whistles of the tool can help motivate me to use it, but ultimately the process is the same.

Reminders works perfectly well, particularly since it was revised, but Things is easier to get data into so I use that.

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When this has happened to me, it’s been one sign that I am wanting to substantially change how I spend my time in one or more areas such as work, hobbies, social or family life. Figure that out and the right tools and writing to support will become apparent.


As others have implied, “app seeking”, to me, is a sign of a system that needs improvement. Your system, not the app’s system.

A friend mentioned the Ivy Lee Method, and I’ve partially adopted it. Well, mine is so basic, I’m not sure you can say I partially adopted it. I have three main things to work on, and I remind myself of them each day. I use Toggl to track my time so I don’t beat myself up about “not doing anything”, because I do. I just lose perspective.


I like this reply. It points back to the emphasis of the last two episodes: what are my roles in each area of life, and how am I doing in those specific areas.

Thanks for the reply @cornchip - I’m intrigued by this.

Are you able to expand on it at all? Why it generally points to an area of life that needs to be changed? And how you go about identifying issues?

Lowest friction is my motto.

I also decided that I work much faster with different tools for different contexts, e.g. personal todos go into Reminders, work todos into Omnifocus. Work notes in Devonthink, personal notes in Evernote, and then a lot of plaintext files.

Once in a while, every few years I reset back to stock app, or I try something new - most recently Emacs org-mode (which is fantastic but a time sink). But, I seem to go back to the old formula.

I have noticed that there have been very few game changer apps coming out in past years. So I can barely be bothered in trying them out. Drafts has been the last thing that rocked my boat, that alone says a lot.

Not sure this is of any use,

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I completely agree. And also consider that almost every new “technique” is just the same ideas with a new label.

Productivity does not start with an app. It helps. But a “productivity system” can also be a notebook.

What I found out:

  • identify “time thieves” and kill them.
  • apply the Pareto principle (trying to get stuff 100% perfect is the biggest waste of time)
  • stick to your system!

I have a mix of “systems” because the “one bucket” concept does not work for me.

  • big projects go into MS Project - trying to get that stuff into OmniFocus is a waste of time and less eficcient
  • OmniFocus for the middle ground
  • I have a pretty empty inboy, so it’s Ok for me to have some items lingering there.

Is anyone using OmniPlan?

It’s generally because we arrange and use these tools to assist us in doing what we want to do, hopefully, rather than to execute a system for its own sake (because of its reputation, etc.) We can usually make gradual improvements to a successful approach to life and keep the same setup. When we start digging more deeply, it’s because we want to make bigger changes.

Sometimes our current situation is working well and we want to improve. That’s probably easier because we are going to go from success to success in that case. We can just sit down, lay out new goals and apportionment of our time, and then design tools and workflows using whatever method led to our previous successful setup.

Sometimes our current situation is not working as well as we’d like and we want to figure out how to meet the goals we had set for ourselves. This is harder because we won’t be going from success to success. Our last attempt to set direction wasn’t clear and galvanizing enough to design the right system to support it.

Also, we may not have completely thought through the jobs that each piece or tool in our systems were doing, or thought through what a tool archetype should be doing but are finding the tool is not living up to how we categorized it and planned to use it. (These issues has certainly sent me digging in the past.)

Practical steps to fix this are hard to prescribe, because our lives are all so different, but I’ve found some success with these:

  • For each tool, write why I’m trying to replace it (and ask successive whys to reach better answers.)
  • Write what each area needs. Then write a new list of areas and what they would need.
  • If using a popular system, rank the elements from most to least effective to get some ideas of what to tweak.
  • Do some conventional self-reflection on each area of life. Or go have some hard conversations with someone about an area that affects them to see what you are trying to do yourself and shouldn’t, or what you are relying on others for that you should take on yourself or together with someone.
  • Repeat the above multiple times, if you’re like me.

Hopefully that helps. I’m not great at elaborating. :slight_smile:


Au contraire - this is good information!

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I use Tiago Forte’s PARA in all file systems, which has proved helpful. This year I’ve returned to DEVONthink Pro as my main hub. I cannot emphasis how helpful DEVONthink is. Especially with a scanner.

All my projects are in DEVONthink and all data is located in a folder with the project name. I drag everything into the project folder from emails to attachments and make interlinked notes in DEVONthink using the wiki function.

Mail is handled by the veritable mailmate, which has not faltered once in years and has more funtionality than any mail app I’ve tried.

Tasks are handled by GoodTask which intergrates well with reminders and apple’s calendar. I use the stock calendar for calendering events.

On iOS everything starts in Drafts and I have some great actions set up to do anything from create meeting minutes to emailing a mailing list as well as log anything I need to.

The jury’s still out on a suitable notes app for long term zettelkasten storage, but I’m leaning towards Bear.

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