Noisy Deadlines

GTD

I'm enjoying some slower days at work. There has been only one big procurement project with tight deadlines to deliver a budget. All the other budgets I've been working on are for internal projects, buildings that are already under construction and the deadlines can be easily negotiated. I can allocate enough time to deliver all those budgets comfortably.

This is very unusual! And I'm loving this phase! 🌟

It feels like I'm back in the early 2000's when things overall ran at a slower pace. I remember my first job in a construction company: I didn't have a work mobile phone, the only way to directly contact me at work was via the land line at my desk or in person. I had a computer with internet access, but it was slow and mostly used for checking and sending a few emails. The volume of emails was very manageable, nothing compared to what we have today. I worked on one thing at a time.

Right now, I have plenty of time to plan my day, plan my week, plan my month without feeling I should be tackling my to-do list right away. It’s a refreshing and unique experience: I find my workload to be perfectly manageable.

I like it this way. This situation reminds me of the emerging trend in productivity: slowing down intentionally. I love the ideas described in “Slow Productivity” by Cal Newport and “Essentialism” by Greg McKeown, but I recognize that not all work environments allow us to fully implement these ideas. These strategies require a good amount of agency and independence over our workloads.

Despite the obvious challenges of my fast-paced work environment, I'm still convinced I can introduce minor adjustments to my schedule to make it more manageable.

As I said, it's been easy-going these past few weeks, but I know that when things get crazy busy again, I have these tools at my disposal:

  • GTD: The GTD framework helps me a lot to make sense of all the “stuff” that comes my way. I use it all the time and when times get tough, it's even more valuable.
  • Time Blocking: Finding those small pockets of time for reflection and prioritization (Plan the Day in the morning and doing a Shutdown Routine at the end of the day)
  • Short breaks: Using brief moments to breathe, grab a snack or stretch and quick recharge my mental batteries.
  • Pomodoro Technique: For when I need deep focus. The ticking timer becomes my companion, urging me forward.
  • Remember to Write Down Things: Capture, Capture, Capture! Reduces mental clutter (see GTD above).
  • Weekly Review: Another GTD practice that helps turn chaos into order. It’s essential!

As much as I'm enjoying these calm waters at work, I know it won't last forever. The storm will return: the urgent emails, the deadlines, the unexpected crises. But I feel equipped to deal with whatever comes.

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By Noisy Deadlines Minimalist in progress, nerdy, introvert, skeptic. I don't leave without my e-reader.

This week I decided I had some time and headspace available to experiment with Todoist for my GTD (Getting Things Done) system. Why??

Back in 2019-2020, I had used Todoist and enjoyed it. But then there was a big update that altered some features and screwed up my existing setup. As a result, I explored other tools, eventually discovering NirvanaHQ (which is my current tool of choice).

I’ve tried Todoist before throughout the years, and I could never get it quite right. I know Todoist development is continually active, and I thought I could give it a go again because… well, maybe this time they’ve changed things that could work for me now? 🤷‍♀️ Also because I felt I could spend some time tinkering with the tool, which I usually enjoy.

So, I tried setting it up again. I took a look at the GTD Official Guide, sat down with my pen and paper and started to think:

  • Do I want to link projects to next actions? => Yes!
  • Ok, so I will use projects as projects and labels as contexts.
  • I want to have projects separated between Work and Personal. Ok.
  • I will have Someday-Maybe folders separate for Work and Personal. Ok.
  • I will use labels as contexts to organize my next actions. Ok.
  • I want to make sure that I don’t see actions that are in Someday-Maybe showing up in my next action lists. Ok, so I will use filters to be able to exclude items that are inactive in Someday-Maybe.
  • This is something crucial to me, because sometimes I have a project started, with labeled next actions, which then is postponed or put on hold. I want to be able to move the project to Someday-Maybe so that all of it is removed from next actions. I know I could un-label the actions, but I don’t like doing that (then when it’s active again I would have to re-label everything... not my jam).
  • I will have a “Routines” project for all recurring actions (daily. monthly checklists and reviews). Ok.

So, I set up the basic folders. I added initial labels (the typical @computer, @home, @errands, @agendas, @calls). Now it was time to set up the filters. That's when I got frustrated. I know I could set it up the way I wanted it, but the process was not as fun as I've initially imagined 😐.

I had to tweak the filters to exclude incompletable tasks and exclude subtasks from showing by themselves without their parent task (because subtasks can have their own labels in Todoist), to separate work and personal, and on and on.

I had initially thought I would incorporate the priority flags with the context’s filters (something like, P1 is priority, P2 is next, P3 is later, etc...) but THAT was me overcomplicating things! I scratched that idea.

And then I thought about a moment in the future when I wanted to add a new context, and create a filter for it, and all the hassle to have it done. Too complicated! I imagined future me wondering why the hell did I complicate things this much?

Long story short…

…the energy and disposition I thought I had to set up Todoist wasn't there anymore. I'd rather spend that time reading a book.

And when I went back to my normal day, using Nirvana as usual, I just felt this peace and calm, seeing everything organized in its place. I recognized I already have a system that JUST WORKS as it is. Is it perfect? Hell, no! But it works for me! 😊

I was also altering a previous Todoist setup I had in my account, so maybe that was the wrong approach. I should have deleted everything and started 100% from scratch. But now I don’t really want to try Todoist anymore. I am happy with what I currently have.

So that's the story of my failed experiment. I could have pushed through and had all the context filter issues sorted out? Yes, I'm sure I could have. It's not Todoist's fault. It's a great app. But just not for me at this moment in my life.

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By Noisy Deadlines Minimalist in progress, nerdy, introvert, skeptic. I don't leave without my e-reader.

I have a system I've been using since 2019 for taking notes at work.

I use an Arc notebook that I got from Staples that has refillable pages. It's a customizable system, so I can remove pages and insert them elsewhere in the book by simply pulling out the sheet. It’s really nice! I’ve had the same notebook for 5 years now.

I mainly use my notebook for meeting notes, notes from calls and notes about projects I'm working on. I also like to use a Pentel Energel 0.5mm in blue as my default pen.

Everyday I open up my 8-½” x 5-½” arc notebook and insert the day:

And then for every project or meeting that I'm currently working on I add a sequence number and a title/subject and start writing. If I change focus and start working on another subject/project/meeting, I will add a sequence number with the title and continue from there.

Some of those notes will generate new next actions, which I add an asterix or arrow so that I remember to capture those into my Nirvana inbox during my shutdown routine at the end of the day.

The notebook will hold 50 pages at a time, and when they are all filled up, I pull them out, and refill the notebook with new pages that I get from Staples.

I then scan all the written pages into a PDF and save the file. At the end of the year I will have around 350-400 pages scanned. Then I recycle the paper copies.

These are all the notes from 2023:

Thinking about Reusable Notebooks

After 5+ years of doing this, I can see the amount of paper I generate! I feel bad about using that much paper, honestly. That’s not even considering the paper I use for time blocking every day, and personal notes.

I'm curious to try out a reusable notebook, so I ordered a Rocketbook!  I will try the 6” x 8.8” Fusion (Executive size, like my current notebook) because I'm super curious to see how it works! And to know if I will enjoy writing on it.

It should be delivered later today, so I will write a post about my first impressions once I’ve used it for a while.

P.S.: Wow! This is the 100th post since I started the #100DaysToOffload challenge!! 🥳

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By Noisy Deadlines Minimalist in progress, nerdy, introvert, skeptic. I don't leave without my e-reader.

So, when I started Rethinking My To Do list this week, I was feeling disconnected. I was craving for something different. I’m not sure why, but I was bored. And I didn’t want to look at my to-do list. So, avoiding it only intensified my disconnection. I thought I needed a new to-do list.

I wanted to get a better app and test other things. And I did test a few! Only to realize that the tool itself wasn’t the problem. I was just feeding the distraction dragon, searching for novelty.

But I wanted to see it for myself, stubborn that I am.

So, I looked at TickTick. It is an amazing to-do list! It has lots of features, calendar, pomodoro timer, timeline views, routine tracker, cross-platform, etc. It’s highly customizable: I saw I could set it up however I wanted to fit my needs. And then came the realization that I would have to spend several hours tweaking it. Creating lists, and folders and custom filters. And moving everything I have in Nirvana to TickTick. Moreover, I was not able to install the desktop app on my work computer, so that was a clear hint that my employer doesn’t approve of this software. Another detail I didn’t like: I couldn’t find a way to set up a shortcut key to add tasks to the Inbox. The “add task” shortcut will add the task to whatever folder/list is open in the app.

Then I looked back at Todoist. I’ve used it for a couple of years. Very flexible, cross-platform, super easy and fast at collecting and organizing things. But the new interface now has “hashtags” symbols to represent folders/projects instead of the old circles, which I think makes it more visually polluted. And then I remembered the entire process of creating the folder’s structure and the custom filters to use it with GTD the way I like it. I didn’t want to go into that rabbit hole again.

Lastly, I revisited Microsoft To Do. It’s a cute app, fast and simple and integrates well with my work system. But… there is something that always gets me out of it: projects management. I like linking projects to next actions, and things get very messy in MS To Do if I want to do that with hashtags, while using lists as my GTD contexts. I told myself I would use it for 90 days to see how it goes. But I changed my mind. Last time I used it for 60 days and abandoned it to get back to Nirvana. I remembered things that I don’t like about it: the Inbox situation (which is a list called “Tasks”), there is no direct “email to inbox” feature (I must send an email to Outlook, and then flag it: too many steps for capturing), I prefer Nirvana’s way of dealing with recurring tasks and organizing projects.

So basically, everything I wrote in January when I was Testing Microsoft To Do and saying goodbye still holds true. I will let it go this time. For real, let it go!

In the end the effectiveness of my GTD system depends on my commitment to maintaining and working my lists in an app that I’m familiar with. I still can use Nirvana at work (I can even install the desktop app on my work laptop) It synchronises on all my devices, it’s fast and reliable.

The issue wasn’t the tool itself but rather my quest for novelty. I can see clearly now.

I’ve decided to stick with Nirvana, which strikes the right balance between meeting my needs and minimizing frustrations.

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By Noisy Deadlines Minimalist in progress, nerdy, introvert, skeptic. I don't leave without my e-reader.

There’s something going on with how I’m engaging with my To Do list (currently using Nirvana). I’ve been craving for something more interesting. I’ve had this feeling before, and when that happened, I tried out Microsoft To Do but it never stuck with me.

I’ve decided to do some exploration. I don’t want to be in a place where I’m compulsively looking out for new apps, but I want to use my curiosity to experiment with some options.

I will take a look at TickTick. I’ve never really used it and I’m curious to know how it works. I will also go back to good old Todoist, which has been my to do app for a couple of years and I remember I liked it because of all the colors, reminders, and super quick capturing and processing features.

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By Noisy Deadlines Minimalist in progress, nerdy, introvert, skeptic. I don't leave without my e-reader.

This one example of the little things that make me enjoy Nirvana as my projects/task manager.

I have a project deadline today and when I created the project, I added a due date to it. This is a hard deadline, the day I must submit a budget to the Client. So today the project became red on the projects list! Which helped me prioritize my daily tasks while I was doing my daily time blocking.

I’m not sure if this is a new thing, but I don’t remember having noticed it before. Or I wasn’t adding deadlines to projects before. Something to remember for next projects.

Anyway, it’s a nice touch 🤩.

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By Noisy Deadlines Minimalist in progress, nerdy, introvert, skeptic. I don't leave without my e-reader.

Ok, so my experiment yesterday went pretty well. It was great not to have the email window open at all times and I did 1-hour sessions of deep work to focus on a specific project I have to get done by the end of the week.

I noticed I would catch myself pausing during the 1-hour session and having this twitch to peek at my email, but I every time I avoided opening it, because I knew I had planned a specific block to deal with emails.

Today I did the same thing, I have the reminders on my digital Calendar and my actual executing plan in my Time Block Planner (which I will tweak as I go):

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By Noisy Deadlines Minimalist in progress, nerdy, introvert, skeptic. I don't leave without my e-reader.

The past 2 days at work I felt I was in total reactive mode answering emails and worrying about them 😐.

Monday was as terrible as Monday can be, and I regretted my decision to book an 8am dentist appointment to start the week. Note to self: don’t book appointments at 8am on Mondays. I was a complete mess, I couldn’t plan my week or my day, I had 3 meetings back-to-back, so it wasn’t going to be a very productive day anyway (again, Mondays are the worst).

Yesterday I was still feeling out of my game, I was tired, I had a headache and some low back pain. There was a lot of communication activities with my coworkers, answering questions, answering emails and phone calls. After I did my shutdown routine in the afternoon, I felt 10% better and I left work 15 minutes early. I went to the gym afterwards and my low back pain and headache disappeared, and I felt much better.

🎯 So today I decided to test out a fixed schedule to check emails, instead of having my emails tab always open.

My plan is to have half an hour blocks where I will open my email and process the inbox. After time is up I will close it and continue working on my tasks for the day. This is the gameplan:

✉ Check emails 4 times:

  • 8:30am => A block right after I do my morning Daily Review slot
  • 10:30am => Mid-morning check
  • 1:00pm => Post lunch check
  • 3:00pm => Mid-afternoon check

In my Shutdown Routine block at 4:30pm I will check it again to process any outstanding tasks I need to capture for the next day.

I set the emails blocks in my digital calendar so that I get a notification when they start:

I’ll see how that goes today!

Later!

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By Noisy Deadlines Minimalist in progress, nerdy, introvert, skeptic. I don't leave without my e-reader.

Every year I review my digital tools to see if there is anything I want to change. One thing that often catches my attention is my tasks tool. So I did a little experiment the past few weeks and tried out Microsoft To Do. I basically set it up and ran it parallel with my current app (Nirvana) for a couple of days.

The verdict is that I still like Nirvana, but I wanted to register this experiment and how was the setup for future reference. I will completely delete the setup after writing this.

The thing about my MS To Do setup is that I had to work with 2 accounts: work and personal. My work environment is all around Microsoft, so technically I could use my work account for all my areas of my life. BUT, I'm not comfortable leaving personal information on my company's servers, since they manage and have control of that work account.

The other possibility would be to have everything in my personal account, but then I would loose all the integrations between Outlook and MS To Do from my work account. Also, I would need to have my personal Microsoft login in my work phone to make it work (not a fan!). Ultimately, I like to have these two areas separate anyway, so the 2 accounts setup made more sense to me.

Just for the record, this was my personal account setup:

  • Overview, Next Actions Contexts and Projects List:

  • Someday/Maybe and References/Recurring/Lists

My Work account had a similar setup, but with less items on Someday/Maybe and also less contexts, since it was all work related.

Why it didn't stick with me?

  • I still don't like that I have to use a bucket called “Tasks” as my Inbox. It creates a small cognitive dissonance in my brain. It's not a big deal, but sometimes it bothers me.
  • I don't like having 2 separate “Inboxes”. If I'm at work and want to add something to my personal inbox, I'd have to send myself an email to my personal account, or switch accounts on desktop app or log in to my personal account. On the mobile, I could use Braintoss to capture items in either of my accounts by email. And then the captured item would land on the email inbox where I could “flag” it to be turned into a task. These are all valid options, but it created a lot of friction for me to capture anything, so it was not ideal.
  • I not a fan of how MS To Do deals with recurring tasks. I notice there are less options to set up a recurrence period. I prefer Nirvana for that.
  • Managing projects and next actions with tags: so I used tags to create a link between projects and next actions and it always get messy after some time. I constantly create variations of the tag, and I end up having more than one tag for the same project. Very confusing! It required me to pay extra attention when tagging: not ideal!

🏠 So, in the end, Nirvana's still my go-to. It clicks with my brain better, offers more options that I enjoy: project linking to next actions, recurring tasks flexibility and start dates, and it just feels like home🏠.

Previous Setups:

GTD Journey: Back to Microsoft To Do with 2 accounts — June 2023

GTD Journey: Moving from Nirvana to Microsoft To Do — June 2022

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By Noisy Deadlines Minimalist in progress, nerdy, introvert, skeptic. I don't leave without my e-reader.

I came up with some questions yesterday about my GTD system when I was bored. I will jot down some notes about the first one:

What do I wish my system to do to support me?

That's a good question because a productivity system should be there to support me. It's how I got into GTD in the first place: I was searching for a way to be more organized and less stressed. I needed a framework on how to deal with all my life inputs and dreams.

So, how exactly can it help me?

Here are some of the elements that I wish my system should do to support me:

  1. Ease of use: I want it to be simple to use. I don't want to spend too much time or energy on managing my system, but rather on doing the things that matter. A good thought experiment is imagining a day when I'm sick: will I be able to use my system then? Will it be easy enough to use it when I'm not feeling 100%? A simple system is more resilient and adaptable to different situations and moods.

  2. Digital and multi-platform: It should be digital, multi platform and sync between my devices (mainly laptop and mobile). I want to be able to access my system from anywhere and anytime, without worrying about losing or forgetting anything.

  3. Reminder system: It should be able to remind me of things. On days when I'm most distracted having a reminder pop-up on my devices really help me not forget important things. Sometimes I need a gentle nudge to get started on a task or to follow up on something. Reminders also help me keep track of deadlines, appointments, events, etc. that I don't want to miss.

  4. Punch list: It should be easy to narrow down next actions into a “punch list” so that I can plan which tasks I will work on each day. One of the key concepts of GTD is breaking down projects into actionable steps that can be done in one sitting. This helps me avoid procrastination and overwhelm by focusing on the next thing I can do. Having a punch list of these next actions also helps me prioritize and schedule my day according to my energy, context and goals

  5. Aesthetically pleasing: It should be fun to use and visually appealing. I think having a system that I enjoy using makes a big difference in my motivation and mood. I like to customize my system with colors and emojis and also it is rewarding to hear a sound when an action is completed. These little things make me happy and keep me engaged with my system.

Of course, there is no one-size-fits-all solution, but after reflecting on this question, I'm rethinking some of the tools I use. I knew that the visual appeal was important to me, and I feel that lately it has become even more important.

Here is a quick diagnostic of the tools I currently use:

  • Calendar/Email => Outlook: I see no issues here. It's easy to use. I use the web version of Outlook in both my work and personal accounts. I like how it looks, it sends me reminders, it's available on all my devices. I can sync my personal and work calendars to see whole picture.
  • Task Manager => NirvanaHQ: It's relatively easy to add things to the Inbox. If compared to other tools, processing stuff is not that easy because there are drop downs menus and selections to go through each time. Aesthetically speaking it is not my favorite. Adding emojis to it make it less boring. I like it for its neat organizational buckets and multi platform sync. I can make a punch list using the Star feature.
  • Reference system => OneDrive/Standard Notes/One Note: I enjoy using all these tools. They are multiplatform and accessible in all my devices. I enjoy their user interface; I see no issues. I don't need reminders in these tools.

🧐 So, I am looking at you, NirvanaHQ! I will give it some thought. More later.

—-

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By Noisy Deadlines Minimalist in progress, nerdy, introvert, skeptic. I don't leave without my e-reader.