A Refresh to My GTD System

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Back in January of 2016, I wrote about how I was applying Cal Newport's concepts from Deep Work to my own routine. I still think it's the single best book on the market related to productivity and meaningful work.

Since that original post, I've made some tweaks here and there to how I plan and set out my day. Over the past few months in particular, I've felt pretty on top of things. I'm able to get in some solid coding time every day. I don't feel behind on anything work-related. I'm still able to find some time to read every day.

I've shared this updated system with a few folks, and they've found it helpful so I thought I would share it here.

Planning Ahead With Simplenote

One of the core concepts in Deep Work is the benefit of planning ahead. Cal plans every minute of his day. I find that a bit too limiting, but I do spend time each week looking at the week ahead.

On Saturday (I work Tuesday through Saturday usually), I take 10-15 minutes at the end of my day recapping the current week and planning out next week. I do this all in Simplenote with a pinned note that always stays at the top of the stack. For example, I start here:

You'll notice that I breakdown my week into four different categories:

  • Code – mainly reserved for side projects I'm hacking on
  • Writing – this could include freelance projects or blog posts I want to write
  • Automattic – this is my core work at Automattic as a team lead/Happiness Engineer
  • Drink for Pink – we're still in the Drink for Pink season for another few weeks

From there, I have a good idea of what I want to accomplish. Now, I take a look at my calendar and start to survey each day. Which days are more available than others? Which days are going to be packed with meetings? With that in mind, I can then lay out my tasks per day like this:

Each day has a snippet of commentary and a list of items I want to get done for the day.

With this plan in place, I feel more prepared for the week ahead. I have an idea of what I want to get done, but more importantly, when I'm going to get it done.

Managing Daily Tasks With Todoist

I use Todoist to manage all of my weekly tasks for a few different reasons.

First, they have the basics down pat. The app works well across all of my devices and integrates with things like Zapier so I can build in special workflows if I want.

Second, they have some really awesome language processing that makes adding a new task insanely efficient. For example, if you wrote “Make a sandwich today at 12pm #personal” it would create a new task titled “Make a sandwich” and give it the due date/time as today at 12pm. Then, it would assign it to the “personal” project.

I keep projects for all of the same items I mentioned above (Code, Automattic, Writing, and Drink for Pink). I also have a Personal category that's a catchall for everything that doesn't fit in the others (get a haircut or mow the yard).

Within each top-level project, I create smaller sub-projects to manage big tasks that I'm working on so I can see everything broken out. Within each smaller sub-project, I have a list of next steps. This way, I constantly know what's next and/or major blockers for any given item I'm working on.

For example, here's how I have a sub-project setup for working on presales and precancellation chat in Calypso:

You'll notice that none of the items have due dates. That's because I'm waiting on one thing before I can map it all out.

Once I have the week set in Simplenote, I'll go through and update Todoist to reflect my plan for tackling everything. Each task gets a due date plus any notes/links I'll need to be tackle the task on the given day.

This process probably sounds a bit involved and time-consuming, but it's actually pretty quick. I can plan out an entire week in 10 minutes or less since I have a general idea of what I want to work on week to week.

So far, the combination of Todoist and Simplenote has proven to match exactly what I need. It's lightweight yet powerful enough to accomplish what I'm looking for.

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