My Personal Productivity System – Getting Sh*t Done in 2021

I was stuck inside for a rainy Memorial Day Weekend in NJ, thinking a lot about how I could make the most of my time. This inevitably comes down to the tools and systems I use to prioritize my work and get shit done. I wanted to document how I’m working right now, as it is always a work in progress. The best productivity system is simply what works for you – none of this should be proscriptive, but this is what works for me right now.

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how to manage myself and my work, since reading Merlin Mann’s 43 Folders and thinking too much about GTD in undergrad. I’ve used everything from a Hipster PDA to Omnifocus to text files. Still, updating my tools and systems is typically on my “not a priority” list these days. Despite the popularity of thoughtbois, working on your personal productivity system has extreme diminishing returns.

I spend more time focusing on my personal learning system – how I read and take notes, my zettelkasten, etc. That’s another post though. For my productivity system, we’ll focus on:

  • Inbox Zero
  • GTD & OKRs
  • Automations

Inbox Zero

Personal email, work email, Slack messages – whatever it is, I practice Inbox Zero. If I’m reading a message I can action and close out in under 5 minutes, I do it. This includes making quick decisions on if a message actually requires action (hint: less inbound messages require an action than you think).

Anything that requires thought or will take more than a few minutes to resolve, gets put on a to do list. I’m not strict about managing this list, but most off them go into…

GTD & OKRs

For Getting Things Done and managing projects, I use Things. I have Things divided into three Areas: Life, Growth, Work. Most smaller projects get a few to-dos. This blog post, for example, was 3 items – Outline, Draft, and then Publish. Larger projects will get their own Project in things. I stay flexible with due dates, typically scheduling each item to a day within the next week, or leaving it unscheduled. Unscheduled items are reviewed at the beginning of the week, as I finalize my calendar.

I use the same system for personal OKRs. I’ve experimented with more structure and using more full-featured products like Notion, but for managing my own OKRs keeping it simple has been what’s worked best. About once per quarter I will update a page in Notion for my OKRs and goals. I keep a running list of items that I acknowledge are low priority here as well. This quarterly update is then put into Things for any action items.

Automations

Besides practicing Inbox Zero and using Things for most of my productivity system, there are a few tools I use that significantly impact my day to day productivity. I have not gotten deep into automations, as the nature of Product work I don’t find myself often doing repeatable tasks.

Still, a very important tool for my system is Alfred. I have the Alfred Powerpack on my personal and work computers. I use it every day – definitely not to its maximum potential, but for exactly what I need it to do:

  • Shortcuts and quickly searching for or opening documents and programs
  • Auto completion and text expansion
  • Writing templates (everything from journalling to PRDs)
  • Clipboard History
  • Workflows

I use a few other smaller tools that have been very helpful, but shouldn’t need much of an explanation. What is key, though, is that for almost all of these there is a fully featured iOS or mobile web version.

  • 1Password
  • Dropbox
  • Roam
  • Anki

Roam and Anki are a bit of a preview to my learning system, which I’ll save for another day.

This overview of my productivity system, I’ve found, to be the exact right level of detail you should stick to. You should keep your system flexible, but have a few models for thinking about work that any new project or task can fit into. Having this system where I can offload all of the maintenance – remembering dates and deadlines especially – has proven to be hugely impactful for both my day to day stress and productivity.