My Analog and Digital Productivity System for 2023
My life organization/productivity system for 2023 consists of 6 tools:
- Daily logbook and journal
- Google Calendar
- Apple Reminders
I’m keeping this as simple as I possibly can. I don’t want to spend any time optimizing my productivity system in 2023. Instead, I want to spend that time actually doing work that needs to get done (imagine that).
Daily logbook and journal
My daily logbook and journal is just that…a daily logbook. I was inspired by Austin Kleon for this idea.
On one side, I’ll do a time blocked calendar. Next to that will be the day’s tasks and reminders and what time I woke up that day, what I read, how long I ran, and what workout I did. Below that will be empty space to doodle or jot down fleeting thoughts and ideas I have during the day that I want to think about later.
Having empty space to write down thoughts is important because often, when I’m reading a book, I’ll come across a neat idea or story related to something else. Instead of saving that in the moment and ruining the flow of reading, I can jot down the idea and page number and return to it later. If I don’t come back to it, it probably wasn’t that great of an idea. I also do this with posting quotes on Twitter and Instagram. Again, instead of interrupting my reading flow, I can just jot down the page number with a “” symbol and post the picture later.
Notion–the King of notes and organizational products–will do just that: manage my notes and help organize my life. I was tempted to organize Notion using the convenient PARA method, but I eventually decided against it.
My reasoning: I don’t feel like I have enough resources, projects, or tasks for different areas of my life right now and adding the PARA system just added more complexity than it solved, so it wasn’t worth it.
Instead, I have a few databases that manage my blog CMS, YouTube, blog, and newsletter ideas, and then a database to hold all other notes. That’s sort of a “catch-all” for notes that wouldn’t otherwise belong in either of the databases I have. For example, if I take a one-off course in the early days of book publishing, I would just put that note in my Notes and Docs database.
I could see this becoming too cluttered, but I think that’s okay. The nature of these notes is for accessing them when I need them and not for discoverability or interconnectedness. So if I know I took notes on something, I know it will be in that database somewhere. Things like operating manuals for home appliances, notes about working out and eating right, and a note for brainstorming what 2023 will look like are all currently in that database. When in doubt, I place a note here. I like that cushion.
If a topic or something starts to overtake that database, I can create a new one for those notes. I like that flexibility.
Notion is also integrated with Readwise, which helps me process all my highlights from articles, papers, and e-books, which leads to…
Notecards: the atomic building blocks of my creative process for 2023. Continuing in my desire to stay analog with as many things as I could, I decided to go all in on using notecards for at least the first quarter of 2023. I learned this system from Ryan Holiday, who learned it from Robert Greene, who probably learned it from someone else. My friend Billy Oppenheimer, who is Ryan Holiday’s research assistant, wrote a great article on how he uses the notecard system if you want to learn the intricacies of it.
As a quick overview, here’s what it looks like for me:
For articles and online PDFs
- Highlights get added to Notion from Readwise
- Highlights get processed. Anything that I want to keep gets transferred to a notecard with the title and author of the source on the back (this will help me find it again later).
- Write a title for the card and put it on the front of the stack.
The process is similar, but instead of going from Readwise to Notion, my book notes go from annotations and marginalia in the book to Notion. Because I publish my book notes online, I want to save everything digitally. The ideas that stand out the most get added to notecards with a reference to the book.
During my weekly review, I’ll lay out the new cards, flip through my old ones and see if they connect somehow. This is a hard process for me because I’m a linear thinker and like to have strict categories. I’m trying to be less rigid here, though. It’s okay if the card doesn’t connect with others or if I don’t see themes identifying themselves right away. I’m playing the long game with these. Collect, collect, collect.
Fanning through a few hundred notecards isn’t the fastest way to retrieve something you found. Still, it’s the best way to continuously revisit what you already wrote and had forgotten, which is the essence of a good note-taking system.
The rest of the stack is minimal. I’ll use Google Calendar for appointments, Things for tasks (not to be confused with Thing), and Apple reminders for on the go reminders. Apple reminders get imported into Things which allow me to do a lot with them. I often have ideas when I’m driving and since I have CarPlay, I can just tap the Siri button and say, “Remind me tonight about how all planets’ moons are named after the planet’s gods counterpart.”
Out of context that looks like mumbo jumbo, but I know exactly what it’s referring to. When I see that in Things at the end of the day or the next morning, I can add a notecard with that idea.
I use Things minimally as well. I dump tasks in there and use it as a guide for the weekly and daily tasks I need to complete during my logbook. I rarely use the Projects or Areas feature because, again, my life isn’t that complicated right now. I do have a few projects in there now though. One is a project called “To Revisit” which are movies or tv shows I want to watch and another project is called “Things to get done over break,” which is a list of tasks I want to complete during the Christmas break (not going well so far since both my wife and I have been sick for a week).
I have another project called “My Site” which is a list of things I want to fix, add, or remove from my blog. I built it last year and am always finding cool things on other people’s sites that I want to add. Instead of getting distracted (read: optimizing the system) and doing it right away, I dump everything in that project so I know I won’t forget it.
One new thing I’m going to try scheduling into my week is a couple “BS Hours.” I’m not sure where I read this from (though I remember it being recently), but they said they schedule BS hours in their week to do the boring administration stuff that comes with being an adult. I’m notorious for neglecting these things, and it hurts (both mentally and financially).
I have a small box in my office that collects BS Hour work. I put things like mail I need to read or bills I need to pay in there. If I have another task I need to do, like get new windshield wipers or run to the dump, I write that down on a sticky note and place it in the bin. When BS Hour comes, I grab the bin and fan through the papers to see what I can tackle.
Make boring work fun
Something Khe Hy talks about is making boring work exciting. When he is working on menial tasks, he likes to play his favorite music and drink his favorite cocktail. It usually happens on Thursday and Friday afternoons because it’s hard for him to get deep work done during those hours.