Tools I Use In My Productivity System
In this post, I want to focus mostly on the tools I've used in the past few years to organize my last as well as to boost my productivity.
I've tried different combinations between physical and digital tools, but nowadays I'm moving towards digital tools and mostly use physical mediums when creating content like poetry, songs, etc... where the feel of paper just isn't comparable.
Some influential people to the topics in this article are Shu Omi, Ali Abdaal, and Tiago Forte with his "Second Brain" initiative.
Not only these creators I just mentioned, but almost every modern productivity creator I've researched agreed on the core digital tools to a successful productivity system. Many of us already use some of them in one way or another. The most common categories are calendar, file management, to-do lists (or project management), and note-taking.
Calendar: Any calendar with CalDAV integration
I use any iOS calendar connected to my server using CalDAV, if you're already a Google or Apple calendar user, there's not much difference (in the calendar feature itself) besides where your data is stored.
I tried Fantastical for about a year since I tried to mix both my tasks and calendar in a single application. After a while, as I didn't feel like paying for a calendar product considering the free and cheaper alternatives, I decided to drop it and replace it with other tools.
Nowadays the only use for my calendar is meetings, events, and a few birthdays (I'm working towards improving this); nothing extraordinary.
File Management: WebDAV & Photoprism
There are always documents, photos, or videos we want to store; whether it be for backup or to easily reference them later. Google Drive and iCloud are some of the most popular offerings, but as someone who likes to manage his services, I've opted to use WebDAV (previously as a Nextcloud instance) and Photoprism.
This allows me to connect to my server and manage my files through the network as if they were stored on another disk attached to my computer. This works for me since I don't use the sync capabilities, besides uploading my phone media to the server which many apps cover through WebDAV.
For file management I don't have a system besides some basic structure:
- Project 1...
- Project 1...
- Project 2...
Project Management: Todoist
From Fantastical, I moved to Todoist, a very known tool that I also happen to have tried before. It's been about three months since I made the change to the free tier and it works for my needs. It's fast, if I need to add new tasks the iOS widgets are responsive, and being able to schedule and assign tags directly in the task name removes the need for having to look for where the buttons to set this up are.
Todoist also has many integrations, although I only use the calendar integration to add some visibility to my tasks. I must confess most of the time this calendar is disabled anyways.
My to-do app is organized into projects and sub-projects, currently as follows:
- Betoissues: anything related to my online persona
- Blog Content: blog posts
- Blog Development: improvements I've been doing to my site
- Routines: daily reading, reviewing Anki cards, planning my day ahead...
- Home: shopping lists, bills, cleaning...
- Digital: trying new tools, tidying my servers, and any changes to my digital life
- Workout: just daily reminders to workout
- Routines: log timesheets, plan the day ahead, check email
- Project 1
- Project 2
I can say this has been one of the greatest improvements to my system and has helped me keep up with my pending tasks.
Another important practice in my to-do system is to have a single priority per day and lower the priority for the rest of the items. This allows me to focus on what's important in that day, get it done (which is the whole purpose of this), and continue with other tasks. Getting that single item done, allows me to feel and say a day's been productive. Today, my highest priority is to finish this article :).
Note-taking plays a big role in my whole life, this is due to my liking for words and writing; so having a place to store, connect and develop my thoughts this way makes sense.
Joplin was my note-taking application for almost two years and it synchronized pretty well using my WebDAV server, but it lacked in the mobile department. The application was slow and although the files were plain Markdown (important to me, if you haven't checked this format you really should) some desktop plugins required specific syntax which was easily messed up on mobile due to no plugins being available there.
Almost at the same time I moved to Todoist I started using Obsidian and is the best thing that's happened to me. Being free (although "free" sync between devices requires some technical knowledge), having a lot of plugins (many of them being available on mobile) and the flexibility of organizing my thoughts as linked notes or regular folder structure has made me consider it my second brain.
Just remember, the key to effective note-taking is the value these notes create, whether for learning or creating new content. I'll be writing more about this in a future post, specifically about my note-taking and Obsidian.
For my note-taking the structure I use is fairly simple, and follows a similar pattern to the previous tool:
- 00 Backlog: Random notes yet to be classified
- 01 Blog: Blog planning
- Drafts: Where I'm currently writing this post
- Published: Just as storage for published content
- Research: Whenever I have an idea, all the research goes here and links to related posts in Drafts.
- 02 Learning:
- Chinese: Mandarin learning resources
- Courses: online courses notes are here
- DevNotes: notes on different technologies or how I've solved different problems in the past
- University: used to be university notes.
- 03 Personal:
- Books: Thoughts from different books, I'm migrating this to more actionable content
- Digital Life: Configuration, wishlists, online tools
- Journal: After a while, my daily notes are moved here
- Trading: Notes on different stocks I watch
- Workout: Routines
- 04 Work: Mostly personal management notes
- 99-daily: daily notes with random ideas and thoughts in the format YYYY-mm-dd
- 99-templates: daily notes/blog templates
- Readwise: My highlights
Bonus: Highlights & Annotations
This is a new kind of tool for me, it synchronizes with my note-taking app and makes it easy to reference articles or books. Readwise is the only subscription I pay in my system (didn't really find a comparable alternative) and the recently released "Reader" beta has made it worth it as I also removed my RSS reader and Wallabag.
This tool deserves its article but it basically helps centralize any highlights and notes I take on web articles and even Kindle books I read.
There are more tools I've tried, but these are the ones I currently use. Do you use any of these tools or similar ones?
If you have any thoughts feel free to email me or send me a message on my socials @betoissues.
The wrong way to organize information is by where you found it, the right way is to organize by the location you will USE that information. Classify on what belongs to your calendar, tasks and note-taking app. - Tiago Forte | Author, Building a Second Brain