I asked AI to make me more productive and all I got was this stupid picture (made by DALL-E 3, 31 Dec 2023)
Image generated by Midjourney, prompts by me.

I spent 2023 learning a great deal about myself. I know everyone always says that around this time of year, but in my case it’s true on a personal, psychological, physiological and personal level. Leaving all of that to one side, it’s also the year that I devoted the most time (too much?) to finding and building a system of notetaking, resource- and time-keeping, and knowledge management that really worked for me.

At the end of the year I’ve managed to consolidate everything down to a handful of tools:

  • Obsidian (notes, connections, ideas, daily scribblings; always open)
  • Readwise & Readwise Reader (highlights, literature notes, read-later)
  • Raindrop (bookmarks, sorted and organised per life/work commitments, e.g. research, writing, story resources, health, fun stuff)
  • Todoist (task management)
  • Day One (private journaling, morning pages, reflections, mood tracking)
  • IFTTT (general app connections and automation)

I pay for premium versions of all of the above; partly because it keeps me accountable for what I’m using and doing, but also because I like the apps, have always had great support from their teams, and think they’re products worth supporting, so that those who maybe can’t afford to pay, can still use.

Project management remains an issue, but I think I’ve finally accepted that I might just have to delegate or outsource some of that, somewhere, somehow.

Other processes I tried and let go of this year include Notion, bullet journaling, and a variety of other apps like Zapier, ClickUp and Inoreader. I had tried many of these before, but this was a proper test to see if they could be worked into and add value to the system.

Like many things in life, you’ll hear a million ways to ‘do’ productivity, and you’ll listen to a few key phrases, but you won’t ever take them in, or implement them. The main one for me was ‘ignore every other system and work on your own’. This isn’t to say you shouldn’t check out what others have done, but you cannot and should not then immediately try to copy most of their system.

I would fall into this trap a lot. It begins with watching a great video by Nicole van der Hoeven, or FromSergio, or even letting out a little squeal when Python Programmer jumps on the Obsidian bandwagon (look, one day I’ll learn Python, but 2024-5 probably isn’t it). You then dive into the description, download every Obsidian plugin they mention, immediately change the frontmatter and template of every current and future note, then tweak your Notion or your Todoist or your calendar or your bullet journal to exactly mirror the Perfect System that this Productivity God hath wrought.

But of course, none of the systems are perfect. I mean, they might be perfect for Nicole or Sergio or Giles at the time, but these folx are almost certainly tweaking, adjusting, and refining constantly, not to mention that they are informational content creators: they might present a cool method or system that they’ve come across, but they also plainly state in their videos that it might not be for everyone.

Cherry-picking the bits of different systems that work for me has been a game-changer, as has case-based or small scale testing. It sounds so simple when I type it out like that, and is basically the ethos of every ethical/responsible/sensible experiment ever, but for me, it’s taken some time to really internalise these ideas. In my case, my system/s will never be perfect, because there is no perfect. You just plug away, do the best you can, and try not to let too much obsession with shiny things get in the way of actually working on what you need to work on.

Organising my notes isn’t my job. Tweaking my frontmatter isn’t my passion. I won’t get promoted for nailing the GTD workflow in Todoist, nor will I feel a warm glow at the end of the day by removing extraneous apps from my phone. For me, if it ain’t broke, I don’t need to lose time trying to fix it. If I find myself obsessing, maybe it’s just time to step away, go and look at a tree, read a book, or play some music.

My system works for now. I enjoy reading about systems and how other people are thriving, and might take the odd piece of advice on board here and there. But for 2024, my goal isn’t the system; nor is it using my system to be productive. My main goal for 2024 is to be just productive enough, wherever I need to be, to try living for a change.

2 responses to “Things organised neatly”

  1. Colophon – The Clockwork Penguin

    […] for visiting, and for your interest in my modus operandi. I’ve previously discussed my apps and setup, but I wanted to start a living post here where I talk more about how and why I make/work/live (or […]

  2. All the King’s horses – The Clockwork Penguin

    […] written previously about the apps I use. When it comes to actual productivity methods, though, I’m usually in one of […]

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