Another evolution of my offline productivity system


This week, I mark an important milestone in my professional life. It is an excellent opportunity to start a new productivity notebook and tell you about the latest evolution of the best productivity system I know.

To sum up, I use a custom variant of Mark Forster’s Final Version productivity system that uses a plain notebook to track, prioritize, and eliminate tasks. Using a physical notebook, as opposed to an electronic tool, is a massive boost in productivity, as it forces you to process your priorities in an unplugged mode, without any distractions.

When I was a freelancer, I felt forced to use a combination of a physical book and an electronic system (http://todoist.com/), but that didn’t work too well for me, the connected nature of this (and any other) app kept distracting me. I also played with a combination of a notebook and a portable kanban board. That didn’t work out for me either. So, right now, I’m back to a physical notebook with a small addition. 

I now have two notebooks. The first one is a small (80 pages) soft notebook that I use to track and prioritize tasks (as in Mark Forster’s system). I also use this notebook to reflect on what’s going on, write questions to my future self, and document my decisions.

The second, larger notebook is used for note keeping, drafts and sketches. The fact that the notebook is vertically bound allows me seemingly switching from Hebrew (that is written from right to left) and English. When a sketch of a draft isn’t relevant anymore, I tear the draft pages away; and I use a small binder to keep the note pages together for future reference.

Overall, I like this combo very much and it fits my workflow well.

Hybrid digital/analog tangible week planning

Here’s a neat method that helps me organize my week, increase my productivity and fight procrastination. 

Being a freelancer data scientist, I’m involved in three hands-on projects for two clients. I also manage/mentor two data scientists in two other projects, and participate in strategic discussions for a customer of mine, and in a startup in which I invest. Oh, I am also in the final stages of writing a paper. I never imagined I would be in the situation with so many balls that I need to keep in the air. How do I manage to keep sanity? 

This is what I do. Following the advice in “15 Secrets Successful People Know About Time Management“, I try to keep as many items in my calendar as possible. When my workweek starts, I print out the weekly schedule on a sheet of paper. Then, I apply the tangible GTD hack that I learned from another book [link] and write out all my projects on a bunch of small post-it notes. These notes allow me “dumping” all my brain contents into an external medium, which frees up my brain to spend more CPU cycles on processing, rather than remembering and worrying. 

Next comes the fun part, I get to play with my cards by arranging them on the weekly schedule. The geometry of the post-it notes and the sheet of paper ensures that I allocate reasonably larget chunks of time for each “big thing.” It also reminds me that the amount of time each day is limited, and I can’t stick too many plans into a day or a week. (No, I won’t be able to finalize the paper, complete the analysis for a retail shop, learn a chapter in Bayesian statistics book, before the end of today).

After I’m done, I copy each post-it note into my calendar. Thanks to the integration with Todoist (an excellent productivity tool), all these tasks end up in my todo list, where I can further work with them.

To sum up:

  • Global week overview – check
  • Prioritization and honesty – check.
  • Fun playing with sticky notes – check.
  • Work gets done – (I wish!).

Oh, did you notice the appointments between 5 and 6 am? This is my sports activity. Sometimes working out charges me for the entire day. Sometimes, all I want to do for the entire day is to have a nap 🙂