2021 — My working methods

Originally published here: https://www.notion.so/lankinen/2021-My-working-methods-458bba133c49484ab371b648b873ff6c

I work the best when everything is in order and I don’t need to waste time middle of a task to e.g. find certain notes or files. Over 2 years I have been focusing the way I work, I have learned a few things and took some habits that I find useful for myself. I wanted to go through all of these methods so that I can later look back at them and see how much things has changed or remember some method that I stopped doing.

Photo by Spencer Watson on Unsplash

Notes

I store all my notes on Notion. Most of them are public to everyone. The ones that I store in private Notion are mostly either non-work related personal stuff or contains something from other people (e.g. advice) that I don’t want to publish without their permission.

This is what my public Notion categories looks like

I have pretty good structure for all kind of notes. If I create a note that doesn’t really fit into any of the current categories, I create a new. I try to group things only when I have too many of them to handle in one group. This means that I don’t predict what kind of Notes I take but I do them and then later look what kind of groups it’s possible to do. I have found his principle to apply many other places too.

I could probably write a few pages about all kind of habits I have on Notion but I’m going to go through some of my favorites:

  • Books

My favorite category. It’s simple Kanban board with 3 columns: suggestions, in progress, and read. To suggestions I can list all books that I hear anywhere and sound interesting. It’s really interesting to add the reference because then a year later I can look why I thought about reading some book. Read contains books that I have read and there are some notes. I don’t try to make comprehensive summaries but just keep the notes I find useful.

  • Thinking

It’s easier to reason things when you talk to another person. I have realized that writing things down gives the same benefits (except I don’t get any response) so this is where I type my thinking sessions. Mostly I put them under my private Notion.

  • Archive

Archive was important realization for me. It felt impossible to delete old stuff that I didn’t anymore need because there was always a doubt that what if I need it after all. Having an archive folder where I can drag all useless stuff makes it easy to get rid of them because I know that they are always available if I need. The best thing is that they even show up in the Notion’s search so it’s easy to find them. A little bit like the Simpsons episode where Marge stores all their stuff to a storage instead of throwing them away when trying to follow Marie Kondo’s organizing method of throwing away everything that doesn’t bring joy.

My TODO is on private side because it often contains personal things I don’t want to share publicly and I have tried having two TODOs but it becomes unnecessary complicated. I change a lot how I use TODO depending what kind of things I’m doing at the time. Sometimes I don’t have any projects or it feels like I have too many things, and then it’s useful to spend 10 minutes every morning thinking through things that I try to do today. I have notice that often this is not necessary because I know exactly what I’m going to do and it’s going to take all the time I have. But it’s important to know exactly what I’m doing and make sure the steps are small enough that they feel easy to achieve because this then leads to Flow .

Quick Notes

I have to mention this here because it really changed my life. Sometimes when I get an idea or thought that I want to store, it’s too cumbersome to open Notion and find the right place to put the note. A few months ago I installed an app called “Quick Notes with widget”. I have 4x2 widget on my home screen where I can quickly add text. It’s quick and easy to just put stuff there. Every Sunday, I go through the notes and put them to more appropriate places or in rare cases leave for another week.

Google Calendar

I think I learned this method from Matt D’Avella. The idea is to track everything I do to Google Calendar. There are multiple calendars (all shows in the same page and under the same account) for different categories (e.g. freetime, personal, project 1). Then my goal is to put everything I do within 15 min accuracy there. The trick is to mark events after I have done them because I don’t like setting myself specific times when I do certain things.

Probably the biggest issue for me is to remember to mark everything. Sometimes I might do multiple small things and then after a few hours I remember that I didn’t mark any of it to the calendar and then try to estimate everything. I haven’t been available to turn it into a habit even though I have done it for probably 1.5 years. I have tried to invent some way to make it easier or even automatic but haven’t figure out anything good.

There are a few benefit this gives. The biggest are that I become more motivated to work more and I can analyze my time spending better. It’s easy to start watching YouTube video and then just pretend at the end of the day that I worked the full day. When I need to mark that hour which I watched YouTube, it becomes much harder to do it. I started doing this because I felt like I had no idea how much time I actually did something. Having everything listed makes it easy to see at the end of the day that I did something or I didn’t do anything. I’m also having weekly retrospectives (more below) where it’s useful to recall all the things I did during the week.

Reminders

Nothing specific about using Apple’s Reminders app instead of the alternatives. I have a few categories: morning, evening, sunday, monthly, random, university, and some others which I use depending when or what type of reminder I’m creating.

Morning, evening, monthly, and yearly are to remind me to do certain things every morning, evening, … Yearly and monthly are really useful because I wouldn’t remember to do stuff like take backups without it. Morning and evening sometimes feel pointless because it’s the same list every day but I sometimes might forget to do these and then having a reminder to do them helps a lot.

Most of the reminders don’t have strict deadline but I often have a few of them in my notification center. I like the way Apple’s Reminders app reminds the same reminders multiple times if they aren’t done on time. It seem to also has some smartness because it knows when to re-remind and does it much often for tasks I do rarely than tasks that I always do 10 hours late.

Typical day

From tools to how I actually work. It’s pretty simple. I’m an hour or less on phone every morning going through Twitter, Product Hunt, Hacker News, Tech Crunch, Pandaily, and App Annie (top 150 apps). Then I might read some articles from Chrome’s “Reading List” feature where I store interesting articles as I notice them on Twitter or other places. Too much context switching for me if I try to read them as I notice on Twitter.

Then I’m most of the day on computer. It’s often from 8am to 8pm. This might be a lot of things: work, university, hobby project but one thing in common is that I try to do more and read less. It’s important to not just learn but do things and that is why it’s good to have this kind of ratio between learning and doing things. I have to admit that I’m looking ways to use more what I learned. I have heard John Carmack saying that he often implemented the ML algorithms he studied. It’s in theory really useful but in practice I find it hard to find the time or else I need to learn less and do it more deeply which is not an issue either.

Finally I end the day by reading 1–2 hours. I don’t read fiction books as I find them waste of time but some of the biographies or other books I read are written in a way that they are similar to read but I can learn more (or that’s at least what I want to believe).

Retrospective

I review my performance during the week every Sunday. The template is simple:

  • Timeline

Bullet points about what I did. Good starting point to recall what I did to then later review it.

  • How well you achieved the goal?

The goal is referring to the main goal I set in the previous retrospective. I analyze shortly why I didn’t achieve it or how successful the results were if I achieved it.

  • What worked well?

Things I notice during the week that worked well. For example using ad blocker made me more focused.

  • What needs improvement? / How to fix problems for the next sprint?

Issues I notice. For example having YouTube tab open made me watch it for entertainment.

  • Set one goal for the next spring

I always try to have something here even if it’s something small and obvious like focusing university courses instead of hobby projects but the point is to either try something new or just remind what I should focus.

  • Set other problem fixes as sub goals

Main goal is to separate one thing and remember to have perfect focus on it but sometimes I have other things which I want to try or remind myself and those goes here. If these are important enough they might end up into the main goal section the next week.

I store all of these under my private Notion. I haven’t really looked one weak further the old retrospectives but maybe some day I find some use for them.

Master plan

All the other things keep me focused in short term but having the big pictures makes sure I’m going to the right direction.

This idea I copied from Tesla and probably Elon Musk in general. A few months ago I created myself a master plan where I wrote down things I want to achieve in my life and then the steps to get there. I review it once a month and do needed changes. I haven’t created any format to it yet but it changes quite a lot sometimes. It’s under my private Notion but basically I have listed different industries and technologies I find interesting. I then go through how I should learn them and do something around those lines. I also do some small predictions where they might be in 10–20 years. In a way the plan covers my whole life but I believe that in practice the further it goes, the less accurate it is. At least it becomes less detailed.

I store all the old versions of it on my Google Drive so that I can then later see how my plans has changed. I’m expecting it to be interesting.

Again writing things down makes them much clearer. Sometimes I have been struggling between different paths but as I list all the good and bad things, the choice is often obvious. It’s also great reminder when sometimes things feel stupid in short term but make sense only if one keeps in head the bigger picture.

Google Drive

This is the last because I use it so rarely. I use it for certain kind of files and mostly for storing backups. I have custom email so I’m subscribing the ~$5 plan from Google which gives me 30GB of storage on Drive. It’s not much and Microsoft offers 1TB for ~$6. I have thought about switching there but it would mean that I need to transfer my email too which is nerve wracking after I once failed it in a way that I didn’t get any emails for a few days. I’m going to do it at some point in the future in case I reach the 30GB limit but for now it seems like it’s not getting even close to it. And I anyways would keep all the other Google products I’m using as I’m more familiar with them.

Conclusion

As I wrote these, I realize how little has changed since the last year. I try to experiment with new tools and methods but often they turn out to not be that useful. For example right now I’m experimenting with Sidekick browser to see if it can make me more productive.

One important thing to keep in mind is to not try to optimize into wrong things. Working 24/7 might sound good but in practice it might lead the quality of work decreasing as you try to lie yourself that you are working constantly.

I use to watch more productivity people on YouTube but I stopped doing it for some reason. I’m looking to spend more time on this because these tips might save a lot of time for me. At least these are good: Ali Abdaal, Keep Productive, and Matt D’Avella.