Please Give Me Your Life Organisation Insight

It’s come round to summer for me so I want to implement some kind of Organisational system to get my life more organised.

Till last night I had a good idea what I was going to do. I was going to implement a simplified version of GTD, with a daily to-do list based on a few things. It would order tasks on Urgency and then difficulty. Urgent-difficult tasks go first, Non-urgent easy tasks go last. Every day a to-do list would be made that was easy to complete within one day (closed-list). And I would base this off how long similar tasks took in the past.

Yesterday I read about the Autofocus system which I really like the sound of. And it seems a lot of people on here seem to use.

I have also read some Beeminder blog posts on the web-app “Complice”.

With so many systems, where do I even start. What have you all used in the past, and what do you use now? And importantly, how does your organisational system help you complete tasks you really don’t want to do?


Great question! The latest thing I’ve been meaning to try, and which this sentence is now making more likely that I actually try, is

I don’t think that holds a candle to Complice – but it might have some nice ideas. There’s some similarity with Pomodoro Poker.

Oh, and Complice has a co-working room for Workcycles:


Workcycles are awesome. I’ve done them a few times, including with a big group of people at a coworking space here in Burlington, VT. I think they are a complementary tool to Complice — Complice is great for a daily practice, and you can get a ton of bang per buck out of doing a Workcycle here and there.


Here are the best books I’ve read on the topic:

  • Getting Things Done by David Allen. Sounds like you may have already read this one. Whether or not you use the whole system, I think the principles are very useful.
  • Deep Work by Cal Newport. This book really helped me to think about how to structure my life to support more deep work, which the book defines as “the ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task.” I highly recommend this book.
  • So Good They Can’t Ignore You by Cal Newport. This one is more focused on career development, while still remaining very practical as a guide to structuring your life in a way that will allow you to acquire career capital, which it defines as skills which are rare and valuable. Acquiring this career capital then allows you to create a fulfilling career for yourself.

When I first got into productivity in high school, I started with the Getting Things Done system. Since then, I haven’t strictly used GTD, though I’ve still applied the principles.

In college, I applied Cal Newport’s time blocking method to great effect. It allowed me to keep on top of a large class load while still making time for myself.

I still time block in the mornings, but I’d say the biggest contributor to my current productivity is Beeminder. Discovering Beeminder was like discovering that life had a physical set of dials I never knew existed—it was exhilarating.

Two techniques I’ve used with Beeminder that have been especially effective for me are project time goals and my systems-upgrade goal. Project time goals have allowed me to ensure that I invest energy into the projects that really matter to me on a consistent basis. I can then dial these goals up or down depending on my bandwidth and how quickly I want to make progress towards key outcomes.

I post a datapoint to my systems-upgrade goal whenever I do something that has the potential to increase my productivity indefinitely, whether that be unsubscribing from a newsletter or trying out a new productivity app. It’s really encouraged me to keep iterating on my systems in a way that really adds up.

I personally don’t think there ever will be a one-size-fits-all productivity system. In my experience, different stages of life have required different productivity structures. My advice would be to read a lot, try new tools as it makes sense, and continue to reflect on what’s really important to you. If you keep doing that, I think you’ll find a system that works great for you.


One slightly philosophical answer would be: It doesn’t matter.

Pick a system at random and try it out. Handle it like a research project. Keep notes.
Evaluate seriously the benefits and the drawbacks of the system, and move on. Have a budget to try things, if possible. Give yourself permission to take your time. But have a specified endpoint. In other words: Be systematic in your stumbling around. Break this productivity research project down in milestones you can evaluate. And you will learn to organize your life in 10 short years. With enough determination you could probably do it in 5! :wink:

A little bit of practical advice:

  • 8760hours is a guide to do a yearly review and find meaning and direction in life. I have done it twice (I think…?) in my life (2016 and this year) and it always has been HUGE for me
  • Learn how to learn this online course has been one of the two or three biggest wins this year, productivity wise.
  • The GTD-Course with David Allen on LinkedIn Learning is a beautiful piece of education. As someone who has read the book multiple times: This 30 minute course is awesome.
  • Do not obsess over applicability in your research. Some of the best insights come from strange, theoretical places. Try to optimize for serendipity instead.
  • On the other hand instead of reading the very repetitive Deep Work book that @narthur has recommended: Why not read the Cliffs Notes version instead? :wink:
  • The importance of a working notes system cannot be overstated. This is one way to do it (That’s a summary of a pricey online course on the topic. Is it worth paying 500$ for that? I don’t know, but the post is full of smart things on why and how to keep a good notes system).
  • I will also recommend the podcast Back To Work with Merlin Mann and Dan Benjamin here, since it shows beautifully and very humanely that becoming organized is not a task, but a practice (just start from the beginning, I’d say).

If you’re still feeling uncertain where to start, Autofocus would be a very good place in my opinion. It’s probably the simplest possible system to set up so you won’t lose any significant time from trying it. In my experience, it’s one of the best at helping you do things you really don’t want to do. Even if it turns out to be not perfect for you, while you’re using it you’re being more productive than you would be with no system, so there’s no loss if you try it for a few days.

Another advantage is that if you fall of the wagon for a few days, you can come back to it whenever you’re ready with no extra effort (e.g., no multi-day backlog of scheduled tasks to be rescheduled).

For things you really don’t want to do (with any system), keep in mind that baby steps are just fine - if you do a tiny bit of work to move a hard task forward, then that’s a win. That can be a helpful reminder for giving yourself enough motivation to start.


Cycles I would say fills a very different place Complice in the goals-productivity toolchain. Just to put it in perspective, here are the basic stages in Malcom/Ben’s GCI model for goal pursuit/achievement.

Goal Setting

Complice, which I have too much to say to talk about here, is a broad tool that helps through all stages. In my opinion, it provides the strongest functionality in Goal Setting and Reflection. It does help a little with Planning, though Malcolm has said repeatedly that it is not primarily a Planning tool.

Cycles is an intra-session framework focused on Execution, but that also helps with Planning and Reflection on a smaller timescale. It helps with execution, with work/break timebox features similar to the Pomodoro technique, but adding in intra-session planning (the term Ultraworking likes to use is “scoping”) and reviewing after each timebox. It becomes much more than work hard/take a break and estimate the time it takes to complete a task. You pay close attention to how you are working—performance.

That’s the basic framework, though Ultraworking has additional advice on what to do based on the feedback you get from the self-reviews.

I made a Complice coworking room that simulates some parts of how Ultraworking would run a moderated cycles session:

(I do cycles sessions frequently on my own, so let me know if you’re interested in doing some virtual coworking. I can also clarify things and add best practices I’ve picked up from interacting with the Ultraworking crew.)

In any case, I use both Work Cycles and Complice in close conjunction with each other. They’re both excellent and very complementary tools. I think they both take time to get used to, but the process of learning to using them well can yield some good ideas about how to structure your life in accordance with your goals.


Oh man I love this! @dreev @bee : Can we add the tagline “like a physical set of dials for life”?


So here’s a quick summary of my toolset

  • General archive of stuff to-do: Jira. Jira is a project management tool that we use internally at my company but i’m killing two birds with one stone and use it also for tracking personal projects. Alternatives: Trello, Todoist

  • Daily workflow: Jira’s Board feature can give you a kanban-style view for backlog, in progress, done

  • Planning: Confluence. This is a tool from the same company as Jira for documenting pretty much anything. I mainly use it to keep a weekly set of goals in a Bullet Journal ( style. Basically this acts as a higher level of organisation for the task list, with planning for the next 2-3 weeks. Alternatives: any kind of editor (even Word :)), paper (some people get addicted on that though)

  • Progress tracking: Beeminder. Obviously! In short, my Beeminder goals are the things a) I want to be doing in life (personal and work) b) have determined to be important to be doing (work but not so much fun). Alternatives: nothing really :smiley:

  • Time tracking: RescueTime. This serves three main needs: a) blocking sites when trying to focus, b) tracking time spent on specific projects (and these are fed to Beeminder), e.g. tracking effort, and viewing this in real time (you can set goals on time spent per day and view these as small browser popup windows), c) tracking mobile use (in a beemindable way). Alternatives: there are a few other solutions for either a or b or c, but not all together at the same time i think.

  • Pomodoros: PomoDone. It’s a pomodoro timer with plenty of integrations. I can start a session related to a Jira task and this triggers a status update/away mode on Slack, starts a FocusTime session on RescueTime and adds a time log entry on Jira as well on the end.

  • Integrations: Zapier and IFTTT link stuff together to reduce manual entry to a minimum.

How this all ties together: Beeminder is basically my “high altitude” overview, weekly/month planning is done on Confluence, backlog and daily mode is on Jira. These are aided by RescueTime and PomoDone to fight my procrastination tendencies.

Hope this helps :slight_smile:


What have you all used in the past?

GTD, 7 habits, bullet journaling, kanban, modified GTD, agile productivity… Toodledo, Remember the Milk, IQTell (may it rest in peace), Evernote, ToDoist, Habitica, Asana, Trello…

… and what do you use now?

Hybrid system including:

  • Paper calendar/notes
  • Complice, which is connected to Workflowy & Beeminder

…And importantly, how does your organisational system help you complete tasks you really don’t want to do?

In addition to the obvious motivation of Beeminder, what helps me most is building reflection into my system. By reflection, I don’t mean looking at tasks to see what’s done but really considering why one week was a struggle or a success – or why one goal always seems to come at the expense of another. This reflection (thank you, Complice weekly review!) has helped me begin to make the kinds of decisions I wish I had learned to make long ago.


Shouldn’t you be thanking the GTD weekly review?

Shouldn’t you be thanking the GTD weekly review?

Thank you for catching this! I inadvertently co-opted GTD language in talking about a process that’s (for me) a bit different.

The way I’ve always done the GTD weekly review has been pretty task-focused: reviewing old tasks and looking for new tasks. This is something that I still do regularly. What I was referring to in the earlier post is focused more on problem-solving: asking questions about what worked well and where I struggled, then deciding what to do differently in the coming week. (Sorry for the confusion!)

Both are important for my system, but without the problem-solving component, I find myself adding tasks without moving my goals forward.