Over the last 6 months I've started doing a lot of things differently. Some of these changes seem to have increased my work output a good bit and made me happier. I normally hesitate to share habits, but I'm pretty happy with these in particular, and even if they will work for only a few people I think they are worth sharing. Most of the habits I've adopted are fairly common, but I hope I can help people anyway by identifying the habits that have most helped me.

I'm curious to hear about alternatives that have worked for you. 



Workflowy lets you edit a single collapsible outline. I use it very extensively. It is much more convenient than the network of google docs it replaced, and I use it much more often. It is much like other outliners, but (1) has a slicker interface, (2) works offline, (3) lets you recurse on and share sublists.

Workflowy is free to try but costs $5 a month. This may seem expensive for what it does, but if you use (or could use!) outliners a lot this is not enough to matter. After some searching Workflowy seems like the best option. I'm sure I like Workflowy more than most people, but I really like it, so I think it's worth trying.

Here is a skeleton of my workflowy list, which hosts many of the other systems in this post.


I have a checklist of tasks to do each night before sleeping. In the past I would often forget one of these things; putting them in a checklist helps me do them more reliably and makes me more relaxed. 

Checklists for other occasions, particularly waking up and traveling, are also helpful, but are much less important to me. 

Todo lists:

I now maintain two todo lists: one with a list of tasks for each upcoming day, and one with a list of tasks for future events ("I'm in the UK," "it is Thursday," "I'm going grocery shopping"). Whenever I think of something I should do, I either put it under a future day and do it when that day arrives, or I put it with an associated event. Each night I check both lists and decide what to do tomorrow. 


Beeminder is a service that holds you to commitments and tracks your progress. It has helped me a lot over the last months. I've experimented with a few different commitments, but two have been most useful: following a daily routine, and doing a minimum amount of work each day (on average). Beeminder has pretty low overhead.


I spend about 10% of my productive time reflecting on how things have been going and what I should do differently. I benefit from producing concrete possible changes each time I sit down to think. I realized how important this is for me recently; since I've started doing it more reliably, I have gotten a lot more out of reflection.


I do my work in uninterrupted blocks of 20 minutes, punctuated by 2-3 minute breaks. This is my bastardized, minimalist version of the pomodoro technique, which I arrived at by trial and error. I use Alinof timer, which was recommended to me by a friend. 


I now record commitments on my calendar reliably and check it each night. I failed to do this for 6 months after finishing my undergraduate degree, which I think was a serious mistake. I became much more reliable at checking my calendar after adopting a daily checklist.

Time Logging:

Whenever I start a new activity, I write down the current time and a description of what I just stopped doing. At the end of the day I spend a few minutes reading this log and estimating how much time I spent on each activity. This makes me more attentive to time during the day, helps me remember what I did throughout the day, and frees up attention. Sometimes I use the logs to try and notice trends. For example, I've been exercising on random days and measuring how this affects my time. I don't yet know if this helps at all.


Catch is a note-taking app. It is very minimal, and lets you record a voice note by pressing a single button. It has substantially increased my affordance for taking notes during the day, which I use to remember todo items and help with time logging.

New Comment
11 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since:

Thanks for waiting to post this until you'd actually tried it out for a significant length of time.


Has your workflow changed in any substantive way since you posted it originally (3.5 months ago)?

Regardless of whether your workflow has or hasn't changed, would you mind providing a WorkFlowy sample of how your workflow looks like? Useful as it is, your "skeleton" is only an abstract description of your workflow, and (for me, at least) it is difficult to form an accurate representation of it without some concrete examples.

Congratulations on actually doing all this stuff. Many of those are things I've always identified as what I needed to be doing, but haven't.

Here a couple that I'd like, that you didn't include.

Organize Roles/Goals and Projects similar to what Stephen Covey does as part of planning.

Define and plot Figures of Merit. Particularly in terms of time spent productively, time spent on categories of tasks, etc., in relation to roles/goals and Projects.

Set a value/priority functions per the categories above, then automatically allocate schedule. Have an "I'm bored and have 20 minutes, tell me what to do function."


Amusingly, I use every single one of these, except Beeminder. I think I should try Beeminder.


Thanks for the link to workflowy. Here's some thoughts on it.


  • If I use it to keep a todo/projects list, I can't assign priorities or dates to sort and filter by. (Hashtags aren't enough for this.)

  • Can't have the same item linked to from two different places. It's a tree, not a graph. I read some people say they've exported their brains to workflowy, but your brain is more of a graph than a tree. (Duplication isn't enough for this, because changes in the duplicate aren't applied to the original.)

Regardless, it's definitely better than the mess of text files I'm currently using.

The tagging and searching functionality seems to make it possible to implement the I'm bored and have 20 minutes, tell me what to do function that another commenter talked about. Just tag the relevant subtasks with #nextaction or something, and then search for that tag later.

I also wish it was a graph rather than a tree, best of all via a duplicate* that synced the copies. I deal with dates by making a separate item 'do X' and putting it in a list sorted by date. (This would be a better solution if you could have two copies of the item.)

Hi Yli, Here's a possible solution for you: A post of mine was featured on Jesse Patel's WorkFlowy blog a couple of days ago: http://blog.workflowy.com/2014/08/21/using-workflowy-as-a-kanban-calendar/

I use Alinof timer, which was recommended to me by a friend.

A great Pomodoro timer that also works on Windows is Focus Booster. (I recommend the desktop version, but there is also an online version.)

Hi Paul, came across a tweet today of someone who said they loved your workflow. Pretty impressive. I downloaded your template and spent some time going up and down it. I do a lot of Pomodoro-ing myself. What I see a lot of in your template - and something I could use more to keep myself in check - is reflecting on what has been done and I imagine what can be improved upon and adjusted thereafter. You are very systematic.

I noticed reminders "by time" tucked away in your "Meta" list. Other than that, your "Projects and "Today" sections are fairly similar to the way I set it up. I wrote a blog post about it a week ago. I include a "calendar" section as part of my Personal Kanban solution. You of all people I think would appreciate the thinking behind my setup. A number of people who would never previously have used WorkFlowy as a Kanban solution for personal task management are now applying my approach. Jesse Patel recently featured it on the WorkFlowy blog...

Here's my template: https://workflowy.com/s/CiPqAWhLCt

Here's my blog post that explains it: http://www.productivitymashup.com/blog/2014/8/17/kanban-calendar-workflowy

I'm seriously going to include some of the metrics and processes that you outlined in your template.



Catch is going away the end of August 2013.

I think your Beeminder link is broken. It appears to go to here: http://lesswrong.com/beeminder.com