My personal productivity philosophy is a cross between Getting Things Done and the Cult of Done. I dig the simplicity of the latter, the emphasis on above all done, but some self-reflection and hierarchy of methodology can help reduce the delay between thought and action. My basic principles are:

  1. Record goals as soon as they are formed.
  2. Accomplish all recorded goals.
  3. Reflect upon machinery enabling steps 1. and 2.

1. Record goals as soon as they are formed.

This step actually can be split into two: forming good goals quickly and recording good goals quickly well. The latter is easier, so I’ll address it first.

a. Recording good goals quickly well

Task goals: For longer term (to be accomplished more than a few hours in the future) goals, I have a series of todo lists with Remember the Milk in the categories financial, creative, to purchase, and any projects or subprojects I begin. For short-term goals I keep a project wiki using the Tiddly Wiki framework. When I sit down to work on a project, I write a journal entry with my goals for the working session. At the end of the session, I write a list of todos for the next session.

Time goals: For long-term appointment-esque goals I keep a Google Calendar, otherwise I specify a due date in RTM both with a reminder if necessary. For short-term, last-minute, time sensitive goals I have recently started using the Pomodoro method via

b. Forming good goals

In the initial broad goal formation stage it is key to share, meet, help, and learn. Share your goals with as many people as possible. The more you share, the more accountable you feel for your goals, the more fun it is to achieve them, and the more likely you are to find others to join forces in achieving them. Seek out people who get things done-these are your seeds of inspiration, role models, and create an environment of Done. Always have a goal which is a meanderings off your personal beaten path of goal generation. This will pay back big time in flexibility, creativity, and being able to help others get things done later on.

Once a broad goal is formed, break it up into tasks, even and especially long-term ones, recursively into more manageable goal bytes until sufficiently simple subtasks are achieved. Subtasks should be small enough that each one is guaranteed to be accomplishable, even if the overall goal may seem daunting. Each task should be self contained but large enough to be meaningful that is, every subtask should create an approximation of Done and the sum of these subtasks the ideal state of Done. Subtasks can vary in size with varying blocks of uninterrupted time available, some goals I write are written specifically to fill certain formerly too-short-to-be-productive intervals typically occurring in my day.

2. Accomplish all recorded goals.

This is both a feedback step and the step where the doing gets done. If you are unable to accomplish a goal, you did step 1. wrong. All goals are accomplishable or you are defining them wrong. Develop a relationship between the act of writing and the act of doing so that you trust that anything you write down will be done, and you are careful to break written goals down carefully enough that they all are doable. Once you start to do (that is once you join the cult of done), you cannot ever stop doing. If you take a break from doing it is only in the service of done.

3. Reflect upon machinery enabling 1. and 2.

This is key as inefficiencies or complications in the method of getting things done can get in the way of done. So I am often experimenting with new methods, the introduction of the Pomodoro technique in some situations, RTM, Tiddlywiki etc. were all the results of such experiments. A little meandering here and there and some meta reflection can go a long way to improve inefficiencies. Always find the best tool for the job, and if you need a break from doing, consider reflecting upon doing instead. This is a variant of done.

0 thoughts on “Productivity

  1. Thanks so much for sharing the Tiddly Wiki! It’s great, I’ve been looking for something like this for ages. Also a question about setting goals: As a physicist, you may also be familiar with tasks and goals that can’t be just ‘set and accomplished’, simply because they need time to be understood. (Though it would be quite nice to say ‘tomorrow between 9 and 10am I’m going to understand string theory’ 🙂 )
    So my question is: how do you deal with those kinds of tasks and goals?

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