Living in the digital age, so many things are happening around the globe: things to do and learn, resources to consume, and opportunities to take. Activities to try, clothes to buy, places to visit, events to attend, and the list goes on and on. Keeping up to date, organizing your life, and sustainably tracking your progress is pretty hard. Many people get overwhelmed by this and struggle to accomplish even simple things. It's not easy; it's not easy at all to organize your life somehow.
I always think of life as a big project where you get to pick what you want to build.
And like any project, you need a goal. A goal in life would be an abstract long-term one, but we won't get into how to define a goal in life because that would be another blog --if not a book-- of its one. Assuming you have a goal, you need to break it down into smaller tasks so you can manage the project. You need to prioritize the tasks, estimate them, track progress and frequently reflect on them to ensure you are on the correct path to achieving your goal.
Chaos isn't the problem; how long it takes to find coherence is the real game ⎯ Doc Childre and Bruce Cryer
I've often been asked how I organize myself and keep my productivity level in a good state, so here you go. I will describe what tool I use for my second brain app, why and how I use it, and my workflow of organizing myself and staying productive. I will not go into full detail about my system, but instead, I will give you an overview of how I configured it and how it works for me. Feel free to reach out if you like the blog post, and I will expand to the rest of my system in the following post.
Why I use Notion ❓
Notion is my second brain app, and I've been using it for the last 3 years almost. I used many applications like Trello, Miro, Evernote, Google Notes, Asana, and many more for their own reasons. There were three main problems with using so many applications.
First, it was really stressful to remember where every piece of knowledge existed. For example, I had my kanban boards in Trello, my career progression in Miro, and some random notes in Google Notes. It was frustrating to find information easily, so I had to remember and search across all those applications.
Another problem was context switching. Switching from application to application was not fun at all. Our brain is not efficient with changing contexts.
Finally and most importantly, there was no inner connection between data from one application to another. So if there was a dependency from one project from Trello to some notes in Google Notes, I had to duplicate the content.
It was impossible, at least for me, to continue like that. Then I found Notion. Notion has almost all the main features from the abovementioned tools, which works like a charm! Now I am not saying that having a tool that does nearly everything is the best solution because, obviously it will lack some details that for other people will not be a fit. However, for me, it literally changed my life. You can find out more on their official page
Why you need a tool 🔧
Our brains are not suitable for remembering stuff; they are good at processing data on the go. Having such a tool is like having a second brain. You cannot remember everything you've seen, heard, planned, or read. You can configure your workflow system with a tool that will help you stay focused and stress-free. There are so many benefits of using such a tool like
- Organize knowledge
- Track progress
- Flexibility to reajust
- Point of reference
- Visualize data
For me, if you don't have a tool where you write down stuff happening or things you want to happen in life, then you are basically throwing a dice. I am not saying you will not achieve your goals, but it feels to me that you rely too much on luck where you can quickly minimize that risk.
Moment-to-moment collecting, thinking, processing, and organizing are challenging enough; always ensure you have the tools to make them as easy as possible!
Avoid the trap 🪤
Being a productivity geek, you might end up in a problem where the system or your workflow is dictating your life. It happened to me in the past when I was a slave of my system. You have to avoid that and always treat it as a tool to help you as an individual achieve your goals. It's really easy to get obsessed with getting as many things done as possible but you must find a balance and configure your workflow to serve you accordingly instead of you serving your workflow.
My workflow ⚙️
If you are still reading this, I probably convinced you that having such a system is helpful. So let's dive into my system that is set up in Notion. I've categorized my life into 4 main pages.
- Kanban ⎯ This is what we'll see in more detail
Each category has its purpose and meaning. Every category contains sub-categories which then might include other categories and so on, depending on their complexity. In this blog post, we will dive into Kanban, which is the one I spend most of my time in Notion.
Capturing input 🎣
Every day our brains receive an enormous amount of input. Some of them are useless, but others aren't. Capturing important information is essential so we can process it later if necessary.
For this, I have a
Quick Note page where I capture everything necessary that has some value or meaning: it could be a reminder, a movie suggestion, a youtube link, anything.
Typically it contains unstructured data that are quickly captured with little context. At some point in the day, I will check that page and put it in the right place. You have to order those things regularly
otherwise, you will probably forget why you have such a note 😛
If it's just a piece of information that needs to be revisited at some point, then I order it in the correct place. For example, I would put it under Life -> Movies if it were a movie suggestion.
If it's a task that needs to be done, then I will add it to my main factory of work, the
Everyone has some sort of goal in their life, but not everyone is making a steadfast commitment to them. If you want to achieve your goals, you must take action. You need to define them, break them down, monitor them, and adjust them if necessary, otherwise, you are just relying purely on luck.
I define my goals in many dimensions. I have daily, weekly, quarterly and yearly goals. Every year I will try to describe what I want to achieve this year and break it down into quarter tasks, I call them
epics and the process
Epics are bigger scoped tasks that can be broken down to smaller tasks that can easily be estimated and done in a couple of days maximum.
So my goals for every 4 months are my epic tasks. I then break down those epics into smaller tasks and feed my daily backlog with work. It's important to note that when you define a task, it should have an explicit condition that will determine its completeness; otherwise, you can get stuck in not knowing what you have to do.
A backlog is a bucket containing defined, estimated, visible value tasks ready to be picked up.
Last but not least, I do weekly planning every Sunday night, picking up tasks from the backlog and committing to finishing them until the following week. After a lot of iterations, I know how much work I can do, so I can reliably commit to the number of tasks I can finish in one week.
Of course, you don't have to do this weekly planning, as it might seem overkill at the beginning. You can maximize value by just getting tasks from the backlog and trying to finish them as soon as possible.
The main factory 🏭
The main work stream is happening on my page called
Kanban, which contains all the small tasks and the weekly planning. This is where I spend most of my time in Notion. You can see my board in the image below.
As you can see, I have broken down the tasks into two main categories
Software. Every task has the following attributes:
- tag which indicates to what type it belongs -- Life, Software
- state -- Backlog, In Progress, Blocked or Done
- estimation as a number (we will not go into how to estimate tasks but think the more complex the task is, the higher the number).
- quarter task it belongs to
What I call in the board
Sprint is basically the week.
Sprint word is borrowed from the Scrum framework.
You can find all the information mentioned above by clicking on the task itself.
The flow of the Kanban is pretty straightforward. I pick up a task from the
Backlog and then move it to the
In progress column. When I finish, I will move it to
Done like a typical manufacturing line. Having this board helps you visualize
your progress. You also know what you should be working on instead of wasting time every day asking, "What should I do today?". I know exactly what I have to work on every day and this helps to relieve a lot of stress.
Last but not least, it gives you the flexibility to adapt to changes. If something happens, you have complete control of your work stream so you can adapt to any change and move tasks around. This is useful as life is unexpected, and many things change daily.
Having goals and working on them is not enough to achieve them. You must regularly do a retrospective to ensure you are on the right path. Doing retrospectives increases the probability of staying in the right direction, ensuring you are moving towards your goals. With such a system, it's pretty easy to monitor what has been done, what needs to be done and if any changes are required based on the current circumstances.
I do a retro at the end of every quarter, every 4 months. I will revisit my goals for the year and the quarter and ask myself how I performed. My format for this is simple; I have main topics "What went well", "What didn't go well", and "Actions". After filling the first two topics, I try to devise actions that will prevent me from doing things that didn't go well this quarter. Here is an example of my quarter retrospective.
Obviously, for every action, you need to create a task that will be moved to your backlog and eventually fulfilled. Otherwise, there is no real point in doing a retrospective if you are not improving yourself.
Sum up 💭
Although what I mentioned above works for me, it might not work precisely the same for you. You need to create a system that will serve you best for organizing your life and goals. Having a system is not enough; you still need willingness, persistence, and consistency, but it's definitely a good start!
There are still things we did not cover, like how we capture information and create a knowledge graph that can assist us in organizing our knowledge, or how I use my
Going to all these things might be a huge blog post, so I thought of breaking it down to maybe two (or three) parts. As I mentioned in the beginning, if you liked this one, please let me know to expand further on another post.