📚 Productivity Systems

First Published: 2023-03-05

Reflecting on what works - and when


I've used powerful productivity systems for most of my past two years in college. Along the way my strategies have adapted to the changing circumstances in my life. In this post I hope to give you insight into how I organize myself and provide ideas on how you might pick a productivity system or adjust one to suit your needs.

GTD + Phone

For a long time I have used "Getting Things Done", the GTD method, to organize myself. I used a simple calendar app, a powerful todo list, and a habit tracker. The calendar held passive appointments, meaning appointments where I just had to show up, or that needed little preparation. The habit tracker helped me build 1-3 habits at a time, and had pretty nice widgets for that. My task management system got pretty elaborate, with prioritization, tags and different lists, along with a custom filter for the widget.

GTD excels at bandwidth, when you have a lot of small tasks and appointments, rather than one large project. I'd say it's the best system for staying on top of things, if your life gets chaotic and you have more urgent chores than important tasks. On the flip side, GTD disappoints in growth and reflection, dumbing down your journey to checkboxes and providing no native mechanisms for self-review.

Bullet Journaling

When I first switched to a dumbphone, I soon craved an alternative to my previous setup. Since I wanted to cut back on technology use, a large goal for me at the time, I arrived at bullet journaling as my system of choice. My bullet journal had month and week spreads for it's hierarchy, as opposed to one page per day, or a rolling structure. I integrated habit tracking into the week spreads and also had some custom collections to track other aspects of my life.

Bullet journaling excels at making you reflect, by purposely increasing the friction of adding tasks to your todo-list, while also making you consciously migrate or eliminate any uncompleted tasks. With the future log being great for scheduling, BuJo always gave me a great overview over my life.

Project Management with Org Mode

Orthogonal to both of these systems, I like to use emacs org mode for managing ongoing projects that have little contact to the rest of my life. Such things can be individual classes in college, or one-off investigations into topics of interest, such as exercise or nutrition. Org mode is great for a focused approach to work, such as longer projects or work.

Some people use org mode as their primary productivity tool, with org capture and the org agenda providing decent scheduling support. I've tried to integrate these features into my workflow but haven't found much success at using emacs for life management.


I started out with GTD, went to BuJo for 3 months, went back for 3 months, to then use no productivity system for the last two months. Since I've been using my dumbphone again this year, and because I don't have a lot of separate tasks and appointments anymore, I'm gravitating towards the BuJo method again. In parallel to bullet journaling, I plan to rely heavily on org mode to provide me with the tools to stay on track, in college and at work.

I hope you found this insightful and will look up some of the methods or tools discussed. If you use some drastically different system, perhaps one that emphasises notes (e.g. Notion, Obsidian), I'd love to hear about it.

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