Productivity Mini Systems That Actually Work

In my introduction to this category, I noted that I’m only interested in a few things when it comes to talking about productivity for myself and for others:

  1. Everything is about is increasing the amount of work that I get done in a certain period of time.
  2. I only care about things that actually work and that are sustainable; I don’t care about what “sounds good at the time” if it just doesn’t work.
  3. I’m not looking to sell crap to anyone, so I’m only going to recommend free tools.

To this end, I’m going to recommend an approach with a few tools here that will instantly boost your productivity tremendously. It might take half an hour to download and set all of this up, but you’ll save multiple hours of time each week and lower your stress levels significantly, even if you already have some kind of productivity system.

The point here is that I’m going to introduce you to a few extremely simple systems that will change how you do small things that take up a lot of time so that they don’t take up as much time anymore. I prefer small, useful, self-sustaining systems over trying to keep a bunch of crazy organizational tools together because I don’t want to spend more time organizing my work than actually doing my work.

What You Need For These Systems

I’m going to rattle off a list of accounts and tools you’ll need for this. This is going to seem too simple to do much good, but bear with me. You can either sign up for all of this first and work through the explanations below (which is what I recommend), or you can read through it all so that you see where I’m going with this and then come back and do it all. It’s up to you, but I think you’ll have a better chance of actually doing it if you just start with this list first.

And remember: It’s all free.

  • Get an account at
  • Download Todoist to your computer and phone.
  • Create a Readability account, install the plugin on your web browser and download the phone app.
  • Download the free version of OneNote to your computer (phone is optional since we won’t need it for mobile).

Once you have all of this downloaded and your accounts set up, let’s jump into what we’re going to do with it all.

Set Up IFTTT First

IFTTT (IF This Then That) is basically an automated system that will do something when something else triggers it. For our purposes, we want to be able to send an SMS (same thing as text message) to IFTTT and have it add an item to our Todoist inbox. When you create a recipe, have SMS as the “this” and Todoist as the “that,” and make sure you choose your inbox when you’re setting up the Todoist part of the recipe.

Here’s how this mini-system works: Now you can send a text message, which is one of the easiest and most natural things to do at this point, and it will automatically go to your Todoist inbox, which we’re going to get to down below. The idea is to never forget anything that you want to try to remember. It’s worth noting that this is much faster than virtually any other method of keeping notes for yourself, which saves time, which is one of our main goals.

Set Up OneNote

OneNote is going to be our personal reference, and it’s basically going to be a set of lists for us of things that we might want to remember later but that aren’t all that important right this moment. For example, you might have lists for movies you want to watch, books you want to check out, motivational quotes, projects that you might want to go after in the future, etc.

To give an example of how this might work: If you have a significant other, you might keep a page in your OneNote notebook of ideas for Christmas/birthday/Valentine’s Day presents. You might think of the perfect Christmas present in the middle of July. With this set of systems, you’d send a text to Todoist reminding yourself of the present idea, and then when you went through your Todoist inbox, you’d add it to OneNote on the appropriate page.

If the IFTTT method above is your automated “short term memory” system, then OneNote is going to be your automated “long term memory” system.

Set Up Readability

One of the biggest time sinks for people is getting distracted by something they were reading on the Internet. Readability is a free service that allows you to send these types of things to a list that you’ll refer to later. The point of Readability is that you can access these items conveniently (and in a form that looks better than most websites today if we’re being honest) from your phone after just pressing a button in your browser. You avoid the time sink, distraction and interruption without needing the willpower to just skip reading whatever it is.

Later in some kind of downtime, whether it’s waiting in a lobby on an appointment or whatever else, you can bring these items back up in a couple of taps on your phone. This instantly rescues time that would have been wasted reading when you’re supposed to be getting work done while still allowing you to get that reading in later.

Setting Up Todoist

Todoist is basically a smart to-do list that lets you set reminders, dates, organize lists and stuff like that in a really clean interface. It has an inbox, which we’ve already set up, but we’re going to set up a few other things by using it in a way that most people don’t.

The first thing you want to do is create a top-level project called “Recurring Tasks,” and under that project, create three more projects: Daily Tasks, Weekly Tasks and Monthly Tasks. Naturally, the next thing you do is go in and add all of the tasks you need to do daily, all of the tasks you need to do weekly and all of the tasks you need to do monthly.

Make sure you add a daily task to zero your Todoist inbox. To zero your inbox means that you process everything in it so that there’s nothing left. We’ll come back to this in a moment.

The second thing you want to do is create another top-level project called “Other Tasks,” and under that project, create whatever projects make sense for you in terms of grouping your other tasks. These tasks aren’t regular things that happen, and they’re basically tasks that you have scheduled for specific days. I suggest having a project under “Other Tasks” that’s just for general reminders like a simple reminder that a show is coming out a certain day or that you need to remember someone’s birthday, etc.

So when you go through your Todoist inbox, sometimes you’ll have things in there that you need to do. The rule is that you don’t add anything to your “Other Tasks” without assigning it a date to actually do it. If you do, then you’ll run into problems with it never getting done.

The third thing to add to Todoist is a top-level project called “Shopping List.” Whenever you go out to the grocery store or wherever else, you put your list of what you need to get in there, and you’ll always have it with you. You can also add items by store using projects under that “Shopping List” top-level project if you want. This will save you time, aggravation and so on.

How These Systems Work Together

This creates a very simple productivity/organizational system for people that can be adapted to damn near anything. Each day, all you have to do is check the “Today” section in Todoist and work on that list of tasks in whatever order makes sense. It will automatically populate your to-do list with everything you need to do that day, so most of the organization is automatically handled (which saves a ton of time compared to most productivity approaches). When you clear a recurring task, it’ll automatically be added to the next day/week/month as needed, etc., which also saves time.

You should always get around to your recurring tasks each day. However, if the “other tasks” don’t get done, you need to assign a new date for them so that your “Today” list is always cleared by the time you finish up for the day.

While you’re going about your business, you’re constantly sending yourself reminders and things of that nature (via text message through IFTTT). Since you zero your inbox daily, all of that will be processed and added to either OneNote (for long-term reference) or Todoist (for things you need to do or be reminded of on specific days). What was previously downtime waiting in lines or in lobby areas or sitting around waiting on your significant other to get ready to go is now reclaimed time reading things that you’ve added to your Readability list.

In short, you can set up all of these systems in something like half an hour or so, and it will save you a tremendous amount of time and stress from here forward. That’s why I’ve written out such a long-ass post about this.

Please Give Me Feedback

If you try this set of systems for yourself, please leave me feedback in the form of a comment. I would really appreciate it.


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