Browsing HackerNews I stumbled across this article by Jeff Huang. In it he describes, essentially, the reward of completing a quest to find a time management and planning tool that works for him. After experimenting with various productivity apps, Jeff boiled down the issue of planning and managing one’s time and projects to its essence. The basic ingredients are a calendar and a text document, that’s it. The way he uses those though, was a revelation to me. I have struggled with forgetting about tasks I wanted to complete. That was because I was relying on my memory. But memory does not scale well with the complexity of life. When I was younger I didn’t need notes. I could simply store the the tiny set of responsibilities in my head. As I got older, life of course got more complicated but I refused to start taking notes. What a fool!

Jeff’s article blew me away. For me the biggest takeaway is to just schedule the things you want to in your calendar. It is magical! All those random chores and TODOs we need to juggle in our heads, just add them to your calendar whenever you want to work on them. It’s incredibly freeing. Something important comes up? Create a calendar event and you can essentially forget about it. The thing needs preparation? Easy, just add an event for a time before the event reminding you to prepare! In fact, most of the events in my calendar are not time-boxed but all-day events. I will integrate them into my daily schedule as I see fit.

At the end of each day, Jeff takes all calendar events for the next day and appends the TODOs to a text document. This sets up the new day and we exactly know what to do on any particular day. So if you find yourself drifting off and procrastinating, just have a look at your TODO list and pick a task. I am ordering the tasks based on priority, the most important tasks go to the top of the list. On some days, my TODO list starts with easy tasks. Getting shit done means starting the new day on a high note! Even if it is as simple as watering the plants, it’s about momentum. Ticking off the checkboxes in our TODO list every day is so rewarding and addictive (that’s what I hope for at least).

The elegance of Jeff’s approach to productivity is in its simplicity. All you need is a calendar and a text editor. For me these are Apple Calendar and Apple Notes. They sync across all my devices, I can edit and inspect them from my phone or laptop, and I don’t need to spend on third party software. Another goodie, Siri Shortcuts allows us to automate boring chores. Remember how we transfer our calendar events in the evening to plan the next day? Right, you can create a Shortcut that does exactly that. Now I just have to order the items according to priority, create a checklist of my TODOs (I just like to check off things) and I am done. The next day is planned and ready to be tackled!

You can find the Shortcut here. The parts that need to be customized for your setup are highlighted with comments.