I like this idea of “low-tech”.
In one of my previous companies, I liked to keep track of what I was doing during my working days. Software exists for that, and my company had one, but I never used it.
Instead, I just kept all my task in a hand-written CSV file which was always open in Vim. It looked like this:
date, customer, what I did, time taken (min)
2016-08-03, Customer #1, fix API, 120
2016-08-03, , improve UI of dashboard, 30
Searching in my log when I had to do reports was a breeze: just a plain text search on a date, a customer, etc. If I needed to, I could even use a CSV querying tool (but I never needed to).
I’ve noticed that everyone has a different system for organizing their tasks, ideas, schedule, meeting minutes, research notes, etc.
I wrote mine up because I think it’s a fairly simple method, that has worked well for me and it’s battle tested for 12 years.
I would love to hear from you if you have a similar system, or have any thoughts about the way I do it.
I use something very similar but it also serves me as a journal when I have thoughts to write.
I just lack the energy and willpower to actually do everything as planned, so I do push stuff into the next day.
Related to that, it helps me to put estimates to tasks because “5 minutes of torture can’t really hurt”.
Since I’ve been doing this for a while, I have a pretty good estimation of how much I can get done in a day. Basically it’s like “full day of meetings plus one small thing” or “one or two meetings plus one medium sized thing”. That’s all I aim to do in a day.
What subreddit is that? I love reading these…
Various posts on https://www.reddit.com/r/productivity/
For task tracking, I use a plain-text* system (loosely) based on the Bullet Journal system. Essentially I have
I have a couple of scripts that extract recurring checklists to CSV, which I import into LibreOffice for visualisation etc.
I also have my diary in a separate set of markdown files. For some reason I decided to have one file per day (which I periodically combine and convert to HTML) though it would probably make my life easier if I just had one per year.
I’ve been really pleased with my move to plain text files for both tasks and diary.
* if you count encrypted markdown files as “plain text”
I tried computer based stuff (apps, plain text, org-mode), but finally The Bullet Journal Method ™😄 (that is a notebook and pen, plus some process) seems to work out well for me.
I did the Bullet Journal for years before I was ever tech-y (I was the one who needed help printing until I was 22….). And just recently I went back to tracking my life on pen and paper and I immediately started doing it the Bullet Journal way out of habit.
Bullet journal, simplified. I’ve had it before, found it useful. Tried to get back to it recently, read the things in the web - it’s all too complicated.
Now I just take notes in a TODO.md.
Lot is complicated about it by the various writeups on the web. I read the book (It is also a bit too long for the method, but it is an OK read, can be more useful for people with different background than mine), and it is simpler than most howtos suggest, though the author states he only provides some ideas, a framework you can customize. The howtos usually share their tailored (and usually complicated) methods as the one true way, as if that was the BuJo method. The actual method is pretty simple, and to its core it is about customization that there is no one true BuJo method, just the one that works for you.
For me the monthly migration, and the few minute computerless (thus distractionless) recap at the and of the day are the key points it is working. The fact that at the end of the month I need to copy stuff I still want to do, and strike out others that I’d rather not do anymore at the next month is better than the electronic alternatives, as the deleted items are also visualized, and accounted for. Also in a computers virtually unlimited storage in terms of text lets stuff easier accumulate. It is not a simple TODO list, but indeed a Journal, and this carries value for me.
I hope your method works out fine for you, for me they did not cut it. (Even tried git versioning markdown files with semi-freeform notes)
Admittedly I’ve become somewhat of an anti-tech person during the last decade, and I always liked writing manually, and never really liked typing.
I am relatively new to using a simple text file for productivity. For now it’s a list of what I’ve worked on in a day and how long it took. It really helps put into perspective how productive, or not, I’ve been in a day.
I’m interested in how to have structured data, but without a log of syntax noise. It would be nice to be able to pull reports, and enable future tooling to do neat things. But I wonder how far I would go before it becomes something similar to existing syntax, such as org-mode. For now I use simple markdown.
@jeffhuang Do you use tooling with the structured data; to do something with the tags, or items in a day?
Have you encountered any challenges with the .txt file being on a remote server? I’ve had mine local before because I don’t want to rely on a network connection, but I find it more flexible to have it on a remote server.
Hmm great question. The only structure I have is really just the tags. So if I’m looking for ideas, I just search for #idea and if I need to fill in my annual report, I just search for #annual and it has reduced that time from 4 hours to 15 minutes now. I’ve thought about doing something to automatically see my past meeting notes with the same person(s) like on a side screen in my office, but haven’t been motivated enough to do so. I could do something to count the number of items I worked on or thought about each time, in a sort of time-series way, but since I also do time tracking separately, I haven’t found the need to really process the daily lists very much.
For the .txt being on a remote server, I use a static network IP instead of DHCP so it’s very reliable. Microsoft has done a nice job with remote desktop that it works well enough even on my phone. If it’s a really important, I just copy the day’s list to Google Keep which is accessible everywhere, but I find myself using Remote Desktop anyways.
I do something similar but with paper and pen. I purchase customized laboratory notebooks that have my name and a serial number embossed on the front and otherwise blank pages. I write down every meeting I attend (or call into), the date and time of their start and stop, all the attendees names, as well as regular to do lists, action items, etc. After years of doing this I have a nicely curated collection of notebooks that look great on the shelf and give me a sense of pride and history on my work. I took the inspiration from George Washington’s diarys which are in the library of congress. I also use a fancy fountain pen with beautiful blue ink which my wife purchased for me that adds an extra bit of personality to the whole experience.
How much of this is a running log of what you did rather than what you have to do? Do you find that the tagging system is a good way to keep track of the different projects you are working on?
My PI has something similar in a 400 page document. I wonder if I should start using something like that too to keep track of what I do.
Basically any day besides the current day is a record. For the current day, I use just a blank line to separate the done stuff from the upcoming stuff.
Tagging is fine, though it’s almost unnecessary because I tend to write about things in the same way, so I can even just search for “meet with” or “submit” to find some things. The key part is having a search tool that shows all the results on one pane, rather than hop through them one at a time.
I used to run with a pen and paper daily todo list and a diary pad for longer planning. Last few months I’ve switched almost entirely to a tool that plugs into the statusbar tray.
The tasks are grouped by the project or client they are attached to. The groups are populated from whatever ticketing system is used (mostly git-bug). At the beginning of a work session I pick a group based on mood or external demand. An item is selected from the group at random, the name is written as the tray icon and long-description on hover. While active, notifications and procrastination/distraction apps are blocked.
Only action is postpone or complete. After a 1- hour timer (if I havn’t manually done so already), these two options are presented and its pens down, 5 minute stretch then repeat until the day is over and done with.
It’s great. Seems really natural to do this too because text essentially supported anywhere on any computing device. It was something I really leaned on in the days of Blackberry when I needed to write work reports.
My challenge today though is finding a unified method of keeping track of everything. Written notes offline, notes about server setups, process notes, scratchpad notes, rich text notes, notes over top drawings (such as markup over a PDF blueprint). I generate lots of this and there seems to be no real way to (a) bring it all together in some searchable form, and b) get access to it when the information is relevant and timely.
I didn’t mention to-do lists there - I don’t do it. Have never done it in fact..
I really like this system.
I will admit that I skimmed the article and immediately went to start hacking up some scripts to manage a list like this. Then reviewed and saw how the author generates tasks from their calendar. I learned from years of trying different productivity systems that I just can’t break down a task in to small enough components that they can be checked off like this.
I write out (by hand) the things I need to do each day, but their resolution is always so low that most things can’t just be done today, they will need days or weeks of chipping away before they get crossed off as done. Instead these task move forward day by day. I don’t need advice for making problems smaller, I can just manage things as their natural size; email xxx is done and crossed off before lunch, but write article for magazine gets carried for a while.
I am not trying to give anyone advice for how to be productive and I am not looking for advice. I just wanted to leave this note here, if you have tried every system under the sun and feel like you could be more productive maybe you need to step away from the cool system or app and contemplate how you actually work.
I am quite jealous of the historic record created this way.
This hits me right in the feels and makes me watn to shout, yes yes yes, but org-mode! Together with some standard emacs functionality, it checks every single box. Daily list, todo list, short cuts, email, capture, compartmentalisation, and much much more. And it’s all just text.
I tried a few different approaches to productivity, including notebook and a pen, iPad, etc.
I settled on simply having a set of somewhat structured documents tracking the work of entire projects. If a new project comes up, I create a new document.
Each document has:
I go through the documents and simply append to the Timeline when something new comes up.
In theory I could coalesce all these documents into a single .txt file, which would achieve something similar to what you’ve done.