Join Justin on a tour of his Obsidian note-taking setup, including the principles he uses from Zettelkasten and Evergreen notes.
Markdown is commonly used in many note-taking apps. How do you use it? Why is Markdown a good choice for your note system? We answer these questions and more in today’s video.
Obsidian does not yet have a mobile client, so what you should use in the meantime? For iPadOS and iOS, the answer is 1Writer.
Next-generation note taking tools like Obsidian offer vast flexibility in how you use and structure your data. But if you’re just getting going, where do you get started?
In this video we discuss the basics of taking notes in Obsidian so you can get going on the right foot.
Obsidian and Roam Research offer a unique toolset to build a knowledge graph. What is it? Why are backlinks so powerful? Should you use it?
Obsidian is a next-generation note-taking tool aiming to compete with the likes of Roam Research. If you’re building a connected personal knowledge management system, is Obsidian an good option? Let’s find out.
Roam Research is a leader in networking thoughts together in a software, but what if you don’t want to use it? What are your alternatives that aren’t super nerdy or require a lot of investment?
In today’s video, we take a look at some contenders including, Bear, Notion, Zettlr, TiddlyWiki, Dynalist, and The Archive.
I’m looking for a sense of normalcy in these crazy times. My mind just couldn’t accept the new reality that I’m facing today. I had to come to grips with the world and change with it.
It’s been a crazy couple of weeks so far. I’ll admit, I shut down emotionally for the first few days of the shelter-in-place order. I couldn’t believe what was happening. I just started running around like a chicken without a head doing aimless tasks, hoping to wake up tomorrow and things would return back to normal. Now that Life has changed, I’m faced with a new reality. Work and priorities were rendered meaningless and I had no sense of purpose anymore. We feel that way when a sudden change in our lives occur. It could be the loss or change of employment, a family emergency, or an external event such as the COVID-19 pandemic Whatever it is, it knocks me off course for a bit. But I re-orient myself and set sail in a different direction.
Capture everything that’s on your mind
The Getting-Things-Done (GTD) workflow has a great mindsweep checklist called the GTD Incompletion Triggers List. It helps to download every concern or open loop that is floating in my head on to paper or a text document.
Perform a mindsweep and capture all my concerns. Leave no doubt about what may be missing.
Freeze my previous routines
I go through my calendar and list down all of my daily routines.
- Monday morning – staff meeting – goal setting for the week
- Monday afternoons – Kid #1’s piano tutor at 4 pm
- Tuesday afternoons – Math tutor for Kid #2 at 3:30 pm
- Wednesday mornings – Midweek review with staff
- Wednesday afternoons – Art class for Kid #1 at 5:30 pm
- Thursday afternoons – Juijitsui classes at 6:00 pm
- Friday afternoons – Weekly review with staff
I put all of my routines on hold. Then I erased all my appointments from my calendar. I started from a clean slate. I’ll repopulate my daily routines a little later in this post.
Communicate and negotiate new commitments
I had to reach out to staff, customers, friends, and family to renegotiate my commitments. What was once important has been rendered second fiddle by COVID-19. Sometimes it’s hard choices such as dropping projects but leave the door open for future opportunities. Establish which commitments can still be met depending on others’ needs. If I can communicate clearly about my relationship with others during the pandemic, I have a chance to keep my connections when this is all over.
There is nothing worse than being left hanging and unsure about my commitments to others. Will I be able to retain a customer project when this all over? I do set out to reach out to my customers at certain intervals. I want them to know that they’re also in my thoughts and prayers and give encouragement to them. I want them to know that they’re still important and I’d like to get back together with them at the earliest opportunity possible. Keeping those connections will be vital when life returns to normal.
I have the same opportunity with my family. I work with them to establish new routines. Perhaps new family roles will come into play here. My family no longer has to drive to take the kids to various after school activities. Instead, we’re taking on new roles as a semi-Homeschool teacher and coordinate with the schoolteachers to help our kids advance their education. The kids are also taking on more household work now that they’re staying home all day.
Clear my task manager
I cleared my calendar routines. Now it’s time to reset my task manager. Many projects and one-off tasks were rendered meaningless by COVID-19. I needed to update my task manager to reflect reality. Life can easily upend my carefully curated task manager at the end of the day. I don’t trust it anymore if it doesn’t reflect the new reality.
Defer projects and tasks
Assign a start date or defer date of any tasks or projects to a future date. There are many projects that I don’t expect to get to until I am able to return back to work.
Tag it all away
Tags are a powerful way to indicate a meta-status that is used in many task managers. My new meta-tag is called
My Office tasks looked like this a couple of weeks ago:
When I applied my
☀️After COVID tag to these tasks, my available tasks turned gray to indicate tasks that are unavailable to me.
In OmniFocus, I have the tag status set to
On Hold. As I go through my tasks lists, I’ll assign the
☀️After COVID tag to any tasks that I won’t be working on until later. When I visit perspectives that shows available tasks, I no longer see these tasks.
When my local shelter-in-place order is lifted, I can go to my Tags perspective and delete the
☀️After COVID tag. This brings all of my previously unavailable tasks back to life again. I can return back to my office and resume work.
Put your projects and tasks into your
If tagging is a little too complicated for your taste, you can start moving some projects and checklists your
Someday/Maybe folder. When the shelter-in-place order is lifted, you can start to drag them back out into your normal folders and resume work.
Evaluate and delete the unnecessary
A last tip would be to just delete some tasks. Re-evaluate your projects and checklists over time. Slowly delete some projects or checklists. It’s amazing how time can change the priority of many projects. Some will get dropped. Some will stay relevant. You make the call.
There will be many strategies that you can do depending on your task manager. Find some way to segregate any projects and checklists that you can’t work on during the shelter-in-place phase.
Establish a new routine
A new situation requires an adjustment in routines. Your calendar will start restructuring itself. As old commitments gets put on the back burner or erased, the remaining commitments will start showing up after you’ve cleared your calendar, adjusted your priorities, and negotiated your commitments with your family and others.
After some settling, I recently figured out my children’s new school schedule, I was able to sit down with my family and started a new family schedule. Set up time blocks and ground rules with the family and others that you still need to work with.
I finally solidified expectations from my family as well as my customers. I listed all the new rules and expectations that would be a product of the current environment. It felt great being able to put them down to paper (or text document) after a lot of brainstorming and negotiation.
The first thing I had to do was establish a new family routine. If my family didn’t understand my new role as a remote worker, I might end up with gaffs like these two viral videos:
I’m learning to work with my kids now that their school has finally setup Zoom and their content-learning-management system for the kids to use. We’re learning each other’s needs. I need a quiet place to do some writing and have set up on my back patio. My older daughter set up her iPad in the kid’s shared bedroom and the younger daughter is doing online learning in the living room. My wife is comfortable in the bedroom. If I see my daughters and they have Zoom open, I know to keep quiet while they’re in class. I set up calendar alarms to remind them of their various Zoom meetings. They are getting a sense of when to disturb me or leave me alone while I’m on my MacBook or iPad.
We’re finally settling into a new routine with every as Work-From-Home workers. Set the expectations and the do-not-disturb times for everyone and we can all live in harmony. It’s still an experiment so we’re still learning.
Master my tools
The last step to get comfortable in a new world is to learn new remote tools. My family has used FaceTime as their primary video chat service. We had to learn how to use Zoom on our first try with the homeroom teachers. Thankfully, it was easy enough to use. I’m also starting to use my iPad Pro more often now that iPadOS 13.4 with mouse/trackpad support. I can delegate my MacBook to one of my kids if they need something more than their iPad.
Many apps are similar on the Mac and iOS platforms. But the interface is different enough that I’m just starting to get comfortable locating where all my tools are.
If you’re using your PC, learn the keyboard shortcuts. PI’ve used the CheatSheet freeware app to rediscover keyboard shortcuts when I’m on my Mac. I can hold down the Command key on my iPad for a few seconds and a window pops up displaying any keyboard shortcuts for the current app I am using. It also helps to be able to have a cheat sheet printed out and placed on my desk while I’m working.
I am also using automation tools such as Keyboard Maestro on my Mac or Siri Shortcuts on my iPad to reduce mistakes. I create workflows that can be easily invoked to perform a routine consistently.
Master your current apps or master the new apps that you will be using during the shelter-in-place phase. The first couple weeks is rough as we try to learn the nuances of the app. But it’ll be worth it.
I’m the enteral optimist. I look forward to returning back to a life that is closer to what we had before. I realize that things won’t be exactly the same. Maybe we’ll establish a new norm. But I do look forward to having a bit more freedom of movement when the shelter-in-place order is lifted in our area.
My first step would be to take that notebook where I took notes about what my routines, expectations, roles, projects, and tasks and froze it in place. I can start to look through and restart some of the routines I had before. I can resume my kid’s after school programs. I restart client work that was put on hold while the shelter-in-place order exited. I slowly reintroduce old routines and daily schedules. It won’t be exactly the same but I’m looking forward to getting back to work.
Share your journey of how you are handling your new life. What new roles have you taken on? How much have you adjusted to a new world? How did you change your commitments to current work? Are you doing anything to get ready for a different world than what we had just a few weeks ago? We’d love to hear from you!
Being able to set your own hours and schedule for work is a dream for most people. With all those benefits come the responsibility to manage yourself well to be successful. Some quick tips to be more successful:
- Remember you don’t have to be all over the place with your work hours
- Set consistent hours but be flexible as you need
- Work with your biological prime time
- Set aside deep work time
- Use the 2 minute rule to get going
- Use the Pomodoro technique to stay focused – Communicate well
I’ve always had a difficult time overcoming my friction points in GTD. I devoured numerous blog posts and watched one-too-many YouTube videos. I implemented and then forgot about the different tips and tricks I learned throughout the years. I downloaded multiple task managers trying to find the perfect fit for my GTD practices to no avail. It wasn’t easy and that’s why I understand why so many people give up on GTD. David Allen once surmised that it takes about 2 years to master GTD. It isn’t an overnight success.
My GTD system can range anywhere from a smooth operator to a raging dumpster fire. But that’s just the Game of Life that we all play in. It is a well-oiled machine one day and then a graveyard of stalled projects, stale tasks, and broken promises the next day. There are 5 phases of GTD that must be maintained. Each one presents its own set of friction points I had to overcome. If one of the five phases lag behind, it can create friction that slows down a GTD system. Here are the 5 phases:
I’ve followed Leo Babauta’s ZTD (Zen To Done) mantra of adopting one habit at a time. He has a few more steps to follow but it’s generally the same idea. Focus on one phase until it becomes a habit. I’m learning to master the 5 phases one phase at a time. Have you found any one of the five areas in need of a tuneup? Here are some friction points that I had to overcome.
I didn’t have capture tools that are easily available.
I carry my A5 BuJo and pens in my everyday carry bag. I have my iPhone with me most of the time. Drafts and OmniFocus are loaded on all my computers and can be invoked very quickly to capture my fleeting ideas.
I make sure to have at least 1 capture device available for me to capture all my mad scientist ideas when the moment arrives. It could be my BuJo or my iPhone. I have Drafts and OmniFocus installed on my Macs for more easy access.
I have too many inboxes to check
In the beginning, I lost track of where I captured my notes. I had multiple notebooks all around the house and the office. I saved text snippets in Drafts, Notes, Evernote, and a whole bunch of other note taking apps. It would drive me crazy because I would have to check every app or the desktop to see where I may have a note that I wanted to capture.
Nowadays, I trimmed down my inboxes to as few as possible. I have one physical in-tray at the house and at work. Anything that contains text goes into Drafts. I use my iPhone to take pictures of invoices and items of interest I find when I go outside on errands. I use the iCloud calendar to hold all my appointments instead of switching between Google Calendar, Yahoo calendar, and iCloud calendar. I forward all my email accounts to my gMail account to make it easier to process. Reducing the number of inboxes reduces the stress of wondering whether or not I missed something.
If I leave everything in the inbox, it just becomes one long cluttered list of tasks to do, calendar appointments that float around, and notes that are never grouped. I detest working from my inbox. I need to find a final destination for any inbox items. Here are some places where I put my inbox items:
A popular destination for any junk mail that somehow bypasses my spam filter.
Any inbox item that doesn’t have a next action but is used as project notes for a potential future project.
appointments that I decide to honor. Doctor’s visit, my kid’s soccer games, and the daily/weekly review are a few commitments that I choose to place into my hard landscape.
I start putting any next actions from my inbox into my task manager’s processing.
My projects and tasks needs to go somewhere in my GTD task manager. Everything has a place and shouldn’t stay in the inbox. If I can’t organize all the inbox items, I’ll just have a chaotic list that is sorted in no particular order. Here are some destination points for my inbox items:
Most newly created projects that don’t have a due date first start as a someday/maybe project. I don’t need to work on it. I add it to the inventory of projects that I want to work on later.
Waiting For List
This list keeps me aware of any outstanding items I am waiting for from someone else.
Next Actions Lists
These lists hold a series of single tasks to remember. My grocery list, my wife’s honey-do list, and the odd one-off personal actions list gets filled up frequently.
Any group of related tasks goes into my Projects Lists. I have different folders in my task manager for the various Areas of Responsibility in my life. I have folders in my task manager for
Family as a few examples of different Areas of Focus or folders that I use to organize my various projects.
If I don’t reflect or review about my lists, calendars, and file references, many items can become obsolete on any given day. Reflecting ensures that my system remains fresh. I can trust it because it is up-to-date as best as it can be at this moment. A weekly review used to take 2-3 hours every weekend and was something i didn’t look forward to doing. I realized that not everything had to be reviewed at the same time. Some things needed daily monitoring. Other things can be looked at once a week or even a monthly basis. I set out to figure out what I needed to review at different intervals.
At the end of the day, I do a daily review that processes any new inbox items and I can update any project or list that may have changed since I last checked into my task manager. I clear my mind knowing that I cleared any nagging doubts using the GTD Incompletion Trigger List. I can check on what I did today and start planning any time blocks for tomorrow.
My weekly review gives me a general strategy of what I would like to achieve next week by choosing a handful of MITs (Most Important Tasks) and 1-3 Big Rock projects.
The monthly review lets me review the past month and do a progress report on what I did in the last month. This gives me a floorpan of what I can start working on next month or continue the previous month’s goals.
I’ve always had a hard time with Engaging or “doing” my work. I can be seen fawning over my beautiful projects and lists and will be in the clarifying and organizing phase forever. But all those dreams in my GTD task manager mean nothing if I don’t get to it. I am easily distracted by my digital task manager. There are just too many tasks that are screaming at me whenever I open it.
Organizing my work is not the same as
Engaging in my work. I have learned to differentiate between “planning” and “doing”. If I am staring at my task manager, I am in planning mode. I don’t work from my to-do list. I plan in it. When I want to switch to “doing” mode, I’ll pull a few tasks or projects and create time blocks in my calendar. Then I work from my calendar. Things 3 has a “Today” view that shows what needs to be done today. OmniFocus has a forecast perspective that shows tasks that are deferred or due today as well as any tasks that have a forecast tag assigned to it. The task manager should have a view that is specifically for working. Perhaps a smart list that contains a short list of all the tasks you want to work on today? Every app should have some kind of “today” view.
I will return to my to-do list only if I need to plan for the next day, week, or month. Otherwise, I already have a list of tasks assigned to different time blocks in my calendar. If a task or project isn’t on the calendar, the chances are high that I won’t get to work on it.
Running Like Clockwork
After a decade of struggle, I think I’m finally getting to a point of less friction in my GTD system. I’ve identified some of my friction points in capturing, clarifying, organizing, reflecting, and engaging.
Have you sat down and looked at what’s been bothering you in your GTD system? Keep a small notebook and capture any friction points and situations that you’ve found difficult for the next few weeks. If you don’t identify them then you won’t be able to come up with possible solutions.
If you haven’t solidified a habit yet, a checklist would be a great way to start tracking what’s been bugging you. Here’s a post that can get you started on creating your own checklists to kickstart your GTD system.
Modify the checklist to fit your workflow. Notice which steps you’ve skipped over. You might just find another way around whatever is keeping you stuck. I’ve edited my own GTD checklist to fit my life. You may find that there are some GTD steps that you may not need. Eliminate those and implement new steps in your checklist.
Tell us about some of your challenges or discoveries in this post or create your own post. We’d love to see what you’ve got cookin’ in your GTD kitchen!