A while back, I wrote an article about how I worked on my daily workflow. An interesting thing happened to me over the past month. As the stress of budget season ramped up, I fell farther back into my default behavior. I found myself stopping my note-taking habit. My daily to-dos were not getting done regularly. I didn’t want to write.
This is the time where I usually just stop and go back to watching TV and turning off my brain in the evening. I did that for a few weeks, while ignoring most things I was trying to do with my time. The first step of improving anything is to look at what was actually happening. After I recovered my sanity, I decided to look at my workflow and see what I wanted to simplify.
My daily workflow revolves around three streams: to-dos, communications, and note-taking. To add a little complexity, I’ll also talk about the two personas I work in, work and personal. Let’s step through those one-by-one and see what can be done.
Work E-mail – I work in an Office 365 shop, so all of my email is in Outlook. As many large corporations do, we have lots of restrictions on how data can flow in and out of our ecosystem, so that is generally self-contained. I do not have any integrations with Outlook, including on mobile, on purpose.
Personal E-mail – I use Google Workspace for my personal domains. This is a long-running relationship for me and I have everything set up, so it would likely take an act of God to get me to change at this point. That means that I use Gmail as my primary email tool. This creates a nice demarcation between work and personal, as there is no chance of accidental crossover.
Work Messaging – Teams is out Instant Messaging and persistent chat system at work, so I use that on Mac and mobile. Again, this is standalone in my workflow, but I’m engaged there all day, every day.
Personal Messaging – I strongly prefer texting, but I do use Facebook Messenger and LinkedIn messenger on occasion.
All of the integrations start to happen here. When I get a new action item from any of those processes, I add a todo to… Apple Reminders. But, wait Joseph! I thought you used Todoist?!?! Well, I did. Over the course of considering what I was doing, I took inventory. We use iCloud for a shared family todo list and shopping list. I was also using Microsoft ToDo for work stuff too.
Having three todo list apps is just too much, so I picked one. The one that had the most external attachment was Apple Reminders, plus I do everything on Apple products, so it was a pretty easy decision to simplify.
This is where I have the least conviction, but I’m trying to get better. I’m not a natural note-taker. I am blessed with generally good retention, so I have a tendency to believe that I will remember everything. I’m wrong obviously, but try convincing yourself of that sometime.
Paper is the easiest and most socially acceptable. In an office setting, carrying around a notebook and pen was commonplace. It is easy to leave on a desktop for working from home too. However, my experience that knowledge just dies there. I never go back to a notebook to find something later, mainly because my reflex is to search my computer. I find it to be the least useful.
Craft is a phenomenal typing and editing experience. It is a block-based editor (like WordPress!), allows easy reordering, and now has a daily notes section. I really like using it for long-form writing. I don’t like using it for daily notes as much as Mem, mainly because it feels like it wants to be structured. The interface has folders, which I always get hung up on. My main reason for not liking OneNote is that I find the notebook, tab, and pages structure to be too much structure for me. Craft is a lighter version that.
Mem is excellent for the ad hoc notes that happen all day. It’s really easy to jot something down, hash tag it, and find it again later. The timeline mode is great and gives a good sense of what happened in relation to each other over the course of time. The writing experience is not nearly a good as Craft, but it’s fine for everyday use. I ended up deciding to go back to it full time.
So where does that leave me?
Needless to say, nothing is ever permanent with me. I’m always examining things, resetting, and starting something new. That said, I’m pretty happy with this workflow. As things come in through the communications channels, I make a couple of quick decisions. If I need to do something with the information, it goes into Reminders. If I just need to capture a note for reference or research purposes, I go to Mem. It’s a simple decision tree that is easy to follow. Until I decide to have another crisis of system, I’ll roll with that!