Being Productive

First published on January 18, 2020 · Last updated on May 9, 2020

In my previous post about my Recap for 2019 I talked about some of the things I wanted to do more this year. One of those things was writing more blog posts. January is almost over so I figured it's a good time to write the first one of 2020.

The idea for this blog post came to me a little earlier today when I was going to my todo list. It occurred to me that I'm depending a lot on my todo list app of choice: Things. I thought it might be interesting for others to see how I work and what keeps me focussed.

Ever since I started using Things I've been pouring down every single small todo I ever need to tackle into the app. I can schedule upcoming todos, repeating ones, organize todos into projects and put anything else I need to take care of someday into a separate list. Below is a screenshot of my todos for today.

My todo list for today in Things

Not everything on the above list will probably get done today. How I usually work is to prioritize things from top to bottom and then start working my way through the list. I try to get done as much as possible and if anything is left at the end of the day I reschedule those todos to a different date.

Everything I don't need to get done today but needs to be picked up next will go into my inbox. Here I keep all my todos which aren't prioritized, planned or urgent. Todos that don't have a particularly due date go into "someday" or into a project so I can tackle them at a later time. I also keep some repeating todos for household chores like cleaning or doing the laundry so I never forget about them.

Every single time I need to do anything, even if it is the smallest bit, I put it into Things. At a later time, I plan them according to how urgent those todos are. Using this system proved to be very productive for me. It helps me not forget about anything and helps me get things done.

Alternative Todos

Not all my todos are in Things. I often treat other apps and notification systems as todo lists as well. My email client Spark, for example, is such an alternative todo list. I'm very focussed on keeping my inbox to inbox zero. Every email is a todo for me. If there's something I can't tackle right away I'll use the snooze functionality to return to it at a later time.

The same goes for my Github notifications. This ties into my work for Laravel. When working on issues every single notification is a todo for me which I tackle one-by-one. After reaching zero notifications I get a great feeling of knowing that I tackled everything that there is to do for that day so I focus on other things for Laravel. In between that other work I regularly check into the notifications to keep it to zero.

Hidden Todos

Sometimes though, todos aren't immediately obvious. They aren't in your todo app and you notice them by coincidence. What's helpful is to prevent those tasks from becoming todos in the first place. Take a basket of laundry for example. After noticing it, instead of letting it stand, I try to take care of it right away. That way I prevent my todo list from growing or forgetting about it.

Here are some other examples of hidden todos: a stack of unprocessed receipts, some unfinished magazines, unread books in your book closet, your Netflix to-watch list. I treat all of those as todos as well. The reason why these kinds of todos aren't inside Things is that they're secondary and usually leisure-based. So I go through them at my own pace in my free time so I can focus on what's important with Things.

The Bad Parts

Some things keep me from being productive though. I have a long history of not sleeping very well which causes me to miss a large part of my morning. The first couple of hours every day I'm highly unproductive. I've been trying to work on this for quite some time now but it hasn't been easy. Hopefully, this is something that I can become better in the future.

I also am someone who gets distracted easily. Either from a notification that comes in, a media device nearby or simply not focusing hard enough at the task at hand. To give you an example: instead of writing this blog post in one go I did it within three times, first by doing a break of checking into some emails and secondly getting some coffee. It'd be better if I did those things after finishing the post so I could have kept the momentum going. This is also something I want to work on and get better in.


All of the above is part of my way of being productive. It helps me going through things step-by-step. I noticed that I'm being productive the most when I'm in a sort of state where I'm crushing todos at a fast pace. Seeing your to-do list shrink is highly rewarding because you know that at the end of the ride you'll have time for anything else you wish to do.

What are the things you do to keep yourself productive? Let me know on Twitter!

About me

I'm a software engineer from Belgium. I work as one of the core team members of Laravel, the popular PHP framework.

I'm also the creator of Eventy, a platform that connects the dots between user groups, speakers, conferences and attendees.

My passions are open-source, growing communities, and building products that people love.

© Dries Vints