My Favorite Way to Stay Organized and Productive

When I was laid off from my job last June, I was somehow still super busy. I had people to catch up with, blogs to write, things to organize, and lots of life things to catch up on too. 

At the time, my personal to-do list was a simple checklist living in Google Keep. It served me well for many years, but for some reason, after I was laid off, I started feeling overwhelmed by everything on the list.

Every day, I tried my best to do all the things and check off as many items as possible, but it was never enough. As soon as checked one off, I’d add more tasks. The list was never ending, and it left me feeling overwhelmed and unaccomplished. 

When I wasn’t working, I felt even worse about this phenomenon because I wanted to rest. I wanted to get things done but have enough time in my day for rest, and managing my tasks in this two-dimensional way didn’t let me feel accomplished enough to rest. 

I’ve read a lot about productivity over the years, and my husband also shows me videos about how to stay productive and be organized. A lot of people recommend prioritizing. Look at your list, they would suggest, choose the top most important 5 things for that day, and forget about the rest. 

I’m not sure why, but this didn’t click in my brain. I have some trouble with prioritizing in that context, so I didn’t understand what I should forget about and what I should do if I’m only “allowed” to do 5 things per day. 

But after I was laid off, I suddenly realized what I actually wanted was to assign certain tasks to certain days instead of one big long list. And maybe that’s what those people were getting at after all.

This way, everything would get done, but it was visually and mentally clear that not everything had to get done today

This is where Todoist came in. I could easily assign tasks to certain days, move one to tomorrow if I missed it today, set recurring tasks, etc. The system worked beautifully. While I was unemployed, I got a lot done every day, but I also got a lot of rest and fun me-time. 

Once I saw this system worked so well for me, I was able to implement it in more a complicated setting: School. 

In December, I was granted late-entry to a 2-year teacher training program when another student unexpectedly dropping out. I was stoked to join the program a year sooner than I expected, but that also meant I had to do all the things I’d planned to do during that year in just a few weeks, in addition to the homework that was already assigned. 

This was completely overwhelming. I had agreements with the school to read and sign, prerequisite classes to complete, hours of videos to watch, and articles and books to read. It was a lot, and even though I was only working part time for my freelance client, I felt like I didn’t have enough time. My to-do list felt endless. Impossible. 

But certainly I’d endured worse in my pursuit of learning (in 2011, I worked 40 hours/week while taking two college science classes, both with labs), so I rolled up my sleeves to get organized — this time, with Notion. 

Setting up in Notion was a bit of an investment of time, but it was absolutely worth it: Now I have a system that works perfectly for me and is a joy to use.

I set up all the links I need frequently, have a place to write my assignments, and at the bottom, the tasks, organized by date.

I got assignments weeks in advance of when they were due, so I needed to keep those dates organized. I wanted to take care of them early but know how much I could put it off if I didn’t end up getting to it on my original to-do date. So a crucial part of staying organized was having two date fields: due and to-do.

  • Due is the absolute date it has to be done.
  • To-do is when I plan to actually do it.

The board below is grouped by the to-do date (shown at the top of each column), and the actual due date is shown in the card itself. I had the links to the reading or video, filters to remove completed tasks, and board view to show the tasks by what needed to be done on what day. 

If I want to change the to-do date, I can drag and drop into a different column. To see the rest of the card, I click the card and see details or the actual assignment I’ve written.

Side note: I didn’t end staying in the program — I figured out early on that it wasn’t right for me. But I’m still excited about the Notion page I create for it, and I’m looking forward to using what I learned creating that board on a new project!

In closing

Figuring out what system works for you takes a lot of trial and error. Plus you can set up then use a system, but it may take a while to figure out if it’s working. Most of the time, you need to set up the system, then use it for a while before you know. And maybe it works for you.

Until it doesn’t.

It’s a journey, and we tweak things or try new tools and software. This is what works for me, but keep experimenting and figure out what works for you.

By the way, this barely skims the surface of what Notion can do. I plan to write more about Notion this year. Stay tuned!