Tools don’t work, you do.

Task management tools are only as good as the person using them. If you don’t use the tool, it’s not going to work.

I used to chase down different tools looking for new features or innovative implementations that will help me get organized and get more done. I’ve used Omnifocus and Todoist. I’ve gone full manual mode with a bullet journal, and, now finally, I’ve been using Things for the past few years.

The reality is this: none of those tools work if I don’t work them. A tool is dumb and only the skilled craftsman can make something of value (or get value out of the tools.)

At my company, Basis 365 Accounting we use Karbon as our workflow tool. It’s a great tool (and an expensive one) that wasn’t working for me. I had hundreds of overdue tasks, notes, and emails.

It wasn’t the tool’s fault. It was my fault. If Karbon were a personal task management tool, I might have declared task management bankruptcy and deleted everything to start over or even moved to a different tool. Because it’s a tool my whole company uses, I couldn’t simply opt-out of the tool.

I had to do the hard work of doing the work over a couple of weeks. I cleaned up, cleared out, and organized all my work in Karbon. Now, I just maintain it on a daily basis.

When I was cleaning up, I kept it simple. For each task, note, or email, I applied David Allen‘s Four Ds, prioritized in this order:

1. Delete
2. Delegate
3. Do
4. Defer

I looked for opportunities to delete things, especially things that are not essential. If I couldn’t delete it, I tried to delegate it because I’m not always the best person to do a task. If I couldn’t delegate, I would do it right away if it takes a short amount of time. If something takes longer, I schedule (defer) to a time in the future where I can focus on it fully.

I did it every day until it was cleaned up, which leads to the fifth D: do it daily.

HEY’s KILLER feature.

If you’ve been hanging around the right Twitter alleyways, you’ve probably heard a lot about HEY, the new email service from Basecamp.

Yesterday, I watched Jason Fried‘s video tour of HEY. The ability to annotate an email caught my eye. Hey lets you leave notes to yourself to any email thread.

This is a KILLER feature.

Even though I have not used HEY’s implementation of this feature (I’m still waiting for my invitation), I’ve use a similar feature daily in another email/workflow SaaS. At my company, Basis 365 Accounting, we use Karbon, a workflow management software that allows our team to leave notes on email threads. Again, it is a KILLER feature because it allows us to collaborate with each other to coordinate a response or seek clarity without cluttering up our inboxes with forwarded emails.

When HEY brings this feature to the business version HEY later this year, I guarantee that it will be your favorite feature.

This one feature by itself, is almost worth the $99/year price point, but HEY offers up so much more that justifies the price. As a point of comparison, we pay about $70 per user per month for Karbon.

This sounds crazy to say in 2020, but I’m genuinely excited about email again and I’m pounding the refresh button frequently just to see if the invitation has landed in my mailbox.

Life Calendar — Visualizing Your Life

A few weeks ago I watched a TED Talk by Tim Urban. He talked about procrastination.

Near the end of this talk, he presented a “Life Calendar” on screen. The screen was filled with little boxes which represented a 90 year life, a grid. There were more than 90 boxes, so I’m guessing he broke it down by weeks. There’s probably 4,680 boxes (52 weeks X 90 years).

I thought it was a great way to visualize this fleeting life and to remind me not to waste time. I created my own grid of 4,004 boxes using the average male life expectance in the United States of approximately 77 years. I filled in 2,230 boxes with a little dot. Over half my boxes are gone!

At the end of each week, I’ll draw another little dot in a box. I’m hoping that I can fill in the 4,004th box and beyond, but there’s no guarantee of that.

You can also buy a life calendar poster from Tim Urban.

You can get a PDF of my less optimistic 4,004 life calendar here.

If you want something more digital, check out Count.Life. There’s a Chrome extension too.

Every second, I am dying.

“There is a limit to the time assigned you, and if you don’t use it to free yourself it will be gone and will never return.”

— Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

Forgetting That You’re Dying

A little over a month ago my uncle checked himself into the emergency room. Hours later, he had two stents expanding arteries around his heart. A few days later my aunt, his wife, checked herself in for hypertension.

This whole business of “dying” is no joke. Yet, so much time is wasted on doing non-essential things. Hundreds of flicks and swipes through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, and the list goes on and on. A dozen or so hours lost each week as brain cells melt away in to the social media abyss. It is so easy for inactivity to be the activity.

I decided that I wasn’t haven’t anymore of it so I devised a mechanism to break myself out of the mind-numbing activity of doing nothing — a little hack to promote activity.

I setup my Due app to go off five times a day at 8 A.M., 12 P.M., 3 P.M. 6 P.M., and 9 P.M. to remind of with a simple message:

“Every second, I am dying.”

Remembering Death Is Near

For about a month now, I’ve had this reminder pop up on my phone, my watch, and my computer. The reminder pops up in the middle of meetings, screencasts, everywhere — it just popped up again (the 9 P.M. reminder) as I am writing this.

The reminder is incredibly effective at breaking through the haze of inactivity and pushes me towards doing something productive or meaningful. What I’ve learned this past month is that it is really easy to let yourself slip into doing nothing.

It’s a bit of a morbid message, but it is the truth. To think that death is happening for me every second is a stronger motivator than thinking that death will eventually come sometime in the future.

This is one hack that I’ll keep until I, um, die.