A soundtrack to accompany your reading: Spotify


Search for the ultimate productivity system is bogus. Better time management is possible, but the most beneficial is having a consistent outlook on one’s goals and desires and maintaining a stable energy level. Any task list + calendar covers a lot.


The post above is just a personal story, not a manual to action. I (at the moment) don’t have critical areas in my life, such as children. I’m not a content creator. A regular software engineer with regular hobbies. Not a person with a critical mission and a need for some extraordinary, reliable personal management system. Consider it a psychotherapeutic emotional outburst.


Oophhh, productivity. Ability to do more for less time. A happy path towards a better life, better job, more money, and generally a high level of happiness.

It’s been a long time since the worm of looking for a better self in the daily business started eating my brain from the inside.

These were the first years of my software development career, the first real job in the field to which I’ve dedicated my life. I was pretty lucky. I had quite a fantastic boss who taught me quite a lot with a severe amount of dedication. Writing proper unit-tests, creating simple and readable code, doing the job you’re paid for and not the job you’re dreaming about.

He passed me the virus of being productive, of “hacking” your lifestyle, of using sophisticated “techniques” of growing the focus and controlling the time. And I fell for that.

I’m a bit of a control freak myself. I like plans. I like schedules. I despise someone being late for 5 minutes for a coffee-to-go. My inner anxiety demon likes it when tasks on the to-do list are checked. I’m a good boy, I’m productive, I have full-blown control over a life full of unexpected, gritty, nasty “risks” of being alone in the universe, not giving a single crap about your existence.

As you can see, there are acres of fertile ground where the seed of productivity may fall and give birth to stems of the building process over achieving something real. I am guilty.

I’ve read dozens of books: personal productivity, financial productivity, management techniques. Getting Things Done. Pomodoro. Zeitellkasten. Personal Knowledgebases. Poor dad, anxious monkey stuff. 7 habits of whatever people. System 1, System 2 dichotomy. Perhaps you can imagine this kind of mess that was popular several years ago.

And I’ve tried to stick to whatever I found. My journal entries (though being pretty scarce) are around endless markdown files, Google drives, Evernotes, to-do lists, and Notions. Internet articles are in multiple Pockets, Readwises, you name it. Plans and budgets are scattered around 5 platforms.

I did not look for outcomes, really. I looked for the best productivity system ever to suit my needs. For the best application or platform to make me the GTD Übermensch. And this search was bogus, quite obviously. Enjoyable but bogus.

Goldberg’s machine

There’s no system that will fit everyone; there are always quirks and a necessity to make complex pipelines of data flowing across multiple systems with over-the-top efforts to support the atrocious contraption of the thought process enabler you’ve built.

What works for me (no, not the tooling)

In general, if you want to be “productive”, tooling is not the first thing you should care about. Take care of the craphole you’re as the person is in. Time is not something you can tame or “manage”. Energy is. If your only thoughts are, “I just need to have a little bit more time to do all the things at work as I’m constantly overwhelmed and on the brink of burn-out,” time management is not the thing you should address. I’ve made that silly mistake way too many times in my life. It’s your attitude, goals, and ability to maintain a high enough level of energy that needs to be addressed.

I need several things to achieve most of the stuff w/o any productivity system in place:

Consistent sleep schedule

I need 7-8 hours of non-interrupted quality sleep in my life to feel energized. As I get older, I also need more and more sleep consistency. I would sacrifice a go-out sleepless night in favor of sleeping in my bed at my usual schedule. I will pay more bucks for a trip where I can have a prior sleep rather than going to the airport for a 40$ ticket at 3 AM.

I will fight the need to live more of this day, trying to put more and more stuff before sleep. It’s my lack of priorities during the typical day, not my sleep, that’s the enemy here.

I will fight the loath of waking up the next day. The next day may bring the loath towards the work, towards the endless cycle of 5/2 9/17, but my sleep is not the enemy here. It’s the attitude.

Having enough time to rest

That’s quite problematic to my personality. A wicked worm inside my head does not always allow me doing nothing. There are so many ways to be productive and achieve something, and you’ve spent the whole Saturday playing Call of Duty? That’s reaaaallly baaad.It doesn’t matter that you’re irritated from the workload and dispised by the only idea of opening your to-do list.

But it should matter.

It works for me to have a guilt-free possibility to do nothing, sometimes several days or a week in a row (which indicates some failures in my energy level management previously, of course). Play games, look at the ceiling, touch the grass, have some time to find internal peace, and feel the ocean waves inside my soul.

It’s completely normal and OK to spend time with your family, friends, and yourself, not aiming for productivity. Or for your better self. The relentless fear of death and having a life non-fulfilled is what drives these thoughts. And in the end, it doesn’t even matter. But having a good rest throughout your life journey does.

Having focus time

I have a lot of interactions in my life and in my work. There’s always something important on the horizon: a lot of initiatives and projects, someone’s ambitions, someone’s line of sight. The mistake I made more than once in my life is putting up fires all around instead of focusing on how to prevent them.

To prevent something or do something big and complex, you need to have focus time. A pretty long, uninterrupted period of time you can dedicate to do something, without interactions, without meetings. Just you, yourself, and Irene. Dedicated focus time slots in your calendar generally work, but the caveat is that you should be prepared for those focus time slots and know what exactly you’re going to do there.

Knowing where I am and where I am heading

I also need a time around once a week where I can take a break, be lonely, and think about where I am in general in various aspects: health, relationships, work.

Having some goals and directions is quite essential: What are you going to optimize and do better if you don’t know where you’re heading? Here’s the place to be honest with yourself, which can be brutal. It’s the time and place to understand what drives you and what you actually want to achieve at some horizon: days, weeks, months, years, lifetime. It can be owning a Ferrari and being able to make a snow angel on the bed of banknotes. It may be living in isolation on a remote island in a wooden hut and writing an environmentalist manifesto. It may be having sixteen kids and owning a large McMansion. It may be the feeling of freedom and safety. It may be a dreadful manipulator with all the power you can have. Whatever. Whatever’s important to you.

That’s a tricky part that may require therapy sessions to understand your internal drivers. Systems and processes do not work well or will require an enormous amount of willpower to sustain them. If they do not address real internalized problems and do not serve your personal goals, you may really be scared to think about. A lot of things I believed and valued were actually not my beliefs or values. They were that book author’s thoughts. They were my parents’, they were my boss’s. Not mine.

Differentiate between tasks, projects, and habits

Well, there’s too much to write about this in an already long post. Those are different beasts. They require different approaches in management (habits may span across the entire life).

Having enough money and a process of saving them

Money is one of the most essential resources for me. Something that allows me to lower my anxiety level to achieve my goals. I use the application to automatically track my categorized incomes and spending and review them on a monthly basis. I pay myself forward by deducting some fixed percentage of money from every income. Upfront. I try to maximize the amount of money I earn (do not forget to avoid burning out for a buck, that sucks).

What works for me (yes, the tooling)

My head

What almost every productivity guru tries to sell to you is the necessity to offload your brain to some external system: to-do lists, diaries, knowledgebases, and so on.

This never worked for me. I’m used to maintaining an index of knowledge in my head (some associations and the way to find the source of the knowledge) and being able to google stuff. I just lack the consistency required to maintain the knowledge base; it just takes too much effort and brings little to no benefit.

However, I’m still trying to maintain some variation of it in the form of this blog and some Obsidian notes for book highlights and findings.


I try to have quick access to places I visit often just to save time. Repos, often required docs, whatever you find helpful for your life.

To-do manager

This is the place where I store high-level project descriptions, goals, and day-to-day granular tasks.

Currently, I use the TickTick app and have been a long-time user of the Todoist.

Basically, anything that allows you to schedule tasks, sync with the calendar, and organize them in some kind of hierarchy works; there are hundreds of such apps for every platform.

What’s nice with the TickTick app is that it also allows you to time-track your habits and has a built-in Pomodoro timer. It’s pretty fancy.

Just a notebook

I use a regular notebook to do some daily planning (if the day is busy) and free-form thought processes. I hardly ever move notes out of the notebook to some other storage or system. Paper is terrific for doing something dynamic and exploratory in any format you actually like.

Obsidian trash can

I primarily use Obsidian for storing book highlights and some markdown-parsed articles from the internet. Book highlights are helpful when I’m trying to remember and re-index some book contents.

I also want to journal my life a little bit more (both personal and work logging).

This helps to reflect on your own personal growth and find patterns of behavior, but I really fail at doing that consistently, so I don’t have quite a lot to share here.


I use one app to track financial flows throughout all of my accounts. I use it to analyze my patterns of behavior and as the source of knowledge for my future budgeting.

Abrupt ending

Was it really a failure as written in the catchy title? I don’t know, I had quite a lot of fun along the road. What will I do? Simplify stuff and proceed with analyzing myself to answer the question of what I really want in life and what makes me go forward. The system is complimentary. The system is the tool, not the goal.