Personal Setup for Getting Shit Done in 2021
Inspired by The Setup, I’ve written my own “how does this person get their shit done” blog posts every other year or so, mostly to see how my setup has changed over time and to share some tips that work for me.
Some context — I’m Brian Doll, half of the go-to-market consultancy, Reify, where we help companies sell more software.
My goals are simplicity and focus. I want to have the right tool for each important activity, while freeing up as much of my time as possible to do fun stuff like ride bikes and hike around outdoors.
- Keith Rarick’s Inbox Zero for Life is how I’ve been managing email for as long as I can remember. I absolutely love email and this system makes me feel like I have my shit together.
- I use Superhuman for work and personal email. It’s fast as hell, keyboard driven, and is very pleasant to spend time working in, compared to every other tool I’ve tried.
- Punting an email that will automatically pop back into your inbox at a time of your choosing with a quick keyboard command is a salve for many ills and I do it a dozen times a day at least
Time Management / Calendar
- I work on a 13" Macbook Pro and I fullscreen every app, always. Focus over distractions. To help with that, I use Flotato to have a native-ish Mac App for always-on software like Google Calendar. This replaces Fluid, which isn’t maintained anymore.
- I love Reclaim for a few reasons — it automatically syncs my personal calendar with my work calendar, so I never accept a meeting over a personal commitment; I use it to automatically manage my daily/weekly habits as my calendar fills up; and I use it to align my meetings with my priorities so I know I’m going in the right direction
- For client work, I create calendar events so I can stay focused. Those events mark my time as busy, which is handy because it prevents folks from booking over important work time who may be using our Calendly setup
Work Apps and Tech
- Most of our client work is delivered via Google Docs. The workflow for sharing documents is still terrible, but it’s just good and ubiquitous and competent enough to not make switching to another tool worth it just yet.
- Xero has been great for accounting
- We use a popular app to manage digital signing of our contracts, but none of them are particularly good or interesting or better than the others
- We use Pipedrive to manage our pipeline and active engagements
- I use Bear (w/ iOS sync) as a digital notepad for capturing quick thoughts, making lists, pasting random stuff
- Special shoutout to Camo, which lets me use my iPhone 12 as my video input for Zoom, which is about seventy bazillion times better than the MacBook Pro camera and I always have it with me anyway. I use this goosneck clamp to quickly mount my phone in position when needed. (I would LOVE a clip for my MacBook that I could slip my phone into that places the camera lens above the top of the screen. Nothing like this exists just yet (lots are close, but wrong orientation, attachment type, etc.), but if you see one, plz send it my way!)
- My laptop is held up to about eye height with this stand, so I can use the Apple keyboard and trackpad on my desk. I love this setup because it’s minimal and I can move it around a bunch on the desk. I also lay on a sofa in my office to do a lot of my writing, so when I’m at my desk I try to have reasonable posture. Sometimes.
- The AirPods Pro are my favorite headphones ever. Transparency mode is worth it, even just so I can hear my own voice while I’m using them for video conferences. I listen to music about 80% of the time I’m not on a video conference and I feel way more focused when the sound is drowning out my conscious brain, not flittering out of a feeble laptop speaker.
- A weekly musical essential is Above and Beyond Group Therapy (ABGT), a weekly 2-hour trance set that keeps me moving at a decent pace
I’ve only just started using the reMarkable but I’m very very stoked on it already. Its the kind of single-purpose product that I wish there were more of. It’s not an iPad or Kindle competitor. It’s a paper-like digital notebook. That’s it. And its awesome. Here’s a bit about how I use it and what modifications work for me.
Notes and Sketching
We tend to work with~20 client companies each year. Some are multi-month engagements, some much shorter projects. I have a “Clients” Notebook that uses the dot grid template. I write the name of the client in thick marker up top, and I just down notes and ideas and sketches on the page. Before a meeting with that client, I open that section in the notebook. For me, writing things down on “paper” is better for my brain than typing bullet lists in an app.
In the past I’d have a dot grid paper notebook for similar purposes, but I couldn’t organize it well. One client might have notes and sketches across 10 pages of the notebook. If I wanted to share a sketch I made (to inspire a diagram or design) I’d take a photo of my paper notebook, clean it up on my phone, AirDrop it to my Macbook and share it from there. Now I can just email it directly from the reMarkable.
Daily Journal w/ Custom Template
I’ve been on the “productivity system” bandwagon for a while. Franklin Covey, GTD, Habit tracking apps, etc. While I was waiting for the reMarkable to arrive, I started taking notes about how I wanted to use it. I wanted to start keeping a journal. I wasn’t sure what I’d write about, and I’m still not sure, but I do find the habit very helpful and it’s been nice to kick off the day with it.
I respect the Bullet Journal folks, but that’s just not my jam. As outlined above, I run my world through email, calendars, and documents. A giant todo list, regardless how it is organized or what apps may work for you, does not work for me at all. I do however want to get some important shit done every day.
And lastly, I want to start being more intentional about forming positive habits that I’ve had a hard time sticking to previously.
This is why I decided to create my own template for my daily journal. I use hyutilities to move my custom templates and graphics onto the reMarkable, and I also use that app to make backups, which are stored in Dropbox for now.
Here’s the template (linked, in case anyone wants to use it):
- Top line is for the date: “Jan 7th, Thursday”
- The hexagon section is my daily habit tracker. I fill them up like a percentage of completion. Droplet: drinking lots of water; Zzz: getting quality sleep; Mountain: get outside and sweat; Claps: giving praise and appreciation; Zap: overall energy levels. I have a separate Notebook with a habit tracking template where I copy these levels over so I can see them a month at a time.
- The rose and square box thing is my version of rose and thorn.
- The three circles are for the important things I want to get done today. Chipping away at big rocks here.
My Field Notes or Moleskine notebooks felt like important personal objects and I want this digital version to feel like that. Having custom splahscreens on the reMarkable makes it feel that much more personal. Using hyutilities it’s pretty easy to replace the existing graphics (like what is displayed when the notebook is sleeping, waking up, powering on and off, etc.). It’s best to download the existing files, edit them in an image editor however you like, and re-upload them.
Note: Custom templates and graphics will be overwritten every time the reMarkable gets a software update. That’s why hyutilities is so essential. You can quickly and easily re-sync your custom bits.
Pocket “Read Later” stuff
I’ve used Pocket forever to keep articles that I want to read “later”. The trouble is, I tend not to read much of what I put in there. pocket2rm is fantastic software. It lets you sync the last 10 entries in Pocket into your reMarkable tablet. It makes for a pleasurable reading experience and I can highlight stuff and take notes right on the page. There are similar programs for other “read it later” solutions, too.
A word about Kindle eBooks
Every reMarkable forum has a few posts a week from folks who seem to be very upset that you can’t (easily) read Kindle books on it. (DRM is a thing.) If you want to read Kindle books, you absolutely should do that on a Kindle and not a reMarkable. Yes some older books can be converted, yes there are products and hacks that say things might work, yes some books look like garbage anyway (allegedly). I absolutely love my Kindle Paperwhite. I don’t love that I’m so deeply tied into the Amazon ecosystem and I’ll do penance for that elsewhere but for reading Kindle books, buy a Kindle. Trust.
OK that’s mostly it. Let me know if you found this useful, have a question, or want clarification on something. I love reading this stuff so I’m happy to keep it updated.