On complex to-do lists

Every start of the year I try to revamp my personal Notion homepage to amp up my productivity and make me feel that the year ahead twinkles with promise. Two years ago I built a complex system of segregated lists of bills, habits, things I have to read for my Master’s, things I have to read for pleasure, all listed down in a calendar view so I keep track of what I need to do when I need to do it. I remember feeling giddy about the idea of using it – finally, it’s a system that is built for me!

This system unraveled after about eight agonizing months. Initially it was manageable, and it has helped me breeze through the easy days where I have all the hours in the world, but as things have changed in the succeeding months the initial calendar format was especially not helpful during busy weeks when my schedule is already strained, and I realized that the time to maintain the list trumped the time I needed to tick off the list. It became apparent that the system wasn’t sustainable because I check my work’s Outlook calendar every morning on mobile for the things I need to do in any given day. I also noticed that I don’t use Notion on a daily basis for a variety of reasons – device compatibility, workflow issues (i.e. my work uses another tool), among other things. Since the system relied on my use of Notion every single day – and on my personal device – this meant that I had to pare down my use of the complex Notion system I made, and instead plan each week every preceding Saturday through a time-block system on my Outlook calendar, which categorizes chunks of time for work, life, errands, leisure, etc., by syncing it with my personal Cron calendar, albeit manually (and begrudgingly). While the ideal approach embodied by my complex Notion workflow gives me a segregated list of the things I want to do at any point in a day – which at one point blew up to about a hundred or so – the current approach gives me a segregated list of things I need to do at a specific point in a day, giving me an honest view of the finitude of time which in turn is a reminder to prioritize the heck out of my day.

There was a bit of hesitation for me to finally give up the system I made that year, but later on I surmise that had I not done it, I would not have realized what I really needed. This system may not be perfect in a sense that it’s not complex, but it is good enough as it worked for me throughout last year. Although I do miss my Notion calendar, I should be fine this 2024 without it.

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