Curating a modular productivity system for ADHD

Learn how to create your own productivity system for ADHD.

Curating a modular productivity system for ADHD
Photo by Milad Fakurian / Unsplash

There are a ton of productivity tools out there. And if you’re anything like me, you’ve probably wasted countless hours trying to find the best one for your needs—oh, the irony.

Don’t get me wrong: there are tools that can serve as a one-stop-shop for all of your needs. In fact, there are dedicated communities who vehemently argue that platforms like Notion and Obsidian can fill that role. Having tried both platforms, I can see how that might be the case; however, I found that I’d eventually hit a point where my productivity would wane again.

Time and time again, my ADHD (and the limitations of each platform) led me to encounter the same problems:

  • I got bored of using the same platform
  • There were too many customization options that it became distracting
  • I had difficulties bridging my digital and analog workflow
  • A platform wasn’t nuanced enough to meet my (often changing) needs

My first problem was perhaps the most compelling one. Whenever I got tired of using one platform, I’d research a new platform and then start the laborious process of migrating all of my information (e.g. tasks, projects, notes, etc.) from one platform to another. So bit by bit, I began to disentangle myself from my “all-in-one” platform and outsource different elements of my productivity system.

This resulted in a suite of platforms, where I could swap each platform out for another as my needs (or whims) changed. This is what my productivity stack looks like now.

Notion — Project & Personal Knowledge Management

Notion is the only platform on here that doesn’t have an analog. That’s because I use Notion as a hub to connect all of my notes, project information, tasks, etc. It’s generally here that projects originate and are managed. Any usable or relevant information that I acquire throughout the day will eventually end up here. Notion also serves as a bridge between my digital and analog (i.e. Remarkable 2) workflows.

Things 3 — Information Capture & Task Management

If I know that the information I want to capture is a task, it’ll go to Things instead of Drafts. Tasks in Things are assigned a project and ideally given a due date (or at least a do date). At the beginning of the day, I check Notion to see if there are any project tasks that need to be added to Things. From there, I drag each task for the day onto my Apple Calendar to timebox each event.

Bear — Information Capture & Writing

I’ve started creating a daily note in Bear, where I capture meeting notes, reminders, and other thoughts or ideas I might have throughout the day. I also use Bear for writing first drafts because the UI makes the experience much more enjoyable than a blank, white document. At the end of the day, I copy or export my daily note and add it to my Daily Notes database in Notion. I also triage the information like I do for Drafts.

Remarkable 2 — Information Capture & Writing

Some days I prefer to write by hand rather than type. On those days, I create a daily note in my tablet like I do with Bear. The great thing about Remarkable is that you can export your handwritten notes as a PDF. Similar to Bear, I review my notes at the end of each day to triage information. Then I export my notes and add them to my Daily Notes database in Notion.

Drafts — Information Capture

I use Drafts for quickly capturing information when I don’t have time to open another app. I use the Apple Watch complication religiously while walking or driving to take voice-to-text notes. At the end of the day, I review the notes I’ve taken in drafts and triage them to their appropriate channels (i.e. Notion for project-related information, Things 3 for tasks, Google Calendar for events, etc.).

Apple Calendar — Time Management

Truthfully, I only use Apple Calendar once a day: it serves as a hub between Things 3 and Toggl. When I drag and drop a task from Things, I assign a time and duration that I’ll be working on that task. From there, my calendar information syncs up with Toggl.

Toggl — Time Management

Toggl’s timeboxing functionality is probably one of the best out there. Whenever I start working, I input what I’m doing and start a timer. I know what I’m supposed to be doing and how long it should take because my calendar events are displayed. This helps me get estimated time vs real time insights on the tasks I do throughout the day.

iA Writer — Writing

Like Bear, writing in iA Writer just feels nice and polished. I use this app when I want to change things up.

Bear Focus Timer —Digital Timer

On days when I don’t want to go through the effort of timeboxing my day, I use a cute little mobile app to use the pomodoro method (i.e. working for 25-minute stretches at a time with short breaks in between). It prevents me from using my phone because my phone has to be face down for the timer to start.

Countdown Clock — Analog Timer

I don’t need to explain this one. Sometimes it’s just nice to have the tactile experience of cranking a clock. I could do without the annoying alarm, though.

If you’re looking to curate your own suite of apps, I’d recommend doing so incrementally. I’d suggest starting from one central place, like Notion or Obsidian, and then trialing different apps that you might use for different key functions, such as task management. Try to have a few that you like in order to keep things flexible and versatile.

Once you’ve settled on a few platforms you like, replicate the same organizational structure across each one to make it easier to retrieve the information you need. Your project management or personal knowledge management platform should also act as a single source of truth for all of your information. Assuming you have a start-of-day or end-of-day routine for reviewing all of your captured information, you shouldn’t have a problem with information falling through the cracks.

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