Avoid productivity cookies, schedule time for todos

productivity-cookies.jpgFor me, a successful day doesn’t end once I’ve gotten my priorities straightened out and emoji-fied in Things.app. The next step is to schedule time on my calendar for any todo that needs more than 5 minutes.

I make an appointment with myself to do the work. Otherwise those rare times without meetings will quickly get eaten up by the not-important-yet-quick-things to do.

I’m talking about the productivity cookies – they’re sweet, tasty, and so easy to eat a lot of. But most of them are empty productivity calories. Instead of filing away e-mail or editing some writing of mine, I should be doing deeper work.

My daily/weekly ritual

At the end of each day, or first thing in the morning, I go through the list of things I want to make progress on put an item on my calendar for it.

Each Friday, I go through the items on my todo list looking at their Eisenhower-matrix tags, and add a 🥅 tag to the ones I want to tackle next week. For some key next-week goals I’ll scheduled time throughout the week for them.

When I’m forced to allocate time for these larger todos it achieves a couple of things:

It makes it easier to set a realistic expectations

It forces me, ironically, to leave space in the day.

If every 30 minute block on my calendar is filled up, I know I won’t have time for e-mail, catching up with a teammate in the hallway, or one of the many other things that are important but not deep work I need to do on a daily basis.

It makes the trade-offs clearer

If want an hour to focus on this requirements document tomorrow, I need to skip or delegate this other meeting. Or I need to push the PRD out a day.

When I get new meeting requests, I’ve got to decide if the meeting is more or less important than the task I already scheduled myself for at that time.

Keep it visual and automated

This day is not great for deep work, ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Because I’m a visual person, I want those items to stand out on my schedule with a different color.

For a while I was manually re-coloring the item to green (blue is my work schedule, purple is home).

That is until I whipped up a Zapier integration! It’ll take any new calendar item that starts with the word “Task:” and re-color it green on my work calendar.

Here’s how to set it up:

  1. Set your trigger to be “New Event Matching Search” with the search term “Task:”
  2. Set your action to be Update Event
    1. For the Event field, select Use Custom Value for Event ID and insert the ID parameter.
    2. That’ll mean you’re editing the event that was found in step 1
  3. Set your color to #51b749 or any color you like, it’s your calendar world!


This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Time is like a predator finite, manage it well


I blocked off 2 hours for this movie and I want them back!

Your day only has so many hours in it, and a calendar is a fantastic way to visualize it.

All but the most trivial of items on our todo lists take non-trivial amounts of time to complete.

By putting time in my calendar for my todos I’ve found my days to have more focus, and to feel more sustainable and enjoyable than they did previously.

About Chris

Python developer, Agile practitioner trying desperately not to be a pointy haired boss.
This entry was posted in Business, Management. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Avoid productivity cookies, schedule time for todos

  1. David Talach says:

    This is great, loved this. Managing our day is a core first principle then directly determines how effective one will be at managing other tasks. Thanks for sharing. -talach

  2. Frank Russi says:

    This was a cool post. I just wonder that if you add tasks into your calendar which is then synced back to Thing wouldn’t that lead to duplicate tasks in

    • Chris says:

      Hi Frank! At the moment, nothing syncs from calendar back into Things. I manually make items in Google Calendar for the items in my Things that need more than a few minutes to complete.

      • frankrussi says:

        Ok. But then you have two items in your Upcoming view or..? I assume you just add your task to gCal without adding reminder in Things and when task is done you just mark it done in Things.

        Is that correct? 🙂

      • Chris says:

        I don’t use the feature of things that displays your calendar in Things itself (my calendar is too full for that). So Things only ever shows todo items. And my calendar only show calendar times, including time I blocked for todos 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s