How I Get Stuff Done: 2019 Edition

Every now and then, I like to take a step back and look at the tools and habits I rely upon to do the things I want to do. As any human can attest, doing stuff is:

  • hard
  • sometimes bad
  • maybe not fun

But being done with the thing is:

  • great
  • good as hell
  • very nice, would recommend

So. In the interest of documenting where I'm at, and in the hopes of maybe introducing a few of y'all to some helpful tips, here is the totality of how I get stuff done.

But Nick, what kind of stuff do you get done

A lot of things. Things like:

  • Folding laundry
  • Making games
  • Building web apps
  • Planning meals, buying ingredients, and cooking everything
  • Remembering to call my folks (oh whoops I need to call my mom, brb)
  • Going to bed on time (unreliably)
  • Planning hangs with friends
  • Remembering to pay my bills on time
  • Buying toilet paper before I'm out (game-changer)

And honestly, I'm feeling pretty satisfied with my performance on the above. I think I've finally got a system that works for me.

Here it is:

1. Bullet Journal

It's just a Moleskine notebook, or whatever notebook you like. The paper is important; you have to love the paper. You have to feel happy picking this thing up, leafing to the current page, and adding items/checking tasks off. I know it's a cliché to say this in 2019, but your notebook, whatever it is, must spark joy.

Anyway. You take that notebook (I prefer grid-ruled, but dot-ruled or lined are also fine) and go all Bullet Journal on its ass.

I love the Bullet Journal system, but it took me months to get into the habit of using it. I love it because it's not opinionated — it's just a loose framework for breaking your life down into tasks, notes, events, and plans. It can be as rote or as imaginative as you want. I carry this journal with me almost everywhere I go, and I've used it to plan trips, draft blog posts, design game mechanics, fret over my future, and whatever else needs to happen.

If I could recommend any one tool for getting organized, it's this one. Find a notebook, figure out the system that works for you, and work it into your daily routine.

2. Morning Write 'n Think

Thinking is so hard. Like, have you read the news lately? Try catching up on the headlines and then sitting down in front of a computer and telling yourself, "okay, go. Be creative. Do great stuff."

Yeah. Didn't work, right?

The more aware I become of the rampant inequities and corruption of our society, the harder it is for me to refocus and equip myself with the space and presence of mind needed to ensure I'm, y'know, doing things that help others and myself.

So. Here's what helps me:

Every morning, ideally before I even look at my phone, I roll out of my extremely warm bed, brave the frigid concrete floor, and shuffle over to my laptop. I open it up, and I write at least 750 words of whatever the hell is kickin' around in the corners of my brain. Cruft accumulates in there, and sometimes we're not aware of what it has to say. This method helps ensure you know exactly what baggage you're bringing with you into this day, and it serves as both a sort of mild catharsis and a preparation for who, exactly, you're going to be on this day.

This idea is borrowed from Julia Cameron's "morning pages" concept from her book The Artist's Way. One popular service that implements this methodology into a sort of online journal is 750Words, which I highly recommend.

3. Exercise

Every bit helps. It all helps your brain, too.

4. Learn Markdown, Write Markdown

This advice is more for anyone who works on computers and the internet. I found this fantastic free, open-source note-taking app called Notable, and I've been using it for about a month. It's perfect for me.

Notable is, in essence, just a note-taking app where you write in Markdown. It stores your notes in a file-system-standard manner, which means you can easily toss it into a Dropbox folder or a git repository and access it from anywhere. And it gets you writing in Markdown, which is the most efficient way to write web-ready articles, blog posts (like this one!), or whatever you have in mind. It's also nice because you compose in a monospace font, which — along with Markdown — is excellent if you work with code at all.

Markdown's a great skill to pick up, and it honestly doesn't take more than 15 minutes to get the basics figured out. I highly recommend giving it a shot.

5. Block Off Time to Be Bored

We're all too distracted. I am definitely too distracted. You know how much time my iPhone says I spend with it each week? It's horrifying.

I'm bad at this, but in 2019, I'm hoping to perfect the art of disconnecting for at least a little while every single day. Leave your phone in another room, turn off notifications on your computer, turn off everything electric, whatever you need to do — just get that sense of being alone with your thoughts. I like going for a walk without my phone — it gets my body moving (see #3 above) and I allow myself to just wander both physically and mentally. It's by far the most efficient and reliable way to generate creative and good ideas that I've found.


Anyway. I've still got a lot more to figure out, but so far, this is my tried-and-true formula. It won't work the same for anyone, of course, but I'm hopeful that you'll walk away with something you hadn't considered trying before.

What works well for you?