Gijs Verheijke

Back to articles

My system to fight distraction and get work done

11 July 2023

My system is not ground breaking. In fact it's anything but. However, I can say that it is very thought through, backed by (some) science, and the result of years of iteration. When people see it they often ask me how they can set themselves up in a similar way.

My home base to get things done is my calendar. I use Vimcal, which is the fastest and most helpful calendar app I've been able to find*. What's in my calendar is going to happen, and nothing else is. My calendar contains recurring blocked slots dedicated to work, during which I appear as busy to my teammates so they don't book meetings with me. Every week, I prioritize my tasks, decide how long they should take, and then put them in my calendar replacing those slots.

This approach is often called 'Time Boxing'.

Why working from a todo list is a recipe for disaster

The solution is to schedule the work in your calendar

Focus not on the destination (finishing the task), but the journey (working on the task for x hours)

Once you have boxed time in your calendar to work on a task, the goal is not to finish the task, the goal is simply to work on that task with full attention for that entire time. It turns out that people who use this technique actually end up finishing way more than people who don’t. They end up being a lot more productive (and happier). I have one more tip related to tool use for your happiness and productivity: your brain doesn't make a distinction between 'work' and 'personal' tasks. So, why use separate tools? I strongly believe that you should have one unified task list and calendar for everything in your life. Read more here {work in progress}

For the rest of this post I will lay out which components a good timeboxing 'stack' requires, and suggest options you can try ranging from free to paid.

Build your own Timeboxing Stack (or steal mine)

You'll only need 3 components:

  1. A gathering place for tasks. let's call it our 'Tasklist' or 'Backlog'
  2. A system to schedule those tasks in your calendar
  3. A calendar

Do it for free

Requirements: Available on all platforms, able to add tasks while offline.
Nice to have: Ability to separate tasks by category (often called 'project' in those apps).

Steal my stack

For a detailed explanation of why I use this setup, and how to set it up, read this {in progress}.

All-in tools

Timeboxing is quite hip (because it works). There are a shocking number of all-in tools that aim to get more people to do it. Some of the more well-known ones are: Akiflow and Reclaim. I tried these and others and I didn't really like them. Unfortunately I don't fully remember why for each, but I think mostly because I felt it was too cumbersome to capture tasks compared with Todoist.

I do actually use Reclaim for one life saving feature that is available in the free plan: When I add an event to my personal gmail calendar, it automatically creates a shadow event with the title 'personal commitment' in my work calendar.

*Disclosure: I'm an investor in Vimcal and the link I shared is my own referral link. Use it to get a free month and give me one too.