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Personal goals

If you don’t design your own life plan, chances are you’ll fall into someone else’s plan. And guess what they have planned for you? Not much.

Jim Rohn

The book Designing Your Life has been a great asset for me. It helped me crisply define a work view and a life view. Combined, my work view and my life view help me define a true North which I can follow as I navigate through life. An interesting insight I had was that although my work view and life view are compatible, I have ignored aspects of my life view due to focusing only on my work view. Taking the time to reflect on this helped me identify the right priorities to focus on, both inside and outside of work.

Urgent vs Important

We often confuse urgency and importance. Habit three of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People focuses exclusively on this point.

  • Important things help you move closer towards accomplishing a goal.
  • Urgent things are time-sensitive, if not done quickly you may never reap benefits from it.

Just because something is urgent, time-sensitive, doesn’t mean that you must do it. A common pitfall is spending time on urgent things, but don’t significantly help you to accomplish a goal. For example, responding to a text message immediately at the expense of remaining focused on an important project that requires deep thinking.

Another way to think about this is the framework of rocks, pebbles, and sand. If you don’t know about it, take 2 minutes to watch this video about it.

Working on urgent things at the expense of more important things is equivalent to filling up your jar with pebbles and sand and not being able to take your rocks.

Other things to consider when prioritizing your work:

  • Can the work be delegated?
  • Is the work appropriate for your skill and experience level?
  • Are you the most qualified person on the team to do it?
  • Does the work contribute to your learning and growth?
  • How much time will the work require?


Minimize context switching by:

  • Disable email/chat/Slack/DM notifications
  • Block off chunks of uninterrupted work hours (Focus Time) without meetings
  • Don’t try to multi-task. It causes stress and the brain can’t process two things at once.
  • Batch communications.

Organizing to-dos

Define your projects

A project is anything that takes more than 1 immediate step to accomplish. Even “prepare dinner for next week” is a project if that requires you to decide what meal to make, buy the right ingredients, cook the dinner. Buying the right ingredients may be a project on its own if it requires research ahead of time.

Don’t confuse a to-do item with a project.

Define the next step

For each project, define clear next steps.

Refine vague statements like “workout more” to more actionable next steps like “block 45 minutes on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday for the gym.”

Actionable and clear steps remove ambiguity and make it more likely that you’ll do something.

Think of the smallest next step that you can take to make progress. Also see Iteration.

Don’t keep anything in your head

Write down anything that comes into your head that you need to do.

Organize the list regularly so that you can quickly decide what to do next, based on where you are (location), tools available, time and energy.


Projects often get stuck because they get too complex. You can reduce complexity by using the iteration principles.

  1. Define the outcome/goal as crisply as possible.
  2. Define the smallest next thing that would add value towards that goal and do it.
  3. Then review the progress you made. If you haven’t achieved your outcome/goal, repeat.

Organizing email

I achieve Inbox Zero (no emails in my inbox) several times a week. Here are my principles:

  1. Filter aggressively
    • Filter out unimportant/non-actionable notifications.
    • Filter calendar notifications to its own label (I actively manage my calendar directly from the Calendar app)
  2. Respond quickly to any email that requires <2 minutes to respond to.
  3. Move any emails with pending action to a to-do list and archive the original email.
    • This helps me prioritize the request/action from the email against everything else in my to do list.
    • I link from the to do list back to the email. I use Gmail for work and personal, and the URL when the email is open is unique and takes me back to that specific email.
  4. Archive / Delete any other email as I read them

If I’m having trouble keeping up with emails even with the above I check whether I need more aggressive filters, to remove myself from certain communication types, or block additional time to review emails each day.

Organizing Slack

We use Slack extensively at GitLab. In fact, I rarely use email anymore. Here are the top tips on how I organize my Slack.

  1. Organize the Slack navigation in sections by the frequency that I want to check each group. I have sections as follows:
    • ASAP
    • 2x/day
    • Daily
    • 2x/week
    • Weekly
    • Monthly
    • Only when @mentioned
  2. Each channel goes into one of the sections above.
  3. I collapse all sections except the ones that I intend to check. ASAP stays open, 2x/day usually does too. The rest I expand at the frequency indicated (Daily once a day, 2x/week on Tuesdays and Thursdays, etc.)
  4. Mute all channels I don’t need to monitor — everything in “Only when @mentioned” is muted.
  5. If I don’t think I ever need to be on a channel again, I leave it, but I err on muting channels where I ocassionally need to ask a question or will get pinged for action.


Syncronous meetings have their time and place, but first aim for asyncronous work.

Benefits of asyncronous work

  1. More inclusive: people who can’t be at the meeting time can still participate.
  2. Less disruptive: each person controls their time and attention, and can complete the more critical work first and then switch to the meeting. Minimizes context-switching costs.
  3. More freedom: each person can work at the schedule that works for them and still get things done.

My principles for async-first

  1. Some things are still better syncronous, keep 1-1s with direct reports and coffee chats.
  2. Default to writing things out: if there’s an issue that you want to discuss, a proposal to consider, etc. start by creating a new document or issue and writing out the context and topic down. Share that and invite anyone to contribute.
  3. For efficiency, always default to allowing anyone to edit the proposal directly or at a minimum be able to suggest edits directly.
  4. Move to a meeting only if there’s no progress async, despite asking multiple times, or there’s a need for multiple people to discuss a point to unblock. If there’s too much back and forth on an issue, it may require a meeting. If there’s a meeting, make sure to document and share the discussion publicly. (see Meetings section below)


Maximizing the usefulness of a meeting

  1. Have a clear outcome for the meeting: make a decision, unblock a specific project, etc.
  2. Keep the attendees to the minimum needed to drive towards the outcome. All else that want to be informed can catch up by reading meeting notes or watching the meeting recording.
  3. Have a clear agenda document for meeting notes
    • Start with discussion points
    • Anyone in the meeting should be able to add discussion topics and take meetings notes
  4. Identify and write down clear action items.
  5. Assign action items to individuals.
  6. End on time.
  7. Share the meeting notes with anyone that needs to stay informed.

Commonplace book

[6-min YouTube video] How to double your brain power | Tiago Forte

A commonplace is known as your second brain. A place where you can CODE (Capture, Organize, Distill, and Express) information that you come across.

What to capture? Avoid capturing facts you can easily Google. Instead, focus on feelings:

  1. Things that evoke a feeling
  2. Write about experiences that helped you grow
  3. Things that surprise you – novel, never thought about it that way before, never encountered before.

Saving all these in a single place increases the chances of you seeing them again and finding connections.

Productivity references

  1. [GitLab Handbook] How to embrace asynchronous communication for remote work
  2. [On Shopify’s experiment] You can’t just cancel 76,500 hours of meetings: Why async work experiments fail

Last Updated on February 5, 2023 by Omar Eduardo