The best productivity and organization books in my library (not what you think)

    People often ask me for book recommendations on topics such as productivity and organization, but I can never think of anything to suggest. Instead, I tell them that the books that help me are usually not the traditional ones explaining methods or techniques.

    We are all unique and have different needs. Furthermore, we are exposed to such diverse environments. How is it possible that a single method will be effective for everyone? Some authors even claim that, although their method is excellent if fully implemented, you are free to use the parts and processes that best fit you. How convenient is that?


    The way I organize my information is through what I call containers. I have notebooks in Evernote or folders in Obsidian that let me quickly switch from one project or reference material to another whenever I need to or want to do so. And by the way, there’s no archive in my system. Everything is always exposed because that’s where creativity feeds from.

    For example, if I’m working on something and have an insight for another project, all I have to do is open the other notebook or folder, take some notes, and then go back to what I was doing before. The cmd + j (Mac) or Ctrl + q (Win) commands on Evernote make it a breeze. Unfortunately, I am still looking for something as efficient on Obsidian.

    But if what comes to my mind is entirely new, I will create a new container and decide what to do with it in the future.

    I have a video on my organization system coming soon. For now, I suggest you watch the one below to give you an idea of when a new container is created and how it evolves.

    When I have reached my limits working on a topic and need a moment or two to relax, switching to another personal or work-related project is what helps me. 

    I can leave and work on another container because I have all the information and progress in each one. So, when I arrive at the subsequent container or revisit a previous one in the future, everything will be there exactly as I left it.

    The Best Books

    Let’s get back to the books. The best ones usually have nothing to do with productivity or organization. The more I read about different topics, the more it seems like every book has something that can help me become more efficient. Sometimes, it’s a single sentence, other times a paragraph or two from a 600-page book.

    I’m currently reading the biography of Louis Mountbatten, and I came across two strategies that I’ve been using for a while and that I’ve seen mentioned repeatedly in the oddest books and articles.

    My System

    I learned very early on that I had to take notes to make sure I didn’t forget something. It took me a long time to figure out a system, but when I stopped looking for external solutions and focused on my needs, it all came together.

    Creating my own version of a basic CRM with notes about everyone I met was the first thing I did. This happened before Evernote, so I used the description section of each contact on my Palm Pilot to take my notes about the person and each meeting. It was both simple and extremely helpful. People were always amazed at my memory. And every time I told them about my secret, they were even more impressed.

    I have never stopped doing it, and the system evolved when I moved to Evernote and then to Obsidian. But what if I told you this idea is as old as time? Take a look at the passage below. Mountbatten was doing the exact same thing in the 1930s.

    Do you remember my containers with information? Those were also born on my Palm Pilot, but they were in the Memo Pad app. The topics were organized so that I could easily add or find information.

    However, it was only when I started using Evernote that I was able to create containers that would allow me to switch from one project or topic to another when I needed to escape exhaustion. Once again, I will soon release a video detailing my approach to managing all the information I keep in these containers. For now, let’s take a look at the other strategy used by Mountbatten.

    When he needed to relax, he would turn his attention to another project. Isn’t that cool?

    Now, who is Mountbatten, you ask? A last-century specialist in organization and productivity? Far from it, but I’ll let you do your investigation on that.

    Will I be able to automatically save my Android photos to Apple Photos?

    Even though I adore Google Photos and the endless slideshows on the Google displays I have at home and work, I wouldn’t entrust my memories to any one company. That’s why, for a long time, I’ve been using Google Takeout to download a copy of the photos from the previous year to add them to Apple Photos as a backup. The system works, but it’s too manual and prone to mistakes.

    Maybe you don’t know this, but even when you use Google Photos to manage the pictures you take, Android will keep a copy of them in the DCIM folder on your phone. And as far as I know, they will not be automatically deleted. To free up space, you must use the cleanup option or manually delete them. But what if I told you that this inconvenience could work in your favor?

    The other day, I had one of those click moments that helped me see this issue as a blessing in disguise. Here’s what I’m currently trying to do as I write this post.

    Remember Syncthing? I set it up to synchronize the DCIM folder on the Pixel with a folder I created on my Mac. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, please watch the video below explaining how to do it. On it I’m demonstrating how to sync Obsidian, but don’t worry about that. The steps are the same for the DCIM folder.

    I am optimistic that this plan will address two issues. The first one is having an easier way to back up my photos, but it will also help me with cleaning up the images that are constantly piling up on my phone. To give you an example, early today, when setting the system up, I discovered 23 GB of old photos and short clips stored on my Android.

    It will take a while for all that to be copied to the computer, but the beauty is that Syncthing works both ways. Once the files that have been synchronized with my computer are transferred to Apple Photos and deleted from the folder, they will be automatically deleted on the phone.

    This is the very first test I’m doing to make sure Syncthing is correctly transferring everything to the Mac and then deleting the files on the phone when I delete them on the computer. If everything goes well, the next step will be to create an automation to replace the manual process on the Mac side.

    This is all for now. When I have further updates about this idea, I’ll publish part two of this article.

    There’s no such thing as the perfect App or a magical template

    Don’t get sucked into the online drama about productivity. Unfortunately, it’s not an App or other people’s methodology that will help you.

    This is the story about how many years ago I was hypnotized by magical solutions that never worked, and how my journey made me realize that everyone can find the perfect system. Yes, you can do it too. It will require more work and take longer, but it’s worth it.

    Different, different, and different

    Do you remember my article about letting things get messy for a while? This is precisely what I did when I started moving my notes from Evernote to Obsidian. Although both Apps share many similarities, there are still plenty of differences that make it impossible to just use my Evernote system on Obsidian.

    If you have already struggled to organize or be more efficient, you may know that it is equally inefficient to use someone else’s workflow to solve your problems. We are all different people going through different moments in life and exposed to entirely different circumstances. I hope I said ‘different’ enough times because it is the most important word in this article. You must realize that your needs are unique.

    The early stages of my journey

    Years (decades 😮) ago, when I started looking for a solution to my workflow problem, I did what I see many people doing today. I tried to use someone else’s methodology. When that failed, my initial thought was that I was the issue.

    Maybe you have been through this too. This is precisely that moment when the evangelists usually show up and tell you that you don’t need to use it the way the ‘guru’ created it.

    You can simply adapt it to your needs.

    Hmm. That’s quite convenient, isn’t it?

    Well, if I’m adapting something, I better create it myself. And this is when I began experiencing, let’s call it, ‘dishonest thoughts’. If I were to develop my own methodology, I could potentially commercialize it and generate some revenue.

    That idea stuck with me for a while, but several books later, I came to the conclusion that all of these so-called incredible methodologies are, in reality, variations of something that came before. Why would I want to add another layer to the onion?

    At this point in my career, around the turn of the millennium, my inexperience was evident. Although I gained a lot of knowledge from my degree as an economist and all the books I read about project management, my first company was a disaster. However, it was not all in vain.

    That unique combination of failure and acquired knowledge helped me start a career as a project manager in the booming mobile telecommunications industry. But what if I told you that the companies I worked for were also having trouble creating and managing effective processes? Wow, what a relief. It wasn’t me; the problem was significantly more extensive than I initially anticipated.

    Figuring things out together

    Twelve years later, in 2012, I realized I had enough experience to start another company. But this time, I would do it alone as a consultant. I used social media to spread the word, but I never talked about solving difficulties with this or that particular technique. It was all about collaborating and figuring things out together like I learned to do during my telecommunications career.

    Guess what the people I attracted were telling me when they arrived at the discovery meeting?

    —I’ve tried countless different methodologies and Apps, but nothing worked. I don’t know what’s wrong with me.

    You know what? I still hear this from almost all my clients nowadays.

    The first thing I ask all new customers is how they do their job. I don’t even use the word workflow. What I say is, ‘Pretend I’m going to start working for you today. Explain to me the work you do.’

    That’s harder than you think and people tend to drift the conversation towards the Apps they use. This is when I reply, ‘Forget the Apps. Pretend they don’t exist and tell me how you do your work. I want to understand the process, the stages, the problems, etc.

    People are so obsessed with the idea that something else is doing the work that I always face several moments of silence after that simple question. It’s really fascinating how it proves my point. People think that something outside is the solution, but they already have the answer with them all the time. I’m merely a facilitator. I provide guidance, and they find the answers by themselves.

    Anyway, back to the client. After taking a deep breath and receiving some direction from my side, the explanation begins. This is usually when I see the relief on their faces. It’s as if they broke free.

    Long story short, it’s only after I understand the workflow that I start helping them build a system. To make the system more efficient, we’ll certainly use some Apps, but only as tools. Always remember, Apps are not solutions; they are merely tools. And it’s all done together because this is not a magical solution. My main goal is to help the client build its own system.

    The good news is that you can solve this by yourself too. It takes more time, but eventually, you’ll have the perfect system for yourself. Start by mapping your work and needs. Ignore the Apps and methodologies. Think of your work as a workflow. One step after the other. Once you grasp that, allow yourself to feel a bit uncomfortable. Don’t add tools just yet.

    While you are experiencing the hard work and maybe even the mess, think about what you need to do to make each step of the way more efficient, and then look for the tools that can help you. Congrats! You just built a mindful workflow.

    I know it’s easier said than done. After all, it took me some years to figure this out. Maybe the video below will help you. But as you watch it, please pay attention to the process that led me to the dashboard, not the plugins I’m using. I’m never looking for a silver bullet. I’m sorry to be the one telling you this, but that doesn’t exist. Anyway, as you watch, notice that as I go I’m constantly trying to find something that will solve a very specific next problem.

    The truth is, you are the only one who has the correct answer. Keep asking yourself what you need to do next to reach the following level of the game.

    You can do it!