nestful Blog

Spontaneous Productivity

Spontaneous productivity is a lifestyle approach to making more of one’s time. Specifically, to getting stuff done as efficiently as possible without stress or anxiety.

Scheduling Sucks

Before we get into the solution, we must understand the problem: scheduling. That is because scheduling, and prepare to be shocked, takes time.

Scheduling is spending time in order to then spend time later. Supposedly in a more efficient manner, but that is impossible. Just ask any software development team and they’ll tell you the unavoidable truth: humans are bad at estimating future work.

This means you often have to spend more time fixing mistakes and accommodating for changes in the schedule you came up with to efficiently spend your time.

Note, that’s before you even touch the thing you actually want to do.

Solution Part I: The What

To avoid this sort of meta-timespending, Spontaneous Productivity defines a clear goal: decide what to do only just before you do it.

To achieve said goal, we need an evergreen list of priorities. A list in which tasks are always positioned according to their urgency. With that kind of list, instead of having a varied calendar with time-set activities spread across, you’re going to have something like this:

Calendar day with many events label ‘Spontaneous’

The purple-blue events are all the activities that depend on other people, other resources or only available at certain times (also called “deps”), and are scheduled are usual. The rest is Spontaneous Productivity time.

Whenever you reach SP time, you open your evergreen priorities list, and do the top item. No planning, no worrying, no rescheduling. Spontaneous.

Solution Part II: The How

Obviously, we can’t use any random list to achieve this. We have to have some sort of method to build a list that’s ordered by priorities and, more importantly, that is evergreen – meaning, it stays ordered.

Now I have good news, and bad news. I’ll start with the bad.

The bad news is there’s no way to create such a list. The good news is we can get pretty damn close.

We need 3 things to make this list happen:

  1. Offload urgency indicators to task creation
  2. Automatically order list according to urgency indicators
  3. Be able to update said indicators

An urgency indicator is a piece of information, related to a task, that can be compared with equivalent pieces of information in other tasks. The best example is a due date. We can compare the due date of different task to see which one has less time remaining for completion.

There are many possible other indicators. For example, task completion percentage. A task that is mostly done is less important than one you haven’t even started. Or maybe a consequences indicator can represent the cost of failing the task’s completion. Not watching a movie you planned to is not as bad as missing an important job deadline. Especially if that job finances that movie streaming account.

Once we have a list of tasks with corresponding indicators we can order those tasks, and update that order as we update the tasks themselves. The way we sort that list depends on our own preferences, so no magic formula exists. However, here come the even better news.

Solution Part III: The Tool

Nestful is the first tool to implement the principle behind Spontaneous Productivity. While you can post-it your way through it, sooner or later it’s going to get too complicated and slow to do. Thankfully, we have computers.

Nestful includes a set of useful features exactly for this. For example, Agenda view “bubbles up” all due sub-tasks so you won’t miss anything, and arranges everything according to date. This is the due date indicator mentioned before.

Nestful’s agenda view

The general nestability of tasks allows you to basically make each task its own full-blown kanban board, if you have more complex things to manage. This is with the strict principle of keeping one single list, even if you have very complex tasks.

A screenplay outlined in Nestful

Of course, there is much room to grow. From better repeatability options, to crazy things like bundling together tasks that happen in the same place, or using similar resources. I personally believe in the beauty of simplicity, so expect to see more things like the Agenda view mentioned above. A huge portion of the benefits hides among the simplest of solutions.

I hope you give Spontaneous Productivity, and in turn Nestful, a shot. If you don’t like the latter, that’s fine – each has its own take. As for the former – unless 90% of your day is meeting other people, you can make Spontaneous Productivity work. When you do, tell us how you did it so we can learn and improve our own approaches.

Please reach out with anything to: