We’re now further along on our Life OS journey. It’s time to migrate from the structural discussion to practical design. For those of you who have wandered into this article, firstly, welcome. I would recommend that you go through the previous articles Introduction to Life OS and Life OS Elements . This will give you an idea of the thought process that led to this specific design.
If you’re not feeling like going through a comprehensive backstory, don’t worry, I’ll attach links to sections when I need to reference them. But I hope you will reconsider, as reading them enables you to design a personal Life OS that matches your workflow.
In this article I will give you a tour of my personal Life OS setup. This includes a quick overview of my daily hardware, followed by the software and apps that make this possible. The next thing to understand would be the functional principles on which this Life OS was woven together. I will talk about how these principles come to my aid using actual workflow within my ecosystem. This is going to be a fun yet practical one, so, come along!
Table of Contents
Let’s start by talking about the hardware and software tools that make up the Life OS.
At first glance it appears I may have set myself up for an uphill task with my choice of hardware. I have a Gigabyte P35 laptop (Windows ), a Google Pixel2 phone (Android) and an iPad Pro (iOS) setup featured here.
There are some drawbacks to this for sure. But it also means that I have a wider selection of tools to work with. More importantly, my setup stands as a testament to how far software has travelled to bridge these walled gardens as you will soon see.
The specific tools that I use to connect these hardware are the subject of a different post. What is relevant to the article is their contribution to my workflow. Please note that during this pandemic, the roles of these devices tend to be different from when I would step out to take meetings.
- The Laptop is now the primary hub of creation. All client outputs, blog articles and personal projects are executed here. The wider toolset, multitasking features and keyboard shortcuts make it a breeze to jump from project management to project execution.
- The iPad is for ideation, content consumption and mild editing. The portability of the device combined with the intuitive Apple Pencil makes notetaking joyful
- The Mobile phone acts as my notification device when I’m not at my workstation. It is also my secondary scanner that helps with quick capture of physical objects I want to track within my digital ecosystem.
- Another important component of my hardware setup is my Printer, an Epson ink-tank version. This all-in-one model supports cloud print and scan to mobile function which helps handle the physical documents that are part of my Life OS.
For those who are new to the digital productivity genre, a warning. You are about to hear a lot of names being thrown around. Do not get overwhelmed. This is not unusual. Instead of trying to find the one tool that does it all, find the set of tools that meet your needs best then make them talk to each other in a way that suits your workflows. That is how you build your personal ecosystem.
You standardize that flow of information and action (using SOPs), create a path to incorporate the other parts of your life you want to track, a Life OS is born.
This is how my ecosystem looks today. I will correspond the tools against the ARC model discussed in my article here:
The action hub is the brain of the operation. The place where tasks are born, accountability is assigned, time and effort parameters are defined. This is where tasks roll up under projects and ties the hubs together. That means choosing a tool that is flexible, easy to model and smart enough to get out of my way once setup. While this is not a review of ClickUp, that’s exactly what it does for me.
I start my day with the ClickUp inbox queue of my focus items for the day. I end the day by reviewing the activities done, rescheduling the spill overs and monitoring the workload for the days ahead.
Across the day, ClickUp captures new tasks through mail, browser, messages and notes. It has a powerful chrome extension that makes this easy. I even capture tasks through my Google Assistant when I need a quick capture (although this feature could use some work).
The tasks can be defined with a variety of parameters, assigned to projects and viewed in many ways. All standard views and processes can be captured as templates to save time in repeated actions. We will get into that when we talk about specific workflows. The task window natively integrates with my cloud storage to access necessary resources related to them.
At a larger level ClickUp ties relevant projects together under my goals, a feature which it has rudimentary support for.
Alternatively, I am taking some time and building out a Notion centric Action hub, but that’s another post for another day. ClickUp worked out a lot easier for the structure I had in mind.
The Resource Hub as explained in my earlier post is a combination of an active knowledge manager and a cold storage. I stopped trying to cram these two personalities into a single piece of software.
OneNote is my “oldie but goodie” piece of software whose archaic features drive me up the wall but also makes it comfortably familiar. If you know how to operate a multi-subject college binder, you are ready to start on Onedrive.
Its natural link with all things Microsoft, surprising features supporting handwriting recognition and research and promise of integration with Microsoft’s Fluid framework keep this relevant. I also love the simple trick of using the “Print” feature from any program on my laptop to output to OneNote.
I got started with OneNote quite early and have built quite an archive of documents, ranging from personal financial records to my son’s school correspondence. But for all the hassle-free capture and storage that OneNote offers, it is not enough.
It lacks diversity of views. It lacks advanced filters. It has a weak tagging structure. It does not lend well to task assignment. All this means is that while the program can be a versatile store of information, it falls short of being the “active recall“ portion of my routine. That’s where ClickUp returns.
On a daily basis I come across several articles that need my attention, media recommendations by friends, family and clients as well as presentations that need to be reviewed. These are pieces of knowledge that need to be assessed. Then either retained for future use, actively added to a running project/task or trashed. This is an activity where ClickUp shines. We will discuss this in detail in my Knowledge Management workflow.
This is the central resource of original thoughts and output. A space where simple ideas spark a few notes, perhaps a diagram or presentation. That spark catches fire as it passes through appropriate tools until it becomes an excel template, a startup or a blog.
This hub is what sets each person apart. Everyone’s creation zone closely mimics their areas of skill and interest. In my case, creation is a mix of writing and consulting. So, these are the tools that become the core of that process
Notability has quickly become an essential part of my ideation. I love the ability to rapidly switch between writing, light mind-mapping to working with shapes or flow charts. It’s like pen and paper, but so much more. The latest update reduces the time spent switching between tools and focus more on content creation.
Notion is my dark horse. I am aware of the serious power that hides behind this platform and I intend to showcase it soon. But, until then, I am using the clean interface and “just works” toolset to power the back end of my blog. More details in the next section.
Obsidian is my foray into serendipitous discovery. Note taking is at the cusp of a revolution. The buzzword is “bi-directional linking“. Bi-directional linking enables notes to find each other over common associations. Obsidian is a repository of my fleeting ideas and a backup of my long form notes and blog articles. Many of the articles in this blog are polished here. Here’s my beginner’s guide to Obsidian and a practical tutorial on some of the more advanced features like the graph view and the note multiplexer.
Microsoft 365 is the primary tool for my consulting work. PowerPoint, Excel and Word may be old school but are ubiquitous and very powerful. The day I discovered power query in excel I actually spent time going back to worksheets where I spent a lot of time doing things manually and retro fitted it with power query. Just a kid with a new toy.
Apart from consulting, MS Office also powers the Personal Finance Module of my Life OS. I have a set of Dashboards that link back into ClickUp to keep me aligned with my financial goals.
All the hubs are supported by storage within OneDrive and Google Drive.
Now that I’ve talked to you about what tools I’m using, it would be pertinent to address why I chose these tools. This will help you ask the right questions for your own scenario and use the answers to build your setup.
Functional Design Principles
The “why” behind my Life OS ecosystem is driven by the principles I used to design it. This ensures that I do not chase the next “shiny object” to pop out of the internet and stay true to tools that actually solve a problem.
My work needs me to process pdf, doc, xls and ppt files. Digital notetaking has introduced me to markdown and I appreciate the web friendly transition to html that it lends to. Images and videos have taken a backseat to my current workflow so I have ACDSee sitting on over 23000 photos waiting for my workflow to assimilate them(soon, I promise). I ensure that at each stage of the ARC model my tools can support these file formats
How can you go about it
List the universe of files you work with and see how many of those files are natively supported, how many are just attachments and how many do not play well with your proposed ecosystem. Then ask yourself the question; Are you ok to compromise with those file types? Can you work without having those files feature in your Life OS?
If the answer is yes, then you are good to start. If not, then reconfigure. Now. Get tools that fit your workflow and not the other way around.
It’s ok to have many tools for each hub as long as they can be integrated with as little pain as possible. Often, force-fitting your workflow into available tools cramps your productivity. Some people resort to that, fearing the learning curve or chasing “lean” goals. Trust me when I say, it’s not worth the price.
When I review the Life OS ecosystem I’ve built, Notability stands as the one holdout that would not play well with the rest of my tools. But I prefer not to work without it. So I either mount the iPad as my secondary screen when I need to refer to the handwritten notes or export the notability document as a pdf. In some notes I can also convert handwriting to text and then copy/paste anywhere.
The right visualization for the right workflow. A knowledge wiki and a publishing queue demand different visualizations to stay on top of them. The most popular kinds of views offered by the platforms today include List views, table views, kanban boards, gallery views and gantt charts for advanced project tracking.
I have chosen the tools that allow me to best represent the different parts of my work-life scenario. We will see some examples in the workflows detailed below
Web based tools have many advantages in the way they allow data access and collaboration. But they also come with the caveat that your data is not your own. Cloud based data can be hacked, servers crash, zombie attacks happen…okay maybe not the last one. The lesson is, backups are a must. I heard something from Linus at LTT which I found very useful. He called it the 3-2-1 rule of backups.
3 copies of your data in
2 types of storage media
1 of which is offsite
So, I have the files of my Life OS on OneDrive & Google Drive, with a copy on my secondary HDD and an external copy in a portable drive. These are synced monthly
OneDrive mirrors the folder structure of my Life OS and Google drive is primarily used for collaboration with clients who are more comfortable with Google’s ecosystem. The tools I’ve chosen are able to directly pull data from these two services and let me run a lighter operation with minimal movement of files.
Once we pass the available tools through our functional principles, we will be able to zero in on the ones that become part of our ecosystem. I have already gone through this process to arrive at the tools listed above.
Now let us look at how I put these to work. I am going to share a few case studies of how my Life OS ecosystem comes together to make my workflow more efficient.
Workflow Case Studies
Let’s dive into the part that makes all of this worthwhile.
- Load publishing template from ClickUp into my project folder
- Set timelines based on research required and assets to be generated. Most of the relevant research is already available within my Resource hub inside ClickUp.
- Start the ideation process in Notability. Enjoy freeform exploration of the topic being written about
- Convert the notes into a first draft article within Obsidian. Use Notability to keep me from wandering off the topic structure. Discover associations with standalone notes and previously written articles
- Transfer the draft into my Notion content pipeline, refine, add external hyperlinks (and explore the new backlinks option). Pass through SEO and proofing
- Copy and paste into my web editor of choice (Elementor in this case). Optimize for responsiveness and publish
This process ensures that the article is backed up in two platforms (Obsidian and Notion). It enjoys the enrichment of being part of the networked notes environment provided by Obsidian and the discipline of Notion. The Obsidian library of notes goes through the 3-2-1 backup process described earlier.
Consulting: New client lifecycle
- Create client folder within ClickUp
- Load Consulting Workflow Template for the client
- Create a mirror folder in OneDrive to store all relevant files during our engagement
- Schedule initial engagements through Zoom calls (natively integrated within ClickUp)
- Verify client brief, discuss and finalize the deliverables (An investor pitch, Business Financial model or workflow optimization using “nocode” services)
- Put together internal team within the ClickUp space (enabled through guest permissions). Assign roles and tasks to each associate along with access to client brief and SOP guidelines defined for the project
- Track the Project Workflow Kanban within ClickUp and review deliverables from associates
- Work on own deliverables within my Creation hub (Microsoft 365 in this case)
- When first draft is ready, grant access to client into the OneDrive folder as well as the ClickUp environment to record the feedback and work on it with client oversight where necessary
- Backup of client folder to insure against accidental deletion with multiple people accessing files (learnt from experience)
- Transfer finalized output to client. Delete confidential files shared. Create a case study note within Notion and keep a copy within Obsidian for serendipitous association
- Archive client folder within ClickUp with a link in OneNote
- Segregate incoming links, data and documents from primary sources: Email, Messages, Conversations, Ideas into active, tbd and passive resources
- Passive resources go straight into OneNote. These could be be receipts, documents for record, archives of closed projects etc
- Active and tbd resources are tagged with context and source and sent to the Resource hub in ClickUp
- They are reviewed in a scheduled time-block during the day (typically when babysitting my son’s online school session)
- Resources that correspond to a task or project are assigned to it
- TBD goes through review and segregation: Stay in ClickUp or transfer to OneNote
- Weekly review of the resource hub to remove any redundant information, archive inactive ones and schedule essential reads
People Directory Creation
- Import google contacts list
- Upload csv into ClickUp, remove unnecessary fields
- Apply additional contextual fields as defined in my earlier article here
- One time update of context fields (1400 contacts in batches of 50 per day over approximately 45 per day. No regrets)
Suddenly everyone I know and work with are part of my Life OS resource hub. This helps me
- put together a team of people with the necessary skills for project execution
- create a reference group on any topic I need an expert opinion on
- attach to call-back reminders on tasks
I wanted to feature examples that span different spheres from my day to show you how this ecosystem is at the centre of my work-life balance. I am in the middle of integrating my health and nutrition dashboards into it and will talk about it when I can cross some IFTTT vs Fitbit problems I am currently facing (any help is appreciated; email or twitter)
When I started out on the Life OS journey, it was a conceptual one. Meaning, I deliberately decided to visualise how it would look like without considering the available tools. This meant that when I completed the mental framework and tried to find the tools to meet the requirements, some wishlist features remain unmet.
This is a short note on what they are, where compromises have been made and what developers can still aim to achieve This also sheds light on why I left some other tools out of this ecosystem
Automatic tagging: Many of the common contextual tags which include those derived by parsing through the content should be added in by the platform itself. This frees the user in only adding those tags that are unique to their own categorisation.
There are enough new tools out there that support automatic tagging of captured items. Mymind is one such platform, but it lacks project linking features and has limited to no exporting capabilities
Suggested action list: The ability to think and design the right order to tackle your tasks and projects is left entirely to the user in most platforms. However, it is possible to automate this for the entry level user.
Tasks with timelines and priority flags plus those pertaining to similar projects can be automagically grouped and collated into digital and non digital workflows. This can then be served up into a clear “do this first” followed by “do this next” list to the user. I am certain that many of you would be happy to capture and enter tasks into your system and leave the scheduling to the software.
Most meeting requests already come with the time and priority parameters built in, that should be easy the moment you accept participation. Bills and tasks with deadlines can also be scheduled with a reasonable time buffer to avoid last minute pile-up. Scheduling clashes can be flagged for user intervention. This would free the user into actually doing tasks rather than just sorting and organizing them.
Replay the classics: People who like to capture fleeting thoughts or inspirations as well as capture highlights and quotes from their reading list will appreciate this. What if your platform could natively bring dormant quotes to your attention in a pop up every now and then to refresh your memory? This ensures people with a large archive of such notes to act on them. It also ensures that majority of your thoughts and captures remain relevant, sort of like the highlights feature within Google Photos.
There are third party software that does this for you. Such as readwise.io. But you are at the mercy of the platforms they support.
These are just a few examples of how my Life OS streamlines and simplifies my workflow. This ensures that I have a replicable structure that can be used to ensure consistent results for me or enable me to transfer these to an associate or client. I will release more comprehensive use cases in this blog. Covering basics of setting up the hub, creating custom design for the Personal Financial hub (with connected dashboards) etc. in future posts.
Before closing I want to remind you that this is my Life OS. While you are welcome to emulate it, it would make a whole lot more sense if you would understand the principles and make your Life OS. You can email or tweet at me if you want help in any aspect and I can try to address it through future posts or something more custom.
Disclosure: This article may contain affiliate links. Which means that, at no cost to you, I get a small commission if you choose to buy through my links. Please go through my Disclaimer notes for more info