The day you became less stressed at work

Published on 04-08-2016

I have found a work system that helps me relax. It helps me focus my brain on energising and fun things. My brain has no worry about remembering tasks. It is free to focus on fun and creative thoughts.

Passively I have been simplifying and evolving the system all my work life. I will try to tell you about the system as I use it today. This way you can hopefully jump right into being less stressed and more productive, starting tomorrow.

Note: I will spend some time here trying to convince you why you should have a system. If you are already convinced, scroll to “The System” below.

Why a system?

If you are anything like me:

Even if you are not like me, this is true for everyone:

Let me be clearer on this one: No matter what you are doing, what your job is: It is imperative that you do not switch focus constantly

A good work system can help with all of the above. In my system, it takes me 5 seconds to be sure I do not forget a task. No matter how important a task is.

This way, even if a task is very important, I can continue whatever I was doing without wasting time switching tasks.

But we use Jira / Trello / Shortcut / Taiga / Kanban / Scrum already?

Awesome! But those are team systems. You need a system that is private only to you, where:

Many people use no system

I see many developers working in tech startups not using any system for managing their personal work. This can work very well, but I believe with a good system they could be doing even better. I have been using mine for the last decade. It has served me very well. I am writing this post to suggest you to give it a try.

The system has proven versatile

My system has evolved through my different roles. While evolving, it has also stayed much the same. It has served me well as junior developer, senior developer, team lead, CTO and freelance contractor.

The system is deceptively simple

Prepare to be underwhelmed. My system is insanely simple. That does not mean it is not valuable.

The system

Here it is. It is just a piece of paper. The power lies in the checkboxes.

Work system paper checklist

The checkboxes

I currently use four kinds.

The empty checkbox

This is a task I should remember to take care of today. Taking care of a task means one of four things:

A started task: “The Dot”

This is a task I have started. I am actively working on this task today.

A deferred task: “The Arrow”.

This is a task I needed to defer until tomorrow. Either it took too long, or better things to do came up.

A completed task: “The Check Mark”.

This is the most satisfying. The task has been completed, and I have moved on to other things.

A dropped task: “The X”.

The task was for some reason either not doable, or not needed. I currently do not plan to revisit this task.

How I use my system

The weekly routine

I keep all my today lists in a bundle with a paperclip*. This way I can always easily see what I did this week, and compare with what I need to do today.

*Note: It has now been six years since I first wrote this. Now I use this notebook instead of loose papers.

Daily Standup

If you are not a software developer and/or have not heard of daily standups: It is a system where a team meets every day. Most commonly it consists of the following:

The daily cycle

A small side note; I use “next day” instead of “tomorrow”, since on Monday, I review the paper from Friday. Once the Friday paper has been reviewed, I archive or trash the notes from the previous week. Normally I archive them. They will help me if I need to remember something. As I am currently freelancing, they also help with my CV / Resumé.

The emotional boost

I get satisfaction from checking the boxes completed during the day. When it is done I can look at the check marks and think: “I did well today.” This emotional boost should not be underestimated.


There you have it. This is my system for keeping track of my daily tasks, and keeping my head clear. I know it can seem trivial. It is a small change, with a big impact. For me it has made a huge difference. I can focus on what I am doing without worrying about what I need to do next. I can more easily achieve “flow”.

· software development, work guide, checklists, stress