Sunset over Santorini, (c) Adrien Joly

Achieve your dreams while complying to commitments: a productive interview of Matthieu Leventis

As many of you know, I’m very conscious about efficiency and productivity. A few weeks back, I had the chance to spend a week-end with Mangrove, a community of freelancers, and to meet Matthieu Leventis, one of its co-founders.

I really enjoyed chatting with him because I realised that his productivity workflow was much more advanced than mine, and very well-thought.

Today, I have the pleasure of having Matthieu as a guest on my blog and Productivity Tips newsletter, to share with us his thoughts about productivity and his current workflow.

Hi Matthieu, how are you today?

Fine, it’s sunny at last in Paris today :)

Can you introduce yourself?
What are you up to, these days?

Sure ! I’m currently cofounding Mangrove, an organization gathering tech enthusiasts and reinventing the way we work. Just before, I cofounded and ran a startup selling a productivity tool for salespeople on tradeshows. I have a background in engineering, software development, quantitative economics and sociology.

What does “productivity” mean to you,
and why is it important for you?

Productivity is the capacity of reaching quickly an objective using the least time, effort and mental energy possible. It is important because I am very lazy, I like spending a lot of time doing nothing, and at the same time I have many dreams and other things I want to achieve. Being very productive is the only way of combining the two.

A linked concept is reliability: when you take a lot of different commitments, you need to be reliable on them. As a very distracted and impulsive person, I need some help (= some tools) on this subject too.

What productivity practices and tools have you tried?
Were you missing anything?

I tried and chose tools and processes on different topics :

  • deadlines and commitments
  • projects roadmaps
  • routines and weekly reviews (progress checkin and other significant indicators)
  • tasks to be conducted, one-time or recurring (like regular administrative tasks)
  • knowledge management : references, documentation, meeting reports…
  • knowledge capture well integrated with the rest
  • CRM
  • personal development (helping changing habits, regularly stepping back on goals, journaling...)
  • creativity (facilitating the divergent / convergent cycle, not losing creative impulses and canalise them into something constructive)

In a UX perspective, I always focus on two things:

  1. it must be very quick to push something into the tool (< 5 seconds)
  2. it must be very quick to pull something from the tool (< 5 seconds)

I think this is mandatory for the tool to be really integrated in my everyday life. Also, for a given need, the simpler are the tool and the process, the better.

It would be too much to talk about everything. I’ll just talk about task management, as it is the most spread need. At first, I tried mind maps as an everyday tool, but I got rid of them. The theoretical organization of the information was great, but the in & out costs were much too high (opening the app, thinking where to insert an element). I also tried using intensively todo-list tools like Todoist, having one list per project and reprioritizing everything regularly, but the ‘out’ cost was too high : re-reading everything to sort it was a real pain. I tried being minimal and using a single checklist in a Google Keep note, but some elements stayed for months : it was not a workflow, in the sense that it was not a flow, as items got ‘stuck’ halfway.

What’s your planning and execution workflow nowadays?

My workflow relies on four cornerstones :

  1. Commitments’ deadlines
  2. A unique todolist (improved)
  3. Mandatory calendar slots (meetings, etc…)
  4. Projects’ journals

When I swipe right from my mobile home screen, I have my dashboard for items 1/ and 2/, thanks to the Todoist widget. (see Fig. 1 and 2, below)

Fig. 1: Top of Todoist widget — Fig. 2: Bottom of Todoist widget

On the top are listed the deadlines that are expired. They come first because they should not be here, and they have to be taken car of very quickly. Then, are listed the tasks, sorted by priority (red to yellow). This list is a mix of single tasks that I have manually entered directly in the list, of tasks that I had scheduled to pop out at a certain date, and of recurring tasks.

To be ‘allowed’ to be in the list, a task should either :

  1. be really quick to execute (< 2 minutes)
  2. or be related to an external commitment (something I promised to someone)

With this discipline, no task stays in the stack, it is a real flow. All the other tasks I can think of are logged in a much more informal project journal. When I work on this project, I quickly review the journal to remind me of the roadmap.

The priorities reflect the time sensitivity : the red tasks on the top must be done in the next hours.

When I scroll down the dashboard, at the very bottom, I can see the upcoming deadlines. (Fig. 2)

All the deadlines here are external: they are imposed by someone or something else than me, so I cannot play with them. This important rule ensures the flow.

Adding an element in this system is very quick, less than 5 seconds: the first icon on my home screen allows it.

Fig. 3: Adding a task quickly using Todoist

This Todoist widget uses syntax recognition to put the task at the right place. If I type ‘call back Olivier p1’, the task will appear right now at the top of my list, and I know it’s mandatory today (priority 1). If I type ‘call back Olivier monday p2’, the task will pop only on Monday, and I know it’s not due for the very day (priority 2). If I type ‘send invoices clients every 28 p3’, it will pop every 28th of the month.

Fig. 4: Project journal

All the other tasks that do not meet the criteria for this flow (no external commitment, not quick to do) are logged into project journals. This journals are just continuous flows of writings about a project, and I consult them when I want to progress on something. With this organization, I can leave a project on standby for six months without having the feeling of ‘not completing a todo-list’. I also see all the ‘tasks’ written in the journal as possibilities, not as todo items. I might never complete them. With time, they might get lost in the depths of the journal, and it would be for the best. It is like an evolutionary selection. I keep my journals in Microsoft OneNote (could also be Evernote).

Pushing a new item in a journal is pretty simple: I just click on a dedicated icon on my home screen, and write my new task in the app that pops up (Do Note, by IFTTT, see Fig. 5 below):

Fig. 5: Adding a note quickly to a project journal, using Do Note

The prefix ‘p mangrove :’ tells the system to put the line on the top of the Mangrove project journal. As simple as that ; takes less than 5 seconds.

The last of my four cornerstones is time management. For this, I use the Google Calendar widget. I see what is upcoming when I swipe right twice from my home screen. (see Fig. 6, below)

Fig. 6: Google Calendar widget, for time management

I apply the same philosophy for my time management than for my tasks: my main calendar, in blue, only includes commitments, which I know cannot change unless warning the other persons about it. All the rest, like work scheduling (3 hours on project Mangrove on Monday and 2 hours for client Incenteev), is done on the green calendar, which is indicative only and is not mandatory to follow. This flow allows me to see ahead on my work capacity while keeping everyday freedom to adapt to whatever happens or whatever I want.

And here you go :)

That’s an impressive workflow!
How long is a typical task on your calendar?
Do you also schedule activities for evenings and week-ends?

A task in my calendar is usually 1 hour to 2 hours long. It’s usually what I need to push things forward. Exceptionally, when I have to do a really creative work, I book half a day or a full day, not to be disturbed and to have the time to enter in flow state — ‘the zone’ as some people call it.

All this is scheduled during regular work days. I keep my evenings and weekends for myself — or sometime for ‘works’ i’m really passionate about, but I don’t need to schedule that.

Do you have any plans of improvements in your current workflow?

Not for the moment. I have a lot of ideas for improvements, but I don’t want something perfect, just something that works well enough.

Would you like to ask a question to the subscribers of our Productivity Tips newsletter?

Are you guys happy with the productivity tools one the market, or do you need one? Which one would it be?

Any closing thoughts? A announcement to make?

It’s a pleasure to share this work on productivity with you! I have set up processes for other topics too. If you have precise points you would like to discuss, don’t hesitate to contact me!

Best.

Thank you so much for your time, Matthieu Leventis!
I really appreciate it, and I guess that our subscribers will also be grateful for having shared your tips with us! :-)
What do you think of Matthieu’s workflow? Would this work for you? What’s your workflow? Matthieu and I are eager to read your thoughts in reply to this article!

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