'Work will fill the time you set for it,' and other productivity tips from Fadeke Adegbuyi

The former Todoist productivity expert drops time-blocking tips, lofi beats playlists for concentrating and other knowledge bombs.

Fadeke Adegbuyi

“I do hope the productivity space as a whole is more intentional about pushing narratives that are about life versus just work.”

Photo: Courtesy of Fadeke Adegbuyi

Fadeke Adegbuyi knows how to dole out productivity advice. When she was a marketing manager at Doist, she taught users via blogs and newsletters about how to better organize their lives. Doist, the company behind to-do-list app Todoist and messaging app Twist, has pushed remote and asynchronous work for years. Adegbuyi’s job was to translate these ideas to the masses.

“We were thinking about asynchronous communication from a work point of view, of like: What is most effective for doing ambitious and awesome work, and also, what is most advantageous for living a life that feels balanced?” Adegbuyi said.

Adegbuyi wears many hats. Since leaving Doist, she’s been working as a lead writer at Shopify and publishes an internet culture newsletter called “Cybernaut” with writers’ collective Every. And she remains an expert on deep work and time management, continuing to drop async “knowledge bombs” at Shopify.

Protocol caught up with Adegbuyi on the best productivity philosophies she gleaned from her time at Doist, as well as the quick tips and tricks she uses in her day-to-day.

Time blocking all the way

Time blocking is Adegbuyi’s productivity method of choice (check out Todoist’s productivity methods quiz to find the right one for you). It’s when you separate your day into blocks of time and assign each block a specific task, or group of tasks. You can create time-blocked events in your calendar, but Adegbuyi likes to time block within Todoist so she can check off the task when it’s finished.

Adegbuyi also subscribes to Parkinson’s law: the idea that your work will fill the time you set for it. If you give yourself two days to finish a report, it will take two days. If you give yourself two weeks, it will fill all 14 days. “I’m trying to constrain how long I spend on something with those time blocks,” Adegbuyi said.

She might give herself from 9 a.m. until 11 a.m. to write an introduction and two sections for a new Shopify piece. The goal isn’t to “aim for perfection, but getting that portion done within that time block,” she said. It’s not foolproof; sometimes life gets in the way, and you have to move your time blocks around. But it’s worked for Adegbuyi for years.

The async workplace of the future

Doist has almost always been a remote-first company, built by CEO Amir Salihefendić. The company adopted Slack in 2014, as it needed a remote communication hub. But the nature of live messaging didn’t fit the company’s remote culture. That’s why Doist launched asynchronous messaging app Twist, and why much of Adegbuyi’s content for Doist furthered the async campaign.

She’s still a strong proponent of the method, advocating for reduced meetings and more time for deep, focused work. She’s been happy to see the idea catching on among managers across all areas of tech, particularly since the onset of the pandemic. “If you are focusing on synchronous communication, you are inevitably leaving people out who cannot jump on a call when it's 2 a.m. their time,” Adegbuyi said. “I also just find asynchronous communication very inclusive.”

Adegbuyi wrote last year about Paul Graham’s concept of the maker’s schedule and the manager’s scheduler. Managers tend to fill their days with 1:1s, or external appointments; makers need uninterrupted blocks of time to create their work: design mockups, programs, blog posts. But companies are often structured to fit the schedules of managers — something Adegbuyi quickly realized when reading feedback to her async newsletters at Doist.

“A lot of the advice that we were giving, they felt in some cases they couldn’t apply it because of how their workplaces were structured,” Adegbuyi said. “They were like, ‘My boss books me in meetings all day long.’”

With those concerns, Adegbuyi and her team shifted to direct advice to company leaders as well as individual user leaders. She dove into questions about what asynchronous communication and remote work look like at larger companies, chatting with people at Zapier and Stripe. It became clear to her that a commitment to deep, focused work needs to come from every level of a company.

“We were really taking a two-pronged approach and speaking both to how individuals manage their time, but also ultimately, how workplaces dictate schedules and how they should be thinking about managing their employees,” Adegbuyi said.

Put Netflix binging on your to-do list

Adegbuyi is a big believer in purposefully allocating time to life tasks in addition to work tasks. Solely visualizing work tasks within your productivity systems might make you forget about the other important activities in your life, like meal-prepping or movies you want to watch. When showcasing example projects in Todoist, Adegbuyi frequently included tasks related to exercising, eating or movie-watching.

“Having those things at the forefront can be very helpful for actually getting them done,” Adegbuyi said.

Your Todoist, or whatever to-do list app you use, shouldn’t just contain work assignments or presentations. Write down your plans to call your grandparents, or to clean your office so you feel more focused in your work space.

“I do hope the productivity space as a whole is more intentional about pushing narratives that are about life versus just work,” Adegbuyi said.

Even more knowledge bombs

  1. Use RescueTime to track how much time you spend on websites. Adegbuyi has this app installed on all her devices. “It tracks how much time I’m spending on … way too much,” she said. “I compare it to the idea of tracking every dollar you spend. Naturally just having an awareness of how you're spending your time helps you change how you're spending your time.”
  2. Use SelfControl, a Mac app, to lock sites. Sometimes Adegbuyi needs to be forced to get off Twitter.
  3. Put on headphones and listen to lofi beats on Spotify to get in the flow. She recommends Lofi Girl’s playlist.
  4. Change digital time to analog time on your computer. “You literally lose track of time because it’s harder to decipher,” Adegbuyi tweeted. Losing track of time = easier flow state.

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