Why I built my own personal productivity tool…

Jack Shepherd
7 min readMar 28, 2024

Early on in my legal career, I dropped the ball regularly. I didn’t do tasks I had promised to do. I asked questions that had already been answered in previous meetings. I spent too long doing things that weren’t that valuable.

I realised these were not failings of my person, but of my systems. I had no system to make sure I had taken out all actions required of me that were contained in a given email. I had no system to help me navigate the reams of notes I had taken on the multitude of projects I was involved in. I had no system to monitor whether I was spending my time on the right things.

🚀 As part of a side project, I believe I have developed the best personal productivity system. And you can even use it for yourself by going to https://deku.app. Here’s how it works.

What am I trying to do?

Make lists

A partner advised me that I need to start making lists. This is advice I have kept by for 10+ years now, and it has served me well.

I kept a handwritten task list, which I rewrote everyday to help me prioritise things and keep my workload manageable. I kept lists of meetings I have attended, and what the key actions and details were. I kept a list of the most valuable work I need to do for a given week and I made sure I prioritise my time accordingly.

List-making wasn’t without its difficulties, particularly when done on paper. Doing all of this on paper causes difficulties when you are working in a hybrid environment, e.g. if you forget to bring your notebook with you. Your random scribblings become difficult to comprehend — both in terms of understanding them and actually reading the handwriting. It’s hard to organise things or search things properly.

I have tried to use apps to help move this exercise away from paper. I’ve tried Todoist, OneNote, Notion — but they are overkill for what I need. I don’t need subtasks, complex formatting or ability to assign things to people. I have project managers that can take care of that. What I needed is a system to help me accomplish what I have promised to do, and not look like a fool in front of other people for forgetting everything.

Track where my time goes

I’ve now left my lawyer days of regimented time-recording. This is a double-edged sword. I’m so thankful I don’t have that feeling of thinking “great, I can go home now…oh wait I have to record my time”. But at the same time, I lose track of where all my time goes. Am I spending too much time in meetings? Is the work I’m doing actually valuable?

At the same time, time recording is the bane of every lawyer’s life. Usually, it involves either looking back through emails and retrospectively recording your time, or creating, starting, stopping and pausing a bunch of smart timers. In either case, the process is horribly convoluted. With some firms tying bonuses to the speed at which you record your time, the stakes ae also quite high.

I tried automated time-recording systems that supposedly capture what you are doing in the background. They sound great, but they don’t work. How do you know I actually attended a meeting in my diary? How do you know I wasn’t interrupted with an urgent question halfway through drafting a contract? How do you know what project I was actually working on?

I’ve reached the conclusion that time tracking is something we can’t automate without structuring the processes through which we work. But lawyers work in a mostly unstructured way. And so do I. It’s driven by the nature of the work I do. So the challenge is to help make something combat this necessary evil.

Joining the dots

So it boils down to tracking tasks, making and navigating meeting notes, and tracking time. Like most people, I had a completely separate system for each of these things. This, in my view, is where the problem lies.

I say that because time is spent on tasks and meetings. Tasks arise out of meetings. Meetings can arise out of tasks. It’s all connected. It makes no sense to have three separate systems that track all of these things independently, because you will end up typing the same thing into three separate systems.

This is why I built Deku. At its core, it helps you create tasks, meetings and time with as little duplication as possible. I’ve been using it since the start of the year and it has massively helped me in my day-to-day work. I don’t drop the ball. I come across like I have a ridiculous memory. I actually know what I am spending my time on.

Here are the features that help me the most.

📗 The paper-like task list

I believe there is massive value in starting your day by looking at everything on your plate, and working out if it needs doing today (or at all).

For me, the best way of doing this is writing/rewriting your task list. I have tried online tools before, but it’s so easy to keep things on there. They tend to clog up with things you will never get round to doing, or things that aren’t worth doing in the first place. You never get the chance to reflect on what actually needs doing.

I wanted a way to quickly go through my task list and condense it down to the things I actually need to do today. But I still wanted to keep things on there in case I wanted to revist them tomorrow.

This needs to be simple. Any complexity here means you simply don’t do that exercise of prioritising your day.

🏭 The meeting tracker

Like a lot of people, I am genuinely concerned by the amount of time I spend in meetings.

I’ve tried monitoring this through queries on my calendar. But my calendar is not always a true reflection of the meetings I attend. Sometimes I give meetings a miss where something comes up. Sometimes meetings overrun. It’s not as simply as just plucking times from my calendar.

Also, when I have used systems like OneNote, notes from multiple meetings are often intermingled and it’s hard to know what was discussed and when. What I want is a system that helps me track the meetings I have been in, the time I spend in them and what happened in them.

I built a simply way of adding tasks and meetings (it can tell what you are adding based on what you type into the box). When you look to create a meeting, it creates a record of your meeting and starts a timer.

The other problem with using paper or a notetaking app was that when tasks were assigned to me in meetings, I had to record them in a separate system. So I also wanted the ability to add tasks while I was taking meeting notes.

⏱ The time tracker

The frustrations with time tracking are well known. For me, it always felt duplicative, as if I was typing out my entire day after it had happened. I wanted to build a system that populated my time as part of processes I was doing anyway.

I built an ability to “Start” tasks. This creates a psychological pressure to maintain focused on a given task, given you have clicked “Start”. But it also meant that I didn’t have to do anything else to track the time I was spending on it. The same applies to meetings.

The value this all brings is in being able to see what exactly you have spent your day doing. This helps you prioritise your future workload, but for mayn professions (including lawyers), this has the ability to make entering your time into a source system easy.

I developed a way of cutting your time by activity, task or project — depending on how you want to copy things (i.e. “block bill” or not).

This is helped by the fact that when you create a task or a meeting, a narrative (i.e. the bit of text used to describe what you were doing) is automatically generated based on the name of the task or nature of the meeting. So you don’t even have to write any narratives from scratch anymore.

Basically, it’s time recording with little effort.

I hope you enjoyed this short foray into my mind when it comes to personal productivity. I have actually made the system available to use, for free. If you want to use it, please go to https://deku.app. I hope you get value from it. If you do, please send me some feedback!

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Jack Shepherd

Ex biglaw insolvency lawyer and innovation. Now legal practice lead at iManage. Interested in human side of legal tech and actually getting things used.