I wrote a long time ago about my lack of professional organization habits for most of my life. Since that post nearly 10 years ago, I’ve tried many workflows and tools that promised increased efficiency, organization, motivation, time management, knowledge management, or some combination of the above. A non-exhaustive list includes:
Disheartened, I resigned myself to the fate of cobbling together one or more of these tools into a workable system, never fully trusting that it was serving me the way I needed it to.
But then something amazing happened! I discovered August Bradley and his Pillars, Pipelines, and Vaults (PPV) system. It has completely changed how I approach my work, habits, goals, and aspirations, and I’m so excited about this system that I want to share it with you!
But first, a brief review of what didn’t work about previous systems that makes PPV so special:
Deficiencies in Other Systems
This is the most important deficiency in any other tool or system I used previously. Before discovering PPV, I sought in vain to find a solution that would provide me with the information I needed exactly when I needed it.
Evernote addressed this deficiency better than other tools and systems: as long as I knew to save everything in Evernote, there was a good chance I could find it later when I needed it. This requires expending a great deal of effort to add everything that might be useful. The more time needed to add content, the less useful the tool or system becomes.
Comprehensiveness and Adaptability
I wanted one solution for several problem domains: life management and organization, task tracking, knowledge management, goal setting, motivation assistance, mind expansion, learning assistance, and others not yet identified.
Other tools and systems were singularly focused. Evernote can help track tasks and goals (and minutiae!). Trello is only useful for task tracking. Zettelkasten excels at knowledge management, but falls short everywhere else. PARA succeeds in several areas, but it only excelled in the organization and tracking problem domains.
Maintenance & Upkeep
Every system or application will require some level of maintenance and upkeep.
The most glaring example of this was my time spent with Org-mode and its Emacs
ecosystem. Every so often there was something I needed to fix: a botched
package upgrade here, or a configuration error there. Don’t get me started on
breaking changes (ahem, Org-roam). Each triviality demanded minutes (sometimes
hours) to unpack and fix. I also
spent wasted a great deal of time
my Emacs config (a popular pasttime among many
Productivity or knowledge management tools or systems should run everywhere. Many of those I tried should have in theory, but in practice did not.
Org-mode and Org-roam require Emacs. Emacs runs comfortably on desktop operating systems, but Windows performance and capability is sub-par. As an iPhone owner, I did not have an elegant (or even complete) solution to reviewing or adding content to my Org-mode ecosystem while away from a desktop. As someone who spends roughly 40% of my productive time away from a desktop, this is a significant disadvantage.
Evernote famously runs just about everywhere, but I’ve only had a good user experience retrieving information from it on-the-go. Trying to add anything meaningful requires a keyboard.
Syncing content between iOS and the rest of my ecosystem isn’t feasible as I’m a heavy Dropbox user. Currently, the obsidian app only supports iCloud or Obsidian’s bespoke sync.
Good luck keeping your zettelkasten in sync and uncorrupted if you use Windows, macOS, and Linux desktops along with an iPhone.
My expectation for an ideal solution is one that rewards me for the time and effort I’ve put into it. The systems I previously tried increased their value over time, but not as quickly as I was happy with. In some cases, the rate of return was abysmal: my experience with Org-roam was that I spent days of my life configuring and using this system only to fight with it constantly for little tangible return.
PPV - A Life Management Quantum Leap
And so, over Christmas break I came across August Bradley’s YouTube channel. I watched his “Intro & Overview of Pillars, Pipelines, and Vaults - Notion Life Operating System” and immediately took notice. The confident, soft-spoken Bradley was presenting something that seemed too good to be true. My curiosity piqued, I watched several more videos, including the “My Notion Life Operating System Overview” before going to sleep at an absurdly late hour. I was captivated.
A word before I extol the virtues of PPV: This system, like any other, will require time and effort to stand up. August offers a course that aids in this endeavor. You can come a long way - as I have - by viewing the PPV YouTube series. It’s a couple dozen hours of content. I would recommend watching the series through to get an understanding of how the components of the system fit together before implementing it yourself. I’m impatient, and so I began implementing as I went (I was also learning my way around Notion at the same time). This resulted in a need to watch videos two or three times to ensure I understood and applied the concepts appropriately.
Note that some of the concepts I describe below won’t make as much sense if you’re not already familiar with PPV.
How well does PPV address the deficiencies of previous tools and systems I’ve used? Extremely well:
I lead with this proficiency because it’s the most important to me: PPV will surface information when I need it. My favorite example is how my Action Items (tasks) list ties into the projects I’m currently working on and how they automatically emerge day-to-day and week-to-week. Thanks to my Action Items dashboard, I can also quickly see what I’ve completed in the past week, and what my tasks for today, tomorrow, and the upcoming week are. This is an actual super power during weekly team meetings, project stand-ups, and one-on-ones.
The true value of August Bradley’s PPV is that it’s a component of a larger system. In fact, Bradley discusses Systems Thinking extensively, with the third video in the PPV series being dedicated to this concept.
Perhaps the most significant property of the PPV system is that it fosters emergence - the quality of systems becoming greater than the sum of their parts. Emergence is what Zettelkasten is known for and aspires to. My experience with Zettelkasten is that emergence is the only killer feature of the system. In PPV, it’s one of many features.
Comprehensiveness and Adaptability
I stated above that I wanted one solution for several problem domains: life management and organization, task tracking, knowledge management, goal setting, motivation assistance, mind expansion, learning assistance, and others not yet identified.
PPV not only meets this criteria, but it exceeds. In fact, due to the way Notion databases inter-relate, I’m not sure it’s technically possible for any other software to implement this comprehensiveness and adaptability. Airtable, perhaps.
Life management, organization, and task tracking are accomplished by many facets of PPV, including dashboards, the Action Zone, the Project Database, and Daily Tracking.
Knowledge management is facilitated by the implementation of Vaults, some examples of which are the Book Vault, the Notes & Ideas Vault, and my favorite the Knowledge and Tag Vault.
The Alignment Zone is the best method I’ve ever seen for goal setting and motivation assistance. Even if this was the only feature of PPV, I would still prefer this system over others. It is simply that powerful. The Alignment Zone is the crux of all your aspirations, goals, projects, and tasks. It is the alignment of all of these features that is so essential to PPV.
Maintenance & Upkeep
Every system or application will require some level of maintenance and upkeep. In PPV, maintenance and upkeep are features of the overall system, with weekly, monthly/quarterly, and yearly reviews. These reviews are essential to the overall system because they ensure that your day-to-day tasks overall support your goals and aspirations. For more on this, review the Alignment Zone.
This is more so a feature of Notion, the app upon which PPV is built, than PPV itself. Notion is available on all desktop and mobile operating systems. You can customize the appearance of several views in Notion to be mobile-friendly (for instance gallery or list views for databases).
My expectation for an ideal solution is one that rewards me for the time and effort I’ve put into it. I’ve been using PPV for just shy of three months, and the return on investment has been phenomenal. Although it took a few dozen hours to implement to its current state, I have saved nearly as much time on organizational and task tracking alone. I anticipate minor tweaks needed here and there moving forward, and there’s almost zero propensity to bike-shed anything else about my Notion environment, so the time/value ratio can only go up!
Security & Privacy
This is a sweet, sweet bonus: Notion has a comprehensive privacy and security page that even outlines how to opt-out of Notion telemetry. They’re even SOC2 compliant.
Notion isn’t perfect…
By this point, I’m sure I sound like a shill. Although PPV is the closest to perfection in any life management system I’ve ever come, Notion is not without some annoyances. Namely:
- No offline mode - as a SaaS, this isn’t unexpected. Still, every time AWS goes out, Notion will as well.
- Web clipper can be hit-or-miss - Sometimes it works flawlessly, others not at all. In general, it doesn’t have the polish of Evernote’s.
- Not the snappiest tool on the block - A minor, minor annoyance when compared with all of the immense benefits afforded.
I have been tremendously impressed by August Bradley’s PPV system and implementation in Notion. Building out my own version of it has been exciting, because I’ve been able to start using it before it’s completely finished. It’s a lot like building the plane as it’s taking off and starting to fly. The best part? I’m already beginning to see tremendous benefits, most notably in the clarity of mind I have at the end of each day. My mind can settle down and I trust that I’ve captured everything needed to maintain and operate my Life.
No other system out there can do that.
Call to Action
Give August Bradley’s PPV series a go! Watch as he describes Systems Thinking concepts and how Notion can apply them.