Interview with productivity writer & coach Julien Gueniat

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October 13, 2022

Hey there Workflowy folks,

Today we’d like to share our conversation with Organisologie‘s Julien Gueniat.

Swiss native Julien has spent the last couple of years developed a following in the francosphere by sharing his organization and productivity methods via books, his blog, and YouTube channel.

We spoke to Julien as he was releasing his latest book “En Finir Avec L’infobésité” or Ending infobesity -where the outlines his strategy for effectively dealing the the deluge of information we receive on a daily basis.

In our chat, Julien shares some thoughts about the importance of not only finding the right tool but also taking the time to establish a method as a key to success. He also describes what he considers a good productivity systems and finally – shares his daily setup in Workflowy.

We also have the audio version if you prefer to listen to the conversation.

Rodolfo: Julian, thanks for taking the time to, speak with me today about your work, about your upcoming book all kinds of great stuff you’ve got to share with us today. Basically all of your content is in French, so most of our audience , is English, primarily English speaking.

They’re not gonna be too familiar with the work. Could you briefly describe just a little bit about the type of work you do and how workflowy plays a part in that?

Julien: Yes, Yes, for sure. First thank you for for the time. We’re gonna spend together. It’s nice and I know that a lot of your audience is English speaker, I will try to do my best and if there is something that is not clear, just let me know because yeah, I’m not like, it’s not my mother tongue, let’s say like that.

I have a website called organisologie which I’m sharing this kind of mindset and tools and methodology to help people to be, let’s say, more productive but also more peaceful in Connected world. I’m sharing through my text what I learn, and what other people can also teach me.

And then after I’m creating product for the people who want to go further, basically that’s what I’m doing. And I published some books three books, actually two with an editor. And the last one is like, self published I wanted to try that. And it was, obviously more complicated than what I thought, , but it’s always like that with new projects, right?

Yeah, and decide that I have a, let’s say, I think a normal life and drink a lot of coffee and that’s it.

Rodolfo: All right. Sounds great. You mentioned something that, that kind of stood out to me, like being in the, Oh, you know, workflowy is featured a lot in the productivity space. Note taking space and, and a lot of people that work in that space, one of their main focuses, like obviously productivity, but you, rarely hear about something that you said, You said peaceful, the word peaceful, which is, I think a word is not really associated a lot.

The focus is very much on doing a lot of stuff. Right. And not so much the benefit of, of being organized, which is , if you’re organized, you don’t have to do a lot of stuff. Right. Cuz you, you do just the important

Julien: Yeah. Yeah, definitely. I think a lot of people misunderstood what is to be productive. I don’t know how it is in the English market in general. But in French, a lot of people think that if they’re like agitated, if they’re moving a lot, all the time, like switching tabs, they are doing a lot.

And what I realized. Kind the opposite. It’s like being productive is really correlated with your calmness during the day. And for me, the days that are the most productive is usually if you, put a camera on the corner on the room and you see me working, taking a break, working, taking a break.

And at the end of the day, you can do a lot, but you can also, let’s say, do what you are actually doing without spending eight hours a day working. You know, and I guess a lot of people are more and more into having free time let’s say you have a small business. A lot of people are working 10, 11, 12 hours a day sometimes.

But what if you can achieve the same result in let’s say six hours, It’s already great, you know, six hour. And honestly, if you read books on focus , it’s really hard to be working more than six hours a day in a really intense focused state of mind. It’s really for me, Maximum, Let’s say it’s four hours a day and I’m really happy when I can achieve , let’s say four hours of really focused work a day.

It’s amazing. And that’s also what I really enjoy with workflowy. You are not a lot of notification even now with your collaborative features. Really great because. I’m working with a lawyer that is my assistant, but sometimes he is, mentioning me, but it’s not like, Hey, you receive a new message.

It’s really subtle and for me it’s really, really under evaluated this kind of small detail. I don’t know if you, if it’s clear what I’m saying.

Rodolfo: Yeah, definitely. A lot of these applications tend to be very heavy on the notifications, on the alerts and things . Forcing you to focus on the thing. Right. And this is a, this is kind of the opposite of that. It’s more trying to stay focused and, and not be distracted.

Julien: Exactly for me. There, are like this kind of two states of work, like Shallow work and deep work. And that’s not me that’s coming from Cal Newport. And for me workflowy really helped me to stay in a deep, deep deep work mode. It’s not the only software that allows me to do that, but I know that you are really aware about that and it’s it’s really appreciated.

And people were like following my courses or like reading my emails or my article at one point. They’re like, Yeah. Now after a while I start to understand what do you mean when you said this kind of calm productivity, because it’s hard. To detach your identity. If you are this kind of doer, like you, like you love to do a lot of stuff, it’s kind of an addiction to move all the time and to have this thing to do a lot of stuff, and it’s something that you need to work on because it’s identity driven, right?

You’re like, Okay, I need to do a lot of stuff to feel alive, to feel that I’m doing something, to feel that my project, I’m moving forward. And this work, it’s mental work. It’s not easy to switch, but when you switch, when you find a button, so then you’re like, Ah, yeah, nice. I can stay relaxed all day long, not being stressed and achieve a lot.

Rodolfo: Could you go into more detail about that? When I was checking your work, you, I think you focus a lot on finding your personality type or, just your type in general, and that, helps you kind of figure out how to best get organized. And so maybe you could talk about that a little bit.

Why is that important?

Julien: Yeah. For me, we are all unique. Right? And the thing is that when you try to copy paste something, you force let’s say you force yourself to fit in a model that is not really for you. And it can be frustrating because you’re like, Oh, I know I’m not good enough. Or I’m all the time switching systems.

And then you can have this kind of shameful feeling, resentment against yourself. And for me, it’s not because let’s say 10, 10 million of people are saying, That’s the method and you need to follow, let’s say gtd, you know, getting things done right. It’s a good methodology and you can create a really good system.

But the thing is that I’m pretty sure everyone is different and I love to start with a simple system and then develop this system to achieve something. Sometimes that can be complex, but if you try to copy paste something really complex from day one At least for me, I’ve never seen something succeed with this kind of approach.

Although it’s really like marketing because we love shortcuts. We would like to be able to copy paste the system and then, oh yeah, this system will solve all my problems. But with my observation, it never, it never works like that. And I really encourage people to find their way through, like, first you try to make the system work and then you improve and you don’t try to find the perfect system from day one. And it’s really at the end it’s like knowing yourself, right? And knowing what works for you. What do you love, which tool do you appreciate? And it takes time. But when you start to have a good system for you, then it’s amazing the feeling you can have.

And that’s why I really enjoy workflowy because you can do a list and that’s it. Right? And then after you’re like, Okay, but I’ve seen this kind of video or this kind of article, and then suddenly you’re like, Oh yeah, I can do that. Oh, and I can do that too. But at the end it’s really simple and flexible.

And few years ago, I started with a really basic structure. And year after years of use, you want something a bit more evolved, but on day one it’s really important to stay simple.

Rodolfo: Do you consider yourself someone that’s pretty organized now? I mean, obviously you’re, helping other people get organized, so.

Julien: Yeah, yeah, obviously. I mean, I still have a cup of coffee on my table and some stuff on my table. I mean, my desk is never really organized , and I think we all have this kind of room in our life where we have more problems to be organized. Even if my, in my workflow, I have a place where it’s not really well organized.

I put stuff and for me it’s, it’s alright, you know, because the search function is really powerful . A lot of people want control and don’t like chaos but for me, chaos its something that can be useful. You can discover stuff that were unexpected and say, Oh Jesus, we can do that.

It’s amazing. But if I’m comparing myself with, Let’s say my friends or my relatives, I would say that I’m pretty organized. Yes.

It didn’t start like that. It’s really, that’s something that you learn, like any other skills. I believe that some people can be more organized, but probably because when they were kids could, they’ve seen a parent or like a relative that were organized and they learned this skill without noticing it, you know, and the others, need to learn a bit after.

You can learn that. And it’s an amazing skill because being organized allows you to save energy, time, sometimes even money.

Rodolfo: You said you didn’t start out like that. So , how did you get started?

Julien: Yeah. I was working for a company as a project manager, and I needed to manage a lot of projects and. At that time, I was like, Okay, I need to, let’s say improve to level up my my skills. And I started to read books, but also to share information with people. And I guess the only way to really learn something is to share it with people.

And before, before being ready . I mean, you can share it when you feel ready. But you lose years , of time . I guess as soon as you have something to share with some people. I guess it’s important to share it at least that was my way and after I quit my job and I started to, to be a freelancer at that moment, I really needed to be organized.

And that’s it was let’s say there was a before and after this moment, because before it was okay, I could, let’s say, be a bit disorganized because there there’s no big consequences. But after, when you are your own boss, let’s say, when you’re losing time, you are not just losing time.

You are also losing. Money, you know? And it was really important for me at that time to be, better organized. Yeah. It was in 2017, 2018 at that moment. And it’s also when I found workflowy. Yeah. was, I mean, I didn’t find a friend told me. Yeah. Have you heard about workflowy , Oh, and then after I found you guys.

Rodolfo: Well, I’m glad you did find us. Obviously it sounds like you’ve consumed a lot of content, a lot of books, a lot of videos, courses I’m sure on, on all kinds of different organization and productivity methods.

How would you say, for our audience, because a lot of people that , not everyone, but a lot of people that use workflow. You know, they start simple. They, they start to read more and like, get interested in methods like, like GTD or so on. What would you say kind of differentiates the work you do with your clients, with some of the stuff that you’ve read?

Where do you think that your ideas kind of overlap and where do your ideas kind of go in a different place that maybe other people aren’t talking about?

Julien: Yeah, that’s a good question. I would say overlapping. It’s let’s say for information management, I would say like capturing information and then processing information and then using information is something you can find in gtd and in a lot of other methods. And that’s the thing that is not really new.

That’s a bit the basics, right? You have a lot of ideas, you capture this information in one place and one or several times a day you process this information. So far I didn’t find the best way to, let’s say not to be overwhelmed by the information.

For me, it’s really important to have a maximum of let’s say application or software in the same place. Usually information management, let’s say the calendar, I guess like the agenda calendar is not in the same place.

The center of my system is the calendar because everything is related with time and you will create a lot of connections in this calendar, right? But a lot of people use Outlook or Google Calendar, which are really amazing tools and obviously having an agenda. or calendar in workflowy has pros and cons obviously. But for me, it’s something that is really different and if you start to take a look at what I’m, I’m advocating or creating, you will often find that specific point. Okay.

That’s the central point of the system because then you have meetings in the calendar. You have like your tasks that is related to your project. You have journaling that can like, let’s say, You can use in a lot of different places what you wrote every day and so on and so on.

Rodolfo: So you’re starting from the calendar and kind of branching out from there. Right. I think it obviously depends on the type of work you do. Right?

Julien: Yeah, exactly, Exactly. But I have clients that are managers and they decide to also use let’s say a calendar in workflowy.

Obviously there are trade offs, trade offs need to be done at that time of their recording because connection in between workflowy and let’s say calendars are not really good.

But you can find work arounds that can be pretty useful also for managers or people who are working with people.

Rodolfo: What does a day look like for you in your organization system? Could you walk us through something like an example, simple example.

Julien: Let’s say the morning is like working on deep work stuff. Usually it’s writing, creating product strategy. Planification sometime, although I’m not a big fan of really complex planification because it tends not to be really, let’s say, useful on the, on the long run because you spend a lot of time to change what you plan and stuff like that. But in some specific, context, it can be useful, but I’m not a big fan of complex planification

And the day, usually it’s for people. Like unexpected events, teammates that have questions, calls like now.

That’s the basic separation I do in my day, right? But obviously when I was a manager, because I used to manage people, it was a bit more complicated, but the basics were there. I try. At the beginning of my day to have at least one or two hours of really focused work. . And when I reach this state, I try to extend this time, maybe three hours, but it’s not always possible because when you are a manager, you are usually in between let’s say the sea level and the, the people you are managing.

And it depends on the culture, on a lot of stuff. But you can like design your day, but sometimes big choices need to be made.

Rodolfo: It sounds like right now you’ve got two areas, right? Like you do the most of the, maybe you could call like the more open, more creative work in the mornings. And then the more structured meetings, people focused things.

Julien: Exactly. Exactly. Yeah.

Rodolfo: Is that usually how you structure your days or does it vary at all or is that general just kind of how you’ve decided to, to run your days?

Julien: This structure is approximately the same every day for me. For me, my precious hours are. As I said, the morning, sometimes when I have a lot of meetings, it can, the first meeting can start at 10:00 AM 11:00 AM But yeah, I try to avoid that. I try to put limits in my system and in my agenda, in my calendar, and usually it’s.

It’s working well, usually, but you know, it’s like this week I’m launching my book and I work Saturday. The last Saturday I have done some small details, some technical adjustments and yeah, I think it’s also okay not to have let’s say, to be how I can say that in English, to be really like it’s okay sometimes to be a bit out of the system.

Rodolfo: Sure, Sure. Not, not too rigid.

Julien: Yeah.

Rodolfo: Good to be flexible.

Could you tell us a little bit more about your upcoming book? Like what topics are you really focusing on?

Julien: It’s in French. It means in French, we it’s “En Finir Avec L’infobésité” that I will translate, like let’s get rid of information overload.

It’s a book I worked on intensively the last year. I would say it’s a small book, but I love to say that the smaller the book, the more work you need to put into it. Because it was a lot of editing and a lot of, processing and deleting and stuff like that. But actually it’s this book is to help people to manage the information flow that you can have in a day. And a lot of people, when I’m talking with them, think about like let’s say the medias or the news, but it’s not just about that.

It’s also your own ideas and also let’s say the consequences. Consequences of your actions, but also your non actions, right? If I’m not paying bills, then I have another information flow that is coming and stuff like that. This book is just to raise a bit of consciousness about the problem of “infobésité” and then I’m providing a solution, my solution, but that’s also a solution that was tested by my clients.

And this solution is using, let’s say, a tool, methodology, and behaviors. And the tool I’m mentioning in this book is Workflowy but obviously the people who want to use, I don’t know like another tool. They can use it.

Not all tools are good for this kind of work, but a lot of tools can be used to manage this information. What is really important is to know exactly what you’re gonna do with this information, because let’s say if you don’t know exactly on paper, just on paper, okay?

We are not talking about workflowy or another digital tool, but if you are not sure on paper what you’re gonna do with your ideas, with your tasks your are receiving every day , that can be great and useful for you then. When you are using a digital tool, it will just make the problem worse because information is moving faster and faster.

And then if you don’t know what to do on paper, then it’s gonna be worse. That’s why it’s important to have a methodology and also like the good behaviors.

Rodolfo: Right, right. Not just the tool.

Julien: Yeah, I know that’s not what you wanna hear. Because marketers love to say, Okay, the tool will, will solve all your problem.

Right. Because that’s what the people want to hear. But for me, no, it’s not the case. You know, I love to say that if you, let’s say if you have a bike and I have a big car, but I dunno how to drive the big car, then you’re gonna reach the goal with your bike faster than me. .

It’s the same with these digital tools.

And that’s what I observed with my clients. Like it’s nice to have a good tool. It’s important to have a good tool. But after there is let’s say just the structure of the tool, that’s also important. The method, the methodology, what you’re gonna do with the information you put, you are inbox or.

What you’re gonna do with your ideas that you have on a specific project? Are you gonna like, save on paper, on a page, what you’re gonna do with that information? Right. And then after there are, the behaviors, you know, and a lot of people told me, Yeah, but I don’t need a system.

But it’s not like you don’t need a system. It’s like you already have a system.

To manage all this information. You try to do the best to manage your email. You try to do the best to manage, I don’t know, your meetings. You try to do the best to manage your bills and stuff like that. It’s not like I want, or I don’t want a system.

It’s like in our society. It’s inevitable. You need to have a system in my point of view.

And honestly I strongly recommend to go in this direction because it’s a beautiful let’s say adventure. And there are people that are not aware about that, and maybe they will become aware about that, but a system for managing your information, you are using it as soon as you have a smartphone and a mailbox, you have a system, and some systems are good and some systems are not good.

And you know, when you are using the wrong system or a system that doesn’t fit you, it’s like living in a house that is not really well insulated , like you are heating, heating, heating, and every day you are losing some precious resources, but you are not aware about that. But it, it’s costly. It’s the same with an information system that allows you to manage information. If it doesn’t work well every day, you are losing time, time, time, time. And it’s, it’s a shame.

Rodolfo: Yeah, that definitely makes sense. So it sounds like the idea for this book came about from, was it feedback from clients you were working with that they were trying but they were struggling and, and you kind of narrowed down?

Julien: Yeah, exactly. It started in 2018 with myself and I love to take my problems and to share with my community and see if other people have this kind of problem. Right. And yeah . I’ve created a system and at one point I say, Okay sometimes the best place to find new clients and new people to know about this kind of information problem. It’s also through a book, you know, because people were using a computer. Sometimes they are aware about that. I don’t know. But I wanted to create a book and it’s also a good exercise to really improve your thought and try to create the system as clear as possible.

Writing a book, it’s always a good exercise, I would say. Yeah.

Rodolfo: That was fantastic, Julian I won’t take any more of your time. Is there anything else you’d like to share with us before I let you go?

Julien: No for me it’s it’s alright thanks to. To accepting my English that is non-perfect.

And yeah, I hope that people will find a way to organize their life with workflowy and or any tools at the end. It’s really important that you find what is good for you.

But I would say with workflowy it’s a pretty good choice. Yeah, that’s it. And thanks for the work you are doing. It’s really cool.

Rodolfo: Fantastic. All right, well thank you so much Julian.

Next Julien shared his daily setup in Workflowy.

A very straightforward layout with an inbox for capturing items and ideas, a projects area to group items, and a daily agenda making up the main components. Julien also pushes Workflowy’s limits and works with embedded items like a google calendar.

Thanks again to Julien for chatting with us and sharing his insights.

📢 Let us know what you thought about the interview in the comments below and who you would like to see us talk to next.

See you in the next one.

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Will Dollis
Will Dollis
1 month ago

Alas, I don’t have time to give this interview the attention it deserves bright and early this morning… will have to make a reminder for myself to read and/or listen to it soon. It’s a great idea to interview experts in various fields for how WorkFlowy can be used to make work and play better.

Not sure about Julien Gueniat‘s approach specifically, but I am sure WorkFlowy is fast and flexible enough to be used with various self-productivity systems (I use a variant of Michael Linenberger’s MASTER YOUR WORKDAY NOW! system for actual event and task management, but also S.J. Scott’s Habit Stacking and a whole bunch of others’ ideas, which coalesced into my own personal productivity system.

I am curious how Monsieur Gueniat’s insights and experience could fit in, helping myself or others.

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