The Best of 2019

15 articles that will change the way you think about productivity, leadership, and success

The most popular articles from Ambition & Balance in 2019
Illustration by Yin Weihung

Today is the last day of 2019 and the 2010s. At Doist, we’ve spent the end of the year disconnecting from work, eating too many cookies to count, and enjoying priceless time with friends and family. We hope you have too! We’ll be back in 2020 with new articles that explore what it means to be ambitious, productive, and successful without sacrificing your health, happiness, and relationships.

In the meantime, we’re taking a look back on our most-read articles on Ambition & Balance as well as some of our favorite things from around the internet in 2019. Whether you’re a team leader, a solopreneur, or just someone looking to bring a little more calm and clarity to their lives in the coming year, we hope these articles inspire you as you head into the new decade.

Our most popular articles from 2019

Asynchronous Communication: The Real Reason Remote Workers Are More Productive

Asynchronous communication is a long and unfortunately boring term for what we at Doist believe is the most transformative practice a team can embrace in the 21st century. And it seems we’re not alone. This article has been read by over 110,000 people and shared over 3,000 times. In it, our founder and CEO examines how the current workplace norm of real-time-all-the-time communication kills morale and productivity and outlines some concrete things companies and individuals can do to embrace a more asynchronous work culture.

“While I think remote work is the future, I believe that asynchronous communication is an even more important factor in team productivity, whether your team is remote or not.”

Read the article ➡️

No Kings: How Do You Make Good Decisions Efficiently in a Flat Organization?

rough consensus decision making kings

This article started out as an internal Twist thread about how our team could learn to ask and give feedback more mindfully. The topic went unexpectedly viral, striking a chord with thousands of people who are grappling with many of the same challenges. Can teams maintain a culture that encourages input at all levels while staying agile and efficient?

“As the leader of Doist’s back-end team, I saw this kind of feedback overload as a big challenge to our team’s ability to operate efficiently. There were too many inputs. And more and more time was spent responding to feedback rather than executing on decisions. That’s when I came across a document detailing the principles of ‘rough consensus’.”

Read the article ➡️

The Complete Guide to Deep Work

If you’re a regular a&b reader, you may have noticed that we mention deep work in 9 out of 10 articles. That’s how fundamental the concept is to the way we think about productivity – not just as individuals but as a team. If there’s one thing to take away from Ambition & Balance in 2019, it’s the importance of making time to disconnect from the chatter of social media, email, and team chat and focus on your highest-impact work, whatever that looks like for you.

“The ability to perform deep work is becoming increasingly rare at exactly the same time it is becoming increasingly valuable in our economy.”

Read the article ➡️

How to Organize Your Life with GTD

GTD Todoist productivity

This article was one of the first in our workflow guide series where we breakdown the world’s most effective productivity methods and walk readers through how to implement them step by step. First developed by organizational consultant David Allen in the 1990s, Getting Things Done (or GTD for short) is arguably even more relevant in today’s evermore complex workplace. It’s a comprehensive work and life management system for getting everything out of your head and organized into a trusted system so you always know exactly what you need to work on next.

“GTD aims to give users a `mind like water` — a calm and clear-headed mental state where you can respond and focus on what needs your attention.”

Read the article ➡️

The Weekly Review: A Productivity Ritual to Get More Done

The Weekly Review is technically a part of the GTD methodology, but it’s such an important and versatile practice that we thought it deserved its own guide. No matter what productivity method you use (or even if you use none at all), a weekly review is a simple yet transformative practice to rise above the daily to-do list grind and bring greater clarity and intention to your work and life.

“A weekly review is an opportunity to direct your life with intention. It’s dedicated time to think about the past week, reflect on what went well and what didn’t, and plan for the week ahead. It’s a chance to get aligned with your goals and ensure that the work you’re doing on a daily basis is helping you reach them. It avoids you ever having to ask, ‘What was I doing all this time?’”

Read the article ➡️

Reclaim Your Schedule with Time Blocking

After GTD, this was our second most popular workflow guide. On the surface time blocking seems like a system for managing your time. In reality, it’s about managing an even more precious and increasingly limited resource – your attention. Time blocking is a simple system for front-loading your decision-making for the day, dedicating blocks of time for your priorities, and taking back your schedule from distractors like meetings, social media, email, and busy work.

“A 40 hour time-blocked work week, I estimate, produces the same amount of output as a 60+ hour work week pursued without structure.” – Cal Newport, Author of Deep Work

Read the article ➡️

How to Ask to Work From Home (with exact scripts & email templates)

negotiate working from home

Study after study after study shows that remote work makes for happier, more productive workers. It’s a win-win for employer and employee. Yet many workplaces are still stuck in an outdated and counterproductive mindset that you can’t trust employees to do the work unless they’re physically in the office. If you like your job but your employer doesn’t offer remote options, become your own advocate. This comprehensive article compiles expert advice, exact scripts, and email templates you can use to negotiate a more flexible work from home arrangement.

“But while remote work is increasingly common, it’s often up to employees to advocate for it. While 63 percent of employers reported having remote workers, according to Upwork’s Future Workforce Report from last year, the majority of those organizations lacked an official remote work policy.”

Read the article ➡️

5 Habits for Crafting the Perfect Remote Work Day

Key habits for working remotely

While research shows that remote workers are more productive, it doesn’t always feel that way. The autonomy and flexibility that come with working remotely can be a double-edged sword. This article highlights 5 cornerstone habits that keep every work day on track.

“From the outside, it might look like people who work from home have more self-discipline or drive than others. But I’ll let you in on a little secret. We’re flattered, but what we have isn’t more willpower or passion for productivity – it’s habits and routines that we cling to religiously because we know we’re all one tiny, little, harmless peek at our notifications away from getting absolutely nothing crossed off our to-do lists for the day.”

Read the article ➡️

Our 2019 favorites from around the Internet

Laziness Does Not Exist

Recommended by Becky Kane, Editor of Ambition & Balance

“It’s really helpful to respond to a person’s ineffective behavior with curiosity rather than judgment.

Resonance: How to Open Doors For Other People

Recommended by Brenna Loury, Head of Marketing

“True, sustained listening is one of the hardest skills to achieve. I’ve met only a handful of people with the ability. A simple way to focus your attention is to listen with the intention of summarizing the other person’s point of view. This stops you from using your mental energy to work out your reply, and helps store the other’s words in your memory as well as identify any gaps in your understanding so you can ask questions to clarify.”

Why Asking for Advice is More Effective Than Asking for Feedback

Recommended by Roman Imankulov, Head of Back-End Development

“Conventional wisdom says you should ask your colleagues for feedback. However, research suggests that feedback often has no (or even a negative) impact on our performance. This is because the feedback we receive is often too vague — it fails to highlight what we can improve on or how to improve.”

The Art of Not Having an Opinion

Recommended by Dani Garcia, International Business Development

“And there’s merit, I think, to stepping back from the rapid-fire arguing to see the forest for the trees. Doing so will not halt progress or make us apathetic — but rather make us thoughtful, and even give us the space to examine our own role in where we are today, instead of always assuming we’re categorically righteous. It’s okay to conserve energy, to pursue deeper reflection and to pick our battles — there are plenty in front of us.”

The Shuttle Case (video) ­

Recommended by Pedro Santos, Android Developer

This is the keynote speech from the 2019 Kotlin Conference on the importance of individual and organizational adaptability.

“Darwin. ‘Survival of the fittest.’ He never said that. In fact, he spent most of his life saying ‘I never said it’. What he said was something different: ‘It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent but the one most responsive and adaptable to change.’”

Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep & Dreams (book)

Recommended by Willian Molinari, Integrations Developer, & Ernesto Garcìa, Web Developer

We know you’ve heard it all before – sleep is important, get 8 hrs a night, blah, blah, blah – but several Doisters said that this book completely changed their perspective about sleep and finally prompted them to make it a priority. Though it seems some of the author’s claims may be exaggerated, the overall message of the book is still undoubtedly important and worthy of consideration. If you don’t want to commit to the full book, you can watch Walker’s Ted Talk on Why sleep is your superpower.

“The best bridge between despair and hope is a good night’s sleep.”

The Power of Performance Reviews

An article by Lanny Rachitsky, a former product lead at Airbnb

Recommended by Allan Christensen, COO

“While I could have left dejected, I instead ended that performance conversation feeling more clear, motivated, and excited than I had ever been. Here’s why: Vlad had a simple yet powerful performance review system. The clarity of his feedback, the care in his delivery, and the simple organization of his framework all came together to create a career development experience unlike any I’d ever had before.”


Thanks for spending 2019 with us! We hoped you learned something useful you can take with you to make the next decade even better than the last. See you back here in 2020 👋

Wishing you a peaceful and productive New Year,

The Doist Team

Ready to take on your 2020 goals? Keep track of them in a dedicated Todoist project. Copy the “2020 Goals” Todoist template