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Sick of feeling like you never get anything done? Check out my review of Sunsama–the productivity app you didn’t know you needed.
I’ve been trying to hack my productivity for YEARS now.
I think I’ve always believed that if I just found the right system, I’d somehow be able to get everything done. That there’d never be that day when my to-do list sat unfinished at bedtime. I’d never get to the end of the week feeling like I didn’t get ANYTHING accomplished.
I’d never feel lazy and worthless when confronted with all the stuff I hadn’t done.
I worked harder and harder and crossed off more and more things from that mile-long list, and I still felt like shit. In recent years, books such as Oliver Burkemann’s 4000 Weeks: Time Management for Mortals and Greg McKeown’s Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less have really resonated with me. They focus on the truth that we won’t ever be able to do everything we want in life, so we have to focus on what the truly important things are.
That’s where my focus has been lately. It’s why I am truly LOVING an app I recently discovered called Sunsama.
The app bills itself as “a daily planner for busy professionals”, but we’ve got lots of those, right? Yep. But this one is different, and you’ll benefit from trying it even if your job title is “Mom”. Here’s why.
Prefer to watch this Sunsama Review?
Sunsama works from the premise that you won’t get everything done
From the very first email they send after signup, the folks at Sunsama urge us to purge the stuff from our to-do lists that doesn’t matter and to stop making work the focus of our lives.
As you’re planning your day, the app tells you when it looks like you’ve planned too much.
Even when your workload looks good, it encourages you to see if anything you’ve scheduled for today can be bumped until later. It reminds you when the end of your day is coming, and it encourages you to STOP working when the day is done.
This attitude from a productivity app is soooooo refreshing.
Sunsama has terrific onboarding emails
During your 2-week trial, Sunsama founder Ashutosh Priyadarshy sends daily emails reminding you to plan your days and sharing the philosophy behind Sunsama. I loved these emails, which featured important reminders about:
- valuing fulfillment, calm, and flow over working faster and completing more
- avoiding burnout/total work
- using time wisely/prioritizing tasks/cutting out things that don’t really need to be done
- remembering to reflect when your days and weeks are done and adjust future plans accordingly
Once you join, you get 15 more emails on the topic of working better. (These also help you reinforce your daily planning habit.) Finally, they have email courses on Establishing a Daily Shutdown Ritual, Developing a Daily Planning Habit, and remaining Indistractable while you’re working.
I love that the folks at Sunsama really want you to USE their app to help improve your life.
Sunsama makes it easy to plan and prioritize
The task interface looks kinda like my beloved Trello board (but is a lot more minimalist and less cluttered). I can brain dump everything I’d like to do and drag items around according to priority. I can then drag them over to the calendar to schedule them into one of my appropriate time blocks. Alternately, I can send them to the backlog, where they’ll be safely stored, but not cluttering up today’s task list.
As you’re doing your daily planning, Sunsama also encourages you to journal about any obstacles that might appear to make it more difficult for you to accomplish your tasks. As Gabriele Oettingen says in her great book Rethinking Positive Thinking, when we look for obstacles, we’re better able to control and overcome them. And, you know, actually get our tasks DONE.
This is another clever trick Sunsama uses to help us optimize the planning process and work smarter rather than harder.
Sunsama shows you what tasks you’re continually letting slide
If you fail to complete a task four days in a row, it automatically moves into your archive. (Don’t worry, the archive is super-easy to access. You can drag a task right out of there and add it to your schedule again.)
How often, though, do we let items clutter up our to-do lists for weeks—stressing us out and making us feel bad while they languish undone? When a task automatically goes into the archive, I’m forced to evaluate whether or not I even want to do it.
If so, why haven’t I done it yet?
- Do I need to make the next step more clear?
- Schedule the task for a time when there are less pressing matters?
- Cut it from the list completely?
I love this little reminder that my daily to-do list should just be for the things I’m actually trying to do TODAY.
Sunsama encourages you to time block and schedule your to-dos on your calendar
If you just make a list of tasks, Sunsama pops up with the following message:
Caution: unpredictable workload. Add time estimates to your tasks to get a better sense of your workload.
Indeed, research suggests that you are more likely to complete a task when you schedule it on your calendar. Often, we make giant to-do lists, and we have no idea how long each item will take. Sunsama encourages you to think about it and drag each task into your Google or Outlook calendar. As you add a time estimate to each task, Sunsama tallies your work hours for the day. You can see immediately if you’re being unrealistic in your planning.
Even better—Sunsama lets you track how long the task (even each subtask within the task) actually takes. You can then compare what you thought would happen to what actually happened. Especially for tasks you do all the time, it’s super-useful to know how much time you actually need to allow for it rather than how long you THINK you need.
It’s also great to have this record of how your minutes are spent. Let’s face it: how we’re spending our minutes is how we’re spending our lives. We need to stop letting so much of our time go by in a blur.
Sunsama encourages you to focus
When you start a task, a pretty white “Focus Mode” screen opens up with just your task and subtasks listed. I love the subtle encouragement to focus just on what I’m doing until it’s done.
And I don’t have to worry about working through my next task and losing track of time. The app gently notifies me with a subtle pop-up when a new task is scheduled to start and asks if I’d like to shift my focus.
Sunsama reminds you to quit working
We only have 24 hours in every day. We owe it to ourselves to spend a good portion of them sleeping, spending time with the ones we love, and doing things that bring us joy. Modern culture, though, pushes us to work harder, to compete to see who’s busier, and to let work bleed into the evenings and weekends. We hustle for our worthiness–terrified to look lazy.
As a result, we’re exhausted, burnt out, and miserable.
Cal Newport, author of Digital Minimalism, Deep Work, and A World Without Email encourages us to have a “Shutdown Complete” ritual at the end of each day. At this time, we officially move out of work mode. I’ve always found it hard to enforce.
Sunsama makes this easy with their nightly reflection ritual. The app encourages you to move any tasks you didn’t complete to another day, make a plan for tomorrow, and take a couple of minutes to reflect on what happened today. If you work with a team, you can even share your reflection to a Slack channel.
When you’ve finished with this planning, you’ll see this glorious screen:
Sunsama helps you plan and review your week
At the beginning of each week, Sunsama prompts you to set objectives. You can align each of your tasks with those objectives throughout the week.
At the end of the week, you can see how much time you’ve spent working on the stuff you thought was important and review where else your time went. Sunsama makes you pretty pie-chart-style graphics that show exactly how much time you spent in each “channel” during the week.
This removes that feeling of “I didn’t get ANYTHING done this week.” You can see all the great stuff you actually did. If you’re not spending your time the way you want, you now have data to show you that so you can CHANGE it.
Sunsama integrates with the other task management stuff you use—including TRELLO!
If you’ve hung with me for any time at all, you know how much I love Trello. For years, I have tried to make daily planning work in Trello. I’ve got a pretty good system going, using lots of Power-Ups and automations, but it’s not nearly as elegant as the daily planning interface in Sunsama.
And with Sunsama, I can drag my Trello cards right into my task list, schedule them on my calendar, track how long they take to complete, etc. I’m not distracted by all that other crap on the board that I’m not planning to do today. I don’t see that thing that I planned to do that I didn’t get to 4 days ago. I just see the immediate task at hand.
Currently you can use Sunsama along with:
- Google Calendar
- Outlook Calendar
- Outlook Email
You’ve probably noticed that Sunsama is a lot different than your average productivity app—encouraging you to plan intelligently, do less, and stop working/spend some time reflecting at the end of your day.
They’re also different in terms of pricing.
Sunsama has a free 2-week trial, but there is no free plan. Everyone pays $16/month (billed annually) or $20/month (billed monthly).
They wrote a truly fantastic pricing manifesto to explain their philosophy behind choosing this pricing model. Long story short:
- They believe that they help you feel “calm and effective” at work and that this is worth $1 every workday. True.
- The founders wanted to create a sustainable business model so that their product doesn’t fail and disappear from the marketplace once you’ve adjusted to using it. Good.
- They don’t take your credit card when you sign up for the free trial and hope you forget to cancel, and they don’t do any Black Friday sales that make you feel dumb for paying full price. They believe in the value of their product and choose not to engage in any trickery to get you using it. Wow.
My Sunsama Review: Do I think Sunsama is worth it?
Most of us who want to work efficiently already know about planning our days in advance, time blocking, focusing on one task at a time, and reflecting on what worked and didn’t work at the end of the day.
The problem is that we don’t actually do it.
Sunsama gives us the gentle nudge that many of us need to remember to actually work effectively. The little bit of money that we pony up to use it encourages us to actually take advantage of the service rather than letting it be another app cluttering our screens.
Sunsama Review: The App Does Have a Few Cons
I think that no matter who you are, Sunsama is worth a try. The free two-week trial is a great introduction to (or refresher on) priority-based productivity, and founder Ashutosh Priyadarshy’s welcome emails are great. They won’t even take your credit card when you sign up, so there’s no risk you’ll forget and accidentally sign up for a subscription.
According to research, it takes an average of 66 days to form new habit. By using the free trial and paying for just a couple of months of the service, you could be well on your way to being a master planner.
No Sunsama review would be complete without a few cons, though. As much as I love it, I don’t believe Sunsama is for everybody. If you’re a mom who doesn’t spend any time sitting at a desk, for instance, you’ll likely be frustrated by the interface. It works much better on desktop/laptop than it does on the iOS and Android apps.
Although integration with iCal is on the list of things Sunsama is planning in 2022, it doesn’t integrate yet. So, for a ‘Mac Man’ like my husband, Sunsama might need to wait a bit.
Also, with its features such the Slack integration and the apps’ higher price point, Sunsama is very clearly marketed towards teams of office workers rather than moms being crushed under the mental load.
If Sunsama doesn’t work for you, I have 2 alternatives to suggest:
The Monk Manual takes a similar approach to priority-based productivity. It guides you towards choosing your priorities in advance and later reflecting on whether or not you reach them. It also incorporates your daily gratitude practice, urges you to choose something every day that you’re looking forward to, and reminds you to look for ways you can give each day.
I still write in mine every day even though I also use Sunsama. I am a planning nerd.
Also, you can tweak Trello to work as a pretty good daily planner. Power-Ups and automations can help you schedule cards on your calendar, track your time, and automatically move cards from one list to another.
My Master Your Mom Brain with Trello course walks you through creating a Master Board that you can use to plan your days. I still use Trello every day to keep all the different facets of my mom life organized, and until I discovered Sunsama, I loved using Trello to plan my days. It’s a great plan B if you want an app that, like Sunsama, works across all your devices.
My Sunsama Review: Final Thoughts
For me, Sunsama is absolutely worth its $20/month price tag. I love the encouragement to work smarter rather than harder and the mindfulness and sense of intention that is encouraged at every step.
Mama, I know motherhood often feels like brushing your teeth while you’re eating Oreos, but you owe it to yourself to have a plan for your days.
Carve out time not just for your chores, but for your passions. Stop simply responding to emergencies and start living life on purpose.
If you’d like a little help making a plan and sticking to it, Sunsama is a terrific choice.