As a busy assistant headteacher, my working day is always busy, often hectic, and sometimes requires juggling at a level that would defeat even the most talented circus performer. Consequently I’m always looking for tools to help me to manage my workflow. A few years ago I came across Sunsama. According to the maker’s website, Sunsama is “The digital daily planner that helps you feel calm and stay focused.” Over the last couple of years, Sunsama has become an essential tool that I use to plan and manage my working day.
I thought it was about time that I shared my experiences here on my blog, hence this post. Rather than running through each of Sunsama’s many features (there are plenty of reviews that do this, if that’s what you want), I’ll talk you through how I use Sunsama, and how it helps me stay focused and productive.
The monthly fee
Before we get too far, it’s worth acknowledging that Sunsama is not cheap. It’s a premium application, and comes with a premium price. It’s 20 USD a month – or 10 USD if, like me, you can persuade them to let you have an education or non-profit discount. For many, this would make Sunsama a hard pass, but as the old adage goes, you get what you pay for. Ultimately the question comes down to value. If Sunsama offers real value, it’s worth paying for.
I’ve used Sunsama off and on for several years, and have debated whether the value I get from it is worth the fee I pay for it. Periodically, when reviewing my finances, I look at all those small monthly subscriptions and start ruthlessly cutting. And let’s face it, the Sunsama subscription, even at $10, isn’t exactly small. Consequently, I have purged myself of Sunsama on a couple of occasions. This resulted in an immediate drop in my productivity, and a hasty attempt to organise myself using other tools, before crawling back to Sunsama with my tail between my legs, accepting that actually, the monthly fee is worth every cent and offers a very strong value proposition. For me, Sunsama is undoubtably worth $10 of my hard-earned cash.
One of the best features of Sunsama is its guided daily planning.
As soon as I arrive in my office in the morning, I fire up the Nespresso. (That’s the number one priority!) After that, I load up Sunsama through the web interface, and am presented with a screen to plan my day. One column shows my tasks. If I’ve already planned tasks for the day, these will show up here, as will any tasks that I didn’t get to the day before. At this point, I brainstorm the day ahead, and throw in any tasks that occur to me, as well as “standing tasks” like checking my email.
An important step in this process (for me at least) is to set the planned time, i.e. how long I think each task is going to take me. I always add this detail, even if it’s just a rough approximation, as it helps me to get a sense of how busy I’m going to be, and to plan my time efficiently.
Another column on this screen shows my calendar for the day, and gives me an opportunity to add these to my task list. I always do this, adding each event task to a channel. It is possible to automate this step, but I prefer to do it manually since sometimes (admittedly not very often!) there are things on my calendar that I know aren’t actually going to happen.
Once this is done, I click through to the next screen, which tells me how much work I have planned for the day. If’s a particularly busy day, for example one with Parents’ Evenings or late meetings after the school day, Sunsama gives me a warning: “Caution: unrealistic workload.” I will admit that this gives me a perverse sense of pleasure! At this point Sunsama offers the opportunity to drag tasks that can wait over to another day. If it’s a ‘normal’ working day, this can be really useful if, having planned my day, it looks like there’s just too much to realistically deal with in one day.
On the next screen I’m prompted to ‘Finalize my plans for the day’. I’m presented with a list of my tasks and invited to arrange them into some semblance of order, dragging and dropping them so that the tasks I need to tackly first are at the top, and those that are perhaps not so important to the bottom. Sunsama also shows me a view of my calendar for the day. When I’m happy, I click through to the next screen by confirming, ‘Looks good’, when I’m presented with a screen showing my daily planning and inviting me to share this with Slack or Teams. There is an option to ‘Skip this step in future’, and I probably should select this because I always ignore this! Then it’s time to ‘Get Started,’ which leads me into the main screen on Sunsama.
Running my day
The main screen on Sunsama tends to remain open on one of my monitors throughout the day, and is the essential tool I use for running my day. The main screen presents me with a task list and my calendar for the day. Having both of these side by side helps me to avoid missing any meetings or lessons, as well as helping me to see exactly what I need to accomplish that day.
Sunsama has a very useful timer function, which is a great way to stay focused and to track and monitor how I spend my time. When I begin a task, I select the relevant task, then click the ‘Play’ button, and Sunsama records how long I spend on each task. I’m something of a procrastinator, but I do find that having the timer running and visible helps to keep me focused, and away from the distractions of email, Mastodon and Facebook! My competitive streak also drives me to see if I can complete the task in less time than I allocated. I also find that I get great satisfaction from completing a task, stopping the clock, and clicking the big green tick to confirm that I have finished the task. Marking the task done greys the task, and drops it to the bottom of the list.
Within the task, Sunsama also offers a Pomodoro timer, which is not something that I’ve ever used, but is there if that’s how you like to work.
Sometimes I like to break down a task, just to help me to remember all of the various elements. For example, when writing reports recently I set “Write reports” as a task. Once the task has been created, you can click on the task to open it, and then click on ‘Add subtasks’. I then created each set of reports as a sub task within the main task, for example, ‘Year 7 reports’, ‘Year 8 reports’. You can then allocate an amount of time for each subtask, and the main task adds all these together and gives you a total anticipated duration. You can ‘play’ each subtask and mark them as done in the same way that you do with the main task. This is a really helpful way to monitor progress through a large task, and ensure that all of the elements are completed.
Sunsama has a range of integrations, which sit in a panel on the right hand side of the screen. I haven’t fully utilised these, but I did have a play with Asana when planning longer tasks with multiple elements. I found that simply adding subtasks within Sunsama itself worked much better for me and avoided utilising another application, but if you’re someone who works in a team that uses these apps, then Sunsama should work well for you.
One potentially really useful integration is email. This also sits in the right hand pane of Sunsama, and, when set up, enables you to view your email directly in Sunsama. When set up, you can read your email within Sunsama, without having to jump into another application or webpage. Perhaps most usefully, though, it is possible to add an email to your task list. This is done by clicking on the button or typing ‘s’ when viewing the email, or simply by dragging the message across from the inbox view. Once in the task list, it’s possible to change the subject line to a more meaningful task name, and assign to a channel and set an expected duration just as you would for any other task.
The great thing about setting an email as a task is that the whole context appears within the task details, so if someone has sent message with specific instructions or other relevant details, these are just a click away.
Sunsama also offers a number of automations when working with an email task: you can set what actions Sunsama should take when an email is imported (mark as read, mark as unread for example), and also what actions should be taken when an email task is checked off.
All of this seems to work with Gmail and Outlook accounts.
Whilst I use Outlook at work, my school has locked my Microsoft account to prevent access by third party tools. This is a bit of a pain, but there is a work round that works almost as well. Sunsama provides a secret email address to which emails can be forwarded. These emails then appear as tasks, which can be manipulated, assigned and managed in the same way as any other task.
The same restriction unfortunately applies to calendar sync too, which is a bit more of an issue. I managed to find an imperfect workround, which involved publishing my work calendar from the Outlook web interface, and adding the URL to my personal Google Calendar. This works – sort of, most of the time – although with a couple of issues. Firstly, I’m not sure how often Google reads my work calendar; it does take some time for any changes in my work calendar to show up in my Google calendar. Secondly, I can’t manipulate the calendar quite as efficiently as I would like in Sunsama. It’s easy enough, though, to check my work calendar each morning and if any events are missing to add them in through Sunsama’s daily planning routine.
At the end of each day, Sunsama prompts me to perform a ‘Daily shutdown’. This takes me through to a screen with two separate elements.
The first shows me how much time I spent undertaking work and compares this with the amount of time I had intended to spend working. Below this is a circular diagram which shows how I spent my time. This uses the channels assigned to each task and clearly displays how much time I spent, for example, teaching, in meetings, marking, or working through email.
The second, larger section of the screen shows me which tasks I worked on, and which I didn’t get to. This is often really encouraging! Sometimes it feels like my day has been generally unproductive, but when I see Sunsama’s breakdown of what I have accomplished, I feel genuinely uplifted that I have achieved much more than I thought I had!
Any tasks I haven’t completed roll over to the next day. When I work on tasks I started the previous day, the overall time spend working on the task is displayed, but the daily timer is reset so that I can see how much time I have spent working on the task that day, and in total.
Whilst I generally use Sunsama directly on the web from my PC, there are mobile apps available. I have the iOS app on my iPhone. This has three main screens. The first is my daily task list. The second is my daily calendar. The third is for ‘More’ – settings etc. The app is really useful for adding a task on the go as it occurs to me, or if I’ve forgotten to assign it in my morning set up. The calendar screen is great for checking what’s coming up later in the day when I’m away from my desk. I personally wouldn’t use the app for any more than that.
I also have a Galaxy Fold 5. I’ve installed Sunsama as a Chrome web app. I have to say, this works really well, both on the small outer screen and on the large inner screen. When opened on the inner screen the experience is pretty much the same as that on my desktop, which is pretty impressive. The Fold 5 and Sunsama might, in fact, be the perfect productivity tool!
I’ve tried a range of productivity tools, including Akiflow, Asana, Routine, Ellie Planner and TickTick, plus a number of simpler to do apps, but Sunsama is definitely my tool of choice. It helps me remember all of my forthcoming tasks, plan out my working day, remain focused, work efficiently, and to track how I spend my time. I’ve tried not using Sunsama, but always find my productivity declines significantly. Sunsama has, like Superhuman, become one of those tools that I can’t imagine living without. With a very generous educational discount, Sunsama is something that would greatly aid busy teachers and educators as they juggle the demands of the working day; more efficient use of time at work means less to take home!
If you’re looking for something to help with planning and organisation, I cannot recommend Sunsama more highly!
If you’d like to give Sunsama a go, you can try it free for 30 days. Well worth a look!