Introduction: Remote Possibility
In the middle of 2017, I made a big change. After over a decade of living in Silicon Valley, I picked up and moved across the country to Chapel Hill, North Carolina. I was taking on a new location, a new schedule, and doing extended remote work for the first time in my life. Concerned that I was walking the knife’s edge between turning over a productive new leaf and struggling through a remote work disaster, I resolved that I needed to find a way to better structure my time.
A few weeks into my North Carolina adventure I started using Complice—an online todo list/journal/coworking hybrid. In the 6 months since, I’ve made some of my best progress ever, successfully juggling my fitness goals, remote work, Spanish study, recording a music album, and launching my blog “It Can Be Easily Done.” While I can’t credit everything to the tools I use, Complice has become an indispensable part of my productivity routine.
Today I want to share this clever website with you.
While it’s worked great for me, is Complice right for you? Read on for an unvarnished review of where it struggles and where it shines.
Complice Review in a Nutshell
Complice bills itself as “automated personal life coach.” That’s a tall order, but the reality is that like a life coach, the site approaches your personal productivity from a bunch of complementary angles.
Its major features include:
- A workspace to articulate and refine your main goals
- A list of intentions and outcomes towards your goals that resets daily
- An online journal of daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly reviews of your progress
- Timelines and visualizations of how you’re doing
- Virtual workrooms and social features to share with your accountability partner
There’s a lot going on, which results in a bit of a learning curve. I recommend just jumping in and focusing the site’s core interaction, the “Today” page:
Here you’ll see a todo list of the things you intend to do today, color coded to match any of your overarching goals. In the upper-right corner is a pomodoro timer that you can use to dedicate focused time to any intention. You’ll check off intentions throughout the day, culminating in a quick end-of-day review:
I found that this daily cadence took some getting used to. Your todo list resets every day unless you make a conscious decision to copy intentions from one day to the next. Complice makes this easy, but it’s still an active effort. The designers call this a feature, not a bug—you should be actively pruning your list every day to make sure that you’re only focusing on relevant items. The full system is opinionated, but if you like structure or have found it hard to consistently review your progress, this approach is really effective.
How I’ve Used It
In six months, I’ve used Complice for a few different parts of planning and executing my life.
Break down and set goals
The site is structured to keep your goals prioritized and in your face. Upfront it asks you to write down a list of your most important goals in priority order. Each gets a number and color that’s used consistently throughout the interface. For example, my number 5 priority is to get to 155 lbs. at 10% bodyfat:
Everywhere else in Complice (e.g. my intentions, my timeline, my reviews) the “5” and the brick red color mean I’m working on this, my 5th most important goal.
Next, it encourages me to choose a first major subgoal and a deadline. Here, I’ve chosen getting to 10% bodyfat at a lower weight than 155 lbs:
Now, each day as I write my intentions and reviews I will always keep my next milestone top-of-mind without much facility to plan the future more granularly than that. The idea of keeping big picture goals and their next most important step front and center while discouraging detailed future planning seems to be Complice’s core goal-setting philosophy: set a north star, take one step towards it, and repeat.
This approach requires active effort every day since you can’t plan ahead in too much detail. If you’re looking for a detailed planning tool, Complice will not serve you well. If you’re looking for best practices to make steady progress, I found it to be spot on.
Stay Motivated and Accountable
The site is strongly opinionated that you need to revisit your goals every day to set new intentions and adjust your approach. How do you stay motivated to do that? Complice provides several features that help keep you on track.
The first is a robust email reminder system. Each day you’ll receive a reminder email in the morning to fill out your intentions and in the morning to do a review of your outcomes. You can fill in intentions and outcomes right from your email if you’re on the go; master a few commands and you don’t even have to log into the site to use it regularly. I was pleasantly surprised that as I used the site for a few days it automatically muted the reminders with a note that it would start up again if I ever missed a day!
Ratcheting up the motivation a few more levels, you can use the built in pomodoro timer to track how much effort you are putting in to any given intention and even set intentions to automatically check off if you’ve completed a set number of pomodoros. I found this useful for tasks where I needed to put in lots of focused effort, like writing this post. The Timeline view shows your intentions, outcomes, pomos, and don’t-break-the-chain streaks, to provide a bit more retrospective motivation:
Finally, Complice supports a few external commitment devices. You can share your goals and progress with an accountability partner to use social pressure to stay on track. You can even go so far as to work in a virtual coworking space with other Complice users if that helps you to focus.
That said, my favorite commitment device is Complice’s Beeminder integration. Beeminder is a website that allows you to set goals, and then it fines you real money if you fail to accomplish them. For some reason, having even a small amount of money at stake worked well for me. I used this integration to make sure that I do my intentions and outcomes every day as well as do enough pomos on some of my bigger tasks. With the exception of planned holidays, I haven’t missed a single day yet—at least for me Beeminder is a serious motivator!
Take a Step Back to Reflect
The final major piece of Complice is its telescoping review system. There are the aforementioned lightweight daily reviews, more in-depth weekly reviews and monthly reviews, and a comprehensive (and frankly a bit overwhelming) yearly review. In keeping with the site’s overall philosophy, each level of review focuses on taking stock of where you’ve been and setting the right next milestone. In practice, it plays out as a sort of online goal planner, a la the SELF Journal, but more utilitarian and missing some more mindfulness-oriented features like daily gratitude.
That said, each level of review has its own unique flavor of prompt. For example, the weekly reviews provide you an overview of each day plus what you said you would do last week and asks for an honest assessment of what went well, what went poorly, what you’ll change, and what you plan to do next week. I found the prompts quite helpful once I got a handle on how much detail was useful to me. For example, for my “Record 5 original songs” goal, a sentence or two per prompt has allowed me to keep a record of how I’ve changed my creative approach over the past 6 months:
Monthly reviews focus more on whether the pace you’ve set for yourself will actually get you where you want to go. It’s no use being really productive and knocking down tasks if they aren’t moving you towards your goals fast enough. My major critique for this section of the site is that the relationship between the goals you set and the reviews is pretty loose; I’d like to see more integration between the “top priority” and the reviews.
Finally, yearly reviews follow Alex Vermeer’s 8,760 Hours format fairly closely, with some specific ties to the goals that you chose. Personally, I found this to be the most challenging part of my 6 months using Complice… the effort to journal out 14 life areas plus an overview of my 5 major goals took a lot of time, bleeding into February. I’m not sure if the additional clarity I’ve gained was worth the effort. However, your experience may vary, and the impetus to reflect on how things are going is worthwhile.
All in all, Complice has been a valuable tool for my personal productivity. Here are a few things I particularly liked.
More so than most todo lists and planners, Complice feels like a system where the whole is more than the sum of its parts. Each section fits together at different granularities and time frames to keep you moving forward hour by hour all the way to year by year. Its numbering/color-coding system keep your goals front and center throughout the whole process.
It’s Good on the Go
Even though the site doesn’t yet have a mobile app, its mobile web site is very usable on a phone. Even better, its slick email system allows you to use a lot of features right from your inbox without even needing to log in. This means there is no excuse to add your daily intentions and outcomes even when you’re away from your computer.
It Has Good Companion Apps, Especially Beeminder
Right now Complice only supports a few integrations, but the ones that it does support are extremely useful. When I started using the site, I was afraid I would fall off the wagon and not fill out my intentions and outcomes each day. Its tight integration with Beeminder solved that problem right away by raising the stakes for failure. Any time I find myself struggling to put in the time for a given goal, I think about how to use Beeminder to give myself better accountability. So far, it’s always worked.
Its Team Offers Personal Support
My experience so far with the Complice team has been solid. I’ve received personal emails and responses from both the team’s co-founders, who really seem to care about their users succeeding. They even offer a $200 per month plan to incorporate personalized coaching if you really want to go all out.
What can I say here? The philosophy and best practices baked into the website have measurably increased my productivity and focus with data to back it up.
What Could Be Improved
Of course, everything has room for improvement and Complice is no exception. Here are a few thoughts as to where it could be tweaked or extended.
It Feels Too Much Like a Utility
While it’s totally functional, Complice’s design feels kind of garish with lots of contrasting bold colors. Rather than being beautiful and calming, the interface has a sort of macho “I don’t care what it looks like as long as it works” aesthetic. This may not matter to some, but the craftsmanship of something like the SELF Journal is missed.
Its Best Practices are Too General
The site’s prompts are great to get you thinking about how to approach your goals, but (unless you’ve paid extra for individual coaching) they are never going to suggest best practices for your specific area of interest. If you want to know how many calories to eat or whether it’s better to listen to foreign language movies or read a grammar book you need to look elsewhere. If you want a structured approach to identify and sticking to specific goal best practices, check out my guide on how to set, research, and achieve goals. Based on personal experience, it works great with Complice.
Its Coworking Concept Doesn’t Really Work (Yet)
The sites doesn’t seem to yet have a big enough community to support the coworking concept. If you bring your own accountability partner, things work out okay. Otherwise, most of the rooms are empty. This is a really cool idea and as Complice takes off, perhaps it will become more valuable.
It’s Just Getting Started
While I said above that the service felt personalized, there is a downside to what appears to be its team of two… some improvements seem to take a long time. For example, when the bell sound to signal the end of a pomodoro broke, the team took what felt like a while to get around to fixing the bug. Nevertheless, like the coworking example above, this problem will likely get better with growth and time.
Over the last half year, Complice has been an indispensable tool for my personal productivity. I’ve settled into a routine of setting goals and intentions and making steady progress on each one, without feeling overwhelmed. Since August, Complice helped me to put on 12.5 lbs of muscle, get from level A2 to a solid B1 in my Spanish speaking, write and record several songs, and launch my blog.
The momentum is contagious. I feel like I’ve climbed to the top of a mountain and now I want to explore what’s on the other side!
Complice is not just an online journal and it’s not just a todo list. For a cost of $10 a month or $120 a year, I don’t know of any other website that combines so many productivity best practices into one cohesive package. If you can get past the site’s initial learning curve and utilitarian feel, it can serve as the scaffold upon which you build a productive life.
This is a guest post by Will Haines. Will is a product manager, entrepreneur, and lover of all things effective. He aims to help people build systems that turn big dreams into actionable steps. Check out his blog It Can Be Easily Done for more tips on how to take action and be effective.
Featured photo by Jessica Lewis from Pexels