A Productive Productivity System
I’ve tried many different systems and tools over the years: Getting Things Done (GTD), todo.txt, Taskwarrior, Org Mode to name a few. One thing I’ve discovered is that productivity systems are like dieting; you feel really motivated when starting out but after a few weeks the enthusiasm starts to wane and you quickly start to fall out of practice. I’ve been trying GTD on and off for several years now but failed to really gel with it meaningfully. The one I’ve had the most success with so far is Bullet Journaling. I want to add that I’m not Bullet Journaling on the same level as all these creative hand drawn Instagram masterpieces you see; my approach is very much messy, minimal and functional. I follow most of the principles outlined on the Bullet Journal Website: a dot for a task, a dash for a note, a small circle for an event, each day has it’s own heading, once a task is complete I put a cross through the dot, if I carry forward a task the dot becomes an arrow, if the task is no longer relevant I put a line through it. I suspect the reason this has worked so well for me is because it’s the first time I’ve tried hand-written notes rather than a digital system and perhaps if I had tried hand written lists with GTD it would have been equally successful.
Here’s a few things about productivity systems that I’ve discovered over the years, that at least apply to myself:
- Capture everything or at least as much as possible. Having a trusted system that relieves you of the need to arbitrarily remember things can reduce anxiety and also make you seem more trustworthy to others as you follow up on commitments. Human short term memory is highly volatile and may not always be committed to long term memory which is a problem compounded by the sheer amount of information buzzing around.
- They aren’t a solution to procrastination. Breaking large tasks down, getting clarity, eating the frog and planning will certainly help but sometimes if you have anxiety about a particular task, breaking out of procrastination is easier said than done.
- Use pen and paper. There appears to be some psychological magic at play maybe related to the fact hand written notes are more conducive to learning (as some studies have shown). Typing is typically faster but also people tend to take notes down verbatim rather than interpreting which may also play a part in making hand-written notes more meaningful. It used to be a pre-requisite for me to have my system in a searchable digital format that I could query, manipulate and fire reminders but since using a notebook with pen and paper I’ve not missed these features at all.
- They aren’t a solution to a happy life. Most self help and productivity books devote a large portion of the page count to explain how great and life changing that approach/system/practice is but this is simply not realistic, perhaps I’m being a pessimist here. Productivity systems may boost performance, have the potential to reduce anxiety and help keep you organised; they’re not a silver bullet
For now I’ll continue with my hand-written bullet journal approach and we’ll see how it goes in the long term.