Over the many years I've had an interest in productivity and task management, I have read a lot of articles, books and essays on the subject. I've calculated that it has been almost twenty-five years since I started down the road of trying to discover the best productivity method that would work for both my personality and my work.
Over those years, I have come across only two systems that have worked for me. The first, in the mid-nineties, was the Franklin Planner system which I used up to 2009, when I discovered David Allen's book, Getting Things Done which gave me the solution I was looking for, which was a hybrid system involving the new digital technology that my iPhone brought me, and my passion for writing notes and ideas with my favourite fountain pen (a long story but I now have a collection of well over fifty different pens which I love and cherish)
With the exception of just a few articles and books, most of the words written about how to improve your productivity, time management (which in my opinion does not exist - but that's for a different post) and task management are far too complex and are not likely to work for you. While I am sure the writers genuinely believe that their systems, methods and habits work, they often work only for those individuals and not necessarily work for others. This is why to original GTD stystem still works today even though the original book was written in 2001 - BTi (Before The iPhone). It is based on simplicity and flexibility.
The problem is that most of these ’new' systems, methods and habits are far too complicated and involve far too much fiddling around or processing and not enough actual doing. A system needs to be able to capture things quickly based on the individual's circumstances. For example, my first proper job was as a hotel trainee manager. In my first year I spent a month in every department. While I was working in the kitchen, there was absolutely no way the head-chef was going to allow me to keep stopping what I was doing to write down a task or idea into a notebook. However, when I was in my second proper job, as a car salesman in the early 1990s, it was very easy to manage my tasks as I had a nice big A4 diary on my desk at all times that went with me everwhere. I could write any idea and all my appointments and tasks in one simple place. I could process my ideas and do my tasks in between seeing customers.
Today, my job involves working with clients in their offices which means I am on the road for the most part of the day. I prefer to use public transport and find my travel between clients is a great place to process and catch up on emails and other work that can be done just using my iPhone. In between working with my clients, I also write books and prepare materials for workshops and presentations. If I have time between client appointments, I find a nice coffee shop is the perfect place to do my writing, so today I am very much context based with my work, and a digital ‘collection’ system works best.
The key to my productivity system is in it's simplicity and in the fact that it evolves with me. My situation is different from everyone elses and one size does not fit all. What you need to do is to find a system that works for you. It needs to be as simple as you can make it and it needs to naturally fit with your personality and circumstances or else you are not going to stick with it. If you prefer a paper based system then use a paper based system. One of my favourites was created by Bill Westerman called GSD (look up what it means) or if you prefer digital, there are a mulititude of apps out there for you.
By all means do some research into different systems. Read books, articles and case studies. But make sure that you think about your own circustances and the way you work and your personality type. Ultra organised people probably will like a nice, clean digital system that is quite involved. More disorganised people may prefer the simple pen and paper system and one master list. People who work in an office for the most part may find a computer based system works best for them, others who are more mobile may find a more digital system works best. It really does depend on who you are how how you work.
Good luck and belief in your own self to create a system that really works for you.