Recently on my YouTube channel, Enrico Nahler did a fantastic video for my Working With Productivity series in which he pointed out that many people get stuck between the processing and reviewing stages of GTD (Getting Things Done) and never actually move on to the “Engage” stage. In GTD speak, “Engage” means do. Do your tasks and complete your projects.
This got me thinking too, I also find most people are very good at the middle parts of GTD, the “processing”, the “organising” and, to a point, the “reviewing” but are terrible at the “engagement” or the doing.
Instead, I find is people are very good at creating a system, in fact they are so good at creating a system, they often go back and redo the system over and over again. Unfortunately, this is not productivity. This is procrastination dressed up as productivity. Sure, a good reorganise of your tasks and projects can make you feel better, it can also help motivate you, but it does not take you closer to finishing your tasks or projects or goals. It’s a bit like repainting the road sign at the bottom of your road. Yes, the road sign is going to look fantastic, but you are still no closer to your destination. The only way you get to your destination is if you follow where the road sign points you to.
And that is what you need to do. You need to follow the signs to their destination. Of course you may need to stop along the way to check you are still going in the right direction or you still want to go to that destination, but once you have developed the project, and decided on your tasks, you need to get on and do those tasks so those projects get completed. Changing the map along the way is not going to get you to your destination any faster. Which means, once you have your system set up, you need to stick with it. Not play around with colours, bold or italics. You need to get on with completing your tasks, which lead you to completing your projects which lead you to achieving your goals. That’s productivity. It is completing projects and accomplishing goals. It is not cleaning, pruning and tweaking a system.
There are times of course when you do need to stop and rethink your system. When you find a lot of your tasks are being forgotten, you miss deadlines or you did not do something you promised someone you would do. These are signs your system is not working. Quite often, in these situations I find it is because the individual is not capturing everything, or is not dating things and relying on labels only. When this happens, tasks either do not get captured at the right time or they get lost in a sea of labels that no one, including the person creating them, can figure out. When you find this happening to you, you need to stop and look at your system. It is usually because all the tweaking and playing around has caused a system to become too complicated and too heavy with add ons, hacks and work arounds. This is a time when you need to take a good, long look at what your are trying to achieve and to find ways of simplifying it. In these situations you need to go back to basics. Find simpler, faster ways to capture. Simplify your labels (contexts lists) or make sure the dates you are adding are real dates and not ‘hopeful’ dates. It is not difficult to figure out where the problem is, but if you want your system to work properly, you do need to figure out where things are going wrong.
However, once you have taken the time and effort to build a productivity system, with all the component parts in place, you need to let it work. Do its stuff so you can focus on the doing, the completing of tasks and completion of projects and accomplishment of goals. That’s where productivity happens. When you are doing stuff. Your system tells you what you need / should be doing, and you do the doing. That’s it. Simple.
So, as long as your system is doing its job, telling you what to do, and you are doing your job, doing the tasks, then everything will work. If one or the other is not doing its job, then everything will breakdown. It is not really about how your tasks look, whether a new app will do it better (it won’t) or even how much AI is being used by your apps. It is simply about whether your system is telling you what you need to work on and when, and you are getting on with the job of doing those tasks so everything gets done on time and to the highest possible standard.
If you are a “tweaker” and you find yourself with the compulsion to always be tweaking and playing around with the way your system looks, stop. Try to figure out why you have the need to be doing that and fix the underlying problem. Perhaps create a task to look in to it at your next weekly review or in your next systems review (I have one of these come up every three months). But don’t start tweaking your system when you know you should be doing. That just makes having a system pointless. Your system needs to help you to get the right things done at the right time not be a toy to play with.
Carl Pullein is a personal productivity specialist, presenter and author of Working With Todoist: The Book as well as Your Digital Life, a book about using your technology to achieve greater productivity. Carl works with clients all over the world to help them focus on the things that are important to them and to become more productive and creative.