One of the biggest killers to your productivity is complexity. Trying to invent ever more complex ways to do simple things. One of the very reasons my whole productivity system is based on David Allen’s Getting Things Done philosophy is because at its very core is simplicity. Collecting the things I have to do in one place, keeping my notes and reference materials in one place and keeping the files I am working on in a single location. When done properly, the Getting Things Done system will turn you into a very relaxed, stress-free creative person.
Sadly, it appears to be a human condition to complicate things. I see so many people wanting to create a system with such a complex tagging system only a scientist at NASA could understand it. Organising projects into longer and longer lists of sub-projects and sub sub projects in the vain hope that somehow their todo list manager will miraculously start doing the work for them. And having notes and reference materials spread out over so many different note taking apps because the latest note-taking app looks so pretty and it might just be better than the one they tried last week.
The truth is, none of this will ever happen. A great todo list works when it tells you exactly what you have to do at the right moment. This means when you look at your todo list, the things you need to do are immediately there right in front of you. When I woke up this morning, for example, I looked at my todo list and it told me to confirm my appointments for today and write this blog post. Those two todos were right at the top of my list when I looked at it this morning. The confirming took five minutes and then I got straight on with writing this blog post. Simple. Because of its simplicity, I was able to get straight down to work the moment I sat down at my desk. I did not need to go through a complex list of tags, contexts or sub-projects to find what I needed to do. The things I needed to do were right there at the top of my today list. That is how your productivity system should be working.
Your projects list is just a placeholder for your tasks that relate to a specific project. Things like developing a new product. There will be many different parts that bring that project to a successful conclusion, but those ‘things’ are simply tasks that need doing. They can all be grouped together in one project list and you can organise that list by when something needs to be done. You do not need to create sub-project after sub-project to complete the project. You just need a list of tasks to complete to finish the project. For example, redecorating a room may have a list of tasks such as:
You don’t need to separate out the different parts into sub-projects. The only thing you need to do is to organise the list into a chronological order so you can start at the top and work your way down in some sort of order and apply a context to each task.
Your contexts or labels (the thing you need, the place you need to be or the person you need to be in contact with to do a task) are just signposts for your tasks. For example, if something can only be done when you are in contact with a person, then that task would have a context or label with that person’s name on it. Then, when you are with that person, you only need to look at your list for that person and see all the things you need to talk to them about. I have a context for my wife. On that context list, I put all the things I need to talk to my wife about. There is nothing complicated about the list. It is just a list of things I need to talk to my wife about. Throughout the day when I am working, if something comes up I need to talk to her about, I will just add that to the list. Once done, I can get on with the work I was working on.
Dates are another area where I see people getting themselves tied up in overly complicated procedures. You only need to add a date when something needs to be done on a specific date. I have found that on the whole, there are very few project tasks that need dates. They just need to be done when they can be done. Writing this blog post needs to be done on a Monday. When on Monday doesn’t matter, it just needs to be written on a Monday. There are times when on a particularly busy Monday, I will be writing this post on my mobile phone while on a bus or train, other times, like today, I can sit at my desk and write. The only thing that matters is I write this post. I do not need complexity to tell me to write. You only need to add a date when something really does have to be done on a specific day.
So stop overcomplicating your productivity system. It only needs to be a collection of simple lists that tell you what to do and when. You will still need to decide what to do, and you will need to keep your lists up to date, and that really is the only thing you have to do. It should not take you long to maintain your lists, just a few minutes each day. If you are spending more than thirty minutes a day in your todo list manager, it is either too complicated or you are procrastinating. Either way, you are doing it wrong.
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Imagine waking up every morning with enthusiasm to get started. Knowing exactly what you want to accomplish that day and why you want to accomplish it. Having no stress and knowing that whatever anyone, or anything, throws at you, you can handle it with ease. When you finish your day, you do so with the feeling you have had a productive and successful day. Everyday.
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