Notes from a Floating Life Thoughts about productivity, digital living, and leading a simpler life

Doing a Productivity Reboot

Every so often, you need to examine how you organize yourself. You need to examine how you manage and complete your tasks. Not to indulge in tool fetishism or so-called productivity porn. Not to chase every bunny rabbit that so-called productivity gurus send you chasing after.

You need to do the examination because what you’re doing, how you’re doing it, and the system or framework that underpins all that, isn’t working for you. At least, it’s not working as well as it could or should.

Sometimes you just need to reboot your productivity. Here’s a look at how I did it in the past. This advice might work for you, too.

Start with a couple of questions

Those questions should be:

  1. What am I doing now?
  2. Where am I stumbling?

Look at your tools and how you use them. How much time you spend maintaining them, getting them to work together? Maybe the tools you’re using aren’t integrated tightly enough. Maybe they’re too tightly integrated.

You could be using too many tools. Running three calendars, two task lists, and a couple of note taking apps doesn’t promote efficiency. It makes keeping them in sync more than a chore.

Where you stumble could be in capturing tasks and information. Maybe you’re not immediately putting that information into your tool of choice. It could be that everything is too spread out, and you’re losing track of what information you have and what you need to do with it. You might even be duplicating what you’re taking down, whether you mean to or not.

Don’t take too much time analyzing what you do and how you do it. Get the the heart of the problem, and look at the root cause. Then …

Simplify

At its heart, productivity runs on simplicity. Using and maintaining complex workflows and duplicate apps doesn’t lend itself to simplicity.

Instead, focus on what you need to get out of your system or framework for productivity. For most of us, that means knowing what we need to do, and knowing when we need to do it. For that, you just need a task list and a calendar. Preferably, a task list and a calendar that work together. Yes, it can be that simple.

Take, for example, the system (if you want to call it a system) I used until about four years ago. Keeping organized then involved using Google Calendar and Remember the Milk. I set up appointments and reminders in Google Calendar, while Remember the Milk handled my tasks lists. And the two play together nicely. I set up both Google Calendar and Remember the Milk to send reminders to my phone and email.

If you find yourself capturing a lot of information or just taking a lot of notes then add an application like Evernote or Simplenote too the mix.

The key is to keep things simple. That means the minimum viable number of applications or tools, and the minimum amount of maintenance and overhead. Anything more bites into your time and forces you to expend energy where you don’t need to or shouldn’t expend it.

Is Your System at Fault?

The problems you’re running into might not be with the system. The problem might lie with you. I don’t mean that as a value judgement or a reproach. You’re human, not a machine. You have a life. In fact, you probably have at least two lives — one personal and one professional. And those lives are complex.

Events that you can’t anticipate occur. They get in the way. They have a habit of knocking you off the rails. No matter how finely tuned and crafted and maintained your system of organization and productivity is, you can’t predict the unexpected. When the unexpected happens, the system won’t get you back on track. It’s you, and your desire and willingness to get back on track. It takes work, and you have to understand and accept that you’ll slip every so often. When that happens, all you can do is get up and dust yourself off and get back to doing what you’re doing.

Also, understand that a system of personal organization and productivity is just that. It’s personal. Use what works for you. And what works for you may not work for someone else.

Final Thoughts

But don’t spend too much time obsessing about you system or framework. Don’t spend too much time trying to tweak that system to unattainable perfection. Don’t waste time trying to bend your tools to your will and making them them do something they can’t do. Why? You won’t have time to do anything else.

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