I’ve tried everything from simple paper, pencil and a paper filing system to the robust yet complicated systems like OmniFocus and even Microsoft Project. I’ve found that the more complicated the tool tends to be, the more I end up tweaking it and entering into the “cool thing to do on a Saturday afternoon” type of mentality that Dave Allen speaks of. Everything looks great about my system when I’m tweaking, but when I’m in the “heat of battle” on Monday morning, how will it stand up?
I’ve found a couple of things about these productivity tools over the past 5 or 6 years that I want to let you in on.
Productivity tools suck when they use you
The problem with super complicated productivity tools is that they tend to only work when you work them. If you let them lay stagnant for any period of time and have set up reminders, due dates, and notifications, there will come the day when all of the little “boops and beeps” will repel rather than attract you.
Have you opened up a digital productivity tool and been overwhelmed by the tasks that you have assigned to yourself? Couldn’t believe how many tasks had due dates that didn’t really matter if they were due? If so, then you have been used by your productivity tool.
It’s a dirty feeling. I know.
The worst thing is that if you don’t do something drastic, even as drastic as erasing all tasks and projects from the tool, your time enjoying the use of the productivity tool will soon come to an end. You will probably end up resenting it.
If you spend more time organizing than doing
The reason that your tools end up using you is that you probably tend to spend more time organizing your work than actually doing your work. I know that is the case with myself.
I love OmniFocus. It’s probably one of the best productivity apps around, but you can really get down in the weeds with it. And when you do, you will find yourself making decisions about how to organize tasks in a more “intuitive manner” and trying to figure out which GTD contexts better suit you as a human.
All of these tools tell us they are made for getting stuff done, but don’t let their robustness fool you. If you are a “tinkerer” or someone that likes to organize things into their proper “buckets”, complex tools will be your own productivity’s kryptonite.
Completely simple tools aren’t the answer
If you think that paper and pencil is the answer, think again. While the benefits of paper are many (and we sure have talked about that a lot here at Lifehack) it lacks in important things like sorting, rearranging, filtering and alerting.
Rather than throw the baby out with the bathwater, try to find a tool that doesn’t get in your way and use you while still having support for your large amounts of tasks, priorities, and deadlines.
How to get unstuck
The easiest and most straight-forward way to get unstuck from the wrath of complicated productivity tools is to start fresh. That’s right. Start over.
If you have any decent productivity tool you will be able to easily export or save your current data and start with a clean slate. This is the only way that I have found to take control of a complicated system that has gone stagnant and to get myself unstuck and doing the right things again.
When you are setting up your system, make sure to not get too particular about naming conventions, tagging, etc. Also, try really hard not to set “fake due dates” for your projects. After that, instead of thinking of the 20 ways your productivity tool could be better, starting working and checking items off your lists.
Remember, your productivity tools are only as good as you keep them. If they are a dumping ground and not current, your productivity will suffer.