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Why Complicated Productivity Tools Will Get You Stuck

Why Complicated Productivity Tools Will Get You Stuck

    I had a relapse a couple of weeks back. After full bore sobriety from all things productivity porn, I couldn’t help myself any longer. When I see an update to a “GTD” app or see something new online that looks like it can be a “GTD” app, I get the itch to try it out. What pulls us to do this?

    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?

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    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.

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    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.

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    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.

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    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.

    More by this author

    CM Smith

    A technologist and writer who shares advice on personal productivity, creativity and how to use technology to get things done.

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    Published on April 16, 2019

    How Self Care Can Help You Live Your Best Life

    How Self Care Can Help You Live Your Best Life

    When was the last time you did something for yourself?

    Whether it was deciding to treat yourself with a little something or travel for some R&R, how often do you practice self-care?

    Well, as good as above sounds, there’s a common misconception that many of us have about self-care: that it’s only about indulgence and enjoyment.

    However, self-care goes far beyond indulgence. It’s actually about respecting your mind and body, understanding its limits, and being able to take care of every part of yourself, in a holistic way.

    And, you really don’t have to go to extreme measures or do anything specific–like meditating or following a plant based diet–in order to practice self-care. You just have to make sure that what you’re doing is in your best interests.

    So how can you make that happen?

    Below are a few proven methods that will help you become a better version of you. Follow through with these regularly and you’ll be well on your way to living your very best life.

    Listen to Yourself

    The bulk of self-care is knowing yourself.

    This means knowing your body’s limitations, and being in tune with your feelings, emotions and thoughts. So it’s important, then, to know who you are and what you want to do in life, in order to truly say that you know yourself. 

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    What is your purpose?

    Have you ever thought about this question?

    Your purpose doesn’t have to remain the same throughout your life. What you found a purpose in at age 19 would likely be different at age 49.

    In your current situation, think about the different roles that you have – as a working professional, a spouse, a partner, a parent, etc.

    Do you feel like you are fulfilling your purpose through any of these roles?

    All you have to do is ensure that what you’re chasing is meaningful to you; this will bring focus and motivation as you strive to achieve your goals.

    If you have your purpose defined, then that’s awesome! You know what drives you and why.

    But, if you don’t feel like you have a purpose nailed down, it’s good to start by asking why.

    For example, why are you working in your particular job or industry? If the reason is vague or unclear, then your motivational energy will be the same. In which case, you may find yourself not having a direction for where you’re headed in life.

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    If you’d like to learn more about finding your purpose, then I recommend you check out this article:

    How to Get Motivated and Be Happy Every Day When You Wake Up

    Seek Out Continuous Education

    Now, this may seem less common when you think of self-care, but lifelong learning is incredibly useful and an important component of taking care of yourself.

    It’s Super Practical

    Lifelong learning is extremely practical these days and does not require as much effort as it may have in the past. Long gone are the days when you could only find information on something by visiting a library. In this day of the internet, anything you can imagine is at your fingertips.

    You don’t need to physically go to a learning institution to learn. You can watch Youtube videos to learn new skills, take online courses to earn a degree, and scroll through an endless amount of articles, books and journals from reputable news and informative sites.

    When you’re constantly pushing yourself to learn and take up new things, your mental health also improves. Research shows that an active and engaged mind is responsible for diminishing age-related memory loss and improves overall cognitive abilities.

    Your Confidence Will Skyrocket

    You’ll also have improved self worth as it teaches you to step outside of your comfort zone, which will undoubtedly improve your confidence.

    You’ll also connect better with others by expanding your knowledge base. Learning exposes you to a multitude of new ideas and perspectives that you may have otherwise never considered. This also increases your adaptability. Whether it’s at work or just wanting to adapt to society, your peers, and loved ones, life long learning prepares you to take on new challenges.

    You’ll Be More Desired in the Job Market

    Another obvious reason for continuous education, is that your employability will also increase.

    With the ever changing economy, and huge influences from technology, social media, science etc., job descriptions today are moving targets. Assignments and roles change so quickly in response to changing business demands, it becomes a Herculean task to keep a job description database current.

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    In years past, stability was a characteristic of the world of work. Procedures, information, jobs, and organizations were established and provided continuity. Education was completed in the first 14 to 22 years of one’s life, followed by a long career occasionally punctuated by short-term job training.

    Today, however, jobs, companies, and technology are disappearing and being created simultaneously. To remain current and maintain a competitive advantage in the human capital marketplace, an individual is challenged to continually learn.

    People return to school at every age to enrich their skills and knowledge for their current positions. Some even prepare themselves for new jobs or career changes, moving them forward into new opportunities and technology.

    We can be assured that we will be challenged to continue to learn new tasks and information throughout our lives. Successful careers belong to flexible, curious learners who are prepared for opportunities because they know themselves and where they make their best contribution. As Peter Drucker, the father of modern management stated,

    “Knowledge is choice.”

    Lifelong learning also increases social awareness and perspective. To genuinely understand and empathize with others, increase social awareness, and foster strong interpersonal relationships, it’s important to seek out new perspectives. Enhancing the skills that positively impact emotional intelligence can bring even greater happiness and success, both personally and at work; and, this is all part of self-care.

    Improve Your Habits (Both at Work and at Home)

    Now, the last piece of advice I want to introduce to your self-care regimen, is to improve your habits.

    Habits define who you are, and are built up over time. You are what you eat is a great example of this. If you make it a habit to eat foods that nourish your body, rather than make your body feel bad, then you will be much healthier overall.

    Good Habits Allow You to Reach Your Goals

    Since habits dictate your days and nights, such as waking up every morning to get to work before a certain time, or brushing your teeth before bedtime every night, they play a major role in whether we do or do not reach our goals.

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    When you form habits that allow you to progress towards your goals, you’re automatically living a purposeful day, everyday.

    Habits Make Your Time a Priority

    How do you spend your free time? Do you opt to lounge on the couch watching Netflix passively, or do you engage in activities that support your purpose in life?

    It’s natural to waste a lot of time during the day, but fostering good habits will make you set a pattern for how you spend your time and give you the choice of what you choose to spend your time on. By improving your habits, you’ll find that you can be a LOT more productive. When you create good habits, you become more efficient with your time and a lot less is wasted.

    This in essence creates an overall positive influence on your life, allowing you to treat your mind and body well, which is why improving your habits are so important to self-care.

    Your Well Being Comes First

    We live in such a fast-paced society, where we are often so caught up in our work, families, maintaining our social lives, our studies and everything in between. It’s an understatement to say that life can get a little overwhelming at times.

    If you’ve ever watched the safety video onboard a plane, you’ll know that they always ask for a parent or adult to put on the safety mask first, before tending to the child. This may sound selfish, but the fact is that if you truly want to ensure the child’s safety, then your safety needs to come first so that you can protect and care for the child without complications from your end.

    The same goes for self-care. We need to ensure that our well being is priority, so that we can be the best for the people around us.

    Listening to yourself, practicing lifelong learning and improving your habits are steps that you can take to ensure you’re constantly in the best state of mind, alongside the indulgence and rest that you reward yourself with.

    Featured photo credit: Photo by Raychan on Unsplash via unsplash.com

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