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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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    Last Updated on June 18, 2019

    15 Highly Successful People Who Failed On Their Way To Success

    15 Highly Successful People Who Failed On Their Way To Success

    Before their success, some of the world’s most successful people experienced epic failure. We celebrate their success but often overlook the path that got them there. A path that is often marked with failure.

    As American writer Elbert Hubbard said:

    “There is no failure except in no longer trying.”

    So get motivated, and accept failure as merely a chance to learn.

    Here are 15 highly successful people who failed (for a couple of times) before they were recognized by their glorious success.

    1. Sir James Dyson

      You know that frustrating feeling when you don’t get something on the first attempt?

      Multiple that by 5,126 because that’s the number of failed prototypes Sir James Dyson went through over the course of 15 years before creating the eponymous best-selling bagless vacuum cleaner that led to a net worth of $4.5billion.

      2. Steven Spielberg

        His cinematic output has grossed more than $9 billion and brought him three Academy Awards, but the master of the blockbuster was rejected TWICE by the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts.

        As their way of saying “Oops, I guess we were wrong about you” the school built a building in honor of Spielberg.

        3. Thomas Edison

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          In what might be at once the most discouraging statement and worst teaching practice of all time, Thomas Edison was told by his teachers he was ‘too stupid to learn anything’.

          Edison went on to hold more than 1,000 patents, including the phonograph and practical electric lamp. Death most likely spared his teachers the ignominy of their incorrect assessment.

          4. Walt Disney

            Can you imagine your childhood without Disney? Well it could easily have been if Walt had listened to his former newspaper editor. The editor told Walt he ‘lacked imagination and had no good ideas’. Undeterred, Old Walt went on to create the cultural icon that bears his name.

            Disney’s take on failure:

            “I think it’s important to have a good hard failure when you’re young… Because it makes you kind of aware of what can happen to you. Because of it I’ve never had any fear in my whole life when we’ve been near collapse and all of that. I’ve never been afraid.”

            5. Albert Einstein

              His name is synonymous with intelligence yet it wasn’t always that way for Albert Einstein. As a child he didn’t start speaking until he was four, reading until he was seven, and was thought to be mentally handicapped.

              He went on to win a Nobel Prize and altered the world’s approach to physics. I guess he was just thinking of the right thing to say for those first four years…

              6. J.K. Rowling

              JK

                Before there was a wizard, there was welfare. Rowling was a broke, depressed, divorced single mother simultaneously writing a novel while studying.

                Now one of the richest women in the world, Rowling reflects on her early failures:

                “It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default.”

                7. Abraham Lincoln

                  Lincoln’s failures were broad and numerous. He achieved the unique feat of leaving for a war a captain and returning a private (the lowest military rank).

                  He next took failure in his stride during multiple failed business attempts. Undeterred, Lincoln marched into the political realm, where he launched several failed runs at political office before his ascendance to President.

                  8. Jerry Seinfeld

                    Before the show about nothing, Seinfeld was a young comedian on the stand-up circuit. His first time on stage didn’t go so well. On seeing the audience he froze and was booed and jeered off stage.

                    His choices: pack it in and accept comedy isn’t his thing or return to the same stage the following night and have the audience in hysterics. He opted for the latter and went on to become one of the most successful comedians of all time.

                    9. Theodor Seuss Geisel

                      Known to generations as Dr Seuss, the much-loved children’s author had his first book rejected by 27 different publishers.

                      His books that weren’t good enough for these publishers went on to sell more than 600 million copies worldwide.

                      10. Oprah Winfrey

                        She’s a billionaire with her own TV channel and a penchant for giving away cars but Oprah Winfrey was fired from her first TV job as an anchor in Baltimore.

                        In 2013, Oprah reflected on her experiences during a Harvard commencement speech:

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                        “There is no such thing as failure. Failure is just life trying to move us in another direction.”

                        Creating your own TV channel is a sure way never to get fired again!

                        11. Stephen King

                          In another instance in the never ending series “Book Publishers Making Dumb Decisions”, mega novelist Stephen King had his first book Carrie rejected 30 times.

                          Dejected, King dumped the book in the trash. His wife retrieved it and implored him to resubmit it which led to his first book deal and spawned his illustrious career.

                          12. Vincent Van Gogh

                            A Van Gogh painting will cost you upwards of $100 million nowadays. But in his lifetime, Vincent Van Gogh couldn’t get rid of the things.

                            He sold just one painting, ‘The Red Vineyard’, during his lifetime, and the sale came not long before his death. Unfortunately for Vincent, others got to enjoy the financial spoils of his lifetime of toils.

                            13. Elvis Presley

                              “You ain’t goin’ nowhere, son. You ought to go back to drivin’ a truck.”

                              These are the words that greeted Elvis Presley after his first performance at the Grand Ole Opry, after which he was promptly fired. Disposing of the keys to the truck, Presley went on to become the world’s biggest star with a legacy that endures.

                              14. Michael Jordan

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                                Either he was part of the greatest high school roster of all time or his coach made a huge mistake in cutting Michael Jordan from his high school basketball team. Six Championships and five MVPs later, Jordan became arguably the greatest basketball player of all time.

                                Jordan famously said:

                                “I have missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I have lost almost 300 games. On 26 occasions I have been entrusted to take the game winning shot, and I missed. I have failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”

                                15. Charles Darwin

                                  The man credited with much of how we came to understand the world today, Darwin was considered an average student and abandoned a career in medicine as a result.

                                  Darwin embarked on a lifetime study of nature that led to the seminal ‘On the Origin of Species’ and forever altered the way humankind looks at our existence.

                                  Final Thoughts

                                  These famous and highly successful people’s crowning achievements stem from drive and determination as much as ability.

                                  Persistence and certitude are the difference between success and failure. So if you want to succeed, don’t be afraid to fail.

                                  Fail often, fail fast and learn from your mistakes. The more times you fail, the closer you’re getting to success.

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                                  Featured photo credit: Kal Loftus via unsplash.com

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