I’ve been interested in productivity and time management for over twenty years now. I began my productive journey with the Franklin Planner and migrated to a digital form of GTD (Getting Things Done) in 2009. In that time, I have learnt two vital things. No matter what system you are using, you must keep it simple and you must not let it take over your life.
Keep it Simple
Throughout my journey, particularly my GTD journey, I have read a lot of articles on how other people have set their system up. And I have noticed that many of these articles show systems that are extremely complex, containing many inputs and a lot of fiddling about. Systems such as these take a lot of time to maintain, and while you are spending that time maintaining your system you are not doing worthwhile work. Of course you may kid yourself you are doing worthwhile work, because you are ‘developing your system’, but in reality you are just rearranging deck chairs. Your productivity system should take no more than ten minutes to maintain daily with one (or two) weekly reviews each week — which may take an hour. That’s it.
It is okay to spend a few hours every three months tweaking your system, but you should not be tweaking your system daily. Your system should be collecting stuff and at the end of the day spending a few minutes processing your inbox and that is all. I’ve fallen in to the trap of creating an ever increasing complex system many times, and I have also suffered an increasingly less amount of work being done. And that is what happens the more complex your system becomes, the less work you get done.
When starting out on the GTD road, focus on simplicity. Keep projects easy to hand. Allow yourself time to get used to capturing everything and don’t keep fiddling with your system. Keep it basic. After three months you should have acquired the habit of capturing and you should be able to do a daily process in less than 20 minutes. You can then review your system and modify it to make it better. And that is the key phrase “modify it to make it better”, not more complex. So many people come unstuck with GTD because they very quickly add more steps and more folders to maintain their projects and more contexts than is strictly necessary. That adds more levels of complexity and that is what eventually leads you to giving up with GTD.
GTD is a game changer in the world of personal productivity, and if you focus on keeping your system simple, you will very quickly become a GTD ninja. However, if you keep messing around with your system and modifying it, it will not help you to become more productive it will hinder your productivity. And that will lead you to disillusionment and frustration and you will give up on a system that could transform you life completely.
Carl Pullein is the author of Your Digital Life: Everything you need to know to get your life organised and put technology to work for you, a book about how to get yourself organised in the twenty-first century