Your “productivity system” isn’t what is holding you back

Pretty bold statement up there in the subject line. Who am I to make such a bold statement in the face of systems like GTD, The Secret Weapon, Covey, etc.? I’m the guy who’s tried ’em all and I can say without question that the system you choose isn’t what is holding you back. So what is holding you back? I’ve found that there are two main areas that I struggle with regardless of the task system I’m trying to use:

  1. Reviewing what you’ve got
  2. Making it all visible

Reviewing what you’ve got

This is probably a no-brainer right? In order to be useful any system you use has to be reviewed regularly to know what you’ve done and what still needs to get done. In fact review is probably the most important piece of GTD. How can it possibly be holding you back? Because it isn’t just a process, it’s also a habit. Let’s be clear, the habit really is following the process. We need to follow the process enough times that it becomes second nature to do.

For instance, let’s talk about the GTD weekly review. Once a week1 you’re supposed to sit down and review everything in whatever your system of choice happens to be. Paper or digital is irrelevant, the point is you’re supposed to process new stuff to get it into your system and review the stuff that’s already in the system to figure out where you need to be with it (in Allen’s words “get clear, get current, and get creative”).

But here’s the thing, the weekly review isn’t going to work if you don’t make it into a habit. It requires a significant amount of time every week (at least in my experience) and it’s hard to keep that time commitment even with the best of intentions. If you don’t keep that commitment, you aren’t going to form a habit, and without it becoming a habit…an endless spiral to nowhere.

I try to do daily reviews because I find it beneficial but I still find it quite easy to skip that review because something else came up or because I simply forget. I haven’t yet built up a good habit of what to review because of the second issue that is holding me (and maybe you) back:

Making it all visible

I’ve got multiple places with items that should probably be checked on a daily basis. I put items that require a due date on a calendar. I also put those types of items on a task list. Which place the item goes really depends on whether it’s actionable or not (in other words: reminders of something like an appointment go in my calendar. Actionable items go into my task list). I’ve got OmniFocus, which contains most of my project-related stuff. That is the list of items that have to be completed that I work on once I’ve dealt with anything that has a hard due date. Then I’ve got Trello. Trello contains a mish-mosh of “creative” project-related stuff – ideas, current development projects, writing exercises, etc. For these types of items I find that the visual layout helps me more than having a simple list. The problem I keep having is how do I make those items visible so that I remember them?

Again we’re talking about process, and habit, here. There has to be a good process in place to make sure that everything is being reviewed on a regular basis. The habit makes sure that it happens on a regular basis. I still haven’t come up with a good review process to see everything that I need, or want, to work on. Without a solid process it’s almost hopeless to make it into a habit.

So, what are you doing to overcome these obstacles? I’d love to hear from you!

  1. Actually David Allen says you should review as often as you feel is necessary but eventually once a week should get you where you need to be.