When Your Productivity System Goes Wrong

I'm sure we've all tried plenty of productivity ideas over the years that ended up causing us even more work and put us further behind where we needed to be. We've probably discarded a few systems as well, because they just didn't work in the real world.

It's so easy to read about a great idea and spend a leisurely weekend afternoon putting something together and then find you've totally discarded it by the end of a busy week.

If you've ever experienced anything like this, you should find this piece pretty useful because I'm going to look at why productivity systems are likely to fail and what you can do about it. With this in mind, you could then make a few tweaks to ideas you've discarded and start to experience the benefits of a system that works.

Here are some the problems you're likely to experience.


It's Too Complex

It’s easy to create an organisational system, using a number of apps and services, that looks very impressive but is just too complicated for everyday life. It’s so easy to have things out of sight and out of mind in this sort of situation, and it can sometimes be too much hard work to even set up a reminder.

To avoid this, you need to design your system to cope with your busiest days and make sure you can instantly update it.

When you’re running for a bus and need to add a meeting to a calendar, you probably won’t want to have to set up reminders and link it to your to-do list. When you do get time to sort it out, you’ll probably have a whole list of appointments and to-do’s that need to be set up and are essentially in limbo.

You also have to ensure that you’re not spending more time updating your system than you are working. It should also be easy to maintain, as the whole point of it is to let you see exactly what you need to do and when you need to do it.


 It’s out of Date

One of the easiest ways to get out of control is to let things slip within your system. If an important deadline has changed or an entire project is put on hold, your system is pretty much useless if it hasn't been updated.

The whole point of a system is to remove the need to remember everything. 

The four folder idea (daily, weekly, monthly and yearly) also becomes derailed if you don’t move the items into the right folders. You need to make sure you set aside a little bit of time each day to stay on top of this as it’s just so important.

When things are out of control, you’ll probably end up abandoning your system as it will be pretty much be useless if you’re busy. This is where anxiety and stress are likely to appear as well.

For me, the best time to deal with this is when you’re putting your system together. You need to make sure that it’s easy to update every day and that you have the time to do it.


It’s Not There When You Need It

If you have a paper to-do list or a bullet journal, forgetting it just once could undermine months of hard work. You could also be out of the office and not have access to your calendar.

If you're let down just once, you'll probably be less inclined to continue with it and other people (like your boss) may lose faith and ask you to rethink a perfectly good system.

When you're designing your system, it's critical to think about this. Even if you go electronic, are you using cloud-based services that will be available wherever you need them.

Introducing fail-safes is a good idea as well, such as backing up your system in several places or simply taking a picture of a written to-do list on your phone so you have a record.


It’s Too Vague

When you look at a to-do list or calendar, you need to quickly identify what you have to do. There's nothing worse than several vague entries that you simply can't figure out.

You need to be specific when you enter a new event to to-do into your system to ensure that you know exactly what to do when you see it later on.

If you need to remind yourself to free up some space on your iCloud Drive and you're in a hurry, it's so easy to write something like 'drive' or 'free space'. This can leave you scratching your head if you come to it a lot later though and it will waste time and knock you out of your flow.

It's best to take that little bit of extra time to write the whole thing and appreciate the benefits later on.


Things Are in Several Places

It's really easy to have multiple entries for the same thing on your system, particularly if you're working on a project. This can obviously become confusing and can really knock you off track.

Your system needs to be amazingly clear, so you can work out what you have to do next in just a few seconds.

The less you have to work at it, the more energy you'll have to focus on your work. You're also likely to feel overwhelmed if there are duplicate tasks, as it will look like you have a far larger workload than you actually do.

I hope this all helps and that there are a few things you can take on to tweak your system. Having something that you can depend on, that you can quickly access and makes instant sense should really make a difference. 


Good luck and remember that there will be a lot more ideas here in future.