Spoiler: No single book has the answer to all of your productivity problems nor does one single blog post. However, if you’ve read a few books and tried a few things, then you have a headstart to finding your perfect system.
Trial and Error
No one wants to make mistakes. No one wants to waste time trying a new system just to find out that it doesn’t work.
The hard truth: You have to. You have to test different systems to find your productivity sweet spot.
Before you go buy or borrow five to ten books on productivity, ask yourself these questions and answer honestly:
What’s the first thing I do when I check my phone without being prompted by a text or phone call?
Do I need to be reminded to do daily tasks like washing the dishes, going to the gym or cooking dinner?
Do I thrive in a tightly structured environment or a loosely structured environment?
If you answered these three questions honestly, then you are well on your way to building a productivity system. Let me explain.
Question One: What’s the first thing I do when I check my phone without being prompted by a text or phone call?
Did you answer with something like, “I check Instagram and get lost in all of the dog photos and yoga tutorials,” or, “I get on Reddit for a second just to see what’s going on…by a second I mean that I’ve lost entire days doing this,” or, “I have a game that’s supposed to be training my brain, but I’m really just tapping the colorful pictures like the lesser ape that I am.”?
If so, then you should probably stop trying to use all of those fancy productivity apps. They are beautiful and fun to set up, but if you are doing any of the aforementioned things more often or instead of using your productivity app, you should keep a paper to-do list like the retro stud you are.
Question Two: Do I need to be reminded to do daily tasks like washing the dishes, going to the gym or cooking dinner?
If you answered with something like, “Pfft, no! If I need a dish I wash it. I’ll get to the other ones later. I would go to the gym, but I’ll just wait until next week. I wait until I get hungry which is normally too late to cook anything good, so I eat the remainder of the mustard out of the jar like a savage,” then you need alarms, my friend!
You can set alarms directly on your phone or use your digital calendar to remind you when you need to do adult-like things.
After about four weeks of the bells ringing every time you need to do the dishes and following through, you probably won’t need them anymore. You will have formed the habit of responsibility. Good on you!
Question Three: Do I thrive in a tightly structured environment or a loosely structured environment?
Did your answer sound like this — “I miss the structure of high school.” If so, you might, my friend, are an appointment maker. Put as much onto your calendar as possible. Schedule free time, and from time to time, block out a period for a pep rally or field day.
Maybe your answer was more like this — “Stop scheduling my life! Are you scheduling my gym time for me right now? I can feel it! It’s killing me!” If so, firstly: Welcome to the club.
Secondly, this means you probably work best using a bullet type journal for tasks such as going to the gym, doing laundry, and writing the great American novel, and using a calendar for events like Arnold Schwarzenegger's birthday, appointments for getting items tailored, and the publication date for a book that would make Steinbeck jealous.
All of this self-reflection you’ve just completed is an excellent start to building your productivity system.
Two last pieces of advice before we part ways and you start finally doing everything you’ve been thinking about doing for years:
Ditch the stuff that doesn’t work for you. If you feel the need to invest hours upon hours into learning how to use a life-changing piece of software, you can do that, but do something simple that works while you are learning that complicated stuff.