Productivity system dos and don'ts

What is a Productivity System?

A Productivity System ensures everything you’ve got going on is accounted for. In doing so you gain control to decide how you want to spend your time. The core principle is:

“Your brain is for having ideas, not for storing them”.

This famous quote is from David Allen’s Getting Things Done system.. In order for this to work, the system must be watertight. You need to be able to trust that your system includes everything so that nothing is kept inside your brain. Another system that has become popular in recent years is Tiago Forte’s P.A.R.A. system. Also known as “The second brain” system.

The system will at least include your: To-do’s, Notes, schedule, and goals. More advanced versions can include diet plans, journals, read-it-later apps, and books.

A productivity system is often made out of many tools. Usually, you have 1 tool at the core, and for that the most popular, and my favorite, is Notion. Notion allows you to customize and personalize your own workflows. I recommend checking out the real deal, such as in this video, to understand how it works.

What I’ve learned over the past 5 years


Start small, and expand from there

Gall’s law states that every complex system can only evolve from a smaller system that works. This is very true in Productivity Systems. When you first get going, you’ll get excited by how much mental clarity you get from emptying your head. You might overshoot your design to the point that it’s clunky and uncomfortable to use. For that reason, start small and use it. You’ll find out things that need to change. Add things once you realize the smaller system works. You can start small by:

  • Starting with either your professional or personal life. Or even a single project.
  • Starting with just notes, tasks, and a schedule. Leave out your workflows for studying, researching, content-creation, etc.

Keep improving

Keep monitoring what pains you’ve got and fix them. Do this at least every quarter. I’ve been going for 5 years and I’m still noticing that the system doesn’t align seamlessly with my work.


Don’t overcomplicate “save for later”

A lot of us will become anxious when we come across something interesting that we don’t directly have a purpose for. This is because we want to make sure we save it for when we do need it. This can lead to obsessive tagging or prioritization of articles. I’ve certainly done that myself. But, I’ve rarely felt the need to look back into my system to find a specific tool or resource to solve a problem I’m having. Instead, when I’m faced with a problem or project related to something I have worked on before, I will dive in fresh. “Future you” is a different person, with different knowledge and experience than “past you”. Looking through the meticulous notes of the past rarely suffices. Instead, do a quick search based on keywords to see what you have and use that as inspiration and a starting point.

Don’t organize based on category, but on action and outcome

This is by far the most frequent mistake. We tend to place our work in categories of similar items. This might make it look neat and organized, but it will be useless if it’s not aligned with the work you’re doing it.

First, you must assess what your goals are. This is essential. Check out my goal-setting guide and Notion template here. Then, you think of the actions that you will take to lead you to that goal. And, what process of work you’ll have for that. You might notice that certain categories like planning holidays, reading articles, and processing notes are not accounted for. That means you’ll either have to specify goals and workflows for those things or, drop them altogether.

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