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Productivity Systems Don’t Suck, But Sometimes I Do

Few would argue that Merlin Mann is the Godfather of GTD/productivity blogging. About a month ago he posted Four Years and followed it up with Time, Attention, and Creative Work. If you haven’t read these, please do so now… It’s good stuff.

What do you think?

I look at both of these posts in a positive light. They are sobering reminders of how our personal productivity systems are nothing more than a means to an end. Why we produce boils down to reasons that live deep inside of us. I focus on being productive because my personal goals and commitments require me to get a lot of things done in a short period of time. I am passionate about productivity systems because they allow my over-achieving, over-estimating self to get closer to achieving my goals faster and with minimal affects on my health and overall well-being.

The End of an Era?

I noticed that September 11th, 2008 marked the end of regular posting by a handful of very talented productivity bloggers… Maybe its just a coincidence, but I miss their insights.

Before Mann’s post, others in the productivity community had started denouncing GTD and the act of trying to systematize one’s productivity. Some new posts have sprung up citing Merlin’s new mission as proof of why GTD doesn’t work. However, GTD in itself was not denounced by Mann. Systems were not denounced, either. Nor should they be. “Productivity Pr0n,” or more specifically the act of talking about productivity instead of being productive, is what got the biggest bitch slap. Deservedly so. The brand of notebook you use to hold your lists or using note cards vs. post-its vs. graph paper for capturing thoughts have no real effect on your ability to be productive. Pick one and move on. Get stuff done.

Let’s take a trip down 43folders memory lane. I recently stumbled on a relatively unpopular post from September of 2004 where Mann outlined why GTD was so great and it deserved the momentum it had picked up. Read through it yourself. How much of what he had said four years ago has changed?

If We Can’t Blame Our Systems…

At the core GTD, or any productivity system, is a methodology for increasing your output. They are sets of principles and/or concepts glued together in an attempt to overcome our weaknesses. And, yes, this comes with some overhead. Many lists and options give the system a lot of places to appear to break down and get backed up — I say appear because the system is not what ultimately breaks down. I do.

When my car goes into the shop and I have $2500 in expenses I could have taken care of 3 months ago for $1500, can I blame GTD for not reminding me to take care of it sooner? Can I blame my stationary bike sitting 4 feet from me that I bought for the convenience and never ride for why I’m putting on a few lb’s? Sounds easier than realizing I can be a jackass…

I fall off the wagon from time to time, just like everyone else. When it happens, its easy to point the finger at something like “the system.” Yet each time I become so overwhelmed that I can’t think straight I’ll do my brain dump, process my stuff, organize my actions and ensure my project list is up to date with a next action defined for each one. Voila! My productivity picks up again. Imagine that! I follow the system and my productivity improves.

Unfortunately I’d be kidding myself if I blamed concepts or lifeless things when I don’t do what is best. I blame me. I suck sometimes. I’m inconsistent. What I thought were habits become annoying one day and I stop doing them for a while. Productivity habits, diet habits, exercise habits, sleep habits, etc. I suck at all of them from time to time.

I wish we could stop blaming other stuff and start taking responsibility… Or maybe I’m just being naive. What/who do you blame when things breakdown in your productive life?

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