The Truth About Productivity Systems

From Eddie Smith:

There are probably a lot of folks that write about productivity–me included–who have given you the false impression that we’re perfect GTD canon-abiding machines that always process life by the book.

Real life doesn’t allow that–certainly not for me. Real life is messy and unpredictable. Moreover, the odds will forever be against order in the universe we were dealt.

While I’m far from the type to ever come off as perfect anything, what Eddie is saying is why and how I’ve finally managed to adopt a system. In the past I’ve treated productivity systems the way I’ve treated diets:1 as something that must be rigidly adhered to, where any deviation is an utter failure. That “utter failure” is almost always the crap rationalization I’d end up using to stop using a system or stop sticking to a diet.

It is only in expecting that the system will fail that you ever hope to continue using it.

Or as Eddie put it:

But, I’ve found that I’m most successful at postponing disorder when I have a humble attitude about my well-oiled GTD machine, which happens to be OmniFocus. Some days, it breaks down totally and I have no choice but to leave it on the side of the road until I have time to get it going again.

I always come back for it, though, and that’s what matters. Over time, my productivity reverts to an orderly state. That’s the best that I can hope for anyway.

Since setting out to get my crap together, I’ve failed at my system (and occasionally my system has failed me) more times than I’d care to admit or am willing to count. The difference is that this time I expect failures and deviations. I improve my system or simply move forward. For one reason or another, even the best system will break. It is in being able to put it back together again that you have any hope of reaching your goals2. Productivity isn’t about perfection; it never was. It’s about better. And the moment you stop striving for unrealistic perfection is the moment you’ll finally have any hope of actually doing anything at all.

Note: If you’re not reading Eddie’s Practically Efficient blog and you are trying to be either more practical or more efficient… you’re doing it wrong.


  1. Which have also all failed, btw.  

  2. At least it is for those of you who, like me, need some kind of a system.  

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