We have an abundance of productivity applications that supposedly ‘help’ us to stay efficient, whilst simultaneously sapping our time in growing and maintaining complex systems for everything from note-taking to task management.
For a little while now, I have been on the hunt for a unicorn. A perfect system that fits all of my productivity needs into one tidy platform. I have watched August Bradley, Marie Poulin and their beautiful Notion ‘life design’ systems. I have exhausted all of the task management and productivity videos on Youtube. I have digested LYT and GTD and PARA. I have wrestled Notion, Things, Roam, Obsidian, Todoist, Tweek and everything else that has been available to me and not found anything that sticks.
No shade on any of the above mentioned, they all amazingly well thought out systems and tools in their own right. I just can’t shake the feeling that they are all too complex for what I need.
I have searched the internet, and not found anything really that suits. Type ‘Minimalist Journal’ into YouTube and you will be treated with a whole host of intricately designed notebooks that appear to me as anything but minimalist. The same goes for peoples Notion spaces, which are fulled to the brim with unnecessary features - Spotify playlists anyone? Again, I admire the artistry and creativity that goes into designing these spaces, but as a serial procrastinator this is an accident waiting to happen for me.
At the start of this year, I committed to picking one tool and sticking with it. Notion was the obvious choice, because I was already comfortable using it as my last two companies have used it for internal documentation as well as the fact that it handles task management a little better than other writing apps. It took me a few solid days to get set up with a simple Notion build that I felt happy with and that felt fluid - I enjoyed the building process much more than I ever enjoyed using the system however. It was an accumulation of Thomas Franks ‘Notebook’ method, Ali Abdaals ‘Resonance Calendar’ and my own custom Goals & Reviews pages. Things broke, my systems became bloated and slow, new ideas came out from the latest ‘Productivity Influencer’ that I wanted to try. Notion even stopped working for a bit of time. I spent longer tweaking my system than I did acting upon what the system was there to support, more efficient working. I became less productive as a result of looking for productivity. Ironic.
I migrated from Notion to Roam Research. Initially, I got a lot of value and this is probably the digital tool I have spent the longest with, but there was still something that just didn’t feel quite right. As my database expanded, I found myself introducing more and more complexity for the sake of simplicity. I plugged in Readwise and Matter to automate my book notes. I created a workflow between Things 3 and my Roam app to keep on top of task management. I introduced complex queries. I hooked up Zapier to automate tasks. As time went on what went from a simple workflow turned into an entirely different beast. I started feeling frustrated by it all, as I had done before with every other tool that I have tried. I felt overwhelmed, cluttered and slow, like I am wading through thick mud. I craved calm and simplicity but instead I felt anxious about it all, as though my system could give up on me at any point or let me down entirely - a Frankenstein’s Monster of bolted on bits and bobs.
Going back in time, I was an avid ‘Bullet Journaller.’ For years I used a humble dotted notebook as my source of truth. It contained everything, from my shopping list and errands to my deepest, darkest desires. It wasn’t pretty, but it got the job done. I moved to digital to the fact I was starting to commute via train more, and pulling out a notebook in a cramped carriage and writing was a chore. Since moving away from analogue, I feel spoiled, like there is a lot of features I am missing out on with my notebook.
So what to do. I’m not really sure. No matter what I try, I find myself falling back into the same traps.
To tell the truth, I have currently hit the reset button completely. I have gone back to using the simplest form of task management that I know - pen and paper. I use a simplified version of the Bullet Journal method, and include space at the start of each day to ‘Brain Dump’ as well as space at the end of the week to have a ‘Weekly Review’.
In a sense it has been nice, but I don’t feel convinced that this is going to be my final solution. After I read about ‘Zettelkasten’ from one of my favourite authors Robert Greene, I have incorporated the practice into my everyday life, and it has been genuinely useful for me to make use of information that I extract from the books I read. This is something I am sorely missing from my notebook and in fact even writing this article was much harder than it usually would be.
But maybe taking a step back and understanding exactly what I am missing will help me to prioritise exactly what I need in my workflow.
Whatever I decide, I will be sure to update you all here.