A lot of people decide to look for the best possible productivity system, which they’ll use for the rest of their lives. However, I think for many people it’s better to switch between several different productivity systems.
For me, a new productivity system– Habitica, Getting Things Done, Zen to One, Complice, a brand new planner– is shiny and exciting. I am motivated to check it every day. I am convinced that this time the system will solve all of my executive function problems. I will remember my appointments! I will check tasks off my to-do list! I will accomplish my goals! I will become a productive adult member of society!
Unfortunately, over time, the new productivity system grows stale. I’m used to it; I don’t get the rewards of novelty. I am familiar with all its quirks and don’t have any exciting new features to discover. It has, in a completely unpredictable turn of events, failed to solve all of my life problems.
What’s worse, I’ve fallen into a certain automatic routine for using my system. Switching to a new productivity system is often an opportunity to reflect on how I’ve been doing things poorly and in what ways I can do things better. Should I add ‘dishes’ as a daily task because I keep running out of plates? Do I really want to write a novel, or is it just on my to-do list because I feel like the sort of person who should be writing a novel? Should I consolidate these twelve different things I need to do every morning into a single ‘morning routine’ item?
But if I’ve been using the same productivity system for a year, I haven’t had an opportunity to reflect for a long time, and the list has gotten worse. I walk around in shoes with holes in them for the past three months because it never occurred to me that I should add ‘buy shoes’ to my list. The book I’ve been meaning to read for six months is still on my to do list even though I am pretty sure I am never going to get around to reading it. There are mysterious items labeled things like ‘investigate point B’. I follow the same routines even though they’re often now uncomfortable fits for my life.
(I am informed that high-level productivity system users do things called “weekly reviews” and “monthly reviews” to prevent this problem. This has literally never worked for me.)
In the past, I used to respond to this by redoubling my efforts to make the old productivity system work and recapture the magic. Right now, I take this as a sign to switch productivity systems.
In fact, I explicitly accept and plan for the fact that I’m going to switch productivity systems every year to eighteen months.
The part of my brain that decides that THIS productivity system is going to FIX MY ENTIRE LIFE is really dumb and incapable of learning from experience. I feel excited about the new system I’m switching to, and I can harness that to build good habits and create positive feedback cycles. I take switching as an opportunity to reflect on my goals and tasks and see if they make sense. And– since I know that switching regularly is something I plan on doing– I can switch back to old systems that I know worked well for me. (No, that doesn’t stop my brain from believing it is going to fix my entire life. My brain is really dumb.)
I think this advice might work well for some other people who work similarly to me.