Productivity gurus are right about one thing: systems do help. Making small adjustments over time does lead to the better results when it comes to making positive changes in your life (thank you James Clear and your Atomic Habits). However, systems are only as good as your willingness to follow them.
I always start new routines with great enthusiasm. I take the time to think about what I want to adjust and make plans that introduce small changes to the daily routine that will hopefully lead to bigger better things in the future. I like the idea of playing the long game. I know that trying to make big drastic behavioural changes rarely works for most people. At least, that is what the literature has always taught me.
The downside of most of these tomes of wisdom and the productivity prophets who write them is that they try to standardise something and present it as applicable to everyone. But we all know that people are subtly different in a trillion ways. What works for me is not necessarily going to work for my mum, my best friend or my neighbour.
So, how do we find the right way to achieve those things we want to achieve? Honestly, if anyone could actually answer that question with a simple solution they would be voted president of the whole world. I know I don’t have the answer. But I am slowly figuring out what works for me.
I love systems. The organisation loving part of my brain delights in setting up task databases and to-do lists. I devour productivity books and youtube videos and podcasts like they are my favourite foods. I can spend hours listening to everyone from academics at Stanford (hello Dr Huberman) to 20-something entrepreneurs on the Indie Hackers podcast to Tim Ferris and his Tribe of Mentors. When I’m not doing that, I’m testing out new tools to automate daily tasks and maintain an overview of all the things I do and want to do. Project management is a hobby.
But I also have a rebel in my brain. I think most of us do. This rebel pops up at inconvenient moments and says “Hey, screw the planning, let’s rearrange the entire house and alphabetise the sock drawer.” She sticks her nose in when I am trying to study something new and tries to get me to bake scones instead. In some circles this is called procrastiworking. You spend your time doing a hundred other productive things instead of the thing you are supposed to be doing. It seems like a great idea because you cross a bunch of stuff off of the to-do list, and you are being very productive. You tell yourself that at least it’s better than sitting on the couch all day eating pizza and rewatching all of the Matrix films again. But deep down, a little earworm of guilt wakes up and makes me feel bad for once again failing to do what I was supposed to be doing.
I used to think the way out of this was to try and squash the rebel. I have recently come to the conclusion, though, that the rebel is as much a part of me as the project manager and trying to quell her isn’t the answer. The answer is to make the rebel and the project manager work together. But what does this look like?
Well, that is still a work in progress. Currently it looks a bit chaotic. I am trying out a new thing called ‘would like to do’ lists where I jot down things I want to do, and things I need to do, but assign no importance to either. When the project manager is running things, I focus on the ‘need to do’. When it’s the rebel running the show, I do the fun stuff. It doesn’t always work, and stuff still gets added or deleted on a whim, but I am finding it a little bit easier and can hit about 80% of my weekly targets of getting stuff done.
And in the meantime I try not to think too hard about all the things I don’t currently have time for. 😁