Lucas Brenner » Articles » Your Productivity System Is Too Complex

The book “Getting Things Done” is considered the bible of the productivity world. Author David Allen presents various lists and systems he uses to manage his tasks. The book has helped thousands of people take control of their lives and get more done.

When you first read Allen's work, you're blindsided by the sheer number of lists and steps to take. And therein lies the problem: many of today's productivity systems are unnecessarily complex.​[1] We all have unique personalities and lead different lives – that's why we should use systems and workflows tailored to us.

Systems Should Not Be a One-Size-Fits-All Tool

Many of the efficiency systems touted on the Internet are unnecessarily complex because they try to do everything possible. This is also one of the reasons why I don't like the program “Notion,” which is usually the first result that comes up when you search for productivity systems online. A too nice, too perfect system tempts you to spend more time organizing and planning than actually working. A good system is functional, simple and robust.

Your personal workflow should not be universally applicable, but tailored to you and your needs. Only you need to be able to use the system.​[2]

This simple mindset shift already makes your system much simpler and more user-friendly.

As Complex as Necessary, but as Simple as Possible

For very few people, keeping a single list of tasks will be enough to keep track of everything. However, the majority will be satisfied with a to-do list, a calendar and a note-taking program.

Add the components you need for your life to your system. If you publish content, you may benefit from a more detailed system for brainstorming. If your work consists of many individual steps, checklists might help.

Create Customized Systems

A system tailored to you is likely to consist of a mixture of the tips and tricks found on the Internet. Therefore, feel free to try many of the systems available online: keep what works for you and discard everything else. For example, you can read more about my personal calender system in this article.

Your system should not supplant work, but simplify it. Remember, a good system is functional, simple and robust. That means it works for you, doesn't include unnecessary parts, and doesn't require excessive maintenance. It should run smoothly with a maintenance effort of 30-45 minutes per week.

If you ever find yourself spending more time planning than executing, remember that we usually spend an inordinate amount of time preparing out of fear of the job. Why does your task scare you? What could you do to change this?

With a simple productivity system, you'll accomplish more while being less stressed.


[1] David Allen does mention in his book that you don't have to implement all the systems he suggests. However, he does not offer any guidelines to help you decide which lists you need for your own life.

[2] One exception, of course, is systems that are used by more than one person. Here one must find compromises and come to an agreement with the people who will also use the system.