For some time now I have been trying different Productivity methods (like GTD, Pomodoro or the Seven Twists) and computer applications to manage my working day (Doit.im, Astrid, Asana, Google Calendar + Tasks, and looking forward to hearing from Hightrack), trying to find the one that best fits for me. During this search I have discovered two things.
First, none of the above methods works for me. I find the effort I have to put into “sticking to the plan” totally intrusive with my regular working schedule (or lack of), and I stop organizing, reviewing, classifying and prioritizing. Suddenly I realize I’m procrastinating to avoid planning. Which is quite an unnerving feeling.
Second, I discovered that all the Productivity methods I have tend to avoid the topic of the first days of application of the method. The Productivity gurus give great guidance for a scheduling plan that is already running according to their way of doing things, but they pass over the moment in which you have to start the engines. Each time I changed the application I was using, or the method, I tried to list and classify ALL the work I had pending. I listed it all, adapted the tasks to either the interface or the structure required by the plan and tried to act as I had been using the technique for years.
That is a terrible mistake.
From my experience, if you try to do that you will spend a whole day setting up your productivity plan but you will always forget some tasks. This will make you grow more stressed. Which is basically one of the main things you are trying to avoid with this effort. And even if you don’t forget something, you will have to do a conscious effort to maintain everything listed and up-to-date. Because if you drastically change your working method it will not be natural to you. And procrastination is right behind the corner waiting for a slip to take control of your day.
Thus, the clever thing is to change your working plan through small steps. Don’t migrate your complete scheduling plan in one morning. Instead of that, set up the new environment and work with it at the same time you still use the old one. Clear your old pending tasks according to the plan you are leaving and plan the new ones according to the method you are moving towards. Even if your “old” system was none. Our brain is ready to change to do things better but not to drastic 180º turns in your day-to-day routine.
Go one step at a time, let the old scheduling method or tool die of starvation and let the new one slowly soak your way of managing yourself and your time. Get used to it, incorporate it without rush. Like when training to run a marathon after years without doing any sport, you must begin with light and sparse workouts that, as you grow fit, increase their intensity and periodicity.