Some Thoughts on Productivity Systems

In the beginning of the month I started working in a new team, in a new career path, in a new technical job, under new circumstances. After working for two and a half months from home, I now work half a week at home and half a week at work, in a pretty empty office. I haven’t met all my team members, as we work in separate “capsules,” ensuring that if one of us got sick at least 50% of us would remain unaffected and capable of working. After 17 years of being a Mainframe system programmer, I’m now a DevOps engineer. I’ve been training for the past six months for it, and I love the work, but it’s still not the easiest switch to make. I have a new set of managers, with a new management style, and my old job keeps calling on me, which results in some wild context switching.

And meanwhile the world is burning, as incredible stupid leaders worldwide decide that their pockets are worth more than other people’s lives.

I’m not a huge fan of change, and so my productivity systems tend to stay around with me for years. During the early days of the pandemic, when I just started working from home, I thought that this was temporary. On the second week I realized that the mess of notes in whatever writing pad was around would need to change. And my mindset would need to change.

I wasn’t in Kansas anymore.

I tried to replicate my old work setup at first (a large Moleskine squared hardcover with only the daily todo part of bullet journalling), keeping my home setup intact (a Field Notes with a running todo, lists, trackers etc). That held until I realized that I was starting a new job in a place that moved at a completely different pace than what I was used to. I was also no longer a manager, so the focus of my work was different. I needed to tear everything down and start over again.

I went back to digital task management. I’d tried OmniFocus for a while two years ago and didn’t like its complexity. I had used Things for a good long while before that but stopped and change back to a paper notebook once I decided that I had to have a physical barrier between work and home to have any balance in my life. Those were wild times, and I’m glad that I made that choice, but now it was time to bring Things back into my life. I’ve been using it since the 1st of June, and while it isn’t yet 100% set up to perfection, it’s working well so far.

I’m now managing both work and home from Things, because I can’t handle the added hassle of remembering to lug which notebook where every day, especially now, when I’m not yet set up in my new place. I also don’t realistically think that I could have kept track of my work in a paper notebook right now. I’ve “outgrown” it.

The issue is that I still love paper notebooks, and I still love writing with pen and pencil on a piece of paper. I still keep a pad next to me when I work and scribble ideas on it, but this switch has dwindled down my daily stationery use significantly.

As I was clearing my old desk I found physical evidence of all my years of work there: notebooks full of todos, meeting notes, project notes, ideas and problem solving pointers. I could see the work that I’ve put in. My new system is searchable, but it’s still an amorphous pile of bits somewhere in the Cloud.

I don’t recommend this eraser. It’s just one that makes me smile.

When I went into quarantine I had an inexplicable yearning to get back to the first ever real productivity system I used, the PigPogPDA. I loved my Moleskine pocket plain reporter notebooks, set up just right, full of all the important information that I might ever need. I had shopping lists, trackers, drawings, story ideas, directions, packing lists, cheat sheets in those notebooks: they were my everything at the time. I also remember how terribly expensive they were for me, and how difficult to obtain. Every page was precious, and I had to be careful not to waste any. I used the Hi-Tec-C and the Staedler Mars technico lead holder for that, and these little notebooks lasted for ages and travelled the world with me. Only in the past three years have I stopped using them, replacing them with a much simpler system in Field Notes pocket notebooks. Out of nostalgia I brought one back to life. It has done a lot to cheer me up and give me a sense of stability during these hectic times. Yes, I know it’s just a notebook. Sometimes “just a notebook” is all it takes.

If I have any advice to offer it’s this: be kind to yourself and pick whichever system works for you, and doesn’t make you work for it. Pick something that you’ll enjoy using. If it’s a sleek app, let it be a sleek app. You’ll find use for the notebooks in your cupboard eventually. If it’s notebooks, then make them entirely your own. That’s the joy of using paper planning anyway. And don’t be shy of saying: “This doesn’t work for me anymore”.

So I’m back to digital planning, and I’m going to find a way to have fun with my pens and paper somehow (I still journal and draw and write after all). This is something that’s likely to change as the times do, my work and my life circumstances do. So long as I don’t fall into the trap of Productivity Pr0n and forget what all this is in service of, I’m fine.

I’m fine.

Some Thoughts on Productivity Systems

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