Overwhelmed by your workflow? Reset it.

Productivity and organization workflows can quickly become addictive. If you like apps and all that comes with them, your workflows can snowball out of control.

There are two manifestations of this problem:

  1. You can have an oversized/overcomplicated workflow that it becomes per se work in the work.
  2. If you have ADHD tendencies – like me – you can find yourself starting to compulsively switch to-do and productivity apps hoping for the magic trick to solve all our problems (spoiler: it doesn’t happen).

Regardless of which case you are in, you arrive to the realization that you started with one problem (managing your life) and ended up with two problems (managing your life and managing your system/testing productivity apps).

I run into this problem every couple of years, and until I become aware of that, I feel very frustrated. I feel like I am moving around a lot of stuff and spending many hours of my awake time producing nothing more than heat and entropy.

Luckily the solution is easy: do a total reset. Reset your workflow to reset your brain. Let’s see how I do it.

The Total Workflow Reset

Move your workflow to plain old paper

As soon as I spot the first signs that I am going down the rabbit hole of testing hundreds of project management systems, I do the only reasonable thing: I stop using everything and I go back to pen and paper.

If you are getting intoxicated by any substance, the first step is to cut the substance exposition. In this case, we are getting intoxicated by the workflow’s complexity; therefore, the first step is to reduce complexity. Pen and paper are the less complex tools out there: just get your cheapest notebook and the cheapest pen, and you are ready to go.

Commit to this detoxification regime for least 3/4 weeks

Copy on paper everything you need for the following 3 or 4 weeks. No more (you must not overcommit), no less (you need enough time to really “forget” your old habits).

The goal in this phase is to dump your brain in the most unstructured way possible. When using an app or a system for a long time, your mind starts to adapt around the way the application/system work. But it is the best system for you or just the one you are used to? To answer this question, you need first to return your mind back to a blank slate.

After the first week, tasks and projects should start to self-organize in some way. Just let your brain work naturally.

After two/three weeks, you should really start thinking things like: “oh man, I really miss feature X." Keep notes of these features but remain on your paper-only workflow still for a while.

In the end, you may have discovered how your brain deeply works, and you can look for a digital solution again. This time, though, you know exactly which feature you really need and which feature is just a fancy unnecessary distraction.

Or you may find out that you like your minimal pen and paper system. Still a win.

You can keep your calendar

You do not need to give up on everything digital, just your task manager. For instance, I keep using my digital calendar because I need something that will actively remember events to me and I never lost time thinking about digital calendars.1

Note: choose wisely when to do this experiment

Even if I think pen and paper are enough to keep you efficient for a month in 90% of the cases, only you know the state of your working life! If you are being obliterated by deadlines or you are in a hectic situation, it may be dangerous to experiment with your work right now. Save the reset for another time.

Conclusion

I am going through this process right now and every time I do it, I learn something new about what it works for me and whatnot. For instance, I recently realized that my mind does not work well with “scheduling tasks”: unless there is an impending deadline, I prefer to allocate time to macro-categories and then select the task on the fly from some lists.

Anyway, I hope you may find this useful. In a world in which we are bombarded by articles on “why I use software X” or “why I switched from X to Y,” I think you may find useful an article suggesting you just stop using everything. At least for a while.


Photo by Jose Antonio Gallego Vázquez on Unsplash


  1. If you have a really complex calendar system with multiple calendars, you may want to consider to reduce them all into one or two. ↩︎

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