64: Failing to Build an Effective System

Originally published at: https://effectiveremotework.com/2020/08/64-failing-to-build-an-effective-system/

Justin’s OmniFocus experiment fails, which sends him on a thought exploration of failing to build an effective productivity system.

This was an interesting listen, as I’ve recently had a ‘productivity breakdown’. I had lost trust in my systems and it was massively affecting my output.

A big part of it was this ‘paradox of choice’ we seem to have with the new, amazing tools that promise to “do-it-all”. Notion, Roam, Coda, Clickup… I’ve tried them all. But I’ll always hit a friction point with them and start looking elsewhere.

I think the issue is two-fold

  1. We REALLY all want a system that can actually ‘do-it-all’. It would mean everything in our life could sit in one spot and be connected.
  2. We mistake innovative features in a new app as somehow applicable to ALL areas of our digital life

So when something like Notion comes along people jump at it, because it feels like it could possible deliver. Now, I think it has the potential to - just not now.

I had set up an extensive system in Notion over a year ago. Linked Databases that mapped out my Vision/Goals/Projects over custom Weekly/Daily plans. Everything connected and working together.

But… I became weighted down by the system. Notion is a blank canvas for EVERY page. Yes there are ‘Templates’ but until you can apply one GLOBALLY its not good enough. It was taking more and more energy to keep my ‘perfect’ system alive each day and I had enough.

Anyways - I’ve decided to move away from the all-in-one mindset and instead I’ve adopted a Toolkit mindset. I am now cultivating a set of specially designed tools for different parts of my digital life. Instead of trying to use Roam as a project manager, it’s purely used for Knowledge Management. Instead of trying to set up a GTD system in an app like ClickUp I’m using FacileThings which forces you to use GTD in it’s very design.

I’m collecting more tools as I go so that every digital “thing” in my life has a place it lives. I’m using some frameworks like GTD and P.A.R.A. to structure these tools, because it’s those systems that are 100x more important than the apps you use. David Allen says that you should be able to switch to a completely analogue system tomorrow and not be any less productive.

So I hope my insights can help anyone else who feels this unrest when it comes to all these different tools out there. As Justin says, figure out what works for you, and then find the tools that will best support each area of your productive life and stopped trying to fit square pegs into round holes.


I’ve basically lived here for a year :flushed:

I’ve warmed up to this idea a bit more lately, but you’re right in that these apps are generally blank canvases that don’t really help you do the work. You still have to create all the structure, review it, etc.

I like how you’re processing through this :slight_smile: Let us know how it works out, too!

1 Like

I do find if not careful you can spend so much time messing about and tinkering with a system that claims to do all including washing the dog and that’s time that could be spent using a few apps that do most of the things simply.


I’m curious to hear more about your experiences in P.A.R.A. That would make an interesting post when you have the time!

1 Like