One of the issues some have after starting a productivity system, be that the Bullet Journal, Getting Things Done (GTD), Creating Flow, or otherwise is the feeling, “I’m still overwhelmed!”

“I’m still overwhelmed!”

You have dutifully taken the time to set up a system, but then everything quickly falls apart once actual work sets in.

There are, at least, 3 reasons worth considering:

  1. The system doesn’t actually reflect what you currently do. Setting up your system as a wishlist is a great way to make it collapse. Instead, consider what you are currently doing, and set up your system to reflect that. Even if you’re not thrilled by how little you feel you are doing, starting with where you are will likely make it easier to realistically integrate where you would like to go. Add changes gradually. Learning new regular actions, i.e. habits, tends to work best one at a time.

  2. You are building a system faster than works for you. This one is similar to #1 in that we need to respect the gradual process of developing habits. Setting up a new system is about creating a series of habits. Too many at once can easily set ourselves up for failure. Being Productive and others systems like Babauta’s Zen to Done specifically try to address the learning curve by presenting the habits of a system itself at a gradual pace.

  3. You genuinely have too much to do. Whatever environment you are in may simply be asking more than is possible. It is easy to slip into, “I’ll just do project X next because I know it’s important” especially when a trip to the task system feels like it will slow things down. Certainly is is helpful to learn to delegate better, say “no” with more authority, and be more decisive, working through whatever psychological barriers are involved. But sometimes, it doesn’t matter and several choice expletives are in order. You have limits, and you are being pushed past them by those demanding the impossible.

Some may feel, instead of the above, that the problem is a matter of “strength of will” be that in forms of tenacity, diligence, or discipline—the sense is that one is not succeeding because of weakness. However, all of the ideas presented above have in common a respect for our real human limitations. Work and habits takes time and attention to develop. And, time and attention are limited.

There is likely some truth to the sentiment that strength is about pushing limits. But there is also an important second part. Once limits are discovered, strength is also about respecting those limits. After all, there are forces much greater than ourselves. It is better to find some relationship with them, rather than believe we can defeat them by some tyranny of will. When we respect limits and what they represent, we also free resources for making things happen, oftentimes more in tune with our environments and ourselves.

Maybe a blunter way of saying all this is, just because something is hard, doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. That seems pithy, but even those things that appear to be common sense often still require practice.