One of the most powerful concepts I’ve read in productivity is that of David Allen’s “trusted system”. The better we can build systems we trust to present what we want, when we want them, the better we can be present.

But what does that phrase, “trusted system” mean? The word “trust” itself can be messy.

In a movie, we regularly see some version of a dangerous high stakes moment, a doomsday clock somewhere ticking away, as the protagonist confronts some character defining decision, when someone somewhere holds out their hand and says,

“Trust me”

It’s often a riveting scene, complete with a heart pounding, popcorn munching grip of the couch.

However, I propose that this is an incorrect use of the word “trust”.

Trust is not something we can will into being. Trust is not a decision. It is a feeling.


Trust is a feeling developed in time that something will continue to behave as it has been such that it might be relied upon.

As a feeling, trust can be reflected upon. It can be developed in time by taking risks. All the better if they are measured risks.

When a risk is taken and it proves to move us in a favorable direction, some feeling within is now more in tune with that direction. We have a *growing trust* that it might do the same thing again.

Of course, saying “take a calculated risk to develop your feelings about my capabilities” doesn’t sound as good on the edge of a train while the cars are uncoupling and a shady character is closing in.

But when we define trust as I have above, if we don’t believe something to be off of our mind, we can now ask:

What don’t I trust about this?

We can then create tests here and there of what might work, taking small calculated risks in a process of creating a system.

In this way, we cultivate systems more so than build them, much as we do with trust.