A Trusted System Takes Time

For any system to work, we need to genuinely feel that it supports us. In other words, we need to have atrust that it will support us.

Trust is not a blanket all-or-nothing feeling. It is nuanced. For example, I might trust my alarm clock to wake me up on time, but I may not trust my reading list to show me a particular article. Both of these are parts of my daily systems.

We measure trust in reflection. In other words, trust is a feeling that we have to think about. Thought, in turn, takes time and attention. It is not enough to say, for example, “this list should support me”. That is even and especially the case if something or somebody else told you it would work. That includes tools like OmniFocus or people like myself.

If some part of a system does not feel secure, then we need to ask ourselves,

“Is there something I can do to make it feel secure?”

A Small Example

As an example, let’s say you have something you want to be sure you read. Perhaps it relates to work.

At first, you might ask yourself, “Is there any habit I have that I can pin this to?” Maybe you know that you tend to read at night. You could then set the book or article near that place that you would read. Maybe you could set a reminder to go off at that time.

But that may not feel like it would work. You would then need to ask, “Why not?” Perhaps you don’t want a reminder to go off at night. Or maybe you prefer to read other types of material at that time. Doing anything relating to work would feel upsetting to sleep or just invasive to leisure time.

Ok, so then try another tact. Maybe you schedule reading the article during the day. But then, you would have to think through what couldn’t happen at that time. Maybe you could add it to your “Today” list for a particular day, but similarly, you would need to think about what to remove from your list to accommodate it.

You continue onward, thinking things through until you have a sense that, “Yes, I will be reminded of this article when and where I could read it.”

More generically, when building a system, we can use the question

“How can I genuinely believe that I will be reminded of this, with minimal distraction, when and where I can do something with it?”

The Larger Picture

Of course, this thinking-through-until-reaching-a-conclusion process takes time. You may wonder then, “Who has time for that?” But it is just this sort of time to think things through that is crucial to a working system.

If your time is already over-taxed, then it becomes very difficult to give things the attention needed. Any depth of attention, after all, absolutely requires time to build. The problem, then, is that you may not have time to think through when you can have time to think! Maybe an analogy is that the brain’s hard drive is too full to defragment.

What is clogging up your system are at least responsibilities and interests. What can be removed, rearranged, or renegotiated will all take time to think through. Hence the difficulties.

A Suggestion

One suggestion in such scenarios is to pay attention to a future clear point on the calendar, be that weeks, months, or years away. Find some clearing of several hours. Then, schedule that time as empty. Block it as a meeting with yourself.

As time marches on, Be prepared to defend it as you can. If you absolutely need to schedule something at that time, you can then at least reschedule the blank time.

During or before that time, consider if there can be a recurring weekly time during which you can reflect. Try to set that to repeat. Or perhaps find little weekly oases until a repeating time could occur.

Even if nothing could truly appear for months, that’s fine. At least it will be on the calendar. Time will come and go, and one day, it will arrive.

You can use this time, not to catch up on emails, phone calls, and paperwork, but to reflect on where your systems work for you and where they do not. It is no coincidence that this time is similar, if not identical, to the Getting Things Done (GTD) suggestion of a Weekly Review.