Don’t get sucked into the online drama about productivity. Unfortunately, it’s not an App or other people’s methodology that will help you.

This is the story about how many years ago I was hypnotized by magical solutions that never worked, and how my journey made me realize that everyone can find the perfect system. Yes, you can do it too. It will require more work and take longer, but it’s worth it.

Different, different, and different

Do you remember my article about letting things get messy for a while? This is precisely what I did when I started moving my notes from Evernote to Obsidian. Although both Apps share many similarities, there are still plenty of differences that make it impossible to just use my Evernote system on Obsidian.

If you have already struggled to organize or be more efficient, you may know that it is equally inefficient to use someone else’s workflow to solve your problems. We are all different people going through different moments in life and exposed to entirely different circumstances. I hope I said ‘different’ enough times because it is the most important word in this article. You must realize that your needs are unique.

The early stages of my journey

Years (decades 😮) ago, when I started looking for a solution to my workflow problem, I did what I see many people doing today. I tried to use someone else’s methodology. When that failed, my initial thought was that I was the issue.

Maybe you have been through this too. This is precisely that moment when the evangelists usually show up and tell you that you don’t need to use it the way the ‘guru’ created it.

You can simply adapt it to your needs.

Hmm. That’s quite convenient, isn’t it?

Well, if I’m adapting something, I better create it myself. And this is when I began experiencing, let’s call it, ‘dishonest thoughts’. If I were to develop my own methodology, I could potentially commercialize it and generate some revenue.

That idea stuck with me for a while, but several books later, I came to the conclusion that all of these so-called incredible methodologies are, in reality, variations of something that came before. Why would I want to add another layer to the onion?

At this point in my career, around the turn of the millennium, my inexperience was evident. Although I gained a lot of knowledge from my degree as an economist and all the books I read about project management, my first company was a disaster. However, it was not all in vain.

That unique combination of failure and acquired knowledge helped me start a career as a project manager in the booming mobile telecommunications industry. But what if I told you that the companies I worked for were also having trouble creating and managing effective processes? Wow, what a relief. It wasn’t me; the problem was significantly more extensive than I initially anticipated.

Figuring things out together

Twelve years later, in 2012, I realized I had enough experience to start another company. But this time, I would do it alone as a consultant. I used social media to spread the word, but I never talked about solving difficulties with this or that particular technique. It was all about collaborating and figuring things out together like I learned to do during my telecommunications career.

Guess what the people I attracted were telling me when they arrived at the discovery meeting?

—I’ve tried countless different methodologies and Apps, but nothing worked. I don’t know what’s wrong with me.

You know what? I still hear this from almost all my clients nowadays.

The first thing I ask all new customers is how they do their job. I don’t even use the word workflow. What I say is, ‘Pretend I’m going to start working for you today. Explain to me the work you do.’

That’s harder than you think and people tend to drift the conversation towards the Apps they use. This is when I reply, ‘Forget the Apps. Pretend they don’t exist and tell me how you do your work. I want to understand the process, the stages, the problems, etc.

People are so obsessed with the idea that something else is doing the work that I always face several moments of silence after that simple question. It’s really fascinating how it proves my point. People think that something outside is the solution, but they already have the answer with them all the time. I’m merely a facilitator. I provide guidance, and they find the answers by themselves.

Anyway, back to the client. After taking a deep breath and receiving some direction from my side, the explanation begins. This is usually when I see the relief on their faces. It’s as if they broke free.

Long story short, it’s only after I understand the workflow that I start helping them build a system. To make the system more efficient, we’ll certainly use some Apps, but only as tools. Always remember, Apps are not solutions; they are merely tools. And it’s all done together because this is not a magical solution. My main goal is to help the client build its own system.

The good news is that you can solve this by yourself too. It takes more time, but eventually, you’ll have the perfect system for yourself. Start by mapping your work and needs. Ignore the Apps and methodologies. Think of your work as a workflow. One step after the other. Once you grasp that, allow yourself to feel a bit uncomfortable. Don’t add tools just yet.

While you are experiencing the hard work and maybe even the mess, think about what you need to do to make each step of the way more efficient, and then look for the tools that can help you. Congrats! You just built a mindful workflow.

I know it’s easier said than done. After all, it took me some years to figure this out. Maybe the video below will help you. But as you watch it, please pay attention to the process that led me to the dashboard, not the plugins I’m using. I’m never looking for a silver bullet. I’m sorry to be the one telling you this, but that doesn’t exist. Anyway, as you watch, notice that as I go I’m constantly trying to find something that will solve a very specific next problem.

The truth is, you are the only one who has the correct answer. Keep asking yourself what you need to do next to reach the following level of the game.

You can do it!