The Weekly Review

by Chris Bowler

Why We Tinker

With this attempt to focus more on doing, it's helpful to first examine why so many people struggle with the constant desire to tinker with, tweak, or worst of all, completely change their productivity system. Whether this is a problem only for us technical folks or whether there are certain types of people with this tendency who exist across all industries and focuses, I'm not sure.

But I am sure of this—it's a problem for me. And I'm not alone.

Thinking a lot on actually being productive this past week, I kept asking this question: why do we always have this desire to tinker with our productivity workflow? Why do we so often feel compelled to try the latest application?

After fighting off this compulsion once again in the past few weeks, I think I've identified a few reasons. This is not an all encompassing list by any means—your problems in this area may be completely different than my own. But I'm willing to bet there are a few people who have the same issues as me.

Poorly Defined Tasks

There are times when I have my task list in front of me … and I don't actually want to do any of them. This list is usually comprised of items I've identified as important to me and others that need to be done. But I still don't want to do them. Why? Because they are not concrete, well defined tasks. They are often projects (or sub-projects) dressed in task's clothing.

For those of us who've been using GTD for a couple of years now, we should be weaned off the basics. We should be collection/capture ninjas, experts of a proper weekly review and skillful at switching from one project to another as work environments change. And above all else, we should be able to create clear, concise, well defined tasks.

But we're not perfect, and sometimes old habits sneak up on us—especially when things are really busy. There are times when we need to get back to the basics and realize we're hurting ourselves. A list full of vague, ambiguous tasks will suck the desire to be productive out of the most zealous worker.

It's in a moment like this when we are susceptible to the urge to change our tools. “I don't like these tasks in my list … my system must be broken. I better try that tool I read about last week.” We want to blame our tool. It's easier—and much more fun—to tinker with our system than it is to change our habits.

Reduced Attention Span

I wrote last week how reducing distractions is a good start, but not the end all to fixing our productivity issues. And I'll say it again. If we can reduce the things that distract us from creating and doing good work, it's a positive step.

But it can also benefit us in other ways. It's pretty clear that the Internet and it's flood of information is changing the way people work, reducing the ability to work on single tasks for prolonged periods of time. Maybe there are really hyper people out there who excel in this type of environment, but for the rest of us, my belief is that slowing down the fire hose of stimuli is a better option.

Reducing and simplifying can be a good start in remembering how we used to work (or in the case of the really young crowd who were multitasking right out of the womb, learning this skill for the first time).

How does this stop me from tinkering? If I'm focused on my goals and completing the tasks required to meet them, I should be less inclined to play with my system.

Ooh, Shiny

Lastly, related to the previous item, there is always the danger of the siren call of some shiny new productivity tool. Like the sailors under Odysseus, we're better off to fill our ears with beeswax so as not to hear the seductive call of each GTD tool of the week.

If we're going to be serious about producing rather than tinkering, maybe, just maybe, we don't need to know of every tool out there. If we're reducing our feeds anyways, maybe we can trash some of those blogs that list all the new apps along with the list posters.

This will at least reduce our temptation to tinker.


We all have different weaknesses, so only you can truly know what's best for you. But if we can learn to identify these underlying, subconscious, real problems, we're a step closer to actually being more productive.

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