ups and downs of my obsession with productivity systems and processes

Before jumping into the main topic and getting into the details of it, I want to acknowledge my journey in writing this.

As someone really huge on setting up my productivity systems and workflows, I’ve been procrastinating and incapable of writing and publishing about them. Upon reflection, I figured that this mental block comes from a fear that my system is not good enough to be shared. There are many great articles out there, how would mine be any valuable out there?

Again, the pattern of perfectionism and setting the bar too high for myself that it causes inaction.

It’s strange that I haven’t been writing about it because it is a pet topic of mine, and I love talking about it with friends who are also interested to hear about this. In the spirit of overcoming perfectionism and learning in public, I’ve convinced myself that I can share my journey even as I find them “not there yet”. Even as I write, I am uncovering holes to fill, and that has been incredibly helpful in this iteration of my processes.

So here I am, this will be the first essay about setting up my personal knowledge system. Starting with the origin story of how I came to enjoy diving deep into this topic, and the obstacles that got in my way, and how my thinking has evolved over the years.

In subsequent posts, I’ll dive into specific parts of the system like Weekly Reviews, and my reading/note-taking workflow.

Here we go!

The origin story of falling into this rabbit hole Sometime in 2018 or 2019, I first stumbled on the topic of personal knowledge management and productivity hacks. I was hooked on becoming more efficient with time, and doing more with the amount of reading I do. I was geeking out on the templates of databases and shiny new tools discovered. Following the productivity guides of notable figures like Marie Poulin, Tiago Forte, and Ali Abdaal got me really excited to build this whole elaborate system so that I can be a better reader and writer.

Me discovering Zettelkasten, the system of creating interconnected notes to make a web of knowledge:

I wanted to be more productive because I was trying to get more things done in the finite time that we all have. I wanted to find time to read, write, explore new hobbies, and get things done despite the ebbs and flow of motivation. It was a mix of trying to get more done, with this innate curiosity and motivation to organise the content that I was consuming into a curated library that I could gain inspiration from.

It also occured to me that if I had found this approach of keeping a personal knowledge system back in university days, I could have retained a lot more fascinating knowledge and research papers would have been way easier to write too.

In short, I was finding immense value in investing my time in this world of organising my time and knowledge.

When I got sick of productivity and doing

Somewhere along the way, the drive and motivation dwindled.

I was fully absorbed in my new role as a junior product manager because I was battling a lot of self-doubt and anxiety in trying to be a better PM. Being “on” during work hours was intense. And after work, I just needed to switch “off”. I gradually stopped keeping up with the world of productivity because I was getting so exhausted with being “on” all the time.

I lost the motivation to keep up with the system that I’d was so excited to set up. Another cycle of burnout happened and I could not make myself do more. I stopped looking at productivity YouTube and retreated into the world of emotional regulation and healing, and started filling my time with activities that takes me out of my head and into my body. Naturally, the templates and databases of books to read, book summaries, resources and highlights were left to collect digital dust in my Notion account and I did not make use of them even as I continue to consume content rather mindlessly.

v2.0 The value I found in setting up processes did not rest, it tagged along with my work as I worked with different project teams at my role. I realised that researching on and experimenting with best practices of product processes was a type of work that gave me energy even if it was not the core work I was required to do.

Turns out I’m highly motivated by structured, as shown by my Luxx profile:

luxx profile

The structured-ness of things is “indispensable” for me to operate. Not surprisingly, when I was not keeping up and iterating on my PKM to suit my energy levels and needs, reading and writing also fell into disarray and lacked consistency.

The process work I did with my teams fed into my learnings about how I can approach my personal systems. New workflows introduced are always for the users. The wielder is more important than the tool itself. I’ve learned that no matter how shiny or exciting a new tool or workflow sounds at first, it isn’t just about implementing best practices without application to the context of the team and individual users. People tend to go back to old habits and ways of working if they are not experiencing the benefits first-hand. As the designer of the new workflow, it is then crucial to make the transition as frictionless and easy to adopt as possible.

I’m bringing this lens into my own systems, and I see it working too.

While it is great to seek inspiration and learn from productivity thought leaders, now I see the importance of taking pieces of what is useful for me. It is easy to get drawn into the mindset of doing doing doing as we see these thought leaders getting so much done and being extra productive than the average person. We sometimes forget that we’re human and not machines, and we need to time and space for ourselves to step back and take a break.

Now, my YouTube algorithm also serves me videos about slow living, minimalism and being more intentional with life. I’ve also been learning and practicing mindfulness, the art of sitting in silence and trying to be, not do.

This balanced approach seems to work better for me as I slowly let go of the idea that I need to fill all my waking hours with something “productive”.

And I’m excited to move forward with these new learnings to dive (slowly) into my existing practices and habits.

In the next post, I plan to dive into one of the new practices I’ve included in my workflows.

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