on having fully functional systems (part 2): use the right tool for the right purpose or perish

part 1 of this post is over here: why having a fully functioning system is critical to stress-free productivity.

this post details the three most critical pieces of technology in my personal system. although my system has evolved over time and consists of more protocols than tools, without these tools, i’d be rubble. and by rubble i just mean less productive and more stressed.

the reason i’d be rubble is because of two lessons that’s david allen shared with the world in getting things done.

  1. the brain is for having ideas, not holding them. in fact, the brain is designed to keep about four meaningful pieces of information simultaneously. so the more you can externalize things, the better.
  2. when you use the wrong tool for the wrong purpose, you become desensitized to it. many people experience this constantly. it’s what happens when you start glazing over tasks on your todo list or start ignoring things on your calendar (more on that below).

allen suggests that the solution to this problem is to use the right tool for the right purpose and only for that purpose. this meant changing a lot of bad habits i’d built up over time, but now that i have, my life will never be the same.

so, here’s the rundown (largely inspired by allen’s writing, but with some evolutions of my own).


the reason to have all these tools sorted out as such is that (1) it allows you to know exactly where to go for what activity or information and (2) it saves you time by keeping you focused.

common pitfalls/situations that occur when people misuse one or more of these systems:​

going into your email to respond to one thing, snapping back to reality an hour later, and wondering what happened to all your time. this experience is often a symptom of not having a sufficient workflow from your email to your todo list. in my system, when an email takes more than two minutes to answer, it often means i need to get a task onto my todo list and respond to the email later.

you start ignoring things on your calendar. this is usually a symptom of starting to use your calendar as a todo list. as with the other things, the worse case scenario here is that you become so numb to your calendar that it ceases to be a useful tool.

there are specific strategies to avoid these problems, but identifying that you have one or more of these problems is a good start.