Episode 21

#021 - Productivity Systems Deep Dive for 2021

Published on: 28th December, 2020

Today we discuss productivity systems. But maybe not in a way you'd expect. As we approach 2021, now is a great time to revisit your productivity system and make adjustments heading into the new year.

In our opinion, productivity systems and tools are highly personal - and are never perfect. Instead of offering a functionality / use-case deep dive of our individual tool choices and how we use them, we cover some of our thoughts around the mindset of productivity systems and how they should evolve to meet your needs - ultimately removing psychic weight.

The primary concept behind productivity systems uses the analogy of the car, driver, and mechanic - we play each of these in our lives:

  • When you are the car you are in a state of doing work. Driving from point A->B
  • The car on its own can't know where to go, that's where the driver comes in. The driver sets the direction and ensures we are going to the right destination - doing the right things.
  • The engineer/mechanic improves the entire system, making the planning or execution of tasks more efficient over time

Usually stress comes in when one of these three personas are over-used or neglected (e.g. getting a bunch of tasks done as the car but not working on the right priorities).

The three of us use our productivity systems differently:

  • Robert uses OmniFocus strictly as a near-term commitment tracker and creates custom filters to get priority tasks in front of him quickly
  • Charles uses Todoist as a "brain dump" to remove as much psychic weight from his life as possible - which creates a negative side effect (task hoarding)
  • Igor uses Trello as a visual representation of what is on his plate which helps him be more creative at work

Even though we use different tools, there are some areas/outcomes we feel similarly about:

  • We discuss the absolute importance of getting todo's out of your brain and into a trusted system
  • A trusted system is a place for your tasks/commitments that store your "open loops" and keep things from falling through the cracks
  • Trusted systems should remove the psychic weight of the open loops in your life - which frees you up to work more creatively and focused
  • Your productivity systems will have downsides or negative side effects (like task hoarding) - watch out for these and adapt over time
  • The Eisenhower Matrix is generally helpful - or maybe not, who knows?!

Thanks for joining us today and don't forget to hit the subscribe button or reach out at [email protected]. We'd love to hear your thoughts on productivity systems so feel free to let us know about your systems and how they are helping or causing you frustration.


Charles Knight 0:07

How are y'all doing?

Igor Geyfman 0:08

So good.

Robert Greiner 0:09

So good. Why is that?

Igor Geyfman 0:11

I don't know.

Robert Greiner 0:12

Are you off next week or the week after?

Igor Geyfman 0:14

I'm off starting next Friday,

Robert Greiner 0:16

Next Friday. Okay.

Igor Geyfman 0:17

Which I'm super stoked about.

Robert Greiner 0:19

Is that root beer you're drinking?

Igor Geyfman 0:21

It is. Root beer made with Louisiana cane sugar.

I was like, Okay,

I'm gonna drink. You know, no more than one of these per day.

Robert Greiner 0:30

No more than one per day.

Igor Geyfman 0:31

So good.

Robert Greiner 0:32

They're amazing. Yeah.

Charles Knight 0:33

I've never been in a root beer fan. Guys. Like, I don't know what it is.

Robert Greiner 0:37

Too sweet?

Charles Knight 0:38

I don't know. I don't know.

It's cuz it's gross. Charles.

Is it? Well, but I like roots. I think. I don't know. Ginsing as a root. It's a good stuff.

Igor Geyfman 0:49

I wonder. I don't even know what routes are in here.

Charles Knight 0:52

No, Did y'all like Dr. Pepper? Do you all like, pepper? Yeah, yeah. See, like, I don't like that. Maybe I don't like strongly sweet, bold flavors. Because I enjoyed for a while I was on a diet Dr. Pepper kick, which is like slightly less sweet tasting than regular. Maybe that's my problem.

Igor Geyfman 1:12

Cream soda, Charles?

Charles Knight 1:13

I don't know if I've ever had a cream soda before.

Igor Geyfman 1:16

Big Red.

Robert Greiner 1:17

They're good. Big Red I can do without.

Igor Geyfman 1:19

I don't know if I've done Big Red. Oh, yeah, there's some orange thing that I think I enjoyed; orange soda.

Charles Knight 1:25

I don't remember.


Now it's probably in like a fountain drink dispenser setup. So who knows what that was?

Igor Geyfman 1:31

I love

those fountain machines. Like sometimes they'll have them at Five Guys or something where it's like fully customizable. So you can get like a pineapple flavored diet root beer?

Charles Knight 1:42


Igor Geyfman 1:43


Robert Greiner 1:43

have those things in the future. Yes.

Charles Knight 1:45

I first saw those in movie theaters like AMC. movie theaters, I think was the first place it was. I felt like an idiot though. Because it's like, how do I get the ice out of this thing? Like it was not clear. Yeah. That's the only mechanical thing right? It's like a mechanical lever as opposed to all the other. Yeah, that's what is a movie theater. What is a movie theater?

Igor Geyfman 2:07

Yeah, like they don't, they don't exist anymore.

Charles Knight 2:09

Oh, yeah. Yeah.

Robert Greiner 2:11

I was talking to my brother in law about that this weekend. Actually. I remember growing up, I was really into arcades. And in fact, there were several arcades by me. celebration station, putt putt golf, things like that, where when you got your report card, they would give you tokens relative to your grades. And so we would just make a day of it hit all the all the arcades, that you know had this token, this token like cash in program for your report card and play all day for free basically. And I remember being a little crestfallen when arcades started shutting down. And that's because you got really good video game equipment and entertainment in your house. So why would you leave and then you can start playing online with other people all across the world. Arcades went away. If you look at what's been happening with COVID, you can rent new movies when they come out. We saw Trolls World Tour as a family the first day it came out. You're able to runt in for a couple of days. Watch it at your leisure. Home audio systems are pretty good. I think movie theaters might go the way of arcades. So yeah, we'll see.

Charles Knight 3:16

Productivity systems

Productivity systems.

Robert Greiner 3:19

he year down. Hurling towards:

Charles Knight 3:25


Robert Greiner 3:26

Hurling, moving quickly. Why is it hurdling? No hurdling is like jumping. hurling, that makes you think that you throw something really fast? Oh, yeah. Is

that right?

Igor Geyfman 3:35

It could be curling. Like the winter sport.

Robert Greiner 3:38

No, that's not what we're doing. Well, maybe it is. Who knows? I was gonna use this B roll. But now I don't know if I can.

Igor Geyfman 3:48

I ruined the reveal. Blame.

Blame it on the root beer.

Robert Greiner 3:51

The root beer is making you say weird stuff.


. He gets a match his matches:

Charles Knight 4:26

I can't say that. I've seen it unfortunately. Sorry, Robert. Well, I did look up hurling. Hurling is a sport.

Robert Greiner 4:31

It's a sport. Is it also an adjective?

Charles Knight 4:34

Yeah. Or a verb hurl or throw an object with great force?

Robert Greiner 4:38

Yeah, so we're hurling

Charles Knight 4:39

Hurling is an outdoor team game of ancient Gaelic and Irish origin.

Robert Greiner 4:44

Being hurled towards:

Oh, yeah, the Scotts. They got hurl thing .

I'm part Scottish too, by the way.

Charles Knight 4:50


Robert Greiner 4:51

Scottish, Irish German. That's what they tell me.

Charles Knight 4:53

You do the 23andme thing or or is this just what your

Robert Greiner 4:57

That just what I was told growing up? Have you done that?

Charles Knight 5:02

I have Yeah, I did it when I was an early adopter of that stuff. And it, it is pretty interesting. It did. It did have some things in there that kind of freaked me out from a health standpoint, but I'm fine. I think.

Robert Greiner 5:14

well, that's partially why I don't do it. Because, you know, in my mind, you get data to take an action and on some of this stuff, I'm not sure what you would action on it. And so they call me old fashioned. But, you know, maybe I'll just wait. We'll see. Does that make me a laggard?

Charles Knight 5:30

I think you're just being pragmatic. I think that's what

Robert Greiner 5:34

r what Papa Igor was doing in:

Igor Geyfman 6:10

Stock piling.

Charles Knight 6:11

Oh, man

Robert Greiner 6:12

Drinking root beer. Did you get any Christmas decorations or no.

Igor Geyfman 6:16

No, this is it. I do sometimes. Turn on like a Christmas YouTube channel. And just play that on my television

Robert Greiner 6:24

We'll count it. You know what I think we're gonna count on. You did say you're gonna take it kind of easy, but you

Igor Geyfman 6:29

Staying humble, man. YouTube's free.

Robert Greiner 6:31


that's right.

Igor Geyfman 6:33

I mean, I bought an OLED TV. Specifically just for Christmas. YouTube is free.

Robert Greiner 6:39

Yeah, there you go.

Charles Knight 6:40

That's what that's what you're gonna Black Friday, right? Yeah, that was the

Igor Geyfman 6:44

No, that was the second TV. So I decided that my living room needed not one but two televisions. Charles.

Charles Knight 6:51

Oh, yeah. You're gonna use one as a monitor. That's

Igor Geyfman 6:54


So I'm looking at it right now. Above the podcast.

Robert Greiner 6:57


nice. Is that work out? Well, for you?

Igor Geyfman 6:59

It works out. It works out pretty well. Yeah, it's a it's a 55 inch 4k TV. And it kind of just hangs above my desk. And yeah, I think I prefer it to a second like desk monitor or something like that.

Charles Knight 7:11

That might be a good segue to our topic. Robert, I know you, you got for us, teed up.

Robert Greiner 7:16

while we're hurtling towards:

Charles Knight 7:57

I love it. I'm gonna be honest with you, I kind of have a love hate relationship to this topic.

Igor Geyfman 8:04

Share the hate first, Charles.

Robert Greiner 8:06

Yeah, what's the hate.

Charles Knight 8:08

Alright, we're just gonna dive right in, then I, I think there's an element of self judgment that I bring to productivity systems, that kind of clouds my usage of them, you know, it's like,

Robert Greiner 8:23

So your your tasks start to pile up, and then you have

Charles Knight 8:26

I'm a terrible human being,

right? It's like, I'm a lazy bum, right? Like, oh, you know, I can't stick with the system. What's wrong with me? Right, because I've tried a lot over the years. And yet, I know I need one, you know, a productivity system to do all the things that I want to do in life, not just at work. And there's definite value to it. But it has taken a long time for me to find a system that, I'm there. Like, I don't have a ton of judgment, if any at all about if I fall behind or fall off the bandwagon or, you know, to do list, inbox grows exponentially, or I don't hit Inbox zero. Like I I've let that stuff go. There's always something nagging though around, am I doing it wrong? Like maybe I just need to tweak the system a little more, and then I'll find this like Nirvana space. Robert, sometimes when I hear you talking about yours, it's like, man, should I be striving for that or not? You know, so that that's kind of the the love hate? I need a system. I have one. And yet sometimes it's, it's kind of hurt me a little bit at the same time. Does that make sense at all?

Igor Geyfman 9:33

It does. My perception of Robert, is that for him? The journey of dialing in brings as much joy as the outcomes and that's why he's continuously like working on it. Is that true, Robert? That's my

Robert Greiner 9:46

That's not true at all. No.

Igor Geyfman 9:50

You just make it seem so fun. That's why.

Robert Greiner 9:52

I'm constantly frustrated at my productivity system. I went through a little bit of a similar period as you Charles like you start to see these things. tasks that you've hoarded, just pile up. And, and that's kind of a frustrating thing. I think I'm wired those I just sort of declare task bankruptcy and I'm fine just deleting a bunch of stuff and just get in trouble for it later or maybe not. The thing is, and I'm like tied into the Mac ecosystem. Igor, we talked about Apple all the time, specifically because of the productivity tool that I use called OmniFocus, which, in my opinion, I can't live without, like, professionally, personally, sure. But the tool that the methodology, the functionality within OmniFocus itself, I think really kind of resonates with how I think about task management and getting things done. And also how to deal with the tasks that we delegate and you know, have to keep track of we're accountable for getting done, but maybe we're not responsible for actually doing the work. And so all of that kind of fits in really well into this lightweight, extensible system that you can adapt to your needs.

Charles Knight:

Robert, could we take a step back? What's your definition of a personal productivity system? Like? What's the scope of what we're talking about here? I have like a mental model in my head, which I'm happy to share. But do you have either formal or personal definition that that you like to run with?

Robert Greiner:

I would kind of merge maybe two ideas. One is Atul Gawande, who wrote the Checklist Manifesto, great book, he talks about surgery, he talks about flying airplanes, those two tasks, those two operations have gotten sufficiently complex that a human cannot keep all of the things required to fly a plane or operate on a leg, for instance, in their head. So you need really dumb simple checklists that like, are you operating on the right leg? Do you have the same number of towels at the end of the surgery as you had when you started, and those kind of things free up the mind of the operator of the pilot of the surgeon, whatever, to be creative and to express themselves because the the minutia is already taken care of. And so for me, it's it's kind of that mess, that idea paired with what David Allen from Getting Things Done, fame will talk about the trusted system. So what is a system, it can be a tool, a series of tools, physical, digital, whatever, where stuff goes in, gets processed. And ultimately, when a task when something enters your system, it doesn't leave it until you mean for it to leave, therefore, nothing falls through the cracks, you may be late on something, but you review regularly. And you kind of have a good understanding of where all of your commitments in the next sort of three to six months lie. And so for me, those two things are kind of how I think about my productivity system.

Did that answer your question?

Charles Knight:

It did, yeah, half listening, half pondering my own definition. For me, personal product, I think the productivity part throws me off a little bit. Because I think of when I think of, you know, personal productivity systems, I get, I get stuck in this, like, hey, I've got this to do list and I got a, I got a nail the to do list and get it done sort of thing. And at least in my history, there's sometimes been tasks that I've been focused on completing that really just kind of meaningless. You know,

Robert Greiner:

I think I have an answer for you there, though, from a thing was either YouTube video or, or some forum. There's an analogy for productivity, where there's a driver, a car, and an engineer, or mechanic, three roles, you are those three things. So most of the time, you are the car, you're going to a destination, you're clicking off the miles, the car's job is to move through time and space. In this analogy, that's you actually doing work, getting that deck done, writing that code, processing your email. Next is the driver, the driver sets the direction you plug in the GPS, are you going to the right location, the car can't decide that. So part of your time is really figuring out where you want to go, how fast you want to get there, do you need to stop somewhere in in the middle? Those kind of things. I think that's two make sense. And then the engineer mechanic is really making the whole system more efficient, eking out better gas mileage, so you don't have to churn as much on a road trip, right? Making sure that you're installing a GPS or some kind of adaptive cruise control, you know, in this analogy to where you can actually get stuff done faster. So for me, that looks a lot like getting the priority stuff in front of my eyes first, so I don't go and get bogged down by all of the things I have to do when there's two or three things that that really matter. Does that make sense? Does that help at all?

Charles Knight:

Yeah, it does. And to me, I think it's very clear. What I was trying to articulate before is the I think in that analogy where, where I have struggled is the driver component. Like always knowing what is the right thing to work on? And I think I've always been pretty good about getting stuff done. You know, it's like I can, I can get stuff done.

Robert Greiner:

Doing the things knocking the things off the task list at speed. You just don't know if you're doing the right thing.

Charles Knight:

Yeah, where we are in our career, the types of responsibilities that we have, they're so diverse. And even in stage of life, too. There's a lot of different priorities. And so to me, my struggle is always like, hey, Am I clear on how I'm prioritizing between these very, very different things? You know, and time horizons to? It's like, a lot of the stuff that we work on is stuff that's relevant right now. And yet, there is always really important stuff that we could do, that's relevant six months from now or a year from now or 10 years from now struggles there, I think fit within the driver category. Within this analogy, would you agree, or, or no?

Robert Greiner:

Yeah, maybe they certainly. And there's overlap here. But I think there's an engineer mechanic thing too, because things got a lot clearer for me when I made the explicit decision, that OmniFocus only represents my immediate commitments. So it's not a document store. You can use Evernote, or Notion or Roam research or whatever Notepad for that, right? Whatever you want to use, your task system should probably not store documents, it should reflect your near term commitments, mid term commitments, long term commitments, those should live somewhere else as well. So personally, I use Trello for that. I have some cards, I have some boards, it's really fluid, I can attach things I can just it's like a brain dump kind of space. But if there's a thread that really is, is a commitment that I won't touch for, you know, three months from now, unless there's like a renew your vehicle registration, or something like that, that I know comes up like an individual task, that may sit there just idle, invisible with a defer date. But as far as commitments go, I think that's maybe a better way to, to think about it. And it helps declutter keeps you from really hoarding tasks, because if you get overwhelmed, then you're not going to do anything.

Charles Knight:

Got it. Yeah, I see that. Yeah, I guess, for me, as I think about this for the rest of the conversation, like I think of components of my system, like I use Gmail and outlook for emails. And a bunch of there's a bunch of collaboration tools. But really, it's like calendar, to do list, note taking in storage system, like those tools come to mind. When I think about this, is there anything I'm missing?

Robert Greiner:

No, not really. And you know, whatever system works for you as well. If you store everything in one system, if you have used a little checklist thing and Evernote, that's fine. The point is that it's a trusted system. And that will help you make good decisions about what you're working on. Igor, you've been uncharacteristically quiet. What about you how you have actually a strong opinion about productivity systems as a more creative person.

Igor Geyfman:

Productivity systems have been a struggle for me and and I remember the the specific moment where I realized that I had to do something about it. So leader in the company asked me to do something. And it was like, hey, you need to make sure to talk to this person and invite them to teach this workshop that they have to travel for. And then a couple of days before the workshop, you know, this person asked me like, you know, hey, is this is this person coming? And when they asked me that, my reaction wasn't like, oh, no, I forgot to invite them and facilitate this whole thing. My reaction was, I don't know what you're talking about, like, the profound level of me not getting that task was so severe. That it like it startled me. Because most of the time, I was just like, oh, boy, I just, you know, mom told me to take the chicken out of the freezer, and I forgot, but this, this was, like profound. And there's no reason for this person to like, make up this task for me. Right. So obviously, we had a conversation. I agreed, and it completely fell off my radar. And so I panicked.

Robert Greiner:

Was that like last month? or?

Igor Geyfman:

Yeah, it was like, it was, you know, but it was it was recent enough. It was probably four years ago, something like that. I probably should have had it squared away, but I tended to just get stuff done as needed. And I never had like, career limiting issues because of it. And this also was not a career limiting issue. But it was it was a big fail, where I was like, hmm, and so I talked to my mentor at the time. And he said, you know, why don't you try David out? I think it's David Allen. David Allen's Getting Things Done. Just read the book, see what you think about it. And over time, I've tried to do you know, to do lists, things like that and paper, probably 20 different apps, whatever just never really clicked or worked. Probably the same sort of task hoarding, you know, whatever it was. So I started reading the book. And then I started sort of implementing the system as I went on chapter to chapter, there's five components to it, I'm looking at it right now, capture, clarify, organize, review, engage, and I kind of implemented each component, and then read about the next one and implemented the next one. And I have to say that it maybe, is one of the best things that I've ever done. And not because it prevents me from forgetting things like I did in that case, which it does. But that's just like, whatever, right? Like something like that, that really has an impact for me, maybe happens once every couple years, right? usually not a big deal at all, what I realized, or what I didn't realize before implementing getting things done is how much anxiety I was carrying around with me all the time, about all the stuff that I thought I need to do.

Robert Greiner:

Tasks are spinning around in your head, and then you forget about them, and then you remember,

Igor Geyfman:


Robert Greiner:

And that's jarring. And our brains were not designed for that kind of information, I

Charles Knight:

know I have to do something, I wrote it down on that piece of paper. And all it's in the back. It's always processing. And when I got everything, when I captured everything, all that anxiety, like went away, which was it was like a, you know, people talk about a weight being lifted off their shoulders, it felt like that. And then I realized that it's not about getting things done. As far as these rote tasks, it freed me up to spend those anxiety cycles on things that are much more enjoyable for me, like being creative, or things that give me energy. And that was a very freeing part of implementing that system. And, Charles, to your question earlier, that system uses the engaged step, to help you prioritize, I guess the last step. But in reality, this the system, my system doesn't have any opinions about what's important. It's just there to keep everything in one place. And for me, I keep everything in Trello, Robert, and the immediate to do that you keep an OmniFocus, that's just a column in Trello. For me, I have a couple of Trello boards set up some of its automated, but everyone's got to figure out what works for them. I don't keep my reference materials in Trello. I use Pocket for that. And like 50% of my productivity system is actually my email calendar. Because what I realized is that the best way for me to track something is to schedule block of time for the completion of that task. And the idea of a weekly review. So towards the end of the week, Thursday evening, boom, it's time to go over all my loose notes and stuff like that. And they captured.

Robert Greiner:

You put your eyes on every task, every commitment, every board and card within the board every week.

Igor Geyfman:

No, no, I, I make sure that I capture everything that's incoming, I clear my inbox twice a week. And for sure, review most things during my weekly review. For some stuff like things that are in my second third time horizons. I don't review them every week, you know, those are in a separate board. And when I'm like, okay, I need to find time to do a bigger project. That's when I go to that. So

that's that's the difference.

Robert Greiner:

Okay, that makes sense. So based on the level of commitment, pretty much dictates how frequently you look at things. But over time, you're kind of frequently look at across some cadence of time looking at let's say,

Igor Geyfman:

Once a month, everything gets looked at.

Robert Greiner:

Yeah. Okay. And when you said clearing out your inbox twice a week was that your email inbox or your task management?

Igor Geyfman:

Today, it's a lot of email inbox. But before COVID when I was moving around, sometimes I would write notes to myself, sometimes it'd be a sticky note, sometimes it'd be a note with like a little checkbox next to it. In my notebook, you know, had a bunch a lot more modalities coming in. And so I would review all those things. And then, you know, does my capture process?

Robert Greiner:

Yeah, the same way. Got it. Okay, cool. And so you use Trello? Igor, I use OmniFocus. Charles, I don't think you said what you use. Do you still use Todoist?

Charles Knight:


do. Yeah. To Do list and I use Roam research for my reference stuff. I gotta say, and I am not good at using my to do list to track current commitments. It's more of a quick way to jot down a note that I need to come back to and process later that may result in a to do or a meeting, or an email or a set. My goal is just like a dumping ground. I need to get your thoughts on this because, you know, part of my hate with productivity systems, because I can't do the weekly review by the way, like that's outlined in the getting things done. system. I cannot honor that commitment to myself. I don't I don't know why I don't know what that says about me

Robert Greiner:

That you're normal and busy.

Charles Knight:

I think I want to say there's something more here that oftentimes like a folk when I focused on productivity systems and being the engineer, you know, trying to improve things, it feels like a red herring. Like, I feel like the time that I get into enginer mode, and I tried to track, you know, and improve my system, it's to get more efficient, when in reality, I need to get more focused and prioritized. And I remember reading and I pulled it up, Warren Buffett, phenomenal mind behind Berkshire Hathaway, he's quoted or at least attributed to saying, hey, you shouldn't have a to do list, you should have a to don't list or not do list. Because there's always more things to do. Like, it's never a question of you're running out of things to do. And in fact, that's the problem. And so really, what you need is to stop trying to do everything. And that has always really resonated with me. And I don't know if I've really reconciled that notion with my productivity system. I don't have a not do list. I don't know, I don't know what to do with that. So have you all heard of that advice before? Run? Like a? And what does that really trying to get at? You know, is that, to me, that is the driver piece? Like, Hey, are you focusing on the right things? And and I don't know, that's so hard for me at times.

Igor Geyfman:

In the GTD system, like that's part of the clarify step is as as you capture everything, right? And then part of your, your next step is to clarify, and you should be very clear, like, yes, this thing came into my field of view, for whatever reason, I'm not gonna do it, right. It's just like, I'm gonna, if it needs to be done, maybe gets done by somebody else, I'm going to delegate it. But I'm just not going to do it, I'm going to defer it. And, and that's okay. You don't have to do everything that's, that comes across your plate. And the biggest change for me was, if it takes less than two minutes, just do it like that, that rule helps me knock out a bunch of stuff that otherwise would pile up and cause me a lot of anxiety.

Robert Greiner:

So Charles, you're definitely talking about you don't have the driver component of your productivity system is not integrated into because you have the car, you have the engineer, sometimes I think you maybe go to the engineer when you should be going to the driver. Right? So that probably needs to happen. One thing I'll say, too, though, is, you know, we don't have an answer for really anybody but ourselves. Like you mentioned, Warren Buffett, I think his calendar is mostly open throughout the day. And he lets things kind of come. Bill Gates, another phenomenal mind, I think it's down to the 15 minutes, right, his calendar for the day is absolutely blocked, solid. Elan Musk is somewhere in between. So these are, these are things that really matter for you, and how to make you effective based on how you're wired and the things that you're trying to get done and accomplish. And what works for Igor doesn't work for me doesn't work for you. And that's totally fine. So we're not going to do like an OmniFocus. Or todoist tutorial. I will say though, getting into like setting. And maybe maybe you can do this with tags or getting clear on your priorities, which I think you already are outside of your to do list. And then making sure that whatever you are filtering, whatever gets in front of your eyeballs, reflects the priorities that you really care about, that you've determined before you were busy looking at your task list. And those are things that you can run filters and tagging on within your system. I mean, do you think that would help? Or have you tried something like that already?

Charles Knight:

You know, I think I have tried, I and I think I was starting to think about, hey, how is my system evolved? And so I'll try to answer, you know, react to your comment here through that lens. I think I have tried it. And I don't I mean, again, I think I have a discipline problem, like sticking with the system, because a lot of that requires discipline, you know, sitting down every week and doing a weekly review and going through the steps like that's not easy for me. I don't enjoy doing it. Same thing with the tagging and the filtering, like going through and making sure that when I put things in a to do list, I tag it appropriately like no, I don't want to I just that's too much of a barrier. And I just want to get out of my brain and this is where it gets into the Yeah, now I got a lot of self doubts like damn, maybe I should be engineering this thing whereas before this conversation guys, I was perfectly comfortable with my productivity system.

Robert Greiner:

That was this the sneaky part of this was just to make you feel really uncomfortable to doubt yourself so we end right there.

Charles Knight:

Success. Yeah,

Igor Geyfman:

I think maybe there's it's important to ask two meta questions. And so the first meta question is, we talked about productivity systems. Hopefully the productivity systems are there to make you more productive. The first question is, is productivity a virtue? Like, is it is that what you want to strive for is, you know, the utmost productivity? And and I don't know if that's for everybody. I don't know if that's 100%. Yes. So something to think about?

Charles Knight:

I react very negatively to the idea of productivity being a virtue, like, I definitely don't hold it as a virtue.

Robert Greiner:

Yeah, I mean, neither. I'm not mad if someone does, but that's not. I'm not interested in being productive for productive sake. I think there's people that will play chess or bridge, just for the joy of playing and experiencing, like, I'm more about the outcome. So I'm, that's not, that's not my thing. But I'm not too concerned if someone's just interested in how many tasks to get done in a given week or something like that.

Charles Knight:

The second meta question is maybe like, what's your why for the productivity system? So I'm going to go back to the example. If my why was that one incident, or, you know, incidents that like that, that might crop up every once and again, I would have dropped that productivity system like a sack of bricks, in like two weeks. It was the realization during the implementation of the system, that it reduced my anxiety, and gave me more time to be creative. Those are the things that really motivated me and our my why for keeping it up. And so part of it, I think, is also finding what your personal why is for your productivity system, and thinking about whether that's worth investing in.

I think our whys are probably similar, because I don't know if David Allen calls it psychic weight, like every task that's in your head, like it carries with it psychic weight.

Robert Greiner:

Yeah, he covers that.

Charles Knight:

Yeah, that that part really resonated with me. And, and I think this goes back to what he says and Robert, what you said, it's like, Hey, no matter what system you have, it needs to be a trusted one. I remember thinking earlier on when you said that, it's like, how do you know if it's trusted or not? Like what what does that actually mean? And for me, it's this sense of ease and confidence that everything that I want to account for is accounted for somewhere.

Robert Greiner:


Charles Knight:

Yes. Okay. So you all would agree with that. And I think that's good to point out to listeners, right? It's like, Whatever you do, it should bring you a sense of ease, and confidence and comfort. Like you said, Robert, I think earlier, than nothing's falling through the cracks that shouldn't fall through the cracks. And like, there's some things that do like I love the idea of gone, what you call it to do list bankruptcy.

Robert Greiner:

Task bankruptcy.

To do bankruptcy? Yeah, yeah,

Charles Knight:

Task bankruptcy. Yeah. I love that. Right. And so I think that's good for our listeners to pay attention to, it's like, do you feel a sense of ease, right, that you trust, that things are captured appropriately got the right. And if not, well, then that's maybe where the engineer comes into play, you know,

Robert Greiner:

and, and we work with a very high functioning executive or worked with and his methodology was, he had a physical notebook, every morning would open the next page, right? A little square with a task by it. So that was his to do list for the day. And whenever he got done, he got done next day, new page, rewriting so tasks that weren't done, were just or deleted, right? We're just continued to be written every day. And he said, I need to feel that like the tactile feel of writing something down and seeing it to force me to want to do it. So that was his sort of motivation. But there was no digital system. Now, for me, that couldn't be a trusted system, because I can't search it quickly. And also, if I lose my notebook, which I do all the time, and my pens, then it's gone. So I can't, I can't trust the physical medium. Otherwise, maybe it would work. But going back, Charles, to your point, I mean, I'm looking at my inbox right now in OmniFocus. So my email has zero emails in it. But that's just because I forward stuff to OmniFocus. I have 38 items in there. Usually, when I start hitting 35, I get a little nervous. But I know, everything I need to do is taken into account. And in order to get it out of the inbox, I either have to check it off, or I have to put it to a project with a tag. So that's a setting in OmniFocus, I have to tag it to get it out of my inbox. And if I don't want to do it right now, I have to assign something to it. So that helps me but then my sort of immediate commitments. I call it the list. There's 35 actions in there. And 2,3,4,5,6,7,8 of them are tagged. One of them says priority next to it and really big letters, four of them are overdue, two are due tomorrow. There's just a bunch of stuff in there. And that used to really bug me, right? Because look at all the stuff I have to do. But at the end of the day, it's like nothing is falling through the cracks. I've just been working on other things that I'm either in implicitly or explicitly making a priority, right? Like I did other stuff today than the things on this list. And that's it. Like I said, it's either implicit or explicit decision. But then at least I know that things are not falling through the cracks. It's a, it's a decision. And so I'll go through at some point and delete a bunch of things, I've probably already done some. So when I get really busy, like right now, you know, I'll happen to have check some things off. So there's not a ton of discipline on my side, either. But the point is, when it's clean, there's no document storage in here. And ultimately, at some point, I'll triage them. And to your point to so that they don't list there's this someday maybe idea in GTD in OmniFocus, you can set a project is like paused, and you can filter that out, so won't show up. And so all assign things to projects that I say I may do later, and then every now and then I'll just go in, and I'll delete them or make them active or something like that. So I think the point is, you capture everything, but then you find a way to only put, like I said before, in front of you the things that are important, whether it's tags or whatever. And that helps because there's a it's like an iceberg, right? There's a ton, hundreds of tasks that have been piling up way too long. That I'll probably clear out at some point over the the Christmas break, whether I delete them or not, I don't know yet. But at the end of the day, at least, I know that the things that are priority for me, I'm doing and I'm just sort of choosing to get in trouble for the stuff that I'm not doing.

Charles Knight:

There's a couple of things I want to because I think we're we're hitting on something here. And I'm still thinking about like the evolution of my system over time. Because when I started really focusing on it, I was probably just an individual contributor, and I was being asked to do something, the priorities were pretty clear, I was working on one project, I was writing code, it wasn't really necessary. Like I could hold a lot of that stuff in my head and get it done in a day or less, and not have to struggle to remember what to do the next day. And so I guess maybe the purpose of my system, there was to just, I think I was just trying to eke out more efficiency.

Robert Greiner:

And then to what end, right?

Yeah, to what ends and you know, I probably didn't stick with it, because like to your point, or the why wasn't compelling enough. But then, alright, become a manager ready to have multiple responsibilities, both internal to our company, external to our client, project specific, personal things started to creep in there. And the necessity there was, I needed to keep track of all of the different things that I had to do. And the timescales of tasks were a little bit different. Now, though, that there's not even that now it's more of a, I think my system gives me clarity, of personal purpose. There's like a sense of freedom that comes with my system now, where it's just a lot of it has to do with I think the evolving nature of our responsibilities. But in the end, because that evolves, from individual contributor to manager to some sort of leader and then beyond, I think our productivity system has to evolve. Like it needs to be adaptable, it needs to be revisited that engineer mechanic is so important. And there's, I remember just vaguely like what it felt like when I felt overloaded with things to do. And in reality wasn't all that much work.

You were just juggling it in your head.

Charles Knight:

I was juggling it. Yeah. Now, I've got way more stuff to do, than I've ever had before. And I feel free. Like I feel free not because the psychic weight is lifted, but because I feel a sense of control maybe over what I focus on, and why I'm focusing on something. And and because of that, though, I don't know if I would say that I need the productivity system.

Robert Greiner:

Well, there's

a little bit of a dichotomy for you. Because you do say your system gives you freedom and, and those kind of things and there's a psychological weight lifted. We all are in violent agreement about that. But then you also said you sort of hate it.

Charles Knight:

Yeah, you're being kind. I think I'm contradicting myself, and I realized that but I

Robert Greiner:

Well, I think that's important, though, because your productivity system solved one problem for you and created another. And I think that's an important thing to know, which is like you no longer bear the burden of trying to juggle all of your tasks in your head. The unintended consequence and side effect of that is, you're now a task hoarder. And that gives you a different kind of stress. And maybe that's a better stress to deal with. But it's so it's kind of funny to see that the conversation go, which I think that it's not a contradiction. It's it's part of that, that evolution.

Igor Geyfman:

I 100% agree that it's an evolution and not a contradiction.

Charles Knight:

And I think for those people that might be struggling with their system, the fact that there are probably hundreds of best selling books out there about productivity systems means that this is a very complex and personal problem that only you can solve.

Robert Greiner:

Absolutely. Some are very tactical and specific, like, if you are, if you become a manager, and you delegate a task, how do you handle that? Right? How do you know, to follow up with the person that you delegated or assigned a task to. Do you have a project in your task management system that says delegated and then you put like the person and maybe you have a person tag, and it just gets infinitely complex. But you know, what all you're accountable for even if you're not responsible for doing it, there's a lot of problems to solve over time. And I think that's a key point is, pick what works for you now prioritize the lifting the psychological weight, get a trusted system in place, who cares what it is, paper, Trello, Todoist, OmniFocus, Evernote, whatever. And then the idea here, and we talked about this all the time and consulting because we're so tool focused, right? We're gonna roll out OKRs we need an OKR tool. And we need to go buy licenses for everybody. And the idea was like, Well, no, maybe we were just not that good at doing the kind of things that we thought that we should be doing, and holding people accountable for those things and tracking them. And it could be done in Excel, or in email, or whatever, because the activities really weren't getting done to begin with. And so we talked about this idea of less, but better, like use the tools we have, rather have a 50% effective tool, an 80% effective behaviors, versus a 100% effective tool, a purpose built specific tool, that's perfect. But you don't have the behaviors or actions around it because you're throwing something new into the ecosystem. And so I think for this, and this, maybe it can help lift some of that second burden that you talked about Charles, which is your productivity system will never be perfect, ever. But it can first lift that psychological weight. And then as long as you're getting stuff done, you know, think about what's next for you. Try declaring task bankruptcy, but you can backup OmniFocus, you can backup Todoist or Trello, copy your board over, start fresh. And if things are important, they'll find a way to be reminded, right? You'll you'll hear about it again. Some people I know. They don't even put it in their task system until they hear about it for the second or third time. Because they know if people ask keep asking about it, then it's important. If you ask about it, if you bring it up, never bring it up again. And maybe it wasn't that important. So yeah, I think that's a that's a really good point. And Charles, I had never thought about the nuance of that sort of side effect before. So really interesting, man. Thank you.

Charles Knight:

You know, I I'm really glad that we're approaching the end here of our episode, and we haven't yet talked about the Eisenhower matrix gel. You'll know what I'm talking about when I say that, like the

Robert Greiner:

Oh, yeah,

let's cover that as a as a closing framework. I definitely need a framework in every episode.

Charles Knight:

Oh, my gosh, it's Oh, and I've recommended it to people before too. It's just why did I do that? It is never helped me one bit. It never has. So we can certainly talk about it. But that was more of a joke, Robert?

Robert Greiner:

Well, let's cover real quick and maybe maybe why. If you are getting hung up on it, it may not be as helpful to as you think and and I'll echo your statement. So I started working with a manager a year and a half ago or something. And he had the Eisenhower matrix sort of taped onto his laptop. And I said, Oh, cool. Like that's, that's interesting. Like you, you have that sort thing sort of taped on your laptop. And he goes, Yeah, actually, you told me about it a year ago. And ever since this thing taped on my laptop, and I look at it every day. And I was thinking, Oh my gosh, what have I done. But you know what? That guy never dropped a ball ever. He was hyper-productive. And that worked for him. But it doesn't work for everybody. And it might be a little too restrictive. So why don't you give an overview, Charles of what Eisenhower matrix is really quickly and why you think it's terrible.

Charles Knight:

The Eisenhower matrix is simply a two by two matrix that has urgency on one dimension. So it's either urgent or not urgent. And then on the other axis, it's important or not important, human nature makes us focus on typically urgent and less on the not urgent, important stuff, right? It's like the bulk of our work and time and energy is spent focusing on those things that are just very, very urgent. And oftentimes, those things aren't truly important. And this was at least framed to me as like a Hey, use this to help prioritize and, you know, schedule your tasks. And the reason why I didn't like it is because like, Oh yeah, this is intuitivly makes sense, of course, I should carve off time to focus on important things that are not urgent. And I should focus less on the non important stuff like I should just not do it, or I should delegate it like that. Yeah, like that sounds like really good advice. In practice, at the stage of my career that I was in, it is not, that's not feasible, like, it just doesn't, it doesn't work. And maybe that's the nature of our industry. Like we're in a consulting industry, where I don't get to say, no, I'm not gonna do that, you know, I'm gonna delegate that or I'm gonna, yeah, you want it this week? I'm gonna give it to you next month, right? Like, that just doesn't fly in our careers. That's your privilege now. Yeah, but but I agree, right? Like, I think I think you'd mentioned hey, it's kind of restrictive. I wonder if that's it, I wonder if it's the nature of the tasks that you're doing that don't fit with this matrix. Whereas now with the flexibility to focus on a lot of the things that I want to focus on, maybe it would be helpful, I'm not opposed to maybe pulling it back into my system and seeing how it plays out. But I just for the life of me, I could never get out of that urgent area of the matrix. Everything was urgent, like everything. And it was oppressive. So it just wasn't useful for me. And that's why I hated it. Now, I'm exaggerating a little bit. But yeah, it just wasn't useful for me at all. It really wasn't.

Robert Greiner:

But going back to your driver analogy, urgent and important, are two intermingled to blended for you to be useful. But the sort of not urgent, not important thoughts and discussion around maybe getting stuff out of your task list, deleting it, deferring it for later, delegating to someone else to do like, would that be a helpful exercise? If you just took the two halves like it's either important or not? And then their urgency kind of takes care of itself?

Charles Knight:


I don't know. I don't know. I think I'd have to test it out. And try it.

Robert Greiner:

Sounds like a great use of your time over Christmas.

Charles Knight:


Maybe? Maybe it's not important? I don't know.

Robert Greiner:

Yeah, it's not it's not urgent or important. So you'll never get to it. And there you've, you've used the matrix. So there you go.

Charles Knight:

Like that. Yeah, there's something here. And I'm connecting back to what you said, Robert, earlier, you use OmniFocus for commitments? Okay, maybe there's something there for me, where I'm not really thinking about dividing all of my work in life in that way. Like, what requires commitments and demands versus pursuing this stuff on my own. And maybe there's a personal commitment that I need to bring here, but I don't know. I mean, I've given me lots of think about. Thanks. Thanks for helping me with remedial productivity systems.

Robert Greiner:

If you've made it this long in the episode thank you for listening. The point here is, you got to find something that works for you, the end of the year is coming up. It's never we don't ever recommend waiting for January 1 to start something right, the best time to start, something you want to get better at is right now. And this is a good excuse to a lot of people are thinking about this topic, going into the new year. And maybe give yourself a little bit of credit. If your system has reduced the psychological weight off of you, that's a huge win, you're 80% of the way there. It's not about the tool. It's not about the tags or filters. It's about removing that psychological weight, and then trying to apply some kind of priority. Even if it's manual, you touch every task, you delete it, defer it out for a while, whatever works for you is fine. Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, two totally different people. They're exceptional. They're billionaires, like they do different things, you can do different things too at the end of the day, get that psychological weight off your shoulders, and hopefully that'll help with the tying it back into our well being discussion going into 2021. Hopefully, this helps you. Guys, any closing thoughts? Before we wrap for the day? Thanks for indulging me today.

Igor Geyfman:

I just think it's it's really interesting that we're all still like working on it, none of us feel like we have it totally dialed in. And it's a multi year process. And so maybe part of it is just giving yourself grace about your productivity system, and scaling it, scaling your effort to it in a way that makes sense to your life. And know that there are plenty of people out there who are successful, who still struggle with it and have implemented or not implemented their own productivity system to a certain degree.

Robert Greiner:

Great point. Maybe

we should have covered this earlier. But everybody I know struggles with this. This is a human condition struggle. And it is a it's a lifelong career long journey. You're never going to get there. But it is like health and fitness and other things like you just got to keep a little bit every day makes a huge difference over time.

Charles Knight:

I guess I'll leave with like what you said Igor earlier about, like cool, what is the why behind the system? And I think The Why shouldn't be because my boss told me to like that that could be the

Igor Geyfman:

That the worst possible line.

Charles Knight:

Yeah, it did. Or because Igor, Robert and Charles told me to like, that's a terrible reason to don't listen to us.

Igor Geyfman:

That's the second most terrible one.

Charles Knight:

Yeah, I think in just reality, it's like, that's a great starting point. But there's got to be more to it. I think that psychic weight with that psychic weight, that is gone and relieved. You have clarity to think about what's important, not only in work, but also in life. And your productivity system should encompass everything, like your whole life, including work, not just work. And yeah, I think I'll leave it at that.

Robert Greiner:

Great. Well, great talk, guys. Hope this was helpful. Definitely gave Charles some stuff to think about. Hope y'all have a great week. And I think we have one more recording next week. And then we're done for the year. Yeah?

Igor Geyfman:

Yeah. That's awesome.

Charles Knight:

Sounds good.

Robert Greiner:

Excellent. 2020 in the books. Well, great to see you guys. And we'll talk later.

Igor Geyfman:

See ya

Robert Greiner:

Have a good one

Charles Knight:

Alright. See ya guys.

Robert Greiner:

Bye. That's it for today. Thanks for joining. And don't forget to follow us on Twitter @wannagrabcoffee or drop us a line at [email protected]

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Wanna Grab Coffee?
Join us for weekly discussions about careers, leadership, and balancing work and life.
A podcast about all of the topics we discuss during our mid-day coffee breaks. We bring you stories, thoughts, and ideas around life as a professional, leadership concepts, and work/life balance. We view career and leadership development as a practice that spans decades and we are excited to go on this journey with you.