No One Can Tell You How To Make a Productivity System

Aswin John
3 min readJan 13, 2021

This article was originally published in the LearnThenApply newsletter.

The Challenge

I have a graveyard of failed productivity systems. The main reason these systems fail is due to a lack of consistency.

It doesn’t matter how intricate the system is if you don’t input tasks.

But I need a system. I realized I have to become competent at project management if I’m going to achieve everything I want to. There’s no other way I can keep track of what I need to do and what I’m counting on others to complete.


Getting Things Done by David Allen

I first heard about this book in my senior year Organizational Management class.

At the time, I thought it was way too complex to implement. But I’ve come back to it over the years and gained respect for the core principles.

The Core Principles of GTD

1. Capture

As soon as an idea or task comes to mind, note it down — whether on your phone or a notepad. Your mind is not meant for storing tasks.

2. Clarify

Turn the task you recorded into the next physical action — a.k.a. make it start with a verb.

For example, “Come up with a budget” becomes “Write down the categories in which I spend money”.

3. Organize

Organize tasks by priority.

If a task requires multiple subtasks, it becomes a project. For example, you might have a task to “Buy a desk”, but there are many actions underneath that.

  • Measure the space in my office
  • Purchase the desk online
  • Assemble the desk

Buying a Desk is the project.

4. Review

Look over your tasks and projects and make sure they’re clarified and organized properly. This could be during a daily and/or weekly review.

(This is the part most people never do.)

5. Engage

Look at your system, identify the next task, and do it.

Btw, I have a copy of David Allen’s book, but I mostly learned the principles through online articles and Tiago Forte’s course.


I’ve applied GTD principles in my productivity systems before. But it never worked because it was too complex and I never came back to review it.

For example, I followed this tutorial by Khe Hy on how to create a dashboard in Notion. But the workflow didn’t make sense to me.

And that’s the point.

You’re never going to be productive using someone else’s system.

The way you think about tasks and do your work is unique.

However, you can use what other people do as a starting point and then customize it.

I spent hours this weekend trying to come up with the perfect system for me. Planning how to make everything automated and linked.

I finally got some clarity when I wrote down my needs and ideal workflow:

With the workflow in mind, I came up with this dashboard:

I’m not going to breakdown how I made this.

It doesn’t matter!

First, write down an ideal workflow. Then you can Google tutorials on how to implement what you’ve envisioned. (Some might call this learning then applying 🐵.)

System Failure on Day 1

I created my system in the evening. The next morning, I realized it wasn’t easy to quickly add work tasks that came up throughout the day.

Then today I realized my “Due Soon” section didn’t include things that were due today (making me almost forget to book a flight 🤦🏾‍♂️).

Your system is never going to be “ready”.

Your “ideal workflow” is constantly changing. You won’t know what you need until you choose something and use it consistently.

Move into your system and make renovations once you’ve lived in it for a while. 🛠



Aswin John

A young professional taking action on the content he reads and documenting it on (+ tweeting bad jokes at