The productivity trap
Here's a common predicament: being lured into the siren's song of the latest and greatest software tools, only to find yourself mastering that new productivity tool rather than focusing on your actual work. Does that ring a bell?
I’ve fallen into this trap many times. Picking up Notion, then putting it down, then trying out Obsidian, then putting that down too. Always returning to default Apple Notes. Why? Because over-engineered tools lead to a desire to over-engineer how they fit into your life. So instead of the tool disappearing so you can focus on the task at hand, your task becomes managing the tool instead.
Instead of falling prey to the dazzle of technology, it can be prudent to start with simplicity. Consider the default software that comes pre-installed on your device — the calendar, the notepad, the reminders. They may appear basic but can serve as effective tools for streamlining work processes if utilised properly. Before getting too far ahead, why not exploit the full potential of these out-of-box tools? Who knows, you might stumble upon features that are often overlooked, only to discover they serve your needs perfectly.
After you've found the limits of these basics and identified what additional functionality you require, then, and only then, should you contemplate narrowing down a more specialised toolkit. It could be a project management tool for group work or a digital notebook for arranging your thoughts; each selected based on your specific needs.
Before immersing in tech trends like the 'second brain' concept, take a pause. This concept centres around offloading and managing thoughts using digital tools, allowing your 'first brain' to focus on creativity and problem-solving. Sounds appealing, doesn't it? However, note that it's just a tool, not a magical solution. It shouldn't become yet another complex system that needs maintenance. It certainly can't substitute clear thinking and strategic actions. Regard it as an extension of your mind, a memory aid, not a rabbit hole where you exhaust more time organising thoughts than actually thinking them.
As Casey Newton notes in his article for Platformer
In short: it is probably a mistake, in the end, to ask software to improve our thinking. Even if you can rescue your attention from the acid bath of the internet; even if you can gather the most interesting data and observations into the app of your choosing; even if you revisit that data from time to time — this will not be enough. It might not even be worth trying.
The practical takeaway here is to remain vigilant about the real mission – accomplishing quality work. Tools are aids to get us there. It's essential to master them, not be ruled by them. Echoing the tenets of 'Essentialism', use them to declutter the non-essential and focus on what genuinely matters: completing valuable work effectively. That's a practical recipe to avoid spending more time managing tools than accomplishing impressive work.