CTO Compass

Beyond Apps: Why a Trusted System Is the Key to Getting Things Done

In today's modern world, having a Trusted System is a necessity for anyone looking to manage their work and life effectively.

But what exactly is a Trusted System, and why does it deserve your attention? At its core, a Trusted System – a term defined by David Allen of “Getting Things Done (GTD)” fame – refers to a set of tools and processes that you can rely on to organise, track and manage your responsibilities. Typically, it’s at least a combination of a TODO list, a calendar, plus notes and reference materials and the processes that tie them into a coherent whole.

The goal, says Allen, is to have a “‘mind like water’. A mental and emotional state in which your head is clear, able to create and respond freely, unencumbered with distractions and split focus”. If you don’t trust your system, then your commitment wavers, leaving tasks and promises undone and your mental space cluttered with what-ifs.

The problem is, especially with today’s relentless focus on productivity and marketing, many people miss the wood for the trees. They get hung up on the tools when, in fact, it’s the processes which are more important.

Process > Tools

The tools are important, but they matter less than the processes and principles you follow. It’s easy to fall into the trap of searching for the perfect app, thinking it’ll solve your productivity woes. The reality is that there’s no silver bullet. Real efficiency is born from robust processes, the repeatable, dependable actions that you perform no matter what the specific tools are. It’s about the how rather than the what. It’s a fact that an analogue, paper-based system can trump a digital set of disparate tools when the underlying process is solid.

I’ll use the GTD methodology as an example here, but it’s not the only system out there. Building a Second Brain is also another useful system (in fact, I personally have combined the two in creating my own idiosyncratic workflow). There are 5 key concepts you need for your system to work and become trusted.

First, you need a reliable process to capture everything that comes your way so that nothing needs to remain in your head. Then you must clarify, transforming each captured item by making decisions as to whether it’s actionable, reference material, etc. Then they must be organised. No one likes doing work more than once, so having a system for filing and helping you to find what you need when you need it is essential. Next, you need to reflect; daily and weekly processes keep you on track and help you navigate all that comes your way effectively. Finally, engage. Now you take action on the decisions you’ve taken and make progress.

The simplicity of your system is its biggest strength. However, over-simplification can be as detrimental as excessive complexity. The key is crafting a system that’s elaborate enough to handle the complexity of your needs but simple enough that you’ll commit to using it all day, every day. This delicate balancing act is something that each person must manage for themselves.

A Trusted System is more than a collection of tools; it’s the backbone of your effectiveness. Start with the basics, improve it relentlessly, and watch as your workflow transforms from burdened to buoyant.

⚡️ Thinking Time ⚡️

This week’s Thinking Time prompt is simple.

Do you trust your system?

Are you confident it helps you stay in control of your life? If not, identify why.

Examine your system against the five critical elements to find any weaknesses, then devise a plan to address them. Focus on your methodology, not the tools you use. Perhaps you struggle to capture everything that comes your way, or you lack a clear process for deciding what to do with those items before organizing them. If you discover multiple issues, don’t try to solve them all at once unless they’re easy fixes. Start with the most significant problem and schedule future actions to address each one methodically. Integrate each new process until it becomes a habit before addressing the next one.