I've been looking back at my progress over the past decade, comparing my "productivity system" back then to what I do today. It has changed from a complex yet highly organized approach to a more straightforward and relaxed approach.
I started needing a productivity system about ten years ago when the amount of work coming at me was much more than I could handle in my head. So I started where I imagine many people would start. GTD.
GTD (Getting Things Done) seemed to be the perfect system. I probably read the book three or four times. I implemented the method using various tools to see which would work best. I constantly tweaked the system to try and get it just right. I purchased all of the apps in hopes that it would make everything click. I was a productivity machine!
But eventually, it all fell apart. I'm not sure exactly what triggered my downfall, but I know that I spent so much time on my systems that my actual work suffered. I had come to realize that I was spending 2-3 hours per day managing my system, playing with apps, and looking for better ways to do things.
At some point, I burnt out altogether. I remember reformatting my laptop and my phone, starting from a clean slate using only the default apps. I did the work as it came up rather than trying to plan everything. Not having a complicated system was a relief.
I still needed to use tools to help me with the essentials.
I tried going analog for a while, but carrying around paper was not working for me. So I used the built-in Calendar and Notes app on my phone to capture everything.
Today, my calendar is the overall map of what needs to get done. If I need to work on a project or big task, it goes on my calendar. I keep simple lists to track the tasks that need to get done for each project. I don't spend time organizing these lists other than adding and deleting tasks and occasionally flag something as a high priority.
I try to have about one hour per week where I do a Weekly Review where I ensure things are not getting messy. I make sure my calendar, lists, files, and notes are up to date.
Rather than trying to make a "Productivity System" work for you, think about what you truly need to be productive. Start from the ground up. Maybe start with a calendar, then some simple lists, and only introduce tools when necessary.
Try getting things done instead of managing what needs to be done. It's a game-changer!