Develop a Bulletproof Personal System

Develop a Bulletproof Personal System

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“The expectations of life depend upon diligence; the mechanic that would perfect his work must first sharpen his tools.”

Have you got a system that works? If you never forget an appointment, never lose a phone number, never forget to do something, never forget an idea, never lie awake at night thinking about something – then your personal system is working. If, like most people, you are not perfect, you probably suffer from what I call ‘open loops’. These are incidents of inefficiency whereby things don’t happen, or you waste time – when your intentions are not brought to a productive conclusion. Things get lost in your system. That is, they drop out of your head – or at least, out of your consciousness. Especially if you have a brain like Homer Simpson (with only room for beer and doughnuts), if you need to keep one thing in mind – something else has to go, to make room. It’s normal – your conscious mind can only bring around 7 pieces of information to mind at any one time – the rest is stored. The trick is bringing it up when it’s required, and delivering on what you intend to do. Small but repetitive areas of personal inefficiency are a tax on your own existence and on those around you. If you want to be really productive and super – efficient, you need to go to war on these open loops. Develop an effective system.

The secret of super-efficient people is not the quality of their brain, but the quality of the personal system they develop. Your brain power or mind alone – however great – is never 100% reliable.

Rely on human systems, and you get human errors. Every error costs time and money, and perhaps worse is the damaging impact of broken promises or lost opportunities. Take your mind out of the game as much as possible. Understand this simple concept, and it will change the way you organise yourself forever.

Look at what has happened in aviation over the decades. Early aviators in their flimsy planes used to  literally fly by the seat of their pants, and many of them died along the way. Because aviation has zero tolerance of failure, planes rarely crash these days. Not only has aircraft design and construction got better, but pilots are trained to eliminate reliance on their minds. Human error is minimised. Instead, they rely on procedures and safety systems to keep them in the air, to make sure that they get it right EVERY single time.

How can we learn from this approach? How can you use it to improve your productivity?

The Getting Things Done method described by productivity consultant David Allen relies on the concept that you need to remove tasks – or the clutter of ‘stuff’ – from your mind by recording them somewhere external, so your mind is freed from having to remember them. Then you can concentrate on getting them done, instead of just remembering them.

The six steps to this are to:

  • identify the stuff that is not in the right place – that is, close all the open loops
  • get rid of what isn’t relevant to you
  • create a ‘right place’ to park the stuff – one that works for you and suits how you best operate
  • put everything in the right place, always, and categorize it: calls, meetings, tasks, shopping
  • do the ‘stuff’ to suit your own time, energy, and the context
  • iterate and review

Make the ‘stuff’ into either actionable tasks, or things you can just eradicate from your lists and mind. Anything you decide to keep must have a clear reason for being there. This way, nothing gets lost, and you always know what there is to be done. Build in regular reviews, perhaps weekly, in which you re-examine your categorized ‘stuff’ to make sure your vertical focus (projects and tasks) works in accordance with your horizontal focus (the time flow scan of all your incoming sources of new things).

In our era, it has never been easier to develop your own bulletproof personal system. Gone is the need for secretaries, filing cabinets, work servers, paper diaries, notepads, address books. They are not perfect, and they do not fit in with the mobile, virtual, and flexible  lifestyle we seem to lead these days. With the advent of the Cloud and the smartphone, it has never been easier to have ever-accessible bulletproof personal systems.

Creating a good personal system is not onerous – two simple steps will do it:

First – keep hold of the important things. You may come up with a fantastic idea – so capture it, before it escapes!  There are so many applications out there that can help you effortlessly capture and keep information, such as Google Apps, Drop Box, Evernote. Park your notes and ideas somewhere you know is safe. Then you are free to come back to it at your leisure, and can stop the mental freewheeling. Capturing and storing things in your personal system stops your mind multitasking, and takes away all the anxiety.

The second step is to bulk process your items, as and when you are ready. Rather than dealing with them as they come in – park them, and come back and deal with them all in one go. You use your time far better!

We can have access to everything we need at any time. Capture what you need in a system that will deliver for you. If you put things somewhere that doesn’t work properly, you could lose tasks, appointments, ideas, emails – a whole multitude of things. Don’t let it happen. Design and redesign your system so it fails less and less. See every failure of your system as an opportunity to improve. Every open loop you close, through having a better personal system, the greater your overall long term performance will be.

Zero tolerance to failure is the only way.

Take your brain out of the equation. Let your personal system take the strain.

Further Reading:

The 4-Hour Work Week by Tim Ferris (Amazon Link UK, US)

Getting Things Done by David Allen (Amazon Link UK, US)

If the above topic, or indeed any of my blogs are of interest to you, then contact me and let’s talk! Drop me an email at

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