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Restricted Growth: The Butterfly in a Kevlar Cocoon

Up until recently, the volume of information that I have had to deal with has been manageable and I haven't felt as though anything was interfering with my growth. However, that’s beginning to change.

As the volume of information I consume increases, the volume of stuff I want to get out -- ideas, things I want to learn, stuff I want to create or share -- seems to increase exponentially. Trying to manage this torrent of stuff, both incoming and outgoing, on a day-to-day basis leaves my head feeling cloudy and disorganized — just thinking about it is overwhelming.

I'm beginning to recognize certain aspects of my life that are growing out of control and some that need obvious improvement.

Here’s what I feel I have an endless supply of:

  • Ideas
  • Content
  • Ambition
  • Interests I’m willing to learn more about

Here’s what I want to do more of:

  • Connect and build relationships with individuals who have similar goals
  • Create & share information and ideas with others
  • Reach the goals that I set for myself
  • Learn and grow

Here’s what I feel I’m missing:

  • Structure and order
  • Clearly defined goals
  • Clearly defined outlets for creating/sharing
  • A system for regularly reviewing ideas/goals/TODOs/etc.
  • A system for efficiently managing everything

As you can see, the stuff I’m missing is clearly causing problems with everything else. For example, reaching a goal is impossible if I haven’t clearly defined what the goal is and what it means to complete it, and the lack of clearly defined outlets causes problems with creating and sharing ideas and information.

It’s becoming more and more apparent to me that not having a system in place for managing everything is greatly restricting my growth. I feel like a butterfly in a Kevlar cocoon, desperately trying to spread my wings and fly. (Isn't that a much better analogy than a boring "plateau"?)

This problem I’m having with organizing my life and being productive certainly isn’t new — there are many systems out there that have solved similar problems for various individuals. There are techniques for mind mapping, for creating an Exocortex, and for growing an idea garden. David Allen’s book "Getting Thing Done" talks about a complete system of inboxes, someday/maybe lists, contexts, and action items.

Being somewhat of an organizational freak I've tried several of these methods out of pure curiosity. I read David Allen’s book and implemented the GTD method to some degree with mixed results (perhaps because I only implemented it “to some degree”). I tried mind mapping but then had problems figuring out how to organize my mind maps.

What I'm discovering as I read more about the systems others are using is that each individual needs to develop their own unique system optimized for themselves. There is no one-size fits all. Everyone has different ways of thinking and learning. The nature of the content we consume and create, the ways in which we communicate, and our situation all vary from one individual to another.

Now that I’m fully aware the lack of a system is restricting my growth, I’m going to make a diligent and deliberate effort to create a system that works for me by testing the techniques and methods that others are successfully using.

What system, if any, do you use? How do you manage your ideas, projects, TODOs, and someday/maybe’s? Does your system inhibit growth or promote it?

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11 Comments

  1. I went through the exact same discovery as you after unsuccessfully trying out several organizational methods designed by others. In the end, I created my own simple spreadsheet system that organizes my thoughts and goals in a manner that allows me to maintain control over the information I consume, solve problems and be as productive as possible. The set-up goes against what most organizational ‘experts’ describe as efficient, but it works for me and that’s all I need. And of course, I’m constantly tweaking it as necessary, as any system has room for improvement.

    • Hey Earl! Thanks for the comment!

      I think allowing yourself to go against “what most organizational ‘experts’ describe as efficient” is key. Too often I find myself dismissing techniques simply because I heard they wouldn’t work. The only way I’m going to find a system that works well for me is to try things myself, find something that seems to work, and then continuously review and tweak the system until it’s as efficient as possible. 🙂

  2. I can absolutely relate to what you’re feeling – I think I’m on the same track, but a little farther back. I definitely have similar goals, but I’m just starting to realize that without a plan, and a system, I’m just spinning my wheels, jumping from one idea to the next.

    I’m anxious to hear what you try, and what works for you.

    • Hey Peter! The spinning wheels example is right on! I feel as though I’m sitting in a 500hp car suspended in the air; tons of power and potential but lacking a way to channel the energy.

      I’ll definitely be writing about the techniques I try. I’d love to hear what works for you as well!

  3. Hey Raam!

    If you failed to use GTD in an effective way, try using Leo Babauta’s Zen to Done. It’s a much simpler take on GTD that I find REALLY effective.

    I’m having the same problems as you in a lot of ways – but you just have to push through them and keep working. Trust that they’ll work themselves out!

    See ya later!

    • Hey Brett! I heard of Zen to Done, but I haven’t tried it yet. I’ll definitely check it out soon!

      I feel like the most important part of implementing any system is regular review of the system to ensure that it’s solving the problems you’re trying to eliminate. I haven’t seen any systems yet that advocate doing that (then again, I haven’t tried many systems yet).

      Thanks for the comment and the motivation!

    • It all depends on how much stuff you need to capture and plan. My goals require me to manage several projects simultaneously while still capturing ideas. I’ve found that the more stuff I get out of my head, the more “good” ideas come to me.

      So, at least for me, it’s not necessarily about how much stuff you can get done, but rather the quality of the stuff you actually do. The more ideas you capture, the bigger the pool from which you can choose the best ideas.

      Thank you for the comment, Jessica! 🙂

        • Hi Milly! Butterfly cocoons can usually be found in the shade. Some types of caterpillars prefer the sun, but most of them like the shade. I hope this answers your question! 🙂