The Three Reasons You’re Floundering

I love Matts post choice. In a series of personal development he shares what he’s learned from someone else.  That’s wicked frickin’ smaaat!

Great insight on floundering and improving our productivity.


I’m a huge David Allen fan, using many of his productivity tenets as the foundation of my personal productivity system. I highly recommend reading Getting Things Done at minimum, and subscribing to his great newsletter.

In a recent newsletter, Allen shared three common reasons why people flounder and, generally, fail to get work done. It was a great write-up, and I wanted to share it here as well. Thank you David for your ongoing, consistently excellent advice to keep us on track and moving forward.

There are three common reasons why most people seem to flounder with their personal workflow. At least part of their systems lack one or more of three essential variables: consistent, current, and contextually available. This was reaffirmed for me in a coaching session I did with a senior executive. Here’s what showed up:

Consistency: She had some phone call reminders on pieces of paper, some in her head, some on sticky notes stuck to the phone. Keeping the same kind of reminders about the same kinds of to-do’s in different media in different places is hugely inefficient and confusing. Information or reminder triggers of a specific type must be kept in the same place, the same way, all the time. Otherwise we have to make the “what do I do with this?” decision with every such particle, and that throws up a quick barrier to engagement. She decided to go with simple file folders labeled “Calls – Work” and “Calls – Personal”, as the best way to manage those, and sanity began to prevail.

Currency: No matter how consistent the system is, if it is not current (i.e. completely up to date with all items in a category) it still can’t be trusted in a way that relieves the psyche of the job of remembering and sorting. You’ll look at a list and some part of you knows it’s not the whole list, so (a) you won’t totally trust your choices and (b) you’ll still try to use your head to keep track. And if your brain still has that job, instead of trusting your lists, you won’t be motivated to keep your external system going (it will be too much work for the value received.) You’ll feel like it’s hard work to keep the list and will resist looking at it anyway because you’ll know it’s only partial and it will remind you that you’re “behind.”

Contextually available: She had been trying to organize action reminders by project or by topic, instead of by where the reminder needs to be seen in order to get it done. Project thinking and planning need to be seen by the title or topic, because that’s when we need to see that information (when we’re meeting or thinking about it). But reminders of the next actions required need to be seen where those actions can occur–phone calls when we’re at a phone; errands to do when we’re about to go out in our car; emails to send when we’re at our computer; etc. Information and action reminders should always be stored in such a way that we are likely to see them when we need to see them, and can use or move on the data. If you store your Next Action reminders by what or who they’re about, every time you’re in a place where you can do work (at a phone, at your desk, in your car, at home) you’d have to look through dozens of folders or files to find reminders of all your options. And when you’re running fast and only have a short window of time, you won’t really check the whole inventory and you’re likely to make choices from latest-and-loudest instead of objective overview.


Matt Heinz brings more than 15 years of marketing, business development and sales experience from a variety of organizations, vertical industries and company sizes. His career has focused on delivering measurable results for his employers and clients in the way of greater sales, revenue growth, product success and customer loyalty. Matt has held various positions at companies such as Microsoft, Weber Shandwick, Boeing, The Seattle Mariners, Market Leader and Verdiem. In 2007, Matt began Heinz Marketing to help clients focus their business on market and customer opportunities, then execute a plan to scale revenue and customer growth. Matt lives in Kirkland, Washington with his wife, Beth, two children and a menagerie of animals (a dog, cat, and six chickens). You can read more from Matt on his blog, Matt on Marketingfollow him on Twitter, or check out his books (listed below) on