I have been reading, applying, and tailoring my personal productivity systems for more than 10 years. While the specifics of a particular system vary, meaning how you identify and processes your goals, projects and actions, they fall into one of the three categories. By understanding these categories, you can see what particular situation this system is going to help you with.
• Goal: Top down systems are oriented on the goals and mission of your life, from which you derive concrete projects and tasks.
• Initiation: You start by identifying the most important roles in your professional, social and private life. For each role, you write a mission statement that expresses how you want to behave and what you want to achieve. Then you identify the goals for each role.
• Execution: The consciousness picture of your roles, mission and goals guides your daily actions. You identify and execute projects, actions and habits that help you to achieve your vision. It is critically to have monitoring & report processes in place to determine how close you are to achieve your goals.
• Verdict: Top-Down systems usually do not touch the execution level. They are not teaching you how to effectively come up with projects and actions, how to structure your day. They leave you open to distractions, they do not teach you how to be effective in choosing what is most important at the moment.
• Goal: Bottom-Up system order your life. They help you to identify all projects and actions that you are doing or should be doing. They provide a system in which to capture all your intentions, and provide processes how to select and do these things.
• Initiation: Your start by identifying what you are doing at the moment and things that you put off. Typically, a trigger list is used to think about roles, areas of you life and physical objects that you are responsible for. You then group this information into different containers, and use these containers to decide what you want to do.
• Execution: In bottom up systems, you are scanning the containers to come up with a plan on what you want to do. You use the types of containers to constantly update and restructure what is on your mind, and you put the things together in a specific way that is most suited to you.
• Verdict: The system generates a need to finish off tasks that you work on. There is a rush to complete as many items as possible, leading to busy work. It can be discouraging if you use a system that counts the number of to-dos, and you feel that you cannot complete 100 items. The term “project” is overemphasized, anything that needs two or more actions is considered a project. Projects which are harder to complete, or need more effort, tend to be put off because it is easier to finish the small tasks.
• Goal: A two level system combines the priority-driven approach using life goals and missions and provides a structuring system for creating projects and tasks.
• Initiation: You start with a list of all your personal goals. You think about the projects, habits and tasks you need to reach these goals. You link the goals together with the projects, habits and task by forming a well-thought structure.
• Execution: You priorize what you need to do by deciding which goals to work on. From these goals, you select a limited number of projects to work on. You define concrete tasks, and start to work on them.
• Verdict: It can be hard to put all things together. To create a clear picture of the roles and your goals is a difficult process in itself. On the execution level, you need a well-structured system to constantly think in terms of roles, goals and concrete actions that you work on. In busy days, it can be discouraging to not work on the things that are most important to you, but on too much urgent stuff.
I recommend to work with one system for a certain amount of time. Master one, move to the next. Find what fits you most. If you feel that you are being stuck, using one of these approaches might give you the edge you need to success.