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Order vs Chaos

Order vs Chaos

Conventional wisdom says order and planning are the key to achieve great productivity. But I've found the importance of chaos as well. In this post, I will tell you how to embrace both to get better results.


I'm always improving my workflow, and productivity is one of my favorite reading subjects. I also wrote how I approach planning before.

Over the years many techniques have proven to be effective: Timeboxing, Getting Things Done, Flow, etc. I actually enjoy them, so it isn't a drag accommodating my workflow to some rules. I also think work/life balance is tremendously important and has a positive impact on the quality of your results. That's why it's important to follow a schedule.

Jocko Willink emphasizes the importance of order comparing discipline vs motivation: "Motivation is fickle. Motivation comes and goes. Motivation is unreliable and when you’re counting on motivation to get your goals accomplished, you’re likely gonna fall short. So don’t count on motivation, count on discipline. You know what you have to do. Go make yourself do it."

It makes perfect sense, but it isn't until I embraced it that I really understood it. Productivity is a matter of action. It isn't enough just to learn about it, you need to apply it and create your own workflow.


Interestingly enough, my most effective approach is the most recent. I am constantly changing tools, and they are always more effective at their earliest stages. They may accomplish the same end goal, but I'll switch on and off techniques such as Pomodoro Timer and I change my task management app frequently.

An important aspect of setting your own workflow is to know that you can change it. It should empower you, not become your shackles. This is dangerous though, because part of having an effective workflow is force of habit and being able to stick with it.

The way I approach this conundrum is by allowing chaos to live within the order. I allow myself to do experimental work and break my routine because I know it will pay off. But I'm always aware of my goals and deadlines, so I know when it's more appropriate to do it at the risk of wasting time.

It's not the same as scheduling chaos, and l get better results like this. After all what is more effective: 10 hours of disciplined work you don't feel like doing or 5 hours when you are in the zone?

The equilibrium of both

There is value in both sides of the coin. The challenge is how to balance them, and the answer depends on your work and your personality.

Order and discipline are more appropriate to get things done. Chaos and motivation are more appropriate for creative work. And both are necessary to achieve great results.

A sustainable workflow is benefited from having a routine and planning. In order to get work done, you need to focus your efforts in solving the task at hand. So reducing decision fatigue is very important to perform better. David Allen says to keep anything potentially meaningful out of your head and parked in some trusted place. This will free up your mental bandwidth and make you better.

On the flip side, it's important to use moments of inspiration. It's true that creativity can be manufactured. The blank canvas syndrome can be mitigated, and creativity is infinite. But using motivation and creativity when they are stronger works better than scheduling.

If we're 100% disciplined, and our working schedule is 9 to 5, we should stop working at 5 sharp. If we're in the zone at that time, we are cutting it short. Breaking the rules and pushing through the schedule can be beneficial at times. Gut feeling is not a reliable tool for sustainable work, but it shouldn't be omitted either.

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