Productivity systems

This week I’d like to talk about a topic close to my heart, a tool that makes life easier, a way of structuring your chaos. I’d like to talk about productivity systems. It’s something that helps me keep my life organised, and something that I believe anyone could benefit from.

There are many productivity systems out there, and I’m planning to talk about several over the coming months. Today I simply want to give you an overview, and explain what I’m talking about and why.

In fact, I feel I may be about to bore you with details and definitions, so let’s start with the why. Why bother with a system at all? It all sounds awfully complicated!

Most people in the modern world are fairly busy, and have a lot of things they do in a day. You may be working or studying, you may be running a household (on your own or with someone), you may be a caregiver, you may have a hobby. Any activity comes with things you need to remember. Things like appointments, tasks to get done, shopping lists, records of what you’ve accomplished. Trying to keep them all inside your mind is arduous and risky, and, luckily, unnecessary. Having a system in place can be crucial in managing your life and reducing your stress levels. Simply put, a productivity system is a key tool for making your life easier.

And as a side note, you already have a productivity system. It’s whatever system you’re using to manage your life, even if it’s just your memory. Which is fine if that’s working well for you – I’ve met many people who were happy to rely on their memory for every aspect of organisation. But could your system be improved upon?

Definitions

To clarify what I’m talking about, I’m going to be using the following terms:

  • Productivity system: the setup you have in place to organise various aspects of your life. It is comprised of a range of tools and techniques you’re using, and can be very simple or incredibly complex, or anything in between. Some people use one of the ‘formal’ systems, which may come with a book, a website, or an app, and be offered as a product. Others have their own unique system. Many will combine several ‘formal’ systems with their own elements to create a ‘hybrid’ system that works for them. Some people may use multiple systems, for example one for work and another for their personal life. There are no rules to this – the key is to find a setup that works for you.
  • Productivity technique: a method you use within your system. It usually relates to just one aspect of the system, such as a particular method of timekeeping, or of recording your notes.
  • Productivity tool: a particular object or piece of software you use. Pen and paper is a tool, Google Calendar is a tool, and so is a to-do app.

The basics

Over the coming months, I will be sharing with you my experiences with using various systems, describing each one in detail. But speaking in general terms, I think different productivity systems have a lot in common. To me, a good productivity system should include:

  • Capturing: a method of recording information (tasks, events, data etc).
  • Prioritisation: a method for selecting tasks that need your attention before the others.
  • Scheduling: a method of planning when you’re going to do various things.
  • Review: a method for looking back and looking forward.

Examples

Finally, here are some well-known systems, techniques and tools I’ll be talking about over the coming months:

Over to you – are you in need of a system to keep yourself on track? Do you already have a favourite?

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3 thoughts on “Productivity systems

  1. I use Trello as an online tool for a sort-of Kanban todo, simply because it’s very accessible, and moving cards to see your todo-pile shrink is incredibly satisfying.

    Any productivity problems I have are usually caused by anxiety, and most approaches to getting things done really don’t gel well with that for two reasons:
    1) They surface all these undone things, which is overwhelming
    2) in life, some to-dos are simply not strictly necessary, and in most productivity solutions, there is no way for them to just “go away”. They just stick around indefinitely, prompting guilt and avoidance.

    So my special trick is to periodically rewrite my todos from memory, forgetting and/or “forgetting” the things that I just won’t do. I avoid scoring myself on how quickly I get things done like the plague; there are already enough real deadlines in life.

    Don’t Break the Chain is a recent discovery of mine, and it works incredibly well for building new habits so long as you let the absolute minimum count (e.g. “read every day” is a pass if you just open a book and read a single sentence) – but it’s not necessarily doing anything for my productivity.

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    1. I’ll be discussing some of the tools you mentioned in future posts, as well as potential solutions for the issues you’ve raised. One simple technique for discarding excess goals is the Eisenhower box.

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