This week we’ll talk about evaluating our personal productivity system to make sure it’s still working for us.
We as individuals change over time and so do our productivity needs
Recently we talked about steps to take as we transition into the new school year or new season. One other thing we can do as we’re making that transition into fall (for those of us in the northern hemisphere) is to take a big-picture look at our personal productivity system, evaluating how it’s working for us and making adjustments where it makes sense.
We can, of course, do this at any time of the year, but the transition from the more casual days of summer to the sometimes more structured season when the school year begins seems like a natural time to look at this.
What is a productivity system?
Simply put, it’s everything we use to manage our lives. One definition of it:
“a productivity system is a deliberate mix of productivity methods, guidelines, and processes to help you get things done without chaos, confusion, or procrastination. Productivity systems include the methodologies and time management tools you use to become more efficient.”
I like this definition because it highlights the fact that it’s a big-picture kind of thing: all the methods, processes, tools, and techniques that make up our unique approach to ordering our individual lives.
What is its purpose?
To help you live the life you want to live–while getting the things done that you want and need to do. As one writer puts it,
“the purpose of any productivity system is to help you become more productive, not operate as a fancy strategy that is cool to talk about but yields no results.”
The focus shouldn’t be on creating or maintaining the system, but on the system working for you. Another writer points out that “The right productivity system for you is one that fits well with your work style, responsibilities, habits, and personality. It doesn’t create more work for you and instead helps you do your best work in the most efficient manner.”
The results of a good productivity system include more effective management of your projects, tasks, due dates, goals, and information that’s important to you, allowing you to live your life in the way you want to. A good system is efficient and flexible, adapting as your life and priorities change.
Components of a productivity system
- Project/task manager–keeping track of all the stuff we need and want to do for our work, personal life, family life, etc., and making sure it gets done.
- Calendar–primarily for keeping track of time-based appointments, but can also be used in conjunction with our project/task manager to allocate time to specific tasks or types of tasks.
- Information repository–this is where we keep track of the bits of information we need access to that’s not a task or an appointment. This includes contacts (names, phone numbers, addresses, email, etc.) and reference material relevant to our job, our family commitments, and personal interests.
- Approaches and techniques
- GTD, David Allen’s methodology for managing life, based on the five steps of Capture, Clarify, Organize, Reflect, and Engage.
- The Eisenhower Matrix – a method for organizing tasks based on urgency and importance; helping you decided what to do first, next, and so on.
- Pomodoro technique – a method for organizing your time and focus.
- Time blocking–assigning chunks of time to work on similar or related tasks.
- Themes (Mike Vardy’s approach at The Productivityist)–assigning an overarching theme to each day of the week, e.g., administrative work; learning, family, meetings.
- Creating templates, for example, packing lists for travel
- Email templates for frequently sent emails
- Decluttering/minimalism — simplifying our life so as to minimize the time spent taking care of stuff
- Routines/habits (as we’ve discussed, e.g., on TPW27, 362 and others)
- Efficiency–muscle memory takes over as we do certain things the same way repeatedly.
- Avoid decision fatigue of constantly having to decide what to do next or how to do it.
- Apply to professional life, home life, self-care, etc.
When should we rethink our productivity system? Why might it need a refresh?
- If we’re having trouble keeping up with appointments, tasks, contacts, etc.–missed appointments, time lost to searching for information or tools, too much time managing “stuff”
- Unspecified anxiety or sense that things are out of control
- We’re not using the system consistently (maybe the system is too complicated or not user-friendly, or maybe we’re just bored with the tools and approaches we’re using)
- New options available that are more appealing
Where’s the hangup?
At what step in the system do things break down?
- If it takes too long to get things into the system, you won’t do it. Have the quickest, easiest way to capture, such as one app or one notebook or stack of index cards or Post-It Notes.
- Can you quickly identify what you should be doing next, depending on where you are and how much time you have? Is your system too complex (dozens of tags or different lists) or not robust enough (one big long list on paper; might be overwhelming and hard to focus on any one task or project)?
- Engage and Track
- Can you find what you need quickly and easily (email, task, contact, appointment and associated information)? Can you easily see where you are in your progress toward the completion of a task or project? Are you making the most effective use of your tools and time? Choosing the best times (for you) for creative or challenging work, for admin work, for “mindless” chores? Making good use of resources–delegating where you can, for example?
What might we change?
- Specific tools
- Simplify – You want your system to be as simple as it can be while still doing the job. Choose a single go-to tool for capturing ideas, lists, etc., instead of multiple apps, for example.
- Combine – One app or notebook or planner for all appointments, tasks, etc. One calendar that lets you see work, personal, and family appointments. Shared contacts list with spouse or assistant.
- Analog to digital (or vice versa)
- Digital tools are convenient and usually portable, but they can also invite distraction. You might go to check your phone calendar or to-do list and end up on social media.
- Paper tools are simple but sometimes less flexible–you can’t sort tasks by priority, etc. (if you need that), without completely rewriting the list–and if you leave your paper list at home, you’re out of luck.
- Schedule or routine
- Switch things up – Things you’re doing first thing in the morning get moved to a different time of day. Change the order of the elements of your morning, afternoon, or evening routine.
- Add something new – For example, lots of successful people recommend setting aside an hour a day (or 5 hours a week) for learning. If building relationships is important to you, how about adding time to check in with dear and/or distant friends, or clients?
Habits – evaluate the things you’re doing habitually
As to each one, does it serve you? If not, can you replace it with one that does? For thoughts on how to create and nurture habits that help, check out episodes 318 (Healthy Habits for Productive Living), 338 (Habits that Help Me Stay Productive), 226 (Habits to Consider for this Year), 114 (Mindset Matters: Productive Habits), and others, including 230 (Productive Reading: Atomic Habits, by James Clear).
I’m not a fan of change for change’s sake. Part of any good productivity system is exercising the personal discipline to do the things that need to be done–and any tool or technique can work for you if you actually use it. But it’s also a good idea to periodically assess what we’re doing, evaluate it with a clear eye and honesty, and make some adjustments where they make sense. It’s important to keep in mind that all of these tools, techniques, routines, habits, etc., are not the primary thing. They are a means to an end–and that end is a life that matters, as you define it
What do you think?
What’s working best for you in your own productivity system? Let’s help each other by sharing ideas and inspiration. What’s a tool, technique, routine, or habit that’s helping you create a life that matters to you? Post your suggestions in the comments section below or in The Productive Woman Community Facebook group, or email me.
Resources and Links
- TPW027 – Automating Productivity with Schedules, Routines, and Rituals
- TPW362 – Creating Productive Routines
- TPW318 – Healthy Habits for Productive Living
- TPW338 – Habits that Help Me Stay Productive
- TPW226- Habits to Consider for this Year
- TPW114 – Mindset Matters: Productive Habits
- TPW230 – Productive Reading: Atomic Habits by James Clear
- Rethink Your Productivity – Calendar
- The Productivity System That I Built For Myself After 15 Years
- Rethink Your Definition of Productivity to Squash Uninspired Filler – Copyblogger
- Best 15 Productivity Systems to Try in 2022 | Simplilearn
- The GTD method: 5 steps to manage time and tasks
- 5 Productivity Methods to Create Your Own Productivity System
- Daily Themes Archives – Productivityist
- What is GTD – Getting Things Done®
- Eisenhower Matrix | Prioritization Framework | Definition and Examples
- The Pomodoro Technique Really Works for Productivity | The Muse
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Royse City, Texas