I have always been one of those annoying people who have their productivity plan and time management system down to a science. If you gave me 10 different things do do, I would quickly come up with a plan and get it all done within the allotted time. That doesn’t mean I didn’t know how to procrastinate like everyone else. I certainly did (and still do), but I also knew how to plan my time and manage my schedule in such a way that it allowed time for non-productive activities like watching every episode of Skin Wars.
Lately, though, something has changed, or more accurately, things have changed. I’m not sure if it comes down to having too much to do, having less energy than I once did, or perhaps just lacking the overall motivation to get things done, but everything is different. It is a struggle to stay focused and productive, despite following the system that I have used for years. As I find myself becoming increasingly busier – and that’s actually busy and not just busy for the sake of being busy – it has become more difficult to stay on top of everything. I’m having more trouble focusing and feeling increasingly overwhelmed. This, in turn, creates a productivity black hole where nothing is accomplished.
My productivity plan has been on life support for far too long. Alas, we had a good run. It’s time to let that plan go and find something that works better for my current needs.
I hope that you might find this experience useful if you find yourself in the same boat. Whether you are trying to create your own productivity plan or realized that what you’ve been doing is no longer working, I hope reading this brings you one step closer to a better solution.
Popular Methods To Use In Your Productivity Plan
I think the best way to get started is by researching and exploring some of the popular productivity methods that others swear by. My current productivity plan already incorporates some of these methods, so it only makes sense to start from there and begin experimenting to find the best solution. I’m only going to share a brief summary of each. Seriously, some of these have entire books written about them, and I am sure you don’t want to read that much in one sitting. However, I post a few links with additional information so you can read more on the ones that interest you.
Getting Things Done (GTD)
Getting Things Done is a productivity method developed by David Allen and published in his popular 2001 book with the same title. It is centered around the concept of collecting all the tasks, projects, and ideas that you have and converting them into actionable steps. You can start immediately with just a few tools – paper, pencil or pen, and calendar – and a willingness to do the work.
You start by capturing all your ideas, thoughts, and projects in an inbox list. This list is for everything that crosses your mind. If you think about it for longer than half a second, you clear your mind by writing it here. Any important due dates, events, etc. will be recorded in your calendar.
Next, you will clarify your inbox in the order in which it is written. Think about each item and make decisions about what to do with it. Is it something that has actionable steps? Is it even relevant anymore?
Now you are ready to organize each item in your inbox. This requires a few more lists where you will organize and write out project plans and individual actionable steps or tasks:
- Next actions, often broken down into separate lists based on context (i.e. home, errands, work, etc.)
- Waiting for
- Someday / Maybe
Finally, you get to work by completing your actions in your Next Actions list. Then you continue the process by continuing to record everything in your inbox, clarify your inbox, organize the items, and continue reviewing and processing your Projects, Waiting, and Someday lists.
- Official Getting Things Done website
- Getting Things Done book by David Allen
- Quick Start to GTD course on Skillshare
Developed by Francesco Cirillo, the Pomodoro Technique is a time management solution that is less about capturing your to-do list and more about focusing on the actual work. It is super easy to get started because the entire process is very simple.
- Choose a task.
- Set a timer for 25 minutes.
- Work on your task without any distractions. Seriously, this is the most important part. You have to really focus and do nothing else during this time.
- When the timer goes off, record the pomodoro with a checkmark or hashmark, then take a 5-minute break. Walk away. Check your email. Tweet 980 times. Whatever you decide to do is completely up to you.
- Get back to work with another 25-minute pomodoro.
- After every 4-6 pomodoros, take a longer 20-30 minute break. Go eat a snack. Watch a short show. Rest your eyes. Again, it’s up to you.
The Pomodoro Technique is one of my favorite time-management strategies. It is so easy to do and the results are unbelievable! Not to mention the fact that this works for nearly any task that you can break down into smaller segments.
Also, I have heard of people using this technique with different time intervals. Some people prefer to focus for 50 minutes then take a 10-minute break all at one time. The most important point is just to set a timer and get to work.
- Pomodoro Technique Official Website
- The Pomodoro Technique book by Francesco Cirillo
- Boost your creativity and learn to manage your time with the Pomodoro Technique! course on Skillshare
Zen to Done (ZTD)
Zen to Done is a productivity solution that combines some of the aspects of GTD along with a few other popular systems, to create a set of 10 productivity-based habits for you to develop.
- Collect: capture everything, similar to the inbox system of GTD.
- Process: make decisions about what to do for the items in your inbox.
- Plan: schedule time to complete your tasks.
- Do: set aside all distractions and complete your tasks.
- Simple Trusted System: use a simple list-taking system, and stay away from complicated software and tools.
- Organize: put items where they are supposed to be immediately rather then letting them pile up – from the inbox to their respective folders and lists.
- Review: weekly reviews are mandatory, as well as a weekly review of your goals so you can continue to stay on top of planning your next actions and most important projects.
- Simplify: aim to simplify your task list by keeping only the things that are truly important to you.
- Routine: set daily and other time-based routines (ex. morning routine) and stick with them.
- Find Your Passion: find what you love and do it.
Don’t Break the Chain
Jerry Seinfeld coined this productivity technique. Surprising, right?!
In fact, he swears by it as being one of the reasons for success because it has forced him to stay motivated, even when he didn’t feel like it.
This productivity method focuses on building habits and holding yourself accountable. All you have to do is spend time working on a task every day, then mark that day off on a calendar with a big X. Keep doing this every single day, making sure not to break the chain. That’s it.
While it sounds incredibly simple, because it is, this might be the best solution for you if you have a hard time forcing yourself to make time for a particular task every day.
I have also seen variations of this productivity method where the person using it incorporates some sort of reward system for keeping the chain linked for an extended period of time, like 30, 60, or 90 days. That kind of added incentive might be just the ticket for finding time and holding yourself accountable.
- Don’t Break the Chain: Explained -Luxafor
- How Seinfeld’s Productivity Secret Fixed My Procrastination Problem -Adam Dachis, Lifehacker.com
Eat the Frog
Don’t worry, this process is completely harmless to frogs – unless it’s actually your job to eat them. 🤔
Eat the frog is a time management technique made popular by Brian Tracy. It it centered around the idea that you should always do your most unwanted, difficult, or frustrating task first to get it out of the way. That way you spend less time doing busy work and procrastinating and more time focusing to push through, get it done, and move on to something else.
- Eat That Frog! 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time book by Brian Tracy
Rule of 3
The rule of 3 is a simple productivity method that focuses on selecting your top 3 most important or meaningful tasks each day and doing those and nothing else. The idea is that, in doing so, you will spend more time on the things that matter and less time filling your schedule with busy-work or insignificant tasks. If you can only accomplish three things in a day, it’s important to pick the ones that leave you feeling more fulfilled and productive. You are forced to focus on your goals and priorities, which means you ultimately have more time to achieve those outcomes.
Related: You Can Do Anything, Not Everything
- Get More Done With the Rule of 3 – The Art of Manliness
- The Rule of 3: Take Control of Your Day, Take Back Your Life – Agile Lifestyle
The biggest issue with task lists is that there is no accountability for actually marking the tasks off and doing the work once they are on the list. Productivity methods like GTD, ZTD, and Break the Chain aim to solve this by essentially telling you what your next task will be and it’s up to you to actually find time to do it.
Timeboxing, on the other hand, solves this time issue by encouraging you to schedule all of your tasks, events, and other activities in a fixed schedule. In other words, instead of having a to-do list, you have a set schedule with fixed blocks of time to do each task on your list. That means you can’t just skip over a task because you have already allocated the time for it, so that’s what you are going to do.
- How Timeboxing Works and Why It Will Make You More Productive – Marc Zeo-Sanders, Harvard Business Review
- What is Timeboxing? 5 Questions (and Answers) About This Productivity Strategy – toggl
What’s In Your Productivity Plan?
There’s really only one rule to creating the best productivity plan. Do what works for you. My “best solution” probably won’t be the same as yours. We’re different people with completely different needs. You may find that one of these methods is your perfect solution without having to change a thing. Or you may find that none of these methods are going to work for you but you are able to pick out different aspects that you like to create your own Franken-plan. Whatever the case may be, do whatever works best for you, for as long as it works for you, then move on and find something else.
Do you have a productivity plan? I would love to learn more about what you do, so please let me know in the comments! Also, if you enjoy reading content like this, be sure to subscribe below to get alerts in your inbox when I post something new. ❤