Overthinking, analysis paralysis, brooding, reflecting, deliberating — whatever you call it, it’s the nemesis to productivity. Have you considered using a productivity system such as David Allen’s Getting Things Done (GTD), but you feel overwhelmed and paralyzed before getting started? Do you debate whether the system is right for you? GTD works great for many people and they swear by it, and others believe it’s too complex or limits their creativity.
Productivity systems should be based on personal motivation, needs, and objectives. It’s important to find the system or tool that’s right for you — and sometimes this means starting small or inventing your own system by using a variety of best practices. And if you find you’re spending more time managing your system than getting things done, it’s time to simplify or re-think it.
To help you get started with the basics, we’ve created this quick summary. Keep reading to be up and running without the overhead and expense of a heavy productivity system — no seminars or training sessions — just practical advice.
1. Capture Everything
Productivity gurus, such as David Allen, have coined the term “ubiquitous capture” for the practice of capturing everything. The idea here is to always carry some sort of tool to capture ideas, to-do, messages, diagrams, notes, etc. because we simply can’t remember everything. There’s several tools for capturing these items from a simple notebook, index cards, a journal, a note-taking app, to an all-in-one organization app, such as LifeTopix. This is fundamental to productivity success, and it also helps you remember and act on your spontaneous creative ideas.
We recommend to go even further, and categorize these items. Associate these items to their value — whether it is emotional, strategic, creative, tactical, health-related, etc. This will help you determine their importance within your life.
2. Understand “Importance” vs.“Urgency”
Knowing what’s important, rather than urgent is essential to move the needle forward. For example, imagine you’re in charge of Engineering at a large corporation and there’s a need to develop an innovative, new platform that’s a gamechanger in the industry. You know this project is an essential element to success. If you’re a leader and you ignore this objective and instead jump on small tactical improvements, you’re putting urgency ahead of importance. Or perhaps, you’re a mom raising young children. You may feel that it’s urgent to vacuum your house every day, but the importance of reading books to your children will certainly pay off in the long term.
Scheduling uninterrupted time every day, week, or month to knock out these big projects will help you move the needle to achieve your most important goals and objectives.
3. Break Big Projects into Tasks
Mark Twain wrote, “The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one.” This seems obvious, but many of us fail to break these big projects down into manageable, actionable tasks — and the result is procrastination.
Large projects seem daunting and it’s difficult to get started. For example, imagine you’re planning a pool party and you need to prepare the swimming pool for the event. Perhaps you’re having a hard time getting started. To fully understand the scope of the project, the tasks you can delegate, the length of the project, and the tasks you can let slide, it’s important to break the project into manageable chunks.
After breaking up the project into tasks, it might look something like this:
Project — Prepare Pool for Party
- Treat pool with chemicals
- Backwash pool
- Vacuum pool furniture
- Powerwash pool deck
- Net pool
- Fix volleyball net
- Vacuum pool
- Sweep pool deck
- Lay out towels
- Fix basketball hoop
When you consider everything that needs to be completed for the entire party, this list gives you the information to make smart decisions about outsourcing, delegating, and letting some tasks fall to the wayside.
4. Prioritize Your To-do Lists
A to-do list is a list of tasks to complete within a specific period of time. The most important items should be listed first. Project management professionals recommend applying the 80/20 rule or “Pareto Principle” to many elements of business — including your to-do lists. In the early 1900s, Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto created a mathematical formula that described the unequal distribution of wealth in his country. He observed that approximately twenty percent of the people ruled eighty percent of the country’s wealth. In the 1940s, Dr. Joseph M. Juran, a management consultant, attributed the 80/20 Rule to Pareto, calling it the Pareto Principle.
When applying the Pareto Principle to productivity, it reminds us to stay focused on what matters the most. For example, consider the above example for preparing the swimming pool. Using the Pareto Principle, theoretically, approximately two of those tasks are of high value. If you choose to complete those two tasks, you’ll get a much bigger return than if you’ve completed several of the lower value tasks.
5. Keep Everything in One Place
Whatever tool you choose, make sure you capture everything in one place. It’s important to use one app or platform that’s the hub or single point of access for all of your data. Without this, you’re wasting time locating the information you need. For example, if you’re using five different iPad apps for your productivity system that aren’t integrated or associated, your constantly searching for information and the data is presented out of context. When data isn’t related, it’s difficult to locate trends, such as a relationship between practicing meditation and improved productivity.
6. Schedule Using a Calendar
A calendar is best suited for time-based items, such as appointments and events; and many productivity experts believe that to-do lists should be kept separate from your calendar. Using a combination of both a calendar and a to-do list is ideal because they serve different purposes. Your tool should allow you to create a to-do list separately from your calendar, but present it on your calendar if you choose to do so.
Another tactic for using your calendar efficiently is to block off time for focusing on your tasks or projects. When colleagues schedule meetings, they will see that you’ve blocked off that time. Make the most of it — keep a journal to help identify the productive times of the day and schedule these blocks of time to complete your list of to-dos. These productive times can be based on your children’s nap times, your natural rhythms, the slower times of the day at the office, or other environmental factors.
7. Reduce Distractions
There’s many ways to reduce distractions, but they vary depending on your life. If you’re at home and raising children, managing distractions might be more difficult because the day can be quite unpredictable. Regardless of your situation, journaling to learn the natural rhythm of the day will help you find the best times for working on your projects. During this time, if your situation allows it, turn off the phone ringer, shut down email and social media notifications, and resist from surfing the Internet or watching television. Focus for 90 to 120 minutes, and take a 20 minute break. See our post about Ultradian Rhythms for more information.
If you work from home, make sure you work in a quiet, solitary place. Consider if you’re out of sight, you’re also out of mind and less likely to be interrupted by family members and pets. At the office, shut your door or wear headphones to signal that distractions aren’t acceptable. Let your coworkers know when you’re not available for discussions or socializing.
We hope this helps to get you started with a productivity system in no time. Please comment and let us know your top tips for getting up and running quickly.