Like I said in a previous post, I’m a productivity and organization freak. I love having everything done in the best, most efficient way possible. Honestly, I think it steps from the fact that I want it all – I want to know, do, and have everything, and that means using the right productivity system for squeezing the juice out of every minute.
And I’ve tried just about every one out there, sometimes even a combination of several. More often than not, this translated to tons of sticky notes, papers, and to-dos haphazardly scattered across my desk. I knew I needed to find a new system to keep my ducks in a row in a way that let making big process easy and natural.
That’s when I came across three life-changing productivity systems that have massively streamlined my life. While they all serve their unique purposes, the trick to each is that they help you identify and focus on achieving only the heavy-hitting tasks in life – freeing up more time and mental energy.
Are you ready to get productive? Let’s start with one of the easiest and simplest systems to date: the Pomodoro technique.
The Pomodoro Technique
It’s 2018. With social media, the constant barrage of news, and million-mile-a-minute mindsets, people these days don’t have time to concentrate on any one thing for long stints. If you find yourself constantly fluttering away from your to-dos to deal with the distraction of email or a phone notification, the Pomodoro technique might just be for you.
Started in the early 90s by developer Francisco Cirillo, the Pomodoro technique has a surprisingly simple but effective premise: work completely distraction free (no bathroom breaks, checking twitter or texts) for 25-30 minutes and then take a completely work-free break for 5-10 minutes. This is completed in a cycle, and after every 4th Pomodoro you should take a longer break of about 15-30 minutes.
This method instantly eliminates one of the biggest but most insidious time-sucks for most people: those seemingly harmless inbox checks or social media browsing sessions that secretly take up most (if not all) of your time and motivation. By working in such a concentrated bursts with scheduled breaks, you both become more effective and keep the motivation high.
What Makes It So Powerful?
The Pomodoro Technique is one of the most beloved productivity systems because it’s so accessible. You don’t need any advanced technology or training to get started, and it’s extremely flexible. And thanks to its simplicity, it’s easy to keep the motivation up to continue with it and adjust it to your needs.
For me, I’m a bit easygoing. I like to adjust my Pomodoros to reflect this, working in 40 minute stints with 20 minute breaks in between, with my longer breaks being an hour in length. I still find that I’m plenty productive this way, without the constant jumping back and forth between breaks and work.
You might find that you can only work effectively with frequent, short breaks, or you might be like me and prefer more work followed by longer breaks. You can totally adjust it as you see fit and still be much more productive than you are right now.
So when should you try to use the Pomodoro Technique?
The Pomodoro Technique is especially useful for those times when you find that you have a long stretch of work ahead of you but have a hard time focusing. Maybe you keep getting pulled away, even if it’s just a few minutes here and there, floating around Instagram or texting back and forth.
Likewise, if you find that you’re the kind of person who needs frequent breaks to avoid burnout, the Pomodoro Technique will give you plenty of R & R in between hustling so you can push longer.
This method is also effective for people who don’t get frequent interruptions at work – those who can work for 30-40 minutes straight without getting yoked into mandatory meetings or other interactions. Frequent stopping and starting of Pomodoros makes them much, much less effective, and is strongly recommended against.
Getting Things Done
Also created in the early 90s, David Allen’s Getting Things Done framework has quickly become one of the go-to productivity methods for many people. One of the method’s biggest benefits is its ability to help you get rid of the mental “clutter” and confusion that leads to overwhelm.
In essence, Getting Things Done asks you to gather a huge list of every to-do in your life – both professionally and personally – and break it down into bite-sized, do-able sub-tasks organized by importance and urgency. While this does seem like a lot of up-front work, the five-step framework keeps you from ripping your hair out in the long run.
As a brief summary, here is how the plan works:
The first step in the Getting Things Done framework is to collect all those to-dos and ideas in one place. If you’re like how I used to be, you had sticky notes, phone reminders, scribbled note pages, and all kinds of plans and to-dos scattered in a million places. That’s not even counting all the free-floating ideas that were clouding up my mind.
In the Collect phase, it’s time to end that nonsense once and for all. Spend some time gathering all the to-dos across your life into one place, from the largest projects all the way down to the tiniest chore. And going forward, any time you have a to-do enter your mind, write it down here immediately. Your stress levels will thank you.
Now that all those chores are out of your head and on paper, you’ll probably start feeling better already. On to the next step: clarifying.
Here, you’ll be taking a hard look at exactly what your to-dos consist of. For example, if you simply wrote down “plan vacation” in step one, then here you’ll figure out just what that means. Maybe that means investigating and booking flights, arranging for your accommodations, planning a realistic budget, and checking for any applicable visas. Really spend time to write out all the little steps to your big goal where you can. By breaking it into little chunks, you’ll see how achievable it is – making that urge to pull your hair out just a little bit less powerful.
Bonus productivity points: if anything can get done in two minutes or less, get it done right now. Now that big to-do list just got a whole lot more bearable!
On to the good stuff! Now that you know exactly what you have to get done, it’s time to put it into an actionable plan. In this step, you’ll arrange your to-dos by category and by urgency. Put due dates on any that you can, and have an action plan for those that you can’t.
Time to look over your simplified, actionable task list. Does it make sense? Is it realistic? Is it easy to see exactly how you’ll go from step to step on those big projects?
Review your task list frequently to add in new ideas, update due dates, and see the big picture frequently. Life is always changing and growing, after all!
Time to put the pedal to the metal! Now that you have an easy-to-follow task list, it’s time to do as the title says and Get Things Done. You’ll become a productivity machine now that your life is completely organized from stem to stern.
Why Is It So Powerful?
Getting Things Done is so powerful because it is so effective. While the initial phases might be a little challenging, once you get it, it can be a quick and easy way to work efficiently on the things that matter. It gives a great bird’s eye view of your life, helping you get rid of the little stressors that eat away at your productivity and motivation (much less peace of mind).
Plus, GTD helps eliminate some of the biggest achievement killers out there: procrastination and lack of clarity. By forcing you to break down those big, fat goals into tiny, do-able mini goals with processes and due dates, you can’t lose steam to confusion or overwhelm.
As such, Getting Things Done is especially effective for people who find themselves overwhelmed either because they’re poking around in the dark or find themselves scattered across a million different to-dos.
The Eisenhower Matrix
As the man who commanded Allied forces in Europe in World War II, established NASA, and served as President of the United States twice, Eisenhower knew a thing or two about having to sort priorities. A true master of productivity, good ol’ Ike came up with his own genius system: the Eisenhower Matrix.
The Eisenhower Matrix works because of it’s common sense approach to tasks: do things in order of urgency and importance.
Simply put, according to this method, all tasks must be put in one of four categories – important and urgent, important and not urgent, unimportant and urgent, and unimportant and not urgent.
And in the wise words of Ike himself, “What is important is seldom urgent, and what is urgent is seldom important.”What is important is seldom urgent, and what is urgent is seldom important. - Dwight D. Eisenhower Click To Tweet
Luckily, I have a handy-dandy (and Pinnable) graphic here that shows you exactly how it’s laid out.
So, as you might imagine, this cuts through a lot of the crap. Those nonsense emails from your coworker about nothing? Urgent but not important. Delegate it for another time, ideally time not spent on the “important” category tasks. Checking Facebook harmlessly in between tasks? Unimportant and not urgent – nix it!
Most of the time, you should shoot to take care of “important, but not urgent” tasks, as these are often the ones that contribute most to a sense of well-being and a well-lived life – exercise, meditating, or working on your side hustle. Take a hard look at where you’re spending your time and see where most activities fit. Can you rearrange your schedule to only focus on the high-impact activities that propel you forward – even if they’re less urgent?
Why Is It So Powerful?
Ever feel at the end of a day like your brain is fried and your body exhausted, only to look over your to-do list and find that you have effectively checked nothing off?
With the Eisenhower Matrix, that doesn’t have to be so. Lacking the time constraints of the other methods, this productivity system still helps you cut down on the life- and time-sucks that tear you away from your end goal – whether that’s losing weight, growing your business, or getting those finances in check. Most importantly, it helps you zone in on those things that are important but easy to pass up in the frenzy of the day-to-day – things like exercise, quality time with a spouse or kids, or practicing your spirituality. All too often, these seem like things that can wait … until we lose them.
If you find yourself losing those big, foundational habits to small, pesky intrusions like the latest email fire to put out or getting glued to your social media notifications, the Eisenhower Matrix might just be for you. Likewise, if you constantly get the feeling that you’re drinking out of a firehose with nothing to show for it, this method will help you stay in line.
In the End…
In truth, these three methods are not mutually exclusive. I often find that I get the best results from a combination of the three methods, and I encourage you to do the same. We all have unique situations and approaches, and the best productivity system is the one you know you’ll use and stick with.
What does your productivity routine look like?
Be sure to let me know in the comments!