Creating a Productivity System that Works for You and Your Business

February 9, 2017
Business Owners

Most of us don’t wake up in the morning and think “today, I’m going to get nothing done.” At least, not on weekdays. We get ready for the day with high hopes of accomplishing major projects at work, finally going for that run, or finishing that blog article we really need to post. And while #workfails can provide funny quips for our Twitter, it’s not going to get you where you want to go.

Be honest, any of these sound like your day?

No shame, @KimboNotKimmy; we’ve all been there.

So how do we go from Twitter #fails to productive work-filled days? The answer surprisingly isn’t “be more self-controlled”. To get there and get your business there, you’ve got to implement a productivity system.

What is a Productivity System?

A productivity system is multiple procedures or habits that are created to allow a person to reach specific individualized goals. It must include the following:

Lots of people have come up with Productivity Systems that work for them:

Getting Things Done by Allen. His main ideas include having an inbox for everything you can’t deal with in under 2 minutes and splitting everything into smaller projects.

Pomodoro by Cirillo. This system is based around time. You set a timer to 25 minutes and then take a 5 minute break. You do 4 of these in a row, and then take a longer break.

Zen to Done by Babauta. You focus on three main things to finish every day, centered around major projects to finish that week.

Choose a way that sounds like it would work for you and then tweak it as needed.

But you don’t have to choose only one of these systems and use nothing else. Ideally, your Productivity System should be tailored to how you work. Choose a way that sounds like it would work for you and then tweak it as needed. I’d highly recommend you grab the books mentioned above and give them a quick read.

But in case you need a productivity system to start reading about productivity systems, check out my how to below.

Creating a Productivity System that Works for You and Your Business

Starting Your Productivity System

Before we get any further, let’s just emphasize this point again: A Productivity System is never completely finalized.

This post isn’t going to show you how to create a perfect Productivity System for you that you can write in stone. You will need to adjust this in the future, both because this will be your first draft, and also because you’ll realize additional aspects about yourself that require adjustments.

“We don’t work for the system; the system works for us”.
– Ramit Sethi

Let’s get started! Regardless of what Productivity System you’re eyeing, they all have a few things in common:

  1. Always completely focus on whatever task you’re doing. DON’T check your email in the middle. DON’T answer your phone. DON’T try to do two things at once. Multi-tasking is a lie.
  2. Write down what you need to finish. DON’T try to remember everything you need to do. There is no quicker way to mental fatigue than to try to remember your to do list.
  3. Have a place for everything. And this doesn’t mean piles on your desk. Create file folders; go paperless with it organized in folders on your computer; utilize evernote; however you decide to organize, make sure you do organize.

Start with the Basics

Since all Productivity Systems have the above items, you’ll need to figure out where you’re writing your to do list and how you’re organizing. This article can be used for personal as well as business, but I’d recommend starting with business items and then considering the personal after since you might need slightly different systems to work with both.

Writing Down What You Need to Finish. There are a few ideas when it comes to where you’ll be writing your to do list or projects down. Some people like to keep their calendar separate from their to do list because their to dos aren’t required to be completed on a specific day. I, however, take the opposite approach. I add my projects for work in a to do list on my calendar since I have to finish them that day to stay on track. If I don’t, I know I’ll fall behind.

Can you work for 2 hours straight or do you get antsy after 30 minutes? There is no right or wrong answer here; work with your body, not against it.

If the things you need to finish are time sensitive, I’d recommend breaking it down into workable times (hour or two at the most) and putting them in your calendar. How long you schedule at a time will depend on your work flow. Can you work for 2 hours straight or do you get antsy after 30 minutes? There is no right or wrong answer here; work with your body, not against it.

If the things you need to finish aren’t particularly time sensitive, you can create a to do list in a separate document (written or on your computer – your preference). If something needs to be finished before a certain date, it might make sense to organize the list by the date they need to be finished by. If you have a lot of items, you might even want to create separate lists for each due date.

Remember, this will be an ongoing thing. Every time you get a new item to finish, you’ll need to add it to this list in the appropriate area. Having something portable, whether it’s on your phone or in a small notebook, can be priceless. The less you have to remember the better!

Have a Place for Everything. A physical filing system is the historical way of accomplishing this, but with computers you don’t have to stick with actual paper. The downside of physical filing systems is that don’t have the information if you’re away from your filing, but the upside is that it’s all hard copy. For some people, having a hard copy of their documents is vital.

If you do decide to skip the physical filing system, don’t throw out all your files. You’ll need a few to keep those documents you can’t digitize or would create a hassle if you wanted to use the digitalized copy.

My recommendation for a place for everything is to use Evernote.

My recommendation for this, however, is to use Evernote. It’s a system you can access anywhere you have an internet connection, a basic plan is free, and its system of notebooks and tags can provide you with a great organizational system. You can take pictures of documents you don’t need as hard copies, you can share documents with other people, and it’s secure. All of White Fox Creative’s Project notes are in Evernote which we share and keep updated. It’s a fantastic way of organizing that will change your life. Yeah, I really like Evernote.

Now that you’ve decided what you’re going to do on these two items, take a break and set these up now. Don’t worry. I’ll wait.

How to Organize Your Day

Just imagine how great it will feel to be this organized. Photographer: Carl Heyerdahl

Inboxing Items

The next step is figuring out how you’re going to inbox things that you need to get done. I go with the 2 minute rule from Getting Things Done – if it takes less than 2 minutes, I answer the email right then. If it takes longer, I add it to my inbox of things I need to do. If I’m away from my desk, I’ll add a note to my Evernote Inbox folder or simply add it to my To Do calendar in Evernote.

However you decide to split it up, make sure you have a way to inbox items when you’re at your desk and away from your desk. Again, you might need to refine this as you go, but at least have an option you’re trying out.

If you have a lot of hard copy items to deal with, make sure you also create a physical inbox on your desk.

Of course, if you’re only adding things to your inbox and not ever looking at the inbox – physical or digital, it’s not really going to help you. So choose a time you’re going to go through your inbox. You can do it daily if you get a fair amount of information in it, or you can do it weekly if your inbox doesn’t fill up as quickly.

The Actual “Getting Stuff Done” Part

So far it might seem like all we’ve been doing is organizing. If you feel like this, you’d be correct. We’re organizing how we’re doing things so that when we get here we can actually do the stuff. You now have a list of items you need to finish and an inbox covering everything you might need to add to your to dos.

We’re organizing how we’re doing things so that when we get here we can actually do the stuff.

Now when you sit down at your computer to start work, you don’t need to start with your email to remember what you need to do; start with your to do list. If you organized your projects by day, start with your calendar day to do items. Organize them by most important, and start at the top.

Here’s where you can decide if you want to operate by time or by item to do. If you’re working based on time, set a timer (you can even block yourself out of social media) and start at the top of your list. Work till the timer goes off. Take your break, and then start back in.

If you decide to work by To Do item, start at the top and work until that item is done. Then take a break (see below). Don’t forget to check the item off before you break! Checking off items is that feedback loop we mentioned at the top. It tells you that you’re getting stuff done – which means a nice endorphin bump.

I lied. I told you above to choose either time or by project, but I actually don’t choose. Some projects, for example when I’m working on a website, I do by time since I’ve scheduled in all the time needed for the project when the client on on-boarded. However, for items like writing this blog post, I do more of a minimum time limit and then go longer depending on my frame of mind and what else I have on my list that day.

Why This Approach Works

People who start writing things down and scheduling them are often shocked at how much they get done. The reason this works so well is because we often don’t realize why we’re not working. Most of the time the things that stop us from completing tasks are minor and have nothing to do with being lazy. If you’re afraid of forgetting something, it’s hard to focus on what you’re doing. If you’re not sure where to start on a project, it can be difficult to start anywhere. If you feel like you have forever till the deadline, you subconsciously tell yourself it’s not a big deal.

Writing down what you need to do and scheduling it in can alleviate these invisible productivity blocks.

Writing down what you need to do and scheduling it in can alleviate these invisible productivity blocks. Still having a hard time? Ask yourself why you don’t want to start a project. It might turn out to be easier than you thought to fix the problem.

Listen To Yourself

While you’re working with one of the above approaches (or a mashup of the two like me), you want to make sure you’re listening to your body. And I don’t mean this in a weird way; I mean it practically. Are you getting restless? Are you thirsty? Especially when you can’t focus and settle down, your body might be telling you something’s not right. Don’t ignore it. If you provide your body what you need, it will let you focus on what you need to do.

This is especially important as you provide fuel for your body. Don’t eat a thick-crust pizza for lunch and then try to concentrate on difficult tasks. That carb intake is going to make it far more difficult. If you treat your body well, it will return the favor.

Taking Breaks

Taking breaks could be an entire article on its own. But here, I’ll just briefly mention the most important things about taking a break. When you take a break, give everything a break. If you’re working on your computer, don’t just stare at the same screen doing something else. If you’re sitting to work, stand and walk around. If you’re inside, go outside.

Taking a break means giving every part of yourself a break, not just your brain.

Taking a break means giving every part of yourself a break, not just your brain. Give your eyes a break from the screen; give your body a break from its position; give your mind a break from concentration.

Revisit and Refine

No Productivity System will ever be finished. Not only are your projects changing, you personally are changing. As you go into using your new Productivity System, know that you’re going to tweak it as you go. If something doesn’t work for you, or you find that it stopped working, ask questions: what is not working and why. The more honest you are with yourself, the better your system will work.

Do you have tips or tricks you use? Tell us about your Productivity System below!

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