Time Management / Productivity Skills

The 25 Most Useful Productivity Methods




1. The basic time-box: For every hour of work, take a 5-10 minute break.


2. The healthy time-box: For every 55 minutes of work at the workstation, stretch your body for 5 minutes.


3. Chetan Surpur's 30-30 work cycle: 30 minutes rest after 30 minutes of work.


4. The Pomodoro Technique: Get a timer and set it for 25 minutes. Start the timer, and start working. Focus on your work for 25 minutes. When the timer goes off, stop working and take a short (5 minutes) break. That's one 'pomodoro.'


Start again, and after every four pomodoros, take a longer (15-30 minutes.

One 30 minute set is called one pomodori) break to recharge.


Some have their own Pomodoro variations - E.g. Setting timer on smartphone to 10 minutes and stop doing that after 10 minutes.


Do the Pomodoro technique well enough every day and soon you will be talking in terms of having 'x number of pomodori' for the day.


A very important thing about Pomodoro and other timer-based techniques is to be realistic about the amount of work you can do every day. In an 8 hours workday, you can do 16 pomodori (30 minutes each) , theoretically. Our bodies, especially our brains take energy to function. No one said these timer-base d systems mean we will work 15 hours/day. The best way is to set quotas for various kinds of tasks for the day - e.g. writing for 6 pomodori, walking/exercise for 2 pomodori, and so on, and alternating between high and low intensity tasks.


5. Getting Things Done (GTD): Created by David Allen. If you follow the book with same name, it all looks very complex. The simplified version is first listing all your 'ideas and tasks' (not just tasks, tasks arise out of ideas). Then, prioritize them, noting down the time required to accomplish them. There will be tasks that you can finish off quickly, and chunk the bigger tasks into smaller tasks and get to them one by one. David Allen also writes about life having six levels of attitude. This is a method to take a big picture look at your life and then come up with a prioritized list of big tasks. 50,000+ feet: Life. The six levels are 40,000 feet (Three- to five-year vision), 30,000 feet (One- to two-year goals), 20,000 feet (Areas of responsibility), 10,000 feet (Current projects), and Runway/Ground level (Current actions)


6. Jerry Seinfeld's Productivity Secret/Don't Break the Chain: Whatever works for you, keep doing doing it everyday, and mark this 'achievement' on a calendar to motivate yourself. Whatever you do, don't break the chain. If you are able to get to bed at 10PM and get up at 6 AM bu yourself, keep doing this. Each more day you do something successfully is one more good day in your belt.


7. The Action Method: After every event (meeting/ brainstorming session etc), list some specific tasks you can perform, called 'action steps.'


8. Kanban Method: A method of creating a to-do list that insists we focus on what we have to do right now, what we have to do next, what we've just completed, all laid out in different columns of a table (on a whiteboard or a notepad), which you can edit anytime. Basically, Kanban is a useful tool to organize and prioritize your day-to-day job responsibilities - tasks are organized and prioritized under columns headed 'Backlog/Todo' - Doing, and - Done.


9. Jay Shirley’s 'Must, Should, Want' method: The daily to-do list has three entries - 1. I must ______________ (a high-priority task that will have an immediate impact), 2. I should ____________ (a task that will contribute to your long-term goals), 3. I want ______________ (something you genuinely want to do)


With this approach, every day you’re working on something that will benefit you in the short-term, as well as lay the groundwork for long-term goals. And the “I want” task helps maintain your sanity by building in a little time for something you’re passionate about.


10. Marc Andreessen’s Anti-ToDo List: It is a way to celebrate your daily successes. Whenever you do something useful during the day, write it down. The idea is to throw away the 'tyranny' of to-do lists and celebrate the rewards of our daily successes. Feeling productive helps (a bit) in being productive.


11. Sam Carpenter’s 'Biological Prime Time': Observing your performance over a week, and noting down times of day when we are most productive, focused or motivated. On chart of all these noted times, the point where we are all three is our 'biological prime time'.


13. The 'Superfocus System': Making a really long list of tasks, putting them in next page/column, start doing as many tasks as possible and not looking at the items in next column until we have gone through the present column of tasks.


A very simple but effective method of processing your work. You write everything you have to do in a long list in a notebook. As you think of more things you add them to the end of the list.


Then you start at the beginning of the list and keep circulating round the first page, working on the tasks until you have worked on as many as you want to. Then you move on to the next page and do the same. This is a never ending list, until all tasks have been done. The 'Superfocus' system says that if you work on a task and don’t finish it, then you re-enter the task on the next page.


14. The Franklin Planner: A personal organizer using which you can plan major tasks for the week/month ahead, project management style, breaking major tasks into smaller tasks, prioritizing them and going through them, finishing them all in the week/month.


15. A 'do-later' list: A list with smaller, not-that-important tasks, and go through them once a week/month.


16. The 80/20 rule (aka Pareto Principle): The big idea is 20% of anything (tasks, customers, etc) lead to 80% of the results (success, sales). No need to go through the to-do list like a maniac. Focus on the 20% of the things that matter.


17. An Unpleasant Task A Day: Give 15 minutes each day to a task you have been avoiding. Just 15 minutes/day.


18. Chris Winfield's 'Dream. Dump. Map. Chunk.' system: Dream It (What do you really want from life?) Dump It (Put it all on paper). Clear your mind so you can truly be productive. Map It (Use a mind map to create a simple system to manage your overall goals, big picture goals as well as small picture goals). Chunk It (Use a timer to break everything down into simple, visual tasks).


19. The MIT method: Define your MITs (Most Important Tasks). Every morning take a few minutes (maybe more - 10) to focus on 3–5 tasks you must get through that day. Most people agree on defining our goals the night before.


20. Kanban modified: Some people create a sheet/spreadsheet etc with columns for a) Inbox (where news tasks are first noted down), b) Today (prioritized lists of tasks for today) , This week (prioritized list of main tasks for the week), Waiting on (list of tasks where you are waiting for others to get back to you - facts, reply, revisions etc), Later (things to do in coming weeks), and Done (Things successfully completed this week so far).


21. The six lists method: A specific and targeted daily to-do list - an outsource list - a long term list - a pros and cons list (for important pending decisions/negotiations) - a project list (tasks and assigned responsibilities) - a talking points list (for upcoming interview, phone call, important email that needs a reply, etc.) (Source: 'Listful Thinking: Using Lists to Be More Productive, Highly Successful, and Less Stressed' by Paula Rizzo)


22. Workstation Popcorn: A variation on the time blocking technique, where you move to another workstation after a 2-2.5 hour chunk of very specific work. Developed by Joel Runyon. Suited for people working from home.


23. 18 Minutes A Day (Peter Bregman): Start each day writing down the three most important tasks (MITs) on your to do list and think about it for 5 minutes. Using an hourly alarm on your phone, remind yourself of these three tasks throughout the day. This method is useful to deal with our habit to procrastinate and let important stuff hanging.


24. Bullet Journal: Writing lists of prioritized daily, weekly, and monthly tasks. But the Bullet Journal is done by hand, which may help to slow your thinking down, focusing on each task in more detail as you write it down.


25. Doing a '4PM Triage': Getting at least an hour before the word day ends to go over your to-do list for the day, and see if any important stuff was left to do. Leave the non-essentials for later (triage) but do the important one today.


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