paul le

What Every Productivity System Has in Common

Sticky notes from Death to Stock

Over the years, I had come across and read about many different productivity systems, from Getting Things Done, the Pomodoro Technique, the Eisenhower Matrix, and SMART goals, to project management methodologies such as Scrum and Kanban.

In those same years, I had also done my fair share of experimenting with these productivity methods — jumping from one productivity method to another, often reverting back to a previous system, before finding a new system to try. It seemed like a regular cycle that would occur at least once every few months.

Eventually, I realized that a big part of why I was doing this was that I was seeking novelty. The excitement of discovering a new productivity method that promised to make me more productive, and the hope that with a new system in place, I would finally get things done. Not to mention, I felt productive as I was moving my tasks and projects from one system to another.

In reality, it was just a form of procrastination.

One important lesson that I had learned in doing all of this, is that there is no single productivity methodology for everyone, and chances are, there is no single productivity system that will be perfectly suitable for more than one person.

As I tried out many different productivity methods over the years, I realized that many of them follow the same core principles. The only real difference between them all is that they use different techniques and frameworks to achieve these core principles. These core principles are the key for getting things done (not to be confused with Getting Things Done!).

Regardless of the productivity methodology, I believe that the most important core principle that every productivity system has in common, is that you must break tasks and projects down into smaller parts.

Similar to how unit testing is about breaking down code into its smallest parts, which all fit together to make a piece of software work, the smallest unit of tasks fit together to make your life function optimally.

The way that I apply this in my own life, is to be mindful of when I create tasks in Todoist (my application of choice for managing my tasks), and to always break down my tasks into smaller tasks where possible. I try to avoid having a single broad task such as “Write Medium blog post”, and instead break down that task into smaller tasks, which completed together will achieve the task of “Write Medium blog post”.

An example of what my tasks in Todoist looks like when I write a blog post

The degree to which a task is broken down into a smaller task will be dependent on the person. You could break down a task into hundreds of smaller tasks, such as “write one sentence”, or “open browser”, but after a certain point, that becomes counterproductive. The best balance will be different for everyone, and can only be found through experimentation. A good rule of thumb that I try to follow is to create individual tasks that can be done in 30–60 minutes.

As I mentioned earlier, there is no single productivity system for everyone, and that applies as well to the core principles — there are no core principles that will work for everyone. For myself and for many, the core principle of breaking tasks down into smaller parts will be one of the most important in achieving clarity and productivity.

Ultimately, regardless of what you believe the core principles of productivity are, or how they should be achieved, I believe that the best approach will always be to come up with your own system through experimentation, until you have your own Frankenstein system that works for you.

August 4th, 2020