My Most Effective Productivity Habit

Searching for “Time Management” in Google yields 431,000,000 results. Apparently, I’m not the only one who struggles to accomplish everything she wants to!

However, I resist thinking of the problem as ‘time management”. That term makes it sound as though all would be well if I could just figure out how to make time work the way I want it to. The reality is simpler: it’s about the choices I make – or don’t make. Time continues to move forward at the same rate it has for these many millennia. It’s how I choose to spend my time that affects my results.

So I prefer to think about my productivity. This puts the focus where it belongs – on me and my choices, rather than an impossibility – managing time.

OK, So We’re Talking About Productivity…

Multi-taskingNow that we know what we’re talking about, what are we going to do about it? I’ve tried many, many systems intended to help me achieve the results I want, and I’ll bet you have, too. There are books devoted to it, websites built to help with it, consultants who charge thousands to improve it. There are paper systems, graphic systems, and software systems. There are hand-held, wall-mounted, and computer-based systems. There may be as many systems designed to help us be more productive as there are people trying to be productive!

And I’ve tried quite a few of them. What have the results been? Well, you’re quite clever if you guessed that I wouldn’t be writing about this today if one of them had stuck and gotten me amazing results. There’s nothing wrong with any of the systems, and some work better for certain people and others work better for other people. My experience is that I start using each one feeling very gung ho, but after some number of days or weeks, I stop using the system.

What’s Wrong With Them? Or Is It Me?

Some systems feel too complicated for me to maintain. Others are not ideal for the types of tasks I need to accomplish. But even when one seems perfect, I still stop following it fairly soon after starting. So am I doomed to never getting the things done I want to? Always the optimist, I’m not willing to surrender to that fate.

One system I stick with the most and go back to when I fall off the productivity wagon is, ironically for this techie girl, the lowest tech solution of all. A task list on a piece of paper. Yes, you heard right. After trying every high tech and sophisticated system out there, my secret productivity tool is pen and paper!

To Do ListUsually in the evening (or very early morning!) before I go to bed, I sit down with today’s list, a 5″ by 7″ notepad, and my favorite pen with purple ink. (I am allowed a few harmless quirks, right?) I start with a blank page and brainstorm what I need to do the next day. I include not only work tasks, but personal tasks as well, including even such mundane things as eating lunch and reading the paper.

I’ve done this enough to have a fairly good sense of how much I’m likely to really accomplish in one day, but inevitably every day I have things I don’t get done. So anything not done today that still needs to happen gets added to the list. If there are tasks that I need to do, but not tomorrow and I don’t want to forget them, I’ll add them to a future page in the pad for consideration the next day. If I have a larger project that I’ve broken down, I will have a master list elsewhere – either on my white board or in my computer – that has all the tasks for the project so I can easily remember them. I’ll often review that list of projects and tasks before I sit down to make tomorrow’s list.

Now I have a piece of paper with a list of tasks for tomorrow. My routine until this week has continued by my rewriting this list on a clean page in the order I intend to accomplish the tasks tomorrow. I’ve recently added a little twist to this that I’ll talk about next week. But just doing it the way I’ve described has worked much, much better than any other system I’ve used.

Why Does This Work?

Well, the biggest reason is that I actually use this system. No system can be successful if I don’t use it. This pen and paper method is as simple as it gets and after being on the computer all day, it’s refreshing to sit down with a pen and write on paper. I also really like taking a pen and scribbling across each item as I complete it during the day. That’s right, a check mark next to the task is not enough. I need to obliterate it! 😉 That little sense of satisfaction each time I cross out an item supports my ambition to keep knocking off tasks.

Sometimes I don’t get the process done the night before and do it in the morning, but this doesn’t work as well. First, I’m a night person, not a morning person and I don’t even drink coffee, so my brain cells aren’t hopping all that well first thing in the morning. Second, when I have the list done and ready to go as soon as I get up, it seems to give me more momentum to get productive right from the start.

In my experience, the keys to making this method work are:

  • making sure I have everything on the list I really need to do tomorrow,
  • not adding so many things that I end each day discouraged at not accomplishing most of them,
  • having a master list to put tasks and multi-step projects I’m not going to complete tomorrow,
  • and most important of all, actually doing it every day!!

As simple as this system is, I find I’m vastly more productive on days when I have a list than on days when I don’t.

KeyJust because this system works for me doesn’t mean it’s the best one for you. The best one for you is the one you’ll keep up with that gets you the results you desire. I think it’s likely, however, that whatever method you find successful will be on the simpler side, just because it’s easier to stick with. And it will in some way boost your sense of satisfaction each time you mark a task completed. I think those two attributes are vital to a successful productivity system because they work with our human nature rather than against it.

Have You Got a Solution?

What’s your experience with time management or productivity systems? Have you been more successful than me in finding one that helps you achieve the results you want? Or are you still searching for a process that works for you? I promise to put reading and approving your comments on my task list if you’ll share! 🙂

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