Who doesn’t want to be more productive?
Well, one way to do it is to implement a productivity system. And there are many to choose from!
Let’s take a look at the 10 most popular productivity systems you can try.
Table of Contents
- What Is a Productivity System?
- Productivity Systems That Work
- The Value of Productivity Systems
What Is a Productivity System?
A productivity system is basically any set of strategies, procedures, and philosophies designed to help people be more productive.
It could be a simple set of rules that, if followed, can keep you on task, or a way to organize your to-do items to make them easier to accomplish (or anything in between).
The ultimate goals of “productivity,” under these systems, is a combination of better:
- Prioritization. Part of being more productive is knowing what to focus on. If you have 8 hours to work and 10 hours of tasks, you need to figure out which 2 hours of tasks to drop or delegate. This way, you maximize the value of your working 8 hours.
- Focus. Productivity systems also attempt to improve your focus. If you can cut out distractions and exclusively pay attention to your work, you’ll end up getting more done.
- Efficiency. Tied into these concepts, productivity systems also attempt to boost your overall efficiency. In other words, one of your goals is to increase the speed at which you can complete tasks in a satisfactory way.
Productivity Systems That Work
Without further ado, let’s take a look at some of the best productivity systems you can follow in 2021:
1. The basic to-do list.
It’s an oldie, but a goodie. And don’t roll your eyes unless you’ve actually tried it!
The basic to-do list is a classic for a reason. The idea is simple; break down all your projects, goals, and responsibilities into digestible, easily tallied tasks.
Create lists of these tasks and set priorities for them – A priorities are urgent, B priorities can wait a couple days, and C priorities can rest on the backburner for a while.
This system can be hard to keep consistent, and it’s not ideal for all working styles or all individuals.
However, it’s a great place to start if you’ve never tried a productivity system before.
2. The Pomodoro technique.
The Pomodoro technique has humble origins in the 1980s, devised by Francesco Cirillo. The basic idea is to use a timer to break your workday into short sprints, with breaks in between. For example, you can work for 25 minutes, break for 5 minutes, and repeat. After 3 iterations of this cycle, you can take a long break (of 20 to 30 minutes).
Different studies have shown different time intervals as being “ideal,” and individual preferences vary wildly. So it’ll take some experimenting to figure out which pattern of focused work and break alternation works best for you.
That said, taking frequent breaks and remaining focused during your “concentration” time is great for boosting your performance (and keeping your morale reasonably high).
3. The Eisenhower Matrix.
The Eisenhower Matrix doesn’t have any tips or suggestions for how to work more efficiently. At its core, it’s a simple prioritization system. But if used properly, it can help you achieve much more every day.
The Eisenhower Matrix is sometimes called the “urgent-important” matrix because it categorizes task priority in terms of both urgency and importance. The urgency of a task refers to how soon it must be done, while its importance is how impactful it is for your long-term goals.
A task can be urgent, but not important, and important, but not urgent.
Once you’ve properly segregated your tasks into categories based on urgency and importance, you can focus all your efforts on your urgent and important tasks first – and make more progress each day.
4. The Getting Things Done (GTD) system.
Originally pioneered by David Allen (and the subject of his popular book of the same title), Getting Things Done is a productivity system designed to help you improve your productivity over time.
GTD is essentially a 5-step process:
Step 1 is Capture, wherein you’ll write down everything that’s occupying your mind (including all your tasks and current worries).
Step 2 is Clarify, where you can turn those chaotic thoughts into tasks and action items.
Step 3 is Organize, where you’ll prioritize tasks based on urgency and importance (sound familiar?).
Step 4 is to Reflect, where you can make adjustments as you see fit.
Step 5 is Engage, where you can start accomplishing your tasks one by one.
GTD also encourages practitioners to separate tasks into 6 areas based on time horizon:
- current actions
- current projects
- areas of focus
- 1-2 year goals
- long-term visions
- and overall life goals.
5. The Zen to Done (ZTD) system.
Created by Leo Babauta and inspired by GTD, the Zen to Done (ZTD) system follows some similar principles.
ZTD differentiates itself from GTD because it’s more focused on personal development and habit optimization, rather than individual tasks and projects.
Under ZTD, you’ll follow a similar process at GTD, outlining all your thoughts and eventually reducing them to a handful of “most important tasks” (MITs) that you want to accomplish each day.
Over time, you’ll evaluate and improve your habits, systems, and behaviors, sticking to routines and completing your MITs without distractions.
6. The daily trifecta system.
The daily trifecta productivity system is a way to simplify and organize your overall working goals. The idea is to focus on 3 main things that you want to accomplish each day; you can write these down the night before work, or during the morning.
Improve your team's email response time by 42.5% With EmailAnalytics
- 35-50% of sales go to the first-responding vendor.
- Following up within an hour increases your chances of success by 7x.
- The average professional spends 50% of their workday on email.
If you get all 3 things done during the day, you win! It’s that simple.
Obviously, there are a few weaknesses to this strategy. Not all tasks and goals are equal in weight, and not all of them are easy to quantify, so boiling it down to “3” things can be tough.
However, it’s a great way to narrow your focus and feel good about accomplishing a daily goal.
7. Bullet journaling.
Popular with hipsters a while back, bullet journaling is more than just an art project to show off on Instagram. Developed by Ryder Carroll as a solution to remain focused and productive despite ADHD, you can use bullet journaling to achieve more productivity in almost any area of life.
Bullet journaling typically relies on handwriting (and literal journals) to organize your thoughts.
You’ll create an index, outline your goals, and practice “rapid logging,” which relies on a system of symbols and abbreviations to create concise writing and communication – and you’ll create this system yourself.
There’s a lot of room for flexibility and personal adaptation here. It’s not an ideal solution for everyone, but if you like the idea of handwriting and you find your thoughts scattered more often than not, it could be perfect.
8. The “eat the frog” approach.
Don’t worry. We’re not eating actual frogs in this system. Unless…
Mark Twain once said, “If it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning. And if it’s your job to eat two frogs, it’s best to eat the biggest one first.”
The whole idea of the “eat the frog” productivity system is to organize your tasks and priorities from most difficult to least difficult.
Doing the hardest thing in your day first will ensure you’re at peak focus, productivity, and energy when you do it – and once you’re done, everything will seem easier by default.
It’s super simple, but it works (for some of us, at least).
9. The Kanban board system.
A Kanban board is designed to help you visually organize your tasks. You can create different columns to represent the different stages of a given process, such as “brainstorming,” “preparation,” “execution,” and “follow-up.”
Then, you can create cards to represent different clients, projects, or tasks, and move those cards across each column as you achieve new milestones.
It’s advantageous because it’s visual – and it can be made public, making it useful for staying organized as a team.
However, not all tasks can be easily reduced to card-and-column form, making it a worse fit for abstract tasks and projects.
10. The Seinfeld productivity system.
Yes, that Seinfeld.
According to one report, Jerry Seinfeld helped to promote and popularize a productivity system based on consistency. The idea is straightforward.
To encourage himself to write, Seinfeld would invest in a big wall calendar and put a red X on each day he succeeded in writing. Over time, this produced a profound psychological effect; he built a repeatable habit and dared not “break the chain.”
Each day he contemplated writing, he would be motivated to achieve his goal – if for no other reason than getting to place a red X on the calendar and keep the streak going.
There are many ways you could get creative with this approach. You could reward yourself in a specific way. You could use something other than a calendar to track your progress.
But if you’re invested in doing something consistently, doing it every day and visualizing and/or celebrating it can make it easier to establish that habit.
The Value of Productivity Systems
Why do you need a productivity system? Why can’t you just buckle down and work harder?
Well, to be fair, you probably can work harder. But typing keyboard keys with more force and putting in more hours at the office is only going to get you so far.
Productivity systems provide you with several advantages, including:
- You’re probably already working about as hard as you can. So what can you do to work better, really? Productivity systems give you a sense of direction. They give you new strategies to try, new priorities to follow, and new potential goals to set for yourself.
- Because you’ll be following this system regularly, you’ll also benefit from consistency. Instead of going into the workday with no plan and rapidly shifting priorities, you’ll have something regular to anchor you.
- Team unity. If you’re managing a team, productivity systems are even more valuable. Because you can coordinate the entire team around a single system, you can keep everyone on the same page – and possibly encourage more collaboration as well.
- Success/failure metrics. How do you know if you’re achieving your productivity goals? How can you tell if you’re doing things right? Good productivity systems have metrics for your success and failure that are clear; it should be obvious whether you’re following the system correctly and whether you’re making advancements within that system.
Whether you’re committed to sticking with one productivity system or you want to try several in sequence, one thing’s for sure; it’s tough to know whether your productivity system is working.
Are you doing more than usual? Less than usual? The same?
Unless you have a consistent and objective metric for tracking your progress, you’ll never be able to answer this question definitively…
Which is why we created EmailAnalytics.
Plug into EmailAnalytics – it only takes a minute. When you do, you’ll be able to start tracking all your email activity, including your busiest times and dates, your number of emails sent and received, your average response time, and more.
It’s hands-down the best way to monitor your productivity, your workload, and dozens of other metrics related to your job. Sign up for a free trial today and see it in action for yourself!
Jayson is a long-time columnist for Forbes, Entrepreneur, BusinessInsider, Inc.com, and various other major media publications, where he has authored over 1,000 articles since 2012, covering technology, marketing, and entrepreneurship. He keynoted the 2013 MarketingProfs University, and won the “Entrepreneur Blogger of the Year” award in 2015 from the Oxford Center for Entrepreneurs. In 2010, he founded a marketing agency that appeared on the Inc. 5000 before selling it in January of 2019, and he is now the CEO of EmailAnalytics.