Do you struggle with staying productive? Working to your greatest potential is easier said than done. It’s overwhelming when it seems like everyone on the internet has already integrated a self-functioning personal productivity machine into their work lives. It’s even more overwhelming to filter through all the latest online productivity trends and find which one works for you.
In this article, we will explore various productivity methods to help you build your own productivity system. Whether you are naturally structured and organised, or more spontaneous, there will be something in here for you.
I recommend trying some of these methods for yourself! If you don’t like one, try another, until you find what works for you. Personally, I use multiple techniques to achieve a productive workflow. Building a system isn’t easy, but it will set you up to reach your greatest potential.
Read on to find out more!
Time Blocking is essentially a time management method that asks you to divide your day into blocks of time. Each block is devoted to achieving something specific. Time Blocking can be great if you: juggle lots of projects; spend too much time reacting to emails or messages; or if your day is filled with lots of meetings. If you can’t control your schedule, it will control you!
With tasks blocked and prepared in advance, you won’t have to constantly worry about what to focus on. All you need to do is follow the schedule.
Use a calendar – digital or not – to prioritise your tasks. For example, you could be in meetings from 9-12, then have a lunch break from 12-1, complete research tasks from 1-3, then answer emails from 3-4, and review your tasks and plan from 4-5.
According to Todoist’s article, consistent daily and weekly reviews are essential. You need to dedicate time to adding in new tasks and moving over tasks you didn’t complete. It can also help to add in your self-care routines or habits too – like exercise, reading, and chill time – to make sure you don’t neglect your own needs.
I think this technique is pretty self-explanatory. Writing to do lists can be essential to achieve your work goals. Whether you create a daily, weekly, or monthly to-do list, having all your tasks written down helps you focus on achieving your goals.
Productivity YouTuber Matt D’Avella uses TeuxDeux. Other options are Todoist or simply the notes app on your phone. I personally prefer writing my to-do list in my diary. You can write your to-do list in several ways:
- Just do it. Every day, write down everything you need to do in the day. I usually follow this approach.
- Prioritise. Write your tasks into order of priority: tasks that need to be finished today and tasks that aren’t as important.
- Difficulty. Write your tasks in order of difficulty. It can help to differentiate between harder and easier tasks, because you have the choice to go with a task that suits your needs at the time.
This method adds loose structure into your life. It’s not as regimented as Time Blocking, but still encourages you to be more aware of what needs to be done. This is perfect for someone who is naturally spontaneous like me. I prefer to be loosely organised – delegating specific tasks to specific times is personally a little too overwhelming!
The Pomodoro Technique
The Pomodoro Technique is based on the tomato timer – pomodoro means tomato in Italian! The technique asks you to alternate between focused work sessions and frequent short breaks. Try this if you get distracted easily by notifications, you have short bursts of attention, or you do a lot of open-ended work like research or revision.
All you need is a to-do list, and a timer. When organising your to-do list, it helps to split big tasks into smaller chunks, and group small tasks, like checking emails, together.
- Choose a task and set your timer for 25 minutes. Only work on this task during the pomodoro, no distractions allowed!
- When the timer is up, tick the task off your to-do list, and have a 5-minute break to do something completely different – this is when I personally check my notifications, or make a tea.
- After 4 rounds, take a longer 15–30-minute break. And repeat as many times as you need.
This method adds loose structure into your life. It’s not as regimented as Time BThis technique can promote sustained concentration and stave off mental fatigue. I have a very short attention span and swear by this method. I use Be Focused, as it helps having the pomodoro timer on my desktop when I’m working.
Getting Things Done (GTD)
Getting Things Done, or GTD, is a productivity method created by David Allen. He explains that the more information you have bouncing around your head, the harder it is to decide what needs attention. This results in spending more time thinking about your tasks than doing them, causing stress, overwhelm and uncertainty!
So, David Allen argues that your brain is better at processing information than storing it. The GTD method helps you dump all that mental clutter into a system – allowing you to confidently answer ‘what should I be working on’ without worrying that you’ll forget something important.
The GTD method is made up of 5 steps:
- Capture: Capture anything that crosses your mind. Write it down somewhere you won’t forget.
- Clarify: Process what you’ve captured into clear action steps – project, next action, or reference.
- Organize: Put everything in the right place. Whether that means adding dates to your calendar, sorting tasks, delegating projects to others, or filing away material.
- Review: Frequently look over, update, and revise your lists.
- Engage: Get to work on the important stuff!
Todoist have created a very helpful article on the GTD method, so if this appeals to you, I’d recommend reading more!
The Daily Highlight
The Daily Highlight is a technique from the productivity book Make Time by John Zeratsky and Jake Knapp. This technique is great for those who get overwhelmed by a long to-do list.
Choose one specific task that you want to get done per day. Of course, most days you will have way more than one task to complete, but setting a daily highlight means that you will finish at least that one thing.
Choosing one urgent task to complete per day will create a sense of accomplishment that will help motivate you to do more. And, if you do at least one urgent thing every day for a year, imagine what you can achieve!
This is more of a personal tip. If you find it really hard to get into the flow of working, having a daily routine can really help. This can be a morning routine: giving yourself a few hours before work to yourself. You can get ready, exercise, make coffee, breakfast, or even go for a walk. This helps to calm your mind before starting a hectic workday. A night-time routine helps in a similar way: spend your time after work to wind-down, take care of yourself, and do something you enjoy.
What Works for You?
I hope you found something (or multiple things) in this article that works for you. I included techniques that appeal to a range of personality types, so hopefully nobody felt left out!
I know finding a Productivity System can be overwhelming, and it’s definitely a case of trial and error. I managed to find a system that works for me in my third year at university, and I’m so glad that I did! Years on I’m using a constantly improving version of that system – which is a blend of the To-Do List, Pomodoro, and GTD techniques.
Remember to keep an open mind and take things slow. What works for Elon Musk may not work for you! And what worked for you in school may not work for you now. The trick is to try new techniques and go with what feels right.
Edie is a musician that composes and produces her own tracks alongside music for games. She also works as a freelance graphic artist, and learns about socio-cultural issues and current affairs in her spare time.