The perfect productivity system is the web worker’s Holy Grail. But, like the Grail, this productivity system is surrounded by myth.
Is the perfect productivity system just out there waiting to be discovered, or is it something you have to make on your own? I think it’s a little bit of both. So how can one come up with the perfect productivity system?
Know your working habits. The key to finding the perfect system is to know your needs. What conditions make you the most productive? Do you work better when it’s extremely quiet? If not, what kind of music or background noise do you like to hear when working? Do you prefer to work on a big project over a long period of time or do you tend to do better when you complete big tasks in one sitting? Try to remember the times when you felt most productive. What makes those times different from others?
It also helps to know which cues really attract your attention. If you like colors, you’ll probably benefit from a system that will allow you to color-code your tasks. If you’re stimulated by the spatial placement of things, you might benefit more from a mind map rather than a numbered to-do list.
Research what’s been done before. First, look at popular productivity systems and learn more about them. There’s David Allen’s Getting Things Done, Steven Covey’s 7 Habits, and, more recently, Leo Babauta’s Zen to Done. You don’t have to buy all the books, just look for resources on the Internet and learn what you can about these systems from a distance. You might not adopt any of these productivity systems, but it’s a good way to start looking for what works for you.
In my experience, subscribing to a few relevant blogs can be helpful, especially if the blogger talks about his or her own experiences with productivity. Some bloggers talk about how they modified an existing system to suit their needs, or about creating a whole new system for themselves. If some of their tips seem effective, give them a try. Again, keep in mind that it’s about taking only what can work for you. This is why it’s no surprise that most productivity bloggers out there get their ideas from more than one source.
Experiment with your schedule. Ever notice how some people say they work better early in the morning, while others prefer to work at night? Ideal schedules vary from person to person and you need to find out what works for your body clock. Web workers are particularly in luck when it comes to experimenting with schedules, since most of the time you don’t have to start working at 9:00am like everyone else.
I prefer to test new schedules throughout one workweek. It’s short enough, so it won’t greatly compromise work. But it’s also long enough to make strong conclusions.
When you make schedule experiments, it’s important to have only one thing to test. For example, if you want to experiment on your peak working hours, focus on that first before you move on to separate experiments with your peak working days or most productive working conditions. Doing one experiment at a time makes you assess your conclusions more accurately.
Aim for the simplest tools. One of the problems I faced when I tried making my own productivity system was that I got easily excited about using all the available tools I could get my hands on. The tools ranged from printable charts to web apps and downloadable software. Tools are essential to help you with time management and productivity, but don’t go overboard. Keep in mind that you won’t become productive when you use every single productivity tool out there. In fact, it’s an effective way to attract clutter. Test a few tools, find the ones that work, and stick with those.
Know that it’s a dynamic process. When you finally create a productivity system of your own, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ve reached the end of the road. You’re going to come across a few obstacles that will result in some changes to your system. When this happens, it doesn’t mean that your system was a failure. It probably just means that there are some changes in your lifestyle or schedule that you have to factor in.
Don’t be disappointed if the process takes a little longer than you initially hoped for. It’s not something you can expect to figure out within an hour of reading this article. It’s something that will require a bit of introspection and time before you get it right. After all, there’s no universally perfect productivity system, there’s just a perfect one for you.
Have you tried looking for the perfect productivity system? How far along are you with your search?