Being productive is not easy these days precisely because it’s easy to misunderstand what productivity really is. When you hear the word “productivity” might just think of getting a bunch of stuff done really fast (efficiency). You might think of shooting off and replying to emails. But I think a focus on efficiency or just activity for activity’s sake is not what productivity actually is. The core definition of productivity is about getting the right stuff done. To put a more theological spin on it, being productive is to be focused on what God is focused on. Being productive is to do the work that God has called me to do to the best my ability.
But let’s face it: life moves fast and can quickly became overwhelming. Inboxes can easily overflow. The onslaught of things to do can spiral out of control. So how we stay focused on the right things and accomplish the highest priorities that God has given to us?
Here is a bit about how I try to stay productive. This is by no means original to me. I’ve stolen bits and pieces of various systems and smashed them together. But this is what it looks like for me.
As you construct your system, you will need to answer three very important questions:
- Activity Selection: What am I going to work on?
- Organization: How am I going to keep track of everything I am working on?
- Execution: How am I going to actually get stuff done?
Most systems focus on the middle layer: organization. But staying organized is pointless if you’re not working on the right things. So you need to take some time to figure out what you’re going to work on. What do you value? What do you want to work on and what do you have to work on? Activity selection is very important. But if you don’t have a way of organizing your work, then things will slip through the cracks. Furthermore, if you don’t pay attention to how you work, you might spin your wheels and not actually get anything done.
With all that said, my system has three elements: Capture, Configure, and Control.
The first element of the system is to have a place to “capture” (write down) things as they come up. You need a “ubiquitous capture device” as one blogger puts it. The device could be anything from a journal and a pen to the “Notes” function on your phone. You just need it to always be with you, hence, “ubiquitous.” I use a mini composition notebook that I keep in my pocket. Why a physical notebook? It’s small enough to carry around. It doesn’t run out of battery. And it’s not my phone, so it doesn’t present a series of distracting shiny apps to use.
The notebook carries around any tasks that pop up throughout the day. If I’m in a meeting and tasks come my way, they go into the notebook. But eventually, the tasks come out from my notebook into a more sophisticated system for processing them. At the end of the day, I load all of the tasks from the notebook into ToDoist for processing.
After all the random tasks of the day are loaded into ToDoist, I need to configure, or process them. The tasks end up in one of five places:
- Trash: Some tasks on further reflection don’t need to be done and end up deleted.
- Board: I have Task Boards set up for each project I am currently doing. If the task is tied to a particular project, I turn it into a sticky note and put it up on my Task Board. Here’s an example:
- Daily Plan: If I need to do a task that day it goes on my plan for the day and I schedule it to be done.
- When I Get Around To It (WIGATI) List: If a task isn’t super important but still needs to be done at some point, I throw it on a list of things that I will eventually get around to.
The final step is to control my time (submitted to God’s sovereign plans) by planing my time to get stuff done. My planning has three levels:
- Quarterly/Semester Plans: Higher level planning with ideas of some goals and/or things I want to accomplish over the next 2-3 months.
- Weekly Plans: I set aside time every week to look to the week ahead and plan out what I hope to accomplish. My method for weekly planning is detailed here.
- Daily Plans: Every day I try to set out a course of what I would like to get done. I talk a bit about planning in this post.
While it can seem like a lot, the point is to write down things that come my way (capture), process them and put them in the appropriate “bucket” (configure), and then schedule time to work on those buckets (control).