Harnessing Systems to Get More Done (How to Find Your Most Productive Hours)
“Everything is a system … It’s a repeatable process that allows you to scale and it outputs things with the same quality every time the system runs.” says Thanh Pham
You can’t be productive unless you have a system, a method, a process, whatever you want to call it.
Some people invent a system.
Others learn a system. But everyone has a system.
A life without a positive daily routine or structure is so much more draining mentally, physically, and emotionally than you can ever imagine!
Thomas A. Edison wisely said, “Being busy does not always mean real work. The object of all work is production or accomplishment and to either of these ends there must be forethought, system, planning, intelligence, and honest purpose, as well as perspiration. Seeming to do is not doing.”
Many people lead complex lives. They have an endless amount of commitments, communication, and information to manage and execute.
A productivity system provides you the ability to manage and execute those commitments, communications, and information at a specific time.
It’s simply a collection of behaviors, repeated consistently and in a particular order, plus the tools that support them.
It makes you efficient. You can achieve more in less time. “Efficiency is doing better what’s already being done,” says Peter F. Drucker.
Think of it this way: if you’re an artist, it’s helpful to know a wide range of art styles and techniques to draw on as you develop your own style.
You can’t be productive unless you have a system, a method, a process, a routine, whatever you want to call it.
Basically, you have a way of doing things.
Mike Murdock was right when he said, “The secret of your future is hidden in your daily routine.”
According to a recent McKinsey report, today’s workforce spends 61% of their time managing work rather than doing it. That’s insane. We can do better than that.
Productivity is fairly simple, in theory.
Even if you have an overwhelming amount to do, the steps aren’t hard to figure out: Pick something important to work on (a task from your most important project, perhaps). And do it at a certain time within a specific time frame. But it’s easier said than done.
Many people can’t commit to any productive system.
Discipline is probably the biggest reason people can’t commit to any productive system.
“Discipline is hard — harder than trustworthiness and skill and perhaps even than selflessness. We are by nature flawed and inconstant creatures,” Atul Gawande, author of “The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right”.
Jim Rohn once said “Either you run the day or the day runs you.” If you have clarity of purpose every morning, your focus will change.
A solid daily structure that guides your actions every day can make a huge difference in how you work.
The best routines, I’ve found are created on purpose. The way you start your day powerfully shapes how productively you live it.
“Productivity is never an accident. It is always the result of a commitment to excellence, intelligent planning, and focused effort,” says Paul J. Meyer.
That means, develop a routine for when you awake, for when you first start working, for when you finish your workday, and for the end of your evening.
Routines predetermine your schedule, allowing you to use your time efficiently.
A routine is an investment.
Routine provides a sense of structure and familiarity. You wake up with a sense of ownership, order, and organization of your life.
It negates the need to regularly schedule your days ahead of time.
A common thread among many books and articles on this topic is the importance of a solid daily productivity system.
A great routine sets you up for the whole day, and if it is done right, everything else in your life will follow.
A productivity system is an enabler, something you can use to understand what needs to get done, bring order from chaos, and save you from too many sleepless nights.
It helps you use the effort you could have spent worrying about your tasks on actually getting those tasks completed.
Productivity principles are universal. Refine what works for you
“You can only automate something in your personal productivity system that you have managed for a while.” — CM Smith
Don’t fall into the trap of thinking you have to do everything from every productivity philosophy to benefit from them.
Use existing ideas to build your own system. Pick and choose from multiple philosophies, and put your own spin on them.
Every productive person has a system for getting things done. What works for Tim Ferriss, the best selling author of “Tools of Titans: The Tactics, Routines, and Habits of Billionaires, Icons, and World-Class Performers” may not necessarily work for you.
After years of using different systems and writing about them, I now accepted that there is no one-size-fits-all productivity system.
There are good guidelines and high-level principles that are universal, but you alone can define and refine what works for you.
When your system makes you feel comfortable and confident that your productivity bases are covered, and it has a track record of actually helping you do your work without missing anything important, stick to it.
If you try a system and it doesn’t work for you, it doesn’t mean the system is broken. It just doesn’t fit you. Move on. Try something else.
Focus on the results, not the system.
If you’re spending more time researching and implementing a productivity technique than you are being productive, it’s not actually helping you.
Select and work with principles that work for your needs.
These are a few of the most popular productivity systems:
- To-Do List: the simplest productivity system and the basis of many other frameworks; has a lot of variations, like the “Must Do” system or the Ivy Lee Method.
- 7 Habits: based on “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change” by Steven Covey. He discusses how to change the way we think about work and life; here’s a great summary that can serve as an introduction.
- Getting Things Done (GTD): based on David Allen’s book “Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity”.
- Zen to Done (ZTD): based on Leo Babauta book “Zen To Done: The Ultimate Simple Productivity System”, focuses on habits.
- Kanban: a visual productivity system popularized by the Agile project development framework and great for teamwork.
- Don’t Break the Chain: popularized by Jerry Seinfeld and one of the simplest systems out there.
- The Pomodoro Technique: based on Francesco Cirillo’s book “The Pomodoro Technique: The Acclaimed Time Management System That Has Transformed How We Work”, it’s a simple system to chunk time and complete blocks of Deep Work.
All productivity systems require at least some measure of willpower.
It’s about finding the system that helps you maximize your willpower best.
It’s important to note that none of these systems are “standalone.”
Each system can be combined with other productivity systems, tools, and apps, and principles to help you get work done better, and faster.
All of these systems are designed to do one thing: get stuff done.
Once you try a system for at least thirty days, you’re free to stick with it or try something different.
Once you settle into your system, you need to customize it. Make it your own.
Creating a productivity system can be overwhelming.
Start with those you’re naturally drawn to and those that address your productivity weaknesses. Only by putting them into action and giving them a try will you see whether they work for you.