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Building Your Own Productivity System; Elements & Tools

What is the productivity system & How to build one using different methods & tools which works for you?

“You can do anything, but not everything.”- David Allen

What is the productivity system?

A collection of tools, methods and workflows which

  • Works for you needs
  • Suits your personality
  • Adapts to your daily routines, methods and workflows.

This includes To-Do lists, Calendars, Note-taking apps, file management systems, communications apps and more

Introduction to Productivity Methods & Workflows

Productivity methods are a set of guidelines or workflows that help to complete tasks and projects in an efficient manner. They vary based on the type of task at hand and your personality. Everyone has a unique way of working. My work involves collaboration and individual effort in different projects. I find Time Blocking works best for me, but I usually combine with The Pomodoro Technique to create a sprint method of working inside time blocks.

Here is how time blocking works.

There are other methods like Getting Things Done(GTD), Eat the Frog, The Eisenhower Matrix, Systemist and many more. You can find which productivity method is right for you by taking a quiz here. (Created by Doist, the makers of Todoist & Twist)

Image from Todoist Website

Elements of a Productivity System

Defining a list of tools, methods & workflows that suit your needs & personality. Every element in the system has a different purpose to set up the workflow. Set up a system which helps you manage your daily tasks, goals & projects for a long time.

A disclaimer: The tools & methods given below will guide you to be effective & productive. Preference of tools will vary based on personal taste & the workflow.

1. Quick Capture 📸

Method to capture or add anything into the system faster. It’s about reducing friction between you & the system to collect thoughts & ideas. Don’t think about what you are capturing, it can be a stream of thoughts, ideas, inspiration, etc.

Recommended Tools: Drafts, Bear, Notion Web clipper, Sticky Notes, Voice Memos, Google Keep & ScanPro

Here is how I use Notion to capture all the content like articles, videos, podcasts & created a database for it.

2. Note-taking & Writing ✍️

To journal your ideas & thoughts into the system as & when they come to your mind. This also makes sure you can find those notes later. Note-taking & Writing are different.

  • Note-taking is more of writing down the key points from a talk, video, book, etc.
  • Writing is when you organise your thoughts into a blog, article, letter, etc.

Recommended Tools: Notion, Bear, Evernote, OneNote & Ulysses.

3. Collecting & Organising 🗄️

“Your brain is great at thinking but terrible at remembering things. You can’t put everything into your brain, you need a place to store it.” From the book: Getting Things Done by David Allen.

Create a knowledge & documentation database to store all your thoughts & ideas to organise it. It deals with translating all your thoughts & ideas into actionable & non-actionable items. After which you will be categorising them into different types. Make your actionable items into tasks or projects. This helps to plan your week & set your goals. You can also include files here which can be stored & organised into different categories for future reference.

Recommend Tools: Notion, Coda, Evernote & Airtable

4. Planning 🗓️

Once you collect & organise your ideas, plan your goals with proper actions & tasks with a well-defined timeframe. Always track & constantly update your progress. Every actionable item or task has its own purpose & outcome.

  • The purpose is to define the need for a task.
  • The outcome is what you will achieve by completing the task.

The effective method is to work with a calendar and to-do list. Make sure you are planning your week according to your capability. Avoid overloading yourself.

How I plan my day-to-day activities.

Pro Tip: If a task takes less than 2 minutes, do it immediately. If it takes more than 2 minutes to complete, then add into a task management system.

Recommend Tools: Notion, Calendars, Things, Todoist, Asana, any calendar management or task management app.

5. Managing Communication 📨

You should not get distracted by your emails or chat apps. Managing emails should be faster. Treating emails as tasks makes it easier to manage them & reduces the time we spend on it. I follow the Inbox Zero method for my email communication. Check the post below if you would like to know about Inbox Zero & my personal tips to manage emails.

Here are my tips to manage email effectivity.

Getting Started: How to build your system?

Planning your productivity system needs a bit of exploration. You have to be flexible to try different tools & methods. Here are 5 tips to follow when building a productivity system.

  1. Try different methods & tools: Explore a lot of tools & methods. Find a method or a combination of different methods that work for you. I use a combination Time Blocking, Weekly Review, Pomodoro Technique & GTD in my productivity system.
  2. Set up a workplace(Digital/Physical): Use a specific set of tools to manage your workflow. Find different tools which suit your needs and your way of working. My setup consists of Notion, Drafts, Bear, Fantastical, Todoist, Reeder, Pocket, Freedom, Cold Turkey & Flow as my day-to-day apps.
  3. Trust your system.
  4. Setup Inbox in every tool(almost): Use the inbox as your daily collection of thought & ideas. At the end of day sort them into respective categories.
  5. Review the system regularly: Review your thoughts & ideas to execute them or archive them. Make this a weekly task for ideas in quick capture. Don’t allow your system to get cluttered.
  6. Integrate tools(if possible); Well this is a bonus tip. Find integrations between different tools to help save time & manage it in a commonplace. For example, I use Fantastical for my calendar & Todoist for my tasks since they are well integrated.
Here is my stat from Forest App for June’20. It helped me to reduce my phone usage during work hours & stopped me from getting distracted.

“It’s not always that we need to do more but rather that we need to focus on less.” — Nathan W. Morris

Thank you so much for reading.

If you like this article, share it with your friends. 👋 Don’t hesitate to reach out to me on Instagram or Linkedin.

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Vidhunnan Murugan

Vidhunnan Murugan

Product Designer at BigBasket | Creating meaningful experiences through design.