This Is The Ultimate Productivity System.
Over the thirty-plus years I’ve been obsessed with time management and productivity, I’ve looked at hundreds of different ways to improve time management and productivity. I’ve tested many kinds of ‘systems’ and ‘methods’ and even developed my own.
And with all this testing and research, there is one system and one method that wins every time. It’s simple, effortless to set up and never fails to work.
Unfortunately, there is one human condition that prevents most people from using it: Complexity bias.
Complexity bias is defined as our tendency to prefer the complicated over the simple.
This is nothing new. The thirteenth-century Franciscan monk, William of Occam, developed the Occam Razor theory based on our tendency to over-complicate things and choose the complex over the simple. It’s been a natural human condition for hundreds of years.
Unfortunately, while we know about it, and it is often written about, we still allow ourselves to overcomplicate everything. Even our life experiences have taught us to keep things simple. I’m sure you remember at school your teacher telling you to KISS — Keep it simple, stupid! Yet, we still complicate things.
When it comes to your productivity and time management, what do you need to see? At a basic level, you only need to know two things:
- What appointments do I have today?
- What work do I need to complete today?
You do not need to know anything else. That’s it. The “ultimate productivity system” is the one that will give you that information.
To get that information, you need two things: a list of your outstanding work and a calendar with your appointments.
Once you have that information in a trusted place, you need to decide when the work needs doing, and you can add a date to those tasks, so they come up on the day you have decided they need doing.
You do not need the latest, shiniest digital tools to achieve this. A pen and a piece of paper would accomplish this result for you. Many of the most productive, successful people in the world still use this method with pen and paper.
Today, things move too fast for us to be wasting time developing overly complex organisation structures in a to-do list. Trying to organise multiple lists by context (people, place, or thing), for instance, only encourages you to create more and more lists of tasks you might like to do one day. You know this does not work because whenever something urgent comes up, you will ignore your lists and work on the urgent.
Many productivity systems require some form of weekly review to work effectively — time for you to sit down and go through everything on your lists — yet most people don’t do it. They don’t do it because their system is complex and the thought of going through list after list looking for work to do is off-putting.
The problem with not doing any weekly review or weekly planning session is that all these productivity and time management systems only work if you do these sessions. It’s 80% of the system. If you are not doing those reviews or planning sessions, your system is only 20% effective, which means it is not effective.
If your productivity system is too complex, you will skip the reviews because they take too long.
The ultimate productivity system is the simplest possible system. It’s a list of tasks organised into an order of importance, with the most important at the top and the least important relegated to the bottom. It has a calendar that tells you where you need to be and with whom on a given date, and it allows you to collect tasks and ideas quickly. That’s it.
No matter who you are or what work you do, you do not need anything more complex than that.
When you have a simplified system, you know what needs doing so you can get on with it without the need to go through your task list, organising and rearranging things. It allows you the flexibility to manage urgent and emergency tasks without effort and will instantly put you back on track once you have dealt with those emergencies.
It also means you no longer need to read articles like this one because you no longer need to find solutions. You have the answer. You know what needs doing today — the only thing you need to know today — and you get on and do it. At the end of the day, you see if you completed everything and anything you did not get done, you reschedule for another day.
Ultimately, it comes down to mindset. Knowing your system is never going to do the work for you, and you have a limited number of hours each day in which to do your work. Knowing what that work is and having enough time carved out for it on your calendar is the ultimate productivity system. You will not find that system in a book, a YouTube video or an article. You already know how to do it.
The final part of any good system is having access to your project notes, files and reference materials. These don’t have much to do with productivity; these areas are more about your personal organisation system, which is entirely different. That said, once again, complexity bias creeps in, and the desire to overcomplicate things causes problems.
Modern filing systems such as Google Drive, Apple’s iCloud and Microsoft’s OneDrive can automatically do some work for you here. All these services have excellent search functionality and have a feature called “recent documents”. Logically, if you are working on a PowerPoint file, you are likely to need access to this over several days so that the recent function will keep this file at the top of your list.
Once you finish working on a file and the work is complete, create a folder for the work and keep the file in there. You may need it again sometime in the future, and as long as you name things in a simple, logical format, you will be able to retrieve the file quickly.
And for your notes, all you need is a notes application with excellent search functionality and is available on all your devices. Just as in the past, we carried our little notebooks with us wherever we went; your digital notes app needs to be with you everywhere you go.
How you organise your notes is up to you. Again, simplicity is the best way, but if you choose an application with a good search engine built-in (Apple Notes, Microsoft OneNote or Evernote, for example) and use simple, logical titles, you will always be able to find your notes whenever you need them.
So if you are searching for the ‘ultimate productivity system’, you already have it. Remove the complexity, remove the sub-projects, folders and any other level of complexity and focus your time and effort on doing the work that needs doing today. Doing that will see far significant improvement in your productivity than any new app will ever do for you.
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