The Manager's Minimum Viable Productivity System

There are a lot of productivity systems and tools out there, and it’s good to find the ones that you will actually use – not just what’s popular.  At a minimum, though, any system or approach you use should incorporate certain elements.  What's important isn't the specific format, app, or tool you use for each.  What matters most is that you select options that you like and will actually use.  This might mean committing time to learning how to use your tools most effectively.

Essentials of a manager's productivity system

  • A calendar (ideally only one) that you rigorously keep accurate and up to date. 
  • A tool for capturing ideas, notes, etc., that is not your to-do list.  This could be a notepad, your phone, your tablet, but not your computer – it needs to be something you can keep with you all the time.
  • A tray or box to contain all the papers, notes, and other physical things that need to be processed.
  • A task list that has clearly-defined actions that you actually need to take.  Everything on this list should start with a verb and take less than two hours to complete.  (Break down big tasks into smaller components.)  This task list should be separate from your calendar.
  • A “holding place” for actions and project that you are not going to take in the near future but don’t want to forget.  This could be a simple running list, a folder of notes, a database like Evernote, etc.
  • A regular process for cleaning up your lists and clearing out your inboxes.  Some of this will happen daily, but at a minimum you should have an hour every week where you stop “doing” and focus on getting your tasks organized again.  This is also an opportunity to review your “on hold” stuff to see if anything needs to move onto your action list.
  • A storage place for items that you need to keep but do not need to take action on in the near future.  A filing cabinet works well for physical items, and cloud-based options such as Dropbox or Evernote work well for electronic items.

How to upgrade your productivity system

  1. Analyze your current productivity system.  What’s not working for you? 
  2. Identify one change you could make to improve your system and make it work more effectively for you.  For example, does everything on your “to-do” list start with a verb?  If not, see if you can break down those items into something actionable and see if that helps you get unstuck.
  3. Implement the change. 

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