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The Rhythms of Productivity – Part I: Overview

This article is the first in a five-part series.

  • Part II: The Mindset (Coming soon)
  • Part III: Daily Rhythms (Coming soon)
  • Part IV: Weekly Rhythms (Coming soon)
  • Part V: Quarterly Rhythms (Coming soon)

Being productive is hard. Some days it seems that my ToDo list takes on a life of its own — often growing inexplicably longer as the day goes on. All I want is the clarity to focus on the right things and the ability to move the needle on some of those things every day. Why is that so hard?

The reality is that being productive is hard. Most people overthink it, or worse, try to emulate what someone else does. It’s tempting to think what works for others will work for us — oh, if that were only true. Productivity is a beast that everyone must tame in their own way.

First of all, personalities and styles differ. Some people love lists and experience a visceral joy whenever they mark an item as complete. Others find the prospect of a ToDo list stress-inducing, or even oppressive.

Secondly, people work in very different environments and contexts. Some of us work in highly structured environments where meetings and deadlines dictate priorities and tasks. Others find ourselves with large blocks of unstructured time and are faced with the daunting task of redeeming that time in a way that honors their ambitions and aspirations.

I have worked with a lot of different people over the years and have distilled the key elements of productivity down to an essence that can be adopted by a wide variety of people. At its highest level, being productive requires three things: a mindset, a tool, and a trio of daily, weekly, and quarterly rhythms. What I will share is general enough that you can take these ideas, build on them, and make them your own.

Find a Tool That’s Right for You

I will spend the next four articles delving into the mindset and the rhythms. Before we do that, a few words about some kind of app or tool. A usable productivity tool makes it possible to not only keep track of what you’re working on now, but also have a sense of what’s coming up tomorrow, this week, and someday yet to be determined.

Because everyone is so different, you’re on your own for this one. A tool can be as simple as stack of 4×6 notecards held together with a binder clip, or as complex as the sophisticated (and highly regarded) productivity app called OmniFocus. After much exploration and experimentation over the years, I have settled on Things by Cultured Code. For me it offers the perfect blend of functionality and simplicity. Your mileage will vary.

The right productivity tool for you will satisfy a few simple criteria:

  • Usability: The tool will be usable for you. It doesn’t matter how great it may be for someone else, anything that requires mental strain just to utilize is not a productivity tool — for you. The right tool will make it simple to mark items complete, postpone them to a specific date, or set them aside for a rainy day.
  • Ubiquity: It will be something that you have with you almost all the time.
  • Accessibility: It will allow you to capture a thought almost as quickly as it comes into your head.

Talk to your friends. What tool(s) do they use to stay organized? If you’re in the Apple world, try the Reminders app, or give Things a try. If you use MS Windows, consider Outlook. I used it extensively back in my Windows days and found it to be quite good.

Once you settle on a tool, give yourself permission to get up to speed. With power comes complexity. It is usually worth the effort to watch the tutorial videos or spend some time reading the help files.

I’ll not say much more about tools. Find something that works for you. If you can’t decide, then start with some notecards or the Reminders app that comes with your phone. Just as long as you have a way to capture and organize things that you want to do.

Keep Reading…

Up next: Part II: The Mindset (Coming Soon)

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