Why I Have a Productivity System

May 19 2008

When I look around at friends and family who don’t seem to be accomplishing that which they want to, I notice a trend. They’re smart. They even know what they want, if vaguely.

But they don’t have a way of breaking down those goals into actionable steps.

Now, you can try to break down your goals into a complete, comprehensive list of steps. This will drive you nuts. This is what productivity systems are for, to advise you on how much you need to keep track of.

I’m a fan of Getting Things Done, which is just lightweight enough that I can stay productive without laboriously updating my system, while comprehensive enough to capture everything.

The core of GTD is a Projects list, a record of everything you’re committed to accomplishing. Big and small. “Write novel” to “Patch paint in kitchen.”

For each Project, you have to identify the next physical, visible action you need to take on it. Writing a novel? The next action may be to sit down with pen and paper and record those plot ideas spinning around in your head. And that’s all you need to plan out. You can plan more than that, but you only really need the next action; once you’ve finished it, the following action is almost always very, very obvious.

(Why not plan ahead in detail? Well, how often have you discovered something partway through a project that completely changed your next six steps? Yeah. I bet it’s more often than getting partway through a project and finding yourself completely unable to think of the next step.)

I keep a list of Actions on a whiteboard in my studio. Throughout my day, I refer to it frequently. As I make progress on a project, I update the whiteboard. It feels good to know that I’m accomplishing my goals. That I’m doing that which I set out to do.

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