Ask LH: Do I Really Need To Learn A Productivity Method?

Dear Lifehacker, I’ve heard of productivity systems like Getting Things Done and the Pomodoro Technique, and everyone seems to swear by them. Do I really need to learn one of these complicated systems to be productive? Sincerely, Possibly Productive

Dear PP,

It’s definitely no secret that we talk a lot about different productivity methods and how they are beneficial. Really, the overall purpose is to make your life easier, so if that’s something you want, then a productivity method is one way to do it. That said, everyone is different, and no one-size-fits-all method exists.

What Productivity Systems Really Do

The goal of any productivity method is to teach you to manage yourself efficiently. This is equal parts self-discipline, organisation and resource management (on a physical and emotional level). It’s an all-encompassing thing that basically rules how you work from top to bottom. So, if you’re the type who is incredibly organised, very self-disciplined and rarely struggles to get things done, then you probably don’t need a productivity method. That type of person is rare though, and chances are everyone can make their day more efficient somehow.

Getting excited about a productivity method really requires one of two things: you either desperately need a sense of order to get your job done, or you read about a method that might work for you. We’ve run through the five most popular productivity methods before, and they all have different strengths and work for different people. Here are just a few examples of some of our favourite methods and who they’re great for:

  • Getting Things Done: GTD has a lot of different organisation methods to make sense of your work. It’s great for people who have so many tasks to work on that they need massive organisation to make sense of it all.
  • Pomodoro Technique: Pomodoro uses timers to keep you on track. It’s best for people who are easily distracted and can work in tiny, micro-sized time increments.
  • Seinfeld’s “Don’t Break the Chain”: Don’t Break the Chain is all about creating a chain of productive days by marking off what you do on a calendar. It’s structured to help you create habits with consistency.
  • Autofocus: Autofocus is a linear, list-based system that simplifies everything you need to do into steps. It’s great for people who like a simple system that keeps them on track with minimal management.

The entire goal of a productivity method is to provide the framework to make your life easier. Different methods work better for different people, and implementing a system with structure that you stick to everyday is what really matters. Of course, you can always remix the best parts into your own method that works for you.

It’s not a bad thing to take what you want from a method and leave the rest behind. It’s also not bad to try a new idea. For example, if you’re having trouble focusing on work, a Pomodoro timer is worth trying out. If GTD seems too complicated for your needs, give the Autofocus technique a try to organise everything. Picture:

The point is, you don’t necessarily need someone’s exact system — you just need a system.

It’s the Small Tips that Make It

You don’t necessarily need to take on an entire productivity method if you’re relatively productive in your daily life, but that doesn’t mean you should ignore the smaller tips entirely. The point of the smaller, “micro-productivity” ideas we (and many others) throw out there is that they might be a little niche, but when they work for you they work really well.

Lots of examples of these “smaller” tips exist like, Inbox Zero, the Trusted Trio or Inbox Infinity. Even just going back to the basics with a solid to-do list is a simple way to organise your life without adapting a whole new productivity method. The goal is to solve a single problem as efficiently as possible, and you can then go on to work that into your daily productivity to really get things done.

Your methods shouldn’t be needlessly complicated, and whatever you find helps you become more efficient is all that really matters.

Use New Tools Sparingly, and Don’t Over-Hack Your Methods

With every productivity method comes a whole new set of tools to get things done, and it’s insanely easy to get caught up overhacking everything. It’s also easy to fall into a “grass is greener” scenario where you’re just trying new apps or methods in hopes they’ll solve some (possibly non-existent) productivity problem. If something sounds like it will work, give it a shot, but don’t force new methods just because someone tells you they’re awesome.

The same goes for apps. If you’re looking for tools, our Lifehacker Packs are a good place to start if you’re looking for tools for note-taking, organisation, to-do lists and more. That said, it’s not an end-all list, and you have thousands of options at your fingertips. The trick is, once you find an app that has a system that works for you, stick with it, and don’t waste time trying out every new piece of productivity software unless your favourite service shuts down.

In the end, pretty much everyone can use a productivity method of some kind, but that doesn’t mean you have to stick to something you’ve read about. You can mix and match everything to suit your needs, or try out new productivity methods that sounds appealing. The only thing that matters is that whatever you do ends with your day being more efficient, more productive and better organised.


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